Monday, May 6, 2013

The Hammer!

I'm starting this post with noo idea of how to express what I experienced this weekend participating in the Hammer Trail 100 mile race.

It has been one of the best weekends of my life.

I traveled by train and as soon as I sat down I was questioned about the Danish flag I wore on my race jacket which lead to a great conversation about ultra running and life in general.

Later waiting for the next train I met a sweet couple, Jan and Lena, also on their way to Bornholm to take part of the 25 km part of the race. We also had some great talks on the ferry to the island and they later showed up showing their support during my race. Even though around 50-60 years old (Sorry Jan if my guess is totally off) Jan was still a fast runner and could probably give me quite a match should we go head to head on a trail. It would be Lena's first 25 km trail run. Both did excellent, btw!

I had a room at a place named Tine's Gjestehûz which is hosted by the sweetest persons that one can imaging. The hospitality and service .. was outstanding. If you are going to Bornholm, please consider staying at their place! I was joined later that day by SLG. We talked a little about nutrition that night. I had b(r)ought a lot and divided it into small bags based on the rule that I wanted to eat about 300 kcals per hour which is more than double what I normally do but I wanted to make sure that lack of energy/kcal's wouldn't be what stopped me. Anything I hadn't bagged was offered to SLG and she grabbed a little and the the next morning grabbed a little more (rather safe than sorry! :)

Lots and lots of energy! The Bloks really rocks!

My Race setup for the first 35 km

Next day we met before and after breakfast and talked a little about the last details. Later Tine drove us to the start (did I mention how sweet she is!!) and gave us her number: "If you need anything give us a call!!" .. Outstanding!!

First thing we went through was the gear check. Everything was in order except that SLG had lost some of her extra batteries. Luckily I had brought extra extras which I gave her. Then a quick look around revealed a bunch of familiar smiling face .. Tomas, Moses, Peder, Dan and later my good friend Kåre. Great company! Everybody was in a great mood. Dunno about other sports but in ultra running strangers helps / talks to / smiles to strangers. 

SLG and I doing a silly pose for Dan

Soon it was time to start the race and Jan and Lena had come to cheer me on (thank you!!). First we set out on a prologue which was about 7 km around Hammer light house. Lots of bedrock and steep hills with the occasional fine sand. I had walked this part the day before and had concluded that I wouldn't bring my poles for the first lap at least (~35 km) Bad mistake ;) After the prologue we set out on the first of six laps on a ~26 km course which included the same path that we had run on the prologue.

There had been a one hour time limit on the prologue and it came as a chock to me that the clock said 0:52 when we ended it parsing the main aid station / start / finish of the race. I realized that there wouldn't be any time for messing around in this race. I didn't stop a the aid station I just continued out on the first lap just like Kåre who I ran with at the time.

I constantly ate from my energy stash which consisted of Clif bars and blocks and GU gels. I had to eat whenever it was possible to get all the energy I needed per hour. I constantly was on the verge of vomiting with all the food in my stomach but managed to keep every thing inside and it never became a performance issue. I never had a energy problem during the race at all due to this approach! \o/

First part of the lap took us the same way as the prologue except a little extra trip around the highest part of the cliffs next to the 'Opal søen'. Next we went South parsed the Hammers Hus ruins and headed up the 700+ stair steps. Awesomeness! Down again, Up again .. bedrock, rocks, green fields with scattered bedrock, beach, stairs .. and a little bit of tar. At some point we came to stretch they have added only this year. A the start it had a dedicated warning sign saying something like 'Be aware dangerous path coming up' (shorter and to the point though!). I didn't like that path at all. It was very narrow and steep. I'm a big tall man that needs room :) If it had been raining it would have been slippery and muddy as hell .. luckily the weather was great :) It was a major slow down point for me though. At this point SLG suddenly parsed me from behind. I think she was a little surprised to see me there, but I had started out faster than she had obviously.

Once I reached the bottom of the path I noticed a familiar cup laying on the ground. It was SLG's. I knew that meant trouble since the cup was part of our mandatory equipment and it was needed to get any liquid in the aid stations. I quickly picked up the cup and started the hunt. I saw her a number of times through the next km's but never managed to catch up with her. Instead I told the first official I saw about the cup and he made sure that she was informed at the next aid station were I would leave it for her.

During this hunt the path took us through the largest gravel pit hill I have ever seen (in Denmark). I totally wanted that to be placed in my local gravel pit where I do a lot of my training :) Soon after I reached 'Jons kapel' the seconds after SLG had left. 'Jons kapel' had a long very steep stair that took you down to the sea where you had to ring a bell and then return to the top and the second of the two aid stations in the race. There I dropped the cup for SLG to pick up later and could start running my normal cruise pace again.

