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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

MountainMan Reit im Winkl: Ein gutes Ende für einen schlechten Start

(Click here for the English version)


Meine Aufgabe: 51 Kilometer, 2080-Meter-Anstieg / Abstieg

Der Tag begann nicht gut. Zwei Alarmglocken läuten, eine auf jeder Seite des Bettes, um 4 Uhr morgens. Ich setze mich verwirrt auf.

Ich beugte mich vor, um den Wecker auszuschalten, und stoß mein Glas Wasser um, das auf meine Laufkleidung fiel, die ich ordentlich auf den Boden gelegt hatte, damit ich am Morgen blitzschnell hineinschlüpfen konnte.

Plan B. Kaffee.

Ich ging auf Zehenspitzen in die Küche, wo ich die Kaffeemaschine auseinandergenommen im Trockengestell der Spüle auffand. Ich baute sie zusammen, drückte die Daumen, schaltete die Maschine ein und wurde mit allen möglichen blinkenden roten Lichtern begrüßt. Kein gutes Zeichen. Ich drückte trotzdem auf ‚Brühen‘ und wurde mit unliebsamen Schleifgeräuschen konfrontiert, und nein, nicht mit dem Mahlen von Kaffee.

Ich fing an, Tee zu machen. Während das Wasser kochte, nahm ich den Föhn mit zu meinen nassen Hosen.

Zurück in der Küche für Toast, zu der Zeit als Frank da war und die Kaffeemaschinenpanne anging. In einem Augenblick lag der Geruch gerösteter Bohnen in der Luft. Mit Kaffee in der Hand, Toast im Bauch und fünf Minuten vor dem Abflug, zog ich meine Laufkleidung und eine viel zu große Aufwärmhose von Frank an, da ich meine vergessen hatte, warf den Rest meiner Ausrüstung in eine Tasche und wir stapelten uns mit den beiden jüngsten Kindern für knapp eine Stunde nach Reit im Winkl ins Auto. Ich saß auf dem Rücksitz, so dass ich Platz hatte, um mich zu organisieren und mein Laufpaket zu lagern.

Ein Rotschwanzfuchs schoss über die Straße vor uns. Amelia kreischte. Gott sei Dank ging es sicher hinüber; es wäre sonst ein schlechtes Omen gewesen, das nicht ignoriert werden konnte.
Es war kühl um 5:30 Uhr am Start, aber zumindest regnete es nicht, obwohl die dunklen Wolken, die auf uns eintrafen, nicht viel versprachen, dass es so bleiben würde. Ich begrüßte den Lauforganisator und die Moderatoren, dann gingen wir in den Festsaal, um uns bis zum Start warm zu halten. Es gibt wirklich keine Notwendigkeit für ein Warm-up vor einem Ultra, also gingen wir für etwa 10 Minuten bis 6:00 Uhr nach draußen, wo ich von den Moderatoren nach vorne gerufen wurde, um ein kurzes Interview zu geben. Noch kaum wach musste ich mich darauf konzentrieren, diese kniffligen deutschen Worte rauszubekommen ... ‚Zweihundert Siebenundfünfzig Kilometer durch die Saharawüste‘ ...

Über die ersten hundert Meter wurden internationale Flaggen verteilt. Ich habe die „Stars & Stripe“ an der Startlinie über meinen Kopf geweht. Musik plärrte. Farbiger Rauch wurde in die Luft geschossen. Unsere Freunde und Familie jubelten. Ich war aufgeregt wie ein Kind am Weihnachtsmorgen.


Die ersten zwei Kilometer waren flach und die Gruppe blieb dicht beieinander. Der Start um 6 Uhr war für zwei Strecken: die mittlere Strecke von 39 km und die lange Strecke von 51 km. Hunde waren auch in diesem Rennen erlaubt. Ich habe auf der 51 km langen Strecke keinen, aber viele auf der 39 km langen und auch auf der "kurzen" 22 km Strecke gesehen. Wo kurz nach dem Start ein Bach unter dem Weg kreuzte, wurde zwei Hunden, die direkt hinter mir rannten, ein Bad angeboten, während der Besitzer rief: Nein! Nein!, doch hilflos hinter ihm hergezogen wurde.

Dann begann der erste Anstieg: ein 700-Meter-Steigung über etwa 5 Kilometer. Das Laufen wurde bei dieser Strecke auf  Bergsteigerschritte reduziert und als ich oben angekommen war, war ich eine Stunde ins Rennen gegangen und hatte nur noch 7 Kilometer auf dem Buckel. Puh! Es könnte ein längerer Tag sein, als ich gehofft hatte.

Es fing an zu nieseln, aber wir waren in den Wäldern geschützt und als der Abstieg begann, verloren wir 600 Meter von dem, was wir gerade hart erarbeitet hatten. Aber ich wurde im Tal von meinen fröhlichen Kindern belohnt, die an meiner Seite joggten, bis ich wieder auf den Pfaden verschwand. Es war zunächst nur ein 5km langes Stück bis zum Kilometer 18, bis ich sie wieder im Almstüberl sehen würde. Dort füllte ich meine Wasserflasche auf. Also, Schnellstopp. Ich verabschiedete mich, ging zurück in die Hügel auf eine hölzerne Plattform, die die Moore durchquerte. Die schmale Plattform ging etwa einen Kilometer bergauf neben einer Skipiste und sie hatte 5x5cm Pfosten nach etwa jedem halben Meter ... zu kurz für eine Schrittlänge ... hmmm ... .wie lauf ich das? Dann dachte ich mir, wenn ich kurze Schritte mache und meine Fersen direkt auf das Brett setze, könnte ich mich davon abdrücken und meinen Achillessehnen eine kleine Pause geben. Tricky, aber effektiv. Dann direkt zur Skipiste und der Aufstieg wurde steiler. Ich hatte vorher noch nie etwas so Steiles gemacht, es mussten mehr als 45% gewesen sein. Laufen kam nicht in Frage. Kopf nach unten. Konzentriere dich darauf, nicht nach hinten zu rutschen.

