Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Maintal – Ultratrail (MTUT) 2016

The third annual running of the Maintal–Ultratrail knocked it out of the park!  24 September arrived with fog and low, but ideal temperatures, for an end of summer ultratrail event among the vineyards and trails of the Main River Valley.  As Saturday unfolded weather conditions simply could not have been better with warm temperatures and lots of sunshine; ideal conditions for a phenomenal 65KM trail race through the Franconian Wine Country.
The course of the MTUT is a tasty mix of single track trail, farm, forest and vineyard paths.  No, there are no mountains in Franconia, but the MTUT’s 1690 meters (5544 feet) of elevation change are something to relish.  The course offers cracking single track downhill and some long pulls up that if you hit them just right the sun and elevation will work you over like a demanding mother-in-law.  The MTUT is no day at the spa friends!
I’m not certain how many runners actually started the 2016 MTUT.  There were however, eighty-five finishers.  The finishers were split between twenty women and sixty-five men.  Of the women, Silke Kiel took first place with a finish in 7:31:19.  Among the men, Patrick Gensel took first place in 5:57:54.  It was refreshing to see this turn out of female runners!

I was fortunate enough to tag along with two friends over much of the MTUT.  Saturday morning I joined Andreas and Harald who had camped the night prior in Veitshoechheim.  We started and finished the day laughing.  Harald traditionally starts each of his races as the last place starter and works his way back up through the running field.  The thought of this brings the Talking Heads song “Psycho Killer” to mind.  What a mind trip for both Harald and the runners he passes.  Andreas and I started together with me serving as a boat anchor for him throughout.  Yep, he’s much faster than I and other than my good looks and being such a good conversationalist I’m not certain why he hung with me throughout the day.

Of course Harald caught up with us just shy of the last Aid Station!  “Psycho Killer” is playing in my head again!  We continued our odyssey together for the rest of the race coming in thirty-third.
 (Always mindful of the time!!!!)

At the finish line we were each greeted with an ice cold alcohol free Hefeweissen.  Wow!  That hit the spot!  As you might imagine the spot was rather deep and we spent the next couple of hours relaxing on the green behind the finish line drinking Weissen, eating grapes and cake and enjoying the afternoon.        

The MTUT Race Headquarters, start and finish are all located at the Veitshoechheim Sport Club.  The facilities are simple, but very adequate with plenty (this is important) of toilets and lots of grass to hang out on and drink beer after the race.

I’ve heard that the MTUT may shift its run date from September to mid-July.  For what it’s worth, my vote is to leave the MTUT at the second to last Saturday in September.  The weather is generally wonderful during this time of year, grapes are in harvest and there are very few other events of this magnitude during this timeframe.  A shift to July brings the threat of much higher temperatures as well as, surprisingly, more chances of rain.

Big thanks to Thomas Gumpert (RD) and his entire team for such a challenging, yet rewarding event.  The volunteers and supporters were exceptional throughout the event.  You all put on a sensational race.  I look forward to enjoying the MTUT again.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

STUNT 100 2016 – Sibbesser 100 Mile Race

“So close no matter how far.  Couldn’t be much more from the heart.  Forever trust in who we are.  And, nothing else matters…”

I am likely breaking a rule by publishing this blog post.  At the same time I think that you will find that this report provides a view to a wonderful little trail race that goes in late summer in northern Germany.

The STUNT 100 is a non-commercial, invitational, 100 mile trail race that courses through the Leinebergland region of northern Germany.  It is likely one of the friendliest, most accommodating, yet challenging 100 mile events I’ve participated in.  I’m thrilled to report that my perspective this past Sunday morning at 0430 was a little skewed when I settled with myself that I would “never” attempt the STUNT 100 again.  As I’ve had an opportunity to recover and savor finishing; my thinking has become much clearer.  Count me in!  I’ll be back for more of this great little BIG event.

Before I get too far down the road with this STUNT 100 report I have to back up a month or two where I last left you here.  As you may recall I attempted the WiBoLT in late May.  During that attempt I really jacked my left calf and knee up.  This injury derailed my summer race plans forcing me to focus on recovery and healing while not starting the Zugspitz Ultratrail in June and the ThueringenULTRA in July.  I still am not certain what to attribute this calf and knee injury to.  I did a number of weeks of physical therapy and have adopted a stretching and rolling regime that have helped eliminate much of the inflammation and pain I experienced.

