Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Swiss Alpine 2011- 21K

The following thoughts are brought to you by the Apple iPod Touch: Handy, practical and there when you need it.

Trailer for the SwissAlpine- to fully appreciate the epicness:


It's 21:17, and we are in a train headed to Landquart to make a connection to Zurich. Already I'm looking off into the indescribably beautiful and soothing sunset and thinking of how wonderful this race was.

Voila: The view I was romanticizing about (taken from a train, forgive the lack of clarity/focus):

Meaning, I've already, only a few hours after the finish, romanticized it and the pain and emotional ups and downs that went with running the downs and ups are already vague memories. Actually the refreshment of the downhill parts are still fairly fresh, but the tragic pouting and lack of willpower for the uphill parts have become a bit hazy. (Note: Today in Nürnberg, while wandering in the Altstadt, I found myself always attracted to the path that went uphill and even ran partially up the craaazy incline on the way up to the castle)

This year the route was definitely different. The terrible uphill part where I got chocolate from a sweet little volunteer gramma was cut and the first water station was different. Then again, maybe I should double check this. (I have not double checked this, but I'm still pretty sure it was a bit different)

Of course, the start was still Klosters Bridge. Something cool happened, I met the same English woman that I walked a good ways with last year! This year she brought more family members and a good friend. Very Nifty.

This time though the 10k started an hour earlier than the 21k, so Corinne and her dad and friend had to part ways with us as soon as we got there and they picked up their numbers. Tiffany was a great companion/picture taker. We piled all of our jackets on her for quick access at the finish line and it turned out it was pretty chilly for her waiting for us and towards the end she actually had them all on! 

Peter, Tiffany and I after dropping off the bags, about to head to the train:

But for the start, the weather was perfect! The sun was basically shining, though the race official at the start was warning us about the weather getting colder the further up we run. Silly really, because at that point we had no way to go back to the bag drop and grab a jacket. And really, how unprepared could you be to come to the Swiss Alps and not check the weather? There were considerable discussions before we took the train, about the weather and if we should bring jackets or not. General consensus: no, not necessary.

The start! Kloster's Bridge:

Thankfully, it turned out to be true! Actually, I only got a little chilly towards the very end, and then it wasn't actually cold. Plus, I had so much stuff with me that I probably looked like I should have been runing the 78k, not the 21k. I had my water belt, 1.5 bags of Sports Beans (courtesy of two lovely, sweet and very much appreciated ladies), my camera (which fit perfectly into the water belt pocket, and was guarded from any random rain droplets), my ipod (which fit very nicely into the pocket that should have held nutrition) and my Regio-ticket for getting around on Race Day. 

Me and my full get-up:

All set to take the train to the start

Tangent: their isotonic drink is delicious! It's some kind of Iso-tea? And after the Stadtlauf in Ludwigshafen they also had a nifty sports drink, that was carbonated and super refreshing.

So the race started out pretty much how I expected: we walked as soon as we got to the first incline. Of course the fast runners (which included my friend Peter who came with this time, because he wasn't able to take the earlier train for the Fast People Start and was stuck with us Turtles in the 2nd Wave), ran up for a ways before they settled into walking up the insane inclines. (Maybe insane incline should be capitalized.... Insane Incline. Yes, it should.)

Epic Beginning Incline:

Epic Beginning Incline

But then, we went downhill quicker than I remembered. Of course I didn't complain! No, I enjoyed this to the uttermost, and used it to catch up to some of the other runners. Unfortunately, this wasn't for long, and then the really Insane Inclines started. At this point I honed in on Power Gramma, who literally just powered up the inclines in such a purposeful, unyielding manner. What an inspiration to me! My goal then became not to lose Power Oma. 

On the way I:

  • met a nice, older Brazilian man, whom I encouraged in German, and then found out he's from Brazil (Same thing I tried to do with the English woman last year, I ended up having my own little conversation with her in German before it finally came out that she's from England)
  • went out of my way to high-five a series of 5 Adorable young kids who were screaming "encouragement"- Hop! Hop! HOP!!!!! I especially had to do this because none of the other runners in front of me high fived them! Terrible, you have to encourage the spectators! They are there for you! So I gave them a little extra gas, and a little "Woooooo!" despite the uphill. 
  • came to realize how much I dislike everyone saying "Hop Hop!", especially as the spectators always seemed to be on the steep inclines. How about you come along to the downhill and see me hop there?
  • came up with different excuses for my lack of "hopping" when encouraged to do so.  
    1. I'll hop to the aid station, as soooon as I finish climbing this vertical wal--I mean incline.  
    2. To a group in an almost microscopic village: Instead of hopping, maybe I'll stay here until next week's Dorffest! (there was a sign advertising this right behind them) That drew a laugh.
    3. After a while I think I just said, "on the next downhill"-Original, right?
  • decided that my idea to have a device that records my stream of consciousness ramblings while I'm running, for later sharing, is not a good idea, since I could hear my ramblings getting more and more ridiculous and perhaps incoherent. 

There were 2 sets of stairs over busy roads that were more like scaffolding than stairs. These were perhaps my least favorite part of the whole race (including Heartbreak Mountain). Firstly, stairs feel like they are more of a strain than steep inclines. Secondly, these were really rickety and the steps themselves were uneaven! I felt much more sure-footed on the gravelliest and steepest descents than on these. But, they were really nice, cool and refreshing to hold onto the railings. 

