Ever had a chance conversation with someone and next minute things are happening that you would never have expected, deja-vu perhaps?………….then read on!!
This race report starts one night around a warm log fire in the club bar one Spring night .Tony is recounting an adventure story from a race in the Alps whilst the audience of Stuart, Mike and myself listen politely . As our minds wander, it seems a good idea to accompany Tony on a trip abroad. As the adventure unfolds Mike finds a flower show a convenient excuse on hearing that this race is all off road and uphill. Stuart feels the wrath of Tracey more daunting than the prospect of four days in the Alps.
And so this story begins with Tony and me as the characters.
Planning begins in earnest about a week before the race when Tony remembers to book some flights and suggests that I book a hotel. The latter may sound easy but Tony has given me a list of demands. No shared accommodation (Tony raced badly once because a previous room partner snored all night keeping him awake) .Convenient location etc, etc.
Final plans are made when I am invited to the basement HQ of Running Bear. We are all sorted and are to leave on Friday morning.
Friday 25th June.
Taxi arrives early at my house and even earlier when we pick up Tony. We are underway.
First opportunity to impress the club coach is at the airport over breakfast. Lightly toasted brown bread seems the choice of a true athlete , but my choice seems a poor one as Tony tucks into the hearty cholesterol full English .
We arrive safely in Geneva and book a hire car. Tony gives his details but suggests I be a named driver to share the driving. Off we go.
After an hour, we stop briefly and change driver. My turn. As we enter the Alps towering above us, Tony starts to point out landmarks. As I momentarily take my eyes off the road, I am told in no uncertain terms not to enjoy the panorama but to remain focused. The £200 excess is in Tony’s name!
Before we get to Brig, where we are to stay, we stop for a run in the Mountains to acclimatize. Awesome.
We arrive at the hotel; the choice seems a good one. Accommodation good and Brig is a pretty traffic free town. The receptionist ran in the race the previous year. Her recollection sends shivers down the spine.
Over breakfast Tony tells me that there are two types of Swiss people. Normal Swiss and German Swiss the former is the better option. This particular waitress is German Swiss and Tony points out overweight.
Today we are to inspect the course. We drive fifteen minutes and then travel by cable -car to the race start (1900 metres). This is the pretty Mountain village of Bettmeralp .Picture postcard material. We then take the next cable car to the top. (2750 metres). The terrain changes dramatically from rolling Alpine meadows to the Alpine mountain terrain and alongside us, the highest glacier in Europe. The Aletsche, hence the race name. The race is also the Highest Half Marathon in Europe .Stunning views, snow drifts, one deeper than us, which formed part of the ascent to finish, 350 metres of ascent in the last mile .Tony keeps muttering that this is going to be tough.
Over lunch, we see more competitors are starting to view the finish and to mentally prepare. One athlete asks me if I am Billy Burns (2.15 London Marathon and three times Aletsche race winner). Modesty forces me to say no, the bulls****er in me tempts me to say yes!! Tony tells me that I look like him if twenty years older.
We descend to the bottom and that night fuel on pasta. An early night.
Sunday 27th June.
Early start, adrenalin pumping. Swiss German smiles this morning. Still overweight but she goes up marginally in Tony’s view.
We get to the cable car which is getting busy and wait in the queue. The race day buzz is starting; competitors of all nationalities are here.
We get to the start an hour before the race. We start to prepare. The minutes tick by, and I recall Tony’s advice. Don’t start to fast; it’s going to be tough. I have my game plan for the race (aim is sub two hours). The race is about to start ………..Tony is no where. I look around anxiously. No need to worry, Tony is spotted trotting without a care in the world on to the front line (The England vest allows for this).
The first mile is through the village centre and gradually uphill. People are out in force to cheer the runners and applaud. They ring their bells. We start to leave the village and enter a wooded section. Still undulating up and down hill. The course then starts to develop along the narrow path that is to be route to the top. I ignore Tony’s pre race advice and admire the view , only to take a fall that takes me twenty feet of course and down a slope . Luckily at this point it is grass covered. I lose some ground, and places.
Awesome scenery if it was a Sunday run, this is a race and whilst the serious stuff does not start yet , there are a number of ascents followed by descents . Things are going ok now and despite the mountain terrain , there are markers at each kilometre. I get to 15k ahead of my plan . Sub two hours is in sight ! Things go a bit pear shaped from here on . The race is now starting to feel like mile 20 in a marathon . Each of the last few kilometres is getting harder and as I look up the finish looks a long way off . With two kilometres to go , sub two hours is looking a bit iffy !
Running that last part in twenty plus minutes ( two kilometres ) means that I finish in 2.04 . Tony finishes in 2.15 , we are 65th and 115th respectively ( 1000 finishers ) . We both narrowly miss out on age group placing . A fantastic prize giving ceremony takes place back at the start in a pretty chapel . Winner’s podium included !!
Having finished its safe now to look back and think ‘ hey , I ‘ve done it ‘ . We have a beer and relax . Back to the hotel , for a refresh , a night out some pasta and more beer .Tony admits to having a drink every night !.
Monday 28th June .
A day to unwind . We head for Zermatt , and ascend by train. Again stunning views .Having had lunch , we decide to run back down , a leisurely ascent allowing for stops takes a couple of hours . Again a beer in Zermatt and back to the hotel , for the last night .
Tuesday 29th June .
Homeward bound . On the flight home , Tony asks if I am training tonight . I ask if it is hill reps .
All in all an awesome experience and a fantastic four days ………….and so for next year ??!!