Swiss Alpine Marathon 2011 - K78 race report

How to write a race report on a race that made you realize that this (ultrarunning, mountain races) is what you love to do? A race that got you into a Zen-like state of mind for the full 79.1 kilometers. A race that made you smile, laugh out loud like a weird bag lady and teary-eyed all at the same time.

A race report couldn't - not in a million years - do this race justice. Yes, this race is this special to me. I'll still try to give you some of this 'this is freaking amazing' feeling I had the privilege of experiencing during this race. I feel blessed. :)

This race? The Swiss Alpine Marathon K78. My aha-moment. Enough said. I'm hooked.

Where to start? Well...let's just pick the start line for that one. :)


July 30th, 7 AM. Early. Had my gear ready the night before, so all I had left to do on race morning was: shower (a cold shower that is...apparently our boiler doesn't heat the water before 7 AM...oh joy), eat (I actually managed to eat a sandwich and not throw up because of the nerves), get dressed (easy peasy) and throw the old K-tape on. :)

At 6:15 AM Fred (good friend of my mom - came over to Switzerland to help out with the race and the dogs - all three of them. ;)) walked me to the start. Hit the portapotties (funny how you get used to the smell of those things...) and ran into Wendy and Bettina right after that. Yay! :) They were also in the K78 (79.1 km race), and their presence sure did help to calm my nerves at the start line. Chatted the time away at the start line.

7 AM: The Pirates of the Carribean soundtrack and Conguest of Paradise were blasting through the speakers. A helicopter made some serious noise. It was time to go. What the **** did I get myelf into?

And...there we go! Off to kick this trail's butt! No way it's going to kick ours. ;)

The course profile: that's 79.1K and a 2370 meters/7776 ft elevation gain - at least, that's what the Swiss Alpine website says...more on this later...

Davos - Mühle (start - 11K / start - 6.9 miles)

Wendy was sweet enough to stick with me for those first kms/miles. My mom and Fred were cheering us on at the 5K mark. Waved! Chatted the time away. The course took us through Davos for a first loop and then took us to the Lengmatta, heading for the Mühle and Spina.
Ran into Ricarda at the Lengmatta (love that the course takes you through this part of the Davos region!). Ricarda and I had already chatted a bit on Facebook before the race, but I loved meeting her in person! She's not only a superfast and talented runner, but has a great personality on top of that. And looks great in her racing gear! :)

Near the Mühle (11K mark) we ran into Janina. I'd never met Janina before, but she is so much fun to be around!

Wendy, moi, Janina - behind the camera: Ricarda. :) Can you tell we were enjoying ourselves? ;)

Mühle - Monstein (11K - 16.6K / 6.9 - 10.4 miles)

After the Mühle we headed for Monstein. First there was a short climb to Spina. Wendy - there is some sort of mountain goat blood running through her veins ;) - ran up that hill. Moi, not so much. Slogged up there, just like most of the runners. Tried to take it easy here. After all, there were another 68K waiting for me. :)

It wasn't too long till I reached Spina (and their cow bells! :)). Grabbed some water and ran into Janina again. We were running at the same pace, so ended up sticking together and chatting those miles to Monstein away. Monstein is such a lovely village. The views are amazing!

Janina and I running through Monstein. :) Salomon should send us free stuff for all the free publicity we are giving them. ;)

Monstein - Filisur (16.6K - 30.1K / 10.4 - 18.8 miles)

Downhill! Woohoo! :) Just when I tried to talk Janina into trying a running skirt and some arm sleeves, my phone rang. Mom, worried if I'd made the cut-off time for Monstein. At that point I had no idea where the heck I was. Monstein? Did we pass Monstein yet? Luckily Janina could reassure me on thise one. Pfieuwww..... And, look who's there: Ricarda! Yay! Now there's three colorful dressed runners running together!

After those lovely downhills we crossed the rail road and continued our way along this railroad. Loved that the passengers on the train were cheering us on! :) Apparently, Ricarda and her camera were just behind me...

On our way to the Zügenschlucht. Thanks, Ricarda, for photographing my butt. Several times. ;)

The course took us to the Zügenschlucht. How could I - coming to Davos every winter and summer vacay for 28 years now (plus, I even lived in Davos when I worked for the skischool there) - not have known about the Zügenschlucht? The scenery is absolutely breathtaking out there! Reminded me of parts of Yellowstone National Park.

Ricarda and I in the Zügenschlucht.
Janina and I running through the Zügenschlucht.

At the 23K-ish mark we left the Zügenschlucht. Some stairs led us to a trail that took us through a forest near Wiesen. The smell of the pine trees... Loved. It. :) We left the forest at Wiesen, ran through the aid station there (these aid stations are so well organized!) and over the Wiesner Viadukt (25.5K mark). Since I hadn't pressed start on the Garmin (the 410 only has a 6-hour battery capacity, so pressing start would have been useless for this ultra), I had no idea whatsoever about my splits here.

Wiesner Viadukt at 25.5 K.

After the Wiesner Viadukt there was another hill to climb. Yay! :) Boy, do I love those trails! Then again, those uphills (15% incline) do slow you down...

