Rennsteig Supermarathon

Blog entry posted by BFwillie_g, May 25, 2011.

The Event

The Rennsteig Supermarathon was first run in 1973 in what was the DDR, Soviet East Germany, at the time. Since the reunification, it's grown into one of the largest running events in Europe. There are three races: a half-marathon, a marathon and the "Supermarathon", which is the original race. All three start in different cities but have a common finish in the city of "Schmiedefeld". The Supermarathon starts in the historically significant city of Eisenach. The run from Eisenach to Schmiedefeld is 72.7 kilometers, about 45 miles, and I ran it yesterday (May 21st, 2011), with close to 2,000 other athletes, in my flimsy neoprene beach shoes.

Here's a cell pic of the starting area in Eisenach, about 10 minutes before the 6am start:


This was my first real Ultrarun and, although I may not have a lot of experience in the sport, I feel pretty certain that this one is particularly grueling (with a capital RUE). Here's the corrected elevation graph as recorded by my Garmin FR305:


5,772 ft of gain counts as grueling, doesn't it? I hope so! Please don't anyone burst my bubble and tell me that this was a cakewalk, ok? Thanks[​IMG]

After the initial 25Km climb, the course runs along the "Rennsteig", an especially picturesque part of the Thuringian Forest, an area responsible for a large portion of the Fairy Tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm. It's mostly run along fairly well-tended (typical German) forest tracks but there's some technical stuff involving ridiculous roots and washed-out ravines as well. Of the whole run, only about 1.5 Km are on pavement. Most of the trail is rocky, enough so that even runners in stable trail shoes kept remarking how rocky it was. I stopped counting the people who asked me if I felt the stones through my beach shoes. Yes, I felt them. Yes, they hurt a little. Yes,I've run in these shoes before and yes,I intended to make it all the way to Schmiedefeld...

One guy even suggested that, if I didn't make it to the finish, I'd at least have a built-in excuse. But I told him, if I didn't make it, it would be due to the massive climbs, not the shoes. If I blamed it on the non-shoes, then my detractors would jump on it to tell me how dumb I am, that I should buy some real running shoes, and that all this barefooting really doesn't work after all... Ah well, I proved them all wrong in the end anyway :D

Pre-flight and carry-on baggage

I did in fact do some training for this run, but not much. I kept my weekly mileage quite low but tossed in a few extra-long runs and some "quality" work. I ran a marathon in April, which kind of imploded on me because I was experimenting with doing in on low-fuel and, although that race wasn't impressive in itself, I think the training effect was pretty profound. I also started going to the fitness club (or can we still say, "gym"?) to beef up my core and leg strength. I can't overstate the benefits of simple squats and crunches. So, I was feeling pretty stable going into Eisenach, confident that I would make it to the end.

A crucial element of my preparations, in the true spirit of the Barefooting Community, involved not shaving for a few weeks before the race. My wife was uncharacteristically silent about this strategy. I told her that I wasn't going to shave my beard until after I finished the race, and if I didn't finish it this year, then I'd have to let it grow till 2012 when I could try again... So, she was motivated to give me all the assistance she could in getting to the finish line (and she did a tremendous job of it, too!).

I wasn't sure what I'd really need to take along on the run, and I guess I made a beginner's mistake by having too much. I invested in an Inov-8 RacePro 4 and experiemented a bit with different drink formulas, ending up with two liters (that's two kilograms) of a Unleaded Wheat Beer (I live in Bavaria) and Grapefruit Juice Mix with a shot of Lime and large dash of Salt. It would actually taste great if not for the salt. This turned out to be about one and half liters (one and a half kilograms) more than necessary; I ended up pouring most of my brew down the drain when I got back home. Also along for the ride was a baggie full of salted boiled potatoes which I never touched and a little container of Udder Balm in case of chafing. Then I had a couple extra head rags, some wet wipes (thanks DW!) and my cell phone/camera.

The Race

They cracked the 2,000 starters threshold for the first time, I assume that's a heck of a lot of entrants for a run like this. Hardly anyone drops out, either. Cutoff is 12 hours and as we were leaving, there were still a few people bustling their way in to the finish area, a half hour before that deadline. My race lasted a little under 8:30 and was aided tremendously by my wonderful little dog, "Leni the Wunderhund". I picked her up at the 55km aid station where my wife and daughter were waiting to greet me.

What can I really say about the run itself? From my perspective, it looked like this for the most part:


We were actually running at that point, but there was lot of this as well:


LOT's of this (there were aid stations every couple kilometers, some with just the basics, but a lot of them had a real buffet spread out, which I didn't take advantage of, just wasn't that hungry):


and more of this:


At that point, we were just cresting a(nother) steep climb. I stopped to take photos at most of the large Km markers after the 20K point. This is the one I was looking most forward to seeing:


Although, I have to say, by that point I was really feeling very strong. There was pretty heavy lull in my energy from about the 45-55Km zone, but after I picked up the doggie (and sucked down a pretty durn good energy gel that was in my starter pack, I began to actually dare to run UP the final climbs. I'm not sure exactly where this was taken, but it was near the end:


You were expecting maybe a bigger dog? lol, Leni is an amazing runner, don't be deceived by those stumpy legs. The last few Kilometers were just a blast, we were passing people left and right, and whooping and yipping and laughing. I was completely amazed, really baffled, that I felt as good as I did. We sprinted across the finish line, passing a runner who was finishing the halfmarathon, the spectators and camerapeople really got a kick out of us:


My silly beach shoes are clearly on display in that photo as well. But it's really all about Leni the Wunderhund - look at the smile on her face![​IMG]

Brigitte insisted on taking a pic of us while I looked my worst and most worn-out, and check out the lower half of the little dog - black:


That's our daughter, Isabella, caught a moment when she saw something interesting off in the distance. She was in a much better mood than the pic suggests ;-)

And after a shower and a beer:


Isabella's drinking water!

After that beer, and a big fat Thuringer Bratwurst, we wandered around the finish area for a while and I took a pic of my crew:


So... that was pretty much it. My foray into the ultra world. It went a lot better than I'd anticipated, was a LOT more fun than I'd ever imagined, I also felt pretty good the next day, no real complaints at all. I've felt a LOT worse after much shorter runs/races. Maybe there's something about going out past the marathon point that triggers a
self-healing process? Anyway, I'm already registered for the same race next year and looking forward to it!