SwissAlpine

Swiss Trail Running – Alpstein

TrailRunningAlpstein-07378My head was exhausted and I needed an escape. My UX flows for lostinreality were past due and I was still working on organizing the overview for the Zurich Health Hackathon. I didn’t know where to start so I decided to skip out on everything and go trail running in the Alpstein in Switzerland. The Alpstein encompasses the massif around Mt. Santis, the high-point of the region, and according to tradition, the refuge of a mad weather man who had murdered his wife. The Santis region is dear to my heart, as it was the first Swiss region I started hiking in and could call my own, in so much as I could go there without a map and feel confident of knowing where I was headed.


I decided to start from Wildhaus, with the objective of summiting the Altmann, and then heading down to Schwendi. This is the perfect place for trail running in the mountains, which is essential for finishing races like the Sardona Ultra or marathon, which I dropped out of in 2013. The startup world has made my muscles weak, and I’ve made a commitment to myself this year of getting back into the mountain adventures which make living in Switzerland so different from anywhere else.

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 18.09.27Route


The route was pretty basic, start from Wildhaus, head up to the Zwingli Pass, then over towards the Rotstein Pass and head up Altmann. It was a beautiful day and I didn’t start running from Wildhaus until 3pm, which is rather late in the day, risking that I wouldn’t be able to make the last train in Schwende. As I eventually got lost and ended up in Brülisau, the deadline eventually became irrelevant.


I had just participated in an interview for a shot film on mobility in Switzerland, and I felt a certain desire to document this run. Being mobile for me is about choice, and retaining a sense of control and exercising choice in how you experience the world. Running over the Alpstein (or rather hiking quickly) gives you a true sense of how rugged the region is. Grass meadows and valleys define the foothills of Santis, the glaciers are mainly gone, but so early in the summer you still traverse bits of snow, and in between you might find cracked earth, more reminiscent in appears to a dry lakebed.

TrailRunningAlpstein-07383Pass


The word “daunting” fills your mind as you look up towards the Zwingli Pass, and you wonder if you’ll be moving slowly up it all day until the sunset. If you look back each pause, you’ll notice that the valley is gradually falling below you, and the mountain horizon begins to reveal itself. It is that horizon of hope and a view of an expansive world and future, that let my mind swim free of User Journeys and mobile app requirements, putting the larger picture into perspective. Once you rise above the details, it’s easier to focus again and systematically attack the problems at hand. When you’re out on a trail though, there’s nothing to do but head up, mind the weather, and make sure you don’t risk your life too much.


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Panorama


Cresting the ridge at the Chreialp the mountain panorama opened up to my eyes. The grass was starting to give way to the remnants of glacier formations showing up here and there at the higher elevations. The beautiful thing about the Alpstien though is that you’re still basically running over a gradual rounded field, the formations of neighbouring peaks are of to either side and clouds are just shadows adding layers over the green brush strokes and jutting rock slabs. Eventually I made my way to the Zwingli Pass Hutte, I had stayed there many years ago, it has a fantastic position overlooking the Churfirsten on the opposite side of the valley where I had started from. It was now late in the day, my assent had been slower than desired, and there was no chance to summit the Altmann as my water was getting low and it was after 6pm already. I instead headed down towards the lake of the Fahlenalp.


Descending the north-facing slopes is often fun trail running in this region of Switzerland because even in the early Summer you find long passages of snow. You just have to take large leaps and sort of shoe-ski down the slopes, which is faster than on rock and make me wish I had taken time to ski tour last season. Along the way I passed a family of Steinbocks, the mountain goats of the region and marmots sent high pierced warning signals through the air as I passed by, altering all the marmots in the vicinity to my presence. Eventually I was down at the Fahlenalp, where I could have taken a mattress to sleep for the evening, but there was plenty of light and I pushed on.


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The Fahlenalp has a large alpine lake, parts of it recede depending on the water levels, and it forms a flat plane, now covered with blankets of yellow alpine flowers pushing up through the grass bed. The grass has that hopeful green like the intense hue that sustain Gatsby all thought years yearning for just another whips of Daisy. It is a golden corridor, and behind you stand the mountain gates, the fortress you just descended from, with militant towers on either side.


I had planned to catch the last train from Schwende at 21:10, but when I noticed that the signs only pointed towards Brülisau, I figured I should just head there instead. The sun was slowly falling into the distant horizon now, and eventually I stopped around Ruhsitz to watch the darkness embrace us. The fireball in the sky, so strong and relenting during the day was now a calm and gentle being. I stared longingly into her as she raised her warmth up towards my cheek, and touched my lips in a fading kiss before expiring.


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I ended up in Brülisau well after the last bus had left, and took a pizza in the Hotel Kroner before heading off to bed. On there terrace there was a dinner party of Swiss, elder Swiss from the region enjoying a fine dinner in the Alpstein. They were singing together in the local Schweiz-Deutsch language of the region, their voices carried across the valley, I had heard them on the descent into the village, I had followed the songs to the Hotel Kroner. There tempo was not unlike the title song from the the movie, the Grand Budapest Hotel, and every so often the cadence was accented with a powerful Yuuppp from one of the women. I wish I had had my audio recorder, and I wonder how long those songs will persist in the local culture. Then I had a short chat with local who had come in to order a Cafe Lutz, he told me he had been to Chicago once to show off Swiss cows from the region. I used my hand to illustrate Michigan (where I’m from) and the position of Chicago in Illinois. The next morning I ran to Weissbad and jumped on the train back towards Zurich just as I arrived.


Inov-8 RocLite 285 User Review

In 2011 my do-it-all shoe was the Salomon Crossmax XR Neutral, and lately I’ve been running a lot on the On Cloudsurfer on non-technical trails (mainly flat, wide, and few tree roots or large rocks). However, I’m a gear whore and am always looking out for new concepts, lately I came upon the Inov-8 RocLite 285.


I was out running with Christian Langenegger the other day and he mentioned he as going to have a talk with the good folks from Inov-8. A week later I dropped by his place and he had two pairs of shoes to show me, the pair I took home to test was the RocLite 285 trail running shoe. I’ve since been running on them and pondering the design, and the following is the result of my meditations on them but I’ll just jump the gun and tell you straight up: the RocLite 285 is a wonderful minimalist trail running shoe. (more…)

On Cloudsurfer – First Impression User Review

I’m getting ready for ultra mountain marathons like the Swiss Irontrail T71 and need a shoe to help me build up my distance running in the city environment (I hate running on asphalt). I’ve heard good things about the On CloudTec shoes from by a friend who has been running with On shoes on his marathons and ultras, so I picked up the Cloudsurfer shoe and have been running on it the past few days. (more…)

Salomon XT Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 – User Review

I am a gear whore, sort of a bag slut. I have packs and bags for everything from urban adventures to backcountry camping, biking, climbing, painting, photographing, writing, skiing, summit assaults, but nothing I had fit right for mountain running and ultra marathons. Nothing worked until I was able to get my hands on a Salomon XT Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 running pack last year when I signed up to run the SwissAlpine K42 mountain marathon. The S-Lab 5 is now my pack for mountain and trail running in Switzerland. After a nice season of running with it in 2011, here are my thoughts on the S-Lab, let’s call it a user review…

Salomon S-Lab Line


Before we jump in, some background is in order. Salomon is an interesting company. I know them mainly from ski gear, but now they have branched out into serious trail and long distance (ultra) running. From my perspective they’re the only large sports company which is really trying to capitalize on the trail running and ultra-marathon market, in some ways actually pushing the sport forward (and are essentially expanding the market need for their products). Unlike other companies which are now bringing out trail running products in a me too fashion, I have the feeling that Salomon is more committed to creating great products for this growing sport, and they also have the design and distribution capacity to bring innovative products to the market. This lends more confidence in Salomon as a company and I consider their products to be the benchmark by which others are measured by.


