Part 2 of this year analysis and still about running and reflecting on my Eiger aim. As said in my previous post – see here – 2016 was about setting some new goals and tackling more races than before. The first part of the year didn’t go as planned but still, I believe I fared well or let’s say that I didn’t let myself fall apart from not reaching that early goal which was the Marathon distance.
After two Half-Marathon, the first of which proved very good and the second which was about keeping it on the same level while handling a tiny injury, I decided to get over it and go forward. Actually, it opened a whole new book which was about training better and getting over my usual comfort zone.
So from May and that Geneva Half-Marathon, I started thinking as to how I could build-up my strength, training plan and achieve some new distance. I started looking at a new type of races and thought that setting further goals, sprint or distance would help going forward. Being part of a runners group called Geneva Runners had me signed up for a trail race in Eiger, still in Switzerland but far from Geneva and where I could really think of witnessing the actual Swiss postcard and that was planned for mid-July with the 16km distance. But we’ll get back to that later on.
I also started looking at how to improve myself and as I had joined a gym due to my knee injury, I started focusing on getting a weekly training session focused on core and strength training as well as getting a weekly spin on one of these indoor bikes and some rowing. That wasn’t easy as I actually hate the gym. Probably because being a runner, it feels good to be outside, fresh air, real roads and stuff to look at, yeah, the gym can sound and actually is awful compared to that. But, I had to get some training in so I started going there every Tuesday or I tried to get there as many time as I could as I also had to manage the working agenda and my own fatigue.
So the basic session consisted of a cardio start with 30 minutes (intervals at various pace and resistance) on the spinner, followed by 20 minutes on the rowing machine (mild resistance) and concluded by 30 minutes of various exercise such as abs, burpees and finally planking and stretching. Did it pay in the end? Honestly, I do not know and I don’t think that at my level I can witness it yet but I’m sure it did benefit to how I run and surely, it will pay on the long term, although I tried as much as possible to go to the gym every week, I hardly managed it. It’s more of a once every two weeks average.
Back to the Eiger, that was the goal, first ever trail race going up the hills for a long time and down as well as managing muddy, rocky and slippery terrain. An all new type of race. I had already trained many times running through the forest or so but racing on that type of surface would surely be different I thought, and it was.
The training prior to that point consisted of getting my usual three runs, 10/10/15k during the week and getting that cardio/strength session in-between. Then I entered the Tour du Canton, again, people were talking about it and I thought 4 short distance run across 4 weeks and in the middle of them, after work actually. Mixed surface, traffic, and the fact that it’s a race so you just want to push a little bit, I went for it. Nothing big but it was good fun and it was good to take part as I actually ran and discovered some nice Geneva surroundings.
Added to all this came cycling, a friend and colleague with whom I’ve been running since a year now did push me into getting a bike, not that I didn’t want one but since January, I had been thinking about it without the thing ever actually materializing. And that’s how I got it for my birthday… This being added to the running and core training, it proved a good addition but it only lasted 257.9km before I crashed or let’s put it the right way, before someone crossed the road in front of me and destroyed my bike. Not a big cross-training but I was safe and could continue the rest.
So yeah, I continued to focus on Eiger and on the first weekend of July came another race I entered just a week before thinking, uphills, uphills, uphills! It was the Montreux-Les-Rochers-de-Naye trail race which started in Montreux for 18km and up 1600m elevation. Oh dear it wasn’t easy but managed to get up there in 2hr26:58 minutes. And the lesson was that I would need more than just trail shoes to get up the Eiger… Having just discovered a real trail race with this one, I thought it was great as you can’t beat the landscape and kind of postcard you see. But on the other hand, it’s just going up and up and up. That’s a hell lot of work and well I just realized that Eiger would feel a bit harder than I thought on the legs. So again, I figured it out very late but this time, no injury was involved!
