Michael tells us why he goes to the sauna in running gear, about hallucinations in the desert at Badwater 135 and records at the 24 hour European Championship. We were allowed to take him with us products and have now asked him a few questions about his fantastic achievements.
Sporthunger: Hi Michael, congratulations on a fantastic season. With Badwater 135 and your performance at the 24-hour European Championship, there were a few real highlights. Was 2022 your best running year so far?
Michael: Yes, this year has been absolutely amazing so far. For me it was also the best running year, even if I won significantly more titles in other years. This year I consciously focused on the 24h DM and Badwater. The fact that the nomination for the 24h EM then also jumped out was an absolute highlight for me and actually not planned.
Sport hunger: How did you actually get into running and ultra running in particular?
Michael: I've always been very active, but I decided to play football when I was young. That also gave me an ankle injury and I didn't do any sport for 10 years. With obesity, chronic heartburn and herniated disc, it was time to do something in 2010. So I started running.
I got into ultra running through trail running. After the Boston Marathon in 2013 and the happy ending for us as a family in the terrorist attack, I wanted to get out of the city and the crowds.
Hungry for Sport: Tell us a little bit about Badwater 135 – what makes this race so special?
Michael: The Badwater 135 is a race with its own very enthusiastic community. Actually, I had never expected a nomination in my life. Just being chosen is like being knighted. I also love organizing, which is a must at Badwater with crew, food, tactics, etc.
Of course the unbelievable heat. You only feel "hot". And the breathtaking desert and landscape. Suddenly you are alone in the middle of the night, not a soul far and wide, a sky and stars like I only knew from my childhood. But also the width. I've never seen land that far in my life. It's a mental challenge then
But I was most afraid for my crew. They had to get out of the car more than 100 times, into the heat. But my fear was unfounded. I had the hottest and best crew "ever". My daughter Jana, Manuel and Thomas were perfectly matched. This is also what makes the Badwater 135 so special. You are nothing without a crew! You learn to work in a team and to respect your supporters. It's a team experience!
"I used to go to the public sauna with my running gear for the Badwater."
Hungry for Sports: How did you prepare for Badwater 135? Did you have special protocols for heat acclimation?
Michael: I had a lot of respect for the heat, but I was very well prepared. For the 4 weeks before the event, I had incorporated daily heat training in my infrared sauna. I go there after intense or long runs. I did the runs without drinking anything. Then towards the end in the sauna I gave my body the electrolytes. So my body has learned that it needs to take in the electrolytes and keep them down in order to train my body to absorb the fluids.
When it was hot outside, I used to walk through my region in winter clothes. That was always a highlight for the people who came towards me. Or was I once in the public sauna with my running clothes for the Badwater. I was the highlight right away.
Sporthunger: We supported you with a few products for this race. Which Sporthunger products worked particularly well for you and why?
Michael: Since you are not allowed to import any food into the USA, I played it safe and googled my Sporthunger products for "local purchase". So I was sure that the products would work for me and I am convinced that they would also be available in the USA.
For example, during my heat training, I bottled beverages from Tailwind and Skratch Labs . These are also products that you can get very well in the USA. When it comes to gels, I prefer Spring Energy, which I use to supply energy during my 24-hour runs. Since they are not so easy to get, I chose GU Roctane for the Badwater. Of course, they were sufficiently tested in advance.
For the clothes I had the T8 Sherpa running trousers and the Iced Tee running shirt from Sporthunger. With the T8 Commandos underpants I also had no problems with chafing. The socks were also from T8. How well the T8 clothing worked is shown by the fact that I managed without changing from start to finish.
Probably the most important product were the Saltstick Caps. At times I threw in a capsule every 20 minutes to compensate for the loss of salt.
"Why is there a fair stand here in the mountains?"
Hungry for sports : Western States, UTMB, Badwater, Spartathlon etc. – your “running vita” reads like the bucket list of many ultra runners. If you could only run one of your races again - which one would you choose?