The pinnacle of their effort is the S-Lab line (I guess this stands for Salomon Laboratory). Basically S-Lab means high-end clothing, shoes, and accessories for trail running. There’s an actual S-Lab place (a sort of prototype shop) where they design, build, test, and refine these products (check out this video on YouTube). They have a guy on their running team named Kilian Jornet who is a sort of a trail running God from Spxain. He wins a lot of ultra races (and came in 3rd after Dakota Jones and Andy Symonds at the 2012 Transvulcania) and is setting the pace for the sport. Salomon sponsors and learns from the best runners in the world, but it seems like the relationship with Kilian is very close. So close, that as I understand it, that various products in the S-Lab product line are developed with direct feedback from Kilian like the new Salomon Sense running shoe (and the S-Lab 5 pack). The result is a product line with a high level of design and attention to detail that addresses the needs of people pushing their personal limits on the trail.


The S-Lab products are lean, light, fit close to your body and really move with you. Normally clothing is something that you need to wear for protection, but in an ideal world you would go without, it’s just there because we want to protect our bodies from the elements. But the S-Lab products actually improve your performance in subtle ways (my scientist opinion). Function and design are combined in a beautiful way, and the 5 pack is a wonderful example of designing a product to specifically fulfill the needs of long-distance athletes.

S-Lab 5 Overview


The S-Lab 5 is made very well with materials that stretch and conform to your body as you move (they call it Sensifit construction). The pack fits very close to your body and the fits like a glove analogy makes sense here. I have a fabulous pair of Mammut gloves that often wear with the pack when the weather is cold, and the two products give me the same sense of perfect form and function. Designed as a hydration pack with space for minimal gear, it’s not the type of pack you can stuff full of gear you might need. It’s a minimalist pack where you need to make sure you only take what you really need. There are two water bottle pockets on the shoulder straps (which also work well for small cameras, food, etc) and a water bladder in the main pocket on the back. The bulk of the pack is composed of a hexagonal mesh material. It’s an elastic 3D weave of hexagons (or you could call it honeycomb) that defines the core function of the pack, to feel like a second skin so that you almost forget that you’re wearing it. The open mesh also lets perspiration move through the material and dry quickly.


If you’re a material scientist (like me) you’ll instantly think of a hexagonal crystallographic lattice when you pick up the pack. The hexagon is a beautiful structure with three main directions and corresponding planes of symmetry that make it ideal for this application. From a mechanics viewpoint, this means the the fabric should stretch with an equal resistance in three directions. Other packs usually have 2D weave like normal nylon (think of the fabric weave of your clothing) which is basically orthotropic. This means it will provide equal stretch in two, the 0 and 90 degree directions, but at 45 degrees you get a different mechanical response. Anyways, I digress, the point is that a hexagonal arrangement isn’t an accident here and if I had designed this from scratch I would have taken a similar design path (the hexagonal crystal structure was inspiration for one of my patents on heat shield technologies).


The only real thing you need to know is that the design of the pack reduces pressure points over your body. It hugs and maintains contact with the surface of your back and frontal torso, more like a tactical vest than a traditional pack. Due to the multi-directional symmetric planes of the hexagon array the pack material expands as you move in different directions, differentiating from all other pack designs (as I know them).

Breath Easier


A huge problem with non-running packs when used for trail running is compression across the chest. In general, to keep a backpack on your body you need to stabilize the pack by closing down the shoulder and chest straps. As you start to run and the weight of the pack becomes more unstable and you can only counteract this by going slower or tightening the straps to their limit. However, this then constricts the ability of your torso to move, which constricts the volume of air you can take into your body. Basically your breathing ability is impeded and your running performance is reduced by your reduced ability to take in oxygen. Usually the only solution is to not wear a pack, or to reduce the load so that there isn’t as much mass to stabilize.


Traditional packs are designed so that load is carried by the shoulders and via contact with the lower back, generally using materials that are essentially static (don’t stretch). The S-Lab 5 is made of dynamic material that stretches easily in three different directions (thanks to the hexagon array) and maintains contact over your torso. This design greatly reduces and almost eliminates the stabilization problem (from my perspective). Since the pack is more like a vest, it maintains a large surface area in the back and over the shoulders. This essentially reduces the need for a chest closure system, because the pack is almost one with the form of your body. The S-Lab pack uses just two thin elastic bands that cross over your chest to close the pack around your torso. Since the pressure isn’t localized on the chest strap system and shoulders, the expansion of your chest isn’t restricted as much as with other packs. The pack remains stabilized around your body and therefore you can breath more naturally as the pack fabric expands and moves with you, so your breathing rhythm and oxygen flow isn’t restricted. The system makes for a much more natural running experience.

Detailed Construction


The manufacturing of the S-Lab is really top notch and includes a lot of attention to detail. Seams are sewn correctly, the materials are durable, and the design is streamlined. The main rear pocket has a stretch front, so you can cram in arm warmers, a jacket, water bottle, whatever, and it keeps the mass compressed as close as possible to your spine. I find this is important for running and balance because it means that the moment of inertia of the pack is minimized, and over the length of an ultra marathon this can greatly reduce fatigue as compared with a pack where the mass is positioned out too far from your center gravity (or is off-center from the vertical axis of your spine). Inside the main pocket you have a small magnet to close the opening. There is an adjustment system to pull the pack higher up on your back if needed (to customize the fit). The elastic cords are all high quality as are the plastic clasps which secure the chest compression straps. The front pockets have draw string closures making them super easy to access. I use them for gloves, snacks, cameras, or water bottles. The pack comes with a Source hydration water bladder, and includes a sleeve with reflective backing, which would help keep liquids cool from the heat of your back as you’re running. The drinking tube comes under your arm and then up the shoulder strap, so it isn’t flying around over your shoulder like on other packs. You can secure running sticks to the pack as well, although I haven’t tried this yet. There are small side pockets that are nice for a cell phone, extra snacks (like magnesium sticks) or keys.


Trial By Trails


I got into trail running because it combines the elements of speed from ski touring with the technical footwork of climbing and the thrill of mountaineering. I’ve taken my S-Lab 5 on the SwissAlpine K42, the Jungfrau Marathon, and on various mountain runs around Switzerland including Rigi Kulm, Lauterbrunnen – Eiger Rotstock, Braunwald, Elm – Linthal, biking from Winterthur to Bauma, and then running up and down the Hornli. In general I’m not one to count kilometers, but I’ve run with the S-Lab over long distances and terrain variations including asphalt, basic off-road and mountain trails, ascending and descending at high and low velocities, and S-Lab pack have been marvelous. It could also be the most comfortable pack I have for multi-pitch sport climbing, but for storage reasons I take my Lowe Alpine Attack pack. If I carry a normal mountaineering load I will often get a strained shoulder muscle (think it’s connected to cracking my clavicle long ago). I found this happens also if I run with a small pack like the Lowe Alpine Attack, but with the S-Lab I never have this problem. This tells me directly that the pack fits very well and distributes weight better than anything else I own (and biomechanics engineer side of my brain agrees).

