After my 24 hour race in October, people often asked me if running in circles for hours wasn’t boring, commenting that they “couldn’t do it”. The answer is no, these timed races are far from boring. Like every marathon or ultramarathon, they are a journey… to what is inside of you.
Therefore, I decided to sign up for a six hour race. The race in Fürth on the occasion of the World Down Syndrome Day seemed perfect – it was not too close to the West Highland Way Race calendar-wise and also just an hour away from home, so no extensive (and expensive) travelling was required. The World Down Syndrome Day also has a personal meaning to me – last year I got paired with a sweet little girl with Down syndrome, named Emberly via an organisation called “I Run For Michael”, which partners runners with children and adults with disability. I run for Emberly.
After some weeks off due to sickness in December/January, training went really well in February and early March. Additionally, I haven’t touched any chocolate/sweets nor (much) alcohol since early December (since I learned that I had a place in the WHW race) and I feel that this has had a massive favourable effect on my training too (I can’t wait for that post race pint in June though!! ;)). All in all, I was quite confident going into this race. It was my first road ultra so I was a bit unsure which pace I should aim for. Finally, since my goal were 60 km, my coach suggested that I should try to run the first 30km in around 2:45h, which would provide me with enough buffer for the second 30km. Sounded good to me J
The week before the race was a tiny bit stressful with lots of work and a slightly sick horse. In addition to that, my GI tract wasn’t very cooperative on the day before the race … I already thought about a DNS. But I managed to eat a huge plate of pasta in the evening without any problems so crisis averted.
Race morning! Some last minute packing and off I went. The drive to Fürth was quite relaxed and I had no problems finding the race location even without navigation system or the help of Google maps. It was still very early when I got there so I collected my BIB and went back into the warmth of the car. I like to have some time for myself before a race. Also, I had to tape off my big toes, which showed some leftovers of huge blisters from my last long run…. Of course, just as I was applying the Compeed pads, some nosy people walked by, with looks of disgust on their faces when they realised what I was doing in the privacy of my car. Oh Well. I hoped they wouldn’t recognize me later in full running gear.
It was hard to decide what to wear. It was around 10°C, which is usually the shorts threshold temperature for me, but there was rain and some wind, so I decided for a pair of long tights, a long sleeved shirt and another t shirt on top of that. No trucker hat this time, I was afraid that the wind would blow it away. Since my little finger showed first signs of Raynaud’s phenomenon again, I also put on my gloves. Then it was almost time to go.
As I was waiting for the start, a very lovely lady greeted me as if she had known me for ages. She asked me if we knew each other from the Rennsteiglauf. I said that I had only run the half marathon there, not the ultra. Later, it turned out that she was the one who gave me my medal after my very first ultra, Maintal Ultratrail, in 2014! She is part of the organisation team and she did remember me. What a coincidence J
Then we, in that case the ultra runners and marathoners, started the race. Later, we would be joined by the half marathon and 10k runners – all on a 2km round course! The thought of several hundred runners spread on 2km had made a bit nervous in the days before. How crowded would it be? Would it be possible to pass people at all? But it turned out ok. There were a few narrow sections but everyone was polite and considerate so no bumping into each other or major accidents on the course.
The course itself was not boring at all. The 2km lap included the tartan track in the stadium, two larger sections on a sidewalk along the road outside of the stadium, a few hundred metres on a tricky forest road, some steps and one mean little hill, which we had to go up and down on each lap (my quads were not happy about that later in the race…).
From the very beginning, I noticed another woman running directly behind or next to me. I had previously identified her as a pro, based on her very athletic figure and her effortless running style. She didn’t pass me though, which made me a bit nervous. Her boyfriend/husband was strategically placed on one point on the course and gave her information about the distance towards the leading woman and her round times etc. whenever we passed him. I was clearly running too fast, this wasn’t my part of the pack, I was clearly a mid-pack runner. I had never heard talk like that during a race!
After 3 rounds of synchronous running, I decided to talk to her. If we were running together, we might as well chat a little. Conny was really nice and very modest, she said she also wanted to run around 60km so we ran together a bit more. The time and laps were flying suddenly, everything is so much easier when you have someone to talk to. Conny told me that she was running to collect money for an Alzheimer charity since her father suffered from dementia, which I found very impressive (if you read this, Conny, it was an honour to run with you for a while! J)
We were clearly going too fast. After two hours, my watch showed an average pace of 5:25 min/km. I couldn’t go any slower though. My legs were complaining a bit already and my stomach wasn’t too happy either, especially since eating and drinking at that pace was a bit of a challenge for my clumsy self. Half an hour later, I told Conny that I had to change my strategy and had to let her go, she was clearly in a much better shape than me (and she later won the women’s race, totally deserved!!). From now on, I decided to walk a bit everytime I passed the aid station in order to get enough water and fuel in. This would also allow my legs to recover a bit and to maintain a steady pace for the rest of the lap.
