A few days have passed since the Traildorado 24 hour race, I’m back home, back at work. It almost feels like this weekend has never happened… if it weren’t for the sweet pain in my legs which, every time I try to get up from my office chair or walk down the stairs, reminds me of the day I spent in the forest. I’m back in the real world but this feeling remains…
An ultra race is like an escape into another world. You leave behind your day-to-day life, your work, your worries, duties, family and friends, to dive into a place where there is only you and the trail. Or maybe you, the pain, and the trail ;)
So I left the real world on Friday, 7th of October, and took a train to wonderland …. or rather, Arnsberg, a not very idyllic town somewhere in the North-West, in the state of North Rhine Westphalia. 4 hours on the train were plenty to think about the task ahead.
It did sound simple: run on a 4km lap through the forest as often as possible within 24 hours. No time limit this time, no hurrying from check point to check point, wondering if you’ll make the next cut-off. Despite the 110 m of ascend which each lap had to offer, the race sounded very relaxed to me. A perfect opportunity to finally get 100km under the belt.
Of course, there were a few things which could go wrong. You never know what is going to happen in a long race like that, some points remain uncertain… but I narrowed the possible difficulties which could occur down to the following:
- Tiredness. The times of danced-through nights of drinking and partying are over. I go to bed before 10 o’clock at night and get up at 6 on most days. Would I manage to stay awake all night and keep moving for 24 hours? My strategy was: coca cola J Thanks to my friend and ultra mountain goat Luna, I’ve discovered this power juice for myself. So I planned to have some coke on every lap.
- Cold. This could get really nasty. The predicted temperatures for the race were around 10 degrees C on the day and 2-3 degrees C at night, with no rain but high humidity. I’m a heavy sweater even in winter, so preventing my body from cooling out would be quite a challenge. I decided to wear a top and a long sleeve shirt with capris, gloves and hat at the start, and packed a running jacket, a rain jacket and a softshell jacket plus a pair of thin long trousers and two buffs for later, hoping that this would be enough.
- Low energy. My concern was that my stomach would shut down at some point in the race, reducing my food options to gels only, which always leave my stomach a little queasy. Thus, I planned to eat some solid food after every lap from the very beginning. There was one aid station at the start/finish point which would provide plenty of food. I also packed some gels and energy bars, a banana and a smoothie in the case of an emergency.
- Pain. Pain and low points are inevitable. It helps to know that they do happen and that they will go away. My strategy was to run through them, trying to separate the mind from the body, hoping that it would work.
I booked into a hotel in the town centre of Arnsberg. This was also part of the strategy – the race location was connected to a youth hostel, where participants could book a bed for the night. I did not as I would probably have given in to the temptation.
I tried to sleep in as long as possible on Saturday morning but was wide awake at 7 am. I enjoyed the luxury of a long breakfast and having plenty of time to prepare myself for the race. Around 10 o’clock I walked the 2km to the start.
There was a check-in where we participants got our bibs and bracelets with chips which we had to hold against a scanner after each lap. This way, we would be able to get updates on our position, kilometres ran etc. during the race, which was pretty cool.
The organiser’s race briefing was fun and relaxed. Everyone seemed to be happy to be there and be part of this event. Then, finally, at 12 o clock, we started, after having been pressured into a dance to “I like to move it move it” by the race director ;)
So it began. The lap was better than expected, far away from flat and boring. From the hostel, we ran right into the forest, where the big climb of the race awaited us already. It was really steep and a bit slippery with the wet leaves but not too terrible and also not too long. Then there was a nice technical single trail section, with lots of roots and stones, which could become quite tricky, especially in the dark. After that, there was another climb up to the highest point of the race, where a nice downhill path started, which also had a few roots and stones so paying attention to the underground was absolutely necessary here. Then there was a good flat runnable section, a broad path which lead out of the forest and – surprise! – passed a horse pasture. I had secretly hoped for horses so I was happy and surprised to see them standing there J The path then turned into a parking lot, which we crossed, before running down the only tarmac section with a length of approx. 200 m. Then we turned into the forest again, a tricky little path through a mud hole, which got worse and worse later on in the race, and then on an easier way again back to the starting point, where the scanner, the aid station, the tent with our bags, toilets etc. were located.
I was pleasantly surprised, this wouldn’t get boring at all. The climb was a bit mean but I had brought my poles for later in the race. So we ran one lap after another. I met Thomas, whom I had met on Instagram a few weeks earlier, and chatted with him for a bit. Other than that, I didn’t talk much this time. I was really focused on myself, trying to preserve as much energy as possible.
Time passed really quickly. However, after 3-4 hours, my legs started to feel tired already. It was quite a shock to me… I had walked about 2 km with my heavy backpack on the day before plus additional 5 km to and from the race location… maybe it had been too much? Surely not. Even in the Chiemgauer 100 my legs had felt fresher…. Why? Because I had walked a greater part of the course back then.
I had a bit of a low point there, trying to keep up with other runners in front of me… how on earth should I be able to do this for another 20 hours? Things went dark very quickly… I wasn’t meant for long distances like that… I would never sign up for a stupid race like that again… I could forget about the West Highland Way Race because I sucked.
I realized that I had to change my strategy or things would go really bad. I decided to now power-hike the first half of the course until the highest point and then run the rest of it. This would allow me to safe my legs and still make good progress. Good! I grabbed my poles and they really were a relief. It hurt my ego quite a bit to see all the other runners pass me while I was walking but I knew that it would pay off in the end.
Around 5 p.m. it got quite cold and I had to stop to put on my jacket and a buff around my neck and another one on my head. My legs felt better with the hiking now but my head was still in a bad place. What was I doing here? It wasn’t even dark yet and I already had enough. I scanned my chip to see where I was – only the top 5 men and women were displayed on the large monitor. I was in 9th place of the women’s field. Good job, someone told me. Blah, I thought.
