Monday, October 21, 2013

The Swiss Irontrail 2013

The Swiss Irontrail - a trail race with 4 distances ranging from the longest at 201km to the shortest at 41km would start at Pontresina and end at Davos.  And my fingers being much faster than my brain can think, decided to click on the signing up page despite UTMB being 3 weeks away.  And so I was off to Switzerland where I enjoyed my last visit to Interlaken, running the Jungfrau Marathon in 2010.

 The Swiss Irontrail Elevation Profile!

I arrived two days before the race.  It was a long journey.  Almost 16 hours of flight time (including transit) from Singapore to Frankfurt to Zurich, followed by another 4 hours of train journey.  By the time I arrived at the town of Pontresina, it was already in the evening.  I quickly unpacked my stuff and got ready my drop bag items.  Then I didn't even bother with dinner and went straight to sleep after a nice bath.  I woke up the next morning about 80% recharged.  After a hearty breakfast provided by the hotel, where I literally stuffed myself full of food, I went to the sports hall to pick up my bib and race packet.  It was raining lightly and the weather was cool.  At the sports hall, a small crowd had started to form but there was no signage to indicate where was the collection point.  So I just hung around with the rest of the runners, most of whom looked pro, seasoned, or with loads of experience.  My mind started playing mind games and I started thinking if I should even be starting the race at all.  It wasn't until someone pasted a notice near the staircase and a line started to form leading to the next level that I regained my calm.

Unpacking The Drink and Food Stuff for the Drop Bags!

Hotel Kronenhof and the Sports Hall!

The queue was moving fast.  Most of the runners did not speak English but two runners standing in front of me in the queue did.  One of the lady looked vaguely familiar but I couldn't recall when I saw her before.  Nevertheless, we started talking and I learnt that one of them was from Canada and the other from United States and they had been crewing and pacing each other despite living in different countries.  When it was my turn, I was given 4 maps containing details on both side of the papers, 4 bags for drop bag items, bib and a tracker.  I went back to the hotel and packed the items into the 4 issued drop bags.

Race Packet Collection Time!

The Maps, The Bib, and The Last Minute Purchase!

The Radio DJ, The Maps and The Tracker!

As I decided not to tire myself out, I skipped lunch and went back for an afternoon nap knowing that I needed to catch up on more sleep.  Halfway through my nap, I heard some music.  I recalled reading at the hotel lobby about a flea market that Thursday.  So I decided to check out what good deals I could get since I was awake.  The music was basting out from a makeshift stall selling food.  I managed to buy a packet of "fried" apple skins further down the street, which tasted crispy and something I never ate before.  I decided to have early dinner and bought myself a hotdog sandwich and a bottled ice lemon tea.  It wasn't the ideal carbo-loading dinner but I didn't want to spend too much money eating.  Then, its back for more sleep again.  :)

Staying at the recommended host hotel had its advantages.  They prepared early breakfast for the runners and even asked what the runners wanted for breakfast - a choice of either rice or pasta, the night before the race.  I chose rice with scrambled egg.  The other breakfast spread was slowly being prepared so I had some of the bread, sausage and ham after finishing my rice.  Then I checked out of the hotel (since the race would finish in Davos) and brought my luggage and drop bags to the sports hall.  After handing over all my stuff, I went down to the start line and waited for the start.  It started drizzling and I went back to the sports hall.  Sigh.  :(  This year, all the trail races I signed up either rained at the start, in the middle or towards the end of the races.  For one of the race in North Carolina, it even snowed!  It wasn't a good omen.  The good thing was that I had the lightest rain jacket by Marmot and also a pair of gloves.  So if it were to rain, I would be adequately protected.  I went down to the start about 10 minutes before flag-off time and turnws on my tracker.  At the stated time, the race organiser flagged off the race!

Before Race Start At The Sports Hall!

 At The Starting Line!