While attempting to avoid a chronic injury I slowly reintegrated a training plan into my routine.  I was not at all confident that this plan could help me achieve my summer goals or get me through the STUNT 100.  My STUNT 100 training plan culminated with a marathon the final two weekends prior to the event.  I was unable to train beyond the marathon distance because of work obligations and a desire to avoid dramatically injuring my calf. 

So…  With some trepidation I watched the days wind down prior to the 3 September start of the STUNT 100.  I made reservations for a room at Gasthof Jörns in Diekholzen and organized my kit for the race.

I took the day off on Friday 2 September to make my way to Sibbesse to get settled in.  I checked into Gasthof Jörns after arriving in the area.  While checking in it appeared that I was the only guest at the hotel (Think Bates Motel!) and actually asked if that was the case.  The very friendly and helpful receptionist insisted that I was not, but that they had just finished a two week holiday period where the hotel was closed.  It was creppy all the same with no other apparent guests around that evening.  Just as an aside...  I recommend Gasthof Jörns and will stay there again for my next STUNT attempt.  It is simple, very clean, offers fantasitc service, affords good parking and is just down the road from Sibbesse.  Although I certainly camp at other race venues it is hard to beat Gasthof Jörns for the price, cleanliness, hot shower and comfortable bed, before and after the STUNT 100.

After settling at Gasthof Jörns I headed over to the Sportsplatz in Sibbesse to get checked into the race, meet and chat with other runners, take part in the race briefing and have dinner.  The first indication of what a great affair the STUNT 100 is happened when I arrived.  Elke, one of the race assistances immediately introduced herself, gave me a pre-printed nametag and asked me to verify my registration information on a spreadsheet.  She also offered me coffee and cake.  It does’nt get much better than that!  This level of personal, familiar care would characterize the entire STUNT 100 weekend.  After a bit of initial socializing with the race support team and other runners, Race Director Hansi-Kohler, asked everyone to join him within the Sportplatz Club House for the race briefing and pasta diner.  Hansi delivered on his promise and kept the briefing to the absolute essential with a repeated focus that the race course was entirely unmarked and that runners must be prepared to navigate on their own.  Hansi’s selection of music for the briefing video, “Nothing Else Matters“ by Metallica was sensational and set the tone for the entire event...

“So close, no matter how far.  Couldn’t be much more from the heart.  Forever trust in who we are.  And, nothing else matters…”

The STUNT 100 course is defined by four different out and back loops or legs with the Sportsplatz in Sibbesse acting as the race hub.  Despite short sections of farm roads or farm field paths the STUNT 100 is largely a trail run.  Most elements are on single track trail or minimally maintained forest paths that course up and down steep creek valleys, over rolling hills and among fields and meadows.  Each leg looks something like this:

Loop 1 – “Trailrunners Paradise”, 48.4KM, 1377HM.  Fantastic trails; deep in the forest.
Loop 2 – “Mogul Slope”, 54KM, 1609HM.  Now things get serious…  You miss the trails.  Shitty elevation change!  Shitty dirt roads!  Shitty Sunshine!  Everything is Shit!
Loop 3 – “Külf Crossing”, 37.8KM, 853HM.  A dream or a nightmare!?! A lot of trails and unmaintained paths that take you through briar and nettle patches and roots that reach up and grab you in the darkness.
Loop 4 – “Time to Chill”, 20.6KM, 538HM.  Relax, take it easy along forest paths with a lovely view of the valley.  Can we be done!?! 

Running with Metallica through the STUNT 100…

Loop 1, “So close, no matter how far.”  We started this loop Saturday morning at 0800 in the counterclockwise direction.  This leg has a twist at about kilometer 19 that you run an additional clockwise loop around the Tosmarberg.  I got lost going into this and coming back out.  Yeah!  Nonetheless.  Loop 1 is an early warm up or test of your navigation skills.  We started this loop as a group of 13 with real definition of how the race field was going to flow happening at the Tosmarberg crossing.  After running around the Tosmarberg I got lost with two others, Dennis and Henner.  We “oriented” our way back on course and remained together throughout the remainder of the STUNT.

