Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Swissalpine K78. On running my first ultra

“How to run an ultramarathon ? Puff out your chest, put one foot in front of the other, and don't stop till you cross the finish line.”  Dean Karnazes

Last week I made my way to Davos to run the Swissalpine K78. Davos is where I ran my first marathon last year and this year I was there to run my first ultra. Davos is the place where it all started. It's the place where I met many runners and heard their inspirational stories.  

We arrived in Davos (That's Samer, a good friend of mine from Belgium who came to Davos to run the K21 and myself) on Thursday morning and went to the expo. Collected the race numbers and had a look around the expo. This is one of my favourite parts of any race. You get to know other runners, races and latest products.

At the expo, with the bib numbers
The day before the race started by going up Jakobshorn where we met Franz, a truly inspirational man. He's started running when he was 60 and now at the age of 73 he's run numerous marathons and ultras around the world. He first tried the K78 in 2010 when he was asked by the medical staff to leave the race at 60th km. He came back the year after for K42 and successfully finished the K78 on his second try in 2012. When Sam asked him if he has ever run marathons in Austria he said he leaves those races for the time he will not be able to travel. He reminded me of a quote by Jack Kirk aka the Dipsea Demon "You don't stop running because you get old. You get old because you stop running"

With Franz at Jakobshorn
In the afternoon, we went to the medical parc for a health check-up. It took us around two hours and they gave us some health info, blood sugar, blood pressure, flexibility, lung capacity, etc.  At the expo there was a documentary on screen from the previous years races. That was when I got a bit worried. "What am I putting myself into? This can be a real torture"

The closer I got to the race though, the more confident I became. My main goal for the race was crossing the finish line before the fourteen-hour time limit.

The night before the race I didn't get enough sleep due to excitement -- or nervousness! Finally the big day arrived. It was the time to put everything I got into the race. To challenge my endurance in a whole new dimension. 

The race started with a great buzz at 7 am. I ran the first 30km of the race last year as a part of C42 and I could remember very fine details of the course including the very corner that I twisted my ankle last year. I got to Filisur in 3:01. Almost the time that I was expecting. Up to this point it was easy and quite enjoyable. I tried to reserve as much energy as possible during this stage.

Somewhere before 20km 

Around 20km

25km ish

A few kilometres before Filisur
After 31 km the uphill started, a constant steep ascent to Keschutte on 55th km. I arrived in Bergun in 4:37. In K78 race you've got the chance to leave a bag at the start line and they transfer it to Bergun. I changed to a new pair of socks, had a sport drink and carried on running -- well, mostly hiking at this point. It was a hot day and you just couldn't drink enough water for the heat. The race organization was perfect and there were many drink stations along the way with supplies of water, Iso tea, soup, bread, banana and energy bars. They even added an extra water stop between km 32 and 39. I did drink at every stop but I could still feel that I was dehydrated. Whenever possible I would cool myself down by passing through the showers provided or the water stored in large stone basins along the way.

At Bergun, after taking a shower!
Still not looking exhausted after running 40km. That doesn't mean that I wasn't tired.
Almost covered the marathon distance at this point. That meant more than 35km to go!
I remember after Bergun I looked at my watch and it displayed 42.3 km. "Here we go" I said. "This is already an ultra!" It was around 44 km that almost all of us were walking uphill. Then I heard the footsteps of some runners running that hill up. I looked back wondering how can it be possible. They were K42 runners. Their race had just started in Bergun and they had covered around 8km so far. (Dont get me wrong. I am not saying that it was impossible for a K78 runner to run that bit. I know there are some runners who are able to run those hills, but if they could do so they should have been well ahead of me)

It was around 45 km that I had a cramp on my right hamstring. As if my body didn't want me to go farther than a marathon. I slowed down for a while and did a bit of stretching. Stopped at the medical tent at 50th km for a quick massage. They gave me a couple of magnesium powder. I was advised to take one and keep the other for later on. I carried on towards Keschutte and got there in 7:51. And then it came a downhill part. That was one of the most enjoyable parts of the course. I just couldn't stop myself running downhill like crazy. It was then - after the long hike and descending - that I realized I had the right kind of training for this course. All those fast hiking and downhill running in the mountains were paying off now. I remember I was picturing Davos when I was training in Tochal and now during the race I was remembering all those training sessions and feeling confident running downhill. I had the right training for this race but definitely not the right volume. I wish I had trained more.

