I subscribed to the Ultra Trail Lamer Winkel early this year as a way to continue pursuing the motto “do epic shit!”.
Let’s face it: life is short!
Looking into my quotidian life, recent health challenges and the ones from people around me, I’ve been pursuing a few dreams that make me feel that life matters, that there is meaning, that it is easy to make myself happy and the ones around me as well. Trail running is a newly discovered passion and after last year’s Douro Ultra Trail I settled this time of the year would be perfect for delving myself into a new adventure.
My friend Stefan Christoph (I call him “the marathon eater” just for fun) found Ultra Trail Lamer Winkel, a 53 Kms race with 2700 meters accumulated elevation in south Germany’s Bayerischer Wald, a national park shortly north of Munich and next to the Czech Republic border. The course would start in a small village called Arrach in the heart of the valley and go up the surrounding mountains through the Lohberg municipality all the way until the finish line in Lam. Taking place on the last Saturday in May, weather conditions should be sufficiently warm to provide us welcoming temperatures and nice views from the peaks.
We decided to take the train to head south, as it would provide us a more relaxing travel experience when compared to going by car. We started in Düsseldorf at 7h, the Friday before the race day, expecting a smooth journey which would get us in the Lamer Winkel region shortly after lunch. When the first train started having huge delays, we understood we were in trouble, as we’d loose our connections thereafter (indeed we did). We had a very late lunch with tunafish focacce while changing trains (which were lifesaving!) and arrived in Arrach 11 hours after departure. We were literally knackered…
We’d planned to stay at Gästehaus Weber, a traditional bavarian accommodation in the heart of Arrach. Herr Weber was unexpectedly waiting for us at the train station, which turned out to be a very positive surprise and excellent reception after the long travel. Our concern that we may not make it to the race briefing in time immediately faded away, as we drove to drop our bags in the room and headed to the See Park to pickup our bibs, take advantage of the pasta party and get together with the crazy ones like us.
On the way down we were struck by gorgeous natural panorama views and by the farther sound of music, indicating that the party was well under way. We followed the standard protocol and got ourselves a nice spaghetti meal to accommodate the food we’ve missed during the day and the energy we’d require for the following day.
We didn’t stay long and shortly after the briefing headed back for a good night sleep.
The race day started early with a 6 AM wakeup call. Judging by our early training sessions, most of which we woke up 4 AM, this one was a luxury. We had a good breakfast and headed to the start line next to the Seepark lake. The day was partly sunny, partly cloudy, requiring a light jacket in the freshness of the morning. The atmosphere was super relaxed, runners getting themselves ready, families close by and the sound of children playing filling the air.
We were expecting the start at 8h when a big BANG! went off, considerably louder than what we’re used to. Up until now I don’t know what they used but if someone was still asleep, they sure got quickly awake. Heart jumpstarted with the startling sound, we were off to go around the lake and into 2 flat Kms until the edge of the forest.
As we started going up, we got a glimpse of what a pure trail looks like. Dirt path, sprinkled with rocks here and there, irregular on its flow. It was steep and most runners took the decision for a fast walk, ourselves included. Even though we were used to run in such ascent during training, the race was just starting and we knew that keeping our levels of energy was key to finish the course.
Just before hitting Eck, where we’d find the first aid station, I heard a girl talking Portuguese to a fellow runner. It was great to meet countryman André, his Italian girlfriend Natalina and to have the opportunity to have a friendly chat with them. We’ve ran together the upcoming 5 Kms until we got naturally split by our divergent rhythms. Looking back, it was one of those experiences trail running provides as part of the spirit which the community embraces. Super nice!
We’d then start a quite technical trail in the direction of the Kleiner Arber (German for Small Arber), the first peak we’d conquer. Weather conditions were nice, we could enjoy good views around us and we felt strong attacking the uphills. There were people occasionally cheering the runners in particularly tough locations. I’m still wondering if it was prepared by the race organisation or if it was part of runners’ support crews… in any case, it felt great.
Next stop was the Großer Arber (German for Great Arber) at an altitude of 1455m. Half way during the ascent, we faced a wall of fog which the trail was leading us to. Shortly after, a small rain started to hit us. While we were still deciding whether to use the rain jackets or stay in t-shirt mode, we were abruptly struck by hail. Vests off, jackets on, up we go! Rain would thereafter take the journey with us all the way to the top, where the second aid station would be waiting next to the cable car.