Then it got dark. Running in the forest in the dark, alone most of the time, was a totally new experience for me. I realized that training TRAIL running in the dark would have been a good idea too, as it was quite different from the streets of Kitzingen, where I usually run at night. I had to pay close attention to the path ahead, I couldn’t risk a fall or another broken bone even. The air got colder and more humid and I had to stop again to put on the softshell jacket and the extra pair of trousers.
Then something happened which changed my outlook in the race completely. I hadn’t checked the ranking for a while and when I took another look, my name suddenly appeared on the big monitor. I was 4th lady now! Yay! I even shouted a little yay and some men gave me a weird look. Hehehe :)
From then on, things went really well. The game was on! 4th woman was better than expected and boy did I want to keep that place! For a while, it felt like flying. All pain was forgotten. I walked the first part and ran the second, counting the laps… I needed 25 to make 100km and it looked like it wouldn’t take too long to achieve this.
However, at some point between 1 and 2 a.m., my headlamp died. I knew this was about to happen as it only had a restricted battery life and had brought a spare lamp – but the latter was in my bag in the tent, about 2km away from this place in the middle of the forest where I was standing now. I had no other choice but to wait for the next runner behind me. I had met a few guys walking earlier, maybe I could walk with them until the lap was finished. Luckily, out of nowhere, a woman appeared who carried a headlamp and a torch. I asked her if I could borrow her torch and she agreed. I was so relieved and grateful! I couldn’t run with the torch but at least I had a light as it was pitch black out there.
When I put on the spare headlamp Dany had given me (thank you J) I realized that it was by no means bright enough for the trail, where I had to see every root and every stone to prevent a fall. I was quite devastated. My run-walk mix had been good so far but now I was reduced to more walking on the tricky downhill and on the last section of the trail where I didn’t see anything. In fact, there was only a short section of around 1km until the end of the horse pasture / asphalt part which I could still run as it was quite even and I didn’t remember any stones or roots on it. Ok. This was clearly an unexpected problem, something I hadn’t thought about before the race, but nothing I could change now. I tried to make the best of it, hiked as fast as I could with my bad night vision. I tripped over quite a few roots and stones but only fell once on the steep uphill section and it wasn’t bad. Phew…
I kept up my hike/run ratio as best as I could and then, around 3 o’clock, I passed the 3rd woman on the part of the trail where I could run. I didn’t realize that I was now third until I saw it on the monitor. OMG!!
I tried not to get too excited about it. I had never been on the podium before in a race so this was a completely new experience. Instead of running a relaxed race, I now had to fight! It wasn’t easy… I never really knew how far behind me she was. I didn’t dare to stay long at the aid station, I didn’t dare to go to the bathroom, I tried to hike up the hill as fast as I could. Nobody was going to steal this third place from me!
This went on for a few hours. At one point I passed the magic 100km mark and got a bit emotional – 100km done, finally!
Later, the sun rose. Moving in daylight again was such a relief! I was in good spirits… only a few more hours! Then, all the sudden, woman no. 4 sprinted past me – yes, she sprinted! It was a shock to me, I had thought that I had left her behind for good. But she looked so fresh! Oh well. 4th rank then. At least I wouldn’t have to wait for the price giving then and could go straight to the hotel… maybe even just run a few more laps and then finish early. That would be nice. But I couldn’t hide my disappointment.
However, when I took a look at the monitor, I was still in third place. It looked like the woman had taken a break and was now 2 laps behind me. Phew… but still, she had been flying down the trail earlier! Was she planning on closing in on me?
It was a bit of a nightmare. I was now quite exhausted and wanted to stop so badly after 31 laps but I didn’t know if it was enough. Would she manage to pass me again? Twice? I calculated and calculated but my brain just didn’t work properly anymore. I just had to move… relentless forward progress. Lap 31 was very painful and I was reduced to slow walking. Impossible to do another lap! When I arrived at the aid station again, I asked some people there if I had to do another lap in order to stay third. With hindsight, it would have been enough, but they sent me out for another lap. (Only full laps were counted towards the overall result so it made no sense starting another lap after more than 23 hours / 15 minutes for instance). The last lap was very, very painful. I just managed to put one foot in front of the other. The woman who later won the race passed me, she was flying down the trail without any effort, it was simply amazing and left me in awe.
Then, the finish line got closer… I scanned my chip one last time and done!! Third place! 131.5 kilometres with 4125 metres of ascend in 23 hours and 9 minutes. Yay!
They now had a celebratory chocolate well at the aid station but all I could think of was getting out of my clothes, a hot shower and a place to rest. I had to wait until 1.30 p.m. for the prize giving now but that didn’t matter anymore. I think the happy grin never left my face after that J
And that was it. The rest was all a bit of a blur. Taking a cold shower, talking to many people, drinking coffee, waiting… The prize giving was another amazing experience, a totally impressive performance by everyone!
A very nice couple offered me to take me back to the hotel in their car. Thank you! J
I even managed to climb up to the second floor where my room was…
And now it is over… After a weekend playing in the woods, I’m back in the civilization, back in real life where kilometres run or elevation gains don’t matter. But the Traildorado has won a big place in my heart! It was an incredible experience, an adventure that I haven’t fully processed yet. I’m pretty sure that I will come back next year! J
Once again, I have to thank everyone who has supported me in the weeks leading up to the race. And a big heartfelt thank you to all of you who donated for my Tuares fundraising project!
Except for one small fun race which I will do on the 22nd, my running season is almost over now. And what an amazing year it has been! I am truly blessed that I have such a great network of family and friends around me and a fantastic coach without whom this would have never ever been possible!