Sunday, August 17, 2014

Swiss IronTrail T81

This past weekend (15 August) was the Ferragosto  (Assumption Day) holiday in Italy. So when work colleague Richard Chourlaton suggested a road trip to Davos Switzerland for The Swiss IronTrail T81 race, I knew it was the perfect way to enjoy a long weekend and get out of Rome’s August heat.

Richard Chourlaton - Finish Swiss IronTrail T81

The term Ferragosto is derived from the Latin expression Feriae Augusti (Augustus' rest), which is a celebration introduced by Emperor Augustus in 18 BC. During this celebration, races of various beasts of burden (including oxen, donkeys and mules) were organized across the empire. Given this, it seemed like an apropos day to burden in an 88Km trail race across the Swiss Alps.

I’ve enjoyed trail racing in Europe and I have found the comparisons between racing in the US interesting; from aid stations, to trail marking and racing etiquette. Each race is a bit different and I learn and experience something new. I’ve come to look forward to cheese and chocolate at aid stations (excellent gluten-free choices), I can’t quite cut the trail yet without feeling guilty, and I appreciate that the sport is still pedestrian enough that I can show up without compression socks or Solomon gear, instead wearing a button-down shirt and still be welcomed. I love this sport!

Rosti - Yum!
Davos is an 8-hour car drive from Rome. The ride north went quickly with good conversation and stunning scenery. Stepping out of the car in Davos, I could have well been on another planet in comparison to Rome.  No graffiti. Ten degrees Celsius. Towering mountains. Food options beyond pasta. We enjoyed a pre-race meal of rosti, a traditional Swiss dish made of coarsely grated potatoes accompanied by an assortment of yummy complimentary foods – in my case ham, cheese and egg.

While the start of our race was only 40km away as the crow flies, it required two buses and 2 hours and 15 minutes to travel from Davos to Savognin. Richard and I walked to the start, checked-in, rested and prepared for the civilized 10:30am start.

Start at Savognin
I had ambitions of placing. I’ve been able to get some vertical on the weekends outside of Rome and have been feeling healthy. However, almost immediately that ambition seemed overly ambitious as I was out of breath and struggling to keep up with the lead pack. I hung on. Then, at about 5 kilometers we realized that we had missed a turn and had to backtrack about a kilometer. When we got back on course we were at the tail end of the conga line moving slowly up the first steep single-track ascent. Energy was wasted needlessly trying to get by people on the climb.

I crested the top of the first big climb in 2nd place. But, within the first 500 meters of the descent 4 people had passed me. I was not confident on the descent and I was struggling. I felt the day unraveling.

I pushed hard on the descent and slowly gained on the person in front of me. Yet, my gain was not enough to catch him. On the initial climb several small rocks had gotten into my shoe. For several kilometers on the descent I tried the wiggling the toes technique to move the rocks to a place where they didn’t rub. This effort failed and I needed to stop to clean out my shoe. As I sat on a rock removing my shoe and sock, the race felt over.

I tried to regroup on the next climb. Intellectually, I knew this should be the best part of the race for me. A long gradual to medium grade climb that was not particularly technical – my strength. Yet I couldn’t pull it together. It started to rain. I was cold. I debated putting on my rain jacket. I didn’t. I then debated if the reason I didn’t put my jacket on was whether I was lazy, or that I didn’t really need it. Time moved slowly. The kilometers even slower. I crept past a number of runners, surprised that I was moving faster than they were despite my funk.

Between abating rain and catching people I began to feel better. My confidence built. Then, after not seeing flags for some period I realized that I was likely off course. This presented a challenge. Being old-school and not having the course programmed into a GPS watch, I needed to refer to a print map which required getting reading glasses out of my pack which then kept fogging up. F*ck! All this when I was just getting it together. Once I confirmed I was off course I made the necessary corrections. Back on course, I could see that there were more footprints on the trail than before. I had lost a number of positions. How many, I did not know.

Despite the setback my legs felt good and I reeled back the people who had passed me. Reports from people along the trail indicated I was in first place. Footprints on the path seemed to confirm this. However, I could not account for all the people initially in front of me. Despite the conflicting data, I pushed a bit harder motivated by the thought of placing and perhaps winning.

On the next climb a fog settled in making it hard to see the course markers and impossible to see any runners ahead or behind me. I tried to keep moving. After about an hour into the climb I heard a faint click-click of poles. Someone was about to catch me. I pushed harder. At the top of a minor pass, Alister Bignell of France caught up to me. I expected him to surge off on the descent but he lingered. I took off in the faint hope that I could stay in front of him. On the next climb I realized I was holding my own with Alister. I reckoned if I could hold him off on the climbs, I could move faster on the non-technical descents and flats. I ran as fast as I could through the fog, chased by the ghost of Alister.

The final ascent of this 28km climb was a bugger. It took everything I had to keep moving and literally not stall-out mid-step because of the steepness of the trail. I crested the top at 2650 meters, the apex of a 1800-meter climb and cherished the descent knowing there was one last big climb before the finish in Davos. At km 76 I again got lost, missing a key junction. Once I realized my mistake, defogged my glasses and consulted my map I backtracked to the missed turn. Best estimate - 10 minutes lost. Fortunately, no new tracks on the path. I knew this race was mine if I made no more mistakes.

Finish - Courtesy of IronTrails
On the final climb I could see Alister’s headlamp occasionally popping out of the fog, but I knew it would be hard for him to make up the distance with just 6km to go. I crested the ridge and could see Davos below. I moved as quickly as I could, conscious that I was tired. The trail was moderately technical, and no mistakes were allowed. Conservatism was my new race strategy.

I crossed the finish line in 12:29 – not particularly fast, yet I was pleased with the effort and pleased with the win given that I had not felt my best and had been navigationally challenged.

Congrats to Richard who had a strong finish and then proceeded to drive most of the way home. And bravo to Adrienne who completed the 21Km course. All-in-all a great way to celebrate Ferragosto. Augustus would have been pleased with the event and the competition.

Courtesy - Swiss Irontrails

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Running to Take a Call

My Fun Birthday Present

So how fun is this? For my birthday my daughter's friend Zoe made me this custom iPhone cover. I really like it, but I've avoided contemplating if there is any symbolism, much less asking.