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Friday, September 29, 2017

Pushed to the limits...or not?

Regensburg Landkreislauf 2017

Oberndorf nach Kallmünz · 74.4 kilometers · 800 meters positive climb

Regensburg Landkreislauf Ultramarathon Holly Zimmermann Ultramarathon Mom

Doesn’t look so bad when you look at the numbers. Only 800 meters elevation over that distance is almost flat. Comparatively, during the Hochkönigman Endurance Trail (85km/5000m), in the middle of the race, there was a 1,000 meter climb over a distance of just over 3 kilometers, that’s a 30% grade. So, naturally concerning the Landkreislauf, I thought, ‘Ok, I can do this one pretty easily and maybe even approach it somewhat aggressively’. 

Ha, ha. Think again.

Every year I check out the course of the Landkreislauf by either running the stages or biking them beforehand. It is important for me to be able to mentally toss it through my mind as well as to make sure I don’t have to rely on the markings during the race and worry that I may miss a turn, since I do have a history of getting lost. This year I did not get a chance to check out the entire course, only the first eight stages and just the first part of the ninth. Thus, leaving 15 kilometers in the unknown. But I thought it would be no problem since the last 8 kilometers are along the Naab River anyway, so there should be no surprises. But what I didn’t anticipate in those 7 kilometers before reaching the Naab was the long, drawn out, never-ending, incessant and absolutely eternally slow climb through the Schwaigerhauser Forest nor the quad-killing, ferociously steep descent out of Wolfsegg!!!

Now see what I mean about the mental aspect of ultras?

With Nussi and Moderator Armin at the Start
It was drizzling when I reached Oberndorf at 8:15 that morning. I met my bike support, Nussi, to give him my water bottle, gels, sports bars, sunglasses, etc. We attached his official laminated escort pass to the granny-basket (which held all our supplies) on the front of his bike, then headed out to the starting area together. Lots of familiar faces, a few photos and then the official warm-up. But after 2 minutes, once the warm-up routine got a little intense, I sneaked off to the side to watch. I wasn’t planning on sprinting out of the starting gate so I was warm enough. 

Watching the warm-up

The first 20 kilometers of the race were relatively flat (which we all know I don’t like), winding along the Danube River, but I planned to run them about 10 seconds faster per kilometer than my planned average for the entire race. But of course, the first leg is packed with runners and the tempo was higher than I’d planned. But as every runner has experienced when going out too fast, I felt good, thought I could gain some time on my estimates, and maybe I was in better shape than I thought? And so I just went with the flow. Of course we all know where this ends up.

I was making good time. And feeling good. Nussi was in true form. Chatting incessantly to me or anyone else in our vicinity. A couple of friends from my running team joined me on the second leg, Lorena for the entire stretch and Barbara for a few minutes, so I was well entertained and ran what felt like a very comfortable pace. Relay runners were constantly cheering me on as they ran by, many calling me by name since it was printed on my start number… Respect! Good luck! Crazy!!! …were some of the comments. Then Astrid joined me for the third leg and I didn’t need to worry a bit about tempo, as I kept right next to her. But then came the fourth stage, the field had spread out, my running teammates had left me, and I was alone with Nussi. This was the longest leg of the race and had 120 meters climb, but it finally got me into the woods and I was looking forward to it. So I attacked it. There was a steep climb near the beginning that I didn’t slow down on; then I leveraged off gravity and pushed myself during the gradual descent on the winding trails through the woods. I was in my element. Soon after, with the next village, Eitlbrunn, in sight I realized I was ten minutes ahead of plan.

I felt really good.

Then suddenly, not so good at all.

Just before I reached the transition area my legs began to stiffen up. Scheisse. Ok, time to regroup: Eat, drink, slow it down…and hope it’s just a passing phase. Another team member, Stefan, joined me there, and although I’d already told him the tempo I wanted to run, I couldn’t keep up with him and we had to taper off.

By this time Frank and the kids had begun to meet me at various points along the way. When I would spot my 9-year-old son riding towards me on his BMX bike, then I knew the car with my family and supplies was on the horizon. This always energized me, if only for a few brief minutes, and then I’d look forward to our next encounter.

Down a steep hill and into the village of Regen, just before the next transition, the local firefighters were trying to motivate by saying, ‘You’re almost there!’ Hmmm…I guess they didn’t know the black bib meant I was an ultra and far from the finish. But I looked down at my watch anyway to check the distance and I was at 37.2 kilometers. The half-way point! Nussi and I briefly celebrated this milestone with some shouts, before high-fiving through the next transition and back onto a flat stretch along the Regen River. Oh, joy, another long flat passage, along another river.

This monotonous rhythm didn’t help my legs as they had not loosed up, rather the opposite, I began to feel some pulling in the Achilles and my left knee. I stopped briefly (which I hated to do, but was unavoidable) to stretch them out, which helped a little. Stefan played music on his cell phone, but it wasn’t loud enough to motivate, so he took some videos instead. I smiled into the camera, lied and said I was feeling Super!

