Looking back at the SwissAlpine K78 Ultra-Marathon

Off to Davos

Departing Zurich in the sweltering summer heat that acts oppressively on the body squeezing out every last drop of moisture as a briny glaze on everyone’s body at The station, I could only hope that temperatures would cool down higher in the mountains. I knew that wish would come true when we switched trains in Landquart. The sky above the mountains to the east was black, as if a writer had spilled his inkwell on blue parchment paper. Mists of rain falling kilometers away acted as testimony to the torrential downpours at higher elevations. An hour later the train suddenly stopped as the strong wind gusts caused us to lose power and blew trees and debris against the red carriages. Upon our arrival in Davos the sky had cleared somewhat and the typical Davoserfest, which always occurs before the SwissApline marathon was in swing.

The fact that the train was able to get into Davos was a good omen. The second came when I saw the Intersport was open. I ran in quickly and picked up a new pair of On Cloudrunners. I’d been training in Cloudracers, but thought with the 78 KM of mountain running a little more padding would be great. I was also able to get a Salomon Labs 12 liter pack, which would allow me to no have to worry about chafing during my first mountain ultra.

Race Day

The next morning I was awake at 5am and downstairs in the dining room of the Hotel National Davos along with a handful of other runners. The breakfast buffet was superb with a large selection of breads, cheeses, fruits, yogurts and of course a large bowl of Birchermüseli. I filled my bowl of the sweet mixture of berries, yogurt, cream and oats, had some orange juice and a croissant. A little carb loading before this kind of run is a must. By 5.45 I was out the door with just the most necessary things including my backpack with an apple, granola bar, and wind jacket.

After collecting numbers and enjoying one last cup of coffee we assembled at the start line. The crowd was very big, with runners for the K78, C42, and C30 all starting at 7am. From the loudspeakers we were told that the weather should hold till late morning, but that all those venturing on the K78 should have appropriate gear with them. The temperature at the Kesch Hütte was 8 degrees and if the weather changes could quickly fall. Of course appropriate footwear was a given. Looking at the feet of my fellow runners, it was clear that I was in Salomon country. The American firm with it’s legendary ultra-runner and designer dominate the market. I’m out to prove that Ons are equally up to the task of mountain running, especially for long distance.

On your mark, get set, go!

As the gun went off we started at a relaxed canter that picked up speed after circling past the Hotel Victoria. Cracks of blue opened in the sky and the rising sun formed red and yellow veins in the grey. Might the rain hold off all day? The run from

Davos to Filisur on the elevation profile looks easy – a slight downhill. Running it though is something quite different. There is plenty of asphalt roads, which already made me thankful for my Ons, the Cloudtec softening each step. The uphill segments, though short are quite steep. My already long mountain marathon season meant that my condition was good, however, I needed to be careful not to go out too fast. I’d planned 3.5 hours to Bergün. It would take me a little more, but that would give me the 6.5 hours I needed for the marathon bit to finish in 10 hours or so.

One of the highlights between Davos and Filisur is running along the gorge with its tunnels and stone arches building small bridges and walkways. Then there is the crossing of the large rail bridge, made famous in SwissAlpine marketing. At the train rolls past it’s a great feeling to wave at the passengers, many of who are on their way to Bergün for the K42. The next bit is wooded and the ground is covered in thin narrow roots. From the rain the night before the roots were slippery and I saw many people sliding around, but the tread of the Cloudrunners gripped perfectly here, much to my surprise.

30 down, 48 to go

Getting into Filisur the first 30 kilometers were completed and not the real climbing started. The storm the night before caused a landslide on the way to Bergün, so the trail was closed and we had to switch on to the road. The climb was tough as it was just gradual enough to make it rather long and keep me in running mode. Here I caught up with a triathlete from Kärnten, Austria. He saw my shoes and preceded to praise Ons as the best shoes he’s ever had in over 30 years of running and competing in sports events. When I asked him why he was not wearing them for the SwissAlpine, he said that this was his first mountain marathon and he thought a trail shoe would be best. Telling him that I was fully confident in my shoes I left him and said that I’d see him at the finish.

