Sunday, May 29, 2016

TorTour de Ruhr 2016

The week before

The thing - TorTour de Ruhr -  is clearly turning into reality. While it always has been in the back of my mind and I dedicated some of my training efforts to it, the TorTour de Ruhr has always been hidden behind the the Düsseldorf Marathon, which took place three weeks before the TorTour de Ruhr. Main focus for the Düsseldorf Marathon was to significantly improve my PB, which kind of worked out. Now, the the entire focus is on the TTdR. Thinking about the 100k is still overall intimidating and close to impossible. Thinking about it as less than five half marathons only make it slightly better. But hey - this will work. It's now almost two years ago that I first heard about the race and witnessed it as a spectator. A lot of things change over the cause of this time.

Earlier the week, I met Lars, who agreed to me by staying next to me on the bike and carry all the supplies in the bike trailer of my daughter. All the supplies - we quickly created a list of things we might need and estimated the amount of the items. INSANE - while I'm pretty optimistic that we are overestimating our needs, it's still intimidating to see the large list of things, we might potentially require.

Before the race on Thursday I seemed to have pulled my left calf muscle. Tight like a stone. I couldn't even properly walk on Friday. Will I be fit in time? Two days of intensive application of salve, Blackroll and some stretching. Only the day of the race I mentioned this to Lars, to not disturb his motivation earlier. I definitely wanted to give it a try and calf was much better now. I estimated three more days of rest for totally recovery at race day- this would need to be delayed to after the race.

On Saturday we packed all the stuff. Easily we have been able to fill up the entire trailer. I tried to relax as much as possible and went to bed early. Alarm clock should ring at 0:50am and I should be picked up at 1:30am.

The race day - Pre Start

Alarm clock didn't ring, but I anyway got up 15 mins before the alarm. Honestly, I didn't find much sleep.
Loads of strange dreams, plus the blanket was totally soaked in sweat - Hydration needed to start from zero ;). Quickly jumping into the race cloth and grabbing the last things. Smooth ride to the start line in Hagen, where we found an interesting atmosphere: a lot of runners and crews where preparing themselves on the parking lot. Headlamp lights everywhere. People in pleasant anticipation, nervous whispering and warm welcoming of people who meet. A vivid community.

Inside of the building it has been nice and warm. Good mix of runners of the longer distances, who dropped in for a good drink and a plate of noodles and 100k runners signing in. Super smooth sign in and warm welcome - Felt like home.

After having a good cup of coffee - next to a guy sleeping with his head in the noodles plate, we went out to prepare the bike and the trailer. I was getting a little nervous about the timing, but Lars's calm character did the magic trick on me to cool me down. I mingled between the other starters, listened to the short briefing and then Rock and Roll, baby!

The race day - Finally we run

We started behind a bike for a short introduction round of 500 m and then off we go. I kept my headlamp off for some time - as the path was packed with quite some runners, who already shed enough light. Right after crossing the Ruhr river for the first time, somebody yelled at me "Ah Vodafone" - I couldn't identify the person as it was pitch dark. Only a few hours later I recognized that was a colleague of mine, who did crew some other runners. How small the world is!

After a 1-2k the excitement was slowly going away. Running is something which I have been done before, is something I can focus on. I felt good. The feel of my tight calf was still present but clearly no showstopper at this point in time. My mind slowly realized what has started 2 years ago by reading some Facebook posts about the TorTour de Ruhr and a short visit to the finish line, formed in a crazy, fantastic idea in the back of my mind, has been formalized by accepting the invitation to the race, will now turn into reality. Goosed bumps. 

I focussed on myself and Lars nicely supported me in watching over my pace. I started too fast - like always - but he kept reminding me. I think it took me more than 50k to finally naturally run in the targeted pace - it always seemed to slow. Like mentioned in my earlier blog post, I aimed running on average 6 min/km pace and allow myself two extra hours for resting or compensate for walking periods.

I wore my race backpack the whole time. I had two filled softflasks, some gels and bars with me. While mostly intended for the possibility that I might get separated from my crew, it turned out that even with Lars next to me was a good setup. I could constantly eat & drink and he reminded me by asking : "Stefan, do you need anything?" - that I might have a need. So overall, I definitely ate more than I would have done it if I were on my own. This was a pretty good thing!

Only after 3h40mins I asked for a first stop. Needed to eat something different. I still felt awesome and did some social media stuff. 

The atmosphere on the cycle path was super nice. Silent morning, not much non-TTdR folks around. We passed a lot of crew members waiting and catering for their runners. Super friendly atmosphere and everybody was supporting everybody - I once again felt part of the family.

On the way to Baldeney See, I got some good news over the phone. One of my favorite running buddies - Cris ( - confirmed us that she was on her way to support me on the run. Last logistics being sorted out to confirm a good meeting point took place. 

All this was perfectly supported by my Garmin watch. I'm super happy with the performance of the Fenix 3 during that day. I had uploaded the GPX-track for navigation, which I used regularly during the day, and I started Garmin Live Tracking on the phone. So, watch was connected all the time to the mobile app, which then was broadcasting my current position to the folks following me on the Internet. It worked like a charm. After the finish, I had still 25% battery left on the watch (just normal mode - no ultra mode). My phone would  have probably survived, but at some point in time I recharged it  with a power bar in the trailer. Fantastic setup - worked easily and reliable. I got a lot of feedback from friends, who spent a lazy Sunday by watching my slow and constant progress...

