Magical Winter Castle Run – Silvesterlauf in Kirchheim

My Hubby and I spent Christmas and New Year with our friends Tobias and Rayanna in Germany, in a charming little town called Dettingen unter Teck, near Stuttgart. They are one of our best friends and needless to say, we could not wait to see them again! The week we spent together was a happy and very relaxing reunion, and at the same time, an interesting experience living under the same roof with a toddler and a baby!

One of the highlights of our holiday was joining the 36th annual Silvesterlauf in the neighbouring town, Kirchheim. This free ‘fun run’ appears to be extremely popular with the locals, even non-runners speak fondly of this event. Quite possibly, every local has done the race at least once in their lives. No wonder, as this is one of the friendliest and most uplifting races I have participated in, and my Hubby even said that he would love to make it a tradition to run this race with me each year. (I am taking this with a pinch of salt as he actually said this to me whilst we were battling our way up one of the steepest inclines, so he might have just been delirious from fatigue at the time.)

This 9 minute video which was made about the 2017 run speaks louder than any words and sums up the experience perfectly:-

Simon and I appear in this video quite clearly between 2:34 – 2:37 minutes.

Make no mistake – even though this is called a ‘fun run’, it is definitely not to be taken lightly and is not for the faint hearted! Let me just say that this approx. 18km route has an elevation profile of ca. 460 metres, leading runners up to the  top of the Teck Castle, an awe-inspiring landmark towering over the valley. Beautiful as it is, even the most experienced runners speak of the challenging heights of the Teck with reverence. 

Ouch!

Fortune smiled upon us on race day as the sun finally decided to come out from the grey clouds, gifting us with a bright and mild Spring-like day. (I have to add that two days before the race, a blizzard was sweeping across the area). Most likely due to these favourable conditions, a record number of runners were attracted to the event – just over 600 people lined up at the start line just outside the Rathaus on the main street of Kirchheim.

Thanks to our local friends, Simon and I were able to gather some useful ‘intelligence’ about the route and how to tackle its various challenges ahead of race day – we were warned about the train crossing at the outskirts of the town which divides slower runners from the faster ones, and the infamous Ho-Chi-Min Path leading into the depths of the forest where lots of shoes had been swallowed up in the mud-bath before. Knowing what to expect helped soothe my pre-race day nerves somewhat, although the sheer sight of the Teck Castle above our heads still gave me some butterflies in my stomach.

The beautiful Teck Castle – definitely worth the tough climb!

I was feeling slightly under the weather on race day and the day before, but I did not want to bail out, given the special occasion of running my first race with Simon and the fact that I had been wanting to do this run ever since I heard about it for the first time. (Under other circumstances, I would have sat this one out).

We parked a few minutes’ walk from the Rathaus – finding our way to the ‘race village’ was relatively easy as all we had to do was to follow the loud dance club music blasting from the speakers, courtesy of the local DJ. For once, I was glad I could barely hear a thing as this way I could also muffle the panicky little voices in my head!

The run started at 3pm on the dot and runners were given a cut off time of 2 hours to complete this out-and-back run. Simon and I agreed to hit the first km fast so that we could get through the train crossing at the outskirts of the town, before the barrier came down. A runner dressed as a cow and wearing a cow’s bell around his neck dictated a good rhythm for this, and we managed to get through just seconds before the barrier came down – a mini victory! This was key, as the farther behind you are in this race, the worse it will be to tackle the muddy paths later, which the faster runners had treaded on already and made even muckier as a result. Yummm.

Waiting to attack the Teck Castle!

We started to feel the first incline after leaving the town through a small railway underpass at around 4km. This led us to the first spectator ‘hot spot’ at Guckenrain where Rayanna and her father-in-law cheered us on. At that point I realised that no one had ever came to cheer me on in a race before which is a shame as this gave me a big boost!

The climb continued steadily from then onwards, however, the good news was that until about 6km, we were able to run on smooth paved surfaces and take in some gorgeous views around the valley.

