Around Traunsee lake, over peaks and through valleys.
70 km distance, 4500 m altitude difference. Again.
This year’s mountain (ultra)marathon from Gmunden to Ebensee and back, all around the Traunsee lake, passing over the Grünberg, the Traunstein, the Spitzlstein, the Feuerkogel, the Grasberg and the Gmundnerberg, marked the high point of the running events I have planned to participate in this year. Only two more races are coming up… and then, maybe the start of some more private challenges.
The real challenge, typically, seems to be in integrating regular running into the daily trot and living an active lifestyle, anyways. Work-life balance, or something like that.
All the funnier, all the more telling, a start to the event: Up at 2:00 a.m., preparing, driving to the start – a big thanks to my dad, a not-always-encouraging but essential member of my support team, right here – and finding oneself between runners getting warmed up and young partiers warmed quite enough from all the drinking they’ve been doing. Hilarity ensues in the attempt to discuss who’s crazier and whether or not you’d have to be drunk to even consider doing something like this.
Much later on, there’d be a more earnest discussion regarding the potential role of beer as a sports drink that works as antidote to all the sugariness those usually present, but that was then. This is now.
The Suunto Ambit GPS/HR watch connected to the heart rate belt, the navigation turned on – it having recognized the starting point and immediately suggested to continue to the next waypoint – heart rate in the usual range, a Clif Bar for breakfast, supplies packed and the pack snug tight… all set.
3:00 a.m. sharp, handing in the starter card on the way to the starting line, running through the sleeping east of Gmunden and to the Ortnersteig track that will lead up onto the Grünberg. The first few kilometers, still in darkness, the first ascent.
After the afternoon thunderstorms of the day before, the tracks are somewhat muddy, but less than feared. More importantly, the temperatures now are in a comfortable range, and the skies are quite clear, though there is some cool wind that might not bode well for what comes next.
The descent from the Grünberg goes over forest roads, sometimes giving a glimpse of the big one: the Traunstein. Rising up from the Traunsee lake, from its 425 m of altitude to the peak at 1691 m, it is not the highest, but it is impressive, visible from afar, oftentimes walked up on day trips – and but the second of several climbs in this event.
Back to almost the level of the lake’s surface, the access road climbs up again a bit to the entry point to the Naturfreundesteig, one of the trails leading up the mountain. Once again, soon after its beginning, the official photographer awaits…
… and things always look rather too easy (and faces all too bad) in the pictures. At least, it is light enough by then to continue without a headlamp, but some of the track up (including the very beginning and several sections in between) is not simply a hiking path, but a via ferrata where one has to climb ladders, hold on to steel ropes and step securely, or stumble and fall.
Impromptu teams form up. Some people are really slower or, more usually, faster. Some are just happy to have someone to follow and be followed by, setting the pace. Up and up it goes, into breaking dawn and beautiful views of the surrounding area. Just don’t think too much about the length of the path, and the number of peaks, still coming up. At least, the Traunstein is the highest, by far – and suddenly, the Naturfreundehaus towards its top is reached.
Fresh water, some refreshments, a runner who takes off, and me taking off after him. Turns out, he’s the same person with whom I ran at the end of the first round of the Über-Drüber-Marathon in Kirchdorf, where it was nice and fast then, and he took off at the beginning of the second round. Down again.
The rocky path is rather slippery; running is all but out of the question for someone who’d rather get back home safely than risk life and limb in the name of speed and supposed glory. Parkour skills come in rather handy, though, with all the boulders where it’s better to scramble down than jump and slip…
Over and around forest roads, down to the lake again, towards the last climb on its east side.
Nice going, but even the newbie would have heard of the challenge that awaits. The Traunstein may be tall and almost technical, but at least it’s an obvious challenge because of it. The Daxnersteig up to the Spitzlsteinalm looks like it should just be a forest trail, but it’s steep, and long, and – especially with exhaustion starting to set in – a path that often gets one to climb on hands and knees, just trying to get it over with.
Going up, it felt like my quads were about to cramp up. Having reached the control and supply point up, it turns out that many people that day would complain about actual cramps, maybe because of the rather high humidity… which I don’t really feel. Aftereffects of the running in Hunan?
Anyways, another descent. I remember that one quite well from the earlier time I participated in this event – or so I thought. (With the other trails so far, I found that I remembered much less of them than I had previously thought… the beauty of repressed memories?) It’s nice, in a way – after all, it goes down to the half-way point in Ebensee, but also quite muddy and yet another mixture of slippery roots and rocks, sometimes wide, sometimes tight and with stinging nettles. Wake-up call…
Ebensee. Half done. All the longest ascents but for the Feuerkogel, which I remember as long but not too steep a climb. Meeting up with the support team, read: my dad and my wife. Flowers from her, a pointer at the potential rain on the Feuerkogel from him (clouds have been visible up there for a while). I was expecting I’d be told that there must be a thunderstorm coming and I should just quit it, but apparently there’d been enough people saying that it will be rain at worst. So, I just get asked whether I will go on indeed. Resupplied, and gone pretty soon. At least, it feels like it’s soon.
