Ultra Race Reports
The Journey Never Ends At The Finish Line - Chiemgauer 100K Race Report
I'm still feeling a great sense of achievement three weeks after my big race. When I try to put into words what was so special about it, many aspects spring to mind.
What could I expect of myself after a 21-month break from racing? And how can it be that the women's race was decided on the final stretch after 99.7K?
What are the factors, the elements that ultimately lead to success, irrespective of placement and time?
The one common fact about all of my ultramarathons is that initially, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude, happiness and enjoyment. The feeling when crossing the finish line is a massive kick, an addiction almost. I look back at what it took to get there and know that I gave my best that day.
Pre-race nervousness and anticipation helps to channel the energy in the right direction meaning to take it for good and then take necessary steps to focus mind and body. I always feel kind of twitchy about a week before a race as various 'what-if' scenarios cross my mind. It's ok to go through some worst-cases but I never allow myself to get distracted from those thoughts.
Instead, I extensively listened to paraliminal tapes, organised and packed my race gear well in advance and optimised my taper week which tends to be a balancing act between wanting to train more to avoid flabbiness and at the same time knowing that there is no real benefit or improvement in fitness to be gained. I arrived near the race location two days earlier which was optimal as it allowed to participate in the pre-race atmosphere and meet other runners.
Strategy: For the first time ever, I dissected the race course into individual sections, put together a timetable that helped me to know how many hours each part of the course would take me. The very ambitious idea to set 14 hours as my 'absolute dream finishing time' served as a basis to orientate myself; nevertheless I also opted for 14:30, 15 and 15:30hrs. On race day, I took the small piece of paper with me to see whether I was on track or a little behind schedule.
Race nutrition is also part of the strategy. It's hardly hit or miss – I always plan my nutritional needs to perfection and decided to prepare multibottles: depending on the calculated time from one checkpoint to the next I knew how many scoops I had to put into the multibottle. In total, I used 21 scoops of Hammer perpetuem equivalent to 190 calories per hour and split into 6 bottles which I packed into the dropbags. I strictly sipped on my electrolyte bottle that I wore in my Nathan waistpak every 15 minutes. By the time I added bites of gel, bars and other foods I ended up with about 210-230 calories per hour which is pretty much the ideal amount that the body is able to absorb. I did, however, have problems with my sodium levels about three hours into the race and took four saltstick tablets every two hours. This helped to bring back the balance a little but the longer the race continued the more bloated my body looked. Nevertheless, it didn't effect my performance.
Carboloading: My pre-race meal consisted of cooked quinoa, oil, steamed vegetables, chilli, ginger and fresh tomato sauce. I ate a huge portion two days prior to the race and avoided getting stuffed on empty calories at the pasta party the night before. Instead, I had a baked potato with a touch of sour cream and a small salad about nine hours before the start. Breakfast was wholegrain bread with honey, a touch of margarine and jam plus black coffee exactly two hours before the start. Any dairy produce eaten before an ultra can cause an irritated bowel which is the last thing needed. Plain and simple is key!
The Race: By the time I lined up at the start, I felt more than just ready. I felt so lucky to be able to set off on a wonderful journey at long last. A journey that was a real treat to myself - soul food for my being a long-distance runner and celebrating a comeback to the competitive world of ultrarunners.
The first lap took us out into the nearby forests, flat at first and eventually winding up on single trails before descending back down into the stadium. Right from the start, I drank water and added Hammer after 60 minutes. It took me by total surprise that I started to feel hungry after 30 minutes into the race.
The electrolytes started to ease off the appetite eventually and I took the first espresso-flavored gel after two hours. It honestly felt like a walk in the park to run these first 26K and once the rain had set in, it never bothered me for the whole duration of the 14 hours I was out on the course. In fact, I took it so positively that it turned the experience into something even more memorable, not just for the demanding profile, length and difference in altitude but for the rough conditions that came with it. Nature and its elements how I love it. No room for disappointment, anger and frustration due to the weather!
Many times over, I retrieved what I had manifested during working with Arthur, who is specialised in NSI. I remember the special moment I felt during a training run after the session. I was visualising the finish line a hundred times over as if it already was reality when I suddenly paused, took a deep breath while standing in the pouring rain, and realising then: 'I've got it. I'm ready. I will run a great race.'
Similarly, this absolute certainty occured during Day 3 of the Marathon des Sables and always at one point in any of the other races I did, either before the actual start or during the race.
I found myself settled in second position and could see Gine, the leading lady, ahead of me during the first long ascend. I was in no rush to try and catch her up too early and set myself an intermediate goal to close the gap progressively between km 30 – 80. At each checkpoint, Christoph would inform me about the time difference so that I knew what was happening. I always view a competitor as someone to compete with instead of fighting against that person and felt happy that there was real competition in this race. Pushing and being pushed in a race salvages the great opportunity to reach highest levels of performance, and this was so true for the positions that Gine and I were in.
I did hit two lows between 30-36 kilometres and between 56-63 kilometres. The section that I knew was going to be the most demanding part of the course from km 35-55 turned out to be so enjoyable. My body felt like a spring, each foot hitting the ground with ease.
A runner named Walter later wrote to me that he enjoyed running with me at a similar pace from km 35-55. I tried to remember a face, an outfit, talking together and simply couldn't put it together. I didn't perceive much else going on around me other than keeping an eye on the next steps ahead, my food and liquid intake. At least at that point.
On the last long and steep ascend up to the top of Hochfelln from km 74-80, I was joined by another male runner. It was good to have some company and someone who was keen to keep the pace. When we arrived at the checkpoint on top of the mountain, I spotted Gine. We were both a little surprised to see each other and realised that anything could happen now. I lost quite some time on the almost vertical descend that would have required some ropes to get down but with the promise of the last 15K being the least challenging, I gave my best to get down quickly.
At the 85K mark, Gine had already extended her lead again and by the time I hit km 93, I was keen to get to the finish in a healthy state. I probably 'lost' some time at the last checkpoint whilst looking for my mp3-player and had no idea how far or close I was to Gine. I increased the pace step by step.
The last 15% are always my strength in ultrarunning. I love to excel again after hitting the point of tiredness and tap on extra energy as if an engine is reved up again after the tank was emptied out and had been refilled.
The final 2K led through a beautiful alley before I finally spotted the flood lights. The forest road turned into the stadium with 200m to go and that was the point when I saw Gine on the final stretch. I felt another boost and virtually sprinted to the finish right into Christoph's arms, neither crying or breaking down. It was a moment of total abundance, sense of achievement and sheer happiness.
There was no need to shed tears of relief, of having fought a battle against myself. All along the way, I had pushed forward, step by step. Everything was as good as it could be.
In conclusion, I ran the race with 60-70% mental strength. The rest was down to physical fitness. I enjoyed any aspect of it, in all its entity and feeling genuinely happy about my second place.
It was an ultramarathon that enabled me to reset my status, leaving behind the trials and tribulations of the past and having reached the light at the end of a long tunnel.
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