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Friday, June 28, 2019

MountainMan Nesselwang

Hier klicken für die deutsche Version

Although a new series, the MountainMan races are professionally organized as though there are years of experience, but there is unmistakably a very familial feel. The team and support staff are always smiling and laughing, having a blast themselves, while ready to jump to the needs of any of their runners. At their races, you really feel like part of the family, meeting up for that annual reunion in some of the most picturesque locations the world has to offer.

11 May 2019

Strecke M: 16 km (17+), 960 HM (1040) Conditions: Mud, Snow, Rain, Sleet, Wind, Cold... and more Mud
holly zimmermann, interview, mountain man
Interview with Rudi and Stephan :)
Is it just me or do you get the feeling that the worse the weather is, the more fun trail runners have? You don’t hear them complaining if Mother Nature is wicked and wild and pushes them to their limits, but you DO hear trail runners complain on beautiful sunny days because then it is just too… well, they say ‘warm’ but what I think they mean is ‘easy’. 

Take for example, The Original Mountain Marathon (OMM) in the United Kingdom. It has been held for 50 years now and is intentionally scheduled at the end of October to guarantee ‘challenging weather’. This is done, quite simply, because that is what people want. If the weather is mild on race weekend, there are a lot of disappointed runners.

For non-runners, who think we are crazy enough just to tackle mountains in the best of weather, it is completely unfathomable why we would even go outside on a stormy day, not to mention spending hours fighting snow, sleet, freezing temperatures, miles of mud, and gale force winds for the fun of it? But for those of us who are ‘in the know’, that is exactly what we crave.

König Ludwig with Sissi and Runners
Such was our luck in at the Nesselwang MountainMan race in the German Alps on May 11th. After an early spring of mild temps, Jack Frost was suddenly back with a vengeance.

King Ludwig II and his bride Sissi were there to see us off. Ok, not the real King and Queen who lived more than a century prior, but actors in ornate, regal costumes which made the event in the already idyllic Alps that much more like a fairy tale.
holly zimmermann, flag, USA, mountainman, nesselwang
Flag bearer

The two long courses (38 km and 30 km) started at 8:00 and my race (16 km) started at 10:00, at which point the weather at the start/finish was stable. My youngest daughter, Amelia, was there with me and during the Start she positioned herself about 200 meters up the course so that she could get some photos as I ran by. I was given the American flag from the organizers in the starting zone and the flags of other nationalities were also handed out accordingly. The excitement rose in those final minutes in the starting block till we heard the countdown from Rudi and Stephan that set us loose. I ran with the flag waving back and forth far above my head and when I passed Amelia I handed it to her to carry back to the start. Well, wouldn’t you know that the other flag-bearers seemed to think that she was the official flag-bringer-backer so all the others handed her their flags too as they ran by. She was glad to be a part of the craziness and happily carried the load back to the starting line once the runners were through.

Up, up, up along a trail that led to the metal staircase adjacent to a magnificent waterfall. Two-hundred sixty steps that everyone slowed down a bit for, which didn’t necessarily mean that our pulses slowed as we marched single-file up those stairs full of power and energy, eager to find out what lay ahead.

Then came the Wurzel-Weg, a steep, narrow path that had slippery tree roots (Wurzeln) crisscrossing everywhere. Each step had to be well placed to avoid a nasty fall. But soon I heard voices and as we crested the Wurzel-Weg there were a bunch of people cheering us on. One of them yelled out to me, “How’s it going, ‘Mom’?”, in reference to my book, and I pantingly responded that my kids would be proud. Accessible by way of the gondola, which brought the spectators up the mountain, we had reached the first refreshment station at the Sportheim Böck.

I felt like I was moving so slowly. I probably was. But I have a personal rule to keep moving, regardless of pace. I don’t like to stop at refreshment stations unless I am out of water or have to refuel, but today I had enough water in my pack as well as gels and bars to keep me going for the duration. So I kept moving past the Sportheim Böck and later the Alpe Stubental refreshment stations.

Then we climbed above the tree line, the wind picked up and there was a massive mix of precipitation: freezing rain, snow and hail. I had to stop to take off my backpack where I had my lightweight rain jacket stored. I had been sweating on the initial ascent, but now I was shivering.

Sportheim Böck
We continued our climb and the wind simultaneously continued its onslaught. I looked to the sky for signs of dangerous weather patterns, but it seemed to be a thick front that was going to hang out there for a while, so I bore on hoping to get over the highest point of the course at over 1,500 m and back below the tree line as soon as possible. But a part of me was thrilled by the excitement of the wild raw weather and pushing my body to its limits.

I’ve seriously never seen so much mud on a course. At first I tried to gingerly pick my way around the patches, but at times there was no avoiding it so a straight line ended up being my strategy even though I was up to my ankles in the wet goo. But I was still careful, as there were other runners covered in mud who’d apparently slipped and taken a mud bath. On a warm summer day I may do that voluntarily, but with the freezing temps a bath of any kind could be dangerous, so I gave every effort to stay upright.

Suddenly, on a wider section of trail in the woods, I was passed very close on my left side. By a dog. A mixed breed darted by with his fast-footed female owner being pulled behind! Both with big grins. Dogs are allowed on the course in these races. Gotta love that!

Amelia greets me just before the finish
Finishing times for trail races on unfamiliar courses are difficult to predict. But already half-way through the course I knew I would be far from finishing in 2.5 hours, my random guesstimate. But after 3.5 hours, as I was making the last descent, I saw my faithful daughter with a big smile in greeting, waiting out in the cold to take some photos of her mom. And before the last turn we crossed over a check-point receiver which told the moderators at the finish, Rudi and Stephan, that I was on my way in. So before I even saw them, I heard my name over the loudspeaker and having known Rudi for years, I recognized the jubilation in his voice that welcomed me back.

Milling through the finishers at the Finish Line, many covered in mud and dressed for the worst of nature’s elements, you’d never have a clue that most were exhausted and suffering a multitude of minor physical ailments. All you could see was excitement and satisfaction. And although only a few of them would be standing on the podium that afternoon, everyone had gotten what they came for.

Adventure. Challenge. Fun.

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