I love to run. It’s that simple. But lately I’ve been losing some of my passion, running (especially the road runs with a running group) felt like a chore and more often I caught myself running my usual routes without mindfully experiencing the nature around me. Consequently, I haven’t been running as much as I should have to be well prepared for the 63km trailrun with 3000m elevation gain; the Salomon Zugspitz Ultratrail.
Nonetheless, last Friday I packed my gear and drove south to the Alps; I checked in the same evening and walked around the Expo Plaza before heading to Ehrwald, a small village on the Austrian side of the boarder where I stayed at before. The host (a British couple) was welcoming as always and the BnB exceptionally neat and clean. The night before the race I headed out to enjoy some local beer at a pub before going to bed early.
However, my mind was somewhere else (there was some drama at home which I couldn’t get out of my head) and those thoughts soon affected my stomach.
The next morning I arrived in Grainau (the start and finish for the Ultratrail – for me the start was half an hour by shuttle) way too early so I grabbed some coffee – what an ingenious idea when having an upset stomach – and watched the Ultratrail participants start their 100km journey.
At 9am I was crossing the starting line along 550 other runners. The first two hours were fine despite the never ending steep ascent. After the second aid station my stomach was complaining about last night’s beer or the unbalanced breakfast or both. Soon later it felt like my stomach would explode and this feeling lasted for the remaining 10 hours.
My pace was steadily decreasing and so was my mood. Eight hours into the race (I think I was at km 40) I came across another runner who was struggling with knee issues and we agreed on limping the remaining 23km together. At times he was a few hundred meters ahead of me and sometimes, especially on the downhill parts I was first.
At the last aid station, my mind already slightly hallucinating, there was a small summit that had to be circumvented before going in the final downhill section. But this tiny loop of roughly six kilometer had another 450m elevation gain on exposed gravel roads.
A few hundred meters before the halfway point a local mountaineer saw me struggling making just a single step so he accompanied me for a while before assuring that on top of the mountain there’ll be an Alm where I could use the restroom – the first time after ten hours with a seriously upset stomach. Finally a gleam of hope!
After sitting down on the toilet for a few minutes – what a relieve – my mindset shifted and for the first time I could actually see myself finishing the race. But first there were over 1000m of decline – on some really challenging single trails. Slowly the sun was setting, but we were making only little progress. Roughly two hours later we made it all the way down to Grainau where the road to the finish line was full of locals and friends and families of other runners who were cheering us. We agreed on actually running the last mile and after 12.5 hours we crossed the finish line. Exhausted, but happy and relieved!
My goal was to finish the race and not be the last runner – I fulfilled both my expectations (I came in 230th or so) and after a shower and some warming food (no beer for me!) I already made plans to tackle the 85km distance next year!