Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Röntgenlauf UltraMarathon 63.3km

I am an Ultra Runner!

The seed for this was laid during my training for the Münster Marathon. I was putting in a lot of millage, There were 3 weeks in a row where i ran over 100 miles a week, topping out at 192km in one week. I believe it was Stephen of Run Like you Stole It that commented that there might be an Ultra in my not too distant Future... which got me thinking.

The plan was to run fast in Münster, and if that fell through attempt it again in a second autumn marathon. If Münster went well then i would 'Reward' myself with an 'Easy' introduction to Ultra Running with the Röntgenlauf. Ive never really considered myself a fast runner, Yes i have some decent PB's but i always felt i was built for endurance not speed. So the thought of doing an Ultra allways intrigued me.

The Roentgenlauf with its 63 km seemed like the ideal introduction. It worked into my race schedule well, and it seemed like an achievable distance with limited Ultra training or experience. My prepartion consisted of my existing aerobic base, the Tetoberg Waldlauf followed by a 48km run the day after, and a few hill sprint workouts. Certainly not ideal, but it was sufficient.

The Röntgenlauf itself is a fantastic event that i would highly recomend. It offers races over Half Marathon, Marathon, and the Ultra. The Ultra can also be run as a team of 3 runners each running a Half Marathon distance. Its also extremely flexible you can register for the ultra and drop out at the full marathon, or register for the marathon and run the ultra, and you will be classed appropriately. The course is simply stunning at this time of the year.

My Taper was pretty uneventful, a few little aches and pains, just what youd expect. I was nowhere near as strict with myself as during the Münster Taper and the result was much more relaxed. Carbo loading started wednesday. I chose to favor potatoes rather than rice or nudels because potatoes apparently have a higher nutritional value.

I spent quite a bit of time trying to decide on a race pace and draw up a pace plan. This was complicated both by the distance and the effect of the hills. In the end my plan was reasonably close, but a littel too optomistic given the hills. The night before the race i suffered my own brain failure as i spent a good hour going back and forth trying to figure out how to make sure i didnt wake up too late ... that night we switched from summer time to winter time here in germany... i guess nerves will do that.

The morning however i woke up at the correct time and just followed my regular race day process. Breakfast was a healthy portion of porridge, with a sliced bannana and walnuts mixed in, topped with milk and honey. Showered dressed and 'body glided' i was ready to go. I arrived at the race start area with a good hour and a half to go. Picked up my start number, and then went to go get changed into my race kit.

I had prepared my short running tights the day before, I wanted to take a gel at km 5 then every 10k after that...but my shorts couldnt hold that many and i only have a start number band or a hydration belt. I didnt want to carry the hydration belt so i decided to pin the gels that wouldnt fit in my pocket to my tights. I positioned them on the sides and it was quite comfortable they didnt wobble around and didnt get in the way.

I had also chosen a long sleeve shirt, it was a good 13°c when i arrived, so i wouldnt need a jacket for warmth, and the weather report was predicting no rain, so the jacket stayed in my gear bag. My shoe choice was made after the 48 km training run, i was testing my Brooks Glycerin 9's and they had shown themselves worthy of my trust.

I hung around in the start hall hoping to meet Henning who was also running the race for the first time, but with 20 mins to go i headed for the start line, turned out id just missed him there. I couldnt find him there either, and thought id end up running the race without him.

The start came, and i was still standing a little to the side, I watched a good number of runners go through the start gate, before stepping into the flow and starting my run. The first few hundred meters were hardly behind me when Henning turned up on my shoulder. It was a plesant surprise, and we would run together for the next 26-27km. The course starts with a little sightseeing loop through Lennep. A very picturesque village, and birthplace of Willhelm Röntgen who discovered XRays.

That first little loop was an introduction to the hills, however we were caught in a lot of trafic and were not able to run the pace according to my plan. There were almost 2000 people on the start line, and the course was quite narrow, it didnt really start thining out until after the first10km, It was too crowded on the downhills prior to that to run faster, and the uphills...well they were a bit steeper than expected, so there was no picking up places there.