Training continued, the weekend after, my running pals organized a last training session, and the week in-between, well I changed my mindset completely. I thought that if taking up the Eiger, organizing myself to go there, with the help of my friends of course, I would actually switch to a longer distance. So yeah, I switched to the 35km distance and a +2500m elevation as opposed to the 16km distance and +960m original plan. A challenge but also a way to get myself properly in the mood. Also, having considered the Montreux-Les-Rochers-de-Naye, I thought it would be worth it, getting one step further, that was the thing.
Back to the last training, we went next to Geneva and tackled Le Salève, a good course to get some distance and uphill as well as the downhill running in. It also permitted to try the poles which all my pals were using and guess what? Well, after 16km and +860m of elevation, I got back in Geneva and went to buy some. As described by my friends, they help as you just no longer and only rely on your legs and thighs when going uphill but you sort of transfer a part of it on your upper body and arms. Also and good to consider, as it’s long distance, it helps save valuable energy for the further part of the race as you not only go up but also flat and down. So yeah, I guess I was by then ready, shoes were ready, outfit as well, light and right and last, all the mandatory equipment such as long sleeve layer, leg warmers, food, insulation blanket and so on were good to go!
Eiger finally came up on week 28 of 2016. Heat was building-up throughout the week, had my usual Monday and Wednesday runs, easy and peasy in order to keep it cool and easy. Food had been very important on that week and I think I possibly had the biggest input I ever had before a race, just building energy and resources for the big day, fiber, fruits, vegetables and a hell lot of pasta and proteins, it was rather pleasant as I really like to eat so it was quite enjoyable, food is life, always remember that.
And off we were on the Friday, road trippin’ through Switzerland Wonderland. A big group of us had entered the race and we were all to camp there so the aim was to arrive early and get the campsite organized, the tents up and then head to Grindelwald in order to collect our bibs and fulfill the mandatory equipment checks. Being there prior to race day, it was quite an atmosphere with a lot of runners of all sorts and age, really, I thought the atmosphere was great and the briefing was interesting although more of a conference time with trained and skilled runners telling you what it would be like. I was actually quite impressed but more about my friends who would go on and tackle the 51km race and for the few who would go and do the 101km one. These were the proper guys in a way and I was and am still a beginner when thinking about this.
Anyway, back to the campsite, we went for early food, rosti and protein came up and that was as good as it could get before a race, water had been important for the whole week before and more was added that night in order to be ready for the next day and early morning start which was at 6:00AM.
Race day started early, earlier than planned and actually with a very short night, it was really cold in the tent and with the added stress of the race, it proved hard to sleep but well, woke-up and headed straight for breakfast with two bananas, cold coffee but still full of caffeine and two big ham and cheese sandwich as well as one or two of these “carbs” energy bar. We then took the car and headed to the start line. Weather was fantastic, sunny and dry but still cool, a perfect day ahead which started around 8:00AM.
On the race, well, from the beginning it goes up, first 6km were about +650m and then getting 330m down through the next kilometers, it looked a hard start and I could really feel it. The start was crowded and it really took 3 kilometers to ease it a little bit, I first thought we would all run on each others but that’s the usual way any race starts. But well, I also had to make a first stop after 5km, my camelback pipe got blocked, certainly due to the mix of water and sport drink. That was already 5minutes lost on the goal.
Then and after those first 9km, the real climb started. Over 5km and up to the 14th kilometer of the race distance, we all tackled +930m of positive climb with the peak being the 12th and 13th kilometers with each being of +235m of climbing. That is where the poles really helped with the posture and of course, my back. It also eased the strength being put on the thigh muscles which would later prove crucial for the downhill part of the course.
Really, it wasn’t easy at all. Funny is that I just found a group of 3 girls powering up the trails and hills and I just focused on keeping up with them which proved a very good way in order to reach the top or what I thought it was. On food and drinks, I managed to get over that first part eating a fruit and cereal bar around the 8th kilometer while drinking every 3 or so kilometer. Reaching that 14th kilometer point, there was the second, big and very welcomed food and drink point set up by the race organizer.
