Last August I went to Davos once again to run another ultramarathon. Davos is where I ran my first marathon (Swissalpine C42, July 2012) and my first ultra (Swissalpine K78, July 2013). And this time I was heading there to run the Swiss Irontrail T81 and get qualified for the UTMB.
UTMB stands for The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, An ultra trail that perhaps everyone who is into ultra running wants to run it. It is 168 km with 10,000 metres of elevation gain. In order to attend the race, you need to collect 8 qualifying points by completing a number of ultra races. Each race gives you between 1 to 4 qualifying points depending on length and elevation gain. You need to get your 8 points in maximum of 3 races.
There are five different race distances to choose from in Swiss Irontrail. T21, T41, T81, T141 and the massive T201. I chose the T81, I'd love to go for a longer race and face a whole new challenge but considering my current experience, fitness level and the fact that I ran the Eiger E101 only four weeks prior to this race, I believe that was a wise decision.
We did collect the bib numbers on Friday in Davos an hour before the T201 start. All the runners in ultra distance get a GPS device that is used for tracking and also emergency contact. For T81 you get one drop bag that you can leave your stuff and collect it at the finish line. You don't have the access to your bag along the way which is a bit of shame of a 89-km race.
The race started at 10:30 in Savognin. There were around 150 runners at the start line. There was a 23-km loop before arriving to Savognin again. Although the race was very well organised, there was a big problem with course marking. That along with the bad weather and fatigue caused me getting lost few times. Shortly after the race started and after covering 6 km we didn't see a turning mark and kept on running on a road. It took us a few minutes to get back on track. The trail was muddy and slippery and it did rain for a while before returning to Savognin. I had a short break there, had a cup of hot soup and a piece of bread, changed my shirt and kept running.
It is absolutely important during an ultra to pay attention to every details at all time. Every time you pass a refreshment station, you need to check if you've got enough water and food to get to the next one. Shortly after I passed Tiefencastel, I realized that I forgot to fill my hydration pack and I have only half a litre of water until the next station Lenzerheide 15 km away. I decided not to come back and carry on with the little water I had. Luckily I found a water fountain half an hour later.
|"Run if you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must. But never give up" Dean Karnazes|
I had my longest stop at Lenzerheide where I had a plate of pasta and changed to warm clothes. From there it was long ascent to Urdenfürggli. That was one of the hardest part of the race, it was cold, dark, there was an intense fog and the route was poorly marked. So you could not see farther than a few metres. When I got to Urdenfürggli, I could not see the flags, then I saw a big red light on the top and I supposed that's where I have to go. I climbed up there, but I couldn't see any route marks. I walked all along the cable car station, couldn't see anyone. Neither I could see a sign or a mark. I could barely see the runners behind me walking up that hill. I tried to contact the emergency number with the GPS device, but there were no signal. Then I decided to wait, after several minutes I saw a runner 200 metres below. I asked him for the direction and went back and followed him. Then I realized that I didn't need to get to the top and I had to turn downhill 200 meters below the cable car station.
T81 has a very long time limit of 43.5 hours. So I decided to set my own time limit before the race and try to get to the finish line in 20 hours. I got to Arosa in 14:46. I had only 19 km to go and more than five hours to reach my goal. But there were more than 1000 metres of elevation to cover, and it was the fatigue. In Arosa I asked the medical staff to tape my right shin. There was the same pain that started in the last 20km of the Eiger race. In front of my shin, just above the wrist, was inflated and painful when I was running downhill. After the kinesio tape and a half a plate of pasta I kept on running.
Running feels so different during the night. There are long hours of solitude. You somehow lose the sense of space, You are absolutely awake thogh. You might not see much but you can feel the terrain with your feet. You can feel the ascent and descent in your burning quads, calves and hamstrings.
The last ascent of the course was brutal. It was 500 meter of climb between Jaltz and Strelapass. I eventually got to Strelapass, spent a couple of minutes to change the headlight batteries and then looked at my watch. It was 18 hours 57 minutes into the race. I was absolutely tired and could feel that sharp pain in my shin on every single stride. Then I thought there is only one way to get to Davos in my goal time, and that was ignoring the pain and running absolutely flat-out. So I did. And despite the pain I ran as fast as I could and crossed the finish line in 19:34:19.
|Just after finishing the race, on the train to T21 Start in Arosa|
By finishing this race, I have now enough qualifying points for the UTMB. I only need to register for the race on December and wish that I am lucky enough to run the UTMB in 2015. I will be running a number of ultras as part of my training. The first of which is the Cappadocia Ultratrail next Saturday.