The Swiss Alpine Marathon took place for the 28th time over the last July weekend in Davos and I was lucky enough to be one of the invited athletes for this years race. This event has a strong New Zealand connection with the winner of the Kepler Challenge travelling over to take part for many years during the ’90′s. Despite it’s name it is actually 78km long and is one of the largest trail ultra’s in the world with up to 1500 starters. The K78, as it is known, is part of a much larger series of races over the weekend that includes a marathon, a 30km race, a half marathon and numerous walking options. Overall more than 6000 people descend on the Swiss alpine town of Davos for the event. I had travelled to this race once before, in 2011, but sadly injury meant I never finished. For me this years race was an opportunity to show what I could do on a course that I felt suited me.
Race day dawned beauitiful and clear with the promise of plenty of heat to come, just how I like it. As usual there was a good field of internationals including 6x previous winner Jonas Budd of Sweden. Jonas, if you have not heard of him before, is very much the man when it comes the K78 but is also well known for multiple podiums at World 100km champs and placing 2nd at this years Comrades. Despite being 78km the race looks and starts like a road marathon, ie no packs or hydration just shorts and singlets. The pace was solid from the start (sub 3.40kms) and it felt awesome to be running with Jonas and Huw Lobb (2.14 marathon and 2nd place at Jungfrau) over the first 35km. When we hit the first real climb which took us up to Bergun, I had to stop for a bathroom break, but then still managed to catch and drop both of them to take the lead. (Marathon split was 2.43 for me)
From there I knew Jonas always closes hard, (he just got 2nd at Comrades with the fastest 2nd half) so I knew the big climb up to the Kerschhutte was the one place I could do some damage. I ended up 6+mins up at the top of the first climb and he admits he was starting to really worry. From there you have 5.5km of pretty rough alpine running up to the Seertig pass at 2700m, this is where Jonas usually starts making his move. He took about 3mins out of me through this section as it was really hard to get the legs moving on the downs after running up for more than 1hr30. On the steep descent from the Sertig pass I was doing alright until I took a massive fall when I was only a couple of hundred metres from being back on some good runnable terrain. Both calves cramped and I think I may have broken some ribs. I got up and luckily I could still run but I was very slow for the next few kms and this is when Jonas came past just after the 15km to go sign. I had no chance to go with him at that point as I was still just trying to get back into some sort of a rhythm.
Still I pushed him more than in any of his other seven victories, and he one of the worlds best. If you had offered me finishing seven mins behind him, before the race, I would have taken it no questions asked. People were freaking out when I got over 6mins on him, they were wondering who is this New Zealander. I was proud to have raced here to the best of my abilities and was extremely grateful to my friends, family and sponsors for helping me to turn my dreams into reality.
– Vajin Armstrong, member of the Sri Chinmy Marathon Team