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Jurgen Nubling: Alpine Runner

July 20, 2013

Endurance runner Jurgen Nubling shares his passion for ultra trail running in the mountains of South Germany.

By Alix Shutello and Yuhan Xu

ERM: How old were you when you made that first step to go ultra distances, and what drove you over the edge?

Nubling: I started running at the age of 37. Before that, I had practiced martial arts for more than 20 years. After I stopped participating in taekwondo and kickboxing competitions, I trained some young fighters in these disciplines for a few years; but that did not satisfy me. I felt a fire inside me still burning. So I was looking for a new challenge. After finishing some half-marathons and two city marathons, I took part in my first 12km mountain race in one of the most beautiful regions in Germany: The Black Forest, where I’m from. I’ve never forgotten the feeling I had when I got to the top of the mountain—it was so emotional, and I was so proud of finishing that race.

From that moment I was hooked. I wanted to do it again and again, so I decided to become a trail runner. I’m not a very fast runner, but I was able to run long distances, so I started training for ultra marathon competitions. What I’ve learned is that I love to explore my limits, and ultra running for me is like a kind of meditation.Pic08

ERM: How did you get where you are today?

Nubling: Through years of martial arts training, I have a very robust body and a very strong will to achieve my goals. I increased my training step by step, more hours, longer distances, year by year. I always chose races according to my previous level of performance, and always set my goals higher. The joy and the pride I experienced while running were inexpressible. I’m interested only in ultra trail running; I never want to do a triathlon or anything else. Running has been my passion since I started.

“I’m interested only in ultra trail runningRunning has been my passion since I started.”

Running through nature is the oldest sport to mankind. GPS, functional clothing, backpacks, hydration systems, and special shoes certainly provide more fun and safety. And yet you basically just need a shirt, a pair of shoes, and pants, and you’re ready to go. You can do it anywhere, anytime.

ERM: Tell us about your training—who do you train with; what products do you use in your training and in competition; and how do you balance training, work, and life?

Nubling: I have a very demanding job as team leader in a medical technology company. My working hours vary, which makes it hard to balance job, training, and private life. I spend up to 25 hours training each week, which requires good time management. I’ve been separated for three years, which gives me flexibility for training. I have my training very much aligned with my job. And I make sure that I have time for regeneration—the biggest challenge in everyday life. But I’ve actually mastered this very well.

I do not have a personal coach, but I have the opportunity to train with top athletes and speak with different coaches; I implement their advice in my training. There are a lot of experienced trail runners in my hometown. I spend 75 percent of my time running and 25 percent working on my strength. I also do stability training and mountain biking.Pic07

I don’t have a detailed workout plan, but every year I follow various stages of training. From January to March I’ve been doing basic trainings such as mountain touring in snow, plenty of endurance runs up to two to three hours, and very little speed training.

Because I don’t like treadmill training, I’m outdoors, no matter what. I run a lot in the dark with a headlamp, especially during winter months. In this training phase, I run up to 80km per week. From March to May, I increased my training volume and intensity up to 160km per week by doing tempo runs on the mountain and interval training. From June to September, the competition season, it is very important to keep in shape and to find the right balance between exercise and recovery. From October to December, I run by feel and wellbeing. Every November I run absolutely no meters, to allow my body to be completely regenerated. I do sauna, spa, massage, and hours of relaxing at home on the sofa. Both my mind and body need to recover from the previous strenuous months. I often run with friends, but I run long distances alone to prepare for the loneliness in endurance racing.

“What I’ve learned is that I love to explore my limits, and ultra running for me is like a kind of meditation.”

As for food, I’m not a vegetarian, but I eat very little meat and I prefer fish. Otherwise, lots of fruits and fresh vegetables. In intensive training weeks, I use food supplements. For long runs in the summer with temperatures of up to 35 degrees celsius, I must compensate for my fluid loss. This is not possible with just water, because I lose a lot of mineral salts to sweat. This is also the reason why I never run long distances without my salt tablets. I’ve been using supplements from the Swiss company called “Sponsor”—power gels, energy bars, energy drinks, and recovery shakes after long runs. I also mix my own power drink with water, fruit juice, some salt, and maltodextrin.

I follow one important rule: Do not consume any food in a competition that you have not tested in practice. I had a bad experience, and I’ve learned from it. If I run an ultra marathon, I make sure that I take some solid food early. But nutrition is a big theme, and every athlete has different needs.

I use equipment from different manufacturers, but I really like running with the Salomon equipment. I have had very good experience with their clothing, backpacks, and shoes. The backpack Salomon S-Lab 12 is my favorite. It is worn like a vest and offers enough space for the required equipment in competition. For distances longer than 50 to 60 miles, I run happy in shoes by Hoka. They have huge cushions that provide good stability and yet are very light. More and more long-distance runners use these shoes. I think it is very important to run in different kinds of shoes so that the feet are strained differently. And I always wear my compression calfs. The benefit from these is fantastic. The fatigue, especially, from running long distances is significantly reduced. I use the same equipment in training and in com- petition, with the exception of the backpack. Since I have no food in training, I need to take more liquid with me. And always with me is my Suunto GPS watch, which is more than a gadget and very helpful on the trail.

ERM: On your mental training, what drives you and keeps you sustained during competition?

