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Thursday, August 11, 2016

3 Lessons Learned from Swiss Irontrail DNF

Davos webcam on Tuesday morning before the event. Calm before the storm.

"It is through the mistakes that the greatest learning happens."
-Eckhart Tolle

Michele Morosini, one of those trail warriors who finished T201.

Long story short, I couldn't repeat my successful Swiss Irontrail T201 2015 performance this year. Instead of 201km I was able to run about 50 km before a DNF. How could this kind of enormous fiasco, perhaps matched only by European economy, be even possible? I identified the following three major mistakes and lessons.

A view from Jakobshorn on Wednesday before the event.

Mistake 1. T201 started on Friday, 04:00am. Everybody was well aware that the weather would be horrible. There would be thunderstorms all night and early morning, followed by constant rain all day on Friday.

The last downhill to Davos.

After that it would be close to zero temperatures, probably with freezing wind and snowing, at above 2400 meters. T201 course has 11.5 thousand meters of ascent with 11 peaks above 2400m.  Still I somehow managed to underestimate all these serious weather warnings.

Davos, Schatzalp and Strelapass from Jakobshorn 2590m.

Lesson 1. I should have changed my registration for T201 to either T121 or even T91. These would have been challenging enough under the circumstances and much more fun. You get the maximum number of UTMB points already from T121.

The west ridge of Weissfluhgipfel 2844m after my DNF.

By the time the other races started, the weather would have already been better. The weather on Sunday was sunny, making it enjoyable for finishers in Davos.

Remember your rain gear when visiting Davos! A fountain in Davos Dorf.

Although I noticed that many T201 runners changed their registrations on Thursday - including the Race Director's son, who also had finished T201 last year - I ignored this opportunity. So the first lesson is that if the event consists several race distances, select your distance wisely and don't hesitate to make changes if necessary.

Award Ceremony on Sunday: Jimmy Pellegrini 2. overall, Andrea Huser 1. overall, Denise Zimmermann 5. overall, and Thomas Ernst 3. overall.  

Mistake 2. My UTMB overgloves got torn during Zugspitz Ultra Trail in June. Although they had worked pretty well, I failed to replace them. After all, suffering from cold fingers even in summer, I have a lot of gloves.

5K to go!

My Haglöfs Goretex jacket was excellent and still in good condition. The new Salomon rain pants I bought in Grainau had gotten me through a long rainy evening, night and morning when running around Zugspitze. It turned out only my jacket was good enough, but my hands and legs got cold and wet after a few hours of pouring rain.

Wild&Free - this is a joke, just like my race :)

Lesson 2. Make sure your rain gear is really 100% waterproof. Even though they claim something is 'waterproof', it may not be so in a really bad weather.

Sunny Sunday afternoon by the Lake Davos.

Also do consider wearing a warm layer of clothing under your rain gear - otherwise you might still get hypothermic.

A competitor crossing one of the bridges just before the finish below.

Goretex or similar relatively expensive fabrics work usually better, although some people have been able to use dead cheap simple solutions successfully.

The amazing Andrea Huser finishing as the overall winner of T201.

Mistake 3. This year the T201 course was slightly different from last year. Detailed printed maps of the race course were distributed to all competitors before the race. We were asked to study them carefully.

The mountaintops had almost-zero temps with cold wind evn on sunny days! A view from  Weissfluhgipfel after my DNF.

I noticed the first section to Kesch Hut was different, going through Dürrboden and Scalettapass instead of Sertig Dörfli and Sertigpass. I also noticed that towards the end we would run new trails to Lantsch instead of taking the asphalt road to Lenzerheide. What i failed to notice was that the route climbing up Fuorcla Crap Alv had also been changed.

360-view from Weissfluhgipfel 2844m after my DNF.

So as I 'knew' the course from last year so well, I took the same route automatically. The rain made visibility poorer, but the course was very well marked. I did notice that the markings and other runners disappeared. Instead of turning back right away, I figured I can continue this steeper way up and join the other on top.

Trail 60 is popular among bikers an hikers, but watch out for loose falling rocks.

No way! The climb felt a lot more difficult than last year, but I stupidly pushed my way up. Until I came upon a stream crossing so deep and wide, I was forced to turn back. The way back down felt really difficult. I got myself soaking wet in trails turned into mountain streams, and I was freezing cold.

Andrea Huser looked so fresh after crossing the line that she probably could have done another 201km round!

Lesson 3. Luckily I met a guy called Cristof driving up the Albulapass road to crew for his wife. It would take her 10 minutes to appear, so I sat in the MB van and welcomed a hot cup of coffee. "My wife ALWAYS FINISHES everything she starts", Cristof said to me, while I trembled hypothermic in the warm car and nodded. "Could you please drive me to Samedan, I'm quitting", I said. As that was his destination anyway, I got myself a ride. Thank you Cristof!

The last aid station in Strelapass 2350m on Sunday.

Samedan provided everything I needed: free meal, my drop bag with dry clothes and the railway station with a connection back to Davos. The third lesson is to study the race course carefully and turn back and retrace your steps immediately when you don't see the markings anymore. This harder to do than it sounds. I heard many others got lost as well during their races.

Thomas Ernst was 3. overall and 1. M50.

65 super-tough runners finished T201. It's 34% of 189 on the starting list on race morning. And like I mentioned, many did change into one of the shorter race before the start (They also had T41, T21, and A21 available).

A nice view to Weissfluhjoch after my DNF.


Thanks to cable cars it was easy to visit Jakobshorn (2590m) and Weissfluhgpfel (2844m) from Davos. On Sunday I took the popular trail 60 down from Weissfluhjoch (2662m) to Strelapass (2352m), where the last aid station is situated 5km before the finish. It was nice to chat with volunteers and finishers.

Weissfluhgipfel from the trail below.

All in all, I had a great week in Davos, the highest town in Europe (1560m). I made some new awesome friends. The weather was good every day except Friday. People were nice and the mountain sceneries stunning. In a way I achieved the event's slogan 'Beyond The Limit'.

Weissfluhgipfel peak 2844m. Davos is somewhere down there at 1560m.

I've run in Swiss Alps every summer for a decade now. I'll be back for sure!




"Sometime letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on."
-Eckhart Tolle