Least favorite part of the race from a distance: The Scaffolding (dun dun duuunnnnn):

On the hardest uphills, Power Oma encouraged me from about 20 meters ahead, saying "Only 200 more vertical meters!" Of course, at that time I felt encouraged, because 200 meters certainly doesn't seem that far! I can run that super quick when its flat... This logic breakdown became quite evident as we kept going up, and up, and up, and up.

But, the cool thing about a point to point course, is that you can't give up, because other wise you never finish and never get there. I can hardly survive in the Swiss Alps with a half a packet of Sports beans and about 10 ounces of water left. 

So I kept going, and eventually, the incline was over. (And the crowd goes WIIIIIILLLLLD. WWWOOOOO!!!! <- That's how I felt)

A few really awesome parts of the inclines:

  • I had plenty of time to take pictures of the scenery on the way
  • There were amazing, breathtaking views of the countryside and the little summer houses and the valley's etc...
  • I had no worries about running out of water, because every once in a while there would be ridiculously nifty, quaint water fountains into a hollowed out log. The water was delicious. The air was delicious. My conclusion: Switzerland is delicious.
  • Two words: Giant Cowbells.

The flater part of the course is also beautiful and shows the summery side of this region. There are a number of little lakes we ran by. Though this time, because the weather was so uncertain and partly clowdy, spectators and people out playing were few and far between. Still very pretty.

At this point, I'm feeling ok, thinking the hardest part is behind me (which it was) and there's only about 8km, then 7 then just 5km left. I start looking at my time, thinking that I just might be able to push it a little more and finish strong. 

Right around the flat part is where every small incline started to look tough. I jokingly took a picture of what we'd call a hill in Louisiana and nicknamed it Heartbreak Hill. Turns out the joke was on me. 

"Dearest 21K Runner,

Oh, you're feeling pretty ok at 15k? Want to give that goal time a real try? Legs aren't failing completely yet? Well here's another vertical wall!!!
Have fun!!!

Hugs and kisses,  
Swissalpine "

Basically I feel like maybe the K78 and K42 runners got together and said, "Hey, this is supposed to be a tough mountain race. We can't just let the 21Kers sprint to the finish like they were just out on a Sunday stroll through Central Park! Let's give them a challenge, make them feel like they really earned their finisher's medal"

And actually, I quite agree with this sentiment. Though Heartbreak Mountain was pretty heartbreaking for about 5-10 seconds as I considered the girl I'd been trailing for a while from the bottom as she struggled up, hands on her hips. Then I grudgingly buckeled down and started trudging up too. 

This picture does not adequately (or at all) show the magnificance of Heartbreak Mountain
Actually, I was looking through my pictures and thought, "Why did I take a bunch of pictures of flat course?" Only when I looked closer did I realize that I was trying to capture the essence of the inclines, and failed:

Heartbreak Mountain 

From this point I was pretty slow (though steady) and mildly brain dead. That is, until I got to the point where the marathon and K78 runners joined up with us for the last downhill and the entrance into Davos and the finish. One can hardly trudge along when you are jogging beside your running role models. I felt a little bad as I passed one who started walking. (Just as I felt bad when I passed Power Oma up a few km earlier before Heartbreak Mountain.)

From Davos on the road was lined with spectators and I felt (after one last short incline) that I could finally "hop" to the finish. Tiffany right at the finish line put a nice smile on my face and livened up my finisher's clip :) Thanks Tiffany!!!

Wonderful Friend:

After the Race:

What I remembered about last summer's race, was that they had the most delicious Bullion I'd ever tasted (probably only because I'd just run 21k up and down a mountain) But unfortunately, I was too eager to get my finisher's jacket and I left the finish corral too early. I made of up for it this year though! 

Evidence of my Bullion guzzling:
For the record, not all of those cups were mine. I picked up some trash.... But most of them were mine. 

I'm pretty sure I drank at least 6 cups of Bullion, without exaggeration. Seriously.
And of course I ate a banana. Then the bullion started getting rebellious in my not so settled stomache and I made my way quickly to get my gear and get cleaned up (hoping that would help distract me).

Last year I made a big mistake and forgot my towel for showering afterwards. This year I was determined not to do the same! I purposefully set out my towel that morning....... And forgot it. Of course I didn't realize this until I was unpacking my stuff to go take a shower. It's a good thing I kind of tried to plan ahead in other aspects and packed a second running shirt, which wicks away shower water just as well as sweat!
The water was hot, and stayed that way for the whole shower. Most Excellent.

As I'm reviewing what I wrote, it seems that I was a bit negative... Actually, it was really tough, tougher than I remembered, and it was a real mental challenge to keep going. But, it was an amazing race in a truly delightful region. Every chance I have to come do it again, I would. Ideally, I would love to train in a serious way and be able to take part in the K42 or even the K78 (though thats a more unrealistic dream for me).



Really I always have a bit of an inferiority complex when I finish stubs marathoners and the ultras,  what's 21k compared to 78 or to a serious hard core 42? I changed and just wore my medal so no one knows what it's for. Also I'm kind of seriously proud o it an it makes a great mirror. Anyway, first I'll have to see about the la trails marathon in november, and work on my motivation, then I'll consider doing the easy marathon next year, the c42 

Misc. Pictures:

Pre-race warm beverage (coffee of course!)

Pre-race Coffee

Tiffany and I on the swings at a rest-stop on the drive to Davos (with the Hässig crew!):

Tiffany SwingMe Swing

Toughing it out on the inclines: