7/9/17 – The Race Update

Going in to the Grand Traversée, M and I expected a tough race and still we got a little more than we bargained for.

As usual I lost contact with M within the first 5 minutes. As it turned out, a lot of people lost contact with M. At one point she was 87th overall and in the top 5 women. There were 570 people in the race. I was doing well and wishing the crowds would thin out a bit so I could make a steady rhythm instead of having to use so much energy passing people.

Some beautiful alphorn music at about mile 3
Almost at the top of the first climb

We got a big surprise after completing the first two climbs when we got to what was expected to be a runnable downhill. Instead of being runnable it was the most difficult and technical downhill of the day. Technical downhills would be a theme throughout the day.

From about mile 13-16, I slowed considerably and was the closest I’ve ever been to dropping from a race. I felt horrible and had to hike those three miles of downhill which should have been an opportunity to gain some easy time.

I made it to the next aid station and refueled and somehow got myself going again. By mile 18 I was feeling quite a bit better. I knew that I only had two climbs left till the finish. One from mile 17-24 and the other from mile 32-35. They were both huge climbs but as I had been feeling well on the climbs all day I thought I could make it.

I made it to the mile 24 aid station and again refilled my hydration bladder and other food supplies. As I was on my way down another technical downhill I got an update from M who was at the aid station at Lourtier, at the bottom of the last climb about 5 miles ahead of me. Her time was incredible and was looking to be well ahead of where we thought she’d finish.

I was feeling good and running quite well for most of the section down to the Lourtier aid station, but by the time I got there I was ready for some uphill. The downhill is so hard on your toes! Of course the last uphill was the biggest of the day with 4,000 feet of gain in 3.5 miles! I don’t have any pictures of it because it was getting dark and I was tired.

But here is a picture M took on the last climb

I had a communication from M to take the last climb really slowly because it was so hard, so that is what I set out to do. Most of the climb was so steep you could put your arm straight out in front of you and be touching the section of trail you were going to next.

After cruising relatively quickly (if you can consider 38 minutes per mile quick) up the first 3/4 of the climb I was beset by cramps in my legs. I had to slow considerably but slowing down enabled me to manage the cramps well.

I finally made it to the last aid station at La Chaux thinking M was already finished with the race. As it turned out she had had stomach problems and had only left about 40 minutes before I arrived. I refueled again and set out with my headlight on as it was almost 10 pm.

The last descent in to Verbier was yet another steep technical descent only this time with the added bonus of darkness! M and I had planned to do some night runs before this race in order to practice running with our headlamps, but it didn’t work out so we were in uncharted territory.

The course is well marked with reflective red and white markers so it wasn’t all that difficult to follow. Just not falling off the edge of the trail or tripping over a rock or root was the hard part. Not to mention that by this time our legs were destroyed.

M made her way down and finished in an incredible 11:58! She was the 24th woman overall and 86th overall for men and women combined.

I trudged down to finish in 12:44. I was 228 overall out of 570.

As it turned out, one of the best Ultra runners in the world, a Frenchman by the name of Francois De’Haene, won our race in just over 7 hours.

The race turned out to be about 39 miles with 13,700 feet of gain.

It was even harder than we thought it would be and also more picturesque than we’d imagined.

We are now looking forward to a few days of no running and letting our bodies heal from the beating we took!

7/7/17 – Fires

Hopefully you all are well and haven’t had too much smoke inhalation.

We have been getting notices of the fire and are hopeful it will be under control soon. The area that is burning is where we did our last big run before going on vacation. It sounds as though it’s now mostly ash and soot which is most unfortunate as that is an excellent trail area.

We are resting hard today in preparation for tomorrow’s big race. We will let you know how we did on Sunday. Stay safe.

Told you our street was a bit steep!
Headed down the gondola to Le Châble
And we thought the courses at home were hilly. This par 3 course is on a ski slope!

7/5/17 – Travel Day

Today has been a day of travel to Verbier. The trip by train from Zermatt to Le Chable was about 3 hours.

Interestingly, when one is traveling in the Zermatt area, the voiceover on the train (not Peyton Manning like at DIA) speaks in German, French and then English. The Zermatt area is mostly German-speaking with French and Italian and English being the other common languages. Once you switch trains at Visp and head towards Martigny, the voiceover on the train switches to French and English only because this part of Switzerland is French speaking.

Eventually the train stops at Le Chable and you get off to take either a bus or gondola up to Verbier. We chose to take the bus because it was sitting right outside next to the train.

The bus route takes you up a many switchbacked road which is very popular with people in fast cars and motorcycles. I saw a Ferrari pass a garbage truck in the middle of a switchback and no one seemed to think this was odd or dangerous.

Verbier is a bigger town than Zermatt and it allows cars which will take a bit of adjusting to. Verbier also has no street signs to tell you which street you are on so finding your lodging is a bit of a guessing game. Fortunately M guessed correctly on her first try.

