21. September 2021

Swiss Trail Tour, Day 1

Nine months after signing up, after nine months of training, race day has finally come. Spirits are running high. I can’t wait for the start of this footrace. What does the first day have in store? Only time will tell. Impressions from Day 1 of the Swiss Trail Tour.

After taking a break from racing after COVID-19 hit the planet, I’m finally back to racing. And what a wicked feeling it is: same person, same shoes, same shirt. How can racing feel so different from training? How is it possible that you find reserves when racing that are so difficult to access when training?

Anyhow, racing it is. It’s the first out of three days in a multistage race: the Swiss Trail Tour. In the past, I tended to go out to fast on the first day of multistage races. It’s sooo tempting. You’re well rested (or supposedly well rested). You’re finally at the start. Racing is giving it all, right? And you’ve got access to all these reserves? What’s the matter? Well, there are two more days to come.

When I signed up over nine months ago, I did some estimates of what would be sensible target times for each day. I told myself on the days before the race that I should stick to these conservative targets, specifically on the first day.

Anyhow, I ignore these plans as if the plans had been made by someone on the other end of the world, without me ever finding out about them. Instead, I do what I tend to do. Race by feel. Which is good. Except how do you know how you’re going to feel the next day?

Race by feel. What does it mean today, on this beautiful sunny day in Simmental, Switzerland? Run way too fast in the first kilometer because everyone else does it. And if you don’t do it, you’ll get stuck in a single file on the first uphill section on a narrow trail. Run way too fast, but only so fast that I have still enough energy to overtake the one or other person on the 10km more or less continuous uphill. If you are overtaken, it’s morale-sapping. I don’t need my morale sapped. Not in the first kilometres.

Anyhow, after the first kilometre or so, there’s not much running to be done. Instead uphill hiking. The trail is winding up through a forested bit until we get into the open. Cows stare at us in their typical, strange mix of curiosity and indifference. More uphill hiking, with some sections allowing some running.

A fellow runner wonders whether I’m not a bit warm. As far as I can tell I’m about the only person wearing long trousers today. This runner also shows me how to run downhill. Extremely fast, I find. I mean he shows me very briefly because he’s out of sight very soon. Unfortunately, the lesson is lost on me: watching is no substitute for repeated practice.

Downhill is not my strength. I learn this today. Or do I? It shouldn’t be a surprise because in the past months I only practiced uphill and tolerated the downhill. But it is a surprise, nevertheless. When I see others speeding away like mountain goats, I can’t help but be impressed and wonder how the hell they do it. And then follow the same path down, but at my very own pace.

It seems that I’m doing well on the uphill and on the flats, or at gentle downhill sections. These sections are where I catch up with people whom I then lose on steep downhill sections, and then meet again on the flats.

But apart from racing, it’s a brilliant day outside. Sunny, but not too warm. Panorama all around that invites you to stay where you are and sit in the grass and let the gaze wander around, over mountaintops, rock faces, waterfalls, trees, cows, meadows. A few clouds here and there, providing a welcome contrast to the deep blue sky.

It’s almost a shame to run in such beautiful surroundings, whilst your senses are occupied with watching out for roots, rocks, cow shit, and other things to trip over. Too much preoccupation with the outstanding panorama leads to outstanding faceplants. Which I don’t want to do─and fortunately also do not do today.

There are plenty of checkpoints. Plenty enough such that I skip one of them. The race course is very well marked, and there’s so many marshals along the route, I feel almost ashamed! Very nice stuff from the team putting up the Swiss Trail Tour, apparently the fourth edition.

After 2:37h, 1200 metres of elevation gain over nearly 23km, I make it into the finish, half an hour after the first finisher. With some energy to spare, which is good. After all, is only the first day. However also over 45 minutes earlier than I had originally planned. Well, I might either have been too conservative or I went out too fast. It matters not. Tomorrow is a new day. What counts tomorrow is what I do tomorrow. Looking forward to another day of racing and the wicked feeling that comes with it.

Other articles in this series: