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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Mud runs

Life is short. Try everything once. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it again. That’s pretty much my opinion of a lot of things in life, which also pertains to mud runs, obstacles course races, Braveheart battles, extreme races or Hindernisseläufe, whatever you want to call them.

For the 2016 Limes Run in Bad Gögging, the Armin Wolf Running Team was given five free entries to the race. Let’s just say I didn’t jump at the opportunity to take part. I looked at the photos on the Internet from the previous years and saw crawling through the mud, swimming in ice cold water and, above all, lots of smiling faces. So, due to the last observation, I agreed on one condition, that we would run in a group. I didn’t want to have to go all out and battle the obstacles on my own; I just wanted to have fun, which is why most people take part in these things anyway.

At the start
There were three guys and two women in our group; Daniela (Dani) was the other woman and she’d done a few of these before, although the last time she did one she seriously injured her knee and couldn’t do any sports for almost a year, so getting through this race was mentally important for her. Christian, a physical trainer, and Dominik, a physical therapist, had done these before, and then there were Stephan and I who were virgin mud-runners.

My cheering squad (a.k.a. my family) :)
The weather had been cold the week before and even though the day of the race was expected to be much warmer, it was supposed to rain. So when I woke up that morning to gray skies I wasn’t surprised, it wasn’t till I started driving out to the race that I was amazed to see the sun come out and the clouds disappear! It stayed that way all day, sunny and mild temps…someone was smiling down on us.

The long swim in 8 degree C water
We started in the fourth wave of runners, each wave separated by ten minutes to avoid back-ups at the obstacles. It was a relief to finally start, and the first kilometer was simply running through some fields to warm-up. Then came the lake. A 150-m swim in water temperature of 8°C (46°F). When I got in the water I could hardly breathe, my body was in shock. The rescue helpers were sitting in boats and yelling at us to take deep breaths. I just tried to get across as fast as I could but as I was about half way I had caught up to some swimmers in front of me. I couldn’t get around them and they were kicking water into my face. I tried to stay calm and somehow managed to get across and out of the water. I was so relieved to have the swim behind me but was shocked to see a second smaller lake with about a 40-m swim just in front of us followed by a mud pit! So, truth was, I wasn’t really having fun yet, but that was just about to change.

We then ran along tractor paths through the fields and let the sun warm us. There were some beautiful Shetland cattle and we decided to stop and take a group photo, as a friend was following us on his bike with camera. The five of us lined up arm-in-arm, still soaking wet, with the only thing separating us and these mighty animals being a wire fence. An electrified wire fence. As luck would have it Dominik’s rear-end touched the metal wire and a shock wave ran through all five of us. We jumped with surprise then fell into hysterics when we realized what had happened, another photo with laughs and we were back in motion.

Electric shock anyone?

Outfits varied wildly: some in shorts and short-sleeved shirts while others were in long tights and multiple layers. A group of guys were dressed as Superman, red cape and all, while many were outfitted as Viking-type warriors.

Dani and I behind the warriors

Crawling through the mud on all fours, diving under canoes in the river, climbing up knotted ropes dangling from a bridge and running through snow blowers, all of this was waiting for us, in addition to the total 24km of running and a whopping 14 times in the water.But it was fun and after just under 3 hours we crossed the finish line with smiles on our faces and above all relief at having finished without any injuries!

So, according to the ‘try everything once’ philosophy, I tried it, it was fun, the comradery made it special, but I’m pretty sure it will one of those one-timers, at least next time will not be any time soon!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Regensburg Landkreislauf 2016: A 65-km Win in the Mountains

Full of anticipation at the Start
I love this race. This was the 7th year of the event and I’d taken part every year, the first four in relay teams and the last three as an ultra runner. I was hoping to run it as the crowning of a great year following the Marathon des Sables in April, the 100km Biel in June and several smaller races and a duathlon scattered in between. But what all athletes know is that an injury can sneak up on you at any time, and 4 days after Biel, while doing cartwheels with the kids, I tore my hamstring. For five long weeks I couldn’t run. But maybe it was a blessing in disguise as it gave my entire body time to recover from those two giant races, which I wouldn’t otherwise have done.