Als nächstes ging der Aufstieg weiter, aber weniger steil. Das brachte uns auf den höchsten Punkt des Kurses, den Gipfel der Steinplatte. Als wir am Vortag an ihm vorbeifuhren, konnte ich den Gipfel kaum sehen, als ich mich nach vorne lehnte, um aus dem oberen Teil meiner Windschutzscheibe zu schauen. Dort werde ich morgen rennen? Ich dachte nach. Oh, das sieht hoch aus. Als ich hinter dem Wald auf den Weiden unter dem Gipfel auftauchte, konnte ich sehr dunkle Gewitterwolken sehen und Donner nicht weit weg hören. Ich befürchtete, dass, wenn der Sturm sich in meine Richtung bewegte, das Rennen gestoppt werden könnte, so dass ich trotz des stetigen Anstiegs so schnell wie möglich weiterlief, um über den Gipfel zu kommen, bevor wir von dem Schauer getroffen werden konnten.


Ich nehme im Allgemeinen nur sehr wenige Fotos während Wettkämpfen. Während der Transviamala in der Schweiz vor ein paar Jahren habe ich ein paar Aufnahmen von einem atemberaubenden Tal gemacht, und dann im letzten Jahr während des endlosen Hochkönigman hatte ich Tränen in den Augen bei einem wünderschönen Sonnenaufgang (dann wieder Tränen in den Augen Stunden später wegen der Erschöpfung, die mich gezwungen hat, kurze Pausen zu machen, die Zeit für Fotos gaben). Aber während des MountainMan konnte ich einem schnellen Selfie am Gipfel der Steinplatte nicht widerstehen.

Endlich zum Abstieg! Plötzlich hörte ich Kinder lachen und spielen und dann war ich von Dinosauriern umgeben! Ich musste im TriassicPark mit T-Rex gewesen sein. Ein wirklich schöner Park oben auf dem Berg. Und versuchte die Sonne sich zu zeigen? Nicht wirklich, aber jedenfalls hatten sich die dunklen Wolken entfernt.

Nebel hatte sich eingelebt und eine ruhige unheimliche Umgebung geschaffen. Es waren nur 73 von uns, die die lange Strecke zurücklegten, und wir waren ziemlich zerstreut, so dass ich für einen Großteil des Rennens allein war. Aber durch die niedrigen Sträucher hoch oben auf dem Berg, durch windige schmale, von Nebel umhüllte Pfade ... Ich fühlte mich wie im Himmel. Die Flora war abwechslungsreich und als ich vorbeiging, strich ich mit meinen Fingerspitzen über das hohe Gras und bewunderte die perfekte Schöpfung der Mutter Natur.

Irgendwann trifft die Strecke wieder mit der mittleren Strecke zusammen. Ich war überrascht, immer noch Läufer aus der 39 km Strecke zu sehen. Ich war an diesem Punkt bei Kilometer 32 und war nach weiteren 4 Stunden 40 Minuten des Rennens noch 19 Kilometer vor dem Ziel. Das bedeutete, dass die Läufer der mittleren Strecke in derselben Zeit nur 20 Kilometer zurückgelegt hatten? Vielleicht waren sie Trekker, und ich sah ein Paar mit Hunden, aber trotzdem hatte es mich ein wenig verwirrt und ich fragte mich, ob ich auf dem richtigen Weg war.

Als ich mich der Hindenburghütte näherte, hörte ich meine Kinder von hoch oben auf dem Hügel schreien. Sie hatten mich noch nicht gesehen und jagten sich durch das hohe Gras. Es ist schön für mich zu sehen, dass sie sich amüsierten und wissen, dass sie hier sein wollen, auch wenn das so sein muss. Meine Tochter hat sogar mehrfach erwähnt, dass sie eines Tages auch Ultramarathons laufen möchte. Die Hindenburghütte wurde nach dem früheren Präsidenten und Hitler-Vorgänger Paul von Hindenburg benannt und diente ursprünglich militärischen Zwecken. Heute ist es ein beliebter Ort für Trekker, um ein traditionelles Essen zu bekommen oder bayerische Blaskapellemusik zu hören.

Wieder füllte ich meinen Camelbak mit Wasser, schnappte mir ein paar Apfelscheiben, tauschte ein paar Neuigkeiten mit der Familie aus und ich war auf den letzten 10 Kilometern unterwegs.