It worked well, my legs and stomach never fully recovered but also didn’t deteriorate. I managed to maintain a decent pace… however, the bargaining in my head started. “If you increase the pace a bit, you can run a new marathon PR and stop then… you could stop after 50k… you could definitely stop at 60k and then walk the rest”… and so on.
Then suddenly, I spotted two familiar faces on the side of the road, cheering me on, Frank and Martina. Frank is a well-known runner and photographer in our region and his wife Martina is a member in our running club. It was nice to see them there (Frank was running the 10k race and ended up 3rd place!) and it gave me a little boost again, even though the next time I passed them, Frank asked with a bit of concern in his voice “Aren’t you going a bit too fast for a 6 hour race?” I answered Yes, definitely. But I couldn’t go slower either (he didn’t know that I was walking at the aid station though).
My legs were really tight now. I don’t know why I had been so arrogant to think that a flat 6 hour race wouldn’t hurt. It did hurt! I wanted to stop so badly, the mean hill and the steps made it particularly hard. But I just kept going, it was like my legs didn’t listen to my brain anymore.
The other runners were great by the way. Many of them were smiling at the turning points, there was a relay team dressed up like Star Wars figures, and the participants with Down syndrome were a particular inspiration, one of them always had a few encouraging words for Conny and me when we passed him early in the race and later high-fived me. They were on the course the whole time. Simply amazing!
I didn’t really have time to look at the monitor to see where I was rank-wise but I had been 4th woman overall for a long time until I must have passed someone (I didn’t realize that) because at one point I saw that I was now in 3rd position of the women’s field. Yay! That was the final boost that I needed. Things went a bit better from there on, I even started to high-five the kids on the course again and did a little cheer for the guy with the megaphone who was motivating us from the beginning to the very end and called out my name on almost every lap.
But boy was I looking forward to stopping. I began to calculate. I could stop at 60km and then just walk for the rest of the time. But then, about 58km in, I passed one woman who had been in front of us the whole time, she looked super strong and I almost felt sorry for passing her, clearly something must have gone wrong in her race. But that meant that I was second now! I couldn’t believe it, I had never been second in any race ever!
I didn’t dare to look back, I never saw the woman again so I didn’t know how far she was behind me. It meant that I had to keep going until the very end though. One more lap to go.
I heard bagpipes. What was going on, surely you can’t have hallucinations in a six hour race? But then I remembered that I had seen a guy in full Scottish attire earlier. Maybe he was the piper. Nothing was surprising anymore.
Then, last full round done, about 8 minutes to go. I really picked up the pace once again. 5 minutes to go, 3… one last bend, when are we supposed to stop? I was breathing like a walrus. I don’t remember what the stop signal was but suddenly everyone stopped right in their place and yelled “STOP” so I supposed it was the end. I stopped. Done and second place!!
My watch told me that I had run 63.4 km in 6 hours (the official result was 1km less due to me not running the ideal line ;)) . Phew… My blood pressure wasn’t too happy about the sudden stop though, I had to sit down on the wet asphalt for a while. I actually wanted to lie down but could contain myself enough not to do so. We now had to wait for the guys with the little metering wheel who would record the residual metres we had run on this last lap. It took a looong time. It was cold and wet.
The men’s winner walked by, apparently his metering was done already. He had passed my countless times on the course, a small and athletic guy, incredibly fast and light. Someone asked him how many kilometres he had ran. He said he only spoke Spanish. My brain was too slow to react, bummer. Would have been a good opportunity to practice the street style Espanol Angel has taught me.
Then, suddenly, I heard bagpipes again. And really, there was a full Scottish pipes and drums band marching along the course, playing “Scotland the Brave”. I got a wee bit emotional here as if they were playing just for me and my upcoming WHW adventure J From previous experience I know that crying a wee bit after an ultra leads to hyperventilation so I pulled myself together until the guys with the metering wheel came and pulled me up again.
Then it was done. Second place yay!
The prize giving was fantastic. My second podium ever (in the second ultra in a row), it felt quite surreal. I’m a mid-pack runner at best. This was a dream!
We got some nice presents, among others a pineapple, then it was time to leave. When I left the building, I saw the Scottish band again. Turned out they weren’t really Scottish but Franconian. I told them how much I had liked their performance and how much it meant to me. Not sure they understood but they seemed happy and wished me all the best for my “Great Highland Way” Race :)
The drive home is a different story. Post-ultra brain and navigating through Middle Franconian villages is not a good combination. But I made it home.
This race was a fantastic event, a great start to my race season and an enormous boost for my motivation. The hard work finally seems to be paying off.
I’m starting to really like these timed races. Maybe I’ll do some more in the future, but for now, all roads lead to the West Highland Way Race in June. Finally. :)
Thank you for reading!