night, I had a decision to make - watch the Dutch team play against Costa
Rica in the world cup quarter finals or go to bed early to get enough sleep.
When my alarm clock rang at 4.15 the next morning, I was happy to have chosen
the latter option.
I had to get up early because I had registered
for the “Altmühltrail”, a 22k trail race (400m elevation gain) through the
idyllic Altmühl valley in Franconia. After a quick breakfast and some
last-minute packing, I set off.
Luckily, the streets were empty on this pretty
Sunday morning, and after 1 hour and 45 minutes I arrived in Treuchtlingen, the
place of the finish, where the BIBs were issued. I found a parking spot approx..
500m away from the finish line, and quickly collected my participant’s package.
I had a train to catch to the starting point in Weißenburg 20 minutes later, so
I pinned the BIB to my shirt, packed everything else away, grabbed my water and
walked over to the train station. I didn’t realize that I had forgotten
starting area was still quite empty when I arrived so I wandered around a bit
and then found a nice shadowy bench to rest until 9 o’ clock, watching the other
runners arrive one after another. 15 minutes before the race was about to start,
I walked over to the start line, watching the other runners. They all looked
happy and excited… My eyes wandered down to their shoes – trail shoes or
“normal” running shoes? HOKA’s anyone? J
Suddenly, I realized my mistake. I had forgotten
the time-recording transponder, which had to be fixed to the shoe laces, in my
car in Treuchtlingen! With 5 minutes to go! I panicked and ran over to the
luggage collection point. The man there was not amused when he heard my story
but had a spare BIB and transponder for me. He made me write down my name and
data and promised that he would take care of everything. Thank God!
Then the next problem – I could not fix the
transponder to my shoe laces since my Salomon Speedcross have a “quick-lace
system”, which did not match the two holes in the transponder. I had no idea
how to fix the thing. Until the friendly man gave me a cable tie.
Then, finally, the start. The first 1.5km were on
flat asphalt, before we entered the cool, shadowy forest, where the first steep
climb awaited us already. Due to an infection and having to take antibiotics in
the days before the race, I didn’t feel 100% and was quickly out of breath – a
sudden reminder of my DNF in April. I slowed down, determined not to give up
this time. Luckily, the hills weren’t as brutal as last time and we soon reached
the top, where the first aid station with water, juice and fruit was located.
The next section was the most beautiful part of
the race – a lovely single trail through the woods, a downhill section on a
broader forest way and then a pretty path through pretty meadows. I managed to
pass a couple of runners on the downhill section. One of them started to talk to
me (we had briefly met before the race). He introduced himself as Bernhard, from
Eisenach, a 60ish, white-haired runner with a friendly smile. We chatted about
our previous trail running experience, and the metres and kilometres flew by,
until he told me to keep going as he had to slow down a bit (in the end, he
finished a couple of minutes behind
The grassy path we were running on at this point
was quite tough on the legs and the sun was burning down mercilessly but I still
managed to keep up a reasonable pace, which surprised me (of course, I had to
pay for it later, again).
passed a pretty chapel and a few idyllic, remote farms, before the next hill
appeared in front of us at km 10. It got hotter and hotter and I was sweating
heavily while slowly crawling up the hill. One runner after another passed me
but all had a friendly word and a smile for me and cheered them on in return.
True trail runner spirit J
I started to talk to another runner here and we
kept each other going. From this point onwards, we had a little “battle” going
on – he passed me on the uphill sections and I passed him again on the next
downhill stretch. He was always joking, clearly having fun and enjoying this
race. Later, when he finished a couple of metres in front of me, I heard the
speaker tell the audience that, half a year ago, this runner had been lying in a
hospital bed after a surgery due to cancer… What an amazing runner! It is always
a deeply touching and humbling experience to share a small part of the journey
with such an inspiring person.
We were a group of approx. 10 runners moving forwards at the same pace at this
point. The last climb awaited us at km 17, followed by a steep but fun downhill
section. The last kilometres were brutal, following a flat bike path in the
burning sun. I noticed that my Salomon trail shoes are excellent for “real”
trails and forest ways but absolutely inadequate on asphalt (can’t wait to try
out my new HOKA’s! J)
The finish line was located in the town centre,
in front of a small castle. I managed to speed up a bit on the last couple of
metres and pass another runner shortly before the finish line. No matter how
exciting and pretty a race is, it is always a relief to finish! Instead of a
medal, we got a piece of wood with the name of the race and the year engraved.
I grabbed some water and walked over to the
information point to ask them if they had registered my new BIB and was
relieved to learn that it was already in the system.
The finishing area was very well organised, too.
I picked up my bag and walked over the showers, chatting with a woman who told
me that she had never ran further than 15km before but finished this one – with
a very respectable result! Amazing!
I had the feeling that there were not many runners behind me when I
crossed the line after 2 hours and 25 minutes – later, I found out that I ended
up as 25th out of 59
women and 131 out of 195 finishers in total. Not my best result but still better
than expected J
When I drove home, I was exhausted but happy;
once again, I had immersed into this special atmosphere of trail races – a bit
wild, a bit adventurous and a bit masochistic, dominated by the notion that it
is not only about finishing times and ranks. It is about spending some quality
time in the nature, sharing the good and the ugly with like-minded