Yes, It’s Worth It


If you’re looking for a casual running pack don’t even bother considering the S-Lab. It retails for 180 USD and you probably won’t use it enough to appreciate it (the true benefit comes when you’re logging lots of km). This is a piece of gear for serious distance and ultra runners, where you want a pack that will minimize your energy expenditure over long distances and will feel like a second skin around your body. The pack comes in two sizes, and this is probably the greatest limitation. If it doesn’t fit you well there isn’t much room to adjust it. I’ve tried mountain running with my Lowe Alpine Attack pack, my minimal Mountain Smith bike pack and other small packs, nothing compares to the S-Lab 5. It is vastly more comfortable and puts less stress on my shoulders than any other pack I have ever tried, and that makes the price totally worth it. I have loved running over the Swiss Alps with the S-Lab 5, and I’m now desperately trying to find the new larger version, the S-Lab 12 to take on the Swiss Irontrail T71 in July 2012.


2011 Jungfrau Marathon Report

There’s a loud contingent of German and Dutch runners crowded into the lounge of the Villa, watching recaps from the 2010 Jungfrau Marathon on a flat screen TV and pounding coffee and beer…getting fired up. I am content to sit outside on the patio, contemplating death and the implications of an undereducated American workforce. Balls – I’m just out here enjoying the last glow of the sun defining the mountain landscape around Interlaken. I’ll try to code some Python on my netbook before going to bed, and tomorrow I run the 2011 Jungfrau Marathon.

So It Began


At the start of the race I decided to snap an image of the start inline with my Ricoh GRD, and it said there was no memory left. As it happened, although I was smart enough to charge the battery, I forgot to put in a memory card. I can still see it plugged into the reader on my computer, waiting there patiently to be retrieved and made ready to record more memories. Maybe I could just use images from my Lauterbrunnen – Eiger Rotstock run? Essentially it was the same views, but my run had more altitude and a little climbing at the end. There were just a few key memories to photograph anyways, such as the guy running as a caveman with a plastic blow-up mauler-club hanging off his back. Or there was the twin tower runner, a guy put a building over this head, with the words 9/11 We will remember written on the back. A fitting tribute, after all, the Jungfrau marathon was on Sept. 10, 2011, just one day before the 10 year anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centers of Sept. 11, 2001. Most everyone else just ran in normal running uniforms, stretch pants, tight shirts, the normal garb. I was decked out in Salomon S-Lab running gear (basically the same as my portrait here). A few had custom shirts listing their finished marathons, or finisher shirts from races like the SwissAlpine or Boston or…where ever. I have to say I’ll probably never wear my Jungfrau or SwissAlpine finishing shirts anywhere – not even for a photo shoot. Maybe I’ll put one on my kid if I ever become responsible for one (which feels like a long-shot at this point to be honest, but people keep telling me I’m still young).


The conditions for the race were sunny and clear skies the entire day. It was amazing how clear and blue the sky above the Eiger group was, and this meant an alpine sun beating down on my body. I’m a Pole and Ukrainian mix by history. I don’t really get drunk easily and I can toil in a field all day, but if the sun is beating down on my back it can suck up my energy and endurance quickly and without remorse. That’s one reason why the SwissAlpine K42 wasn’t such a bad trip for me. The sun was barely out and half the race had some form of rain. Cool temperatures, and my body regulates that temperature environment very well – it’s my zone.


The marathon started in Interlaken, just in front of the Hooter’s restaurant. In Switzerland they try to be conservative and instead of two giant eye attracting O’s to mimic the pneumatic attributes of the staff, they have a small, respectable sign that makes you think they serve up owl as a faux-delicacy in hamburger form. The start of a marathon is always filled with hope and apprehension for me. Will I, could I, should I finish? The start is announced and the static topography of heads in front of me start bobbing up and down in alternating rhythms, and as the wave moves forward and cheers erupt from the spectators, you have a tangible feeling that what you are doing is noble, and relevant to the world. Then you stop because the people in front of you stop because the people in front of them ran into the people in front of them, and the process starts again.


The name Jungfrau conjures up notions of high altitude snow capped peaks rising above the Swiss landscape. It gives you the impression of running up through the trees and rock trails to the base of the Eiger. However, my notion of adventure, my dance with the romance of another mountain marathon was wounded, knocked down and kicked in the stomach while rubber hoses whipped me near unconscious – because the majority of the race took place on asphalt and dirt roads.

Asphalt Torture Ordeal


The first 23 km from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen were basically all on asphalt (with some welcome variation). Asphalt – that black hellishly flat torment under my feet. Why do people enjoy running on this hard shit? Completely illogical. The sun shoots back at you from the street and it’s just one foot after the other on the same flat black mother-fucking god-damned spine breaking solution engineered for automobiles. In retrospect, I could have just stayed in Zurich and run through the alleyways in the Niederdorf. In the future I’ll be checking the marathon routes more carefully, and avoid those with excessive lengths of the pointless hard black torment. My body tried to be optimistic and accommodate this madness at first, but after I hit the 20 km mark in Lauterbrunnen my back sort of ceased up and I had to stop to stretch. I was reduced to a near-broken robot, fatigued in the joints by too long a life on the assembly line of some vast post-apocalypse IKEA production facility based on the dark side of the Moon. I just decided to walk until the madness would end and the highway would become trails and would finally begin ascending in altitude instead of looping around the valley for no good reason. Lush green fields all around with mythic rock walls climbing to the sky and I was walking along a long black strip of pain. Very enjoyable.


The asphalt hell was bound to end, and as soon as we began ascending into the woods I began passing people who thought they had left me on the black flats. Finally the black torment was gone and I could jog up the hiking path headed towards Wengen, and then it would be just a bend in the road with the Jungfrau peak in view and then onwards to the mountain trails leading to the finish line. I kept on pushing, my legs starting to burn and the sweat was starting to pour. I was beginning to think I should just walk the rest of the way. But in my despair appeared a savior – and inspiration lifted my soul.

The Wall


The most majestic moment of the day occurred when I was below Wengen, my legs tired and my heart was protesting in my chest, I thought I would fall in line with the other runners and just walk slowly up the route. Then the mountain air was permeated by soul lifting familiar line, softly and far away at first, it cut through my physical despair as I went higher and lifted my feet upon ancient Greek sandals, beckoning me towards the Gods…“We don’t need no education…teachers leave them kids alone.” Some fantastically awesome person was blasting Pink Floyd the Wall through the forest – energy coursed through my body and I floated up the inclined path, filled with a beautiful spirit, leaving colleague after colleague behind to contemplate the form of my legs ascending the mountain. Philosophically, The Wall is probably one of the most magnificent songs a person can hear on a marathon when the trail turns steep and you think you can’t keep going. The Wall is a mental block inside your head telling you to stop and take a break. Breaking on through The Wall is the mental challenge long-distance running is supposed to represent (although now marathons are more of jogs next to the 100km races). There is nothing more glorious than feeling that energy burst through your body and feeling the weight evaporate as you fly onwards. So, to whoever it was blasting The Wall through the trees below Wengen, you’re awesome, thank you.