Finally, we found ourselves on the sticky and narrow trails of the Ho-Chi-Min Path. This is where most people slowed down to a walk, including myself, whilst Simon was hopping his way up with the grace and ease of a mountain goat. At that point, I was really struggling with heartburn (the lemony fennel salad that we had for lunch may not have been the best choice as pre-race fuel) and was feeling slightly under the weather, so I did not want to push myself to the limit as the Teck still seemed stubbornly far away. Instead, I was trying to take in the breathtaking views of the valley and rolling hills around us. My goal was to make it up to the top in an hour, leaving me enough wiggle room to get back to the Rathaus by 5pm – you definitely don’t want to find yourself trying to navigate these trecherous paths in the dark!

Some runners dressed up for the occasion

After emerging from the cruel depths of the Ho-Chi-Min Path, looking and feeling rather beaten, Tobias greeted us with some water at Hörnle-Parkplatz. A sip of water and the enthusiastic cheering from the dense crowds filled me with some fresh energy, so I was able to pull myself together and break into a trot again. This did not last very long – the closer we were getting to the top, the steeper the paths seemed to become. I decided to speed walk, keeping up an even effort – a lot of other people followed suit. Simon was ahead of me about 200 metres so my goal was to keep him within eyesight all along. I felt quite demoralised by feeling so weak. I knew that I was already asking a lot from my body, so I just kept going, taking encouragement from seeing some faster runners already coming down the opposite way, so I gathered the top could not be that far.

Reaching the top was a huge relief – I managed it in a little over an hour. I spotted Simon in the crowds in the castle, and we had just enough time to take a short breather together and pose for a few photos at the viewing spot, with the sun going down behind our backs and covering the valley with a soft golden glow.

A glorious sunset at the top. Feeling exhausted but still smiling!

Some runners including Simon arranged for a change of clothing to be brought to the top (the organisers provided a van for this) – in previous years when the weather was not so nice this probably made more sense, but I did not see the need to change, and besides, I am quite used to getting sweaty, muddy and dirty in cross country trail runs like this one. I would rather just get on with it than worry about my appearance.

Coming down the hill felt like a breeze and turned into an exciting race with the sinking sun and time itself. Maybe I could have brought a sledge to make my way down the Ho-Chi-Min path faster!

I was finally able to hold a conversation with Simon and other runners around me; we even met a guy from Leeds who was visiting his German girlfriend. I picked up my pace – sadly, not fast enough to keep up with Simon who had set out to do this race at ‘a relaxed pace’. In the end, I latched myself onto a group of other runners at the outskirts of the town to see me back to the finish line. The final 3 kms felt like an absolute eternity – without any crowd support or music I retreated inside my head and imagined myself having a comforting hot shower back at our friends’ house and crawling into bed with a glass of Glühwein after the race.

Shortly before reaching the Rathaus, we came to a halt – a group of torchbearers from the local running club and other volunteers were waiting for us there to escort us back to the starting point. All runners finishing together like this at sundown was a really nice touch. Both Simon and I felt moved as we were re-entering the heart of the town, this time lit up with the Christmas lights, and packed with spectators spurring us on this final stretch. The torchbearers’ guard of honor and the song ‘We are the champions’ provided a real ‘hero treatment’ for us at the finish line. I honestly don’t remember finishing a race feeling so elated and so accomplished as at this one!

A glass of hot Glühwein (Mulled Wine) and a Pretzel brought me back to life again as we walked back to our car. Back at the house, our lovely friends surprised us with a hot bubble bath which was just what we needed after this gruelling run! A few hours later, we said goodbye to 2017 together, having a hearty dinner and some bubbly whilst watching the firework displays in the neighbourhood.

What a way to finish 2017!

What races/events have you got planned for 2018?

 

 

 

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Photo credits: http://lauftreffkirchheim.magix.net/album/all-albums and the organisers’ Facebook page.

More information about this run: http://www.vfl-kirchheim.de/index.php/la-silvesterlauf

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