ANNE-MARIE FLAMMERSFELD: ONWARDS & UPWARDS written by Tom Greatrex
There are few plaudits that can be used to describe the incredible performances of ultra-runner Anne-Marie Flammersfeld that haven't been lavished on her already. But it’s hard not to try.
As an ultra runner, she is the embodiment of excellence and her achievements are remarkable. As a person she is passionate, thoughtful and surprisingly understated considering her accomplishments to date. And given her action-packed schedule, she’s also generous, acting as an ambassador for the Paulchen Esperanza Foundation, which helps disadvantaged children in Argentina, Tanzania and Sri Lanka.
The German sports scientist and UVU Panther, Anne-Marie made her breakthrough into the world elite class of trail runners back in 2012 (yes, just four years ago!) when she became the first woman in the world to win all four races in Extreme Races Series “Racing The Planet 4 Deserts”, where she ran 250km through some of the most challenging (driest, coldest, windiest and hottest) conditions on earth.
Now internationally recognised and renowned, the affectionately dubbed “Desert Queen” recently broke the female speed record for the fastest ascent and descent by a woman on Kilimanjaro, climbing to the summit via the Umbwe Route in a staggering eight hours and 32 minutes. In doing so she smashed the previous female speed record (held by Brit Becky Shuttleworth) by three hours. That would probably be enough for most people, but Flammersfeld just turned back around and made it back to Mweka gate with a total time on the mountain of just 12 hours 58 minutes.
“I ran really quickly on the initial 2,000 meters,” recalls Flammersfeld, “I got to the halfway point in three and a half hours which was very pleasing. But from Barranco Camp at 3,900 metres to the Arrow Glacier Camp at 4,900 meters I had to slow down quite a bit as the air started to thin. By the time I had reached 5,000 meters the altitude really began to hit me. It took me almost 3 and a half hours to complete the final 1,000 meters. My feet were heavy, each step was pretty hard and the altitude was extremely stressful.”
I just wanted to run down as quickly as possible
“It was the first time I have really fought with the You Versus You concept. I really had to look inwards and carefully consider every movement and step to reach the summit. My mind was dizzy. I felt drunk and had to use my hands and feet to get to the top. In these situations I have to trust my body. I try to compare the challenge to ones I have experienced before. I have survived so much, so I know I will be able to overcome most things. It helps to motivate me and drives me on. When I reached the top I saw one of the guides. He was absolutely overjoyed for me, but all I could say was: “Hi’. I was a bit overcome and just wanted to run down as quickly as possible again.”
The record-breaking Kilimanjaro challenge was part of Flammersfeld’s attempt to conquer the seven highest volcanic summits in the world by setting off from the lowest point in that country. Known as “Bottom Up Climbs” the idea is to complete each of the seven summits without any ‘mechanical’ help. For Kilimanjaro Flammersfeld set off with two Italian friends, Giuseppe Milanesi and Alessio Piccoli, from the Tanzanian coast at Tanga and cycled for four days to reach Mount Kilimanjaro. They then climbed for four days over the Umbwe route in preparation for Flammersfeld’s record attempt a couple of days later.
You get a sense that along with Flammersfeld’s undoubted natural talent, teamed with some meticulous preparation (“every eventuality has to be thought out. You must have a plan B”) and intensive training for each challenge she undertakes, that she just loves running (or that it comes easily to her) and is driven by an unquenchable spirit of adventure and a love for the great outdoors.
Running is passion
“Running is a passion for me,” she enthuses. “I am lucky enough to have the ability to do it. I enjoy the races, getting outdoors, the adventure, and delivering a performance that I am after and others are expecting on race day. Once the race begins you have a focus and your brain shuts down. Sometimes I think about absolutely nothing. Not what’s around me. Maybe the next step or the next metre, but nothing relevant to my normal life. You just get back to basics and concentrate on the road ahead.”
You would assume at the elite level of ultra running that the careful selection of the right kit as well as diet and nutritional management are key considerations in order to maximise performance?
Flammersfeld agrees: “I try not to eat too much during training as I try to train my fat metabolism, giving me longer term energy from my own body. The higher up you get the more carbs and sugar you need as your body cannot process fat. The most important thing is to eat properly before and after the race how I recover. There’s always the temptation to have a few beers straight after the race, but it’s not the best idea. You are better off eating a lot of carbohydrates and drinking water, but it doesn’t always happen!”
“As for the kit, this is critical. Everything has to be of the highest quality in order for you to get through the race. The best clothes are the ones you barely even realise are there. I have tried out a lot of sports clothing over the years, but nothing comes close to what UVU is developing. Every piece is so well thought out, light and cooling – like a second skin. I am lucky to have been part of the process of developing some pieces and prototypes with them. It is really exciting to be able to say what works and what doesn’t. I am always so impressed with the final products.”
So what about after the race? With so many peaks, there must be some troughs?
“After the build up and completion of a race there can definitely be some post race blues,” Flammersfeld explains. “You have been through so much that you have to try and get back to living again. I do get a bit low post race. It is not healthy to be on a high for too long. After three to six days I am pretty much back to normal again, but it is very important to go through this process. If winning is about the positive high, you need the low to get the balance back. But you’ve always got one eye on the next race.”