This amazing feeling died after I couldn’t hear the music anymore and the route switched back to the asphalt of the Disappointment of Wengen. This is really something I can’t get my head around, you have an awesome, beautiful area to run in, and the organizers decide to include as much fucking asphalt as possible. Why? I know this area, I’ve been up the way a number of times and I know that there are hundreds of kilometers of nice Swiss Alpine Club trails to run on, but we were back on asphalt, the scourge of my soul, the tormentor of my body.


Thanks to the God-forsaken asphalt my hip was sort of killing me beyond Wengen, and I had to walk, there was no realistic choice and I saw no point in hurting my body for an asphalt run. I made my way up past the dorf and onto the dirt road heading eventually up to the scree ridge and the Eiger glacier – nearly to the beginning of the end now. Then I saw that there was a time check point. There was a giant clock and guys starting to draw a line across the trail. They called out my name and encouraged me to press on. It seems (and I would need to independently confirm this) that I was one of the last people to make the cut-off for finishing the Jungfrau ordeal.

A Joyful Exit


Now that my body was brutalized and I could barely run, the fun part of the race began – negotiating a few kilometers of alpine trail, leading up to the high point of the race and an easy descent to the finish line. This last section climbed up through rocks and trees on a mountain hiking trail. I was moving slow, but my slow was still faster than everyone around me. This is the stuff I love to run on. The trails are intricate puzzles of foot placement and climbing. You fall into a comfortable flow of concentration jumping from rock to earth and finding ways to pass the people around you. The scree is the last section, it’s the remnants of the glacier climbing up and up to the pinnacle. This is where people take breaks, vomit, and occasionally need medical attention from the race support staff. I alternated between hiking and jogging my way up, the biggest problem being that I couldn’t easily run around the other folks on the narrow trail in front of me. My heart was pumping like mad and I just wanted to finish as quickly as possible. We ran under farmers waving Swiss flags, we ran past the Alpine horns blowing mythic notes into the mountain winds.


Passing by the last water station I carefully folded my cup and placed it in a garbage bag by the trail. This caught the attention of one of the marathon helpers, who couldn’t believe I would take the time to not only dispose of my trash, but even take the time to fold it up first to reduce the garbage volume. The marathon helpers are lucky if the runners try to drop their cups by the trail instead of tossing them over their backs in an overly dramatic gesture of exhaustion. Yes people, you do have the energy left to put the cup in the garbage bag instead of blindly throwing it into the wind.


One of the coolest things about the Jungfrau Marathon is way everyone addresses you by name (it’s written above your number), from the race organizers offering encouragement to the moms who are happy when you take the time to give their kid a high-five, to the random spectator who yells out, “Hey Mark, the beer is at the end on the right.” And then I saw it, the finish line was just a few seconds away and I pulled out some energy out of my deep near-gone reserves to run over the line in style. I was greeted by a smiling friend of the marathon, who placed a medal around my neck, and I was done.

Beyond the Jungfrau


The Jungfrau Marathon was, fuck…that was a hard run. Excessive asphalt is an unholy way to organize such an event, but probably I just need to stick to mountain marathons. Maybe I’ll start a new Greek myth about a man condemned to an afterlife of running the same asphalt road each day to attone for his sins. I’m not a flat surface runner, it just doesn’t offer my soul anything. I finished in 6 hours, 35 minutes, a full half hour more than I needed for the SwissAlpine K42 - but I don’t like to piss around about numbers and statistics, this isn’t football after all. The Jungfrau is probably an excellent (and enjoyable) marathon challenge if you normally run on roads and enjoy the normality of hard blackness under your feet. The views of Jungfrau and Eiger are amazing, but I’ve been on other fantastic runs this year, and nothing beats the SwissAlpine, where you run in the mountains as opposed to below them. The short mountain trail at the end kills most of the runners – it was where my heart filled with joy and I found the motivation to not just press on to finish but to take my body as far as it could go.


Now it’s the start of the 2012 running season, snows are starting to melt from the passes and I’m thinking, I’m thinking….Adelboden to Kandersteg over the Wildstrubel. And then…maybe the Leadville 100? No, first we start with the Swiss Irontrail T71.

Swiss Trail Running 2012: Irontrail T71

The thing I love about trail-mountain running is that it combines the best elements of speed and terrain. As a runner I move over mountain trails with speed inspired by ski touring. I use the foot work and balance I’ve developed as a sport climber. I stay light and go from valley to peak to valley in one day and feel a sense of exploration that traditional mountaineering doesn’t provide.


In 2011 I started with trail running with the Swiss Alpine K42, a nice little mountain marathon in the Davos region. I continued with the Jungfrau faux marathon and learned how much I hate running on asphalt, and now it’s 2012 and the passes are starting to clear of snow. In a race I look for elevation change and mountain terrain. I look for alpine exposure and the elements. The Junfrau marathon was a big disappointment in this respect, and that’s why this year I have my eyes set on the Irontrail T71.


2012 is the inaugural year of the Swiss Irontrail, with distances ranging from 21 to 200 km it has the longest single stage race in existence. As this will be my first ultra marathon I’m going to start easy and do the T71. The T71 is sort of short by ultra standards, 66.3 km distance but includes + 4’830 m / – 4’830 m. The basic path is Chur - Malixer Alp – Churwalden - Lenzerheide – Rothorn – Arosa – Weisshorn - Joch – Chur. It’s one of those races where you need to take a minimum amount of material with you to reduce the possibility of a runner dying during the event. I have my eyes on a Salomon XA Advanced Skin S-Lab 12 backpack, but have yet to find a way to buy one in Switzerland.



Naturally I’ll needs some shoes for this race as well. My beloved Salomon Crossmax XR shoes from 2011 are at the end, I’ve broken out a new pair (this time in blue) but I’m also looking at the La Sportiva Vertical K shoes. Anyways, here’s a good bye photo of my red Crossmax shoes, still a little muddy from running up and down and then back up again the Hornli in Zurich.


My Swiss Alpine – Elm – Linthal Run

Since running the 2011 SwissAlpine K42 marathon (and deciding the morning after to do the Jungfrau marathon) I’ve begun amassing mountain runs around Switzerland. These little adventures, or fast hiking exercises, I’m not sure what the current marketing concept is from Salomon, I guess I just like going from point A to B as fast as possible (hence the running) in the Swiss alpine environment. Afterall, you don’t need the organization of an actual marathon event to enjoy some trail running. In this edition, I present the run from Elm to Linthal over the Richetlipass.


I didn’t really intend on doing this trip, originally I wanted to go from Steinibach. to Linthal, but I took the wrong bus and ended up in Elm Dorf at 977m. I considered just running over the Segnaspass to Flims-Laax, but the trail was closed and the route to Linthal over the Richetlipass at 2261m was now the only option for getting out of the valley. According to the signs it’s an eight hour hike as you ascend up a beautiful valley and then negotiate some alpine terrain before descending down and finding the train station on the opposite side. The local drum band might be practicing along the path, and you’ll pass by a few award winning milk producers, who proudly display their achievements on their barns. This initial ascent continues for a few kilometers, and gradually beings rising as the mountain peaks come into view.

