What a fantastic trail weekend it has been! The Infinite Trail World Champs certainly didn’t disappoint! Catching up with old friends, meeting new friends, embracing the amazing trail running vibe and community as well as enjoying stunning trails with scenic ridgeline views.
Attention: a long weekend and race results in a long text!
It’s been one year since my team members and I were waiting for this event. In 2018, at the first edition of this newly created trail running format, I’ve already participated with a team and enjoyed a fun weekend in the Austrian Alps. However, with a lot less running than expected. The prologue had to be shortened and the main race even cancelled completely due to the weather.
Fast forward to last weekend, it was finally going to happen and the weather god was very kind to us, too. Plus, lots of friends joined the vibe with their teams of three. Together with three other teams, we had booked rooms in the same hotel from the year before, right next to the start & finish venue.
The Infinite Trails World Championships’ interesting format consists of a prologue (15km/900m) on Thursday evening, which is mandatory for all team members in order to qualify for the main relay event on Saturday. Based on the accumulated individual prologue times the starting order for Saturday is determined – it’s a pursuit race!
3 runners, 3 distances: 25km/1900hm – 60km/3800hm – 40km/2100hm
Prior to the weekend, I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of my results. Since January, I’m living in Berlin and as everybody knows, Berlin is flat as a pancake! Moreover, my focus in spring was on the Two Oceans Ultra (DNS due to illness) and for autumn it’s on the Frankfurt Marathon. Therefore, the majority of my training was flat and fast. Apart from two 30km runs with 1000m of elevation in the Grunewald together with Stefan and Fridtjof as well as a trail running weekend in Switzerland two weeks prior to the Infinite Trails, there was no real training for an ultra trail.
Despite this little trail and mountain training, my prologue turned out to be very good. With the main race two days afterwards in mind, it was a little bit of a tactical race for everyone in order to conserve some energy for the big dance. I started pretty much in the middle of the pack and on the 3k loop through town – in order to spread the field before hitting the narrow trail – I passed a lot of runners. It felt easy and my legs felt good. However, I also expected to get passed by many once we hit the uphill. Though, that didn’t happen. Even on the uphill, I was passing one after another. At about one-third up, I noticed Sheila Avilés, an elite adidas Terrex athlete. Little did I know, that she was the first female. The looked super strong, so I let her pass, but stick with her. Slowly, a little group of five, including me, found themselves and were lead uphill by Sheila. I was primarily power-hiking with my hands on my knees and didn’t have to give 100% to keep up. About 10 minutes from the highest point of the race I decided to make a move and jump ahead. At the aid station, I poured some water over my head and continued to pass other runners, including German biathlete Simon Schempp. As I was running with my GoPro anyway, I decided to slow down a little bit for him to catch up again and take a photo together. Unfortunately, the light was so miserable that all the photos are blurry. On the following downhill, I didn’t push it all the way, as I was afraid to destroy my quads. Somehow, I still managed to pass a lot of runners and finished 48th (45th of all relay runners) just 13min behind the winner.
Afterwards, it was all about restoring carbs and meeting familiar and new people. That continued the next day, the rest day. Well, at least for the majority. Together with some other crazy runners, I went for an easy shakeout run exploring the first bit of the 60km loop. Such a lovely bunch of people – and my legs felt surprisingly good. After a quick shower, we went to the long-desired brunch. In the previous year, it was definitely one of the highlights with a massive variety of food. I raved about it whoever I talked to before the brunch, saying that I’ll stay there from the opening until the closing and that they must come. However, pointing that out, you can probably see where it’s going…this year it was different. A disappointment. The choice was much smaller and in contrast to the previous year it wasn’t really a buffet. Afterwards, we had to attend the race briefing, where we were instructed with the rules, what mandatory gear to take with and about critical sections on our loops. In the evening, I treated myself – and especially my legs – with a massage before heading out for dinner in a big group. Pizza, pasta and risotto were accompanied by excited chats about what’s to come the next day, race tactics and general catch-ups.
The last point on the agenda before going to sleep was to pack my race vest with the mandatory gear as well as the food. I rolled up the rain jacket, my long sleeve as well as the long pants as tight as possible, put them in a zip lock bag to stay dry and pressed all the air out of it. GoPro with an additional battery, sun creme, anti-chafing creme, medical kit, gels and most importantly the flasks. Two filled up flasks with the Maurten mix in the front and two additional ones prepared with Maurten powder in the back so that I simply had to fill them up with water at the aid stations (Thanks Claudi for this valuable hint!).