Training really started up again in full force during our family vacation in the United States in August. We spent two weeks out west visiting Yellowstone National Park, Salt Lake City, and the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t sure how many opportunities I’d have to run outside, but I did get some good runs in, with a few interval sessions and a long mountain trail run at Snowbasin outside of SLC. At altitudes of 6,000 to 9,000 ft, this was really good training. Then in Rhode Island I worked on endurance and mid-length tempo, and before I knew it the five weeks were over and we were back in Germany. And even though my coach said I was still lacking in speed and endurance, time was out, I was as ready as I was going to get.

The weather had been fabulous in the two weeks leading up to the race. Late summer, hot and sunny days with warm nights perfect for grilling and dinner on the terrace. But on the day of the Landkreislauf the weather turned to fall: 14°C and pouring rain, for the entire day. Instead of shorts and a short-sleeved top, I had to pull out my long compression socks, ¾ tights and rain jacket. 

In the two previous years, I was the first female finisher, which was not without weight on my shoulders to make it a three-peat. There were 300 relay teams and 42 ultras registered, including 5 women ultras...and they were strong. Experienced ultrarunners and iron(wo)men. Winning was not going to be easy. I would need a strategy. The first 45km were relatively flat and the last 20km heading into the Bavarian hills were characterized by lots of steep ascents and descents. That would be my only chance. I don’t like to run flats. I have trouble keeping up a pace for very long because I get bored, fall into a monotonous rhythm and since the motion is not very dynamic I start to stiffen up. So the plan was: try to find a comfortable rhythm for the first 45km, stay as close as possible to the competition without losing too much ground, and then when I get into the hills where I feel strong, run free. But would it work?

Armin Wolf Laufteam runners...and Armin too
I started the race near the front of the pack and was too fast over the first leg. I kept trying to slow down but the flow of the others runners kept up the tempo. Finally after 8km I slowed down to where I wanted to be. Then at around km 15 I was passed by another female ultra. I kept her in sight so I wasn’t too worried, but when the second caught me at km 18 I wondered if I shouldn’t try to pick it up. But the second runner, Heike, and I decided to run together and it was really enjoyable. We swapped stories and were entertained by my bike support, Nussi. He sang to us and relayed stories about how much the city had changed since he was a kid. Heike was also a good pacemaker and I was happy to just run alongside her and not have to pay much attention to my watch. Eventually the first female began to increase the distance between us and by km 35 Heike also began a slow break away from me. I hung back at a comfortable pace, knowing that there was a lot more to come.

And it was still pouring rain, with occasional ferocious wind gusts, but thankfully, with my rain jacket, I was not cold, though I was soaked to the bone. My shoes were squishy like sponges and I felt hot spots forming on my toes and balls of my feet. I knew blisters were on the prowl but since they were not yet painful I tried to ignore them. (For a list of what I ate and drank see the footnote at the end)

With Veda at the start
In Wiesent, at the 42-km marathon mark, my husband Frank was waiting with my kids and a friend of ours, Matthias, who would run with me for the rest of the race. Matthias was training for the Berlin Marathon so this would be used as a long training run for him… and I was so happy to have the company and additional motivation! 

Six and a half minutes separated me from the lead woman. Then my start number ripped off my belt. The material was soaking wet and weak. I took off the belt and handed it to Nussi who tossed it in his front basket. Matthias suggested we use his clip-style belt, which was in Frank’s van. So after another flat 4km on a beautiful trail alongside a river, we saw our support vehicle again and got the fix on the start number. Then into the woods for the first major ascent. The race was on.

Two kilometers steep uphill. I’d ridden it on the mountain bike two months earlier so I knew what was to come. This time it didn’t feel so bad. Or maybe I had just run it through my mind enough that it was no longer a mental threat. Either way, I was now in my element and about half way up the hill we caught up with Heike who had slowed to a walk. As the climb steadied out a bit she began to run again and we were shortly together, but then on the next steep hill she slowed down again and that was the last I saw of her. One down, one to go.

A relay runner battling the elements 
Up, up and up some more until we reached the convent in Frauenzell, where shortly before Frank and the kids had told us that I had gained 4 minutes over the first female during the climb. Progress. But she was still nowhere in sight. 

