Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Zugspitz Basetrail 35.9k: A quasi-ultramarathon

View of the Zugspitz from our hotel room
The Zugspitz Basetrail is the shortest among three races held on the same day and although technically not ultra-distance, it sure felt like one.  The Basetrail is 35.9km (~22.3 miles) and began in Mittenwald then wound its way around the Zugspitz (the highest point in Germany) until arriving in Grainau.  (None of the three races --- the Ultratrail, Supertrail, or Basetrail --- climbed the summit of the Zugspitz.)  When Lisa and I arrived on Friday evening to check-in, gather the race schwag, and wander around, I was struck by how lean and sporty everyone looked.  Ultrarunners are, of course, lean and sporty but the western Europeans who spend a lot of time ambling around the Alps are especially fit.  I'm a slender guy and among all the races I've run in the States, I've never felt on the larger side.  It was weird.  

This event is a Salomon-sponsored event so Salomon products, especially shoes, abounded.  If I had to guess, I'd estimate that 80% of the participants were running in Salomon shoes with a substantial majority also using Salomon hydration packs.  Salomon has definitely cornered the market in western Europe.  Their products are relatively expensive but if some of the corporate revenue makes it way back to the runners via generous sponsorship of events then, I suppose, the premium paid for S-Lab shoes might be worth it...but I digress.
Trying to civilize trail runners
The race began at 11am and rather than take the bus from Grainau to Mittenwald, Lisa and I took the train and arrived to Grainau at about 10:30am (this was super convenient for us since we stayed in Garmisch and getting to the train in Garmisch was easier than driving to Grainau to take the bus).  When we arrived, we surveyed the scene, stood around, used the restroom (no peeing outside!), then checked-in.  I haven't run an ultra in the US for a few years but among the three I've run in Europe, two of the three featured mandatory gear checks.  Even though the distance I was running wasn't an ultra-distance, each runner was obligated to carry at least 1 liter of water, a phone, course map, hat & gloves, emergency blanket, whistle, and a raincoat.  You'd think you could slip into the start corral without notice but in order to enter, you had to pass through the gear check so ignoring the gear list wasn't really an option.  I've commented on this issue before so I won't bother again but suffice to say, the European ultras fancy themselves "semi-self sufficient" so it stands to reason you'd have to haul around much more gear than in (most) American ultras.
Lisa and me at the start
The weekend prior I had run up and around Schneeberg (the eastern most Alp in Austria) in order to log some decent vertical and although I felt good at the time, my quads were spent for a few days after.  The Basetrail features a respectable amount of elevation gain and loss (~6,207' of ascent, ~6,755' of descent) so I knew whatever residual soreness from the previous weekend remained might make for a longer-than-necessary day.  

The course itself was mostly fire road and single track (aside from the first and last miles on pavement).  The single track leading up to the third aid station on the Zugspitz (Talstation Langenfelder) was woody, rooty, and steep enough to reduce virtually all runners to a hike but not so steep you felt like you were rock scrambling.  On this section, if I approached a runner from behind they usually stepped aside to let me pass but about a half-kilometer from the crest of the ridge, I came up behind a couple moving at a decent clip, albeit slower than me (I caught them after all!).  They wouldn't step aside even though I was practically stepping on the heels of the runner in front of me.  I'm surprised he couldn't feel my breath on the back of his neck.  I was mildly annoyed, especially since I expected these two (German?) runners to hike like they drive on the autobahn:  drive on the right unless passing and if you are in the left lane and another car approaches from behind, immediately change lanes.  When we finally crested the ridge, I raced ahead, unable to contain my annoyance.   After a few more kilometers of ascent on fire roads, the long descent to the finish (6-7 miles) began.  And what a beautiful, fast, technical descent it was!  I was moving at a respectable speed but I was astonished at how fast some of the runners (especially the females!) were descending...they flew past me as if I were shuffling behind a walker.  Very humbling.  
A few meters from the finish line!
I crossed the finish line in 5h:22m:43s.  Unlike my time at the Worthersee 57k, I felt like my time and place at this race were more respectable.  Among the approximately 300 male finishers, I finished in 105th place and if both the males and females are considered together, I finished 117th among ~425 finishers.  Not quite the top-quartile but well within the top tertile.  All in all, I was pleased with my run, especially since I regarded this race as a training run for the Pitztal Gletscher 95k in mid-July --- a race featuring considerably more vertical, more distance, and more chances for things to go either spectacularly well or miserably bad.  Based on this race, I'm optimistic about the the former.  
Happiness at the finish