“You will not be running a PR today,” said Stephan Weiss, Race director for the ½ Sauer ½ Kraut Half and Full Marathon, at seven-thirty yesterday morning, Saturday, 14 June, 2014. He was addressing the runners just prior to the start of the races.
Before I tell you why Stephan said that no PR’s were out there on the trails yesterday, I’ll strongly recommend that you run this race if you ever get the chance. It is a superb race and a wonderful experience that continues long after you cross the finish line. It is exceptionally well run, has phenomenal support from both runners and volunteers alike, features aid-station volunteers dressed as Bavarian Beer Maids, and has a post-race party that’s as close as you can get to the Oktoberfest this side of München.
Even with all these enticements, Stephan still had good reason for laying a dose of reality on the 800+ runners gathered at the starting line in Pennypack Park in Philadelphia. Here are some excerpts from the website, http://www.uberendurancesports.com/races.html, describing why this race is not to be taken lightly:
“Course: …The midsection of the course features a bunch of short but steep rolling hills along with a trail section (Mount Cuckoo). Some have referred to our course as an Achterbahn (“rollercoaster”)…Is this a Boston Qualifier? Hell no!!!!! !!!This is a summer race, there is a good chance that high temps will make this harder than you anticipate!!! I recommend running the marathon only if you are an experienced runner, who can handle all kinds of adversity. You have been warned :-). No whining on race day.”
“Mount Cuckoo: Not to make this any more difficult than it already is, but around Mile 6 you will have to conquer MOUNT CUCKOO. Mount Cuckoo is a 1 mile trail section that might feature minor roadblocks like rocks, dirt, possibly horse poop and some short rolling hills. This section is relatively easy by trailrunner standards, but the surface is definitely different from what you usually discover during a (half)marathon. This might just slow you down enough to miss your PR even if the weather cooperates. Run it if you must or walk it for your safety. On the positive side, once you conquered Mount Cuckoo, you will be running downstream towards the finish line and you get to see Heidi at the Oktoberfest aidstation for a 2nd time.”
An additional warning about running a June marathon in Philly appears as you scroll further down the webpage:
“Word of Caution: Once again, this race may become the “hottest” race in town. Running a marathon in temperatures in the 70ies and 80ies is exponentially harder than running one in November. We only recommend the marathon to experienced runners, who have ran long distances in the summer before and understand how to pace themselves in the heat, and how to stay hydrated properly. We do not recommend the marathon for first timers or PR seekers. This race is not about your finish time, it will be about how to deal with the course and the temps. You may be able to beat runners, who are usually faster than you, because you can handle the temps better, or because you manage your water intake better. We make you earn your beer, and we will make sure, that it will be cold :-)”
Stephan’s sage advice was very accurate and to be ignored only at great peril. The temperatures climbed into the high 70’s, and maybe even up to 80 if you ask me, and Mount Cuckoo did not disappoint with several sections of rocky hills, plenty of gnarly roots, and several patches of deep mud that could not be avoided!
Pre-race: I arrived at Pennypack Park at about around 6:30 AM and found one of the remaining parking spots as shuttle buses delivered a steady stream of runners who had opted to park at the Cannstatter Volkfest Verein, a German club in Philadelphia. I jogged a warm-up along the trail, tweeted a few pictures, and took my place in the first of four waves at the starting line just in time for the aforementioned pre-race announcements.
The Race: I started easy and felt good. I decided to respect the conditions and to run according to how I felt with a goal of finishing the full marathon. Full-marathon runners had the option of stopping at the turn-around, which was the finish line for both the full and half marathons, and being scored for the half instead of the full. This made it very easy to stop at the halfway point if you had half a mind to do so. I didn’t. I didn’t wear a watch or carry any electronics to make sure I stuck to my wise plan of not chasing a mile pace on a day that was too warm for my liking.
About a mile or so into the race, I heard a familiar voice up ahead. Sure enough, it was a certain runner who is a legend in these parts, and I’m sure in many other parts, as much for being an all-around great guy as for his formidable running accomplishments. He was swapping race stories with the group running with him and I stuck with them for a little while. The pace was too fast for me and I settled back into a pace that felt right as the pink gaiters opened up a gap and faded into the distance ahead.
I plugged along chatting with other runners and cheering for the leaders as they passed us on their way back. I ate my Cliff Blocks and PowerGels throughout the race and took Gatorade at every aid station, greeting the volunteers with, “Grüss Gott,” and “Danke,” then doubling up on Gatorade and water for the last three aid stations.
I ran the first half of the race a minute per mile faster than the second half on average, but I did not hit the wall thanks to the 60+ grams of carbs per hour I took in during the race and the 700+ grams of carbs I scarfed down on Friday.
I just gradually slowed as the day got hotter, the hills got steeper, and the mud got deeper, but I had stretches of feeling good throughout the race. The bad patches were there, but they came and went. I was passed by three guys during the second traverse over Mount Cuckoo, but then I passed two of them back in the closing miles. The last two miles were tough and the third place female passed me looking very strong with a little over a mile to go.
After what seemed like a mile farther down the trail, a few young boys were walking in the opposite direction and yelled when they saw me, “Just a mile to go!” The rest of the lyric completed itself in my mind, “My old buddy you’re movin’ much too slow.” The boys’ mothers were behind them and I said, “Please tell me it’s not a full mile.” They laughed and said the finish is right around the corner. It was.
After propping myself up on a table, and then on a small tree, I drank a bottle of water, two cups of Gatorade, ate six slices of orange, a piece of chocolate-chip banana bread, and then checked my time at the timing station. I punched in my bib number at one of the three monitors and saw I had run a 3:43:10. Eighteenth place overall and second in the M50-54 age group.
When the counting was done, there were a total of 146 finishers in the full marathon and 675 in the half marathon.
We took the shuttle buses to the Cannstatter Volkfest Verein where runners were treated to authentic Bratwurst and Sauerkraut, German beer, and a German Dance Group. I received my award, which has to be the best race award I’ve ever gotten, a German Weather House from the Black Forest:
This was a great race, an even greater experience, and I plan to run again next year. Maybe I’ll see you out there!