Loop 2, “Couldn’t be much more from the heart.”  There are a lot fewer single track trails here, but on the sunny side (no pun intended) so much more elevation change.  Do you remember the Brothers Grimm and their story of Snow White?  “The Seven Dwarfs that live out beyond the Seven Mountains”?  You do!  Well…  Loop 2 plays out before, across and then behind those Seven Mountains!

Loop 3, “Forever trust in who we are.”  So while we’re playing with the Brothers Grimm Loop 3 took us back out among the Seven Mountains, back out along single track trails and deep into the night.  For me Loop 3 was the test and the test has an evil name and face, “Külf”. 

The Külf consists primarily of a ten kilometer long ridge line that includes seven main summits, lying in a triangle formed by the settlements of Gronau, Alfeld and Duingen.  Progress along the Külf varies depending on the season.  Unlike the trails of the better known ridges and hills of the Seven Mountains those of the Külf are less frequently used.  This was obvious as Dennis, Henner and I worked our way through.  The trails were overgrown and plagued with shoulder high nettles, briars and clinging seed pods that we named “Arschlöcher” as they would grab ahold of you and if broken off would leave irritating thorns in your legs, waist and arms.  For the uninitiated Arschlöcher grow on an Arschlochbaum.  Not seen one?  I can send you a picture…

Loop 4, “And nothing else matters.”  Dennis, Henner and I arrived back in Sibbesse at 0850 Sunday morning.  The finale of the STUNT 100 is an out and back stretch that runs along the forest edge, in and out of the forest towards the village of Barfelde.  This final leg included its own navigation challenges in several places where you had to slip through overgrowth to find a short stretch of single track trail to make a leap to the next forest path.  The turn around point for this final leg was located in a garage supported by one race volunteer and some light snacks.  As this leg was an out and back it was great to see people in front of us and behind us as we coursed out and then towards the finish.

Dennis, Henner and I rolled back into Sibbesse finishing in 29:09 on Sunday morning.  We had linked up after getting lost at about kilometer 28 or so and stayed together over the next 132 kilometers.  We shared many laughs, learned a lot about one another and simply, had a kick ass time.  Running the STUNT 100 without them would have been much harder particularly in the deep of the night up on the Külf fighting off the Arschlöcher.   

There is a bit of information about the STUNT 100 out on the race’s web site.  Included, there is a guideline taken from the Wild Oak 100 Mile Trail race in Virginia that really sets the tone of this super race.  The list below provides a broad definition of those that are not invited to participate in the STUNT 100:

1.  If you are even the least bit worried or concerned about getting lost, don’t come.
2.  If you have questions, don’t come.
3.  If you need a crew, don’t come.
4.  If you need toilet paper, don’t come.
5.  If you expect to be pampered in any way shape or form, don’t come.
6.  If you’re a whiner, don’t come.
7.  If you’re a freeloader, don’t come.
8.  If you’re seeking fame and/or fortune, don’t come.
9.  If you’re thinking about writing a report about your experience at the STUNT 100, don’t come.
10.  If you crave abuse, if you yearn for abuse, if you are addicted to abuse in any way shape or form (be it physical, mental, sexual, verbal, mathematical, artistic or whatever) BY ALL MEANS, BE MY GUEST.  (This applies to abusees only.  Abusers are not welcome.  The only abuser allowed is the trail.)

The 2016 STUNT 100 was a phenomenal event!  The trails abused the hell out of us while the organizational and support team were amazingly friendly, supportive; simply fantastic!  I’ll be back to the STUNT 100 to explore, expand friendships and make new ones.  Hansi and Co., thanks for an incredible weekend!

Final results of the 2016 STUNT 100

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

WiBoLT 2016

On 25 May 2016 I found myself in Wiesbaden at Schloss Biebrich getting ready to take part in the 2016 WiBoLT, Germany’s longest non-stop foot race.  Sitting here three days later having only completed 231KM of the 320KM necessary to qualify as a WiBoLT finisher my thoughts are all over the map about the WiBoLT experience.  Yep, I DNFed and while in my personal “Pain Cave” on the course I decided not to attempt this event ever again, I am resting my tired bones and waiting a day or two before actually sending in my application for 2017.
Before we progress much further let me provide you with a bit of an introduction to the WiBoLT.  The WiBoLT or Wiesbaden Bonn Long Trail is a 320KM or 200 Mile foot race that courses over 11,700 meters or 38,385 feet of elevation change. The start occurs at Schloss Biebrich in Wiesbaden with the finish in Bonn.  The race course follows the renowned Rheinsteig hiking trail.  The Rheinsteig itself is made up of about 45 percent forest paths and trails, 35 percent graveled paths and 20 percent asphalt surfaced country lanes.  Michael Esser and a team of incredible volunteers host and manage a race event that spans the distance over almost four days of non-stop running.

Going into the 2016 WiBoLT I did not consider myself trained or ready to start.  Work and other responsibilities took priority over investing time in quality training.  My general thoughts on starting were that I had had good experiences at the Brocken-Challenge and Hexentanz and if worse came to worse I could gut through the tough parts and complete the gargantuan distance of 320KM.  In my thinking I failed to take into consideration the immense elevation change that plays itself out over the Rheinsteig.  More on that later…

On Wednesday afternoon I joined some 55 other WiBoLT starters at Schloss Biebrich.  The start area was simple, check in was easy and it was good to see some familiar faces.  After getting checked in I repacked my drop bag into the WiBoLT provided bag and turned it in.  From there we walked to a nearby hotel where a meal was served as part of pre-race events.  Many of the runners that were new to the WiBoLT asked about a race briefing with no real responses.  Not normal for a race of this nature, but I figured I ride with it and see what happened.

Shortly before 1800 Michael asked us to cross over to some steps that are located on a promenade adjacent to the Rhine River.  I believe that many of us thought that the race brief would occur at this point, which you could say did happen.  Michael welcomed us, told us that there were several new and important aid stations and indicated that it was important to stop at the aid stations – to get aid.  If you didn’t find or stop at the aid stations you couldn’t get any aid.  Logical…  At about 1805 he wished us luck and sent us on our way.  That was the brief, simple and to the point.  I like it!

So at 1800ish we took off way too quickly along the Rheinsteig.  Initally we remained in a relatively large group, but the first ten kilometers of the course stretch through portions of Wiesbaden and we slowly, but surely got split up by traffic lights and the different tempos runners were using early on.  From Wiesbaden we headed into the surrounding vineyards.  The weather was pleasant with mild temperatures and no rain.  At Schlangenbad we rolled into the first of many aid stations (VPs).  The fare was simple but adequate and the volunteers were exceptional as they were over the course of the entire event. From Schlangenbad we moved back into the hills that make up the Rheinsteig.  Over the course of an event like this I tend to seek out or develop a rhythm for the event.  Doing so helps me adjust mentally and physically.  The WiBoLT’s flow enabled a similar rhythmic approach.  We would transition through VPs at every 20 kilometers or so.  Our drop bags would be available at the Loreley and Feldkirchen with the opportunity to sleep at these two large VPs as well as at Oberkestert and Braubach.

While on the WiBoLT course Wednesday night was probably the hardest night for me.  Going into the evening the weather was mild with the moon rising very late.  In the every early morning hours on Thursday it began to ran and I was further challenged by the shift in my sleep schedule.  I was surprised to experience a couple of hallucinations this early in the race and link them to the darkness, lack of visibility because of the rain and my off kilter sleep schedule.  Shortly before dawn we were awash in a torrential downpour that soaked me to the bone.  Based on the weather forecast I had decided to stage my Gore-Tex jacket and trousers in my drop bag and pick them up a the Loreley for the rain that was forecast for Saturday.  Fortunately, the temperatures were mild and it was still early in the race so that I was able to maintain a good pace and remain pleasantly warm.  At this juncture I simply accepted the weather and embraced these early hallucinations and looked forward to sunrise.
Thursday morning arrived cool and foggy, but with the promise that the day was actually going to turn out to be pretty amazing.  As the profile suggests I spent much of the day climbing and descending over the course of the Rheinsteig.  Going long and hard like we were the up and down rhythm almost becomes a routine.  You learn to recognize that you are going to ascend and descend once or twice before passing by a Rhine riverside village to once again ascend back into the hills.  Because we were not trailing in the Alps those 11,700 meters of elevation change had to come form somewhere.  Instead of going HIGH we went MORE, much MORE…  
(Photo Courtesy of Lutz Kalitzsch)
The Loreley VP was phenomenal with our first opportunity to eat a full meal, shower and sleep.  I bunked with Lutz and Torsten and got two hours of sleep.  Getting back in gear to head back out on the course was a bit of challenge, but at this juncture we were well ahead of the cutoff timeline and eased back into the WiBoLT rhythm.  Our next significant stop was at Uschi’s Wanderstation where I had a bit of noodles and meat sauce and shut down for another hour of sleep.
(Photo Courtesy of Eva Gracka)

(Photo Courtesy of Eva Gracka)
After being on the course for more than thirty hours it seemed that my body and sleep rhythm had adjusted somewhat to the stress it was under.  Faced with light rain and only three hours of sleep so far I was surprised that I held things together much better than the first night.  Yes, I was tired, but I didn’t have to fight as hard as I did the first evening.  I didn’t go into the Pain Cave.

Friday morning found us in Braubach.  Weather conditions were relatively stable and I was holding things together for the most part.  Back on Wednesday evening I began to experience a knot or cramp in my left calf.  I tried stretching this tightness or cramp out to little or no avail.  Friday morning at the Rathaus VP in Braubach I rolled my leg on a bottle to massage it and try to loosen it up.  This condition would continue to worsen over the next day or so and was a big part of my decision to withdraw at Feldkirchen.

From Braubach we coursed to Lahnstein and the Ruppertsklamm.  Trailing into the Ruppertsklamm was incredible.  The pictures below simply don’t do this gorge justice.  It is worth a visit in and of itself.
 (Photo Courtesy of Lutz Kalitzsch)
The VP at the Lahnstein Hiking Shelter was great.  When I first saw it I didn’t think that it was for us as it appeared that a group of families were having a grill party.  They actually were and the party was for us.  It was nice to sit down next to fire and warm my tired bones and dry some of my stuff.

From Lanhstein we set out via Koblenz to the VP at Vallendar.  Our trip into town was one of two that we actually experienced over the course of the Rheinsteig.  The afternoon sun was incredible compared to the cold rain we’d been under for the last day or so.  Between the Shelter at Lahnstein and the VP at Vallendar I got in another 26 minute sleep period on a bench beside the Rheinsteig trail.  Heaven!  Sometimes it’s pretty amazing what a quick nap like this will give back to you.  I put my head down on my race pack was out and 26 minutes later awoke and was ready to go.  The rest and strength that I drew from this stop were critical to the next leg as it was to prove to be the most challenging.

Seeking to trek from Sayn to Rengsdorf was just down right hard.  This leg pushed me to the boundaries of my perceived mental and physical limits.  Terrain wise the move was not more difficult than any of the other legs of this course.  Course markings were present, but perhaps not always accurate.  The GPS track that I was using could be considered OK.  Somehow given the lay of the land, location of Rengsdorf and my quickly running out of water I got very mis-oriented and spent way too much time seeking the VP.  Rengsdorf rests at the top of a hill that parallels the Rheinsteig to the left.  As you move along the Rheinsteig you can see the lights of Rengsdorf above you. The course track does however take you away from Rengsdorf and you lose sight of the town’s lights leading you to think that you were lost.  The search for Rengsdorf and the VP would see us blow arriving at the VP before it closed which led to further issues…

As we finally arrived in Rengsdorf we followed the painted arrows that indicated VP and the specific location of the aid station.  This had been the case in many of the other towns and villages we had visited previously.  When we arrived at the “VP” we found the letters “V P” Xed out with follow on arrows leading across the street.  The term “VP” had been changed to read “VW” (Apparently a play on words considering the car manufacturer.).  In bad need of water and something to eat I called the Race Director.  He told me that the VP had closed at mid-night, but the VP team had left us enough drinks and food all should be good.  He was however unable to accurately explain where this cache was located.  Fortunately, another racer passed by with his wife.  After greeting them she indicated that she knew where the cache was and would take us there.