Hello, Nicola. Bye, Nicola. Quick chat and photo while passing a friend.
Looking ahead of what’s waiting for me within the next 55km.
The next morning, my alarm rang at 4.00am. My start was only at around 8.30am to 9.00am, but I wanted to watch the start from my teammate Wiebke at 4:25am. Besides, as it’s a team event, I believe it’s just naturally to support the team members and not only focus on your own race. After the went off into the dark, I went back to the hotel, had a tiny breakfast together with my roommate Florian and went back to back for another two hours of sleep accompanied by music and loudspeaker announcements from the event area. Well, booking a hotel right next to the event area comes with its perks but also disadvantages. At 7.00am the alarm went off for a second and final time this morning. More breakfast. Double-checking my kit. Checking the live tracker again and again. And off we went to the event area where the faster runners already finished their loop and handed over to their second runner. Love this vibe! The excitement rose. It was 8.53am when Wiebke arrived and handed over the imaginary relay stick to me. Now it was my turn. 60km with 3’600m of elevation. Two big climbs. Two long downhills. Two – most likely spectacular – ridgelines. Doesn’t that sound exciting?! For me it does!
As always, I started rather fast and already passed the first few runners within the first kilometre. The first 10.5km to Bad Gastein is pretty flat and I quickly get into a good rhythm collecting one runner after the other. Including some friends like Nicola and Florian. I passed the first aid station and went straight into the first uphill. 1’500m of elevation over a distance of 8km. Feel free to calculate the percentage yourself, all I can tell you, that it was steep! My calves quickly started burning – “oh dear, I’m only 200m into the first climb. How is this going to end with so much climbing still ahead?”, were my thoughts. I closed in on a runner in front of me and stuck behind him for a while. Either my thoughts wandered elsewhere or the calves got used to it and the pain got less.
By the way, I tend to apply this tactic again and again, without really thinking about it. It seems to work very well for me: I mostly speed hike or run and catch up with somebody else, then stick behind that person speed hiking and eventually surge away to the next or second-next runner and apply the same again. However, I wouldn’t suggest this to everyone, as the pace is very inconsistent, which might not suit you at all.
Eish, only 200m into the first big climb and my calves are burning badly.
Unexpected support from above. Supporters taking the easy way up to the aid stations at the Graukogel.
We crossed several times underneath a chair lift which brought supporters up to the aid stations at the Middle and Upper Graukogel Station. I don’t know who, but at least one person recognised me and shouted my name. After some lovely single trails through the forest, we came onto a skiing slope. Now, we could clearly see all the way to the summit. I guess, I rather prefer not to be able to see how far and steep it’s still to go. On the other hand, the skiing slope was also used for the downhill and runners from the fast teams were descending already. I cheered for them, clapped and chatted to them – probably to distract myself from the thought of what I still have to run before I’ll be in the downhill as well. One of the runners was Abby Hall, who was running for the leading women’s team at that time and belongs to the adidas Terrex team. We haven’t met before, but she responding to my encouragement and we started chatting very briefly across the skiing slope while I was speed hiking uphill and she was running downhill. This simply portrays the special vibe around trail races at its best! (By the way, after I finished I got to chat to her again for a moment. This time under normal circumstances. Thanks for the chat, Abby. I hope to see you again soon!)
Looking down the skiing slope what I’ve climbed already, the temporary tattoo of the route profile on my arm.
Oh dear, I still have to climb all the way to the summit and it’s only the first big climb of two.
The uphill continued and I arrived at the next aid station but didn’t spend too much time there. On my way out, Shari told me that Marian and Michel are roughly 5min ahead of me. 500m of elevation to go and I’m going to have summited the first peak of the day. Yeah! The next section was kind of flat before we hit a steep ascent to get to the technical ridgeline. The flat section winding around the mountain was on the most beautiful single trails you could imagine: occasional trees, views across the valley onto mountains with snowfields and a little mountain lake. Special! Without passing runners from time to time, it wouldn’t have felt as I’d be in a race. I ran passed Manuela who, unfortunately, like many others, had a tough day, and continued my run. After a while, I applied the same tactic as earlier and tugged in behind a Swedish runner. We chatted a bit on the ascent to the ridgeline, expressing how grateful we are to run in such pristine landscape.
Cruising along the stunning single trail at Graukogel overlooking the valley and towards Zitterauer Tisch and Stubnerkogel.