We thought Zermatt was a steep place to live but it’s nothing compared to Verbier. Since Verbier is on the side of the mountain there are only two ways to go. Up or down.

We will let you know how things are once we get settled.

The view from our deck

7/3/17- Huge Adventure!

Our leader thought today would be a good day to rise up (quite literally) against her fear and attempt to conquer the scary trail from Schwarzsee to the Hornli Hutte.

The Hornli Hutte is the starting point for climbing the Matterhorn as should be indicated by some of the pictures below. For mountaineers climbing the Matterhorn, the Hornli Hutte is where they sleep before getting awoken at 3:30 a.m. to begin the climb.

For normal people like us, just getting to the Hornli Hutte is a big challenge. We set off by getting our tickets for the gondola up to Schwarzsee. This started off as a good indicator as M was able to keep her eyes open almost the whole way up the gondola! That never happened a couple years ago when we first went up this particular lift.

We made it up to Schwarzsee with no rookie mistakes, like getting off the gondola too early, and found our starting point. Firstly we had to look straight up the mountain to see where we were trying to get to in 2.5 miles and 2,300 feet of gain however.

It’s a seriously daunting task and the Hutte looks so far away and so high you wonder if the trail really does go up there or if there is some sort of way to magic oneself straight into the Hutte. Then you notice the brightly colored ants marching their way up towards the Hutte and realize they are actually people so it must be possible.

The sign at our starting point says it should take two hours and ten minutes, but that is a really conservative estimate for the slowest people. M and I made really good time until coming to the scary metal walkway that hugs the mountain on one side and has a fairly nasty drop on the other side. M mustered up more courage than ever before (and possibly more curse words) and carefully made her way across the walkway.

After this point the trail gets flat for a little ways until the last half mile when it goes straight up in a series of switch backs on the side of the mountain. We were moving pretty fast, but just to give you an idea of how steep it is, our pace was 70 minutes per mile at this point. That’s right it took us 35 minutes to go half a mile.

Just for some perspective, there is what’s called a Strava segment for the last 1.8 miles of the climb. Strava is an app used by runners and cyclists to store data about their performances. Many top runners use this app so anyone can compare their time on any particular segment to those top runners. M and I were only about 15-16 minutes behind the best mountain runner in the world, Killian Jornet. Search his name on YouTube and you can watch him run up and down the Matterhorn (all the way to the top of the mountain) in under 5 hours I think. M and I finally made it to the Hornli Hutte an hour after starting. We were quite proud of not being too slow!

What goes up must come down however and that means crossing the scary walkway again! With more positive/negative self-talk from M we made it across and had a short celebration before continuing down the hill to our start.

We then rode the gondola back to town and celebrated with Rosti and eggs and ham along with some black cherry gelato! Gotta replace all those calories!

We consider this our biggest adventure ever just because of the difficulties overcoming a serious fear of heights. I am sure it will remain at the top of our list for a long time. Or until Saturday.

We’re heading up to just about where the snow starts
Ahh! The scenery!
That mountain isn’t what should catch your eye – it’s the scary walkway!
The Hornli Hutte and the Matterhorn
The well-deserved reward

Yeah – M made it!

7/2/17 – Lazy Sunday

There is not much to report today. M and I decided to take the Gornergrat train all the way to the top of the Gornergrat, which is a bit above where our race finished yesterday.

For those familiar with the show, “The Night Manager,” starring Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie, the Gornergrat is where most of the Zermatt parts of the show were filmed.

Part of the reason we wanted to get back up to the top is that we had run up this mountain back in 2015 as part of the Ultraks race and we remembered the views as being quite striking. During the race 2 years ago we didn’t get much chance to enjoy those views. Hopefully today’s pictures will give some perspective on the drama of the scenery.

We have a fairly big adventure planned for tomorrow so hopefully we will have more pictures to share.

Have a great day.

7/1/17 – Race Day

Today was the Zermatt Half Marathon for M and I, and it really could not have gone better.

We got to the start area about 9 to check in and put our extra clothes in the proper bags and have them sent up to the finish area which was at Riffleberg. We then did a quick warm up and got herded into our starting corral. There are hundreds of runners so everyone gets put into a starting wave.

M and I started about 10:20 and I was immediately left in the dust by our entire wave because as usual the Euros started off at a sprint. Its 13 miles uphill people!

I lost M about mile 2, but I knew she’d be waiting for me at the finish. I was excited to see how well she would do as she’s pretty fast going uphill.

After mile 2 is when the race really starts as it’s a fairly steep grade all the way to mile 7. There is a nice downhill for about a mile then another short uphill to mile 8. After that is a nice flat part from mile 8.5 to 11.

Mile 11.5 begins the last big uphill and it’s a bear. Most people are hiking this section because they are tired by this point. Plus, unless you are an elite runner, hiking is more efficient due to the grade.