When we finally arrived at what was the VP in Rengsdorf we were treated to a limited supply of water, cola and some snacks.  Thankfully the wife of the runner mentioned above had enjoyed pizza earlier that evening.  She and her kids offered us their leftovers – an entire pizza.  Delicious! 

So after cramming down the treat of a left over cold pizza and refilling my water supplies we headed out into the night with about thirteen kilometers to go until the major VP at Feldkirchen and the 0600 cutoff time.

Travel over this leg of the course was nothing new.  We trekked up and down, across fields, and into the forest.  Initially no big deal, but like all good things, this too had to come to an end.  The guy I was running with found and could not get out of his dark place.  We had to stop repeatedly either to allow him to catch up or to let him set down and sleep for a few minutes.  After a short period a light approached us from behind.  This was the runner whose wife had provided us Pizza in Rengsdorf.  I was very surprised to see him as he had left well before me at Rengsdorf.  He told me that he too had decided to sit down for a “few minutes”, but was awoken much later by the cold. 

My thoughts were…  OK – three are better than one and we have until 0800 to get to Rengsdorf.  I was quickly corrected on this later point – we had to arrive at Feldkirchen for a 0600 cut off time and to add an additional challenge, a dense fog rolled in and one of the runner’s headlamp’s failed with no replacement batteries.  No mistakes could be made now if we were going to make the 0600 cutoff time.

The three of us pushed hard to cover the last five or so kilometers in order to come in before the cutoff time of 0600.  In the end – we made it at 0555.  The Feldkirchen Volunteer Team kicked into action and asked what they could provide us.  I told them that I wanted to get a shower, get dressed to go back, get a quick two hour nap eat and then head out.

I took a shower and headed into the quite space to get some sleep.  I set my alarm for an hour later, laid down and was immediately awoken by my alarm.  I don’t recall the last time I so easily turned off from being awake and going to sleep.  After waking up a bit I noticed that my left leg, my knee in particular, had swollen to about twice its normal size.  After a couple of quick sms exchanges with a couple of friends I decided to withdraw.  Doing so was pretty straightforward – really no doubt in my mind given the worsening condition of my leg.  I’m not certain what caused this injury, but decided that going on was not worth taking the risk of ruining the rest of my 2016 running season.  My leg remains painful and swollen.  I’ll probably pay the doctor a visit tomorrow.  More than anything I’m curious about what’s going on and the cause of this injury to avoid it in the future.  Run on another day…

My WiBoLT take-aways:

- 320KM is a damn long way. 
- 11,700 meters of elevation change are a whole butt load of elevation gain and loss.
- Combine the two and the WiBoLT is an ass kicker.  No kidding.
- Distance is what you make of it.  The earlier you acknowledge and appreciate that you are going to hurt and enter your personal dark space the earlier you can accept and work through it.
- Self-awareness; Patience; and the Ability to Embrace the Moment.

I DNFed the 2016 WiBoLT.  Are there questions about my DNF that remain?  Sure.  But not like previous DNFs.  I’m not sitting here doubting myself.  I know where I stand with this race and am good with that.  I had a great time at the WiBoLT.  Michael and his team put on an extraordinary event.  I’ll be back.  In fact, I think I mentioned above that I’m resting and waiting on applying.  I changed my mind...  This report is finished.  I’m switching over to work on my application for 2017!

You know that this report would not be complete without a quote from some obscure song.  Let me take you back the early morning hours of Thursday.  Ozzy joined me as I was in my pain cave and shared some inspiration…  

Howling in shadows
Living in a lunar spell
He finds his heaven
Spewing from the mouth of hell
Those that the beast is looking for
Listen in awe and you’ll hear him

Bark at the moon…

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Dancing with Witches - Hexentanz 2016

April 2016 found me running another event in the Hexenstieg series of ultra/endurance events.  After completing the 216KM Hexenstieg after a number of previous runnings in 2015 I decided to give the Hexenstieg’s little brother, the Hexentanz or Witch’s Dance a go this year.  A 100KM distance is a good building block as you into the running season – you would think.

