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I just hadn’t expected them at all.

The night before had been bitterly cold once more, but thankfully, this particular hunting stand had insulation on the walls, and I was grateful I wouldn’t have to run all the way to Ilmenau in the dark. It’s always a bit of a gamble, nightfall snapping at the heels, kilometers left to chase, and hunting stands of mediocre (or worse) quality standing by the side of the trails. Do I go on, hoping for something better? Or do I commit to any hut – even if all it offers me is a roof over my head, and no shield from the cold? Cold means no sleep, which means less kilometers the next day… or at least with significantly more grogginess and grumps. Grumpiness usually translates to a loss of appetite, which translates to even further energy loss…

I almost picked one of the open huts, the ones that are essentially just picnic tables with a roof overhead. But then I decided to press on. It was still light, and even though my tired eyes were slowly turning trees into shadows of monsters, I could see farm fields coming up 2KM further south. Farm fields mean open space and open space means a higher chance to find a good hunting stand.

The gamble paid off. I’m getting better at this.

Well, at least that’s what I thought till I heard steps outside the hut in the dark. I’ve been so tired lately, that my brain was even turning the soft treads of fox paws on moss into something significantly bigger and scarier and what if there are people in the woods and this is a tra-

Sleep quickly got the better of me, thankfully.

Sleep is good.

Can’t be scared of the dark when you’re unconscious.

The next morning, I head out, past Ilmenau, and back onto the trail. I feel so incredibly nauseous. My stomach hates what I’m doing to it. I speak quietly to myself, trying to soothe my upset insides. “Come on. You got this. You can eat tonight, eat something that’s not oatmeal or lentils…”

I think I need to vomit. Or just collapse, and sleep for a few weeks. But no, that’s not really an option. I’ve got vertical meters to bag – I’m going pasy the Rennsteig today. And at the end of it, my parents are waiting. So even though I’m tired and sickly and oh-my-god-i-think-im-gonna-puke, I drag myself up, up, 200m, 400m, 500m of vertical…. till I reach the end of the woods, and get a phone call.
“Where are you?!” My dad asks excitedly. “I don’t know, I just… wait, there’s a house here… let me just…” – “Alright, we’re going to drive on to a parking lot where we are, maybe we can meet up and-“

I see a blue car pull up in front of this random house, the first one I’ve seen since I entered the woods in Ilmenau that morning, nearly four hours ago.

What the heck.

It’s them.

“DAD! I can see you!” I laugh.

The car parks, and they jump out, mom making little squeaks of delight as she runs towards me. “What in the world! To find you here! Of all places!” She hugs me tightly. Dad does, too. “I’m going to join you today!” He adds with a grin. Mom is already busy getting food out of the car – and a present.

It’s a Fanta cappie.

What the F…anta, indeed.

“It’s so different this time,” I say, running next to dad over the Rennsteig. Mom is up ahead, having parked the car 5KM further down the trail, and meeting us somewhere in the middle. “Seeing you guys on the weekends… running with friends…” I think of how I told Ben that I was glad that this time, I wasn’t starting the trip off with the mad plan to throw an ex’s bike off a cliff in Norway.

Still think that would’ve been funny, I’ll admit.

Though I do have to grudgingly admit that Martha’s point about taking my own bike was a significantly better one.

“We like it more this way, too,” dad says, keeping up easily. He’s wearing a nice collared shirt, and carrying a light backpack that slaps against his lower back with every step. But he doesn’t complain. “We’re seeing so much of the countryside!” He smiles at me. “Oh, and I have a proposition to make.” – “Oh?” I turn my head, surprised. That tone of voice implies that this is going to be good.

“What do you think of going “Bröckeln” with me?” – “Huh?!” Dad grins, and explains. It seems he wants to run/powerhike/crawl from Magdeburg all the way to the Brocken. “That’s about 90KM in 24hrs. If we’re so tired we have to crawl, then we crawl.”

And I always wondered who I inherited the weirdness from. “Nah,” he replies to my inheritance theory. “I think there’s just something about growing up in the States, home of the Wild West, and fierce defendant of freedom and liberty that put that strain of crazy in you.” He laughs. “And then a bit of German culture to engrain you with some discipline, and love for planning. Perfect recipe to get….” He gestures at me: “This.”

We meet mom much sooner than either of us had expected.

She joins us for a bit, and finally gets the car over to the inn we’re staying in tonight. Dad and I have a bit more than 15KM left. The distance falls easily, though that 5KM hurt. I’ve run over 500KM over the last two weeks, and my body is beginning to show unmistakable signs of fatigue.

The inn has not just good food, but also a sauna. I stretch my legs towards the ceiling, surprised at how my calves seem to have grown. Or have they?

I’m meeting Dr. Steinach, the endurance physiologist, in a day. I’m sure the measurements might give some insight into that.
The next morning, my parents join me for another 5KM. I’m exhausted, beyond tired, and clouds hang low, thick with rain. I hug them goodbye.

“Next time we see each other… you’ll have done it!” Dad hugs me. “And you’ll never forget this run,” mom chirps.

“We’re proud of you,” she adds.

Then they turn, and leave me.

420KM left to the Zugspitze.

You might think I’m crazy to go on this run. Perhaps, but there are crazier people than me out there. @jillianabrownphotography flipping flippin’ tractor tires up an untouched mountain range to raise awareness for, and fight the stigma against PTSD. @brandoyelavichexplorer, cycling his bike in a straight line through the Australian outback. @ben_cianchi, attempting to cross Australia south to north as one monstrous triathlon, all by manpower alone.

But I would argue that my endurance physiologist Dr. Steinach almost manages to eclipse us all.