Michael: That's an extremely difficult question because every race has its own flavor and history. If you had asked me a year ago, it would have been the Western States. Today my answer is Badwater 135. Because now I know exactly what to expect and I/we still have potential. But most importantly, it's an incredible run with incredible people and a brutal landscape. Just the last climb up Mt Whitney Portal and the hallucinations I experienced, amazing!
Hunger for sports: Hallucinations? tell us more
Michael: Yes, I had experienced hallucinations with my backyards. But the ones on the climb up Mt. Whitney were awesome. In Lone Pine, the town at the foot of Mt. Whitney, I developed severe circulatory problems and had to lie down several times on the way up (ascent is 17km long). My daughter then set out to promote me as a pacer and supported me.
Since she had also been awake for over 40 hours, we both had issues with things we were seeing that weren't real. She saw things I didn't see and vice versa. Sometimes she was really scared and I tried to take it away from her. So I had a task and just kept walking. The craziest thing I saw was a wall running down the middle of the street. If I crouched, the wall got smaller, if I went up, it got higher. Really 3-dimensional. I had to laugh because it was so crazy and we were joking about free marijuana use in California.
Halfway we both saw the same thing, a fair stand. "Why is there a fair stand here in the mountains?" When we got there, it was a pavilion, the last checkpoint before the finish. Somehow we recovered and tried to undercut the 29 hours. My daughter put a lot of pressure on us to do it. Wasn't quite enough then, but we had the 4th fastest time for the last stretch from the checkpoint to the finish
Hungry for sports: Which race is at the top of your “To Run List”?
Michael: I am currently overwhelmed with the question. Maybe also because I have to process what I experienced and achieved first.
But at the top of my list is the 2023 World Championships in Taipei, Taiwan. It would be my great wish to start there and I would be highly motivated and I tasted blood.
Hungry for sports: At the 24-hour European Championships is a world record with a 6th place, 3rd best German 24-hour distance that has ever been run and age groups?
Michael: The 24h EM was awesome. To be nominated for the German team at my age, to be part of it, what more could you ask for?
My goal was actually a personal best and to help the men's team achieve a good placement. But I also had the German age group record in mind. I had to cover more than 261 kilometers for this. I was very fast for the first 100km, so I knew I had to slow things down. It was also clear to me that if I got through the night well, I would automatically move up the rankings. On the other hand, I hadn't done any experiments with food at night. Almost only gels, because the biorhythm is not geared towards digestion. When the last four hours started, I knew that everything had to run perfectly now so that I could get the last bit of power out. My daughter and supervisor Jana then prepared everything for me so that I could absorb and get the energy I needed.
Our coach then gave me tremendous motivation for the last hour and called out the records I could set. That released the last of my strength again.
Yes, now I have the German age group record, I'm in third place on the all-time German list of the best and the highlight is the age group "world record".
Hunger for sports: What is your nutritional strategy for such extremely long competitions?
Michael: It depends on the run. During a 24-hour run, I try to eat as gently as possible to my stomach. I prefer Spring Energy Gels , they have a very high calorie content and because they are made from natural ingredients, I tolerate them very well. Additionally, I drink a bottle of Tailwind every hour. Then, when night falls, I switch to the caffeine-infused products, which I gave up weeks earlier. In between some banana, dates. I have a tradition of making yeast plaits with your trail butter, either before or during the run.
On a run like Badwater 135 I try to eat solid, natural food for as long as possible, combined with gels for quick energy replenishment. But that only works to a limited extent in the heat. Then the usual gels and a bottle of Tailwind or Skratch Labs every hour.
Hunger for sports: You are involved in the organization of the Bienwald Backyard Ultra. What can attendees expect at this event?
Michael: The participants experience a very familiar atmosphere. We do everything to make them comfortable, so they can go far. In October we will also host Team Germany at the Big Dog's Satellite World Championships. The event will be streamed live worldwide and all Backyard greats will be competing. As a team captain and organizer, I have a dual role. But I'm sure when the starting signal comes, I'll just be a runner.
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