The navigation on the Ambit worked interestingly. Sometimes, especially at the control points, it hit the marks very well, its “approaching xxxx” and “continue to yyyy” a nice reminder of my progress. Many times, though, I didn’t pass the waypoints I’d set up exactly enough for that. I hadn’t even looked at it enough, so I only noticed a while later when I wanted to check directions with the Ambit again. So, then, I had to skip one or two waypoints to get to the right, next, one. Going up the Feuerkogel, I got afraid the GPS recording plus navigation may be draining the battery more quickly than recording alone, so I deactivated the navigation. Didn’t really need it there.
[Turned out it would not have been a problem by the way: Back home again, there was still 14% battery left, so I guess the 15 hours, or thereabouts, would hold true also with pretty much everything running.]
Other impromptu pacing teams up the Feuerkogel. Walking, climbing the stairs at the beginning, walking on, chatting. Walking behind a guy who looks like he’s around 60, sets a nice pace, tells us he’s done that tour some 20 times already, and climbs up the Traunstein an average of every third day per year…
Towards the top, I have to stop. No cramps, but general fatigue. Weariness. A distinct desire to just call it quits, take the cable car back down (should that be running), and be over with it. No more pushing on up. I sit down, alone, have my fourth Clif Bar of the day (mmmh, Panforte… some zest, not just sugar), and wonder.
Then, some other participants come past, I decide to trudge after them – I have to make it to the next stop, anyways – complain and get told off: “Everyone’s wrecked by now all the same… So what? Just walk on” True that.
The cook/proprietor/supporter at the Naturfreundehaus on the Feuerkogel, the next control point and refreshment station, doesn’t just offer the usual water, sports drinks, bananas, oranges, … (the Bergmarathon here has a pretty nice selection of refreshments and is always well-organized that way), but also noodle soup.
Industrial fare, cooked for hours already, getting kinda slimy – but warm and salty and glorious that way. Never before has such “food” been so good.
I pick up a can of Red Bull – which I’d drop off at the next station, untouched, without even having looked at it – and decide that I could just as well save the money for the cable car (which I wouldn’t have with me, anyways) and head down along the path. It’s not like the grand views I took photos of had been the usual view focused on so far, anyways. Rather, it’s been a while already since the next few small steps have become the only thing that’s important, not even the next control points and refreshments… Another reason for having turned off the navigation. It’s all nice and near as the crow flies, but as you drudge up a steep slope, that doesn’t help.
Down from the Feuerkogel, covered in cool mist, into the “Kreh”… other trails that are at once exhausting, almost terrifying, certainly pounding the feet into what feels like mush. Roots, rocks, mud. Set your foot a little wrong, you may slip and fall. Even without falling, you’re sure to hit your toes against some rocks, again are threatened with twisting your ankle, wedged in between somewhere. It’s not running, and it can’t be mere walking, it’s dancing. Fast step here, short slide there, tip-a-tap…
And on, up to the Hochsteinalm, down to Mühlbach. Drudgery, and kinda nice. Whether it was the noodle soup, having quit and now just being on the walk home, or the promise of only two more hills… the path goes on, and I walk on.
Actually, I shouldn’t be calling the two remaining ascents and descents “hills,” for I have bad memories of the Grasberg. It’s not tall at all, but the earlier time I “ran” here, the path climbed in just too straight a way, the sun beat down, I was tired, and it was hell. Well, what you expect to be real bad may pale in reality. It wasn’t so bad this time.
The tour over the Gmundnerberg is nice; it’s the mountain right up from our apartment in this area. So, I decided to quickly look away from the path that would lead straight back home, quit even thinking about that, and go on up. Knowing how (not-so) far “up” is, helps immensely, and the view to the Traunstein is turning into a pleasurable experience already… Was I really up there just a few hours ago?
Of course, there’ll be people taking the shortcut here, as usual; the trail down is muddy as always, but not as long and bad as I remembered and feared, and we are back on the outskirts of Gmunden.
Down to the lake again, onto the Esplanade, running again, in between people just strolling, enjoying the warm air and the sunshine, some of them applauding, some blissfully unawares of the craziness that is us runners, into the finish. I promptly run in at the same time as someone else, get overlooked, and later have to intercede before they think I never got to the finish, go looking for me, and don’t record the time.
Not that I’m looking for records, but I sure am glad I did it again. In 13 hours and 14 minutes, faster than the runner who overtook me in Kirchdorf, faster than a friend of mine who I thought should be a better runner than me, and an hour faster than the first time I ran here, four years ago. I was younger and thought I’d been training rather more then, so it’s good to see.
Add to that how the second part of the race was faster than the first – which is to be expected given that the worst climbs are in the first half, but came unexpected given how much more I felt I was only walking that second part – and I’m even happier about the results: 6:40 for the half from Gmunden to Ebensee; 6:34 from Ebensee back to Gmunden.
The data as recorded by the Ambit can be found on Movescount, here, by the way.
A few blisters, almost a black toenail, sore legs that remind me why it’s called “climbing the stairs”, a post-race cold that hit me… all of that fades. The memory and the feeling of accomplishment remains. Not to mention the renewed knowledge of my ability to push through the pain and doubt and go on.
Sure, it may sound crazy to do things like that. I’m still not so sure about 100k races, let alone 100-milers.
What do you learn sitting in front of the TV, watching soap operas and munching down on junk food, though?
Life is not about vegetating, it’s about living it, deeply and meaningfully. It’s not about comfort, it’s about the challenges without which the comfort would be utterly destructive, not restorative. It’s about living, in balance – and pushing the boundaries.
Life lessons, lived and learned. Now, back to studying. Reading and writing. And running and eating well.