It’s close to 7am on this cold October morning as a bit more than a hundred trail runners from around the globe lined up at the starting line of this 60k trail race in southeast Switzerland. I’ve been up for almost two hours and already stuffed some hundred calories into my system to start this adventure as fueled as possible. It’s a small event. No big PA, no sponsor tents selling their newest products and almost no crowd witnessing the few crazy runners get off into the dark of the early morning. I was shaking my legs trying to stay warm still a bit anxious and unsure if I’m prepared enough to cover the 60k and more than 2000 meters of elevation gain.
The first few minutes we had the chance to warm up on the flat but after the first turn it went right into the forest and up towards a small village a few hundred meters above the starting point. I felt fresh and ran most of the uphill over rocks and roots. Out of the forest the soon to rise sun already brightened the scenery up making it easier for us to tackle the next technical trails that waited for the runners after passing the village. After reaching the top of this first ascent I granted myself a few sips of hot tea that was offered at a checkpoint.
After I let a few faster runners pass, I started the first downhill section, a few bone-crushing kilometers on technical trails. It ended in another small village that was still asleep and only the sounds of a few roosters could be heard. After some refreshment at a checkpoint back in the valley I finished the first third of the race with some flat miles that were great for some recovery. The road brought us down the valley past a nice waterfall and some vertical cliffs. A lonely wind turbine slowly turned in the morning breeze in the middle of the valley and the runners progressed towards the next hard ascent. From below it looked like a wall without a trail in sight. I ran into the forest and discovered a curvy way that will bring us 500 meters up in the next 3 kilometers. This uphill section seemed fairly easy as I power-hiked it and was therefore able to rest my joints that were already beaten up a bit by the earlier downhill.
I had another runner right in front of me and one behind and we managed to hike up to the next village at nearly the same pace. As higher as we got the colder it was and the sun wasn’t high enough just yet to send some warming sunbeams through the woods. In the village we approached the next aid station and they served some warm, salty soup. And that was just the perfect way of hydration, fueling and helped to warm up my body a bit. To complement the fluid intake I ate some bread and a banana and head out into the cool morning wind. After a short downhill it was all up again covering the next 400 meters of elevation gain. But now the sun appeared above the crest on the other side of this narrow side valley. The sun always helps to improve an already great mood. This was even amplified by the fact that I now reached the highest point and the half way mark of the race.
At the 30km checkpoint I shortly sat down and removed the little stones I had in my shoes. This action was needed as I definitely would have gotten some blisters on the hard downhill that followed. The next mile covered some really technical single trails with slopes up to 30% down to a small creek in the middle of the valley. It was beautiful down there! Besides a man made bridge nothing indicated that there are a lot of human beings down there. Just a wild creek, dense forest and today some trail runners getting ready for the steepest uphill of the day. It was just one kilometer but nearly 300 meters of elevation over roots and rocks. As I arrived at the top I felt great. I mean I was tired already after 34 kilometers and more than 2000 meters of positive elevation but the rest of the race was mostly downhill and flat sections.
Before the next long downhill I stopped to drink something and refuel with an energy gel. I then also took my earphones and played my running playlist. I started the downhill and felt my quads pretty good. They were fatigued but still able to perform more or less well. I passed some other runner that has been around me for the last 2-3 hours. After some kilometers another short uphill section made me feel quite exhausted. I suddenly recognized all the muscles that will ache when I get up the next morning. I also thought about the more than 20 kilometers that are still ahead of me. The finish of this small uphill came together with a Prodigy song my shuffling iPhone now played for me. Within seconds my mental condition changed by 180 degrees. All the sudden I had energy again and the pure urge to go faster. I was all smiles now running hard towards the valley. I literally felt no fatigue and aches in my muscles at all and was as fresh as hours before. In a state of comfort and euphoria I ran closer to the last section of hard technical trail. The downhill section ended with a steep kilometer over rocks with no even ground at all. That part was pretty hard for my quads and I was happy when it was over.
After the 45 kilometers already covered the last 15 were all flat back to the village were the event started. I underestimated the last stretch thinking how hard it could be to go for another “easy” 10 miles in the flat. But after more than six hours moving and the stiff breeze through the valley I really started to struggle and had a hard time to keep running. I wasn’t fast at all in the end changing between running and walking. For the last 30 minutes I was alone on the course and I started thinking about what I soon will have achieved. That gave me the last bit of energy needed to run to the finish crossing the line after 8 hours and 4 minutes.
What an adventure that was! Just knowing that 60 kilometers of running in the mountains can be done gave me an awesome feeling of happiness and achievement. The fact that I finished with a decent time made that even better. After this beautiful race that I plan to do again in the future I not only started to recover physically but also began to think and plan the next adventures. But for now I’ll give my body and mind some time to recover and take it a bit easier through the approaching winter months.