Yes, you would think…  What’s 100KM?  It’s 61 miles.  Comparing it to other 100KMs events that I’ve participated in one would think that, although certainly not a give away or a speed event, it would be one that “would be a good training event along the way”.  Surprise!  We should have known better.  Michael Frenz (RD) always has something up his sleeve during each of the fantastic events he hosts throughout the year, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

On 22 April I traveled to Osterode am Harz.  With a quick stop in Goettingen at the Anstalt for a coffee and surprise starter bag the trip was fun and easy.  I got into Osterode in the early evening and joined my roommate and running partner Lutz.  As in past years, the headquarters for the Hexen Events was located at the Hotel Harzer Hof.  The Hotel Harzer Hof is rated as a simple three star location.  In my mind, Stephan, the owner/operator and his team merit five stars.  The entire Harzer Hof team bent over backwards to cater to this series of events and their guests.  Top notch! 

Race check in was well organized, quick and easy.  After getting checked in I spent some time catching up with Lutz and organized my kit for the race the following morning.  That evening Stephan served a delicious buffet meal catering to vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters alike. 

Saturday morning arrived overcast and slightly cooler compared to the previous beautiful spring day on Friday.  At about eight we boarded a bus to make the trip to the Sport Center in Thale from where we were to start.  When we arrived in Thale thirty-six of us lined up, had a quick photo made and then headed off for our adventure into the Harz.

Lutz and I had decided to “go easy” at this ultra and to use it as a training event.  Like in so many races the herd is nervous and racers shot past us.  No real worries there from my side as we’d see many of them again over the course of the next twenty or so hours.

The first leg of the Hexentanz took us up and over the Hexenztanzplatz.  From here we coursed back down into the Bode Gorge and our first aid station (VP) in Treseburg at 11KM.

Lutz grabbed an apple and we were on our way again to the town of Hasselfelde.  Over the last couple of years we have made a bakery in a grocery store our VP.  Saturday morning we stopped and had a sandwich and coffee.  Our race was largely uneventful from Hasselfelde to Koenigshuette.  It was not until slightly after Koenigshuette that I made our first orienteering error.  Oh, have I not mentioned that the races courses of the Hexen series are not marked?  You are required to make your way using either a map and compass or GPS.  By and large the course is relatively easy to follow as 80 – 90% of it follows the Hexenstieg Hiking Trail which is very well marked.

It’s the other 10-20% that is challenging and you had better be paying attention.  My trouble on Saturday was that I was following an old track from the previous year’s event on my GPS.  The trail split in three directions at one point and without really looking I put us on the wrong route headed into the Sachshau.  Lutz and I remained comfortable as we’d run here on three previous occasions.  It wasn’t long though that he got concerned.  Following the old track I was convinced that we were traveling in the right direction.  Lutz was less certain, but was somehow certain that his GPS was in error to the point that he stopped and started it a couple of times and even changed the batteries.  After a kilometer or so we decided to double back and retrace our route to the intersection where fortunately I found my error and we got back onto the right track.  After coursing for about 46KM we arrived at the Hotel Grüne Tanne VP where we both re-stocked our water supply and had a plate of pasta.

A curious thing occurred at the Hotel Grüne Tanne VP.  We arrived to find a large group of runners that were not in front of us previously.  I certainly don’t want to accuse anyone of cheating, but we were not misoriented to the point that we were actually in the last position of the racing field.  All I’ll say is that there are opportunities to cut the course short particularly between Koenigshuette and the Hotel Grüne Tanne.  There are signs that direct you in that direction…  This would not be the last time that we’d experience some apparent short cuts taken by multiple other runners.

