Friday, May 26, 2006

The Westerwald 50K Race Report


Rengsdorf, small town on the border of Rhineland-Pfalz and Hessen, about 30 minutes northwest of Koblenz. We arrived at our hotel at about 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday night and checked in. Right away we noticed that the place was a dive, nothing like the pictures that were shown on the Internet. But it was only a few minutes from where the Westerwald 50K Ultra race would start the next day so we decided to take the room anyway.

After dropping our bags in the room, we decided to look for the public swimming pool where the race would start. The way was well marked and we found it right away. There were several people there setting up tables and things for the next day. I chatted with the race organizer for a few minutes. He warned me that the race course was tough and, after hearing I was from the flatlands around Karlsruhe, asked me if I had trained on any hills. I ensured him I had and seemed relieved. He went on to say that one of the reasons the race is popular is that it is so challenging.

We stopped at an Italian restaurant that we noticed on the way back to the hotel so I could get my pasta fix. The food turned out to be really good and at a reasonable price.

When we arrived back at the hotel we discovered the first major flaw with the hotel – no heat, they had it turned off for the summer – and this with 12C/54F outside! There was a portable electric heater in the bathroom, I rolled this out into the main room and plugged it in. After an hour or so we were comfortable.

I guess I dozed off around 10 p.m. and slept fairly soundly until 6 a.m. As I got up to take a shower I discovered the second major flaw with the hotel – no hot water! I took a very quick cold shower, my wife declined, and we went down to breakfast. We complained about the heat and hot water and the owner said they have been having trouble with the hot water all week and she would see to it that it was fixed that day.

After breakfast I stepped outside to see check the weather status. It was 6C/43F and raining. We returned to the room and I decided on my outfit for the run, long running pants, short-sleeve running shirt, rain jacket and baseball hat. I also stuffed a long-sleeve running shirt in the larger pouch of my running belt along with a bottle of water and a handful of sport bars.

The Run

We arrived at the start about 30 minutes before the race and I collected my race card. There were no start numbers, just a card with our name and address on it and room for the five stamps that we had to collect at the control stations along the way. We also received a small plastic bag (Ziploc) for the card to keep it dry (very necessary). I mingled with a few of the runners, recognizing a few from an Ultramarathon Webpage that I frequent. My wife busied herself taking some pictures and getting a cup of coffee.

About five minutes before the start of the race I said goodbye to my wife and headed out to the parking lot to warm up for a couple minutes. Shortly before 8 a.m. the race director called everyone (around 70-80 people) over to the start line, went over a few notes about getting the stamps and how the trail was marked. He then asked if everyone was ready and hearing no negative comments, said “Okay, have a good run!” and we were off.

The first 2 minutes of the run went uphill along the edge of town, then quickly turned left and snaked down a very muddy and slippery downhill trail. We were reduced to running single file and for many of the runners it was a time to catch up with the news from old acquaintances. The atmosphere was festive and no one really seemed to mind that it was raining and cold.

I was following a group of four that seemed to know each other pretty well. The scenery was absolutely fabulous. We descended into a narrow valley with a small stream running down the middle. The trail crossed the stream over a small wooden bridge and wound downwards through a forest that was thick enough to keep most of the rain off of us. The trail was super saturated with water and was wet with boot-sucking mud.

Based on the kilometer markings I averaged about 6:00/K (9:39/M) for the first 4 kilometers, but a couple people said that the markings were usually not accurate. I decided to stop worrying about it anyway because once I start the hill climbs it will no longer be relevant anyway.

I didn’t have to wait too long for the first hill, it showed up around the 4.5K (3M) point. This first hill climb was the longest climb of the event. Three kilometers (2M) later we arrived at the top and the first control point. This came up rather unexpectedly as I had anticipated having to walk part of the hill and I was still running! The hill was long, but ended up being a very gradual upgrade, I ran almost effortlessly up the entire hill!

I received my running card stamp at the control point and decided to take a 3 minute walk break and eat a sports bar. The small group I was following kept running. After a few minutes I picked up the pace again just as the route crossed over a highway. From here the trail changed from mud to asphalt, then a gravel-covered logging road. I caught up with two runners, when one stopped to relieve himself behind a tree. They were from Duisburg, a town several hours to the north and this was also their first ultra. We stuck together for the next hour or so chatting as we went.

Around the 13K/8M point we started up a short, but steep incline which left us walking for several minutes, it really took our breath away. Our efforts were rewarded with a beautiful view of the forest-covered valley below as we rounded the top. The two quickly picked up the pace as we headed down into the valley and I decided to stay with them for as long as I could.

