This is going to be a long one, so feel free to skip it if you don't happen to have a spare 6 weeks or so at your disposal...............!
No running for me at the moment, and only the most minimal and necessary walking - I hurt my foot running for a bus a couple of weeks ago, and it's still giving me grief. But if I can't run, I can at least write about it. (Sorry it's taken so long, but I've been up to my ears in another premiere at the theatre.) Back in 2012, I had the privilege of sharing some miles with Ruedi Frehner, a remarkable charity runner. On that occasion, he ran 6 ultras in 6 days, all starting in Luzern, except the last one, which ended there instead; I was with him for some of days 1, 4, and 6. I couldn't join him for his next project, in 2014 (work and life getting in the way), but really hoped I could make it for some of the new RuediRennt project at the end of February 2016: 'The Special Run For Special People'. This time he was raising money for 3 causes: the Special (Winter) Olympics for the mentally handicapped; a sports camp for overweight children; and an association of blind runners. Starting in Bern, where the previous Special Olympics had been held, he was going to run 383 kms over 10 consecutive days, finishing in Chur on the day of the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics on March 3rd. Also back in 2012, earlier in the year, another charity runner was undertaking an even more mind-boggling project: running the full length of the Rhine, from its source in Graubünden, south-east Switzerland, to its meeting with the sea at Rotterdam, in Holland - 1,425 kms, and 35 days (1 day in 7 a rest day) - raising over 55,000 francs for children with cancer. Their paths had already crossed, and continued to do so; the 2014 project saw their first joint enterprise, and this would be their second. I first met Reto, very briefly, on the day of the Luzern Marathon last year, where he was the 4 hr 30 pacemaker. Ruedi, having finished his half marathon pacemaker duties, was voluntarily going round again keeping Reto company, and introduced me as we all ran up the hill to Stutz together. He told me about the new project, and "I'll be there!" I promised (hoping this was true!) as I waved them on their way: Ruedi, the chatty, charismatic one, the joker, the Pied Piper, who is nevertheless passionate about the causes he runs for; Reto, the quiet man of the team. Lovely guys, both of them.
As February went on, it looked as though Sunday 28th was going to be the only possibility - my only completely free day. That began in Zug at the very civilized hour of 11.30, and ended in Zürich. I wasn't planning on doing the whole thing, but I mentally pencilled in Leimbach as my get-out point (25 kms; access to a station to get home again.) J. was planning on doing the previous Friday - from Lungern to Stansstad - though again, probably not all of it. In view of the very early start (7.20 - because of an appointment in Stans at 11.15), which would have necessitated getting a train about half past 5, the second half seemed a realistic aim for him, though still impossible for me, with rehearsals scheduled for morning and evening. On the Saturday in between, their route even took them through Luzern........ but again a morning rehearsal seemed almost a certainty; and with a performance in the evening, I couldn't really afford much time or energy for running in the afternoon, especially with a projected 25 kms the next day. But maybe I could make it to the station at Luzern, Ebikon, or Gisikon, just to say hello..........?
'RuediRennt' 2016 set off from Bern on Tuesday 23rd, accompanied by a big crowd of other runners. The weather could not have been worse, though the previous day had been beautiful and sunny. Photo updates on facebook showed people smiling cheerfully despite the torrential rain, but the crowd increasingly thinning out. Just a handful were still with them at the end of Day 1, in Thun.
Day 2 saw them reach Interlaken, in somewhat better conditions. (Dull, but not actually raining.)
Day 3, they had snow. And the climb over the Brünig Pass. One hardy companion joined them for this adventure. Oh, and Ruedi decided to make an entertaining little video of himself running in just his underpants and hat (and shoes, of course) in the snow, waving flags (the Bern and Graubünden kantonal flags they each carried with them) and shouting something cheerful, if incomprehensible...........(Apparently it was Reto's idea, but he didn't have the bottle to do it himself!)
At just about the same time, the running gods decided to smile on me: when Friday's plan pinged into my e mails on Thursday afternoon, I discovered my presence was NOT required at the morning rehearsal - that dubious pleasure was reserved for my male colleagues only. Ha! - I can go! So as Ruedi and Reto were making their way to Lungern, I was contemplating the weather forecast for the next day, and getting my kit together.
