I met Dirk when we were in the middle of the Bucegi Mountains, running 50k through Transylvania, Romania. We became running buddies after leapfrogging on the trail for a while. As you can imagine, it was a difficult race–it was nice to have someone to chat with and help decide the best place to cross a flowing river. One of the best aspects of doing these travel races is meeting interesting people from around the world. Dirk is from Germany and I quickly realized he was a fellow world travel runner. After talking with him, he has certainly inspired me to get to Germany for some ultras, along with some other races around the world.
Hear a bit about him and his running and traveling life below.
1. How long have you been running? Since 1999 – First marathon was in 2001.
2. What is the longest distance you have run? 100km Biel, in Switzerland
3. Trail or road? Why? I prefer trail! The best combination would be trail AND mountains. I enjoy it because it is not the same pace during the whole distance, better landscape, and better for the mind and body!
4. What has been your favorite race so far? I have done 53 marathons an 15 ultras, so I have some favorites. A few of them would be the Swiss Alpine Davos and the Virgin Marathon in Interlaken, both of which are mountain runs in Swiss Alps. The Transylvania 50k in Romania was nice, but very hard, as you know 😉 Desert Marathon in Morocco!
5. As a fellow traveling runner, what are some travel races you would suggest others to venture out and take on? All runs in the Swiss Alps. Transylvania100 for different tracks. Desert runs in Morocco are nice too! The Netherlands and Belgium have some nice trails, from marathon to ultra. Here in Germany we have the Zugspitz UltraTrail with some different courses. Also, the Helgoland Marathon on the island farthest from the mainland from Germany is very nice!
6. What is a race you would like to forget? Getting Tough – The Race. It is the hardest obstacle race in Europe. After a bad illness in 2015, I did it 2016 for the 3rd time and it was my first DNF– 250 meters in front of the finish line.
7. What race are you training for currently? I train the whole year and “normal” marathons I can run whenever I want. Now I have no special focus. Maybe in the autumn some mountain runs somewhere or ultras in Germany or in the Netherlands.
8. What challenges have you come across with training? Nothing really–maybe sometimes the balancing act between family, running and my other sports.
9. The classic running question–why do you run? Running is a sport I can do every where, any time, and by myself. I don’t need a room, a hall, a court, a partner, or any special time to do it. I feel free during running and sometimes I have a lot time to think. I can travel to all over the world, put my shoes on, and I can run for sightseeing. When I participate in a race, I can meet and talk with new people.
I have gotten to meet some really great runners from around the world, all of whom inspire me in different ways. This is Rachael Anderson. She will be taking on Vol State 500km…for a second time.
I met Rachael when we both showed up to run with Bangkok Runners in Khao Mai Keow, Thailand. This awesome group would organize meet ups to run in the jungle occasionally, because we liked to torture ourselves with heat and humidity, in good company of course.
Neither one of us is in Thailand anymore, but I have been following her running and it is most impressive. Check out what she has to say:
1. What is your everyday occupation?
I’m a high school calculus teacher at an international school in Pakistan.
2. How many ultras have you done? What was your favorite or most memorable?
I’ve actually only done three races that qualify as ultras – two 50km races and the 2017 Last Annual Vol State (LAVS) 500km race. I’ve also done the Camino de Santiago – a 500 mile hike across Spain – twice.
My favorite race has to be LAVS just because of the sheer difficultly of the undertaking and the camaraderie I experienced during and after the race. When you’re put in a situation like that with other people, you quickly become a family.
3. What is your next big race you have been training for?
I’ve spent the past 10 months training for the 2018 LAVS, which will be held from July 12-22. The course starts in Dorena Landing, Missouri and ends in Castle Rock, Georgia, crossing the state of Tennessee.
4. Where do you live and does it impact training?
I live in Pakistan, so I’m limited to my compound when it comes to training. Luckily, I have access to a nice weight room, a 25m pool, a 400m track, and a 1km loop around the school. My training is largely solitary and I have to work hard to keep up my motivation. I rely on podcasts and audiobooks to keep my mind occupied on long runs.
Another issue with training in Pakistan is the heat. The temperature in Karachi, where I live, is above 80 degrees for the majority of the year and can get up to 120 degrees in the summer. This isn’t a dry heat either. Due to our proximity to the Indian Ocean, it is quite humid throughout the year. This makes training brutal, but I know that it will be worth it when I’m running through Tennessee in the middle of the summer.
