Race report from Clive Bandy: Eiger Ultra Trail. Grindelwald Switzerland, July 2018.
At a time when the fell running community got a little excited about an epic feat of mountain running, an intrepid group of Valley Striders (and honorary guests) tackled various distances in this year’s european adventure. Oh yeah, and some Catalan bloke went for a jog round the Lake district.
The Eiger Ultra Trail race starts and finishes in Grindelwald, Switzerland, a beautiful alpine town situated under the watchful gaze of the North Face of the Eigur Mountain. There are various distances on offer from 16km, to 101km with most of our team opting for the (relatively) sensible option of 51km.
The trip got off to a difficult start with a flight cancelled by French Air traffic Control strikes, which unfortunately meant Steve Dixon didn’t even leave Blighty. I suspect his weekend was spent cheering on Croatia. Nick & Liga Magdalenoka-Keen (chapel A runners) let the Barclaycard do the talking and Kim Threadgall Spence and Ian had had their own travel dramas. Nevertheless, by Friday morning the team was assembled and all was forgiven as we sat on the expansive patio of our chalet, sipping coffee and staring at the Eigur in peaceful silence. A situation made possible by the fact that Amanda was staying 10 minutes down the road.
Friday: Registration and kit check complete we took the cable car up the mountain that would form the first part of our race route. Murmurs of ‘it’s quite a long way up this, isn’t it’, as we contemplated the following days run. Part of the race route is a steel ‘Cliff Walk’. At roughly 75 meters long it is draped off the side of the peak. Stunning views but not one for the vertigo sufferers. Most came back via the cable car, with a handful of us taking the Mountain Carts and Scooterbikes down. A great opportunity to pick up a last minute injury the day before the race. I can highly recommend.
Saturday: Race day. Game face on. The race route as you might reasonably expect from a mountain run, is mostly up for the first half, and you guessed it, mostly down for the second. 51km with 3,100 meters of ascent and descent in between. Sounds a lot doesn’t it. For context, the Yorkshire 3 peaks race has 1,600 meters. Another ‘hilly one’ the Otley 10 mile road race has just 200m of up and down.
The 101km runners (Nick Keen, Mike Roberts (Horsforth runners)) were up and out very early for their 4am start. Simon Vallance, hotly tipped to be the quickest of our group on the 51km race, did his best to give everyone a head start by leaving his watch set to UK time, and casually ambled down to the kitchen for a coffee less than 15minutes before the race start. The ensuing adrenalin rush served him well in the early stages of the race as he had surged to a 3 minute lead by the first feed station.
We were treated to a relatively cool start, and a light rain shower which stopped moments after I’d conceded and put my waterproof on. Amazing technology in Gore-tex these days. As we approached the ‘Grindelwald First’ cable car which represented the first chunk of our days climbing done, Andreas Mayer was on hand to photograph our efforts. He was present again at the highest peak of the race, the Faulhorn Mountain top. ‘Dramatic’ camera setting was engaged, but fully redundant. People often refer to scenery as ‘breathtaking’, but stood at 2,700m altitude, and after a fairly brutal climb up, the view was picture perfect. The sun had been out for a while by this stage and we were being treated to spectacular vistas over the Eigur and Jungfrau mountain ranges.
Simon had been through the Faulhorn check point 14 minutes ahead of me and Kim. I looked at my watch which read 4 hours at this, the half way point. It was going to be a long day.
But a good one. The descent off the Faulhorn peak was the perfect undulating, technical but gradual downhill that trail runners dream of. Even better, it went on for about 12km. The latter part along a ridge with the mountain range on runners’ left, and what felt like a sheer 2km drop to the town of Interlaken on our right. By this stage Kim had let the handbrake off and had eeked out 12 minutes on me. Simon a further 14 mins ahead. The penultimate section was c10km of steep descent with technical forest sections interspersed with even steeper but more open tracks. A section of which was very open with a rope for a hand rail on the left, and sharp drop to the right. Carole Towler if you’re reading, perhaps give this race a miss.
At the final feed station in the valley, the temperature was right up towards 30c. I bumped into Mike on the 101km route who had a sprained wrist and bandaged knee after a lapse in concentration. I then set off up the valley alongside the river for the 7-8km back to Grindelwald. The only mickey mouse bit of the route is the final couple of km back into the town, but overall this is a race with a truly stunning route. I’d recommend it.
Simon was first strider back in 7hrs 23m 58secs, Kim next in 7hrs30m48secs. I staggered over the line in 7hr47m and immediately declared myself retired from running. Amanda Seims was next in having toughed it out in 9hr22m. By her own admission she had perhaps over trained and had a few too many miles in the legs already. Not an accusation anyone has ever levelled at me. 75th female in a field of over 200 strong and experienced runners is not however, to be sniffed at.
Ian Spence had taken part in the shorter 35km race, which despite being shorter in distance still had 2,500m of ascent to negotiate. Finishing in 220th place (338 starters) in a time 7hr16mins shows that this was by no means the ‘easy’ option. Either that or Ian should stick to cycling.
That evening was spent drinking beers and eating everything in sight. A thunderstorm played havoc with the 101km race with runners being held at various checkpoints while it blew through the valley. We watched the headtorches dance in the darkness of the Eigur mountain trail from the comfort of our chalet patio, after we had all let Kim win at her board game (it’s best for everyone that way). Final point on this race is that the finishers medal is the best I’ve ever seen. Each one is unique, made from a stone that has fallen from the Eigur itself, and been washed down the river. At least next year’s race should be marginally easier.
There are some great pics and more details on the (very good) race website here just in case this has whetted your appetite. Andreas may have put one or two pics on facebook too.
Sunday: The main event. Sunday was predictably a fairy low key day. A short train ride to the next valley. A half hearted walk to a water fall. A few beers. And many cheeseburgers. All in steady build up to the Valley Striders Ultra Runners Crazy Golf Championship. In what is now becoming a tradition, race results pale into insignificance as a titanic battle ensues in a blizzard of blasphemy, banter, underhand tactics and abject frustration. Nick Keen took the trophy. Kim calls for stewards enquiry, legal appeal pending.
Until next year. Unless I’m still retired.
76 Simon Vallance 7:23:58.7
87 Kim Spence 7:30:48.4
115 Clive Bandy 7:47:11.5
323 Amanda Seims 9:22:10.5
1st M 5:14:11.9 (528 started)
1st F 5:46:57.5 (218 started)
367 Liga Magdalenoka-Keen 9:32:42.9 Chapel A
631 Meg Galsworthy 11:38:14.3 N Leeds F R