Downhill, Downhill, Downhill. Klopf auf Holz-meine Knie sind in gutem Zustand, aber solche Abschnitte sind für viele Läufer eine Qual. Der Weg traf dann auf den 22 km "kurzen" Kurs, der um 10 Uhr begann. Dann sah ich Läufer mit blauen Startnummern, die ihre Route darstellten. Zurück in Reit im Winkl, nur ein paar Kilometer vom Ziel entfernt, wurden wir zur letzten Runde des Tages zurück in die Schlucht geführt, bevor die Sportplätze in Sichtweite waren, die ich mehr als 7 Stunden zuvor zurückgelassen hatte. Dort waren wieder meine Kinder, etwa 100 Meter vom Ziel entfernt, eine auf beiden Seiten des Weges, und jeder hatte eine Fahne in der Hand. Mein Sohn mit der Österreichischen und meine Tochter mit der Amerikanischen. Sie schwungen sie neben mir her und als wir die österreichische Flagge hinter uns ließen, wo der erste österreichische Finisher sie ins Ziel bringen sollte, fuhren wir drei mit der „Stars & Stripes“ weiter, und mit einem Stich der Traurigkeit, dass es vorbei war, aber eine unübertroffenen Freude am Adrenalinstoß der Leistung, haben wir zusammen die Ziellinie überquert.


Monday, July 23, 2018

MountainMan Reit im Winkl: A Good Finish to a Bad Start

(Hier klicken für die deutsche Version)

The Task at Hand: 51 kilometers, 2080-meter gain/loss in the German/Austrian Alps 

The day didn’t start well. Double alarm bells ringing, one on each side of the bed, at 4am. I bolted upright in confusion.

Leaning over to turn off the ringer, I knocked over my glass of water which spilled onto my race clothes that I had placed neatly on the floor so that I could slip into them in a flash in the morning.

Plan B. Coffee.

I tiptoed into the kitchen to find the coffee machine disassembled and in parts in the sink’s drying rack. I pieced it together, crossed my fingers, turned on the machine, and was greeted with all kinds of blinking red lights. Not a good sign. I pressed 'brew' anyway and was treated to some unwelcome grinding noises, and no, not the grinding of coffee.

I begin making tea. While the water was boiling, I took the hairdryer to my wet shorts.

Back into the kitchen for toast and by this time Frank was there and onto the coffee machine glitch. In an instant the smell of roasted beans was in the air. With coffee in hand, toast in belly and five minutes to departure, I threw on my race clothes, a much over-sized pair of warm-up pants from Frank since I’d forgotten mine, tossed the rest of my gear in a bag and we piled into the car with the two youngest kids for the just-under-an-hour drive to Reit im Winkl. I sat in the back seat so that I had space to get organized and stock my race pack.

A red-tailed fox darted across the road in front of us. Amelia shrieked. Thank goodness it got across safely; it would have otherwise been a bad omen that couldn’t be ignored.

It was chilly at 5:30am at the Start, but at least it wasn’t raining, though the dark clouds honing in on us didn’t give much promise that it would stay that way. I greeted the race organizer and the moderators then we went inside the Festsaal to keep warm till the start. There is really no need for a warm-up before an ultra, so about 10 minutes till 6:00 we headed outside where I was being called forward by the moderators to give a short interview. Still barely awake I had to concentrate on getting those tricky German words out…zweihundert siebenundfünfzig Kilometer durch die Saharwüste…

Interview at the Start with Stephan and Rudi
International flags were given out for us to run with over the first hundred meters. I waved the Stars & Stripes over my head in the starting line-up. Music blared. Colored smoke was shot in the air. Our friends and family were cheering. I was excited as a kid on Christmas morning. 

The first two kilometers were flat and the group stayed close together. The 6 am start was for two distances: the middle distance of 39 km and the long at 51 km. Dogs were also allowed in this race. I didn’t see any on the 51 km course, but many on the 39-km and also on the ‘short’ 22-km course.

I am the one with the US flag!

Where a stream crossed under the trail shortly after the start, two dogs running just behind me bee-lined to it for a dip, while the owner shouting, Nein! Nein!, was being pulled helplessly along behind.

Then the first climb began: a 700-meter gain over about 5 kilometers. The field was reduced to that mountain-climbers walk and by the time I’d reached the top I was an hour into the race and had only 7 kilometers under my belt. Ugh. It might be a longer day than I’d hoped.


It started to drizzle but we were sheltered in the woods, and the descent commenced, losing 600 meters of what we just worked so hard to attain. But I was rewarded in the valley by my cheerful kids who jogged by my side till I disappeared back into the trails. It was only a 5km jaunt to km 18 until I would see them again at the Almstüberl. There I filled up my water bottle even though it wasn’t empty but the next water station wasn’t for another 12 km and the next time I’d see my family wouldn’t be for another 23 km at km 41. 
Cows ALWAYS have the right-of-way!
After a quick stop I said goodbye, headed back into the hills and onto a wooden platform which traversed the moors. The narrow platform went on for about a kilometer uphill adjacent to a ski slope and it had 2X2s about every half meter…too short for a step-length…hmmm….how do I run this? Then I figured that if I take short steps and placed my heels right on the board, I could push off from it and give a little break to my Achilles tendons. Tricky, but effective. Then on to the ski slope directly and the ascent steepened. I had never run anything so steep before, it must have been more than a 45% grade. Running was out of the question. Head down. Concentrate on not slipping backwards.