Speed hiking uphill with my new Swedish friend past a very tempting mountain lake.
That’s when I noticed Marian and Michel a few hundred meters in front of us. I passed the Swedish runner and caught up with the boys kind of soon. Together, we started into the most technical section of the entire route. The organiser even prohibited the use of poles, as the hands should be free to use. I simply love those technical parts jumping from one sharp rock to another. Thanks, Cape Town, for teaching me this! Not too long after and I left the guys as well, surging away to the summit. When I took my GoPro out while running passed the mountain guide, I was told to be careful. I just smiled at him and filmed myself running across the peak. Less than a marathon to go. Let’s do it!
Click to enlarge images.
The descent to the Upper Station was fun. Again, lovely single trails, open views over the valley onto the Zitterauer Tisch as well as the Stubnerkogel – so close but so far away still – and even a small snowfield we had to cross. A group of hikers patiently waited on the other side for me to cross. I grasped the opportunity to grab some snow while running in order to cool myself. Doing so, I started “skiing”. It must have looked rather scary for the hikers being not used to it, but it was such a cool feeling! And I bet that it looked pretty rad for trail runners, too!
Entering the next aid station, a couple of friends waited already for me! Some ran the 25km loop in the morning, others still had to run the 40km loop in the evening. Either way, you guys rock! To my surprise, I also ran into Matt, who was still on his way up to the Graukogel peak. Little did he know, what’s still to come. I refilled my flasks and applied some more sun creme (thanks to Jan!) before I headed off again. More downhill. This time on the skiing slope. I really disliked this section now. The steepness was very tough on the quads and there was no chance for them to recover at all. At the next aid station, I gave my legs some time to recover and drink something, even though I didn’t really need it.
Another runner, Manuel from Austria, passed me without stopping at the aid station. I passed him in the early stages of the ascent, and now, decided to run after him and catch up. It was a long gradual downhill on a forest road so it was good to have some company and exchange a few words. We shared about 10km together. He rushed through the next aid station and gained an advantage, whereas I took my time, filled up my flasks again and had a sip to drink. However, as it was going uphill from there, I rather quickly caught up with him again and eventually passed him for good on my way to the last aid station before the longest and steepest section without an aid station. Running along the river, I noticed a runner in front of me stopping for a selfie. We took another selfie together and joked about just resting on a bench with an ice-cold beer. I came around the next corner and had to laugh, as I realised that there’s at least a bench and told him so. We both laughed. I continued past waterfalls, other runners and simply beautiful scenery. We were basically running up a big gorge.
Taking a selfie with another runner.
The view from the bench.
At the next aid station, I decided to fill up the third flask. It was the hottest time of the day and I was about to tackle a long uphill section with the next aid station being 8.6km in distance and 1000m in elevation away. Spoiler: I’m happy I did fill up the third flask! It was hot and there were only runlets of water. Enough to quickly soak the sponge, but not enough to fill the cup and drink. Once I reached the first saddle, the number of small snowfields increased and I used every opportunity to put snow either in my cap, in neck/back, underneath the sweatband on my right wrist or simply rub it on my legs to cool them down. I was chasing a guy in a red shirt for quite a while and it seemed I wouldn’t come any closer. But as it was the last proper uphill for the day, I decided to push a bit more on the ascent to the ridgeline and eventually caught him before the highest point of the entire route, the Zitterauer Tisch at 2’463m above sea level. It was another fun and magnificent ridgeline which I really enjoyed.
Chasing down the runner with the red backpack on our way up to the Zitterauer Tisch.
Closing in on the red backpack runner.
Descending on the ridgeline from Zitterauer Tisch to the Stubnerkogel, I crossed paths with a hiking couple I had already passed up the Graukogel earlier this day. It’s so great to see the locals supporting us runners up in the mountains. On top of the Stubnerkogel was the second last aid station. One volunteer was already waiting for me with a 2-litre bottle with cooled water…I told him to pour it over me and so he did. At the same time, two of my flasks got refilled by other volunteers and before leaving I quickly grabbed two pieces of watermelon. Just 15km to go from here and pretty much everything downhill, yes! This is where I thought about the actual finish for the very first time. Prior to that, my thoughts were primarily about the stunning landscape and how privileged I am to be able to run in these places.
