I ran my first and actually, the first Saaletal Marathon as a bridge between ultras in 2010. I had planned to run this small marathon again in 2011, but was prohibited from doing so because of the surgery I had shortly before the event. Having had such a wonderful time in 2010 I looked forward to running in 2012.
The Saaletal Marathon takes place on home turf in the region where I first settled when I got to Germany. My wife is also from this area so it holds a special place in both of our hearts.
I was so impressed with the size, the route and the organization of the event that I talked the wife into trying the 2012 marathon with me. This was her second marathon with her last marathon taking place in 2009. She wound up achieving a new PR; improving her race time by thirty minutes!
Travel to Ramsthal takes us about two hours so we got up early on Saturday morning; had breakfast; and got on the road by 0700. Traffic was light so we got into Ramsthal shortly after nine. The Ramsthal Sport Club is relatively easy to find as Ramsthal is a small village in Unterfranken. That said, there were no signs for race parking or where race check in was to occur. Unlike 2010 the Freiwillig Feuerwehr Ramsthal was out in force and assisted with parking.
Simone and I got checked in with relative ease. The check in process was spot on and well organized in the dining room of the Sport Club. Race packets were pre-packed and came with your start number, a bottle of water and a couple of energy drink mixes and energy bars. The Saaletal Marathon is organized and hosted by the SV Ramsthal 1921 e.V. Like 2010 SV Ramsthal did a fantastic job with organization and conduct of the race. The volunteers and logistics support of the event were first class.
Shortly before 1000 and with very little fanfare the marathon, half-marathon, 10KM runners and power walkers lined up at the start line. Regretfully, the former Fränkische Weinkönigin, Melanie Unsleber nor a start gun were available this year to get us all started. Fortunately we did have on site a very enthusiastic announcer who kicked us off at about 1003.
Leading up to the event SV Ramsthal hosted the marathon on their web site. A simple site, it hosts a good bit of information on the race and associated activities. Registration cost 25 Euro up to 31 DEC 2011 after which a 3 Euro late fee was attached. Registration was possible on-line which was straight forward and easy to accomplish. Confirmation of registration was passed back to the runner via e-mail immediately. Registration costs included registration, chip rental, payment for support during the race and I’m assuming the race medal. Multi-function T-shirts were available at an additional price. Late registration and runner check in was possible at the SV Ramsthal Club House in Ramsthal from 0730 – 0930 the day of the race. In addition to the marathon it was possible to run a half marathon, a 10KM route or walk an 8 KM course. The evening prior to the event the Saaletal Marathon web site showed 132 runners registered for the marathon event. (I love small, friendly races like this!!!)
The first half of the marathon route is by far and away my favorite part of the course. The first five kilometers took us up to the highest point of the course. Simone does not like running races that start out on a hill, but she did very well leaning into this event. The race profile although it did not include massive changes in elevation was challenging throughout. The course itself included a pleasant mix of tar, gravel and dirt roads and double track paths through the woods and across fields. Sufficient road guards were available at points where the path crossed a major road or intersection as well as at points were the route changed direction dramatically.
The second half of the course is largely over tar surface single track roads. The leg between Elfershausen and Langendorf is a bit irritating as it runs on a narrow, yet very active roadway with cars, fourwheelers, trucks, and tractors. I recommend that a mid-way safety station be put in place to remind drivers that a race is occurring around them. Running on hard surface roads is also burdensome because of the wear and tear on your lower body.
The final third of the course was the most challenging given the race route and that we were pushing. Simone dug deeply, and I’m certain was taking her frustration out on me in her head, but did very well. As I mentioned, she set achieved a personal best and came in second for her age group.
Like many other marathons of this caliber the race volunteers were simply fantastic. From start to finish at the Saaletal Marathon this as a great group of people – much appreciation for their support!
Like 2010 I was very disappointed with the support fare. That first year I thought it was based on the fact that the race was new. While reading the pre-race information we overlooked the fact that the only thing served at rest stops was water, tea and fruit (apples and bananas). It would have been great to have had oranges, toast, pretzel sticks or another healthy sold snack. And… I strongly encourage the organizers to stop using plastic drink cups, use paper. The Saaletal is a wonderful biosphere – I hate to see our heavy hand days/weeks after the event.
Overall, the third Saaletal Marathon was a great event. The race size is one of those that I really like. It’s a great race course and the people (runners, volunteers and spectator) make it a blast.