Race report from Brian O’Donnell
I spent last week in the highest city in Europe, Davos in the Swiss Alps, which sits at 1506m above sea level. I’ve been here many times now and the beauty of the place draws me back every year to tackle one of the many Swiss Alpine races on offer. There truly is something for everyone here with the organisers offering no less than 11 races. The kids races of 0.5k ,0.9k and 1.4k run on the Friday but the main races are on the Saturday with a 10K Walk, 10K Run, 21K Walk, 21K Run, 30K Run, two 42K mountain marathons and the jewel in the alpine crown the 78K ultra distance race.
The Davos area is truly magnificent and the race organisers do all they can to help get you there and around when you are there. Your race entry, although expensive, includes your rail ticket to and from Davos from your point of entry into Switzerland. Then when you are there use of all buses and railways in the area. If staying at a hotel you can also expect to receive a guest card which allows you travel on the many mountain railways, gondolas and cable cars.
I first came to Davos in 2009, and ran the 30K race that year and the next. In 2011 and 2012 I ran the 42K mountain marathon, missing last year due to Commonwealth Games volunteering duty, this year I decided on the 30K race. With the 30K being fairly low level and only 450m climb it is speedy and the challenge here is definitely a race across the trails, compared with the mountain marathons which tend to require a bit more walking and less speed (but no less effort!) as they have 1800m of ascent.
The 30K race starts ridiculously early at 0700 (0600 UK time) in the stadium in Davos, as it runs alongside the ultra distance 78K race. The race finish is down the valley in a place called Filisur. This meant I had to get up at 0430 and on reflection should maybe have been up even earlier, although I was balancing sleep time with waking up time as I usually like to be up 3 hours before a race. Breakfast was served in our hotel from 0500 so some cereal, bread and jam and some coffee were quickly consumed and then on our way to the stadium for the race start. The sun had only just come up when I left the hotel and the thought of running hard for almost 19 miles in an hours time felt like it would be quite a challenge. Once down at the stadium bags were dropped off and I went for a warm up and some strides. I headed into the stadium and lined up on the race start. As Vangelis’ ‘Conquest of Paradise’ rang out, and the TV/Camera helicopters hovered over the stadium we were off. The first 5K are in Davos town and even at this time of the morning the streets were lined with welcome support. Hop Hop Hop was the chant from the crowds along with ringing cow bells and the odd shout of your name as this was on your race number.
I settled into a good pace for the first 5K and was ticking along quite nicely. My breathing was not settled, and I was panting a bit even on the flat sections. I hoped this was just because I needed more time to warm up and not an issue with altitude. After 4 miles we started to climb at the end of the Sertig Valley. This was challenging. The hills were not steep but they were long and we were off the tarmac and onto the trails now. My breathing was out of control here, and that was how it remained for any part of the race that was uphill! I just hadn’t done enough training on long hills this year. Although this first half of the race was challenging in terms of the climbing it was stunning in terms of scenery. We were out in forests, trails and away from the town but support wasn’t far away, with a ringing cow bell always to be heard in the distance. One village had a complete team of cow bell ringers! This kept the mind off the pain of the hills in the first half but I knew from the race profile that from around 10 miles I would start to descend and the lungs and heart could get a break.
Into the second half and I was enjoying the downhill trail running on the long run down the Zügenschlucht, the Landwasser Gorge. We then passed through Wiesen station, where we had PA announcer and music and many supporters. With only 5K to go now we crossed the impressive Wiesen Viaduct, a railway bridge that crosses the Landwasser. You run across a metal platform attached to the side of the bridge, and it bounces as you move along it! A short but technical section through a forest after the viaduct took us to the meadows above Filisur and the finish of the 30K race. Steep downhills await here on a mix of trail and tarmac with some tight turns as we zig zag down to the town. The running was fast I clocked my garmin and the pace read sub 5 min miling with the legs struggling with the turnover. Approaching the finish I could hear the PA announcer and music playing so kept the effort to the end. I struggled to see where the finish was even although I had crossed a couple of timing mats as they had changed the finish. I only knew I was done when a small child tried to put a medal around my neck! Checking the time I’ve run faster in previous years but was happy to finish 11th overall from 441, and 3rd in my age group.
A quick shower and train journey back to Davos I was able to have a second breakfast at the hotel. The rest of the day was spent drinking beer at the stadium watching the finishers of the other races come in.
I’ll be back!