Next, the climb continued but steadied out. This would take us up to the highest point of the course, the peak of the Steinplatte. As we drove past it the day before, I could barely see the summit as I leaned low to peer out the very top of my windshield. I’ll be running up there tomorrow? I thought. Oh, that looks high. As I emerged above the woods and onto the pastures below the peak I could see very dark storm clouds and hear thunder not far away. I was afraid that if the storm moved towards in my direction they may divert or stop the race, so despite the steady climb I kept running as fast as possible so that I could get up and over the summit before we got hit.

I take very few, if any, photos during races. During the Transviamala in Switzerland a couple of years ago I took a few shots of a breathtaking valley, and then during the never-ending Hochkönigman last year I got teary-eyed at the sunrise and whipped out my phone (then teary-eyed again many hours later due to exhaustion that forced me to take short breaks which afforded time for photos). But during the MountainMan I couldn’t resist a quick selfie at the summit of the Steinplatte.

Finally on to the descent! Suddenly I heard children laughing and playing and then I was surrounded by dinosaurs! I must be in the Triassic Park with T-Rex. And was the sun trying to peek through? Not really, but at any rate the dark clouds had moved away.

A fog had settled in, creating a quiet eerie setting. There were only 73 of us running the long distance, and we were pretty scattered apart, so I was alone for much of the race. But running through the low scrub brush high up on the mountain, through windy narrow trails enveloped in fog…I was in heaven. The flora was diverse and as I ran by I brushed my fingertips along the tall grass and admired Mother Nature’s perfect creation.

Eventually the course met back with that of the middle distance. I was surprised to still see runners out there from the 39 km distance. I was at km 32 at that point and was about 4 hours 40 minutes into the race with another 19 kilometers to go. That meant the runners on the middle distance had only covered 20 kilometers in that same time? Maybe they were trekkers, and I saw a couple with dogs, but still, it had me a little confused and I wondered if I was off track.

Approaching the Hindenburghütte I could hear my kids yelling from high up on the hill. They hadn’t seen me yet and were chasing each other through the tall grass. It is good for me to see them enjoying themselves and knowing that they want to be here, even if that have to be. My daughter has even mentioned several times how she wants to join me someday on these races. The Hindenburghütte had been named after the former President and Hitler predecessor, Paul von Hindenburg, and was originally used for military purposes. Today it’s a much-loved spot for trekkers to get a traditional meal or listen to a Bavarian brass band. 

Again I filled my Camelbak with water, grabbed a few apple slices, exchanged a few bits of news with the family and I was off for the last 10 kilometers.

Finish-line sprint with the kids
Downhill, downhill, downhill. Knock on wood, my knees are in good shape but sections like that are agony for many runners. The trail then met up with the 22-km ‘short’ course which began at 10 am, so there were a lot more runners around me now. Back into Reit im Winkl, only a few kilometers from the finish, we were routed back out into the gorge for the final loop of the day before the sports fields were in sight which I left behind me more than 7 hours earlier. There again were my kids, about 100 meters from the finish, one on either side of the path, and each with a flag in their hand. My son with the Austrian and my daughter with the American. They waved them up and over my head as I passed through and, leaving the Austrian flag where it was for the first Austrian finisher to carry it into the finish, the three of us proceeded with the Stars & Stripes, our approach being announced by the moderator, with a pang of sadness that it was over, but an unmatched joy at the adrenaline rush of achievement.

Happy, but starting to feel the pain 



Monday, July 9, 2018

Setting Priorities


Three and a half weeks after returning from Nepal, where I had been without my family for 3 weeks to run the Everest Marathon, I was scheduled to leave for Chamonix, France to run the Mont Blanc Marathon. The trip would have been only for 3 nights/ 4 days, but I cancelled it, because I felt that my family needed me at home.

Thankfully I could still cancel my hotel booking, but I had already paid for the race as well as the flight there, and those were non-refundable.

I receive harsh criticism from some people about luxurious travel to foreign destinations to pursue a selfish hobby. Everyone has the right to their own opinion, I respect that, but I believe everyone should be able to choose their own hobbies and do what they want with their own free time without being judged by others just because it is a different path than the norm. 

My husband and I both devoted many years to self-funded higher education in order to create a solid basis for our future and that of our children. We both work hard for the money we earn, as does most everyone. 

I may dedicate two to three hours in the morning, my ‘free time’, to sport, but then find myself doing laundry or writing, or editing work until 10 or 11 at night in order to get everything done. I have a wonderful life, it is busy and fulfilling, but it is not without sacrifice and focused hard work.

Enjoying life through hobbies, which are individually and freely chosen, is one of the greatest gifts we have. They allow us to express our inner selves and experience fulfillment. Without them, if we are not balanced and happy, then we have little or no chance of being the person that we need to be for the people around us who depend on us.

I believe that family should always be the number one priority, but taking care of oneself is a God-given responsibility that should not be underestimated or take a back seat.

Turns out, on the weekend when I had planned to be on Mont Blanc, I was instead in Berlin with my family, visiting my husband’s parents. His mother is undergoing difficult treatment for cancer and she needed us. My husband needed me. We needed the kids. The kids needed us. Everything in balance.

That decision was a no-brainer.

There will be other races.



Friday, June 8, 2018

The Mount Everest Marathon


The Everest Marathon is known for its extremes. Extremely high, extremely technical, extremely remote and, above all, extremely, breathtakingly beautiful.