I knew that from km 10-15 it would be constantly down hill, so we started to pick up the pace, and places as we began overtaking the runners ahead of us. somewhere after km 15 I realised that Id over hydrated that morning, So I waited for the next steep hill and steeped off the course for a 'breather'. It turned out to be the prosecco hill... at the top you were invited to join the spectators there in a nip of prosecco. I didnt loose too much time and caught up to henning pretty quickly.

The first HM went by pretty quickly, I was chatting to henning, and we were crusing along. My legs still felt really fresh, in fact i commented that so far it felt like a pretty normal sunday long run. The Traffic had gotten quite a lot lighter after the first HM as we shed all the runners that were going no further.

The Second HalfMarathon stretch is pretty much flat overall, but has lots of short sharp ascents and descents in it, with only the ocasional flat stretch. Around Km 28 we hit the first real trail like steep uphill, and even though i power walked it I could feel the lactate buildup in my legs. Id managed to walk past a few of the people ahead of me, but Henning looked like he was struggling a little on the hills. I waited till he caught up and we started running again.

At some point we went under the Müngstener Bridge, the highest railway bridge in germany. Henning was starting to strugle more and more on the hills. Id hopped that we'd be able to run to the 50k mark together before each finishing in his own pace. But it didnt turn out that way. Henning told me to not worry about waiting for him anymore, so I wished him luck, and set about trying to maintain a steady pace.

Km 32 - 36 was mostly a gentle rise, and i started picking up a lot of runners, mostly marathon entrants but also quite a few of the ultra runners. I was still feeling strong and was running well. The course went past the Castle Burg but i cant say I recall seeing it. At Km 37 there was a brutal descent on an asphalt road, my toes were hitting the tips of my shoes despite being laced properly, I started to worry about my feet, and wether i should stop and re-tie my shoes. but after a few more bone jaring meters the descent was over.

From Km 38 through to km 47.5 the course was an almost constant ascent, just a few short downhills as a break. I picked up quite a few Marathon runners, and eventually came to the marathon finish line. The clock showed 3:46 and the announcer commented that i ran to the finish line / timming mats  looking fresh. but i didnt stop there... there was still another half marathon to go. After the Marathon distance we passed the Eschbachtalsperre and kept climbing, My tolerance for when i would start power walking on the hills started to drop, as did my ability to start running again once id started walking.

That stretch was the hardest for me. It really took its toll. Id also stopped picking up runners, all that was left on the track were the ultra's and the HM relay runners. They were all pretty fresh still and the ultras were few and far between. The hills were really grinding me down, The one bright spot was the homemade musli bars at the refreshment stations.

Eventually I crossed the 50km mat and my legs had started to recover a little. I was able to maintain a slightly higher pace again and started to close the gap on the runners ahead of me. The course had changed a litle and was winding through farmland over asphalt lanes. I had to smile to myself a few times as i realised that i was running an ultra, that this was the furtest id ever run. the longest id ever run. That for most people the idea of running this far is something they just cant understand.

My 'Plan' was to run steady through to km 55 and then see what was left in the tank.... well just prior to km 55 there was another big hill, that I 'power' walked up...although there wasnt much power mostly just walk. my legs were starting to hurt, and they didnt feel like they recovered any on the following downhill. Infact i felt even worse. I recaled reading at that many people experience a second wall around 55km or so. I wondered if this was what i was starting to feel.

It was strange I felt that  could keep running, my breathing wasnt laboured i even felt like i had enought energy in my body it was just that my legs were getting sore and feeling tired, I wanted to keep pushing but they just wouldnt do anymore... I let Tony Auldenshaws mantra run through my head a few times 'F**k the legs, F**k em'. It also occured to me that most of the other ultra runners must be going through something similar.

The next refeshment stand had salted pretzels on offer... heavenly. after the gels, and the musli bars i really enjoyed something non-sweet and salty. I briefly considered the cola, but said no, ill have that at the last stand. The next section of the course was more or less flat running alongside the wuppertalsperre another man made lake.