After the Großer Arber we had a long way down, where the temperature started getting warmer and the network coverage allowed for a face to face call with my family. I felt good, surprisingly strong with 26 Kms + 1000 m elevation, happy looking at the extremely curious faces of my kids and wife while I didn’t stop running. When the call finished Stefan made a comparison between road marathons and the trail adventure we were living. We commented on how the trail feel is unique, wonderfully relaxed and easy going. We had nearly 4 hours at this stage and it looked like we’d gone out for one of our regular training sessions during lunch. Time was flying by…
Getting to the valley again means that we had to go up soon. Half way my body gave me acquainted feelings of energy drain, which I recognised from my breakdown at Douro Ultra Trail. When we got to the top, we stopped for a few minutes and I took a gel with regular (additives free) water on top. Jacket on again to get warm against the mountain top breeze and I was set to go. Recovery was fast and it felt good to leverage on the knowledge gained from other races, clearly identifying good learnings. We were then racing on the edge of the mountain for a while, in the border with Czech republic, in a foggy, rocky place which I’ve labeled the “land of the walking dead”, as it looked like the landscape from Michael Jackson’s triller.
After a technical trail downhill, we were set to hit the valley again through a relatively standard dirt road. As I re-laced my shoe, Stefan’s body signalled for cramps and knee issues. For the few seconds we stopped, two runners approaching us immediately offered a pair of salty crackers to Stefan, as they saw him shortly stretching. They would pack with us for the following 5 to 6 Kms. Companionship from fellow runners is, how to say… extraordinary.
As we starting going up again for the last peak, my motivation to keep going was high as we hit Km 44. The mark was my longest run to date and everything which would follow would be unexplored territory. The moment was recorded in camera and I believe my face says it all. 🙂
Near the top however, my happiness would change, as I started feeling stomach issues, as if there’d be too much water on it. The trail was very rocky then, full of tree roots, steep uphill, highly technical. It was the first time ever that during a run I wondered whether I’d be able to hold my stomach or not. As we reached the last aid station at the top, I took a considerable amount of bread to drown the watery feeling, plus a glass of coke as it usually helps in such situations. It had been more than 2 years since I last drank coke which, curious on one hand, worked miraculously on the other. I would have had soup at that stage (which was not available, as I recalled the pot from previous aid station) and took a mental note to memorise or find a way to better track each aid stations contents on the next race.
We had roughly 7 Kms ahead of us before getting to the finish line. From that point on we ran slowly down, to accommodate the increasing complaints of Stefan’s knee and from my left foot as well. We stayed together as a team during the whole race, which I’ve appreciated a lot.
After passing church Maria Hilf, we had to opportunity to route through a holy trail. Beautiful… Simply beautiful…
Below the clouds we could see the Lam village clearly now and I had again the chance to take some nice photos. Soon we’d be entering the village with lots of people cheering us. We finished strong on the red carpet, rushing fast through the crowd towards the finish line, where the race organisation and mayors of the participating towns were waiting to greet us. Very… very nice!
The race was done in 8h 32m 55s.
After cooling down we headed to the showers to be able to join the celebration. How ironic is it to realise that the down/uphill from the showers would feel more difficult than most of what we did during the race? Hilarious! Deserved prize for all of this? Food… proper food. It tasted just… fantastic!
Overall we did a great trail run! While weather could have been nicer on the peaks, providing us fantastic views and a warmer temperature, it was remarkable to feel the mountain alive. I expected bigger problems during the race than the ones I ended up encountering… at the end I dealt much better with my energy levels compared to previous races and added a few learnings to the knowledge book. As I write the day after the race, legs are fine, which indicates there was proper training done for the race and reminds me of how the day after my Cologne half marathon back in 2009 I couldn’t go down the stairs at the office. Interesting how things change in life…
The last memory of Lamer Winkel? A breathtaking sunset over the hills, green flowery fields and the superb sense of achievement! 😀
A special word to Stefan: you rocked dude! Enjoyed it a lot!
As life is full of extraordinary things but presents us with tough challenges at times, we feel closer to ourselves and to others in these moments. We live, we share. As with my previous race, this one is dedicated to you as well (you know who 😉 ). You’ve battled and you succeeded, you’ll continue your battle and you’ll succeed again as we all strive for. This victory is wholeheartedly devoted to you.