Race Report - 2017 CRUX Winter Ultra 54K

3/04/2017 07:00:00 PM

Making new friends before the race, Bruno and Thibaut
I really wasn't sure until the morning of whether I would actually try to make my way to the starting line of this event. After all, I had never done a running event in Switzerland before and this one was a Swiss version of a Fat Ass, so I was a little outside my comfort zone. However, the email I received from RD Peter Ackermann just a couple of days prior to the event sounded as promising as the info I had found on his event website. A record number of 70 runners had registered (for the steep registration fee of 10 Swiss Franc or Euro to pay for the permits and the drop bag shuttle to the finish:-). The weather promised to be the warmest on record for this event, which actually was kind of a bummer for me as I was hoping for ridiculous amounts of snow, but it did promise faster finishing times. And the information on the event website was intriguing to say the least as well. This event was fully self-supported, including water and food. There would be one refueling stop (a restaurant at the halfway point at kilometer 27), but other than that we would be on our own. To make a long story short, on Saturday morning I left my hotel at 6AM, trotted over to the train station in St. Gallen, purchased a cup of coffee and a fresh warm pretzel and jumped on the train to Kollbrunn via Winterthur. 65 minutes later, I got off the train and was looking at the starting line (see station wagon in picture).


Race HQ Swiss FA style
Lots of fellow runners got off the train along with me. Others arrived by car or other means of transportation. In fact, one guy arrived by bicycle after riding 50 miles. Folks started introducing themselves, many knew each other from last year's event or from other regional races. I quickly connected with another German and a French fellow. I wouldn't see either one of them again until the finish, they left me in the dust:-) The run was supposed to start at 8:30AM and after a brief welcome by the RD and some simple instructions, we were off. The course was not marked and there were ample opportunities to take a wrong turn and get lost, but thankfully, I had downloaded the GPX file to my Garmin Fenix 3 and it kept me on course. Actually, this was the very first time that I used this feature and it was truly a lifesaver and worked perfectly. I can't recommend it enough for events like this.

Warmest edition yet, but still snow at the highest elevations
The run started in the small town of Kollbrunn and we immediately started climbing and climbing and climbing. I refer to this event as a run not a race, because they would not keep times or rankings, runners just ran for the love of running, checked in at the halfway point and recorded their finish times at the finish, just to make sure no one got lost.

The course had plenty of climbing to offer
Everyone took off running, some shooting for the 54k finish (CRUX Count), others selecting to run half the distance of 27k (CRUX Contessa). Either way, runners would be on their own. While there were multiple bail points along the course, they all involved self-extraction and a train ride to your preferred destination. I had sent my drop bag with dry clothes to the finish line, so I was definitely committed to the long distance.

Stunning views every time I looked up with even larger peaks looming in the distance
I took off right along with everyone else, but I quickly realized that running this part was not the smartest choice. I knew I had approx. 8000ft of climbing ahead, so there was no reason to rush...anything, certainly not by running the very first very long and very steep climb. I started to back off, allowing others to pass and trying to settle into a more comfortable pace that didn't have me redlining 1 mile into a 35 mile run.

Slight cloud cover kept temps warmer than usual
We hit the actual trail, Swiss Regional Route 69, just about 1 mile into the run. Route 69 is a regional Swiss hiking trail that runs from Winterthur to Rapperswil and has a total length of 72 kilometers with a total elevation gain of 3000 meters. The actual race course starts just southwest of Winterthur in the town of Kollbrunn and ends just shy of Rapperswil in the town of Schmerikon on the shores of lake Zurich. This are is part of the Swiss prealps. While the altitude is not as impressive as the actual Alps, its terrain was nearly as challenging at its views were just as stunning.

Another crazy ridge line climb, no switchbacks:-)
It wasn't too long until I was running by myself. Even with a total of 70 runners, the field stretched pretty quickly, which suited me just fine at this point. I was able to run at my own pace without being "pushed" or "pulled" by other runners. I had decided to take my time and enjoy the scenery as is evident by the number of photos in this post.
Much of the course followed the ridge lines of the Swiss Prealps
This course had a lot of climbing. The elevation profile made it seem like the first 27 miles were a constant but gentle uphill, but the reality was quite different. There were steep climbs and steep descents and they continued for 27 miles before we would drop 8 miles straight down to the finish.

