Swiss Alpine Ultra – Davos 78K

I am a lazy git….I’ve been meaning to post about this all week but only getting round to it now so here goes….

Switzerland is a beautiful country, the photos really don’t do it justice but it was a joy to run through this part of the Swiss alps….a bit pricey mind, so I’d advise self catering if you were planning on having a crack at this one…

This was my first PROPER ultra, as I had only run the Wicklow Way 50k previous to this. But it most certainly won’t be my last ;-)

We arrived on the Thursday night quite late (My father-in-law was doing the 21k Walk), which the Swiss hotel owner wasn’t best pleased about as I think we had to wake him to let us in…he remained expressionless the rest of our stay therefore not giving anything anyway…so I didn’t know whether he hated us or not…my paranoia led to me checking my cornflakes for any obvious Swiss poisoning techniques daily, just in case ;-)

I was dead nervous the night before as I had spent the day looking around Davos + going to the top of a mountain on one side of the valley in a cablecar where we met several people that told me how mad I was that I was doing the 78k! – “Are you crazy!?”, “You Irish aren’t very smart are you?” to “What about the altitude!?”…The last comment came from a local which un-nerved me as everyone had been asking me coming up to the race how I was preparing for the altitude to which I would reply “eh…I’m not….”
My philosophy was to get in there close to the race & hope it would have no effect…it was only 2800 metres at the most anyway…but the mind plays these games when you’re nervous about a race doesn’t it?

So kit sorted, decided to run with my water bladder as I have always used it in training. I was glad as I really did use it in the end. 2 packs of shot blox, 10 saltstick tablets (8 used) and half filled the bladder with water. Away to bed nervous as a nervous thing on a nervous day….

Woke up several times during the night with my knees sweating…hmmmm

So up at 5 for breakfast…bowl of oat based stuff & big whack of loaf (definitely not poisoned) + a coffee to facilitate toilet activity. This coffee acheived its mission is all I will say :-)

Prepared a drop bag for half way of a spare t-shirt, socks + my trail shoes & the miracle that is bodyglide so dropped that off before I lined up at the start. The guy that won this last year (Jonas Buud), ran it in 5hrs 40 mins…unbelievable! I wasn’t planning on challenging his record…maybe next year:-)

So, ready to set off & cue the stirring battle music (I think its from Lord of the rings) + a wee spot of Survivor for good measure. The gun fires & we’re off!! I wave to the FIL and try not to think about how long this is going to take. I visualise the race in 5k blocks so it was no time before we had run through Davos & hit the first 5k sign. There were so many people out on the streets for that time of the day shouting my new favourite words – “Hop hop hop!”

Already the valley was opening up to me and it was just the best sight…I was really getting fired up now for what was ahead of me…passed a guy puking black stuff + a girl having severe poop problems on the side of the road…the less said the better!!

The run was nice and level for the first 10 or so miles, just a few up and downs before we hit Monstein where we dropped 500ft before climbing back up to the halfway point at Bergun. The small villages dotted throughout the mountains were really cool, especially Filisur before we crossed the big rail bridge at 30k. The support along the route in these wee places was amazing, with them shouting your name (Printed on your number which was a nice touch) and the immortal “hop hop hop” which I assumed meant go go go!

The Swiss Landscape –

My only race plan was to take a saltstick capsule every hour so I wouldn’t cramp up (and obviously drink plenty!). These things have been my saviour in the past and they didn’t disappoint this time either! Ended up taking 8 by the end which wasn’t above the RDA. ;-)
Another amazing discovery was my arm warmers that I bought in a panic before I flew out. They were great, kept me warm early in the morning & cooled me down later in the day. They were then easily peeled off and fired into my water bladder for the last 20k or so.

So at Bergun (I arrived here after 4hrs 32mins which I was very happy with as I felt fresh) , I changed into my trail shoes etc. which took 12 mins to get sorted and fueled up, which was the 42k point with an elevation of 1500m we started the climb up to Keschutte. The first 10k brought us up 500 metres of climb which wasn’t too bad and I could keep going on this at a reasonable speed before we hit Chants where we climbed 800 metres over 5k to the top of the mountain. This was pretty hard going but I still felt fine (Amazingly!) and was able to pass quite a few powerwalking here.

Once we reached the cool building at the top of Keschutte, a full on, kick ass storm had hit and they were handing out plastic coats/bags to keep us from getting drenched…they did the job & I fired some soup/bouillon into me at this stage along with the strange bread that I think I was meant to eat with it. (Got quite a shock the first time I downed a lukewarm soup thinking it was an electrolyte drink!!) Alot of people seemed to be hiding out at the top and this was by far the busiest aid station…I just wanted to get over and down the other side at this stage so I plundered on…

At this point I should mention that the course had been lengthened this year by around 1kilometer, sure thats nothing I thought…eh, I was wrong! the extra K they added on was on a slightly different route which involved descending from the top very quickly by 150 metres and then climbing another 350 metres!! This was difficult to take in at the time as you could see all these luminous orange rainbags running at the top of a different mountain in the distance! I thought I had finished climbing!!! Nevertheless, there was a big lake and I just remembered where I was and it was all good again ;-)Talking to people after, I heard this change of course added 30 mins to the winners time so prob 55 mins on average to a mere mortal like me!

Started feeling way too good at this stage and I thought this is too good to be true!…something has to be wrong with me, I have to have at least one breakdown soon!! So I swayed from first thinking my white, numb hands were frostbitten and about to fall off to thinking that I was hypotrensic as I couldn’t feel myself sweating…neither of these things occured thankfully and I am able to type this with all my fingers intact ;-)

Talked to a few people who were really struggling and offered them water etc. but this is a really well organised race & an aid station is never more than 1.5 miles away. I do like to have water at hand though so was glad to have the old hydration pack with me :-)

The sign at the top of Sertigpass –

So then we peaked at the Sertigpass & I knew this was where the descent began for real… I was worried about this as my technical downhill running really sucks…I can look sooo ridiculous running downhills. I don’t like to fall ye see…really have to get over that!! But after the initial immense steepness and screaming FOCUS FOCUS FOCUS in my head after a few scares I took on a whole new lease of life and ran at about 8.30 min miles for the next 10 miles…I don’t know where I got the energy from, I’m really not that fit! But that run down from Sertig has to go down as my greatest running moment yet! I even started to get a bit emotional as I thought about everyone back home that had been praying & willing me on & had been a support in my training this year (Big shout out to the OH!). Big Sop. Thats what I am.

The Descent –

Through another village, a pee stop & next thing I was descending through a beautiful alpine forest into the final 2k…I was on the main street of Davos with 1k to go where I clocked my pace at 7.50!!! Ridiculous at this stage but I just went with it thinking I’d be happier crossing the line in bits!! I even passed a couple of other 78k guys on the run in.

Entering the Stadium was a an amazing feeling, with the commentator and everyone right on the track cheering, I put a sprint on (well a sprint for me anyway!) and crossed the line! I had finished in 11hrs 12 mins. I was interviewed by a Swiss tv lady as I finished asking me to describe the race. I said beautiful. Fantastic. Brilliant. Difficult….she wanted one more so I left her with Sexy. “You have very Sexy mountains.” The swiss were amused by that one….

Within 10 mins of me coming in, my father in law finished the 21k walk with a wee dance backwards across the line, Eejit! This is us at the finish –

What a great race in a beautiful country, I paced it pretty well and my fuelling all went to plan. Can’t have asked for much better to be honest….I just may do a few more of these Ultra things in the future….;-)

My Finishing Video –

Link (roll over me to see where I go)


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