The very last part is an easier uphill from mile 12.5 to 13 with a small downhill finish where you can turn on the jets!

As usual in Europe there are hundreds if not thousands of fans cheering you along the whole way. There were only a couple of times I can remember there being no people cheering on the route. Most of those people are just out for their site-seeing hike in Zermatt, but Euros love mountain races so they get excited and cheer everybody on. The last part of the race runs right next to the GornergratBahn train (for those that don’t sprechen sie deutsch bahn means train so I used it twice in a row there) that goes up to the top of the Gornergrat mountain. The people on the train have the windows down just so they can scream, “Hop, Hop, allez, allez,” as they go by you. Even if you don’t speak German or French you get the idea. The thought did occur to me that hitching a ride on the train would have made the last hill much easier but I didn’t have the speed to catch it.

M finished in an amazing 2:35 and I came in with a very satisfying 2:51.

If anyone wanted to do a starter race in Europe this would be the one I would recommend because of the beauty and the overall organization of the race.

Now it’s time to refuel! And rest!

Cold & tired competitors
Looking down to Zermatt from about mile 9

6/30/17 – Another Boring Update

I figured that since we were just sitting here in ugly old Zermatt doing nothing I would give a little update. The pictures will convey how awful it is here and how we are suffering through every minute.

Since we have been here we have run each day in order to better adapt to the new time zone and keep our legs ready to race on Saturday. Our runs so far are supposed to have been easy, but when all trails go straight up, easy becomes a relative term. Today we did discover the easiest trail in Zermatt! If you go down to the river and stay next to it you can have what is basically a flat run. The problem we have then is getting back to the place we are staying. The studio apartment is about 100 yards straight up a hill that averages between 10-15% grade. I may do a short video later of the hill and our apartment with short being the operative word.

As some of you may know, Zermatt is car free so everyone (locals anyway) walks or rides their bike everywhere they go. There is a local electric bus system that will take you up and down the street next to the river if you are not good at walking or are just lazy. Given the terrain, it’s easy to understand why most of the local’s bikes have electric motors on them. These are not the hidden electric motors that some pro cyclists have lately been accused of using, but are usually large obvious motors that aid a great deal in going up hill. A guy on his way to work yesterday scared me while we were on our run because he silently came flying past me going up a hill. Usually you can hear bikers going up hill because they are working hard but this guy was barely breathing. No worry about bikers on tomorrow’s run however!

Some of you may be wondering which race is tomorrow and I can tell you that it’s by far the “easier” of our two races. It’s only 13 miles with somewhere over 4,000 feet of gain. If I can finish in 4 hours it will be a good day for me, but I will not be pushing the pace by any means so we will see what happens.

Hopefully the photos below will convey our suffering accurately.

The obligatory Matterhorn Toblerone shot
So pretty every where!
“Main Street” in Zermatt
A garden on our street
More amazing mountains!

6/29/17 – Travel Day

Well we are still traveling. It’s now been 20 hours since we left home and we have about 3:30 left on the train to Zermatt. We have as usual made some observations:

1. Euro women are not afraid to wear very tight pants whether or not those pants are a good fit and regardless of material. Be it leather or see-through white cotton.
2. We Americans value our personal space much more than people from other countries. People from other parts of the world are not shy about crowding when in a queue or anywhere else for that matter.
3. Americans are also still the most obvious group of people and it’s no wonder that people from other parts of the world recognize us before we even open our mouths. For some reason we Americans just haven’t learned how to travel quietly. And American men don’t generally wear pointy wizard shoes which are a Euro male law.
4. I now know why a lot of spy novels feature Hasidic Jews as diamond carriers who travel to Zurich for exchanges and banking. There is either some truth to the author’s tales or the Hasids are trying their best to fit into the storylines.

M and I have learned to appreciate DIA as far as airports go. There are bathrooms and water fountains everywhere, whereas in European airports both are a bit harder to come by. In fact we’ve never seen a water fountain. Fortunately for us they do have 2 grocery stores in the Zurich airport so water and snacks are readily available upon arrival. The smells from the bakeries in the airport are enough to make one just want to give up fitness and get fat. The Zurich airport overall is quite nice, however, and as efficiently Swiss as one would expect.

Going from the airplane to the Swiss train system is like going from a Metallica concert to a library. The quietness of the train is very relaxing and much appreciated after the noise of the plane.

This is a continuation of the thoughts above which I had written on the train. They might be a bit incomprehensible but I was/am pretty tired.
We made it to Zermatt yesterday afternoon and got some groceries and went for our first run. There are no easy runs here as everything is straight up hill. They are all beautiful trails though so it’s kinda hard not to stop and take pictures every 10 feet.

The internet at our place isn’t functioning yet so there may be a delay in updates. Also for those of you who are skiers, there is fresh snow on the mountains!

Hope you all are well!