I arrived in Bergün some 15 minutes after the K42 people had started. As many changed shoes or grabbed gear that they had delivered to Bergün, I took some refreshments and kept going. The crowd here was fabulous. Passing through this quintessential Graubünden mountain village the sky preceded to turn darker grey. Shortly after Bergün the rain started. I still had not caught up with my friends, AnneMarie or Mark.

Meeting friends

About 500 meters before the last village before the climb to the Keschhütte my friend, Wendy passed me. Fresh on her legs despite coming off an injury she had a huge smile and after a few words went on. As I started the ascent to the Keschhütte I heard my name being shouted out. It was AnneMarie. We ran and fast-hiked together for a bit up above the tree line.

At this moment the sky really closed in as a wave of clouds crashed into the mountain and pitted us in deep fog. Despite being soaking wet I put on my jacket to stay warm. AnneMarie continued on and I made my way to the Keschhütte. My calf-muscles were starting to tighten up, right near where they had done so the year before. I slowed down some and upon reaching the Keschhütte had them messaged. The message was a nice break and revitalized my legs to continue. The wind was incredibly powerful and I thought the message tent would be carried away as the poles bent to 70º with the earth.

Keschhütte to Sertigpass — It’s technical

The way down from the Keschhütte demands quick footedness, but is just a warm up for the challenge of going down from the Sertigpass. Between the Keschhütte and the Sertigpass the trail is very rough with little streams and boggy ground. Stones are often loose and you need to pay attention. moving around the alpine lake I stopped to take a few pictures as the sky opened up again to reveal the sun. Up on the Sertigpass I again took the opportunity for a message. The messages are lifesavers and well worth sacrificing a little time as you’ll make that time up in the speed you can travel at pain and cramp free.

A few small snow fields up here again proved a little tricky for some runners, but I was secure with each set. The way down was good, albeit a bit slow. I could feel the fatigue slowly starting to set in. However, having passed the 60KM marker on the Sertigpass I was sure that the last 18KM would go by quickly. Once I was back down in the valley I picked up my pace again. Having an idea of the distance still needing to be covered from the year before I just kept pushing myself. It was during this last stretch though of beautiful trail running that the signs started to become disheartening as I believed them to be inaccurate. In reality though, my body was just getting tired. Stands with cola gave my body much needed sugar and I kept pushing.

To the finish

The weather was still holding out, but I could see rainclouds moving in again and I knew it would be cold soon. Around the final mountain turn I thought it was just a straightaway, however there was one small hill to go. Once up there I checked my watch again, 7 minutes to go to get in under 10 hours. A final push of everything I had took me back into Davos and into the stadium, where I did a half lap to cross the finish line. And then there was the surprise. I more than half expected to break down and fall on the floor, but rather I just walked over to the Erdinger stand, got my alcohol-free beer, collected my medal and t-shirt and then ran into my friends AnneMarie, Wendy, and Matthias who had been waiting for me to cross the finish line. I must have been too fast, as they didn’t see me. After a short conversation we decided to head back to our hotels to change and relax and just then the rain started again.

In the end I found out that my official time was 9:55:55. A good time I think for my first mountain ultra. I think a large part of this had to do with my shoes that really absorb the shock or running and lower foot and leg fatigue. This was my third time running in Davos with the SwissAlpine marathon and I have to say the organization is brilliant, as is the atmosphere. If you’re looking to get into alpine running this is the place to start. They offer six different races of varying distance from 10KM to 78KM.

Basic Info:

Date: 28.07.2012
Distance: 78KM
Elevation: +/- 2600M
Weather: sun, rain, cloud
Time: 9:55:55
Shoes: On Cloudrunners
Website: www.swissalpine.ch
Course Profile:

RunKeeper Info:


Christian Langenegger

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