5. How do you prepare for a 500 kilometer (314 mile) unaided race?
This is really a difficult question, and I think the answer heavily depends on the person. A lot of my fellow runners do back to back runs on the weekend. So, perhaps 30 miles on Saturday and another 20 miles on Sunday. This is a fairly typical staple of ultra training but, under the direction of my coach, I did something a bit different this year.
My training generally consists of 9-10 workouts spread over six days, with one rest day per week. These include swimming, cycling (I use an indoor trainer and Zwift), weightlifting, and running (15-20 miles a week). My entire training plan has been built around heart rate zones, in order to improve my endurance and aerobic capacity. I also do journey runs/walks when I’m outside of Pakistan. For these, I take a small pack with a bit of food and water, and then just head out on 20 or 30 mile walk to the next town. It gets me comfortable with navigation, walking next to traffic, and dealing with unforeseen issues like a lack of water (because I dropped a bottle without realizing it).
6. What are your expectations of Vol State?
Last year I finished in 7 days, 18 hours by mainly walking and getting 6-8 hours of sleep each night in a hotel. This year, I hope to finish in under 6 days by sleeping less and running more.
7. How long do you expect recovery to take?
After last year’s race, I was able to run again within a few days, although it took about 3 weeks for me to feel 100% again. I expect this year to be about the same in terms of recovery.
8. Do you have any pre-race routines or advice to offer runners considering doing an ultra?
The biggest piece of advice I have is to understand that there is no one way to do an ultra and that a linear progression through race distances is largely unnecessary. I get asked often about how many half marathons and marathons I did before I started running ultras. The answer is none. In fact, the first marathon I did was this year, which is a solid 5 years after I ran my first ultramarathon. This goes for training as well. What works for other people may not work for you – it’s a learning process. So, have fun, talk to other ultrarunners, and figure out what does work for you.
9. The big runner question–why do you do ultras of this magnitude?
Running 500km was the first time in my life where I felt like I had been stripped down to my core both emotionally and physically and actually got a glimpse of who I really was. It was both terrifying and exhilarating and, now that I’ve seen it, I have an unquenchable desire to figure out just how far I can push myself.
Rachael also has a UMDF page that she has been updating. This page is for collecting donations that go directly to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation and help to fund much needed research into these illnesses.
Often, we run to become become better people. Hopefully, we become better people not only for ourselves, but for those that have to interact with us.
Mr. G gets asked a lot how he feels about my running, so I decided to throw some questions at him for the curious.
Here are his thoughts:
1. The classic question–what do you do while Tara runs?
Try to keep the children from getting injured. Make sure the house doesn’t burn down. Sneak in some recording/editing time for YouTube. Check my watch and make sure that you aren’t coming in way later than you should.
2. How does my running impact your life?
It makes my marriage much better, because it makes you happy. Running keeps you sane, and that has been really good for our relationship.
3. Do you run with her?
I have chased after Tara a few times. In particular in airports. If we have a tight connection to make you’re on your own for speed. So, I’ve gotten some really good cardio in packing Baby G across airports at full speed. That’s about it for running. I will also do an occasional 5k, for the kids.
4. How do you feel about Tara’s running?
She is really good at it. It’s something she enjoys that brings her pleasure. Everyone needs a passion. Everyone needs one thing separate from work, or even family. Something that is just for them. For Tara that is running. For me it’s YouTube. We support one another in both of these endeavors and our relationship is stronger for it.
5. Tell about a time or two that stand out as memorable.
The most memorable time for me ever was when Tara had a trail run in Bosnia in the mountains. The day of the run there was a particularly bad, unexpected blizzard up in the mountains. It was the first time I ever saw my wife ask a race director if she could switch to a shorter distance. We were both worried, but I know that if I tell Tara she shouldn’t do something, then she is more likely to dig in her heels and do it. So, whenever she asks me if she should do a race, I always answer with this:
“Will you regret not having done this? Which feels better to you, staying home and sitting this one out, or signing up and going for it?”
Long story short, she completed the race. She got lost a few times, her phone nearly died, there were scares about mine fields, I called search and rescue, and had a speedy drive to the finish line. However, that story deserves it’s own telling from start to finish, so I’ll save my side of that one for another time.