The second control point (15K/9M) lay at the bottom of the valley. We stopped briefly to fill up our water bottles and to drink some isotonic drink, the we started up the other side of the valley. The other two seemed to have received an energy rush and were keeping quite a pace going up the hill, so I start having second thoughts about staying with them. But the hill was short so I hung with them a while longer as we cross another flat stretch of forest.

Around the 18K/11M point we again started up a significant hill climb, the two younger men were not giving me any slack. As we started down the other side I finally told them that I needed to slow the pace down and they should continue on without me. I took a short walk break and ate another sports bar, then continued on at my pace.

The trail left the forest at around the 23K/14M point and snaked through a small town, exiting onto a farmers tractor path through the fields on the other side. After a few minutes the trail turned to asphalt and wound through a slightly larger town. I remember this part well as the drizzling rain turned into a drenching downpour which lasted at least 5 minutes.

As I exited the town and once again made my way over a tractor path the trail suddenly abandoned this and headed over a grass covered field. Luckily most of the grass was trampled down by those who ran before me, but by the time I made it over this almost 1 kilometer rolling hill stretch of field my feet were soaking wet. The last stretch of field went downhill then cut right onto another tractor path which wound up another uphill section. Due to the recent pouring rain this path looked more like a creek bed at the time. After slipping and sliding up portion of this I finally gave up and walked the rest. I wasn’t alone, several other runner’s were doing the same.

As I was heading up this uphill section I passed the 25K marker, the halfway point - I believe my time was around 2:42:00. So what goes up must come down and after a short time was I was on the run again. Just past the bottom of this hill was the third control point (28.5K/18M). I stopped here and ate a banana, being sure to refill my water bottle. I was still feeling pretty good at this point, but I was a little worried because my feet were soaked. I could feel a blister forming on one of my toes.

Right after the control point was a small uphill section, so I took a walk break for a couple minutes and walked up the hill. Then it was a quick downhill, then up another short hill section, which I ran, then finally down into another valley. I remember crossing a small bridge then running a few minutes until I came to the second tea station, where they were offering only drinks. They warned me that the steepest hill was just around the corner.

I took a walk break so I could eat a sports bar and sure enough, right around the corner was heartbreak ridge. The little sliver of a trail rose approx. 125 meters in 4-500 meters distance. This hill was after my soul and will to live and almost beat me. I mean the thought of running any portion of this didn’t enter my mind, and walking it proved to require a tremendous amount of effort.

My legs and lungs were screaming as I finally crawled over the top. But what really scared me, was when I tried to start running again and my calves cramped up. I had to try to run 3 or 4 times before I could finally get moving again. The trail went up and down a couple asphalt covered bike trails at this point and every time we went down I was rewarded with spasms of pain behind my knees.

It finally got a little better when I started heading uphill again and decided to walk it. After a few minutes the pain seemed to go away. As I headed down the next downhill at least I wasn’t gritting my teeth. So the fourth control point was around the 38K/24M marker. I stopped and ate another banana and tried to stretch a little – this turned out to be a painful ordeal. I think I was scaring the people at the control station with my grunts and groans so I decided to keep moving.

The trail started heading downhill, first gradually winding down a hill side, then all of sudden down a steep asphalt-covered road following a creek bed. Give me an uphill climb anytime, this downhill portion was a nightmare. The road continued downwards for almost 2K/1.2M. By the time I reached the bottom the asphalt had beat my legs to a pulp, my knees were shot. I was in pain!

At the bottom of the hill the trail turned and headed up the second longest hill climb of the run, an almost 4K/2.5M, long, 200 meter gain, gravel and mud-covered trail. The back of my knees were throbbing, I could only run small stretches as I hobbled up the hill. At the top of the hill was the last control point, I made sure to get my last stamp, then drank a coke. I again tried to stretch, but figured I should keep going. For the first time since the half-way point I glanced at my watch, 5:48:00, with 5K to go. No way was I going to break 6 hours, and I was worried if I could get in under 6½ !

So with new determination I did my best to keep running. I ran for maybe 3-4 minutes, then walked a minute, continuing this pattern until the 47K/29M marker. It was just past here that I totally wiped out on a tree branch that was on the path as I was heading downhill. My feet literally flew out from under me and I slid about 15 feet downhill on my side.

Gingerly getting to my feet I did a quick damage assessment and figured out that the only thing that I hurt was my pride. I ended up being covered shoulder to toe with mud on the one side of me, so spent a minute trying to remove the worst of it. This was the only time on that day that I was thankful that it was raining, as it aided in getting most of the mud off.

