One of my running dreams is to complete a long multi-stage trail. The Bergischer Weg, a 260 km long trail from Essen to Königswinter, is almost crossing my town and thus, made it on my bucket list. So some weeks ago, I looked for a section of about 50 km as a first test.
Originally, I wanted to run it two weeks ago. Then, I had everything ready: energy bars, gels, drinks, a train connection from home to the start and the GPX route on my watch to run back home. I even obeyed my alarm at 5 a.m. to get up, just to find about it was pouring like hell – and that I didn’t have a proper rain jacket. Last weekend, with a perfect weather forecast, I made the spontaneous decision to try it again. And this time, I had no excuse to go back to bed…
But the weather was not the only difference. Due to the spontaneity, I was much less prepared. A week before, I ran a 30 km race and allowed myself a week without running. Since I didn’t know how my legs would feel now, I also ran the 5 km to the train station as a first test. Everything was fine. So I got a coffee and took the train to Haan-Gruiten at 6:30 a.m.
Gesamtanstieg: 1967 m
When I arrived in Haan, I was surprised my route would be so close to the train station. In fact, the trail goes directly through it 😀 The trail is waymarked with a black S-like curve on an orange background, which, in theory, should make it easy to find the signs. Maybe 7 a.m. was too early for me, but I missed the signs and turning points already at km 1 and km 2. I knew the planned 50 km would be demanding so I wasn’t keen on making many detours. Plus, I had an invitation to a barbeque in the afternoon 😉 That’s why I have already planned some shortcuts like at km 5, where I followed the Korkenziehertrasse straight to Gräfrath (why is a straight way called corkscrew path?) Until then, I was a little bit disappointed of the route. I mean it was nice but that nice making it worth it getting up so early. But luckily everything changed in Gräfrath.
The beautiful part
The cozy little town of Gräfrath has a nice market place and an Augustanian monastery. More of my interest, however, were nice trails that finally showed up after 7 km from the start. The forest trails had some good ascents. From here, it was basically just up and down until the end of the run – exactly what I was looking for. After all, this run is supposed to be elevation training for the Pitztal Alpine Glacier Trail Marathon in August.
The trail roughly follows the Wupper river through a trial forest with foreign trees (if you have time, you can read some information on the many explanation signs), on higher grounds through the Müngsten Bridge to the Schloß Burg, the largest reconstructed castle in North Rhine-Westfalia, Germany, first built in the 12th century. So why not make a detour and climb up to the castle? It’s nice up there, maybe I can refill my water bladder and my legs still feel good after 30 km. Later, I found the answer to the „why not…“
The tough part
The next 15 km took me further down the Wupper river. But definitely not along the river bed… The region is called Wuppersteilhänge (escarpment of the Wupper) and it means: lots of steep climbs! I had to walk all the climbs and I was grateful for an elderly couple who engaged me in a conversation (or rather monologue) about a local tale, the Rüdenstein: the young Duke Robert von Berg was hunting deer in Christmas time when the snow caused him to fall off of his horse and get hurt. His dog ran to the Burg Castle and „called for help“. The Duke survived and built the Rüdenstein memorial for his dog. This is just the summary – I didn’t mind taking a pause and listening to the full story.
As for the remaining part along the Wupper, I only remember a very steep serpentine climb with beautiful lookouts over the Wupper valley. Most of my attention was directed to my fatigue: tired legs and out of fuel. Two bananas, two apples, two peaches and a Snickers is just not enough food to keep you going after 45 kilometers. Moreover, I ran out of water again. I just wanted to finish. I didn’t care about nice trails or the scenery – my prayers were heard and in my memory, the scenic trails were substituted by roads through housing estates. This also pretty much resembles my state of mind at this time: my motivation was at minimum. Until I saw two residents cleaning their cars and I sniffed my chance to refill my water. Not only did they offered my water but also a beer [icon name=“beer“ class=““ unprefixed_class=““] As much as I wanted it, I didn’t dare it with still 9 km to go.
The mind is the limit…
My body was not that bad. Okay, my feet hurt a little (I wore my old worn out shoes because I didn’t want to risk blisters from wearing my pretty new ones), but I’ve noticed that the limit was my mind: „What’s the point in continuing running beyond the mere reason of proving myself I can run this distance? Why don’t you just walk? Or even stop?“ Three things kept me going: 1) My spontaneous attempt was followed by my wife (also to see when I get home) and my friend Philip via Garmin Live-Track. Philip sent me messages („Now he’s getting crazy…“) which really motivated me in addition to the awareness that both understand what this simple training run means to me. 2) I probably would have stopped if someone could have picked me up. But this was not possible so I just had to continue. 3) I visualized how it would feel to have finished this distance: great (maybe not physically, but certainly mentally)! And it would fill me with pride. And now, having finished it, I have to admit that I am proud. I expected to be much faster but that doesn’t matter to me. I will probably never compete professionally so my runs don’t mean anything to the world. They only have meaning for me, so I can define my success: I know I can run about 60 km with some elevation gain. I know that the Pitztal Alpine Glaciert Trail is not just a crazy dream but a realistic project.