Ricarda had started the race with an awful head/chest cold and it was getting worse on that uphill. I felt so sorry for her! She never - not one minute - complained about it: can you believe that? :)

The trail led us through another lovely forest. And, to another downhill, where Ricarda tricked a fellow runner into taking this photo! :)

Ricarda, moi, Janina. Were we in a race, or working on our modelling skills? What I'm trying to do with my legs/feet (besides showing off how huge my feet are) is beyond me...

Apparently Ricarda loves downhills at least as much as I do, so we continued that downhill together and headed for Filisur (30.1K mark - 18.8 miles). Reached Filisur after 3:13:06 hours. Not too bad considering my plan to start slow and considering the uphills. Not to mention all these photos we'd paused for... ;)

Ricarda and moi in Filisur - 30.1 K mark (18.8 miles).

Another photo taken at the Filisur mark. Yep, looking goofy as usual...

At that point, Ricarda's chest cold had gotten too bad to stay in the race. She made the wise decision to quit and wait for Bettina to keep her company till Bergün (the 40K mark). After all she has a little something called the Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc coming up in just a few weeks (yep, she is that amazing!). Didn't keep me from feeling sorry for her, though! Plus, I loved spending time with her in the first 30K of the race. She (and Wendy and Janina) were such great company and sure made those miles fly by!

Filisur - Bergün (30.1K - 40.3K / 18.8 - 25.2 miles)

All by myself... :( Well, not for long. Ran into Wendy again just after leaving Filisur (Ring ring - phone again! Mom: 'You're still running!'. Sweet! :))! Chatted with Wendy a bit and then continued my way...into the woods to find a place to pee-pee. I've mastered the skills of 'superfast behind a log peeing' in the last couple of months (yep, I will send the Guinness Book of World Records an email about this), so I was in and out within minutes. Left my log and immediately ran into Janina again. All by myself? Nope, not so much. :)

The race directors had changed this year's course, so instead of staying on the road (without any uphills) we were shuffed into another forest (yay! :)) and up a hill/mountain/torture tool. Yep, nothing like a nice 15% incline uphill thingie in the middle of a race. :) Ran into a Dutch guy named Cor halfway up that climb and chatted the climb away. It wasn't too long till we saw Bergün in the distance. Woohoo! :) That 15% incline climb did slow me down, but then again...it had slowed down all of us out there. And the trails out there were gorgeous! The views...amazing!

Up next was another downhill that got is to Bergün. I knew Fred and Bram (he also came over to help out with the dogs during race day) and my dog Lordie would be waiting for me in Bergün, so I definitely had something to look forward to! :)

Bergün - 40.3K - 4:41:19 hours - can you tell those climbs had slowed me down? ;) I still felt great, though!

Just before leaving Bergün I spotted Fred, Bram and Lordie! Yay! :) Took 10 minutes there to eat a sandwich (peanutbutter and cheese - yum!), change into a dry shirt and to change my Asics for trail running shoes. Hugged Lordie, thanked the guys, grabbed a bottle of Coca Cola from Fred and started the slog up the hill that would take me to Chants.

Bergün - Keschhütte (40.3K - 52.9K / 25.2 - 33 miles)

Boy, that was the best Coca Cola ever. :)

Spotted Cor again on the way to Chants and we ran side by side for a couple of miles. Grabbed a sponge at one of the aid stations to get rid off some of the salty mess on my face. Yep, I'm disgusting like that. ;)

Wait! Is that a bright green top in front of me? Yay! Wendy again! :) She'd passed me in Bergün while I was changing shoes and I'd figured that I wouldn't see her again till the finish line. But, there she was! :) Not too long after that I reached Chants. This was where the serious uphills/high alpine trails were waiting for us. Woohoo! :) 810 meters elevation gain over 5.7 km. That's pretty steep. At least, for me it is. :) I was surprised to find that, even with 47K already 'in' my legs, I felt great on this climb, while - on last year's K42 (2010) - I felt awful. I guess all this 15% incline treadmill torture did pay off. :) Wendy passed me on the way up: she is incredible on those uphills! :)

Uhm, rain? Seriously? No worries, I'm Dutch, I can handle a bit of rain. More rain? Wind? What the bleep! By the time I got to the Keschhütte (was I glad to see the Keschhütte at 2,632 meters / 8,635 ft and after 7:26:13 hours!), I was soaking wet. And cold! Boy, was I glad that they were handing out ponchos up there! Grabbed one, and a coca cola and figured I might as well get this thing over with (I saw many runners spending going into the Keschhütte to get warmed up a bit). And off I was on my way to the Sertig Pass.

Keschhütte. Soaking. Wet.

What is that guy behind me doing? Seriously...