Swiss Tank Base


Soon the mountain panorama beings to reveal itself, and if you do the run on the right day of the week, you’ll now quite clearly discern the sound of artillery fire reverberating off the mountain walls. That’s not some sort of acoustic trickery, at the end of the valley there’s a Swiss Army tank base, officially named Schiessplatz Wichlen. Yes, a bonafide panzer firing range in fact, where locals and army fanatics can drop by to watch the Swiss tanks train their shooting skills. Being a fun-loving explosion boy I also wanted to check out the experience, but I also wanted to not miss the last train from Linthal. I did however, stop to take photos with my Ricoh GRD of the old panzer rusting in front of the base. From here you just follow the signs down the road a bit, then hang a left and begin the ascent to the Ski hutte. As a side note, if you’re running here don’t pick up any random tank shells you might find along the trail.


I stopped at the ski hut for a drink and enjoyed a Sinola, a type of Coca-Cola imitation. I got rid of the carbonation of course, stayed for a few minutes and then pressed on. Beyond the hut you’re on mountain trails heading up to the pass. The alpine sun was high and strong this day – and my body is tuned for cold-weather endurance. It’s just a few hundred meter assent, really just a short Swiss mountain jog up to the pass and then down the other side (sort of).

Mountain Panorama


I began ascending up and up along the trail. The higher ridges that seemed a world a way a few hours ago were now just above me and I was headed to the top of their backbone. Beyond the first ridge you have to descend down, and enjoy a fantastic alpine amphitheater, peaks filling 180 degrees of your vision. I stopped to shoot a panorama and then continued on. There’s another hut along the way, and on a fine sunny Saturday expect to say Gruezi to men with large white beards enjoying large steins of beer in the hot alpine sun. There’s a giant boulder, about halfway between the amphitheater ridges, and I stopped for a climbing break. The Salomon Crossman shoes sort of suck for rock climbing, but the boulder is easy enough to play around on without killing yourself. I like mountain running for the environment, and if you can’t stop to enjoy it there’s no point in running through it (for me at least).



Beyond the boulder pause you have a short ascent up to the final pass. From here you can continue up the blue alpine route (no trail just a rock ridge) up to the summit, or head down to Linthal. Naturally, I wanted to do the summit, but I also wanted to be on a train by 4pm, and the summit would wait for a day when I wasn’t already low on water. The descent down to Linthal is quite steep and muddy. It basically goes straight down and if you’re not accustomed to these trails expect to go slow or trip and fall on your face. Hiking sticks are highly advisable for the descent here, it’s just grass and rock, but it’s a steep beast when the sun is high, also expect to find shrooms along the way and indulge in fantasies of fairy kingdoms getting squashed under your feet.

Finished


The final run to Linthal is a gradual downhill descent, passing through woods and next to streams fed by the melting glaciers and mountain snow. If you get tired and ask the right person you’ll get a ride on a farm tractor, but don’t plan for it. I arrived at the Linthal train station at 4:30pm, making the adventure a comfortable 6.5 hours of mountain running (and walking) with tank picture breaks, a little bouldering and a cola in between. This was the hottest run I’d ever been on and drank half a liter of mineral water at a cafe while waiting for the next train.


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My Swiss Alpine Run – Luaterbrunnen to Eiger Rotstock

One week to go before the Jungfrau Marathon, and I was in the Jungfrau region to train. This was a special training run in fact, because it was an essentially unplanned for screw up. See, I got a few dates mixed up in my head and when I left the house on Friday morning on the 2nd of Sept. I thought I would be running the Jungfrau Marathon the next day. As it turns out – in reality, the race is on Sept. 10th, one week away. I realized this later that morning, but since the hotel was already booked I figured I would just go there anyways and run from Lauterbrunnen to the Kleine Scheidegg, which is the last 20km of the official Jungfrau Marathon race route. Now I am relaxing on a German train speeding towards Bern with my netbook and a fine Franziskaner Weissbier to recount the adventure, all is well in the world.


A Jog in the Alps


The run up from Lauterbrunenen was uneventful, the roads give way to trees and dirt and little rocks. This climbs passed Wengen and soon the view of the mountains comes into view. Those high peaks kissed with snow fields and glaciers melting into history. I try to get into the Alps and shoot a lot of pictures so maybe one day I’ll show some grandkids what it was like the when the Alps still had ice and snow. I’ve done this route before when hiking with Kate, a friend of mine who was visiting Switzerland and I decided to show her the Alps. Any route which starts in trees and green and ends in glaciers and high peaks is a fun day for me. This route is a fun run, but leaves my body unfulfilled and a lingering desire is present at the end, with a lust for thinner air. When I reached the remnants of the Eiger glacier my legs were a little tired, but I must be in half-way decent shape, because I didn’t feel any need to stop or have a beer at the restaurant. It was still early, just 10:30am and since I was already there, I figured there could be more to do and see. This is the mountaineer in me, always pushing for more. I imagine I’ll feel differently when I run the full Jungfrau Marathon, which starts in Interlaken and ends at the Kleine Scheidegg. But on this day, my spirit desired something more.

Thinner Air


It took me just over two hours and thirty minutes to get from Lauterbrunnen to the end of the race at the Eiger glacier (what’s left of it at that altitude). This was only 20 km and I really wasn’t that tired and it was still early so I decided to just keep going. Beyond the Eiger Nordwand train stop there’s the trail leading up to the mountaineering routes, and I decided to just see what was up there. The normal trail stops at this point but there’s one of those nice blue SAC Alpine trails which includes ropes to climb up. I kept ascending till just below the famous wall of the Eiger and then saw a continuation of blue to a little peak to my left. To be honest, if I had had a climbing axe and better shoes I might have just kept on going up – but this of course, would have be irresponsible and…totally awesome (maybe another day). Instead of climbing the Eiger I continued to the smaller peak and a few minutes later I was on the summit of the Rotstock at 2660 meters. At the Rotstock I stayed to run around and pose for some self-portraits, naturally I want to look cool in my Salomon running gear. I also figured it would be a good time to record some thoughts in the SAC summit book. So, in total I started from Lauterbrunen at 796m and ended up at 2660m, a nice workout for the day. This was my version, what I call the Jungfrau-Rotstock half-marathon, which ascends just a few more vertical meters than the SwissAlpine K42.


Mountain Zen


I’ve never been much of a runner, but mountain running has a fine allure. Being light, going fast and traversing up and down peaks gives me a certain sense of freedom. I find it fun to train for marathons when I take the opportunity to just run and see what I’ll find. You might find Swiss Army tank bases doing target practice or just some peace of mind pushing yourself over passes and through mountain ampitheaters, either way it’s a fun way to spend the day and if you take a camera you’re sure to capture some wonderful mountain vistas. That’s the real reason why I like this mountain marathon thing, the adventure of discovering new places and just pushing myself a little to see what will happen. Cape diem and all that mens sana en copre sana bullshit. Plus I like to dress up like an X-man in Salomon running gear and do something with the look aside from planning a trip to comic-con in San Diego (although it’s on my to visit list).