Up bright and early, breakfast, and off to the station. We had decided to meet up with them at Sachseln, halfway along Sarnersee, one of their drink stops. Coming out of the station, I spotted the van in the car park, and the people in it spotted us and came out to greet us........... only for me to dash off in the other direction in search of the 'Häuschen' (my morning coffee having worked its way through, and the one on the train being locked!) When I came out, I discovered we were the only other runners that day - they'd had no takers for the early start, and no-one else had joined them since. A quick photo,
then off we went, Reto leading the way, with J; Ruedi following on with me. On their website, they'd promised a pace of around 6:20 mins/km, which sounded do-able if I pushed myself, though I'm generally more accustomed to something beginning with a 7, these days. (Yes, I'm old and slow and a bit lazy!) This, however, was nearer 6:00, and I wasn't warmed up yet either. So Ruedi asked Reto to slow it down a bit. Along the lake towards Sarnen - this part familiar from 2012, but in the other direction - then a right turn towards Kerns. Here the route-finding went awry, and we found ourselves on a track leading nowhere in particular, and the wrong side of a river. J. was all for wading across it and clambering up the very steep opposite bank, but to my relief they didn't buy this idea, and after a bit of fruitless wandering about across gravel beds, looking for an alternative path, they decided the only thing to do was go back the way we'd come, adding on about 2 extra kms. Even then it wasn't plain sailing, as there was a motorway to negotiate, and for a while we were the wrong side of that too. But eventually an underpass appeared, and we were back on track.......... until a forestry track we were on was completely blocked by a huge lorry loading tree trunks, necessitating climbing up the near-vertical bank beside it and inching past clinging on to branches and bushes. All very adventurous, but not conducive to timekeeping! - so now they had to push on a bit, with me gasping breathlessly in their wake. A big hill defeated me completely - I capitulated and walked parts of it, which left me well adrift. I was relieved when another navigation stop allowed me to catch up again. Into Kerns, where the van and driver Stefan were waiting; another quick refuel, then we were on our way again, still trying to make up lost time, me still trailing along at the back some 10 or 20 metres behind. (This wasn't plain meanness on their part - I understood why they had to keep to a schedule and couldn't make too many concessions to my slowness.) After some road and cycle path, there was more undulating forestry track, very wet with mud and slush, and dollops of melting snow falling from the trees. I was truly doing my best, but having real trouble keeping up; I kept having to sneak in the odd tiny walking break just to get my breath back a bit. J. dropped back to keep me company and give me some encouragement. On a couple of occasions when the gap had grown significantly, they too walked briefly to let me close up. I was very happy when a wood carving occasioned a photo stop!
Back on the road, it was a flying downhill to St Jakob and the next rendezvous with the van - this one even shorter, a matter of seconds, just time to down half a cup of Isostar. (I was still drinking it, in fact, as we moved off.) "Have we made up the time now?" I asked hopefully. But no..........unfortunately not, we were still operating at a pace well outside my comfort zone. Once when I glanced down at the Garmin, I saw 5:15 - hell's teeth, parkrun pace: FAST parkrun pace! (for me.) I knew I couldn't possibly keep this up the rest of the way to Stans. J was coping better, but admitted he was finding it tough too. R. & R. were on their way to a meet-up with a group, and a subsequent meal with them; we were also invited, but as I had no idea where the venue was, I decided I was going to have to pass on this and just get myself to Stans station and a train home. I asked J. if he could sprint on and let them know........... and just then, rescue came in the form of someone stopping them and wanting to know what this was all about. Apparently, spotting the flags, he thought it was some kind of political statement! - possibly about the proposed new Gotthard tunnel, which has been the subject of much controversy recently. So they stopped for a chat with him, inducing him to part with a charitable donation, and we cruised past and onwards, intent on making as much headway as possible before they caught up again. It was a relief to reduce the pace a smidge, but this was still a tempo run for me, and very tough! ('Character-building', I think they call it!) It was actually quite a while before they did, and by then we were coming into Stans. It's okay, said Reto, taking pity on me and trotting along at my speed, while Ruedi sprinted on ahead, once we get to Stans, we'll go really slowly........... and as a group of people in white tee shirts came to meet us, all became clear. It was a delegation of children from a special school in Stans, all of whom had either competed in the Special Olympics in Bern, or would be competing in the ones in Chur in a few days' time. It was a cold day, and they'd been waiting a while (hence the urgency to make up the lost time), shivering in a little chapel to keep out of the wind, but the warmth of their greeting dispelled any chill. A quick photo,
then an easy run/walk the rest of the way into Stans, with lots of chatting. Another photo on the steps of the church in the main square,
then on to the school for lunch. Members of staff directed us to rooms where we could 'freshen up' - for me this just involved rinsing my very salty face and putting on a fleece in lieu of my damp shirt - before our meal. The children - we shared a table with the older ones - were chatty, inquisitive, and excited; it didn't matter that we weren't the 'real' stars, they still wanted to know all about us, and tell us about their own sporting ambitions. The meal - salad; fish and pasta; fruit salad - was interspersed with musical interludes from some of the children, and finished with coffee, and a big batch of cup cakes - the project of yet another of them. A really nice way to finish the run.
