Tuesday, 18 August 2015

On over-reaching your goal: The Eiger Ultra Trail E101, 18-19 July 2015

It is 47 km into the race and I'm walking downhill through a forest towards Burglauenen. It's been a great race so far.  I passed the last check point (Faulhorn, the highest point of the race) 15 minutes before my expected time and enjoyed running downhill to Schynige platte.  A few minutes ago, when I approached a corner on this muddy terrain,  a sharp pain hit my left knee so badly that forced me to stop. I cannot run anymore, I am using my walking sticks to take some weigth off my knee and slowly walking down. I could have run this part of the race quite fast and effortless if my knee didn't hurt. Through my training, I put so much effort to master my downhill running technique and I was quite confident in it that I'd consider it as one of my strength points. It hurts a lot when you have trained a lot and on race day you just cannot perform well. In fact that is hurting much more than my sore knee. As I am limping cautiously, there are many runners passing by, most of whom are kind enough to ask if I need any help. I am thinking how the hell I am going to finish this race. I even question my ability to run the UTMB. I seriously doubt if I am fit enough for the challenge. I know I should concentrate on my race and on taking the next step, but I just cannot help it. 

Eiger Ultra Trail is the best race I've ever run. The course, the organisation and the fellow runners are so great that I couldn't resist to run it for the second time last July. Last year it was my ultimate goal to finish the race, this year however, I wanted to push myself a bit harder in order to evaluate my improvement. It would also be my longest training run for the UTMB. So I set myself a goal time of 22 hours. Last year I reached the finish line in 25 hours 12 minutes, and with all the training that I had since then, three hours improvement sounded reasonable. So I wrote down the time splits based on a 21-hour finish and left one hour in case something unpredictable happened. Here are my expected time for each checkpoint:

First: 3:30
Faulhorn: 6:00
Burglauenen: 8:45
Wengen: 11:00
Mannlichen: 13:00
Kl Scheidegg: 15:00
Alpiglen: 18:00
Grindelwald (finish): 21:00

The race passed by quite smoothly and I reached Faulhorn (the highest point of the course) in 5:46. to Faulhorn. I was ahead of my plan for almost 15 minutes and I enjoyed one of the most spectacular part of the race on my way to Schynige platte. My predicted time for Burglauenen was 8:45. However , due to intense pain on my knee, I reached there in 9:20.

Burglauenen is the main station along the course on 53rd km, where you can have a dish of pasta, get your bag, change your clothes and seek medical care. It is also one of the stations that you can meet your supporters. It was here in Burlauenen that I felt the real meaning of moral support during a race. When I got to the station I was broken. I felt really bad partly because of the intense knee pain but mostly because I missed the joy of running downhill. Sara pushed me to get back to the trail and reminded me of all the hard training I had. She asked me to concentrate on this race and don't let any negative thoughts about the UTMB in my mind. After having a plate of pasta, putting some pain relief gel provided by Perskindol and wearing the compression quad sleeves I was all ready to go. I knew that I can still go uphill relatively fast and the good news was that I had two climbs to Wengen and Mannlichen. I left the station just before 2:30 pm (10 hours into the race) and started running towards Wengen. 

From Burglauenen to Wengen there is 6 km of climb and 4 km of descent. The climb went really smoothly and I even managed to run downhill. After Wengen it came the hardest part of the race. The part that I hated from last year. A vertical km within an ultra. The climb to Mannlichen took me more that two and a half hours last year, and when I got there I had to lie down in a medical tent for one hour and a half. This year though, I was going strong. It took me 1 hour 26 minutes to get from Wengen to Manlichen and arrived at the aid station in 12:52. After leaving Burglaunen 1 hour behind the schedule, I did not expect to reach there before 14:00.  I stayed there for more than 15 minutes,   refuelled, changed my cloths, had a chat with the staff and the volunteers there and thanked them for their kind support last year. When I left the station I was already three hours ahead of last year and I was feeling great.

I got to Kl. Scheidegg in 14:51 and it was still bright. Last year it got dark one hour  before reaching there and I didn't get a chance to appreciate the beautiful landscape. This year though it was still bright when I got to Alpiglen in 16:43. I stepped inside the hut, refuelled with some soup, banana and coke, take out my headlight. I noticed that there are some people sitting inside. When I was about to run again, I was asked by the staff to stop. The race was stopped due to thunderstorm and we had to wait until the weather gets better and the organisers decide how to resume the race.  I ended up staying there for more than two hours. The volunteers really took care of us and gave us plenty of soup and tea. After two hours, they said than we can continue the race, but the route will be 5 km shorter, we had to skip the last uphill to Pfingstegg. That was a bit of disappointment, I was feeling great and I really wanted to run the whole course. The last 9 km of the course passed fairly quickly and when I got to the finish line, the race clock was showing 20:13. Obviously that was not my time.

Timing was a bit complicated after all. We were told in Alpiglen and at the finish line, that everyone's time will be calculated depending the time they were waiting. I was in Alpiglen for a bit more than two hours. The next morning, the results were on datasport.com and my time was 18:10. That did sound reasonable considering the 2-hour pause. But after a couple of hours, they decided to subtract 90 minutes of everyone's time (instead of more accurate individual waiting time) and changed my time to 18:43. There runners who were behind us, in Kl. Scheidegg and Mannlichen had to take an even shorter route of 88km. Some even had to get back to the previous station when the race stopped. Although some of us lost a bit of time in the final calculation, I reckon the organiser team did a really good job in keeping everyone safe on the trails.

I believe if I wasn't stopped by the thunderstorm and I had the chance to run the whole course, I'd get to the finish line around 19 hours. That means over-reaching my goal by three hours. Eiger still remains one of my favourite races and I'll definitely be back in a few years, if not next year.


  1. awesome race and great report mamad - congratulations! i can see why this would be a favourite event for you, and you killed it out there!

  2. Hi Mamad.
    What a great race you made!
    Didn't you have any pain in the knee after Burglauenen and how is it now?

    1. Hi Tom,

      Sorry for the late reply. I didn't have so much pain in the second half of the race, but it came back one week after during the Swissalpine K78. I dropped out of that race to save my knee for the UTMB. Had a few weeks of recovery and fortunately had no problem during the UTMB.

  3. Knee pain can be such a bother. It’s good that you were still able to make it. That is a testament to your resilience and your drive to go the distance, despite the pain. Though it might be best to consult with a doctor afterwards, and have those knees checked for any lingering damage. But still, good job!

    Agnes Lawson @ Pain Relief Experts

    1. Thanks for your kind comment. I did visit a doctor after the race and after a few weeks the pain relived.