Heidelberg Long Distance Trail

13th of October

This was a fun one!

I can’t remember how I found out about the race, but apparently the Heidelberg Trail Marathon is quite a well-known and loved race in Germany. That might be due to the popularity the city enjoys among international tourists, mainly Americans and Eastern Asians, but probably also due to the tough nature of the race. At 1,500 meters of elevation gain it’s no joke. 

For 2019, the team had come up with an additional event in order to make it even harder. 50 kilometers instead of 42.195, and 2,000 meters of elevation gain total. When I saw that, I signed up.

And decided to buy new trail running shoes.
And decided to buy new trail running shoes.

Sophie and I inserted the race into a little road-trip through Germany as it lined up well with the school holidays of the kids. The plan was to visit some friends along the way and enjoy the country. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our side this time, instead it rained most of the time. But it’s going to get dirty on a long trail run anyways, right?

Arriving at the race center in the old town of Heidelberg, I ran into Niels Maaßen, my old racing buddy, completely accidentally. It is a small scene. Niels and I both did our first ever half distance triathlon together, back in 2014 in Amsterdam. I didn’t expect him to be here but was delighted to see him. 

Niels from Harburg and me.
Niels from Harburg and me.

This dude is leading a very interesting life. Up until recently, he lived in a tree house with his wife and daughter and dozens of other protesters, trying to prevent a huge German energy corporation to destroy a forest in order to dig for coal. See Hambacher Forst if you would like to know more. I certainly did.

Also forest themed: these two dudes preparing to carry logs through the ultra.
Also forest themed: these two dudes preparing to carry logs through the ultra.
Cold and wet. Not the greatest day to run, but I honestly don’t really mind. It adds to the adventure!
Cold and wet. Not the greatest day to run, but I honestly don’t really mind. It adds to the adventure!

As you would imagine, the race organization worked very well even during these sub-par conditions. A few hundred runners showed up to participate in several events ranging from a kids’ run, a 9k trail, a 30k trail, the standard marathon, and this long distance trail I was taking part in. All the major events were starting at the same time, so the starting area got cozy. Penguin colony style warm up. Appreciated.

Followed by the real warm-up: the first few kilometers.
Followed by the real warm-up: the first few kilometers.

Bridge over Neckar river, and the uphill starts. Philosophenweg, they call the road, the city has a history of being a place for sophisticated people. The university is old and known to be of superior quality.

I surpass the two dudes who carry logs. They say these weigh 22 kg each. Not sure why they did it, probably just for the hell of it. 

Weather check: yep, still raining.
Weather check: yep, still raining.

I’m not wearing rain-proof clothes, so I’m soaked right from the beginning. Coming into this with a little cold and just a week after my Rauchwart Marathon win, I think it won’t matter. It won’t be a record or a win, or even comparable to other races of this distance, also I won’t get a bigger cold afterwards probably, so there’s nothing to do here except to check out the course.

And it turns out, it’s not the worst. This impressive arena here showed up out of nothing.
And it turns out, it’s not the worst. This impressive arena here showed up out of nothing.
A fork in the road.
A fork in the road.

Then, I’m catching up with Niels and his buddy. Both of them chose the 42.195 kilometer option, but the course is the same up until around 34 kilometers. So we share a few kilometers while I ask him everything about his time living in the tree house 20 meters above the ground at Hambacher Forst. Incredibly interesting and a great cause. Although he and his family have moved out of the tree house recently for safety reasons (the little daughter got quite distraught after the last time the police tried to remove the protesters), they are still living in the area and are actively supporting it all.

Niels almost disappearing into the fog.
Niels almost disappearing into the fog.

At this place we suddenly entered into the fog. This was an unusual experience, most notably because the ambient sound immediately turned down. Everything sounds muffled here. Otherworldly and very cool!

Rain intensifying.
Rain intensifying.
Beautiful forest.
Beautiful forest.