Cresting a snow covered ridge line exposing more spectacular views
The views were fantastic. I kept seeing Mt. Saentis and the Alpstein massif in the distance, which had been part of previous solo adventure runs of mine. The terrain started off pretty gnarly and rooty and I had to pay close attention not to trip on one of the steeper descents, but when we were running on the ridge lines, the terrain was rather runnable. There were a few jeep roads and even a couple of paved sections, but mostly we were running on single track trails. Once we hit the higher elevation segments, there were large portions of running through snow.

Amazing view of the valley below
During one of the road sections, the RD caught up to me. He was running with us and had been taking his time taking pictures of runners along the way. Yet, he still caught up to me, go figure. We shared the road and trails for a while before he pulled ahead. I didn't see him again until I arrived at the halfway point, a quaint little restaurant along the trail. This was the bail point for some of the runners. I opted for a big glass of sparkling water followed by another big glass of coke. Definitely too much fluids as I found out once I got back on the trails. It took at least 30 minutes for my stomach to settle.

Snow covered ridge lines
I decided not to purchase any food in the restaurant and instead to rely on the handful of gels I had in my pack. I had used this opportunity to test out a new UD pack in preparation for one of my goal races in BC, Canada in August. Since this race was self-supported, I was carrying quite a bit of water along with additional layers of clothing, just in case. Turns out I carried a little too much of everything, but better safe than sorry. It also allowed me to see how the new pack would sit on my back fully loaded while running.


Large peaks under cloud over in the distance
More than a few times my Garmin Fenix 3 saved my tail, getting me back on course when I accidentally took a wrong turn. I'm not sure how everyone else stayed on course, but I did hear a couple of stories of guys getting extra miles once I arrived at the finish.

Fun climb in the later stage of the race
Initially, I had a specific time goal in mind, but that was thrown out pretty quickly. Instead, I just enjoyed the experience and stopped to "smell the roses". After all, the views and scenery are what drew my to trail and ultra running in the first place.
Sun beams breaking through the clouds
After about 25 miles, there was another restaurant, where I was able to refill my water bottles and regroup. It was at this stop that I came up on a couple of other runners. We quickly decided to stay together for the remainder of the race and that made the hole experience even more enjoyable. We all may be running and training in different parts of the world, but trail and ultra runners are a friendly and helpful bunch no matter where you meet them.
95% of the course consisted of pristine single track
With about 8 miles to go, the final descent came fast, furious and straight down. We took our time. Legs were getting tired and neither of us was trying to break any records. It became more and more important to keep an eye on the course as there would be a turn off point from the trails that we needed to make in order to get to the finish.

Other sections of the course required crossing snowy fields and alpine meadows
My calves were already shot from 27 miles of uphill and now the course was taking care of my quads to even things out. We slowly made our way down towards our final destination on the shores of lake Zurich. We continued to run towards the lake until we finally reached town and made our final turn to see the "finish line" just 200 yards ahead.
Another steep section of single track
The finish line was a nice restaurant adjacent to the train station and with a view of lake Zurich just behind the train station. The "speedsters" were already sitting at a table having a cold pilsner. I slowly made my way to a backroom where the event organizers had placed our drop bags. I took a quick bathroom sink "shower", put on some dry clothes and rejoined the others at the table for some proper rehydration:-)
Difficult not to take a picture every time you look up
All in all, it took me just under 8 hours to complete this challenging but fun event. I also learned that the Swiss know how to put on a proper Fat Ass event. If you are ever in the area, you should definitely put this one on your to do list. Peter and his "crew" put on a fantastic event and I hope that this tradition will continue for years to come. The CRUX Swiss Winter Ultra is an amazing event.

Snow and peaks everywhere you look

Finish photo with Bruno and Stephane after running the last 20K together

70 runners started this event for both distances, 28K and 54K

8000' elevation gain - 27 miles ascent followed by 8 mile descent

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