This one was way longer than all my previous 100 km runs. I have run 100 km non-stop three times in my running life before: in August 2014, guiding blind ultra runner Anton Luber on the Mauerweg around Berlin (at the same time my first step into ultras); in July 2016 at the Thüringen Ultra Trail, again with Anton; and in August this year at the German 100 km Championships, the race which earned me the call-up for the national team with a time of 7:16:58 [h:mm:ss]. And although the runs with Anton took me 12:45 and 11:40 hours respectively, those felt much shorter than last Sunday’s race.
Goals and Preparation
Prior to the race, I had decided to go for a time of around 7:10 to 7:15 hours at the World Championships race. I had set two auxiliary goals for a day when everything would go right (stay on pace until km 84 and then crush it to finish under 7:10) or for a bad day (keep moving, finish under 7:30). But honestly, I was about 90 percent sure I could run under 7:15. My training had gone great and major workouts felt so easy that I was really second-guessing my goal and wondering if it wasn’t way too conservative. (Strava training log of my two peak weeks, including a 2:36 marathon on muddy dirt roads and rolling hills.) Still, it was my first time wearing a Germany singlet and I had had a much longer racing season than ever before, so I thought I shouldn’t take too many risks this time.
On the morning of the race, I got up at 3 a.m. (start was at 7 a.m.) and went outside onto the empty streets of Los Alcázares to get in my usual pre-race/pre-breakfast/wake-up run. Just 10-15 minutes of very easy jogging and enjoying the quiet excitement before a big race. The run felt pretty normal; I had a clear mind and enjoyed the quietness, maybe I was a bit more nervous than usual. After the run, I went inside and had breakfast: five slices of toast with smoked salmon and honey (not on the same toast, obviously), plus a small glass of juice and some cold-brewed coffee — a combination I have tested multiple times. The only other runners I saw up that early were two Japanese runners that sneaked into the empty restaurant to microwave their breakfast. (I don’t know if one of them was the race’s eventual winner — maybe I should try microwaving my breakfast?)
At around 4.40 a.m. I went to bed again and dozed for another 40 minutes or so. Then I put on my race kit and some warm-up gear (it was super cold!) and went to the call room so the race organizers could check my kit and bib. The call room and race start were literally 20 m in front of the hotel’s main entrance, so that was super easy! Apart from a few minutes slow jog and my usual lunge matrix and leg swings combination, I didn’t warm up again (to prevent myself from going out too fast).
The race consisted of ten 10 km laps with 2.5 km stretch along the beach overlooking the Mar Menor and then zig-zagging through the small town, which meant a couple of tight turns (link to my Strava activity):
Aid stations at km 5 and 10 of each lap meant plenty of opportunities to get personal supplies. We in the German team were super lucky to have a luxurious crew-to-runner ratio of 9 crew members for 11 runners, and each runner had been assigned two personal helpers that knew the runner’s special needs. For me, my LG Nord Berlin Ultrateam manager Jörg (“El Chefe”) crewed at km 5 and my girlfriend Sofie stood right at the finish line/10 km mark. (The two were a great combo of sweet smiles and verbal motivation/kicks in the ass if required.) A huge thank you to the whole German crew, and especially Jörg and Sofie! I didn’t have a lot of excess energy to show my gratitude this time, but I really appreciated the help. Everything went smoothly the whole race, and whenever I needed something extra (salt, cinnamon rolls, and tissues) I got what I wanted without the slightest slowdown.
When you’re struggling at km 30 of a 100 km race it’s going to be a long day…
The first 70 km felt incredibly long to me: I never really found my rhythm or mental flow and had a few nutrition problems that made it the running tough for me. The first thing that threw me off was how strung out the field was already after a few kilometers (picture of the start, or the last time I saw most of the speedy South Africans). I had started a bit slower than goal pace, just like I do in most ultras, and by the time I had found my pace, there was already a huge gap in front of me. Expecting a windy race along the coast, I thought it was wise to accept a pace a little slower to run in a small group with my team colleague Michael, Brian from Denmark, and the leading woman. However, that pace didn’t feel right for me, so I sped up a bit and chose to run in no man’s land.
At around km 16 I needed to pee and did so at a spot with no spectators around. No big deal. Until a few minutes later when I heard that a Dutch runner had informed my teammate that I had been given a yellow card for that. Two yellow card offenses mean a disqualification. That would be the ultimate fail: getting disqualified for peeing in my first start for Germany. I ran a bit scared from there on, making sure I didn’t give anyone any reason for complaints. As it turned out later, there is no rule that warrants a yellow card for peeing, and I had not been booked. But the whole episode threw my hydration off a little bit because I didn’t drink and eat as much as planned for fear of having to pee again.