Diesenbach was the next transition where my friend Petra and her 2-year-old where waiting to cheer me on. Their beaming faces gave me a brief pick-me-up.

But then I saw some friends who were on a relay team, still waiting for their team member to come through. Oh, no, if their team is behind me, then I am definitely too fast. Ugh. Bite down. Carry on.

There were still quite a few relay teams around and at one point a woman came up next to me and said, I think we know each other! I looked at her and had no idea who she was. She said, Your daughter was at our place once and I was even over at your house! You are kidding me, I thought. I apologized and said I really couldn’t recall. She told me her name. Nothing clicked. So we ran on together and chatted. Then I asked her daughter’s name, who was the friend of my daughter, to which she responded, I don’t have a daughter, yours was visiting my son, they were briefly dating! Then it clicked. And we laughed.

The next transition was in Steinsberg, where Stefan was supposed to quit, but he felt guilty about leaving me in my less-than-optimal condition. I assured him that I was in good hands with Nussi and that Chrissi would be meeting me for the last two legs. He ran another kilometer with us before finally turning around.

In Holzheim, Chrissi was waiting. She is a bubbly, young, energy bundle. A strong runner and fabulous person who regularly volunteers her time to run with handicap teens. She ran the second leg of the race that morning for our running team, then the seventh leg as a guide for one of the relay members on the integrative team which she trains, then she planned to run the ninth and tenth legs with me! Of course Nussi was thrilled to have some fresh blood to chat with, as I had long since been drained of my conversational capabilities.

The first half of the ninth leg was familiar to me, but the second half was a surprise. It seemed unending. It felt as though there was constantly a slight incline. And the damn music at the next transition could be heard for miles away giving me the false impression that I was almost there for what felt like an eternity! But finally we were in Wolfsegg, the last transition zone, and technically on the home stretch.

But then the road seemed to drop off into oblivion. The descent was so steep that my quads and knees were screaming in pain. At one point my knee partially gave out and I grabbed onto Chrissi’s shoulder for support, which I hung on to till we reached the bottom of the hill for fear of falling flat on my face.  One more steep ascent, before a long gradual decline and then I was at the Naab, which I was to follow to the finish. The third and thankfully last long flat river section.

But I was hurting. My legs were so heavy. I was just shuffling along. Hoping to catch a glimpse of the bridge that crossed over the Naab, signaling the city limits of Kallmünz. Then we passed a small café and Chrissi exclaimed, Hey! I know this place! We are not far at all anymore from Kallmünz! Five kilometers at most! She was excited, but I was horrified. Five more kilometers! No, that can’t be! I wanted to cry. (I’ve since googled it, and in fact, from that point to the finish line it was exactly 4.9 kilometers).

My son was with us again on his BMX and was planning on escorting us all the way to the finish. He was having fun and that gave me some respite.

Then Nussi spotted a woman behind us. She had no relay baton in her hand but she had a bike accompaniment. Uh, oh. Could that be another female ultra? As relay teams were not allowed to have bikers.

Chriss and Nussi then got crazy with excitement! Holly, you haven’t run 72 kilometers to lose this on the last two…let’s go!!!

And we did. It never ceases to amaze me what the body can accomplish despite feeling as though you have reached your limits. We picked up the pace and it actually felt good! They kept reporting that we were gaining distance over ‘her’, but there was no slowing down any more. I pushed on with everything I had. Chrissi said we had just run a 4:47 kilometer, compared to the previous ones which were nearly a 7-minute pace. (Later we'd find our pursuer was a relay racer, not an ultra.)

Then finally, like prana from heaven, the bridge was in sight and we entered the cobble-stoned streets of the old city. Chrissi was screaming at pedestrians to clear the way (she’s got a tough side too) and as we crossed over the stone bridge in view of the finish line, we could hear the moderator, Armin Wolf, announcing my impending arrival…. Finisher of the 257-km Marathon des Sables, the Polar Circle Marathon, and Mount Everest next year…here she is, the now four-time winner of the Regensburg Landkreislauf…

Finish Regensburg Landkreislauf Ultramarathon Holly Zimmermann Ultramarathon Mom

I was overwhelmed and the tears started to flow even before I crossed the finish line. The jubilation and welcome from the fans was too much to take and I grabbed onto my middle daughter and held her tight, with Chrissi consoling me on my shoulder, until I could regain my composure.

The spectators had that look in their eyes, a look that I knew so well. It was the same one that I had myself eight years before when I watched the ultra runners cross the finish line of the very first Regensburg Landkreislauf. I was awestruck at their heroics, and I knew that one day, I too would be one of them.

Dreams can come true.

Finish Regensburg Landkreislauf Ultramarathon Holly Zimmermann Ultramarathon Mom
Certificate adapted to include all who helped achieve it

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