10 June 2017


Alpenhorn players at the top of one of the early climbs, simply amazing!
A business trip to Europe had aligned in a way that I was able to sign up for a race just a three hour drive from my work in St. Gallen, in the quaint town of Tesserete in the south of Switzerland right near the border to Italy. I had registered for the Scenic Trail 54K, featuring +12,000 feet of vertical gain and part of a weekend of five trail races ranging from a Vertical K to 113K. The 54K course takes runners on a loop along the ridge line of the mountains surrounding the villages near lake Como and lake Lugano. Along the way, runners take on some serious climbs and are provided with some spectacular views.

Anxiously awaiting the start to this adventure.
I arrived in Tesserete on Friday evening, in time to check out the race expo as well as pick up my race packets. Yes, I had registered for two races, the 54K on Saturday and, if my legs would allow me, the Vertical K race on Sunday. When I checked out my race packets, I was blown away. There was a Salomon compression shirt, Salomon race socks and a Buff, all with an embroidered or emblazoned race logos in addition to a Salomon running belt and lots of other swag. Considering the pretty reasonable registration fee, these guys were really taking care of runners in the swag department. 

Mountains as far as the eye could see in any direction.
The race was scheduled to start Saturday morning at 8AM, so I decided to head back to my little hotel a short 15 minute drive away to eat a nice pasta dinner after getting my gear ready for race morning. By 10PM that evening, it was lights out and I tried to get a good night's rest before the adventure that lay ahead.

Endless ridge line trails.
I showed up at the race start abut an hour ahead of time, not wanting to risk a wrong turn or traffic delays on the way to the race. The pre-race jitters set in as soon as I walked up to the start line. I took a couple of photos and waited for the start signal. I had decided the night before that I would not use my treeking poles after all, even though I initially thought they may not only come in handy considering the elevation profile, but that it would also be great training in prep for the Fat Dog 120 Miler this summer. In the end, I figured that for me the terrain and distance didn't really justify or require trekking poles.

After a short last minute pre-race briefing in Italian, the Race Director sent us on our way. I started somewhere in the middle of the 300+ field of runners as I had no intentions of "racing". This race was all about enjoying the journey and taking lots of pictures, using this race as training miles for Fat Dog 120. The start of the race was pretty uneventful as we made our way out of town and onto single track trails. However, just 5 miles into the race, I along with a number of other runners took a wrong turn. I'm still not sure if flagging had been moved by someone or what, but we continued on the wrong (well marked) path for a mile and a half before someone yelled at us to turn around. This had us backtracking for another mile and a half before rejoining the course.

Spectacular ridge line running for most of the day.
Just before we got off course, we were greeted near the top of a climb by a group of Alpenhorn players putting on an amazing performance in the perfect alpine setting. It made for one of the most memorable moments of the day, aside from finishing this race, of course:-)

Some of the descents were pretty treacherous.
Even though I treated this race as a training run, running an extra 5 km right off the start had my on my heels. I started running a little scared, feeling like I was chasing the entire field of runners. It didn't really make sende, but I think that's what happened and ultimately caused me to push early when I really just needed to hang back and relax.

Beautiful single track trails.
As I continued to climb towards the first checkpoint, it started to get warm. I started passing lots of runners that had gotten ahead of me during my bonus miles. It felt good to pass runners, but the climbing continued and combined with the warming temps started to take its toll. I refueled at the first checkpoint, but I was already taking a bit longer at this aid station than I would have expected to. From there, we went straight into another serious climb. Obviously, 12,000 ft of gain have to add up somehow:-) The views were spectacular and I started to take lots of photos.

Impossible not to keep taking pictures with these views.
Every so often, I'd meet a new runner running at the same pace as myself for a time and we'd exchange stories. However, as the miles and elevation continued to add up, I started to struggle more than usual. Just 15 miles into the race, my quads started to cramp up and before I knew it, even my toes, yes, my toes, started to cramp. That was not a good thing considering how early in the race it still was.
When you weren't descending or running on a ridge line you were climbing.
I adjusted my pace again, already walking way more than I had anticipated. I took my time at aid stations and I continued to take plenty of pictures. I doubled up on my salt intake, I drank way more fluids at aid stations and I cooled off with some cold water whenever possible.

The weather was fantastic all day, although pretty hot.
One of the best things about ultra races in Europe is the aid station fare. There are local cheeses, salami, cakes, fruits and other goodies along with isotonic drinks and coke. Gels, however, are nowhere to be found other than in your race goody bag and that was just fine with me. Unless I'm on a training run, I actually prefer solid foods over energy gels.

View between two of the rocky peaks above Tesserete lovingly called "Grandmothers Teeth".
Regardless of how well I hydrated at this point, it appeared that I was already in such a severe deficit that nothing seemed to help. I popped salt pills and isotonic drinks, yet the cramps continued. To make things worse, I now got side stitches every time I tried to run, because of the extensive fluid intake.

Oh well, I quickly resigned to the fact that it would likely be my slowest 50K finish ever and that turned out to be true. However, with views such as these, who cared, I certainly didn't. I continued the beautiful grind, making my way from checkpoint to checkpoint. As the late stages progress, my pace continued to slow, but I was certain that I would finish. With about three miles to go, I came across another runner from Hamburg, Germany, essentially my home town, proving once again how small this world truly has become. We decided to grind the remaining miles out together, finally crossing the beautiful finish line in just over ten and a half hours. We were greeting by volunteers hanging wooden custom medals around our necks and handing us a pair of arm sleeves as well, yet more race swag.

When it was all said and done, I had managed another ultra finish in one of the most beautiful places in Switzerland. While my finishing time was rather slow, it did allow me to take in this amazing scenery just a little bit longer than would otherwise been possible. Thanks to am amazing crew of volunteers and an impeccably set up event by the race director, who made this weekend very special. To top it all off, I managed to crawl out of bed on Sunday morning to toe the line for the Vertical Della Croce, an amazing 2.8 mile race with 2800 feet of vertical gain straight up the side of a mountain. We were greeting by a spectacular finish line atop the mountain, capping off a weekend of very special races.

Put this one on your bucket list, if you enjoy these views as much as I did:-)

Lake Como and Lake Lugano in the background.

A horse farm on one of the alpine meadows.

The town of Tesserete (or was it Lugano?) below.

You gotta stop and smell the roses...and pose for the occasional pic every once in a while.

Lakes Como and Lugano were often visible in the valleys below us.

Below is a short clip from the race:

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