As with any other ultras, my goal was always to reach the next check-point and not to worry about what's beyond that.  For this race, there were about 12 mountain passes to climb, the first one being the Diavolezza.  It was a climb from 1,800m (start) to 3,000m (Diavolezza) covering a distance of 15km, with the first 6km being a gentle uphill.  I was near the end of the pack as usual but was able to run / jog at a regular pace.  This was a small race so I was running by myself soon after the start.  After crossing the railway track, I managed to saw two runners turning left towards the trail and I followed.  Unfortunately it was the wrong call.  Luckily, one of the runners approached the local to confirm if we were on the right track as we were unable to see any trail markings.  So we back tracked to the railway crossing and saw the trail marking we missed a while earlier.  After turning into the trail, the terrain became more technical and steep.  I couldn't go fast especially for that very steep section of about 1.5km.  When I reached the top (of that hill), it became better and I could start running again.  But it wasn't for long before I decided to put my trekking pole into good use.  Unfortunately, as the terrain comprised of big and small stones, my trekking poles end up getting stuck in between some of these stones.  Precious time was wasted trying to free my trekking poles.  :(

The Trail Become Technical after the First Climb!

It wasn't until I reached the part of the mountain where it was covered by snow that I found the trekking pole useful.  This was because the snow was slippery and soft.  After I cleared that segment of snow-covered trail, I saw the American and Canadian runners I met the day before running towards me!  They told me that the aid station (also the u-turn point) was just round the corner.  I thanked them and tried my best to put in sufficient effort before reaching the u-turn point in 3hrs 30mins, covering 15km in total!  At the aid station, it became clear that I was the last runner.  After refilling my water, I thanked them and continued.  On my way down, I saw the sweeper clearing the trail markers on his way to the u-turn point!  I reminded myself that I should not allow the sweeper to catch up with me.  Going down the snow-covered mountain was difficult.  After falling twice, I decided that I should just sit on the snow and slide down.  It was cold but I covered the distance in record time.  At the end of the snow-covered trail, I found myself searching for the trail marker.  I couldn't find any.  Then I saw the sweeper whom I was trying to run away from, appearing out from nowhere!  He pointed toward a direction which I managed to see the trail marker.  I thanked him and continued.

The Aid Station at Diavollezza and The Sweeper!

 Views at the Top from Diavollezza!

The Snow-covered Mountain was Great to Slide Down!

It was not easy to descent.  For most of the time, there was no proper marked trail.  I just had to follow where the trail markers was planted and go in that general direction.  This segment of the "trail" were grown full of grasses.  There were also big and small stones hidden beneath the grasses.  If you were as clumsy as me, you might miss a step or stepped on some kind of hidden stones and rocks.  The result could be catastrophic.  I ended up walking as fast as I could, which was what I enjoyed.  Somehow, I lost track of time, which should never had happened.  When I eventually reached the foot of the mountain, I was already past the cut-off time of the 1st Check-Point!  I eventually reached Bernina Diavolezza, which was just 8km from the top of the mountain, in 1hr 50mins!  The aid station volunteers were dismantling the aid station and I was unable to continue.  It was a big disappointment as I wasn't able to log even a full marathon distanace.  My race ended even before it got exciting!  I had no choice but to follow the race volunteers back to Pontresina.

 The Descend from Diavolessa!

Being Stopped - after 23km and 5hrs 20mins!

I always felt that I didn't put in enough effort whenever I DNFed a race.  For this Swiss Irontrail, it was even worse as I only managed to cover a miserable 23km (instead of 203km - if I finished) and ascend / descend a mountain out of 12 mountains.  Instead of running / walking for a full 56 hours, I only managed 5 hours 20 minutes out on the trail.  Later on, when I spoke to the Canadian runner (Monica Scholz and her American friend missed the cut-off at the 2nd Check-Point at Pontresina by 10mins - Monica completed 25 100 Milers in 2010: ), I realised that the landowner who owned a section of the trail where the race cut-through, insisted that no runners could run through that section in the dark as it would disturb the night life of the wild life accessing their trail.  In order to achieve that, the race organiser had to impose a very tight cut-off at the first few Check-Points.  For slow runners like me, or runners who prefer starting and ending on a consistent pace like Monica, it became a tall order to succeed.  So unless the route was re-routed, or the race organiser managed to negotiate with the landowner, I would be unlikely to go back to attempt the race again.  But I guess it was okie - as there would always be other trail races to run.  :)

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