remote single trail in a Franconian forest, on 27 September 2014, when my Garmin
emitted a little beeping sound to indicated that I had just crossed the 50km
mark in this ultra trail race. I celebrated a little. This was when I knew that
I would make it, that I would cross the finish line and become an ultra marathon
But first things first: After months of preparation,
endless kilometres on trails, in the woods, through mud and pouring rain, the
big day had finally come. When I was standing at the start line, I knew this
would not be an easy task. But little did I know about the dark, dark places my
soul would travel to during this journey.
The adventure started on Friday afternoon. I had forced myself to concentrate on work one last time,
before my boyfriend and I drove the 30km to Veitshöchheim, the starting location
of the race, in order to collect my BIB and to make sure that I knew where I had
to go the next morning. It was a good decision as we got lost and ended up in a
totally different "sports centre" than the one we were supposed to be. Together
with a handful of other confused trail runners and the help of friendly locals,
we finally made it to the correct location and managed to get our BIBs.
After some carbo-loading in the evening, a movie and some tea to calm down, I
went to bed to sleep for a couple of hours at least. The night was over at 3.30
a.m. I had slept well and felt rested, had a couple of bites for breakfast,
packed my stuff and was ready to go.
It was foggy and dark outside but
warmer than expected, with 12°C. I decided to go with my compression socks,
the Salomon S-Lab running skorts and sleeveless shirt and a thin running jacket
for the first kilometres. As for the shoes, I decided against the Salomon
Speedcross and for the Hoka Kalua trail shoes as the latter were more
comfortable on longer runs.
I mentally prepared with my favourite music
during the drive (some Boysetsfire, some Casper, and the obligatory "Roar" by
Katie Perry :)) and arrived quite early at the starting place, which was good as
I found a parking lot close to the location.
At 6.30 a.m., all ultra
marathon participants gathered under the single source of light on the soccer
field and listened to the last minute instructions by the race director and then
we all counted down from ten to zero and set off at 7.00 a.m., just as the first
sunrays of the day started to make their way through the fog. It had
We ran through a little
forest out into the fields. After 1km, I felt quite warm already and stopped to
take off my jacket – much better! I speeded up a bit to keep up with the group
and we soon entered the first “real traily” section. It was tricky, as it was
still pretty dark and we had to be cautious not to trip over a root. The field of runners was still pretty
close together on these early kilometres. We were a group of approx. 10 people
moving at the same pace along a narrow single trail, quite high up already, so
we got some beautiful views over the foggy Maintal
Soon afterwards, the first
climb appeared and for the first time in my trail running life I didn’t get
passed and didn’t have to stop half-way to catch my breath. This was a good
sign! Looks like the training with the Powerbreathe device and the speedy
uphill hiking practice paid off.
After 7-8 km, the gaps
between the runners got bigger and I was running alone for a while.
We crossed many ankle-deep sticky mud sections here, which were tricky.
The first aid station appeared after around 10km, which meant that the first of
the 6 sections in which I had divided race mentally was done. The second
section, km 10 to 20, proved to be much
the aid station, we followed a rocky trail which lead into the forest. And
stopped – there was a really steep downhill passage with hardly any
trees/branches on the side to hold on to. My Hokas reached their limits here
and I had to change over to a bottom-sliding technique J
My right leg got wrapped around a tree during this process somehow which was a bit painful but luckily
didn’t result in any injury.
A couple of km later,
another steep climb awaited us. There was no real trail and we had to hike right
through the woods but the beautiful views we had once we reached the top and got
out of the forest were worth it.
We reached a village after
around 20km and ran on tarmac for a while. I spotted a public rest room and
decided to take this opportunity for a “civilised” potty
The course then lead through
the village, where the second aid station was located. I refilled my handheld
water bottle with 200ml water and half an electrolyte tablet, took some cheese
cubes and fruit and then went on. We climbed up again through the
vineyards. Lots of winegrowers were out there harvesting grapes and eyeing us
I talked to a fellow runner
from Garmisch, who had been running near me since the start. She was a lovely
tiny woman, who had never run farther than 50km before, too. I
saw her again later, at the finish, and realised that she had run the entire
race in barefoot shoes. Simply amazing considering all the stones, roots, etc.
on the trails. I was deeply
Aft 25km, I noticed that my
thighs were quite sore – already! – and I knew that it was going to be a looong
day. I ran with two sturdy-built guys here who seemed to have a lot of fun out
there. They also saved me from taking a wrong turn… this time at least.