The course kept climbing and dropping. I pushed myself over the ascents and just left gravity to take its course during the descents while concentrating on form and trying not to slip on the wet fallen leaves. I was rejuvenated by the speed.

Over another ridge, across some fields and down an embankment, then she was in sight, about 500 meters ahead. Still a huge distance. Matthias said ‘we got her’…but I said it is too early and the distance was too great for an attack. I still had time.

Then into the next patch of woods and suddenly we saw her stop and talk to two other ultras and a bike supporter. When I was about 100m distant they started to run again, but this time I knew it was only a matter of time. Then we were back out into some fields and up another incline and down the other side where the kids were shouting encouragement on my approach. They were so excited that I was back in the race and gaining ground. Nussi filled up the bottles but I kept in motion. 

Then there was another ascent before Brennberg and I couldn’t hold off the inevitable, I was consistently gaining. I soon caught two other male ultras and the bike supporter,  and I knew that before we reached the top of the hill I needed to make the final pass of the lead female. I came up right behind her, then with all my reserves I switched to the other side of the path and powered by as strong as I could. She let out a deep breath. I kept up the pace as fast as I could when I entered Brennberg and soon heard screaming and shouting as Frank and the kids drove by me, thrilled to see that I’d taken the lead. I pushed with all I had until I was past the chapel and over the steepest point of the entire racecourse. This had cost me a lot of energy, but thankfully there were now some descents where I could get a shot of regeneration. I kept my strides long and the tempo high.

Then there was a steep descent which burned my quads, but there was no slowing down now. Before the next turn-off onto the trail into the woods the van was again in sight and my family was going crazy with cheers. That gave me more strength and determination to see the race through. Down, down, down. Then up again along a steep path that was a complete mud bath. Nussi had to dismount and walk. Even I, though unwillingly, had to slow to a march, the mud had cut my tempo so much so that it didn’t make much difference in speed whether I walked or ran, and walking would reduce my heartrate.
DJ at the finish trying to keep his equipment dry

Then into Dietersweg with a final onslaught of cheers from my family before they (and I) were headed to the finish. Only 4.7 km to go; 4,700 meters. And mostly downhill. But I never let down the tempo.

With adrenalin pumping, the 64th kilometer was my fastest of the day. I could hear the sounds of music and moderation and knew it was almost over. One last look behind me to see if it was all clear, not yet aware that the next female was now almost a kilometer behind, and there was nothing left between me and the finish. My three youngest kids came out to run with me the last 100 meters awhile Armin Wolf announced my arrival. Emotions ranged all over the stratosphere. I have never been so happy to cross that finish line. I had pokered with my strategy, fought an incredible battle over 6 hours and 45 minutes through the worst of weather conditions, made my family and friends proud, and finished off the running season on the highest of highs.

Life is good.

Ultras on stage at the awards ceremony


Fluids: Water throughout the race, about 100ml every 10 minutes
            Oatmeal milk starting at km 43, about 50ml every 20 minutes
            Coke at km 50...one sip and then did not want it again!
            Brought isotonic but didn't drink it
Food: Salted Caramel GU (my favorite!) at kms 8, 18, 44, 50 (spit half of the last one out)
          Granola bar: one third of a bar at kms 15 and 40
          1/3 of a banana at km 37
Salt tablets at km 25, 44, 50

Did not stop to rest at all but at km 28 I had to quickly bend over and pick up an energy packet for Heike which fell out of her waist belt, and then at km 45 I had to prop my foot up for a second on the back of the van to scoop sand out of my shoe.

Monday, July 11, 2016

If You Want To Run 100 Kilometers, You Might As Well Choose Biel

Ok, I know that is a ridiculous statement, I mean, how many of you reading this are actually contemplating running 100 kilometers at all? Driving that far is strenuous enough. But Biel does have plenty of pros which make it a logical choice for an easy first-time 100-km race. Here are five of them…
  1. It is one of the biggest and oldest of its kind, with a single 100-km loop.
This year there were 830 finishers of the 100-km race alone. There is also a 56-km ultramarathon, a half marathon and a night marathon bringing more than 4500 runners to Biel on a Friday night in June. The atmosphere at the start is absolutely electric. There are just so many people around that the city is in complete party-mode. And the course is relatively flat, with only four significant rises, and in total there are less than 1000 meters of positive elevation. Flatter over that distance would be hard to find.

