Sunday, June 7, 2009

Mountain Marathoning in Lichtenstein

June 6, 2009 - Lichtenstein - LGT Alpin Marathon

1800M elevation gain and 42KM: Trail Running

The LGT Alpin Marathon is held on a beautiful and sometimes brutally challenging course in the tiny and scenic country of Lichtenstein. This wealthy nation is nestled between Switzerland and Austria and contains some stunning alpine terrain, breathtaking views, super nice people, and even a handful of interesting castles to catch the eye. This race takes the standard marathon distance of 42KM(26 miles) and sends most of it uphill. Only the first 10km is comfy and flat - the rest tackles the mountainous terrain that's home to the beauty of Lichtenstein.

We weren't so lucky with the weather gods this year as the race turned into a real soak-fest! The rain never seemed to stop and it got colder as we climbed and the day progressed. I feel for the people who didn't bring a shell or hat. Even with my shell and gloves on, I was soaked and shivering by the time I crossed the finish.

The race opened with a nice and easy flat 10K and then the first big climb (10km itself), which was sometimes runnable but often so steep that walking was in order for all but the elite. I ran the first 10k at an easy pace and just enjoyed the view of the Rhine. Once we started heading up the mountain, I ran until my heart rate was too high (in the 170s) and then switched to a power walk. The rain was at its heaviest at this point, so I just smiled at the appeal of running a marathon up hill in a cold rain and powered on, alternating beween running and walked. Before too long (well, about an hour of climbing), we crossed over a mountain and entered a quick and muddy descent down to Steg to close out the 1/2 marathon section. I love running fast down hills, so I opened it up on the descent, leaping over small stream crossings and smacking my shoes straight into and through endless goopy mud puddles. As I finished out a rippin' descent into Steg, I had it in my mind that the bulk of the climbing was in the bag by this point -- which I later learned is entirely the wrong thing to have in your mind when you reach the half way point in Steg!

The photo below shows the border in yellow. Austria is to the left, Switzerland to the right/bottom. Licthenstein lies in between (and is nearly covered by the race course!).

From Steg (center-right in the photo below), it's a long, long climb (partly runnable with some rolling sections early on) toward the ski town of Malbun. This part of the course is very scenic (especially, I can imagine, when the weather is clear!). The views open up quite nicely as you wind your way around the mountain, into the forest, and then back out for the final upward march of this section. There are some very steep bits, especially the end push to the pass that overlooks Malbun (top of photo just left of center). 30km+ into the race -- this climb hurts and seems to never end. The higher we climbed, the less runnable parts I could find, so I resorted to as fast a hiking pace as I could muster. I really had to deep dig in this section to keep the pace going.

After topping out on the 2nd big climb of the day, the reward is a great view and the feeling that this is the home stretch -- you can see Malbun and soon even hear the Finish Line announcer. This is a cruel joke though. After descending to the edge of town (and I again ran the descent very hard as I raced to the joy, dryness, and warmth of the finish line), you climb back up again high above Malbun and take on a 5km tour of the town that packs a huge punch in tired legs that were expecting an easy push down (and only down!) to the Finish Line. Halfway through this tour, you drop back down toward Malbun and climb up again (toward the top of the Malbun ski lifts).

Finally the climbing ends and you have a rippin' descent to the Finish Line. Good SWAG at the finish (nice technical shirt plus a nice Swarovski wine bottle stopper). Even with my dry post-race clothes on, it took me half an hour to stop shivering. I saw people being treated for hypothermia -- which reinforces the need to take mountain weather seriously.

With the big day of rain, we made countless crossings of small streams and splashed through endless mud. It was a cold, wet, and dirty day of racing and a hell of a great day in the mountains!

I'm looking forward to next year's race, when the weather will hopefully cooperate! Next up, the Graubünden Marathon -- which I just noticed has nearly 900 additional meters of elevation gain over the LGT. Doh!

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