All the same…  After enjoying a bit of pasta Lutz and I headed back out onto the course and a track that we had not run in previous years.  From the Hotel Grüne Tanne the course bears down on Elend.  Oh Elend…  Like so many words “Elend” means so many things.  On the surface it’s a village in Saxon-Anhalt.  On the other side it actually means misery and that was just where we were headed.
From Elend we began our trek up.  First up and over the mysterious Mauseklippe.  And then gradually towards the Wurmberg.  My hat’s off to Michael and this new leg of the course.  It was as Tim Scott would say, “very runnable”.
I had seen the Wurmberg from the Brocken on a number of occasions, but did not really have a view to how impressive it really is.  Coursing out from the woods we arrived at the base of the Wurmberg and stopped in our tracks.  That damn Michael!  This is the treat he had waiting for us.
From the Wurmberg we made our way to Braunlage.  Trekking this portion of the route was relatively straight forward as we moved over ski runs and forest trails.  At Sankt Andreasberg it began to ever so slightly snow on us.  Evening was setting in and the Harz was certain not to disappoint.
From Sankt Andreasberg we made our way to one of my favorite places along this course, the Oderteiche.  This year the lakes had been drained as one of the dams had a gap in it and this hole had been recently replaced.  From the Oderteiche we coursed back up again to the Wolfswarte.  The Wolfswarte holds a special place in my spirit. First, it is such a badass name for a place and second, it’s actually a badass place at 918m.  Here your mind wanders and leads you down dark paths to things old and pagan.  Given it’s environs you can feel a deep draw to something darker.  A perfect place to celebrate Walpurgisnacht.   

On the Wolfswarte we met up with Wolfgang who was curiously climbing around in the dark on the very top of the Wolfswarte.  Although there is no VP here, racers must find and use the Hexenstieg Hiking Trail stamp to confirm that you were actually here.

Wolfgang’s battery had died on his GPS and he did not have a compass or map and was slightly misoriented.  He asked if he could tag along with us over the remainder of the course and with no objections from Lutz or I our racing party grew to three.

On the backside of the Wolfswarte we were able to pick up our pace on the trail that runs like an autobahn and gained almost an hour ahead of our estimated time of arrival in Altenau Bergstadt.  In Altenau we stopped at the VP to re-supply drinks and pleasantly surprised to find some open faced sandwiches and other delicious goodies.

If you’ve followed my previous reports on the Hexenstieg you know what comes after Altenau and that’s the long (7 KM) VERY straight and very mentally challenging ghost rail line to Claustal-Zellerfeld.  I was glad to travel along this route with Lutz and Wolfgang as our conversations kept my mind awake and active.

We paused only briefly in Claustal-Zellerfeld and Jens’ VP.  Long enough to have a cup of coffee and then to head back out into the cold of a early Sunday morning.  We were able to again gain some time by running between Claustal-Zellerfeld and Kuckholzklippe.  After coming off of the Kuckholzklippe we again got very misoriented, first by running down a couple of hundred meters of elevation while following the hiking trail and then by going back up past where we should have made a left hand turn.  Damn GPS!  We made this time back up again running along the ridgeline of the Langenberg.  At about kilometer 105 (the Hexentanz is actually measured at 109KM for a 100KM event) we knew that we had this dance in the bag.  From here it was easy going through Freiheit into Osterode and the finish line.  At the finish a quick check of my GPS revealed that instead of 100KM Lutz and I actually covered 112KM.  What’s a few additional kilometers?

My 2016 Hexentanz take-aways…  Michael – I’ll be back.  Michael Frenz puts on superb events.  The starting field for the Hexenstieg and Hexentanz was made up of 28 and 36 starters.  A small, friendly group.  Of the 36 Hexentanz runners that started 31 finished.  A pretty darn good finishing average.  Key factors for a finish for an event like this are patience, hydration, nutrition and being able to orient over the long-haul.  Unlike previous years I feel like my nutrition was dialed in.  My choice of equipment and kit was spot on this year as well.  The weather was forecasted to be cold with rain.  Instead it was very cold with snow.  As I’ve said before, weather happens – it is neither good nor bad, it just is.  Waste no time and energy on lamenting about this and instead focus your energy on the aspects you can control like your clothes and gear.  The Harz is an amazing place filled with beautiful forests, mystery and folklore.  I’ll be back.

My race reports are not complete without a word about the volunteers and supporters.  As I mentioned above Stephan and his team at the Hotel Harzerhof are fantastic.  The volunteers that started and in some cases moved to a different/later VP were great.  Running an event like this would be much more difficult without you.  And, certainly, last but not least, a big thanks to my running partner Lutz.  You kept me moving forward.  I look forward to our next adventure.