“I’ll leave Berlin at 1AM, get to wherever you are around 5AM, take a nap for an hour or two, then we take the measurements, the blood, and I head back to Berlin!”

Why do I argue that this is nuts? Because if there is anything I truly fear, it’s these two things: the cold and sleep deprivation – the latter being exactly what Dr. Steinach put himself through to get to me. Well. To get to new data.

Surprisingly though, he seems incredibly perky when I meet him in the breakfast room of the pension I’d decided to stay in. I was dripping wet, had started to freeze and shiver violent every time I took a break, and hence opted out of sleeping in the woods again. (Challenging yourself on a trip like this works best when you don’t catch a horrendous cold along the way.)

“Alright, so a weight loss of 1.5kg… and after the body fat measurement… looks like you lost 800gr of fat, and similar amounts of muscle tissue,” Dr. Steinach tells me, looking at his chart. “That’s really, really good. The ultrarunners I normally look at lose an average of 6kg over 700KM. You’re well below the average – in a good way.” He smiles, putting the chart aside. “And how are you otherwise?” I look down at the paper he gave me, which is supposed to assess my mental state. I’ve ticked “active, curious, energetic, inspired, focused” with a full score. “Nervous, scared, tired, fatigued” got one out of the four total score points.

“I’m good!” I answer with a grin.

“Though admittedly, the first week was tough. I cried a lot,” I add. He nods, thoughtful.

“That’s normal. The first few days are always hardest for the body to adapt. It gets better from here on.” He smiles again, then looks at my plate. I’m struggling to finish my small Brötchen. “How’s your appetite? That usually fades out for most athletes after a few weeks.” I flinch. “Admittedly, my stomach hasn’t been… quite as adaptive. I feel nauseous a lot… which makes eating difficult.” He nods again. “This run is starting to feel like a race not against the end of my holiday time, but against the time my body has left before it refuses to continue.” He smiles at me again. “Don’t worry. You look very fit to me.”

He on the other hand looks tired. “Hey, you don’t have to wait for me to finish this breakfast,” I say. “It’s my rest day, and I’m taking my time… you should go back to Berlin and rest.” He stifles a yawn and nods. “If it’s alright, I’ll leave then, yes. Spin down the blood in the lab, and then I’m going to nap for a bit.” He gives me another sideways grin. “Driving 11hrs, for a 40min measurement. The things we do for science.”

Ah yes. The things we do for science, I think, strapping on my heartbeat measurement device and leaving for Lichtenfels.

It’s my rest day, after all.

25KM will do just fine.

I’m starting to get used to getting lost, traipsing through the dripping, raincloud covered woods the wrong way, phone dead, powerbank empty, and me: dead tired. But just because I’m getting used to it doesn’t mean it’s fun.


The house wren eyes me suspiciously and flits off, annoyingly unresponsive.

“Alright then, just keep the sun on your left, and that should lead you south…” I think back to a conversation on navigation with @torstenweigel. I also think I should have paid better attention to everything he’d tried to tell me that moment.

I’m so tired. Even if I had paid more attention, I don’t think I would remember. This run is starting to get to my brain, as well as my body.

After leaving Dr. Steinach to head back to Berlin with my blood the day before, I wandered back out. Yes, I used my rest day to make mileage. Sue me. I have places to go, and the patience of a toddler on a sugar high. I ain’t sitting in a hotel room for a minute longer than I have to.

But at least I don’t have to make 50KM today, that’s a win. I can use my time to find a nice hunting stand for the night. “With windows! And a spare blanket!” A girl can dream, right?

The thing is, the town of Lichtenfels seems to be the Mecca of Hiking. Two dozen hiking paths all file through the city, and snake over its neighboring hills. And all of the hunting stands visible from the path that would be kf interest to me (windows! Blankets! Promise of warmth!) are locked.

Except for the one I’m standing underneath now.

The wood is mossy, rotting – but it’s only in the beginning stages of decay. “Perhaps it just hasn’t been used for the year, and will be taken care of once this year’s hunting season starts again,” I think, as I carefully climb the ladder. The entry way for this one is on the bottom of the hunting stand – just like in a treehouse. I can’t see inside. The moldy wood creaks under my weight. I’m nervous, but not sure why.

I press against the little trap door entry.

Wood chips drop down on my face.

And then I hear it.


“F***!!!” I quickly close the door. Was that really buzzing though? Just to make sure, I gently press the door open again, when the first hornet joins me down on my ladder. I breathe out slowly, close the door…

… and leg it over the field, away from the hunting stand, away from the hornet’s nest inside.

The giant rainclouds hovering above me seem to be grinning maliciously at my failure to find cover, as I keep searching for anywhere to stay tonight. “Guess I’ll have to accept defeat then,” I mumble, grabbing my phone to find an inn in the area. The ones I find are either closed down, or booked out.

I have an hour of sunlight left to find a hunting stand.

I climb up a few more moldy, rotting specimens, wondering where all the hunters hide in these woods. Not on the trails, that’s for sure. Off the beaten path, probably…

That’s it. I stumble through the undergrowth, further and further away from the main trails, past white plastic bags lying in the woods (not going to think about what might be underneath, not going to think…!) when I see it.

A hunting stand, towering 5m above me. It’s too high for my liking… but I’ll take it. The sun is setting.

I climb up, nervously wondering whether there will be another storm tonight. There won’t be a storm: just a cacophony of fox, boar and owl noises to keep me awake into the wee morning hours. And a weasel that’s managed to scale the 5m high hunting stand in an attempt to to steal my food.

It’s no wonder I’ll be tired the next day.

What a fantastic use of a rest day.