"Nobody climbs mountains for scientific reasons. Science is used to raise money for the expeditions, but you really climb for the hell of it."

- Edmund Hillary

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

The Irontrail fraud

I’ll try to be brief, as there is not much to say (or there is?) about the much-awaited Swiss Irontrail

On Friday 6th, the start of our race (T201, 201 km, ~11,000 m of climb) was postponed for 8 hours due to bad weather around the Pontresina region. Eventually, we started at 4 p.m. instead of 8 a.m. as it was planned and there was a change in the original course, the organizers removed the first 47 km of the course, which included a major climb to the Diabolezza (km 16, 3004 m), a crossing of the Morteratsch and Pers Gletscher glaciers and another climb to the Fuorcla Pischa (31 km, 2837 m). All this because the snow conditions were not “optimal”. The resulting course was then 154 km long, which is very similar to what the UTMB was in its first editions.

The start was fine, with runners recovering their psyche after the long delay, and although the weather was not great, at least it was not raining. The first climb we encountered was to the Fuorcla Surlej (58 km, 2755 m), where we encountered some rain during the descent, while enjoying the scenery as we entered the St. Moritz valley. There we arrived to the first big aid station (km 67), where we had left a change of clothes for the original course. We barely logged 20 km of this shortened course, I was feeling great and arrived to the aid station in 48th place, only 3 hours after starting the race. All the time was with Paco, a friend from Malaga that I met in Chamonix last year. Both of us were having a blast and decided to change our shirt and have some food, then departed at full speed towards the next big climb.

We ran around St. Moritz Lake and started climbing some seemingly endless stairs which, after a long time, left us on the trail that climbs towards Piz Nair (81 km, 3022 m), the highest point on the course and which we summited when the night arrived but not yet using our headlamps. There it began to rain again, a bit stronger, so we put on our jackets and headlamps and with the water bladders filled, we ran down the opposite side of the mountain. On either side of the trail several rivers were coming down, which we sometimes had to jump, because they flooded the course. Likewise, there were also some snow patches, but quite short and smooth. Despite the darkness, we passed people on the descent and during this stretch Paco went a bit ahead of me because I made a nature stop.

I got to the bottom of the valley and, after a couple of kilometers along a dirt road, the ascent to the Fuorcla Crap Alv (km 93, 2466 m) began. Some very short zigzags and a fairly steep climb with some mud reminded me of the nocturnal climb to the Tête aux Vents at the UTMB, but a lot shorter than that. At the top of the pass I got to a small aid station, where I changed my soaked short sleeves to something warmer and put my waterproof pants on. Paco must have been there about 10 or 15 minutes before me. While I had some chicken broth, I noticed a strange environment among the other runners, because they had no hurry to leave the station and it was when I managed to decipher a brief sentence in German by someone of the staff: “The race has been canceled!”.

My mind couldn’t believe what I had heard, so I began asking other runners, who one by one were confirming the disappointing news. Within minutes I met with Jordi and Oriol, a pair of Catalan runners, with whom I immediately engaged in conversation about the situation, and it was then that we decided to send everything to hell and start the descent to the village of Bergün (km 104). We came down the mountain without hurry and trying to elaborate reasons to understand the sudden decision of the organization, meanwhile the rain had stopped. Everything was unreal.

When we reached the road, the staff people told us to continue downhill along the same (instead of the trail alongside the river) and that a bus would eventually get us quickly to Bergün. We were also told that such section was short, with only a few kilometers. In the end, we walked for about an hour until the damn truck passed, which picked us immediately and within a few minutes left us at the Bergün checkpoint. There I met Paco, who arrived some time before and who was also talking with other Spanish friends. I took off my wet clothes, I wrapped myself under a thermal blanket and ate some pasta and bread. Soon the organization told us that another transport would arrive to take us to Chur, the little town where the race would have end originally. It was 4 a.m. or so.

Half an hour later, the bus stopped at Chur and dropped us outside of a building where there was no one to welcome us. We tried to figure out where the entrance was but apparently everything was closed. It was quite disconcerting to see that no one from the organization was waiting for us and apparently we had no place to take shelter. Some runners were almost naked for all their clothing was wet and we had no access to the change of clothes that we had sent to the finish line. After 20 minutes someone gave us notice that we were left at the wrong place and we had to walk to another place half a block from there. We arrived at a small park, where the finish line was with a big tent and supplies. The staff got us into a gym where there were mattresses and blankets so we could catch some sleep. By then it was morning and still no rain again.

After a few hours of deep sleep, we opened our eyes to find that Elías, another friend of Malaga, had also arrived to Chur. He was enrolled to the T141, which had started in Pontresina at 9 p.m. the night before and which was also shut down after a few hours for the same reason as the T201. After a short talk, we walked to the hotel where we had reservation for the night of Sunday to Monday, and moved the lodging for one night. Upon returning to the finish area we learned that the organization had also canceled the T71 and T21, two shorter races to be held on Saturday in the region of Chur. Meanwhile, staff people were handing out the “finisher” t-shirts for those who participated in the interrupted T201 and T141. It was worth noting that the midday weather was spectacular and all of this only contributed to an atmosphere of great discontent among runners, especially those of us who came from outside Switzerland.

We settled into the hotel and after a good shower and a nap we went out to get some food and drink. At some lost street in downtown Chur we found the Spanish gang at the terrace of a bar and we joined forces to the massive ingestion of beers. We had a great time making fun of the race situation, of the organizers and talking about new projects where we didn’t depend on any regulation or organization. After all, everybody was upset and the only thing that seemed to calm us was a good conversation with friends and rounds of beer. The weather was still very good and we still hadn’t heard any official statement by the race organization.

And that is the status for now. Everything seems to be a total fraud…

Rest of the photos are here or in the slideshow below:

1 Comment:

  • [...] On Sunday’s mid-morning, Paco, Elías and I took the train to Zurich and met with Frank (Paco’s friend who lives there), who accompanied us to the hostel where we stayed and he talked of close places to go for a hike and maybe do some running. The best option was in the Engelberg area, near Lucerne and where Titlis is located, a mountain of 3,238 m where there is lots of tourism and outdoor activities. On early Monday we took the corresponding trains to Engelberg and spent most of the day doing an incredible run/hike/climb in the mountains. We found almost everything: moisture, snow, clouds, a via ferrata and very technical trails surrounded by beautiful scenery. We had a great time, as we finally felt that the trip to Switzerland gave us something of what we had come to experience. We returned to Zurich in the evening, for a walk with Frank and his family, have dinner and toast the good times shared despite the recent disappointments. [...]

    By Swiss mountain running « www.arareko.net , at October 18th, 2012 6:39 PM

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