When I arrived at the Baldeneysee, things were still fine. Body was ok, no bigger pain or anything - it only slowly transformed from a nice, just being in the flow to some recognizable level of being bored.
A change would be nice at this point I said to myself ...

And there was the change. First, I met my brother and my sister in law on the old train bridge heading to Kupferdreh. They took a short video of me and joined in the forces until the nearby aid-station. Super nice and surprising support. On the aid station Cris showed up as planned as well - superb timing. From then on there was a good level of distraction. She joined Lars in going next to me on the bike. Leaving the aid station my brother stayed next to me running for some kilometers - awesome support. As he left me, he confirmed that he would be waiting for me at the finish line - nice motivation again.

The next 30k until km 80 were quite relaxed. Cris and Lars kept a good level of conversation going, which was quite helpful for me to keep a positive mood. It was quite like a normal social run - we had good fun and took it in a relaxed mode. After a short rain, we had quite some sunny moments - I even used my sunglasses ;). The section after the Baldeneysee is actually a super nice, silent place - I just love it.

Shortly before aid-station VP 208,5km - I all of the sudden felt hungry , I asked Lars to check if the VP would be around the corner and as it wasn't, I decided to have a short picnic right where we were. This was absolutely the right thing to do - I immediately refilled my energy reserve - not sure what would have happened if I would have kept on running until the next aid station ...

At the aid-station we were getting more food&
drinks and friendly words one could ask for. Also we experienced a couple, who was on the 230km, who showed a magnificent mix of being exhausted, keeping controlled and being 100% confident. Chapeau!

After some more kilometers Cris said goodbye and headed back on the bike. Being super thankful for her support, Lars and I continued our way. Now, some level of tiredness eventually kicked in, but I still felt pretty good. We had sunshine though, a colleague of mine mentioned that there might be some hail ahead of us. Still in good sunshine, he actually showed up at the side of the track, took some video/photos and found some motivating words. Again - awesome support and dedication. Thank you so much, Paulo!

Shortly after km 90 some things happened. On one hand moving on was taking more effort now as I was getting more tired. I felt my feet - at the time I anticipated to be in process of loosing two more toe nails (actually only two blisters which tripled the size of the individual toes ;))  - Lars mentioned later that I turned slightly pale around that time. At km 92, I asked for a final stop - refreshing my energy with coke and chocolate. At this point in time it became clear to me - all the fight being in front of me taking aside - I will definitely reach my goal. I had quite some emotional moments during the next kilometers realizing that my two-year-dream was becoming reality. Lars recognized the change on me and asked me if he should entertain me or keep his mouth shut. Apparently, I answered in a relatively impolite manner  "Do what you want, I'm not listening anyway." What should I say - this was exactly what it was at the time. I now was even more focussed than before. I got the feedback during this and other races, that I tend to be quite focussed through the races anyhow, but this was for sure a different stage now ... Running was getting tough but at the same time I could keep a reasonable pace. I even overtook some runners, who pushed me with statements like "You are looking good!", "Awesome pace" which even raised my confidence level.

The wind was freshen up quite a bit. Lars gave his best to shield me from the wind, but didn't succeeded. Anyways - I was in a fighting mode - so what can a bit of wind do any harm.

On the last crossing of the Ruhr via Ruhrorter Schleuse, I walked the first meters during the race. Not much, maybe 150m, but I kind of needed this to ensure that I gathered myself for the finish. I also spontaneous decided, to try the Facebook Live Video feature to stream my finish to my Facebook page - Worked awesome as Lars took over the camera.

The last 1.5km were tough, but luckily there were other runners and crews everywhere who cheered me up.

Unfortunately I can not really cover all my feelings, as I eventually reached the Rheinorange,  in words. It was a mix of immediate relaxing, being proud, not able to realise what happened and pure relief. Actually I'm missing many more aspects here. Finally I received the congratulations from Jens, who was a little bit shy to tell me my finishing time 11:00:03 - just about 11 hours. I couldn't care less about the 3 secs.
Beside all the runners and crews at the finish, it was also nice that my brother and sister in law show and some friends showed up to welcome me.

Lars has carried 2 cans of beer the entire way - never tasted a better beer.

After some 10 minutes of enjoying the finish, we went back to the cars - it was getting quite cold. Interesting I had little trouble walking. What a day!


Times are busy these days. Its Sunday evening - well already Monday morning to be precise - 2 weeks after the TorTour de Ruhr. I'm still thrilled on what I have experienced. Some key points:
  • I'm able to run 100km in one go - 4 years ago my horizon was the opposing goal line of a - small - football field. I'm proud of this achievement and also a little surprised
  • the TTdR is a fantastic event. Awesome organisation gathers a family of runners in a unique atmosphere 
  • I want to redo this - this time everything went so smooth - Let's see how it would go the next time
  • I'm in process of constantly pushing boundaries. 100km is the current boundary. Looking forward to push it out - Maybe 160km @ TTdR 2018?!
  • Comradeship is key to achieve this kind of things. You can train like a horse for your won, but you need friends who believe in you and support you on the way. Thanks for this!
  • You! - Right, you reader. You might be just a single person reaching this line of the long blog post, but you, should consider to do the same! Running 100km, well - maybe yes, maybe not. It's more about living your dreams, leaving your comfort zone and explore new things!