Jungfrau Marathon


Next weekend on the 10th of September 2011 is the official Jungfrau Marathon, it starts just in front of Hooters in Interlaken (or in front of the Grand hotel, depends on where you look), and ends at what is left of the Eiger glacier. I still need to find a hotel, I imagine that Interlaken will be booked out so I may be staying in Spiez. I’m looking forward to the starting bell (I’m assuming a giant cow bell will kick things off). I didn’t die on the SwissAlpine K42 so I’m planning to survive and write an article about the Jungfrau Marathon experience. And then, well, who knows? The passes don’t have snow yet so I’ll probably go on a few more running adventures in the Alps before the ski touring season starts.


SwissAlpine K42 Marathon Report

I paid for the ticket and decided to run the race. I finished the SwissAlpine K42 in just over six hours. 1800m up, 1600m down, 42 km from the start to finish, my first marathon experience and enough of an adventure to peak my interested in future races. SwissAlpine, more than a race, but sometimes it’s mostly a walk. Here are my thoughts on the race. What it was like running the highest marathon in Europe – what I learned, what worked, and what comes next.

But First: Why?


Running a marathon makes as much sense as climbing a mountain – there is no point to it. Why put your healthy body through such a torment when it’s not going to directly help your survival in this life? For the sense of adventure and accomplishment, an honest answer indeed. I didn’t decide to run the marathon for any particular reason except that my girlfriend suggested it, and I agreed. Although there’s no point in it, it seemed like an interesting challenge, my nose smelled a wisp of adventure and I was committed. I’ve been living in Switzerland for going on 8 years now. Hiking in the Alps turned into mountaineering, I like to ski tour, sport climb, and just generally enjoy finding adventure in the mountains. I don’t really feel a need to run anywhere however. There are no ghosts from my past I feel a need to get away from and I enjoy taking my time strolling down the streets. The draw of the SwissAlpine was to see if I could do it and to feel like an American hero. Of course, this was all in my head. When you stand at the foot of a mountain, the brain will always tell you to turn back. It is the concept of failure, of not being able to climb a crack to summit that makes mountaineering interesting. I like the idea of moving fast over rocks and across wide distances like I can do ski touring – and if you drop the weight of a climbing pack and use light shoes, you have this wonderful combination of speed and can experience the mountain environment in ways only mountain goats and lions know. Plus, you get to wear awesome running gear from brands like Salomon.

Training


I started with the best intentions, and began training for the SwissAlpine back in May. I ran in the mountains around Zurich like the Hornli, and then Rigi Kulm and even headed to Bettmeralp to train at altitude. I found that I could generally maintain a pace of 500m/hr elevation gain and I only trained on vertical ascents, not focusing so much on flat land running. Then an emotional bomb exploded in the start of July and I spent the rest of the month pulling out of the heart breaking madness. For nearly all of July and most of June I hardly ran at all. However, I subscribe to the notion set down by Hunter S. Thompson, that if you buy the ticket, you take the ride, and I set out with the goal of finishing the K42, and a day or so before affirmed in my head that I would go to Davos and do this thing. The morning of the race, July 30th, 2011 I heated up some pasta and took the three hour train trip to Bergun, a little mountain village where the race would start.

Bergun – Kesch – Pass


I felt good waiting for the race to start in the little mountain village of Bergun. I had a start time at 11:30am (for those of us who would need more than five hours to finish). The speakers blared some music I can’t quite remember, it could have been “you’re never gonna keep my down” but it’s irrelevant now. My mind was lucid, but with a determined focus sitting in the back of my primal brain. The purest times in life are when you know that you’ll embark on an adventure, but harbor few expectations for the outcome. Then it was time, and we started running. We started in a field of the village and then went through the main street. From the onset of the race I was getting passed right and left as we exited Bergun and began ascending in altitude. I expected this – I hate running on pavement. I was a little bummed at the start of the race, because we were running on pavement and asphalt, the reason I don’t normally like running races in the first place. “Get me off this dammed surface and onto some rocks” I thought. After a few kilometers we started the ascent up the mountain along a little river, and the trail turned to compacted earth and rock. At some point, everyone around me started walking, and I did as well. This was the point that I started passing people on their rights and lefts. I hate running on flat pavement, but love going up mountain trails. By walking with a long stride I was actually able to pass some people who were still trying to run up the beast. My training was in mountaineering you see, so I had no problem maintaining a quick walking pace up to the hut. Sure my legs were getting fatigued, but normally I’m doing an ascent like this with a 20-30 kg back on my back and mountaineering boots on my feet. The biggest hassle was trying to pass by people on the trail who didn’t see the point in standing aside and letting me go by. Beyond the river our path began winding through the trees and wisps of the cool mountain air began permeating my skin. There were clouds in the sky, but the sun was warm and I wondered why I had taken a jacket in my pack.


As the woods gave way to alpine loveliness the landscape opened up. That wide rocky expanse flooded my soul and I felt at home. Now we were on the mountain hiking trails above 2000m, climbing up to the hut – the high point of the race at 2625m. On these trails it’s easy to lose your sense of time and think you’ll be there forever in a perpetual quest for the end, but then you turn a bend and catch a glimpse of the hut, it gives your body hope – and you try to run a little way before your lungs complain about the lack of oxygen. The weather on the ascent up to the hut was rather nice. A little bit of sun and nice cool temperatures, perfect for my body type. They checked us at the hut, looked into our eyes to see if were still coherent or not. My lungs were feeling fine and my legs didn’t want to sit, it was far easier than some of the 4000m peaks I’ve ascended. I contemplating stopping to rest, but only stayed long enough to put on my jacket as a wind was blowing from the ridge. From the hut we had to descend down and then climb back up to the pass. The fun was about to begin.

Over the Sertigpass


From the Kesch hut we had to descend to the mountain plateau and then up to the Sertigpass. Often times one side of a mountain looks fine and the other is grey and cold, and that’s what we had here. After the hut the wind was blowing and it started to rain on the way to the pass. For me this is the best weather to run in. I love it when it turns nasty, clouds envelope the ridges and the Gods start to forsake you. Your body is more efficient when it’s a little cold. Muscles don’t overheat, you just need to worry about tendons and ligaments losing elasticity, making an injury more of a risk. I just put on my super light Salomon running jacket and Mammut gloves and was good to go. Most folks on the race had nothing but their shorts and shirts, and wrapped themselves in the light orange ponchos the organizers were handing out. I couldn’t imagine running up a mountain in shaky weather in only light shorts and a T-shirt, but I guess it’s what a lot of people like to do. I prefer staying warm and flying down the mountain trails like a half-human mountain goat super hero. In the future, I’ll pick up a pair of Salomon running pants, probably the 34 length version – it would have been better to keep my knees warmer.


