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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 

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