At Keschutte (55km, the first summit)
Then it came another steep ascent to Sertig. The second 30 km of the race took me around 6 hours and I got to Sertig a couple of minutes after 9 hours. And then it was the downhill part again. I remember when I was checking the elevation profile before the race, I was expecting those downhill sections to be quite tough and painful. But surprisingly I was feeling great and I ran as fast as it was practically possible. It was a single track and some runners were overcautious -- or it was me who was crazy. Often you'd need to walk behind the runners for a while to find a proper place to take over. I knew that there is still more than 15km to go and it would be wise to slow down a bit but I just couldn't help it. It was a massive fun.

I stopped for a drink at km 68 and from that point it came the hardest part. I simply couldn't run any uphills and I was even struggling to run on flat. It was intervals of running and walking and that went on untill the last 2km where I started to run and didn't stop until I got there. I ran as fast as I could for the last 500 meters and crossed the finish line of my first ultramarathon in 11:37:01.

Just before entering the stadium. Taken by Samer

And crossing the finish line
And here I am, once again standing at the finish line, achieving what once - not long ago - seemed impossible. What once was not even a dream of mine. 

A few minutes after finishing the race, absolutely chuffed!
Sam finished his first half-marathon. K21 with 800m of elevation gain is defenitely not the easiest course
Thinking about 2014. yes, already!
It might be so soon for me to talk about ultras but these are the notes I took from my first ultramarathon:
Although marathons and ultras are similar in some ways - both challenge your endurance - they are completely different events. Ultras challenge your physical and mental toughness in a whole new dimension. But the intensity of an ultra can be lower than marathon.
During an ultra you've got loads of time to think, appreciating the landscape, communicate with other runners, hear their stories, be inspired and even plan your future races.
Attention to hydration and nutrition is essential in ultras. In fact, you've got to train for that. You have to adapt your body to get enough calories from food and drink during the race. It is easier said than done.
K78 route map and elevation profile
The K78 was a unique experience. There were moments of struggling and pain - as it has to be - but the whole experience was quite enjoyable. "Will I run another ultra?" When I was running the last 10-20 km of the race I was asking myself. And my response was "Of course, but I need to get quite fit for that". 

6 comments:

  1. Hey Mo,
    Nice story man.You got me in the race again.what a day and with the heat(in ten years it hasn't been that warm 32°).
    Keep the body moving forward and enjoy all the moments.
    All the best
    José Vicente

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    1. Thanks Jose,
      It was a great day indeed. Hope to see you soon in another race somewhere.
      take care

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  2. Well done Mohammad!
    Congratulations on your first ultramarathon completion.
    That is great to complete 78Km in just 11:37 minutes.
    I should admit although I was not there, I felt like I'm running with you.
    I have to say your photos are really attractive;)I haven't seen any race photos that look as good as yours. When I look at your face in each photo I genuinely feel how much you are enjoying it and it encourages me to run.
    Well, I know I have to change a lot of things before I become a marathon runner and of course this is easier said than done as you say. :)
    Anyway, I hope one day I can run just like you.
    Keep encourage us run and I wish you a healthy sporty life full of running and joy;)

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    1. Thanks a lot Sara! I believe everyone can run a marathon or even an ultra. It only requires dedication, motivation and self-discipline. Keep on running and you'll get there.

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  3. Congrats! Thanks for sharing your experience, definitely will inspire other runners to keep training and achieving our goals.

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    1. Thanks Irma! Hope you enjoy training for your next challenge. Have you got anything lined up yet?

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