On August 21st, 2021, I toed the line at the Schwerin Lake Trail Ultra. Along with 106 other runners, I set out to run around lake Schwerin. Sixty-one challenging kilometers through forests and stubble fields – the lake (almost) always in sight.
Schwerin Lake Trail Ultra – Sustainability And Shakespeare
Two points (besides the fantastic course!) make this race stand out:
- The race directors pay great attention to sustainability. There were no plastic cups at the aid stations, and you were required to bring your own cup or use water bottles. The trail markers were wooden arrows. You could offset your CO2 emissions if you traveled by car to the race and the race management encouraged everyone to travel with public transport. If you “forgot” litter on the trail, you got disqualified.
- Every kilometer marker had (amended) quotes of literary greats, above all Goethe and Schiller. Reading the quotes lifted my moods more than once —an excellent idea for sure.
Pre-Race Anxieties And Thoughts About Not Starting
Earlier this year, around May / June, I started to have pains in my right upper abdomen when I ran.
At times the pain was so severe that I couldn’t run at all. Until today the doctors haven’t been able to find the reason for the pain, but from blood tests, we already know it’s probably my liver.
I got better during July and went into August’s training full of enthusiasm and optimism, as the pains were gone and blood tests showed improvements too.
However, I could barely go for a short shake-out run on Thursday before the race because the pain returned with a vengeance. On Friday, I could still feel it and thought about canceling my start.
However, I decided to try at least to attempt the race. I let go of the self-imposed goal to finish in 6 hours and decided to give it my best. I told myself I could slow down and even quit during the race if the pain would intensify.
And even if I wouldn’t make it until the end, Katja – my partner – would still love me. I would still be me. This thought felt comforting, and I felt at peace.
On the morning of the race, I was still nervous. The fact that I locked myself out of our hotel room because the key stopped working didn’t help to calm my nerves. However, I felt more at ease than the week before the race and told myself all that mattered this day was having fun and enjoying the trails.
Going Against Common "Racing Wisdom"
After the pre-race briefing, in a school whose gym served as the hub on race day, all runners trotted jointly towards the start at the Schwerin castle.
To my surprise, I didn’t feel any pain.
At the starting line, we put on our masks and listened to the major giving us a few words of encouragement. I honestly don’t remember a single word he said or if he fired a gun. All I remember of the first minutes of the race is thinking, “wow, I am too fast.”
I decided to keep the pace. After all, I wanted to give my best in any situation. And since I was pain-free, I decided to take a risk and kept the tempo.
In previous races, I followed the common wisdom that’s passed on so frequently among running coaches and athletes alike: “Start slower than you think you should.” “If you think you are going too fast, you probably are.”
As a result, I often thought at the end of a race, “I didn’t feel as if I had nothing left.” “I think I could do more.”
So I decided to change my race strategy this year. Needing to slow down later in the race was a calculated risk I was willing to take now.
The run went smoothly the first kilometers, and the route quickly led up a steep slope, where fallen trees gave me a first impression of what was to come. I felt strong, albeit still too fast, as I passed the first aid station at km 9.5.
Running Through Aid Stations, Annoyances and Pain
Before the race, I thought about how I would approach it. I planned to run between all aid stations and allow myself walking breaks only at the aid stations. Another thought was to pass the first aid station without stopping, and if I felt good and had still enough water run through the second aid station as well.
However, this plan was set up before the pain in my tummy started to pop up a few days before the race. However, as I was feeling pretty good as I approached aid station one, at kilometer 9.5, I decided to stick to the plan and ran through it without stopping.
What followed was a lovely stretch of single trail, so small that only one person at a time could run it. The small path meandered through the undergrowth, up steep hills, and over small streams. At one point, I was afraid of falling into the lake on my left. A sigh of relief escaped my lips as I exited the forests and neared aid station two at km 18.5. Here, I stopped to fill up one of my two 500 ml water bottles that I carried in my Ultimate Direction Race Vest. And now the real fun began. The route led us up a stubble field. The mouthpiece of my water bottle came off, and it took me a while to fidget it back into place. One shoelace came open. My mood tanked. On top of these annoyances, running was tough. I fought my way up towards the end of the field, and crossing the half-marathon mark, I thought, “Shit,” I am spent already.”
If my low mood or the not-so-perfect positioned trail markers were the reason for me taking a wrong turn a few kilometers later, I don’t know. But I was not the only runner who got lost before the third aid station.
However, I found the correct route again, and being surrounded by a few other runners helped to keep my frustration at bay.
My enthusiasm returned when a few hikers passed us just before the 3rd aid station at km 27 and told me I was the second woman. I heard them shouting to a fellow runner that she was the third woman, and a few moments later, I saw her running past me. She was fast. I was too tired at that point to race her and decided to be sensible, considering I still had more than half the way to go.