I think the cold and terrain was a torture for some people, but I relished in the nastiness. This is my environment. My body is tuned to survive when the weather wants to kill you. My only challenge was trying to pass all the people on the mountain trails. These trails are only for one person at a time, and it’s hard to find room to overtake, but I’m a resourceful basterd. See, most folks had basically no idea how to run down on mountain trails, and that is by far my greatest strength. Running down hiking trails is what I excel at. It’s sort of a combination of dancing and climbing technique. I get into a rhythm and my legs just dance along the trail. My training has been descending down those trails with a 30 kg mountaineering backpack, and when you remove the mass of the pack and put me in light trail running shoes, well…I can literally fly down the trails. I only saw two other runners who also knew how to jump along the rocks and float with the environment. Everyone else was going sort of slow, small little steps and trying not to slip. They would avoid all the big rocks and timidly step down the trail. I on the other hand would jump from one rock to the next in long strides and sometimes float for 2 meters of trail in the air before the next foot placement. I was easily gliding past runners and felt like a bird. Rocks are your friend on these trails. The big ones are the best, you only need some decent shoes to grip a bit (and the Salomon shoes were excellent for this), and then just let gravity pull you down the mountain, hopping from rock to rock to maintain direction and to control your momentum. I was a super hero. I was spiderman and I felt an amazing sensation of freedom and quiet calm letting my legs navigate the trail like a jigsaw puzzle that I could solve without thinking. Then the descent ended, back on the normal trails were the fun ended.

The Long Run to Davos


I probably sound like an arrogant cocky prick describing how easy it was to pass people on the ascent and descent, but that’s just my environment. Running on a flat surface is by far my largest weakness however, and after we got off of the mountain trails I was again getting passed right and left by folks who seemed to know how to run a marathon. After the descent from the pass the race was just another 20 or so kilometers to Davos Platz. The trail was basically flat at this point, descending gradually to the stadium and the finish line. This is where I slowed down and many who I had passed on the mountain were now going by me with large smiles on their faces. For the past 6 or 7 years I’ve been doing mountaineering and climbing. So my legs are highly optimized with muscle memory reactions for going up and down mountains, balancing on thin rock ridges, and going all day long, but I hate running on flat surfaces, my body literally doesn’t know how to do it (and has shown to desire to learn). Unless I’m sprinting my body doesn’t feel right and I would rather walk. On the flats your feet are just going the same way with the same stride, and my mind sort of gets bored and I think it would be more enjoyable to walk. In the future I’ll train more on flat runs to get the right stride and increase my flat stride endurance, but for the 2011 K42 the last 15-20 km is where I took the most time.

Heart Exploding Finish


The last 15 km to Davos Platz were enjoyable (despite being mostly flat). Green and grassy, probably the easiest leg for most of the runners. Since this part is closer to the mountain villages, we were often greeted by random folks along the trails ringing giant cow bells – a fine motivation it was. The locals all seemed to show a great respect for us mountain marathon fools, and I thank them for that. A gradual downhill grade and drink stands with water and warm flat cola and random cow bells. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday. I started drinking the cola at this point, the Isostar mix I had in my backpack sort of tasted like banana and made my stomach ill. Eventually the valley opened up and you could hear the music coming from the stadium area – the finish. But it was also 7 or kilometers away. My energy wasn’t tapped out at this point, but I could feel the tension in my legs, and figured it would be a shame if I pulled a tendon on my first marathon, and walked a lot to go easy on my legs. At this point I knew I would finish, and wanted to do it strong.


I know that with a marathon you’re supposed to ramp up your energy from start to finish, but I love sprinting to the finish line. This implies that I didn’t use enough energy during the rest of the race, and I’m fine with that. I ran the last 2 kilometers non-stop on flat asphalt (my least favorite thing in the running world) and when I heard a woman yell from the sidelines that it was only 500m to the finish I ramped up my speed. As I entered the stadium my lungs were exploding but I had some energy reserves and decided to push myself just a bit more and I passed a guy next to me as we ran around the track at Davos Platz to the giant Migros finish line. People were lined along the finish corridor cheering, and that energy feeds you like an adrenaline shot, and I had a fine sense of super-human accomplishment as I passed the final line and resisted the temptation to collapse. The official time was 6 hours and 6 minutes. 1800 meters up, 1600 meters down, 42 km all the way, the first time I’ve run more than 10 km in my life, the first race I’ve run since the last Detroit Turkey Trot I did back in 1998 or something. Was it worth it? Hells yes. Mountain marathons are a fun way to experience the Alps. Ascending fast, moving over the mountain terrain like a wind spirit and pushing my lungs to the limit at the finish was a fantastic feeling. Now for some thoughts on gear and trash.

What Gear Worked


Basically, all the gear I had worked fucking amazingly well. The Salomon running gear is just basically the most wonderfully designed gear you could imagine for the sport. The compression shorts and calf compression things really are like a second skin, breathing extremely well, and actually help to support your muscles. The Lab running pack feels like nothing on your back and I could trek all day and night with it. I also took a pair of Mammut gloves along, which are essential for me when the weather turns nasty. When it rains and gets cold you stand to lose a lot of energy via your hands, and a nice pair of wind-proof gloves will keep you comfortable when it starts to rain or snow. The light running jacket from Salomon was also essential. It’s super light, fits easily in a backpack or on your belt and actually keeps the rain off of your body. It has a hood, which was great and kept my ears from freezing. The Pearl Izumi arm warmers were fantastic as well. They retain heat over your arms even when it rains and you can pull them down over your forearms if you get too hot. Plus, all of this gear weighs next to nothing. And now for a scolding…

Pick up your trash


No, I get it, you’re running a marathon in the beautiful Swiss alps and you think you have the right to litter? Oh right, you’re just so exhausted, you just got a cup of water and it’s just too much trouble to drink it and put in the multiple trash cans so you just drop it somewhere along the trail? Really, are those few seconds needed to stop at the trash bag going to cost you the race? I think not, please pick up your trash and leave it at the next station. I can understand dropping cups near the water stations (like those nicely lined up in this photo), however, I came across a lot of things like empty power gels and rain ponchos along the race path, and it was sort of amazing to me that people would just leave their shit along the beautiful mountain trails. If you’re running in a city at least a cleaning crew can easily follow the race and collect trash, but it’s not so easy in the mountains. Just because you paid a race fee doesn’t give you the right to litter. See, it’s easy, if you consume a power bar or gel, then just stick the wrapper in your pocket. Is that really so hard? The next time I see someone just dropping their power bar wrapper on the mountain trail I may just push them off the side, but I guess then it would be even more work cleaning up the wrapper of their body impacted on the rocks, and…I’m not an aggressive person to start out with. I follow the ethos of “pack it in, take it out.” It implies that you’re personally responsible for the waste you generate and transport out of the backcountry. With my backpack it’s easy, I eat a candy bar, and then stick the wrapper back in the pocket, then I throw it out when I get to a trash can. Respect the mountains that your choose to run in…trash rant over.


The SwissAlpine K42 was an awesome race. It’s a fabulous was to experience the Swiss mountains and I can highly recommend it for those adventurous souls who like to run at altitude. Thank you to all the organizers, to Florian Kistler from Salomon for making awesome race gear, and to my girlfriend for suggesting that I run. What comes next? Well, I have a spot in the Jungfrau Marathon in Sept. It goes from Interlaken up to the Eiger North Wall and sounds like a fun time. The SwissAlpine was indeed more than a race, it was an experience.