Keschhütte - Sertig (52.9K - 65.4K / 33 - 40.9 miles)

Muddy, muddy, muddy. My shoes and legs were covered in mud. Hehehe, loved it. :) At one point I tried to get my shoe out of the mud and almost lost it. Quick reminder to relace them. ;) This part of the course was rainy, cold and on high alpine trails. Slippery, rocky, steep. Focus! Loved running / speed walking through the streams and little lakes up there. :)

The group of runners (all wearing the orange ponchos) heading up the Sertig Pass (2,739 meters / 8,986 ft) seemed endless. Steep and muddy climb, but loved every minute of it. Loved that you could hear the marmots whistling! :)

Sertig Pass. Enough said. Boy, am I rocking that poncho. :)

At the Sertig Pass I knew the steep climbing part of the race was over, but little did I know what was up next.

Uhm, sorry?

Yep, that's just a pile of rocks. Slippery and muddy rocks. Watch your step! Took it slow: goal was to get down to Sertig village without any bumps or scratches. I literally saw too many runners falling here (bloody head wounds, open knees, you name it). I was fortunate to get down there without a scratch! :)

After the steep downhill, there was a little less steep downhill. Yay on running instead of speed walking again! :) I knew Fred, Bram and Lordie were waiting for me again - down that mountain in Sertig village. Kicked it into gear to hug Lordie! Not too long till I spotted Bram's red jacket. Took 5 minutes here to eat a sandwich, ditch the poncho and hug Lordie. Just 14K left. I couldn't believe I was still moving forward, and still feeling great. I still hadn't hit the wall. :)

Sertig - Davos (65.4K - 79.1K / 40.9 - 49.4 miles)

Home stretch! :) I loved this part of the route. Through a forest again. Beautiful scenery, amazing views, the chance to chat with fellow runners. Loved it!

There were so many people out there cheering us on. The support in Clavadel was great. It's amazing that all those spectating were out there just for us! Means the world when you're in that race! :)

All at once, the 75K sign. 75K and I was still running? :) I was having a blast! Just 4K left and I could hear the speakers at the finish line already!

With 1K to go the course led us out of the forest and to the stadium where the finish line was. Spotted Mom and her service dog (they did the K10 race of the Swiss Alpine Marathon) in the last meters, and with 200 meters to go I ran into the stadium. Even writing this makes me teary-eyed all over again. :)

I can't describe the feeling of finishing this race. Happy and sad at the same time. Happy to have been given the chance to participate and have such a great race (I literally felt great from start to finish), sad because it was over. The photos and the video below say it all:

Goofy face.

Goofy face times two.

Finish line video - try not to pay attention to the 'crying my eye balls out part' - I was glad Bram was there to give me some emotional support. ;) I'm glad his girlfriend was fine with him keeping me from making an even bigger fool out of myself. ;)

Finish time: 11:25:24

110/229 women (210 actually made it to the finish line)

And there I am. Writing this report and crying my eye balls out again. It's been such an amazing experience. Just getting the chance to do this, is incredible. I seriously feel blessed.

Huge thanks to the race directors for setting up such a great course and support team. The aid stations were amazing. The same goes for the people volunteering.

As for the change to this year's course (Sertig route): all the runners I chatted with about the race mentioned that their Garmins gave a distance way over 79.1K. Not just a couple of 100 meters, but several kilometers. Plus, the elevation gain must have been at least 2,600 meters / 8,530 ft. According to those Garmins and by checking a simple hiking map. Might be worth figuring this out for next year? ;)

Oh, and if this body lets me, and nothing else gets in the way, I'll see you next year Swiss Alpine Marathon K78, I'll see you next year. :)


Jen Feeny said...

Wow. Just wow! I don't even know what to say, you are so awesome! Congrats girl! Loved the video too!!!

Becka said...

I'm so happy that you were able to run it this year! After your injuries I was worried you wouldn't make it to the start line. Sounds like an amazing race, congratulations!!!

Rose @ Eat, Drink, and Be Meiri said...

Holy crap, this is amazing. YOU are amazing!

M said...

I just don't even know what to say. Did you really do that? Like for REAL? in REAL LIFE? Absolutely amazing. Congratulations - you are now an official superhero.

Shellyrm ~ just a country runner said...

Ultra running is a life changing experience for those that embrace it. Welcome my friend to a brand new way of running and thinking and being.

You didn't make a fool of yourself. It's great to see runner become so in love with the sport that emotion spills over. Congrats again on an amazing race!

Paul (@Pp667) said...

Awsome to read all about it. The way you worked up to this with all the ups and downs, and then this great race report. Super that you found your passion and do anything to stick with it. You're an inspiration for us all to just keep on running!

Geweldig Christel! Ga zo door en blijf schrijven!

Johann said...

Absolutely fantastic! Congratulations once again! I don't have the right words to comment on your report. Just so awesome! I'll have to get there one day.

Denis Markov said...

Simply amazing - congratulations on this achievement!

Run Jess Run said...

You, my dear, are a total rock star! Congrats on such a great race!

Unknown said...

Great great great race report but even greater achievement!!! You are simply awesome and I don't have words after reading it ... Knowing about your trouble with the shin etc. helped me a lot know when my ankle was hurting, thank you!

Quick remark about another thing in common, I am skiing instructor as well ... or used to be, just go skiing now, I do not teach any more :)

The Green Girl said...

Congratulations! I loved reading your race report - I could feel your excitement with every word.

You are amazing, girl, simply amazing.