Descending from the Stubnerkogel, I decided to pull out my phone for the first time. I briefly flew over the notifications I had received over the past hours but the main goal was to call one of my friends waiting at the finish. Felix was my choice, as I had phoned him most recently and quickly found his number in the list of recent calls. I told him where I’m at and asked him to forward this message to my teammate Jan. Once the phone was in its pocket again, I realised a paraglider crossing back and forth in front of me and tried to take a photo of both of us. I believe it turned out quite well, considering that I was still running downhill on a single trail.
Feeling almost as light as the paraglider on the last big downhill of the day.
During a quick stop to tie the laces tighter, I got passed by Mario. I tried to catch up again with him, but he seemed to fly down this descent, especially on the skiing slope – yes another one of my favourites. A quick stop at the aid station in the valley to freshen up and off I went, still chasing Mario. Without Mario, I probably would have simply shuffled it home, but I didn’t like the idea of being overtaken by somebody I passed before, haha. As chilled as I approach such races, there is still a competitive side in me. There was another hill with roughly 150m of elevation to climb. The gradual incline suited me very well. I was still strong enough to run it entirely and eventually passed him. I continued to push once I passed him, on the last meters of the ascent but also on the descent. “He’s not going to overtake you another time, Florens!”, I told myself. Mario happened to be the last runner of about 60+ runners I’d overtake on this day. Arriving on the final stretch in the event arena after 7:55 hours on the trails was very relieving. I happily high-fived Jan and send him off for his leg, before Mike Hamel, the race organiser hugged me. What a welcome! On this note, thank you very much for everyone being involved in the organisation and execution of this amazing weekend!
Jan probably hasn’t left the town yet, when I was stretching out my legs in the cold water pools in the finish area. That’s exactly what my legs needed now! Wiebke and Nadine joined me and we chatted about my as well as their races. Soon afterwards, Manuel and Michael, who I partly ran with joined me in the pool. I chatted to some more runners, including Sheila Avilés, who I personally thanked for pulling me uphill during the prologue. Afterwards, I made use of the voucher to enter the athlete reload area in the thermal bath including a short Compex session as well as a massage from a local physiotherapist and farmer. Apparently, I even ran on a forest road bordering his farm property. In general, it’s important to refuel quickly – optimally within the first 30 minutes – after such an intense activity. However, whoever worked out in such hot conditions knows, that the appetite to eat is very low. That’s why my refuelling came a bit short and I only ate some pasta at the thermal bath after my body had rested for some time. Thank you to Stefan and Valerie for your company.
I spent the rest of the time in the finish area chatting to other people and waiting for friends to arrive. Florian, for example, was having a very tough day. The second big climb and the heat broke him mentally. However, he was still determined to finish the race and didn’t opt for the cable car down from the Stubnerkogel. Well done for fighting through, buddy! Matt, who I ran into at the aid station, was having an even tougher day. Stomach problems forced him to rest in between and slow down. He eventually finished after almost 13 hours, but he did finish! Impressive! On this note, a big shout out to everyone who faced their individual hurdles, no matter on which loop and no matter whether they overcame their hurdles or not!
Who thought, that I was done running for the day is wrong. After the last runner has finished his/her loop, all three runners of the team have to embark on another 700m loop of honour through town. In running clothes. My feet weren’t happy at all to be in shoes again, but rules are rules. Jan sent us regular updates where he was and Wiebke and I were waiting excitedly for his arrival. There he was. And there we went onto the last short loop. 700m later we happily crossed the finish line after a total time of 18:14:34h with a big smile. Well done, team! I’m proud of us!
Jan was tired. Surprise, surprise 😉 We sat down in the finish area in a bigger group and chatted about our experiences as well as watch other teams finishing or even welcoming individual runners from loop 2, like Matt, home (important info: their loop 3 runner had already embarked on their individual journey at 7pm, even though the team was DNF’d as they didn’t make the cut off). I was already in bed when the last team, who made all the cut-offs, finished at 1am. It was the 98th and last team of the day of 185 teams which started in the morning. It’s quite a high DNF rate, to be honest, and I could start a discussion about the reasons behind it now, but this is a very long experience report already anyway.
Thank you for reading this far. Now you can call yourself an ultra reader 😉 It’s been a long weekend and a long race, and as you can see, I’ve got plenty to tell about it.
I’d like to finish this with a quick shout out to the entire trail running community: YOU ARE AMAZING! Everybody is super open and even though there might be big differences in terms of pace, everybody is at eye level before, during and after the race, no matter whether they’ve won the Western States 100 twice or whether they are trail running rookies.