Nubling: At that moment when you are crossing the finish line, this question will be answered. Even though it sounds arrogant, it is very easy for me to run long distances. I have a very strong will; if I have a goal in mind, I follow it unconditionally. There is almost nothing that can stop me. There have been some tough times, but I’ve never had the idea of giving up. Last year, I ran the nine-hour Swiss Irontrail in the night. There was continuous rain, at almost 3000m over sea level; a big temperature drop and snow showers were coming. The race was canceled due to the conditions. It was supposed to be 140km. I didn’t give up; I felt very good. That sounds very exaggerating, but I am stubborn. The sublime feeling you have when you cross the finish line always makes me strong and makes me continue the race. To be mentally strong for such long distances is for me more of a minor problem. This is my nature.

ERM: Do you budget for your competitions each year?

Nubling: I plan to participate in three to four major events a year. For this, I create a budget where I consider everything, including travel, accommodations, equipment, preparation, and vacation costs. Other things like training camp with friends I build in my one-year plan if there is time or money. I spend my whole vacation running, but it’s worth it. The experiences, the adventure, the impressions are priceless. And every second I’m on the trails, I feel that I’m alive, I’m healthy, and I can run. Everything else is secondary for a few hours.Pic02

ERM: Tell us more about what drives you.

Nubling: The main reason for running ultra marathons for me is to repeatedly reach my limits and then move them, as well as to be able to experience the wonderful feeling when I’ve done it. A quote from Henry Ford expresses my feelings: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

I started ambitious running at the age of 38. Now I’m 45 years old, and I had never won any marathons, I just wanted to run. Although I could not run fast, I could run very long, much longer than many other runners. Another reason is the desire for adventure. Our everyday life is completely organized. From Monday to Sunday, everything is scheduled. And I love to break out of this rhythm of life and look for adventure. Therefore, I prefer the long trail runs. In an ultra trail run, nothing is predictable. On such a long distance in the mountains, anything can happen. Even if you run the same competition several times, it is always different. And this uncertainty is what makes the whole thing so exciting.

“I follow one important rule: Do not consume any food in a competition that you have not tested in practice.”

I always wonder: How is the weather? Will it be a dark night? How cold is it on top of the mountain? What about the terrain? Is it dry, wet, or slush? Will I be strong enough to survive all the challenges today? All of these things cannot be planned—that’s what makes it a thrill.

Ultra trail running is a journey—a journey to our inner side. When I’m running for hours alone, I’m feeling my body, my mind, and my soul. If my head or my heart doesn’t understand the meaning of a run, or does not cooperate, I will fail. The body is as strong as its mind and soul. Ultra trail running doesn’t mean pointless running from A to B. It is a journey, an experience that can change your life. And it gives me a sense of lightness, freedom and purity.

ERM: Is there anything slowing you down, such as injuries and pains?

Nubling: Injuries are inevitable, of course, especially if you make mistakes in training. In my running career I was slowed down by two injuries. After the last competition in 2012, I was planning to have a three-week recovery; but I was at an absolute peak performance, so I ignored my recovery. It was a big mistake. I ran and ran and ran as if it was the last time I could run. Later I suffered from the plantar fasciitis, a very painful inflammation of the plantar tendon. I couldn’t even walk normally, and had a lot of pain day and night. No treatment or massage was effective. Then I was treated with a shock wave therapy, and I could slowly start jogging again after a six-week break. For this error, I have learned that the body needs time to recover and you have to be patient. In March 2013, I fell while running in darkness and sprained my ankle. I had a four-week break. Luckily, it happened long before the competition season. Running is like a positive addiction—if I can’t run, I’ll lose the balance to my daily life and I’ll have problems freeing my thoughts. That’s the biggest challenge when I am injured.

If you run an ultra trail, there comes a point where you feel pain in certain part of your body, depending on the distance and the course you’re running. It is important to be prepared when the time comes. Don’t panic; respond to it accordingly. Reduce the pace, walk instead, eat something, or get treatment at the next checkpoint. If you pass this point, you’ll have enough force in the body to keep it running again. And the next time, you’ll have the knowledge and experience to know how to deal with it.


JUNE 21-23, 2013:

Zugspitz Ultra Trail: 100km and 5420hm Wettersteingebirge in Grainau, South Germany http://www.zugspitz-ultratrail.com/

JULY 20-21, 2013:

Eiger Ultra Trail: 101km and 6700hm
Berner Oberland in Grindelwald, Switzerland http://www.eigerultratrail.ch/de/wettkampf.html

AUG. 31-SEPT. 7, 2013:

Trans Alpine Run 2013: 260km and 16000hm in
8 Stages, European Alps Tour from Germany to Italy http://transalpine-run.com/

Dean Karnazes—TOP 10 Training Tips for Endurance Running

  1. Start from the ground up by investing in a good pair of running shoes.
  2. Follow the hard/easy routine by going hard one day and easier the next, to allow for recovery.
  3. Cross-train to build overall strength and help prevent injury.
  4. Convert to a stand-up office; sitting is poison!
  5. Cut all refined grains from your diet, as well as any other processed foods.
  6. While you’re at it, eliminate high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), trans-fats and hydrogenated oils entirely.
  7. Add lots of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols, such as wild Pacific salmon, dark leafy greens and colorful fruit.
  8. Some days, run for time rather than distance. Set your clock for an 8-hour run, and just go.
  9. Finally, sign up for a race six months down the road. Nothing like the pressure of an upcoming challenge to keep you motivated!

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