Mittwoch, 31. August 2016

Hoher Kasten Berglauf

This is likely to be the only short distance mountain race I will do this year. It is located in a very scenic part of the Swiss alps. Not to take anything away of any of the other parts but the Alpstein is a little gem on its own. I participated already twice in 2012 and 2013 when I cam 1st and 4th respectively. Because the course was extended by not even 100 meters the organizers called out to set a new course record. The old one (41:37) by Andrea Erni was simply to good to get beaten.

Quite a few athletes also from neighbouring countries such as Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany or even Italy were attracted by the prize purse of 1000 Swiss Francs. The only thing was - the winner takes it all. But I knew that many other good runners were such as Fabe Downs but also the 3 time winner Aemisegger and also world class athlete David Schneider attended who won in 2008. Schneider told me a week before the race that he wouldn't be in a great shape and I already thought it was time to beat him finally!


The Hoher Kasten Berglauf is a relatively small race with a field of about 250 runners for the main event. The atmosphere is very familial and everything very uncomplicated - just as you would expect with a local mountain run. This time the quality in the field was much higher than it is usually.
The start is on tarmac which leads After the start we were a pack of about 8 athletes who all tried to set the pace and keep it high. Soon it was David Schneider and me who were the ones leading the pack as it got smaller and smaller when only Thomas Niederegger and a heavy breathing Arnold Aemisegger were able to follow. The legs felt somewhat heavy but we pushed quite hard so what would you expect to feel.
After two kilometers there was a relatively flat part where I tried to get away from everybody for the first time. Schneider stayed close and we stayed more or less together until we reached the halfway point from where it crosses a steep meadow. Now the legs were tired and burning and I had to walk because I wasn't able to maintain the rhythm of David Schneider and so it happened that Niederegger overtook me as well. In my head I was close to give up the race. But I knew as well that this was the passage where I would be weaker than David and once we reach the road again I should have the advantage. It was a real fight in my head because I was suffering with all the lactic acid in my legs. But then again I knew that this was the reason that I was here in the first place. So I pushed through this mini-crisis.
A few minutes later on the road I had a deficit of probably 15 seconds on Schneider and Niederegger was just in between. It was great to see Thomas Rusch with friends who helped out with a bottle of cold water which was much appreciated. I could feel that I gained a few centimeters with every step and that I was able to really push on this section. This is where my strength lies when it's flowing and I can use the long reach of my legs. I know that many runners dislike this part and describe it as mentally hard but for me it's exactly the opposite.

I finally closed the gap to David Schneider just before the last steep climb started with about 100 meters vertical. I tried to stay with him but the legs were heavy and everything was burning and to my disappointment I had to let him go again. As we reached the old finish line I had 42:27 - it would have been the third best time. There were a few more steps and stairs to the new finish line where I dragged myself somewhat disappointed and I crossed it in 42:59 and 20 seconds behind David.

Retrospectively I have to say it was a good performance and David had to push himself pretty hard too. And he came recently second on the Skaala opp race just behind vertical serial winner and world champion Angermund-Vik. We both did some very good times on this course and I am pleased to get in under 43 minutes. It shows me that I am still competitive on shorter distances and that I am ready for my next challenge: the Jungfrau-Marathon!

Gear used: 
Running shoes: Scott Kinabalu RC
Running top: Scott RC shirt
Glasses: Scott Spur

Click for results
Click for strava

Montag, 15. August 2016

Sierre-Zinal – my highlight of the year!

Have you ever heared of Sierre-Zinal before? That would be a shame but one thing is for sure – it is one of the most iconic races you can do as a mountain runner. If you look at who won the editions you will find that most of the finest runners will come back year after year to see who is the champion. It has also been called “the New York marathon of mountain running” which gives you a good idea of the status of this race.

This year the elite starting list included 80 runners from all over the world. There is a long tradition of Columbians making an appearance. But there were also runners from East Africa including Mamu and Toroitich, two of the biggest names in recent years of mountain running. Otherwise multiple world champions like Wyatt (2 wins and course record) or De Gasperi (3 wins) were not missing either.