Of course several runners were coming down the hill behind me and witnessed the whole thing. They were kind enough, between their chuckling, to ask if I was okay. In any case I made it a point to quickly get back to running. I actually ran the next 10 minutes without stopping, probably hoping to leave any snickering runners behind me. With less than 2K to go I took a short walk break as the trail again headed up a small (and very slippery) hill.

As I came down the other side I saw the first signs of the town of Rengsdorf, and shortly after passed the 49K marker – 1K to go. My legs were rubbery as I slowly ran the last kilometer, I had hoped for a stronger finish, but by this time was just plain happy to have the run over with.

No one was around as I crossed the finish line. I walked for a couple minutes, then hobbled over to the swimming pool building to turn in my running card. Of course this entailed walking down two flights of stairs which my legs were totally thrilled with. Right away I saw the twosome from Duisburg, they had arrived 45 minutes ahead of me, young studs! After congratulatory handshakes and best wishes I made my way over to present my running card and get my finisher certificate and medal.

The hot water in the hotel was still not working so my wife brought my gym bag and showered at the swimming pool. It was better this way anyway as I had dragged half the mud from the forest back with me. We sat and enjoyed some hot soup, a beer or two and some the company of other runners until the cold air got the best of us (the swimming pool was outside, the table under a roof, but not heated).

Race Summary

The 50K run took place in one of the most beautiful areas that I have ever had the privilege to run. The Westerwald National Forest is incredible, the winding paths, trails and roadways. The thick forests, streams, and surroundings breathtaking. The organizers of the Westerwald 50K run in Rengsdorf pride themselves in offering a challenging run in one of the more beautiful areas of Germany. I certainly can’t argue with either one of these points.

The run was tough, as I knew it would be. As usual I went out harder then I planned on, but this time I just kept going, walking when I felt the need to, but always progressing forward. There really was no point in time where I thought that I couldn’t finish, I had faith in myself and my training and knew that I would finish even if I had to walk in. The real fight was to keep running when my legs wanted to walk – I think this is the area where I need more training or more experience.


After another evening with no heat in the hotel room and another cold shower this morning we decided to come home early. The hotel manager noted our discomfort and gave us a 20% discount and an excellent breakfast. As we drove away it was still raining...

Sounds like th eepic battle of "Jack v. Mother Nature"! Glad it turned out well - and that you got a discount. Good grief on the hotel!
I am exhausted and feeling chilly after reading it... Congrats!
Ouch Jack! I feel for you on that fall. It may have been funny to watch but I bet it wasn't pretty. But on the bright side, you finished standing up...just cause you sat down early doesn't count.

Hope you're not too sore.
officially an ultra runner! (wasn't this your first ultra?)...and you did it on a tough course, in the rain and that makes you a hardcore ultra runner. you continue to inspire me jack! well done!
Great report Jack and how did you know I was snickering when you fell in the mud? I was laughing thinking of all the times I have been in the same predicament. If you ever figure out how to run when you feel like walking drop me a line because I still have not figured that out either. Enjoy your accomplishment.
Wow! Incredible. Very gripping race report. I can't believe how crappy the hotel was! No heat or hot water! Ack! I would have had a fit. Especially afterwards. That's nice your wife went with you for support. That always helps a lot. I can't believe how cold it is there! Way to go, especially given the crappy weather. That always saps my energy when it's cold and rainy. Glad you're okay after your fall! Way to go on an awesome job. Congrats!
Awesome job!! It sounds like a really beautiful run, except for the rain! Way to go, ultramarathoner!!
Wow Jack, what a race!! I hope you are proud of yourself because that's really a feat!
That is some great and complete report!
Sounds like pretty tough conditions with that rain, temperature and hills!

How does it fell now to be an ultra?
wow, jack. you deserve a huge round of applause for finishing your first ultra. i only hope that i can have the same kind of determination and confidence in completing my first ultra as you did. it was a real inpsiration to read this great report.

what is next for you on the ultra circuit?
Jack, i'm late to the party, just reading this! But I DID think about you Thursday and sent good thoughts your way. This was a gripping tale to read--I felt like I was right there experiencing it (especially the falling down part!) Really inspiring stuff! Congratulations on a great race!

and the pictures are gorgeous too. Thanks for sharing. Now at least I can imagine an ultra...i think that's the closest I'll ever get. GREAT JOB!
what an epic race!!! way to go on your first ultra!!!!!
Awesome narrative hoss, congratulations on your finish!

mit freundlicher Empfehlung aus Montabaur
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