The second difficulty was the long stretch on the beach promenade that was plastered with hard tiles. I had read descriptions and seen pictures of the course and had even run most of it the day before, but I still managed to choose the wrong shoes. My Asics Hyperspeed that had worked so well on gravel in August were just too thin for this course. I started feeling my thighs around km 30, and the longer the race went on, the more I feared the beach promenade because running on it hurt more and more. However bad I felt running, it apparently didn’t show: I was just a few seconds per km behind goal pace, and our crew members remarked after the race that I looked pretty much in control. I wish I had been.
Anyway, just before I had finished my seventh lap, a big storm that we had noticed approaching from the Mediterranean Sea culminated in rain. Finally, something was going my way! I love, love, love running in the rain! The physical and mental refreshment turned a switch in my brain, and suddenly I was running like I had imagined it all along. Paired with the late race situation (70 km is when everybody gets tired) that meant I was suddenly overtaking people for the first time in the whole race. I even re-overtook one of the two speedy South African runners that had lapped me shortly before. My pace wasn’t super fast (maybe like 4:10-4:15 min/km), but it felt good.
Unfortunately, that day I just wasn’t strong enough to keep that feeling going. The first moment I was presented with a negative cue — namely the rain stopping at the same time as I reached the beach promenade — all energy seemed to leave my body again. I simply couldn’t run anymore. I continued, but it didn’t feel like running anymore. My quads protested against running on the hard tiles, but there was no way around it. It felt like I was fighting my own body. When I tried to speed up again on the roads, I couldn’t. Right after km 85, I needed to use the toilet for a third time that day, and after that, I realized all I could do now was trying to keep running, however slow that would be. I calculated that I could still reach my “bad day goal” of sub 7:30 if I ran every kilometer under 5 minutes, so that became my new goal: run the next five kilometers under 5 min/km; then the next two; then the next kilometer. In the months prior to the race, I had run a lot of my easy training kilometers at that pace or a bit faster, and it had always felt soo relaxed. It definitely didn’t feel easy now, but at least I could hold that pace.
There was no question that I would finish, especially after I had overtaken my Germany teammate Carsten at around 88 km and was now suddenly the third German runner, which meant my time would factor in the team rankings. That gave some extra motivation and feeling of responsibility (our two best runners André and Karsten had run amazing races and personal bests, so I did not want to let them down even more in the team ranking), but my legs just couldn’t move faster anymore. The physical exhaustion paired with the disappointment about my race took everything out of me. When I crossed the finish line after 7:26:11, I wasn’t happy to be done, I was just disappointed and tired.
The exhaustion, both physical and mental, continued for a couple of days. But with a few days rest and reflection, I have come to peace with my race. While the time isn’t what I had in mind, the placement, both individual and with the German team, is actually better than what I had hoped for. I had the 65th best PR going into the race (and was ranked fifth German); but like in every race of that distance, many runners had to slow down or couldn’t finish the race, so I finished 42nd overall and third German. In the team competition, we finished seventh behind South Africa, Japan, the USA, Norway, Australia, and Italy (video for some atmosphere), but in front of the strong teams of Spain, Sweden, and France.
All in all, I had a fantastic weekend in warm weather with a great team and crew. and so many incredible impressions. Walking around in German colors among amazing athletes from all over the world felt really really good. I genuinely tried to be a good ambassador for my sport and my country and mingled with runners and crew from all over the world. Apart from the race itself, I truly enjoyed these championships. And as every runner knows, bad races are the most important because those are the races in which you can learn the most.
Date: November 27, 2016
Location: Los Alcázares, Spain
Race: XXIX. IAU 100K World Championships
Distance: 100 km (62.1 miles)
Time: 7:26:11 [h:mm:ss] — 4:28 min/km (7:11 min/mi)
Place: 42nd overall, 3rd German, 7th national team
Crew: Sofie Hovmand & Jörg Stutzke
Shoes: Asics Hyperspeed 6 — too thin for this course. Should have used my backup shoes (Saucony Kinvara 7).
Nutrition: water + salt, 32Gi chews, SiS/HIGH5 gels (per lap: 2 x water + salt, 1 chew, 1 gel — drank and ate to taste). Backup: Gifflar cinnamon rolls (at km 75 and 85), extra salt. Thanks to LØBERENfor the energy and good wishes!
Photos: Sofie Hovmand (3), Carsten Stegner (1), Andre Migneau (1), AJD (1)