To begin, what other race on earth takes ten days to get to the starting line? From Kathmandu it’s a 30-minute flight to the beginning of the trek which commences in the Himalayan village of Lukla. Sounds wonderfully idyllic. And it is, if all goes well. But this is Nepal and the clock ticks differently here.

Our 30-minute hop of a flight was delayed due to poor weather in the mountains. Then after finally taking off six hours later, only 15 minutes into the trip we were told that the weather window had closed in Lukla and a landing there wasn't possible. We’d be turning back to Kathmandu. Once back in the capital city, we taxied around on the runway till we pulled up next to a small building and the pilots jumped out of the cockpit to use the bathroom. The 15 passengers were also let out briefly to use the facilities while the plane was refueled, oiled and prepared for a second attempt.


An overloaded sherpa (porter)
We took off again and I was a nervous wreck during the trip while watching the pilots try to navigate through the cumulous clouds (yes, it was an open cockpit and I was sitting right behind them…so close that I could have helped out with the controls had they needed a hand). After nearly 40 minutes the runway was in sight. Though this was not necessarily prana for the eyes, since the airport at Lukla is reputed as being ‘one of the most dangerous in the world’ due to its ultra short runway, which is banked on one end by a mountain ridge and on entry the field drops off 600 meters to the village below. I said a brief prayer as we skidded to a halt. The trek was about to begin.


We were limited to 15 kilograms in gear. Our trekking bags contained not only our clothes, shoes, and personal items, but also our thermal mattresses, sleeping bags and liners. Most of us had clothing ranging from shorts and tank tops to hats, gloves and thick winter jackets. We’d need everything. Protein bars were also a major contributor to the gear list for the majority of us since no one was quite sure what we’d be served to eat along the way. These trekking bags were carried by the Sherpas (porters) or by the yaks. Each Sherpa carried two trekking bags plus his own gear on his back. The baggage was tied together with rope and the load balanced by a rope and band across his forehead. They walked severely bent over, like a table, and had to constantly strain to look up and forwards to navigate the path.


So, while the Sherpas suffered for our vanity, we each burdened ourselves with only a small day-backpack containing rain gear, water, cameras and snacks.

The rhythm was two days trekking then an acclimation stop. The weather was variable: Brief periods of sun interspersed with low hanging clouds that seemed to hauntingly creep up the valley.


The temperatures dropped as we climbed. The lodges were not heated, only in the dining rooms a wood stove was lit at 5pm to warm the guests a bit for dinner before sending them off to their cold rooms for the night. The facilities were atrocious. Dirty old toilets (sometimes only squatters) shared by dozens. Running water (when available) couldn’t be trusted to brush our teeth. We received boiled water at night to fill our bottles which we’d stick into our sleeping bags for warmth and then drink the next day.

The three meals a day were dominated by carbohydrates. Pasta, rice, potatoes, French fries, toast, and oatmeal. There was also always some form of eggs for breakfast, but I abstained. There were all but no vegetables.

Several in our group were experiencing minor symptoms of high-altitude sickness including diarrhea, nausea, loss of appetite, headaches and sleep problems. I had none, but we were nevertheless all encouraged by the group doctor to take Diamox, a medicine used to treat altitude sickness. Those without symptoms or only minor ones would take half the recommended dose while the others took a full. I was worried that the side-effects of the drug would be worse than any mild symptoms caused by the altitude. I was wrong. There was only one side-effect of the drug and it was marvelous: tingling toes and fingertips with temperature change. So, upon gripping that hot mug of tea in the morning, I soon felt a tickling tingle build until I felt like a sorceress ready to send lightning bolts firing from my fingertips!

During our last acclimation stop in Gorakshep, we woke early on our ‘rest day’ to  start a 5am trek up Kala Pathar at an elevation of 5,545 meters to view Everest and her neighboring peaks in the early morning light.
Khumbu Glacier Ice Fall


The following day, after 10 days in the Himalayas, we trekked to Base Camp Mount Everest, one of the most inhospitable places I’ve ever encountered (and I’m not exactly a home-body). The tents were scattered randomly about on the moraine field of the Khumbu Glacier. There was barely a flat area to be found as it was riddled with ankle-twisting rocks, ice, sand, ice-melt pools and streams. The world-famous popcorn field, or ice fall, of the Khumbu Glacier was directly in front of us. On our arrival that first afternoon we saw several climbers, just black specks in the distance, making their way down the glacier, bringing with them the equipment from the upper camps and the ladders to aid climbers over the crevasses, marking the end of the climbing season.


If I’d thought the toilets were bad to this point, I had no idea what bad could be. I’ll let it at that except to say that standing in shit while squatting over a bucket should perhaps be a prerequisite ability when preparing for this trip.

One pleasant surprise in BC was the appearance of vegetables! We had cauliflower and bok choy! I was so overjoyed by this turn of events that I forgot much of the carbs to gorge on the veggies! Which was a mistake, as anyone who has indulged too much on cauliflower knows, as my belly soon had more gas than a Texaco station.

That first night the temperatures dropped to nearly -15 Celcius. I had acquired an expedition-grade sleeping bag at one of the previous lodges since I realized that the one I’d brought with me, that I’d used in the desert, was not going to cut it. So I now had a merino wool sleeping bag liner inside a mid-weight sleeping bag inside an expedition-grade bag on top of a foam and a thermal air mattress on top of which I piled my jackets. And I was just barely warm.