The path back went North to finish the lap at the main aid station where the race had started hours earlier. Constantly changing from one awesome scenery to the next. Technical challenging but _awesome_ to the max.

I started the race in a pair of New Balance MT110 but due to the very open mesh they filled with sand during the prologue. I had noticed this early on and had planned to replace them when I returned to my drop bag and decided the ignore the discomfort it gave me until then. After 30 km I could feel that the problem shouldn't be ignored anymore. My heel was burning and when I removed the sock I could see a nice blister forming. I quickly covered it with Vaseline and hoped it wouldn't get worse before I get to my drop bag. During the next km's I could feel the burning decrease \o/. The Vaseline had done its magic :)

Just before I reach the aid station I had a quickly hello with SLG where I told her about the cup. "Ahh that was you!" "Yep, who else would have recognized the cup and hunted you down to get it to you, SLG ;)"

Once in the aid station I quickly got something to drink and replaced the shoes, socks and shirts. The sand had worn large holes in the socks .. and I wasn't impressed by the design that New Balance had chosen for that shoe. Instead I jumped into a old pair of Asics Kayano 18 with my feet covered in Vaseline :)

I was told that the next cut off time was 9 hours which I quickly calculated into the fact that I had to run the next lap 20 minutes faster than the one I just had finished. With no time to eat the sandwich I was offered I quickly raced out of the aid station and ran up the hills like a bat out of hell. Oh .. and I brought with me my poles :) Jan had come to greet me and tried to take my picture but I had to run as fast as possible and hadn't any time to pose (Sorry, Jan!).

I gave it all I had. I hadn't brought with me a GPS so I couldn't keep a precise count on how far I had run and how far I still had to run to make it in time. One of my friends who had run it before had told me that the second aid station was about half way on the lap. So when I arrived there with 2 hours before the cut off time I thought myself safe. Sadly as mentioned they had changed the route this year and which meant that instead of the 12 km I thought I had left ... I had closer to 18 km. As I got closer and closer to the main aid station which I knew I had to run past and complete the part we had used for the prologue I realized the mistake. The sun had already set as I ran past the aid station. The owners from Tine's Gjestehûz was there and greeted me and asked how I felt .. I wasn't feeling to good at the time. I was starting to get cold and I knew that I in no way could make it in time for the cut.

photo: Tine's Gjestehûs

As the night sky went black and I had to turn on my head lamp (which I had tried to avoid to save the time it took to find it in my bag) I was feeling really really cold. I ran when possible but that section was very technical and I had to slow down to a walk many places. As I got closer to the aid station I met the runners going out on their next lap including SLG. She asked how I was and I told her the two things I had in mind "I'm cold and I've passed the cut off time". She looked awesome .. like a amazon warrior queen out on a hunt .. totally focused and with a surplus of energy. I don't think she understood what I was saying between the lines (I'm gonna get cut) or maybe she did.. anyway she gave me a little cheer and then we went opposite directions again. I had been shivering af cold but I got more and more numb and after a while I couldn't really feel the cold anymore .. which was a weird feeling since I knew I was cold.  As I got closer to the aid station I met Kåre. He asked me how I was and I told him that I just needed to get some food and some heat and I would take it from there.

I reached the aid station and that *short* talk I had had with Kåre had given me new hope that I might avoid the cut... but as soon as I had reached my drop bag I was contacted by one of the race directors who said what I already knew. "This is how it goes. In 10 minutes you have to be out of here!" I looked at him and said that that wasn't going to happen, since I really needed to get some heat / dry clothes / and food before going somewhere. "That is your choice!" and so it was. I helped him take the chip of my shoes while I heard someone else saying .. "Kim, I'm also out". I got handed some hot food and got some blankets warped around me .. and then I started freezing again ;) After the first meal I got some really hot soup and I started feeling great again but by now I was out of the race.

I packed my stuff, picked up my drop bag .. said good bye and walked back to Allinge. I was satified that I had done my best and didn't regretted how it had gone. What a great day it had been!

Once back at Tine's Gjestehûs I did my best to give SLG's friends a update how she was doing before getting a bath and some sleep.

Next day I was informed that Kåre had also been cut along with a lot of others. He was in a much better shape than me and was far more experienced. The race this year was truly harder than ever.

Not even for a single moment have I regretted any thing that went on during or after the race. It was a great experience with some great people. SLG made it all the way to the finish and I am very proud of her.

If I'm ever gonna have a chance to finish the Hammer Trail .. I have to get faster .. a lot faster! :) I had expected it to be more of a grind than a race.. Maybe next year.

Heading home with Kåre

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