start number biel 100km race running ultra
  1. It is run during the night.
The start is at 10 pm, which obviously magnifies the party aspect because, well, those who are not running are partying on a Friday night. And even as you run through the smaller villages along the course at midnight, 1, 2 and even 3 am, there are people out there cheering the runners on (naturally helped a bit by the local wine). There are even tent parties set up in fields in the middle of seemingly nowhere. At 5:00 in the morning as I was running along the Emmendamm in the pouring rain there was a group of three men singing and cheering us on like crazed Hooligans. The runners were so uplifted that we were singing and cheering right back! Running during the night also avoids the possibility of enduring warm June temperatures under a hot sun.

Aarberg covered bridge running 100km Biel
Euphoric atmosphere in the Aarberg covered bridge (Photo: Bieler Lauftage, Album Google+)

  1. The refreshment stations have everything you need. (Except chairs)
There are 18 refreshment stations on the course spaced about 5km apart. They offer a choice of beverages from water and Gatorade to tea, bouillon and Pepsi, and a schmorgesbord of food including three different kinds of sports bars and gels, as well as bananas, apples, oranges, bread and pretzels. What more could you ask for? There was even a coffee bar set up near km 50. And if that isn’t enough, runners are allowed to have a bike supporter, which could certainly be helpful in carrying extra clothes or shoes if the temperatures change drastically or in case of heavy rain, but in terms of food supply, the race organizers had it covered. I didn’t use a biker as support, but did have vehicle support from my family. My husband met me at predetermined sites en route in our VW Van, with the back seat folded out as a make-shift bed for our two youngest children who had their sleeping bags and pillows set up for an exciting night of following mama 100km through the Swiss countryside! At one point along a semi-major road I saw the van in the distance parked at a café and as I approached my husband came running out with an espresso in his hand for me! What luxury service!

Refresh baby
    4. You get to run over the famous covered wooden bridge in Aarberg

This bridge was built in 1568 to span the Aare River and at the time it was the only river crossing between Bern and Büren. The bridge is breathtaking in itself, the architecture exquisitely unique. And since it lies at km 17 on the race course, almost all runners will cross it before midnight, still quite early, and so the bridge is packed with fans. The reverberating echoes of cheers would give the Grinch the goosebumps.
The beautiful covered bridge in Aarberg: A highlight to run over during the race [Photo by de:User:Yesuitus2001]

     5. The medal and the finisher shirts rock!

The medal itself is heavy and of good quality with lots of fine detail, but what I really like about it is the neck band. It is not a simple red- or blue-and-white-striped band, no, it is bright and colorful and has that beautiful Swiss flag proudly displayed. The finisher T-shirts are available in both a men’s and women’s cut and they have cool colors, large print and are black on the sides which, all ladies know, is ‘slenderizing’, and we like that. Such great finisher shirts are unfortunately not the case everywhere, and most disappointingly was the one we got from the Marathon des Sables this year (see photo below of Beatrice and I)—plain white, with tiny print on the front saying Finisher and even tinier print under that saying Marathon des Sables! And nothing on the back! I mean, if someone runs 257km through the Sahara Desert they have earned the right to slap it all over town!!!

Anyway, hands-down, if you want to try a 100-km race, Biel is the one to start with!

running Biel finisher shirt medal
That medal would look great with my black cocktail dress

marathon des sables finish shirt 2016 monsters holly zimmermann
Holly & Beatrice proudly wearing our MdS shirts

*This article was first published on Ask the Monsters

Monday, April 25, 2016

Geröstete Cashewnüsse mit Sojasoße

Zeit für ein Rezept!

Mein absoluter Lieblings-Snack und ideal für Ausdauerathleten, weil es so viele Proteine, Fett und Salz enthält!

400g Cashewnüsse
4 Esslöffel Sojasoße

Cashewnüsse in einer Pfanne auf mittlerer Stufe 45-60min gold- bis dunkelbraun rösten. Oft rühren, so dass sie nicht anbrennen. Dann noch in der heißen Pfanne, die Sojasoße darüber gießen und rühren bis es aufgesaugt und/oder verdunnstet ist. Abkühlen lassen. Genießen!