It was always a goal of mine to do this race. But because there are always so many excellent runners at the starting line you might end up quickly outside of the top 30 if you are not in the best shape. Coming after a win at the K42 of the Swissalpine with a 34 minute lead I was probably a medium fish in a very tiny pond. It was not easy to estimate how I would perform on such a big platform. I knew the big barrier is always a time of under 2:40 hours. All runners who manage to get below this mark are mentioned on their homepage which would give you a feeling of being part of a somewhat exclusive circle. But as a first-timer it is hard to tell what my potential would be.

The course can be divided into three parts. It starts in Sierre (585 masl) with a long and steep uphill to Chandolin (2000 masl). From there the race leads you on the undulating alpine trails past Hotel Weisshorn to the highest point with 2424 masl. The last 5 kilometers drop down into the town of Zinal (1675 masl). It takes a complete mountain runner to do well on this course.

Being on the bus from Zinal to Sierre I realised that I forgot my Garmin. My initial reaction was “oh shit, what’s not on strava never happened” and “I need my Garmin, I won’t know how far I am and what altitude I am at and how long it’s probably gonna take me”. It just showed me what control freaks we are so I dealt with it in my head fairly quick and had a laugh about it with my mate Daniel Green.

Waiting and warming up in the starting area I realised 20 minutes before the start that I had to do something about the heat and dry conditions. I decided to look for a fountain or a stream – anything liquid really to cool myself down. There was nothing close so I decided to go to the Rhone which was a few minutes away to fill my bottle. Even though I couldn’t drink this water it was the best thing I could have done to prevent my body to heat up more than it would anyway.

I went back into probably the fourth starting row to not get run over because most runners will overpace themselves anyway. The first kilometre was on the road and I kept myself back and found myself on the heels of Jonathan Wyatt so I thought he must know how to pace this race. After the first few bends I found my rhythm and started the pursuit of the guys who were in front of me. On the first 5 kilometres it climbs 1000 meters. Most of the steep climbs I speed-hiked up there and was just as fast as those running except the first few who started to disappear in the distance. I felt pretty good and knew the race wouldn’t start before Chandolin. It just so happened that I ran a lot with the former triathlete Cedric Fleureton. I think he tried to get away from me quite a few times but we were always within 50 meters of each other. It was not until at least half way when I learned that we were in 6th and 7th position. 

We had also two African runners around us. We passed them way before Chandolin and I almost forgot about them. When they passed us they seemed to take off on the undulating trails towards Hotel Weisshorn. But then again they were struggling too and we caught one of them and for some time I was in 5th position not far behind 4th place. I couldn’t believe that I was running in the middle of world class athletes I was really surprised – and this was only about 5 weeks after my graduation!
Well I got caught again and as I knew there must be better downhill runners around I knew I had to fight off the other competitors who were not far behind. 

I feared the worst that I would end up outside of the top 10. But somehow I managed to stay strong on the steep part downhill into Zinal. Thanks to my Scott Kinabalu shoes I had always perfect grip. My final sprint to catch Cedric ended prematurely as cramps kicked in immediately. And as I slowed down towards the finish line I realised on the last few meters that the last 5 seconds were ticking away to get a sub 2:40 time! I threw myself over the finish line in 2:39:58. I am now the 65th runner in 43 years of the race who managed to stay under 2:40! I was quite surprised by this amazing achievement! It is hard to compare this race with what I have done in the past (especially Duathlon) but I would expect this to be one of my finest results.

My target wasn’t to race for a certain place but to optimise my end time which would probably give me the best end-position. If I passed someone it had to feel natural. If you pass someone for the sake of passing him because you feel like it, you usually regret that rather sooner than later.

What did I see of the scenery? I got to tell you: absolutely nothing! What a shame that was, passing five stunning 4000+ meter peaks with glaciers and I didn’t notice anything. All my senses were just focused on how I felt, where my next foot would make contact with the ground and so on. And my missing strava upload..: I might have stayed beyond the 2:40 mark considering the distractions it would have given me and the additional weight (as the watch makes half my body weight it is quite significant! lol).

What surprised me was that I reached Ponchette in 6th position and still felt really fresh. I would have estimated that I would lose a lot more time on the top guys and would be further down in the ranks. Looking at the splits it was even my strongest section!

I am so looking forward to come back to Sierre-Zinal! If you like mountain running you absolutely have to do this one! 

Gear used: 
Running shoes: Scott Kinabalu RC
Running top: Scott RC shirt
Glasses: Scott Spur

Click here for results
Video: click here for a video from or here more personalised (only temporary)