Sunday, July 27, 2008

Swissalpine cutoff incident

To make a long story short: I missed the 47.3K cutoff (14:05, ie. 6:05 after start). So I was not allowed to finish swissalpine K78. I officially finished K31 only.

Ok, here's a longer story. There was this nice aid station at Chants, which is at 47.2K point (1825 meters above sea level). I stopped there to stuff myself with bouillon and alpine bread. I was part of a small group of runners with a smart (or that's what we thought) strategy: start slow and finish strong. 

After all, we had about six hours left. That's plenty of time to run the remaining 31K. What's more, I knew most of that was downhill. I prefer to walk the steepest uphills and then blast down all the downhills. I was sure to be able to finish the race well before 8PM, the official race cutoff time. 

What I (and others running with me) did not know that while we were chatting at the aid station, they were already closing the road ahead. Unknown to us, there was a cutoff point just around the corner - only 100 meters away. 

No one informed us about this cutoff. We believed we were doing fine. And rightly so - I was feeling strong. The cutoff disaster struck us like a lightning from a clear blue sky. 

I saw a couple of guys leaving the aid station just before me and they were cleared through. Then a couple of minutes later, they told me to take the minibus back to Davos. It was unreal, I couldn't believe this was happening to me. 

I had finished this race the year before in 9:43, and now they were telling me that there was no way I could finish the race in 12 hours. They claimed it was impossible for me to reach the next cutoff point at Kesch in less than 90 minutes. 

Ok, we were aware that it would be steep uphill all the way to Kesch (2632 meters above sea level). We also knew that it was only 5.6K away.     

Rules are rules, and finally we figured there was nothing we could do about this incident. The cutoff didn't make much sense to us, but we had to accept it. For some reason, the organisers have chosen to set unusually challenging cutoff times, and we must respect their judgment. 

There's only one thing I'd like to point out. We had already covered over 60 per cent of the race distance in almost half the allowed time. Because we chose to start slower, we suffered most when the single trails began and the long line of runners came to a full stop.
Had we been allowed to try to reach the highest point by 3:30PM, the remaining 25K would have been mostly downhill. Anyone can do the math - the fact is that most of us would probably have been able to accomplish that comfortably in under 4.5 hours. 

The current rules force runners to start aggressively with a fast pace. For an ordinary endurance runner, who has not been able to train at high altitudes, that may not be the most desirable or healthiest way to race.

Here's a little video I shot at the cutoff point.

Anyway, counting the warm up and down, I ran 48.3K - 30 miles for my ultramarathon of week 30. 


Anonymous said...

Oh! My worst nightmare!! I am so sorry it happened to you. I know it was a while ago...I told you I would return to your blog for inspiration during my very very long training period :)

Trail Plodder said...

Hey thanks for stopping by! Good luck for your races!