The following night was a bit warmer, but sleep was difficult under the anticipation of the early morning race start.


The starting line atmosphere was ridiculously chaotic. My toes were frozen, but there was the promise of sun rising from behind the mountains and the weather was good. A starting line band was held between two organizers across a giant pile of rock and stones which we were all cautiously trying to stand on. An ice-melt river flowed on one side, a steep icy slope on the other. There was no visible path to follow ahead of us, but a few marker flags were seen randomly protruding from the rocks.

I tried to place myself as much towards the front as possible, of course behind the fast-footed Nepalese, but right behind them as not to get caught in a single-file slog over the first several hundred meters. Then before long we were off and it felt so good to run!

I was wondering how the altitude would affect me, but it was not as significant as I’d thought. Ascents are difficult at any altitude so I paced myself according to how I felt and my own experience.

It seemed that the field thinned out quickly and I soon got into that trance-like rhythm that long-distance runners crave.

At around kilometer 9 a Sherpa passed me going the opposite direction and he said to me “erste Frau”. Seriously. He spoke to me in German, telling me that I was the first woman. First international woman, of course. Wow. Cool.


At kilometer 17 we began the Bibre Loop, an out-and-back 6-km loop which gave us the opportunity to see where we were in the field, as well as to greet our friends. On the back side I noted that I was at least one kilometer ahead of the next international woman, buffer but not safety; we still had a long way to go.

I ran where I could, hiked where I couldn’t. At the first several check-points I drank a cup of water and bent over with my hands on my knees to try to catch my breath. But it never helped. So I never stopped anymore, except for the quick chip check.

At kilometer 35 I was surprised when another woman came up behind me, an Austrian who’d I’d met in base camp. Scheisse. Ok, I thought, well if she really covered that much ground despite me giving all I can, then she deserves to take over the lead.

That was my initial thought.

Then, I changed my mind.

Fuck that*.

I wanted to win this race and I wasn’t going to give it up after 35 kilometers!

So I ran with all I had. I don’t think I was all that fast…considering the conditions, the altitude, the insane ascents, but still, regardless of not being super fast, giving all I could was good enough. And with every last amount of energy I had, I fought it to the finish and ended up there as the first international woman, behind three Nepalese super girls, and six minutes before the nearest international competitor.

Just goes to show…

Believe in yourself and sometimes miracles do happen.


*I know I shouldn't curse, but this is the 'uncensored' version and that is exactly what I thought at that moment! :)




Monday, May 7, 2018

Mount Everest Marathon: Prep Talk


I know I haven’t written much lately…with the release of the book I have been overwhelmed with marketing tasks that are all new to me…so unfortunately the blog has been silent.

But what a way to get started up again with the Tenzing-Hillary Mount Everest Marathon!

This year will be the 16th edition of the event which takes place each year on May 29th to commemorate the first successful ascent to the summit of the highest peak on earth, which happened in 1953 and thus we’ll be running on the 65th anniversary of the great day!


I will fly from Munich over Abu Dhabi to Kathmandu on May 14th, then fly to the tiny Himalayan village of Lukla on May 16th where we begin the climb.

A brief word on Lukla. Its is frequently referred to the home of ‘the most dangerous airport in the world’. Arriving and departing aircraft must use a single STOL (short-takeoff-and-landing) runway. There is low prospect of a successful go-around on short final due to the terrain. There is high terrain immediately beyond the northern end of the runway and a steeply angled drop at the southern end of the runway into the valley below.

We’ll be a small group with a guide to lead the way and Sherpas to carry our gear, and we’ll need ten days to reach Everest Base Camp, including three days of acclimation halt along the way. We will stay in tea houses in small villages, drinking yak milk (no) and boiled water (yikes!...I am bringing a bottle filter). With extra costs for WiFi, battery charging and showers. I have high-altitude and anti-diarrheal meds, antibiotics, probiotics, and anti-bacterial gel.

Our target is South Base Camp is in Nepal (whereas North Base Camp is in Tibet) which lies at an altitude of 5,364 metres (17,598 ft) above sea level. The oxygen concentration in the air there is at about 50% of what it is as sea level, which is why the rescue helicopters are incessantly flying in to retrieve climbers afflicted with high-altitude sickness.


Once we reach base camp, we’ll sleep two nights there in tents on the glacier in temperatures hovering above and below the freezing point depending on day or night.
All that said, after the treacherous flight, the high-altitude climb and not freezing on a glacier bed, I’ll be happy once I make it safely to the starting line of the marathon.

At 7am on May 29th we’ll start an official marathon of 42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles) back down the mountain. Ok, but just to make this clear. ‘Down’ the mountain is deceptive. We will constantly be alternating between climbing and descending, with a loss of 4,579 meters and a gain of 2,777 meters! So, forget about the 4,500 number just now. A technical trail marathon with a 2,777 meter climb is about as tough as it gets. I figure I’ll need about double the time that it takes me to run a flat road marathon… at least.

