Davos July 2008

Some countries just work. The airports let you in and the trains run on time. The race packs had been sent out long in advance with our race details and train tickets to make it halfway across the country to the start of our race. I was already impressed with the organisation of the Swiss and had not even started running yet.

It was Friday morning and I'd only just run a marathon the afternoon before. I wouldn't say I was hurting but I definitely felt the presence of 26 miles in my legs. Another 49 over mountains should be fine.

It was a long but pleasant train journey from Zurich to Davos and we spent the time chatting about the usual stuff. I was there with Mark, Ian, Campbell and Oli. Ian and Mark were doing the usual dissection of the route and trying to commit to memory where the hills are. I don't bother with that, I like it to come as a surprise and then commit it to memory later.

We stayed in a very posh hotel that gets used by many a world leader (including Tony Blair) during the world economic conference. Davos is not the kind of place where you'll find a YHA.

The race starts at a big sports complex and heads straight onto a trail. The trail was quite wide but crowded as over 1000 people  piled in. There are several different races starting as different times. The 78k runners started with the C42 runners, this being the "easy" marathon. Later on we'd join the K42 runners (the hard marathon) and the 31k runners. There was also a 21k and a 10k.


The first 20 miles or so was mostly downhill and flat. Pine needle covered trail and the occasional gravel path was great to run on, but every step downwards I knew that I'd have to go back up again. I heard about the uphill at about 20 miles and was looking forward to it.

It started with a slight incline on a straight road, through some quarries. This seemed fine and I was still able to run up it. Then the beast came into view. You know you are in trouble when you can't see the top of a hill. This one consisted of dozens of switchbacks as we ascended about 2000ft in about 3k. The mess of runners bobbing up and down turned into a single file line of people walking like prisoners of war. Some were just dropping at the sides and giving up, I'd never seen anything like it. The expressions I saw on runners faces as they lay down to rest were unlike anything I have seen before.

I have never quite mastered how to walk up huge hills. I normally like to run up hills but ones this big are just a waste of energy. I'm pretty sure that you are not supposed to balance your hands on your knees however tempting it is. I was making progress though by not falling over. The pain reaches a plateau after a while but the breathlessness doesn't. My lungs felt like exploding like they did running a 1k race recently only this time the only way to stop it is to stop. I couldn't do that.

There was one very short bit of flat trail during this hike which I walked as I was anticipating much more hill. It was at this moment I had my photo taken that made me look like a wimp. Walking on a flat bit looking like death.

Once we reached the top we had to run a long section along a flat but uneven ridge. My legs were so knackered that I felt like a new born giraffe being put through an obstacle course. I couldn't actually run this section as I kept leaning over to the right and was worried about falling down the mountain. It was at high altitiude and there was snow everywhere. I did not notice any difference the the air quality at this height but that is probably because I spent the past hour with very little air anyway. The scenery was breathtaking.

We ran over a few really narrow but long bridges over valleys and through some very small towns. The support from the people living here was amazing. The route went through several villages and everyone was out cheering. Even in the parts that were isolated there were still people walking and almost as if they were motion activated as soon as you'd get near then they would start yelling "HUP HUP HUP" and clapping. I don't know what HUP means and at first I thought they meant "up" and that there would be another hill. 

I have never known so many food stops in a race either. They were every couple of miles and supplied all sorts of cake, biscuit, bananas and iced tea. I thought it was some form of flat cola at first and was guzzling it at every opportunity. 

The race continued with some downhill sections that I always find hard. Some proper fell running required here. I got overtaken a bit but was in a clearer field now having got past most of the slower runners from the "hard" marathon who we ran into at about 30k. I spent much of the race behind a crowd and going much slower so had plenty left for the end. I wish I had gone a bit faster at the start though.

There was not an unscenic moment in this whole race. Everything looked like it was from a scene in the Sound Of Music except with a bit less singing. Near the end there was one final hill put in there just for spite and then a loop of the town before finishing again in the stadium.

I was a bit disappointed later that evening that the town seemed to ahve closed down. The friday night there were street stalls selling all sorts of random foods that I abstained from the night before for fearing an accident. However they were all gone now. That said this was a fantastic race and was my first foreign ultra. Not cheap but definitely worth it.