Long distance events don’t just give chance many an opportunity to strike in the form of accidents or physical discomfort, they also give the participant a long time to ponder.
January 22, 2016, the day before I would travel to Munich for the ISPO, saw the 24H Burgenland Extreme (official website, in German only) tour around the Neusiedler See lake take place for the fifth time.
It was my third go at it after a successful first time in icy cold, and a second time that saw most people (including me) just barely make it to the kinda-half-way point in conditions that went from bad to worse. (After having started out very nice, then it had started to first rain, then pour, and then snow flakes the size of baseballs descended onto our drenched selves.)
As an “ambassador” for this tour taking place pretty much outside my front door, of course I would be back.
The particular challenge here isn’t even the ice and cold, as uncomfortable as that can get, or even the cold wind that we tend to have all the time (and strangely escaped this time, this one day), but the “comfortable” terrain:
Most of it is basically road running, and what isn’t on roads is on agricultural roads and trails that are pretty hard-packed.
The terrain profile is even more “easy,” with fewer than 500 m of elevation change over the course of 100+ kilometers.
In practice, though, what this means is that you have hours after hours of pounding pavement, much of it going straight with little interruption for long stretches. It all gives lots of chances for wondering what exactly you’re doing.
In my case, that self-talk became particularly strange this time, and for a strange reason:
I was moving along pretty well.
At least at first, when the course went up and down a bit in the part on the Hungarian side of the lake, and when there was a little snow covering left on the roads, conditions were as I had expected them.
Because of that expectation, I had decided on the somewhat dangerous choice of taking Icebug’s Zeal as the shoes to use.
For that first bit, it proved great.
I covered the first 30-40 km, i.e. the first marathon distance, in around the time I run a marathon in, and it didn’t really feel too fast. Pushing it a bit, sure, but not too badly.
Then, however, the roads turned to just roads, and my legs and feet started killing me. It wasn’t the worst of pain or anything like that, but exactly that kind of discomfort that showed that those racing flat-like shoes with little cushioning weren’t the best choice for those cleared roads.
So, as so often, I was reduced to mainly “power walking” – and at the same time, not so sure it was a reduction.
For one, I walk faster than many people jog. And I can keep that up for considerably longer than I could keep on running, however slowly. (No wonder my advice for fitness is to just move, no matter if you are “only” walking…)
Still, it isn’t easy to have been going strong, have seen only few footprints of runners in the snow before you, and then have more and more people overtake you.
(Then again, on this tour especially, one has to be careful: There are casual walkers and there are highly dedicated ultramarathon runners participating in it; this year we even attracted some cyclists. Some of them start early, some only start where they had to quit the year before.)
Going so, comparatively, slowly poses its own challenges – but at least I am still happy enough to just have the success of covering a distance like this.
An ultramarathon-pro friend had issues with his legs and quit over it; a bad time would have been more demotivational for him (and bad for his reputation) than simply quitting – and he’d had even more stress at work before than I had.
Towards the very end, things really got fun again.
I was happy to be close to someone with a headlamp when we needed to cross one bigger road, but otherwise took off away from those ‘shining’ people just like I had at the beginning of the tour.
It was around the time of the full moon, anyways, so headlamps were only necessary if you aren’t used to running at night, under the light of the moon (which can illuminate everything, especially in white winter landscapes, pretty well.)
(Also, I tried out the Suunto Traverse on “OK” GPS setting, i.e. updating the position only every 60 seconds, for navigation along the route for this tour, so I could consult that for additional help in finding my way. The data recorded from that can be seen here.)
Having walked so much before, with the knowledge of the finish approaching, I was off on a run again, overtook a few people who had left me behind what felt like ages before – and in the end, I finished this tour successfully again, not just in terms of covering the total distance, but also with a time that was 4 hours faster than two years before.
As always, though, when I think back on it, it isn’t the time, let alone the pain, that is the most impressive. It is the feeling of having finished something extraordinary, and the memory of the scenery along the way:
Experienced together with others, even if just after a fashion, while moving along by oneself, knowing that they are also here to be here, to live and move, these familiar places are all a bit different, more meaningful, again.