The best part of it all is that I will be making the trip with Beatrice! My tent-mate from the Marathon des Sables, also known from her namesake Chapter 3 in Ultramarathon Mom.
So, how does one train for such an endeavor? Well, living at just a few hundred meters above sea level doesn’t afford high-altitude training, nor do the weekends that I spend running in the Austrian Alps at 1,000-1,500 meters. High-altitude chambers and oxygen deprivation masks are pricey, so I am trusting the traditional route (and some hefty dose of prayer) and sticking with anaerobic training which, even in the flatlands, can help the body to optimize it’s oxygen consumption, so plenty of hill intervals, long intervals and tempo runs appeared on the training plan in the months approaching the race. Of course a weekly long run is always in my schedule to keep me going for hours on end.

I will try to post some photos on Instagram and Facebook when and if I get access to WiFi.
Wish me luck!

Namaste





Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sneak-preview: Chapter 23 of Ultramarathon Mom .............................................................................................................. Boston Marathon 2013: The Bombing

When I crossed the finish line in Boston, I was on cloud nine, but the primary emotion was that of relief because I could finally stop running. I was completely, physically empty. Like every other runner who’d just finished, I walked wearily forward and filtered into the mass of exhausted human beings as we wove our way farther up Boylston Street to be greeted and cared for by the B.A.A. volunteers. We first collected water and HeatSheet blankets. I was freezing by the time I’d gotten mine; it’s amazing how fast your body cools down. They were also handing out stickers to bind the front of the HeatSheets closed, but I didn’t have the energy or coordination to take it in my hand and stick it on, so I just stood there like a child and had one of the volunteers attach it for me. I wasn’t the only runner to do this, and a smile was all I could summon as thanks. Then we got our medals, a bottle of Gatorade, and a bag of food. The volunteers handing out these items were so friendly and were joking with us; they were clearly having a blast themselves. But several times I had to stop and bend over, holding onto my knees to rest. I knew I needed some energy in the form of food, but I was too spent to do anything more than stay in motion. The buses that held our bags full of clothing and personal items were still ahead, so I pulled my HeatSheet blanket as tight as I could around me and searched for yellow school bus #23. A few minutes later I’d found it and received my bag, then slipped behind the bus to put on some warm clothes. I peeled off my sweaty shirt and replaced it with a warm, dry, long-sleeved one, and a jacket. Another female runner who’d come back there with me saw me take off my shirt (of course I had a sports bra underneath) and said that she was too embarrassed to do that since there were so many people around. I told her it’s like giving birth…you’re so desperate you don’t give a damn how many people are in the room. She laughed and made a quick change.

From there I returned to the middle of Boylston because I needed to go back in the direction of the finish line to get to the runners’ exits. I was feeling better since I was now warm, and I was enjoying
watching the other runners, all of us sensing our mutual satisfaction and camaraderie. The atmosphere was charged with excitement, yet very controlled and peaceful. I didn’t want it to end.

And then in a moment it all suddenly changed.

There was a deafening noise. I looked up and saw a ball of white
smoke rising into the air on the right side of the road on the far
side of the finish line. Everyone around me stood still. My first
thought was that it was part of the event, a celebratory canon
shot or something. It didn’t really seem to make sense. It didn’t
fit in with the scene, in the atmosphere. I stood for a moment
to see what would happen next. But nothing did, so then all the
runners and I slowly began moving again; I was only able to take
another step or two before there was a second loud noise and
the accompanying smoke. But this time… I knew. And so did
everyone around me. The woman next to me said, “Oh, no. This
is not good.” We began to move faster in all directions. I took the
next street off of Boylston in the direction where I was supposed
to exit and meet my family. It was only a matter of a minute or
two before the sirens began; ambulances were being brought into
the area, one right after the other. There were still thousands of
runners trying to get to the exits, and the police were urging us to
the sides of the roads so that the ambulances could get through.
And they were coming at unbelievable speeds. I was trying to
push back against the crowds so as not to get hit by one of the
rescue vehicles flying through. Panic began to spread rapidly. I
was exhausted and began to get scared. Tears welled in my eyes,
and I was shaking. When I finally got to the runner’s exit, there
were men there who were telling us to get back. To go the other
way. But I knew that I was supposed to meet my aunt and father
just around the corner. I didn’t want to go the other way.
I wasn’t sure what to do, but then decided to take the risk and
moved forward, despite the warnings; I squeezed myself through
the metal barriers. When I was outside of the runner’s-only area, I
began to see spectators and families. There were parents running
down the street with small kids tucked under their arms. I felt a
brief wave of relief that my kids, for once, weren’t there. I also
noticed many people who had no idea that there was something
wrong. More than a block behind Boylston, they had probably
not seen or heard anything. When some of them looked at me and
saw the fear in my face along with the screaming ambulances,
they knew something wasn’t right. I tried to cover my face; I
didn’t want to scare anyone since I wasn’t at all sure what was
going on. Maybe (hopefully) it was nothing? But I was just so
exhausted after the race that I couldn’t help but let my emotions
out. I finally made it to the place where I’d planned to meet my
dad and aunt—under the large letter M. But they weren’t there.
Now I was really scared. What if something happened to them?
And where do I go now?