I took the time to drink a lot of water, fill-up my water bottles and eat 2 bananas as well as some sugar stuff they provided. It felt good and I stopped there for probably 5 minutes.
The next part proved to be a gentle one with 6 kilometers of easy going trails, with little ups and mainly downs, it sort of helped the mental as I could finally run properly and also got me thinking that I still had energy to give away although, I tried not to go too fast. By that point and the 18th kilometer, I was at the halfway point and had reached it in 3hr15:33min.
But that wasn’t yet finished and after that gentle and easy going 6′, going a bit downhill, one of the girl I had passed earlier just overtook me while going downhill. It just looked like she had hopped by! And actually told me to slow down, which I thought was rather funny but yeah, the 21st and 22nd kilometers would prove hard again, rocky and with traces of snow going up a trail with +400m. She was probably just telling me that I would suffer again and yes I did. Poles were out again, and I just tried to keep up with her. We made it to the top with another runner and fantastic, in the middle of July, there was real snow!
And from the 23rd to 36th kilometer and finish – We’ll get back to that later -, we ran in the snow, something I had never done before and then furiously downhill. My feet were already wet and it just got a little worst, rocks, snow and downhill doesn’t really play well when you are new to all that. I just tried my best not to fall down, even though I did fall but well, you just got to try I guess and for 4 kilometers, it proved complicated but I made it. Also and by then, I could really start to feel pain and fatigue, the legs and thighs were hard, I was loosing focus and trying to keep up with the girl that was sometimes ahead and sometimes behind. I tried to get food in as well as drinking as much as possible but it started to prove hard considering we were on the downhills and that the pace was up.
Even my usual race caffeine shot that I took by the 24th kilometer didn’t seem to help but the mental was still there. Back to the girl and when I described her as hopping around earlier, actually I also witnessed a whole lot of other people doing it or let’s say that is how I would describe it. I just understood that I didn’t have the right technique while running down. Some of the kilometers were about -190m and as the snowy part was quite an easy downhill the rest would prove very hard. Not putting my body forward as much as needed, I guess I was just trying to absorb the downs instead of pushing and keeping the speed so yeah, the muscles were a bit stressed..!
And while I thought I had finally passed that girl for good, by the 30th kilometer, she just came out of nowhere and passed me again. But this time she just stayed ahead and started being nice, telling me about what was coming up in English and even sometimes shouting like let’s go and hop hop hop! She was Swiss German or sounded like it but I believe she knew some of the trails or was a local. Anyway, it proved a good thing to sort of have a running pal’ by that point. Reaching the 34th kilometer, I found out at the last refueling point that it wasn’t the last kilometer but that there were two and a half more… Yeah, they had a sign saying it! And by that point, it really felt hard, especially as we had probably reached the lowest point in the valley and well, you know what it’s like by that point. You feel tired, the muscles are sour and the mental just wants to have the finish line in sight.
So I went for it and accelerated as much as I could, not much but enough to keep it strong. Arriving in Grindelwald was fantastic, going through the camping and then on the main street, people were all cheering and saying that “hop hop hop!”, certainly a Swiss thing that you hear at all races but it felt fantastic. I made it through the street, ramp and finish line. It turned out to be a 36.7km course instead of the 35km originally planned but it felt awesome, I made it strong.
The goal was 6hours and I made it in 6hr02:09min. I could have moaned or said it wasn’t good but it was my first ever proper trail race, a distance I had never raced, uphills and downhills I had never tackled so yeah, it just felt fantastic. Of course it was nothing easy but I discovered a new type of race where fueling and how you manage your energy and the course is much more important than in any other type of races as well as a form of competition where you really enjoy what you see. Eiger turned out to be the perfect Swiss Postcard or #SwitzerlandWonderland thingy. A great achievement which I duly celebrated with my friends which had completed the 16, 35, 51 and 101 distance at night. It was all about proteins, water and of course beer in order to recover well but all in all, a fantastic time.
By then, it was time to rest a little bit, I had learnt much, work was around and it was timer to set another goal.. We’ll get on that in the next episode.