I elicited a brief laugh from a relay runner that id just passed when i stopped, whipped out my camera and took a photo before starting to run again. I was able to maintain a pretty good pace, my legs seemed to have given in to Tonys Mantra and were now just doing their thing and turning over pretty good. I passed a couple of ultra runners and put space on them, The last refreshment stand was pretty busy, with lots of spectators. I called out for cola as i arrived, failing to notice that there was beer on offer.

There was another short flat section alongside the lake, I started to feel like my right hamstring was going to cramp up. I played around with my breathning rates switching to a non symetrical one to try and ease it... which it slowly did. then i got to the final hill. And walked my way to the top. There were lots of walkers with race numbers on that confused me a little, and quite a few spectators and other people walking on course, But by that point id given up worrying about places and just wanted to finish the damn race. I even managed to do an old man shuffle up the final section of hill to the applause of the spectators. They yelled it was 400m to go and all down hill...

It took me a good 50m to build up my speed again, but then i ran to the finish line with a decent bit of pace, no end sprint, but still. I ran over the mats, through the people at the finish line and was a little worried i wouldnt stop before the barrier holding back the spectators... but i avoided that disaster when my legs decided enough was enough. hands on knees and head down i stopped my garmin with 5:35 showing, and then a young lass put my finishers medal over my head.

I looked around there must be something to eat and drink here, i wasnt sure where it was, eventually i realised it was in the hut right by the finish line, i grabbed a cig cup of coke, banana, oatysnack, and a danish pastry, and sat myself down on a chair. The local TV crews and reporters were standing around in the finishing area, Waiting for the first female runner to come in, but no one was interested in me. I went back to the food for seconds, and realised my legs were starting to tighten up. Besides id also seen that the beer tent was just outside the finishing area. So i went out grabbed a alkohol free wheet beer, and started walking in circles to try and keep the legs turning over.... two beers later and i was starting to feel cold.

I headed for the showers, and then lined up for a massage from the phsio's. I kept having cramps in my left calf when the physio would press into the muscle.. eventually however he worked that out. After the massage i struggled to tie my shoes as each time i bent foward to tie them the top of my quads would cramp up... my god i thought, im falling to pieces here. Eventually i got  myself sorted out.

I ran into Henning again, turned out he'd really hit the wall in the third Half... still he had fought on and finished his first Ultra too. I went back to the finish line to cheer on a few of the runners, and then when i started feeling cold headed for the hall to watch the prize giving.

All in All it was a great day, and a great race. I finished my first Ultra, and in a pretty handy time too. I wasnt able to stick to my pace plan, but i did run a very evenly paced race throughout which was something i wanted to do. I learnt a few good leasons that will be handy should i ever decide to race this again. In particular my preparation definately lacked sufficient extra long runs to condition my legs to the pounding that they will take on a race of this distance. I also discovered the the hills were a lot more brutal than i initially expected. But that the tactic of power walking them didnt cost me much time at all.

My Stats for the race are as follows

Chip Time: 5:36:13

1st HM: 1:53:37
2nd HM: 1:51:51
3rd HM: 1:50:44
50km: 4:27:00

For a 22nd place overall from 400+ finishers and 5th place in the M35 Category.

here Lady Garmins take on the whole thing


  1. Brilliant stuff! Love the pophoto, really makes me want to go out and run it myself one day.

    Well done, very nice time.

  2. Excellent report Paul - as Thomas said a great advertisment for running it - well at least for those of us crazy enough to want to run mire than 26.2. Sounds like a tough course with all those hills - excellent time and very even splits.

  3. Great report, Paul! Good photos too. After reading that I consider trying an ultra myself. The first and maybe hardest part would be convincing my wife to let me do this ;-)

  4. Wow your report was so vivid it felt like I was there running the race with you. Congrat's on completing your first Ultra! It quite an amazing achievement that I hope to someday accomplish myself. I could imagine just how difficult it must of been to get through those walls especially after going past 50K.

  5. Thanks All,

    It really is/was a stunning time of the year to run in the Bergischeland. There were lots of very pretty scenes, little lakes, small rivers, the ocasional view across the valley.

    The course itself was a lot tougher than i thought, but primarily due to the hills rather than the distance. I am already considering the next step, and looking at the Gutsmuth Rennsteiglauf as a good opportunity.