I took out my phone and tried to call my aunt Cathy, but the call
didn’t go through. I checked my messages, and she had sent me a
text, but it didn’t make any sense to me. Later that night I recalled
the text on my phone; it read: “I’m at the m sign on corner.” How
could I not have understood that? But my mind couldn’t process
anything; my cell phone felt burdensomely heavy and looked to
me like a strange device that I couldn’t even begin to understand.
Then, finally, after what seemed like an eternity but was probably
only a minute or two, I heard someone calling my name. It was
Cathy. She had briefly gone to look for me. I was so relieved. I
pretty much fell into her arms. My dad was right behind her.
I said, “We have to get out of here,” and we started walking in
the direction of Copley Plaza. Cathy practically had to carry me
the first couple of blocks; I was so completely drained. My poor
father was struggling behind us. I knew I needed to call home and
let them know I was safe. So at the next corner we stopped for a
second, and I called Frank. Thankfully the call went through, and
it was a panacea to hear his calm voice answer on the other end
of the line. I said in a panic, “I’m ok! I’m ok!” but at that point
he hadn’t heard any of the news yet, and he didn’t know what I
was talking about, but then he heard the sirens and mayhem in the
background of my call, and he knew that something was wrong.
I told him what I knew and promised I’d call him again shortly
since we had to keep moving; we just wanted to get away. Cathy’s
car was parked in the garage under the Copley Plaza Mall on
Boylston. We couldn’t get to it from Bolyston because the roads
were now closed off, so we thought maybe we could get there via
the glass overpass one block away. The ambulances were starting
to line up, and the police vehicles kept coming in, every make
of vehicle from Hummers to full-size pick-ups, suited up with
flashing lights behind the grill.

Once we finally made it into the Copley Plaza Mall, I began to
feel better. Safer. It was quiet. We found a bench, and I finally
got to sit down for the first time since finishing the race, almost
an hour earlier. But sadly there were other runners in there who
hadn’t been able to finish. The mall was on Boylston about a
quarter mile from the finish line, and some of them were stopped
right outside and went in there for safety. They didn’t have any
warm clothes, or water, or food. I gave my foil HeatSheet to a
woman in a tank top and shorts who told me she was stopped a
half mile from the finish. Others were given tablecloths from one
of the restaurants and had themselves wrapped up in those. People
were walking around with blank stares, texting their friends and
loved ones since the cell phone network had since been shut down
(apparently for fear of a triggered explosion).

We then learned that we were under lockdown. No one else
allowed in the building and no one out. We had to “ask” to go to the
bathroom. There was a bank or an electronics shop (can’t remember
which) in the mall, which was closed, but had a television that we
could see through the glass storefront with CNN reporting live
about the events in Boston. We were getting our information from
that and from our friends who were texting us about what was
going on from Internet or other news sources.

Then we got the news in a text from Frank: Two dead. Forty injured.
That was the first mention I’d heard about casualties. Oh, Lord.

My aunt Cathy looked at me seriously and said, “You know, we are
sitting here under the tallest building in Boston.” A perfect target.
“Maybe we should get out of here,” I replied. And that was
timely, too. Since, just then, after about an hour and a half of
lockdown, we were told that they were evacuating the building.
We had to leave. But where to? There were no trains or buses. We
didn’t want Lou, Cathy’s husband to come get us, because, really,
we weren’t sure how safe it was downtown. So we just headed
out and away. We kept walking and decided to try to flag down
a taxi or maybe hitch a ride. But of course, every taxi that went
by was already occupied. Plus, most of the streets where we were
had already been closed to public traffic and were cordoned off by
police with flashing lights. The undercover police cars were still
coming in at a constant rate, and this was about three hours after
the explosions. Where were they all coming from?

My poor father, at 70 years old and with weak lungs, kept having
to take short breaks. But it’s amazing what the human body can
endure under such circumstances. After walking for a while, we
came across a bench, and my father sat down. It was then that
Cathy spied a taxi at the next intersection that was empty. She
hailed him and had to do some wrangling to get him to take us
to Winchester—normally a 10-minute drive, but under those
circumstances it would be about an hour. We climbed into the
cab and breathed a sigh of relief. There were road closures and
detours, but we didn’t care; we knew it was over for us. We
listened to the radio in the taxi, and there was news of an incident
at the JFK Library in Dorchester. Another explosion? They
weren’t sure.

I then realized that the small toe on my left foot hurt, so I took off
my shoe to find a fat blood blister. Hard to believe how I did not
feel that until four hours after finishing a race. Just goes to show
how powerful the mind is.

All in all, I was one of the lucky ones that day to have come home
safe and without injury (except for a meager blood blister), and
I’m grateful that my father and aunt who were there to watch me
finish were also not hurt, though my dad had been in the vicinity
of the explosions but on the opposite side of the street just minutes
before. My heart breaks for those who were injured or killed and
for their families and loved ones. And quite naturally I carry some
guilty feelings—running is a very selfish sport, and most of those
injured were there to watch us, to cheer us on. My sympathies
are also with the B.A.A. and the volunteers who organized and
implemented such an enormous event that flowed with perfection
and was simply meant for the enjoyment of not only the runners,
but also the spectators, volunteers, and the entire city of Boston.
After seeing the quick reaction of the medical workers, hearing
about runners donating blood, and all the outpouring of support
for those injured, I know that for every ignorant, self-serving,
hate-filled human being, there are thousands upon thousands of
good, loving, helpful, and wonderful souls.
I know that I will always carry memories of that day with me—
good and bad. Although before the race I said it would be my oneand-
only Boston, I’ve since changed my mind. I know that I’ll
be back to run the Boston Marathon again, an opinion probably
shared by most of the runners on April 15, 2013.

Yes, Boston is strong.