We ventured down to Harz, Germany, this weekend for the Brocken Marathon. Most readers will have read the Girl's blog and seen the killer hill (Brocken) in the middle of the race. The course climbs approximately 800 meters in 8K (2500 feet in 5 miles?), ie. a 10% incline for the cycling afficionados. However, the 8K are preceded by a few K of gentle climbing and the hill gets steeper and steeper as you go. In other words, that mountain defines the whole race. But let's begin at the start line.
I fancied myself with a shot at the top 10, possibly top 5. But, above all, I didn't want to crack on the long downhill, so I started conservatively. The part of the course that may appear flat on the elevation map is anything but. In the first 5 miles, we ascended and descended hills that would be the centerpiece of a tough Danish cross country course. Of course, as opposed to Danish cross meets, which always are better-wear-spikes technical, we ran these hills on non-technical trails - and stayed on them the whole way.
I took it easy, and counted the people ahead of me to learn that I was in 16th spot at the position-wise nadir of my race at 5 miles. Then, slowly, we started climbing more than we descended, and this separated the pretenders from the contenders. The first few miles of low-grade climbing suited me well, and I advanced up through the field, always feeling like I had a lot left in the tank.
Then the hill got so steep that it made no sense to run. At least it made no sense to me. There were little plateaus, where I ran, but I made a point of walking and eating whenever it got really steep. I was passed by 3 or 4 runners, but they were barely running faster than me. I power-hike pretty efficiently and was almost able to keep up with the runners.
At a point, with a few miles left to go to the summit, the trail turned into an East German road made out of concrete slabs. It got so steep that running looked completely silly to me. One German guy passed me and yelled "I sink your sistem is werking. I try it too" and then we walk-ran together to the top. The views up here were amazing, of course.
Even though Brocken is only 1140-some meters high, it feels like the high mountains. It was really windy, which probably isn't a rarity up there, because there were no trees. The top is occupied by an old East German weather station. Cool stuff.
Then came the downhill, and with the crazy steep uphill, I had worried that it would be too steep for me to run. I'm not a good downhiller at all. But the downhills, except for very few sections, were the crusing types. I turned my music on and floated down the mountain. I chose to run on the grassy shoulder, which seemed like a good choice for someone not used to the pounding.
Just coming over the top, I passed a couple of people. The people who had run up, were all so stiff, that I easily put a couple hundred meters on them. Again, if anyone reads this as a preview for their own race: walk the hill. A fast power-walker may lose a minute or two on a runner over the last steep miles of the hill but that time will easily be reclaimed on the way down.
And, yes, the way down went well. I floated and floated and, purely by chance, always had the next runner in view a hairpin turn or two below me. I had lost count of the place I was in and just focused on picking off runners. Suddenly we were in the last few miles and I entered what I fancied to be an all-out Solinsky beast mode. It's been a while since I tapped a good runner's high in competition; last time must have been Hells Hills in April. Yes, there were some tears. At this point, the half-marathoners had joined the course and there were lots of spectators. I felt like I was absolutely screaming down the mountain and there was a even an uphill section that I ran all-out. I am sure I had the fastest time in the race for the last 5 miles.
The last two K are steep downhill. I passed a guy, who was in the marathon, and then probably took it a little too easily. I got stuck behind a half-marathoner and then, when 400 meters to go, got re-passed by the marathoner. He wanted it more than me, I guess. Had there been a flat section, I would have been able to use my fresher legs, but it was steep and I was worried about going insanely fast. Plus I am not a very skilled downhiller, to be honest.
As it turned out, he took 5th and I took 6th. Six people get to go on the big podium to receive prizes, so it all turned out all right. But still, I should have just have surged by him, when I first passed him. I expected there to be a flat finish ,but it was downhill all the way to the line. Good advice for other runners would be to run the last two K all out.
I finished with lots left. I would have been happy if they had converted it into a 50K. My time was 3:04, which is pretty wild compared to me PR of 2:49. I actually ran the first 10K in 40:46, which is PR pace, even though it felt easy and was hilly. It makes one wonder how fast I would have gone on a flat course. Needless to say, I am very excited about this race. I've been setting PBs on my training runs, but until you see a big result in an official race, it doesn't really matter.