SwissAlpine Training Days: Bettmeralp

For my first taste of alpine running I headed to Bettmeralp, a little dorf in the Swiss mountains, on the footstep of the Aletsch glacier. Bettmeralp (the better alp) is an ideal running location, the accommodations sit at 2000m, and the ridge above the glacier goes from 2200m up to 2600m by the gondal station near the Bettmerhorn. To mix up the running with mountaineering, you can also go up to the Eggishorn, which sits at a comfortable 2900m. If you’re so inclined you can run to the other side of the Aletsch, and go through many meters of up and down to reach the Oberaletsch SAC hut.


The goal of this weekend was to get into a little bit of shape, train my lungs at altitude and see what gear I need for mountain running. I had with me a pair of Salomon Lab running shorts, funky compression style running shorts that compress and stabilize your leg muscles while going up and down and around mountains. The support of the shorts is supposed to protect your legs so they don’t fatigue as much, and they also breath extremely well while keeping you warm in the alpine air. There’s also a very tight fitting shirt to wear, which helps maintain proper posture while running. I took along some compression ski socks to keep my lower legs warm. On top of that I wore my icebreaker wool shirt, which helped to retain heat in the cool alpine air. When paired with a pair of Pearl Izumi arm warmers, it all makes for a very energy efficient running uniform. It also makes you feel and sort of look like a member of the X-men. My girlfriend said I couldn’t run in just the shorts as their almost see-through, so I added a pair of Patagonia swim trunks.

Marathon Training


There are many things I’ve never done in life, including running a marathon and running at altitude. I normally keep a comfortably quick pace in mountaineering boots. So, for the first two days I spent my time running up from the dorf to the ridge which leads up to the Bettmerhorn.  Once you ascend up the hiking trail it’s more or less flat, and you can run between Riederalp and the mountain trail leading up to the Eggishorn. The panorama is beautiful from there, even if clouds come in from the distance and threaten to open up on you, it keeps you moving at least. Each day I had a small pack filled with a 2-liter hydration system, plus cold weather essentials and near useless things like my iPod. This is like 5 or so kilograms I probably don’t need to be running with during the SwissAlpine marathon, but I find it essential for training in a place where the weather can turn nasty before you have a change to find cover. I think once I get rid of the extra gear I’ll have some confidence that I’ll actually be able to finish the K42 race, but I also have 1.5 months to get my body in shape.

Last Ascent


On the final morning I got up early and left the apartment around 5:30am in my mountaineering gear and hiked up to the ridge of the Eggishorn. Running in the hills is fun, but there’s nothing like balancing on a real rock ridge with a Swiss panorama all around you. I developed blister almost immediately. The Salomon running shoes are amazing on my heels, but my La Sportiva Trango are brutal. However, the Trangos let me balance on my toes on a thin rock edge, and the Salomon shoes just aren’t designed for an alpine ascent. I got up to the ridge around 7:40am, which means I maintained a pace of like 500m/hr ascending. I wanted to traverse the ridge to the Eggishorn but some dark clouds were moving in and it was pretty obvious I would be hit with some serious rain if I stayed up there too long. This is fine if you’re just running in the woods, but on a Swiss mountain ridge it’s just a stupid risk, plus I wanted to get down for breakfast.


Bright Idea: Run the K42 SwissAlpine Marathon

I think it’s a good think to keep your mind flexible and challenge yourself in the, seep out of your comfort zone and do something excessive. So when my girlfriend suggested I run the SwissAlpine mountain marathon I sort of said “yes” in my heads. The farthest I’ve run so far is 10K at the Detroit Turkey Trot, and that was years and years ago. This is a bit more challenging, but the people in the Swiss Startup community are inspiring, and if they can start cool companies, I figure I can run the K42 SwissAlpine mountain marathon in Davos, Switzerland on July 30th. It’s 1800m of elevation gain, which is more than I normally do in a day of mountaineering, but I won’t be wearing a pack full of climbing gear. Besides, I’m an American and don’t sweat all those little details, I have a mountain heart and fierce, fierce determination, full of undeserved confidence, and anyways, I’m a Doktor of Science and I have a training plan. Now for some full disclosure, I don’t really like running all that much. At least, not on flat pavement, but when you’re running up a mountain you’re connected to the environment, part of the landscape. That’s why I’m doing it, I love moving through the altitude, and thinking that your body and spirit and flowing in the wind. Plus, the running gear that Salomon is offering is hands-down awesome.

Gear Matters


I know you should’t do sports because of the gear, but I don’t mind admitting that I’m running the SwissAlpine partially because I get to dress up like a superhero. It makes sense, I openly admit being a gear whore. The Salomon trail running shoes I have are amazing. I had a blister from running in my Scarpa approach climbing shoes, and the Salomon shoes don’t even put pressure on the blister area, it’s just amazing. The XT 5 SLAB running pack I’m looking at and their muscle support clothing also looks awesome, I can’t wait to run in the Wallis with the EXO shorts. It’s the perfect form of functional fashion, clothing which looks cool and actually improves your athletic performance. You’ll never find that mix at Dolce & Gabbana or H&M. My official drink for the event and training period is Isostar. I started drinking it years back when I was looking for a sports mix to help me hike/climb/ski faster and longer in the Alps, and Isostrar does the trick. I haven’t done an testing, I just know I go long and faster when drinking Isostar instead of just water. Gear is motivating, it feels nice to have a pair of Petzl arm warmers keeping you dry and warm when the weather turns dark and thunder rolls from Thor’s hammer across the sky, threatening to zap you with a lighting bolt if you run too slow over the mountain top. However, you have to back it up with results. If I’ve learned anything from the Swiss Startup community, it’s that ideas are useless with determined execution.

Training for the SwissAlpine


How do you train for a mountain marathon? I’ve asked the marathon runners and tri-athletes that I know, but it seems like this isn’t a normal type of race. Being a Doktor of Science, I decided to design a program-philosophy on my own. A lot of sources say things about running long distances and ramping up and ramping down, but that does nothing to address the altitude issue. So, instead, I’m training for the K42 like I would for speed climbing. I go to mountains in Switzerland, and try to ascend them as quickly as possible. For example, I ran/walked up Rigi Kulm from Goldau in 1 hour 50 minutes last Saturday, that’s a pace of about 500m/hour and matches my basic goal for the K42. It means I should be able to finish the K42 in 5-7 hours, which is 1800m up and 1600m down. It’s not for sure I can do it, I’ve never run a marathon before, I just like the mountains of Switzerland. However, I see no point in not being positive. That’s what Americans excel at, backing up an undeserved excess of self-confidence with measured results. In this case, I think a mountain madness training philosophy makes sense. Later this week I’m heading to Bettmeralp to train around the Great Aletsch Glacier. That’s why I’ll attempt a day trip in Bettmeralp, going from the dorf to the Oberaletsch SAC mountain hut and back. It’s an excessive amount of up and down and I’ll be leaving early in the day and coming back late at night. I figure if I just become one with the mountains and altitude and concentrate on being light and fast, I’ll survive. I’ll stay committed to this cause as long as it stays fun. What’s the point if you’re not having fun in life doing what you’re doing? I’ll add the big posts on my blog, but I’ve also started a new Tumblr with all the images and randomness of training for the SwissAlpine, http://myswissalpine2011.tumblr.com/.