Somewhere around km 35, I got lost again and missed the 4th aid station.
On top of that, I suddenly felt a sharp pain in one of my toes. I thought it stemmed from a broken toenail that has been bothering me for a few weeks already.
After a few steps walking and changing my gait a little, the pain subsided. Or did it stay, and I didn’t notice it because other pains were more intense and my brain focused on them?
I don’t know.
But just a few minutes after my toe incident, my upper right abdomen started to hurt—a lot. The pain intensified so much that my breathing became labored, and it was impossible to run. I began to panic. “I can not stop now,” I told myself. “I am already that far.” “Katja is waiting.” “I can not keep Katja waiting now.”
I told myself to calm down, walk a bit, take deep breaths, and return to a slow jog.
The strategy worked. After a few minutes of walking, I returned to running slowly. A few other runners passed me.
Both of my water bottles were empty when my Garmin showed I had run 35km. After a while, another runner caught up with me while walking up a steep hill. “It feels good to take a break from running,” he said as he too decided to hike up the hill. “Yes,” I agreed. “Shouldn’t we pass another aid station soon”? I asked. “We just passed it,” he said. “Did you get lost too?” Apparently…
My mood took a severe turn for the worse. How bad could it still get? M tummy hurts, my water bottles are empty, I am thirsty, and I have probably some 10km more to go until the next aid station. The runner offered me an energy bar. But I didn’t need food – I still had loads of honey – I was in dire need of water. So I declined politely and decided to keep on running.
The quicker I reached the aid station, the better. I had a few crossings where I felt unsure which way is the right one, and my nerves were pretty bare at this point.
Exhausted and happy that I made it, I finally reached aid station five at km 45, where I took big gulps of water, refilled my bottles, and walked a few minutes up the tiny ascend that followed. The pain in my foot was gone, my tummy pain was only a slight annoyance, and I had only 15 km to go. I was elated to see how early in the day it still was and that I would finish before 3 pm.
With newfound enthusiasm, I passed a few runners and ran most of the remaining course. At kilometer 50, I send my girlfriend a quick message that I have only 10km left. I made a quick stop at the last aid station at kilometer 53 and fought through another challenging ascend across a field before returning into the forests again.
Once I reached the sign that read “only 1 km to go,” I thought to myself, “thank god,” and ran the last km towards the finish line.
When the race directors welcomed me as the third female finisher, I was surprised and elated. I needed a moment to realize what I had just achieved. A few of the runners who ran alongside me congratulated me on a great race. We chatted a bit, and I stayed in the finish area to wait for the award ceremony. Strangely I wasn’t hungry at all. This baffled me a bit since I barely ate anything the day before the race. I also didn’t have a proper pre-race breakfast or much nutrition during the run.
Honey And Water Fuel Me To A 3rd Place Finish
Before going into the race, one of my main concerns was needing to empty my bowels along the way. I have been dealing with irritable bowel since my late teens. So I decided to eat only very little fiber the last two days before the run.
Due to the travels and collection of the race bib on Friday, I forgot about food and had only a bit of fruit puree and a few slices of sausage for breakfast and a baked potato with sour cream for dinner.
On Saturday – the day of the race, I had two “Aerobee” honey energy gels as “breakfast” – along with 2 cups of espresso. I consumed water, three electrolyte pills, a bit of honey that I carried in my re-usable GU flask, and two “Aerobee” energy gels with guarana during the race.
I think it’s safe to say I can still improve a lot regarding race-day nutrition. I will stick to honey as the basis for my energy needs, as it doesn’t cause any digestive distress, I don’t experience any blood sugar swings, and I have yet to tire of the taste. However, for longer events, I will need to think about a) having a proper breakfast before the race and b) condition my body and mind to take in solids foods as well.
Post-Run Dinner, Massages, And Thoughts
After the ceremony and enjoying a delicious apple cake, my girlfriend and I made our way to the Schweriner old town to grab dinner and food for Sunday. We opted for baked potato again. A few slices of cheese, tomatoes, and 500g yogurt rounded out my post-race meal.
Then I was treated to a massage. I slept a bit restless that night, woken up by aching muscles and a headache. Apart from this, I felt fine. I finished the race injury-free, and on Tuesday, I already headed out for a slow and relaxed 7km morning run.
I recommend this race wholeheartedly. It is fun, challenging and the race is extremely well organized – apart from the trail markers, maybe
During the Schwerin Lake Trail Ultra, you will slip, be afraid to fall into the lake, transverse tiny streams, climb over fallen trees, and very likely get lost once. And you will be rewarded with great memories of a challenge completed, possibly a few new friends, and freshly baked goods from local organic bakeries that are waiting at the finish line.