When we reached the third
aid station, I thought that the last section had been even harder than the one
before. I was quite exhausted already and there was still such a long way to go.
I had the water bladder of my hydration pack refilled with 1l of water, took a
piece of banana and watermelon and soon felt quite fresh again. I left the aid
station with a few other runners and headed into the forest again.
The following section was
tricky, a narrow path with lots of mud and fallen trees to climb over. I
focussed on the ground in order not to trip and fall and didn’t pay much
attention to the course markings, just followed the runners in front of me. When
they all stopped at a crossing with no markings, it was clear that we had missed
a turn. I panicked slightly, not wanting to go back all the way again. But
luckily, one (genius!) runner had printed out the course map and he led us into
the correct direction and soon we were on the right trail again. We had run
approx. 700m extra but that was still
For the next couple of
kilometres, I talked to a guy around my age, who was doing his first ultra race
there, too. We chatted along nicely and, for a while, the time and the
kilometres flew by. We were moving quite fast though and I had to pay for that
later. We passed the 31km mark shortly before 4 hours and things looked pretty
good. I still don’t know how things could worsen so quickly over the next few
I couldn’t keep up with the
group of runners I had been with for a while now and was on my own again. Up a
hill in the blazing sun, with the sweat burning in my eyes… the downward spiral
had started. I had expected a low and experienced some form of it during my
training runs before. What I was not prepared for though was the degree of
negativity of my thoughts, the sudden darkness.
My thighs were burning when
going downhill. I was in pain but what was even worse was the fact that I
couldn’t motivate myself anymore.
So I shuffled along,
stumbling down a pretty path, which lead through the vineyards down to a
picturesque valley with green meadows and an old mill. I passed a guy with poles
and envied him a lot for them. Poles would have made such a
There was another aid
station down in the valley and I hoped that things would get better after a bit
of rest. I refilled my small water bottle and put half an electrolyte tablet in
it. The young guy who helped me refilling it half-jokingly asked: “You’re not
having cramps already, do you?” I denied and wanted to kill
I eventually left the aid
station and started to climb the hill on the other side of the valley. Another
runner was in front of me for a while and then suddenly disappeared. I thought
my mind was playing tricks at me already. Where had he gone? He couldn’t have
been so fast? It turned out that I wasn’t hallucinating and he had just speeded
up a bit and turned around the next
As I walked the next
downhill section, I finally gave in and did something which I had never done in
a race before: I took a Voltaren painkiller pill. In that very moment, a woman
passed me and tried to cheer me up with: “Hang in there, only 20km to go!” I
wanted to cry.
But miraculously, things got
better eventually. I took a short break again at the next aid station (km 45) to
refill my water bottle and eat some fruit and a gel and then moved on. It was
much easier now. I ran along pretty single trails and even passed 2 other
I had never run farther than
44km or 5 hours and 36 minutes before and every step was unknown territory for
me but when I finally reached the 50km mark, I knew that I would make it. More
runners appeared in front and behind me, which was a nice distraction. Two more
nasty hills awaited us on the last kilometres and took a great deal of any
strength we had left.
Finally, 3 kilometres to go,
then 2… the last kilometre. I passed a woman walking her two dogs and she smiled
at me. Then I could hear the speaker at the finish line, turned around a corner
and into the sports park where we had started many, many hours
The speaker called out my
name and I was beyond happy to finally cross that finish line after 8 hours and
32 minutes. A couple of lovely ladies handed me over my medal and some water, as
I was fighting back tears of joy and exhaustion.
Then the fun part started. I
talked to other runners I had met on the course earlier and watched as others
crossed the finish line, had an alcohol-free beer and time to relax. It was
I had finished my first ultra marathon.
have passed since. While my legs are still aching, I’m already looking at ultra
trail races in 2015 :)
A big thank you to everyone
who supported and motivated me on this journey. I thought about you all out
there and it was you who kept me going!
Big love, Daniela