As well as almost anyone here, I have to walk or power-hike many of the uphill stretches, but I feel my power and technique on the downhills increasing. I’ve learned a bit, apparently – not consciously, though. Mainly it’s just muscle strength I have developed at our crazy Hamburg Everest run. This comes in handy and makes me feel more adapted to the course profile than I used to be on similar courses.

There is one Asian girl I meet a lot of times. I get past her on the flat parts and uphills, but on the downhills she never fails to just fly by me again. Not so sure how she did it, but I want to know how that works! My best guess: practice. 

The trees around us not only make for great air but also protect from winds and a big part of the rain still falling down. I realize that whenever we need to get through a part without trees above. The ground is immediately a lot wetter and muddier – good thing I have the new trail shoes with me. Altra Superior 4’s they are, in case you’re wondering. Great shoes, I got them from Running Green here in Hamburg

Still the decisions have to be made: slippery leaves or slippery mud route?
Still the decisions have to be made: slippery leaves or slippery mud route?
In any case, sinking into the mud can’t be avoided. These shoes are neither completely water-proof nor mud-proof, and you can’t really expect that from shoes I think.
In any case, sinking into the mud can’t be avoided. These shoes are neither completely water-proof nor mud-proof, and you can’t really expect that from shoes I think.
Back down at the Neckar river again, it’s a funny route! Almost dry here, too. Great little break from the ups and downs.
Back down at the Neckar river again, it’s a funny route! Almost dry here, too. Great little break from the ups and downs.
On a sunny day, it’s definitely a pretty town.
On a sunny day, it’s definitely a pretty town.
Technical part: slippery downhill on natural stones – my priority is to make sure not to fall down here!
Technical part: slippery downhill on natural stones – my priority is to make sure not to fall down here!
Heidelberg “view” from above.
Heidelberg “view” from above.

Prior to the race I was slightly worried I could get seriously cold due to all the rain and me not owning any water-proof running wear. At first, this turned out to be true. But the key is to just keep moving and keep the heart rate up high so the warmth comes from within. No breaks allowed. After around two thirds of the race, something new happened. I felt like I’ve dried the inner layers of my upper body clothing from within – probably just with my own body heat. How can that happen? Either way, I feel good and warm now.

The crazy ones of us who wanted 50 instead of 42 kilometers are sent on an 8 kilometer additional lap. A very motivated route post volunteer shows us the way. Those 8 kilometers disappear in a rush, I can’t remember them at all. Suddenly, there’s the same guy again, now pointing to the other direction and saying something motivational again.

Alright, let’s go up!

One of the most difficult parts: natural stones leading up to Königstuhl hill.
One of the most difficult parts: natural stones leading up to Königstuhl hill.

There’s usually a good view from up here, but the fog destroys that. I eat a CLIF bar I brought with me. Also, up top here they offer weird black little energy drink shots I’ve never seen before. I choose to try one, and, surprised of the really bad taste, make a face and some noise. The volunteering girls laugh and confirm that I’ve just had the exact same reaction as everyone else who has tried one of these shots up here. Hoping for some beer next year instead.

Downhill. Getting passed by this Asian girl again. By now we’ve seen each other so many times it almost feels like a little friendship – we’re smiling whenever we pass each other. 

Almost there, Heidelberg castle – half destroyed, impressive nonetheless.
Almost there, Heidelberg castle – half destroyed, impressive nonetheless.
Final few hundred meters on cobblestone within the old city center.
Final few hundred meters on cobblestone within the old city center.

At this point I’m thinking I could do another few dozen kilometers. A good sign and also inspiring confidence as I have just signed up for a race called mozart 100 for next year. This experience here goes a long way, and in spite of the bad weather I genuinely enjoyed it.

The shoes will need a deep cleaning, though!

No crowds in the finishing area due to the weather, unfortunately.
No crowds in the finishing area due to the weather, unfortunately.

49th of 78 male starters, I’m not disappointed, given I’m still relatively new to trail running and ultras with lots of ups and downs.

The best thing was Sophie picking me up with the kids right after the race with our heated up car. After 6:14:19 hours of solitude, you really start missing the noisy kids. And noisy they were immediately. 

Done!
Done!

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