And for me, it WAS the finish, I'd decided, though officially there were still another 4 kms to go, to Stansstad. J. intended completing it, but for me, 19 hard kms felt like enough; I wasn't sure I would enjoy any more - especially after eating. I also expected to find my knees had stiffened up horribly with sitting - though in fact they weren't too bad. I enquired how to get to the station. But then Stefan said why didn't I come with him in the van to Stansstad and get the train there. So that's what I did. He's an interesting guy too - ex-triathlete, but now with two knee replacements having put an end to that, though he still swims and cycles and goes mountain walking. I didn't appreciate before what an important and demanding role his was: all the logistical and organisational aspects involved in the venture. When R, R, and J appeared, they had acqired company, in the form of Steffi and baby - the latter fast asleep in the running buggy. Ruedi had spotted her en route and invited her to join them. A final photo outside Stansstad station,
then 'goodbye for today' as we went our separate ways: R&R with Stefan in the van to their hotel, J and I to get a train home, and Steffi running to Luzern to visit her father. (We spotted her from the train, almost in Horw.)
I had to go out to work that evening, and as I was standing at the bus stop awaiting the second of my two buses, I saw two orange-clad figures coming across the zebra crossing. Surely not..........? But yes, it was the dynamic duo again. They were on their way to do some washing. Later, they popped into MacDonald's, where Stefan caught them tucking into Big Mac and chips (there is video evidence!) 'But we're sick of gels and energy bars!' they protested in mitigation. Enjoy it, fellas, you've earned it!
I felt much better than I expected to, the next morning, and up for another couple of miles, so I went with J. in the Twike to the market (his usual Saturday morning jaunt to buy cheese etc.), then we drove on to Horw to intercept them at the station. Stefan and the van were already there. Another two runners were also waiting. When the group arrived, it numbered a dozen or so, so it was a colourful crowd that made their way through Horw then along the marathon route via Allmend to Luzern. I felt a bit stiff for the first few minutes, but otherwise remarkably good. This time I was not the struggling back marker, but integrated into the group, although the average pace over the 5 kms was still a brisk 6:09. (No hills, though.) We took our leave of them at Luzern station, where several more runners joined them, and I went home while J. got a bus back to Horw to pick up the Twike. Weather-wise, that day was the pick of the bunch: dull while we were with them, but later sunny as they made their way to Zug.
Which was where we also found ourselves the next morning, along with a big crowd of other runners. One of them came over to me and introduced herself as Jasmin; she looked somehow familiar.............. Oh yes, it's Jasmin Nunige, trail runner extraordinaire, 6 times winner of the Swiss Alpine and many other ultras, European Championships marathon qualifier......... and the gritty, admirable proof that it's possible to face up to a life-changing illness - in her case, Multiple Sclerosis - and not let it beat you. She went through a very bad time with it, and in the event was unable to do the E.C. marathon, but has fought her way back, and is in winning form again. A real heroine. And so nice, too, I was to discover. She was also an official member of the RuediRennt team this time, running this day and the final day, and giving a trail running workshop with all proceeds going to the charity fund.
Some photos before the start,
and we set off. I tucked myself into the group somewhere near the back, but not right at the back - I didn't want to get 'abgehängt' again - and at first this went to plan. Jasmin was a few metres ahead, chatting with a woman in an orange jacket for a while, but then when I saw a suitable opportunity, I (somehat sheepishly) asked Ruedi if he could maybe take a photo of me with Jasmin. (Star-struck, moi? - well, it's not every day you get to run with the elite!) They were both happy to oblige,
and Jasmin continued running alongside me for a while as we made our way to the first stop at Sihlbrugg, some 7 kms in. Here I had to change jackets - I'd worn a more heavy-duty one in anticipation of rain, but brought another featherweight one too, 'just in case'. It wasn't raining, nor was it particularly cold (weather forecasts don't always get it right!), and I was boiled, so the thin one it had to be. Onwards, a little more comfortable......... but hills were looming, and the illusion of comfort was short-lived. On the first one, there developed a long gap between me and the people ahead, though there were still one or two others behind. I clawed back lost ground when it levelled out again, but was feeling the effort. The second one was a monster: not long, but brutally steep. Run/walk became walk. Ahead of me, J. had now commandeered Jasmin. At the top of the hill, they both turned round, then came back to scoop me up. Applying a surprisingly firm hand to the small of my back, Jasmin literally pushed me up the rest of the hill! - a technique she said she had encountered at the Jungfrau marathon (though in my somewhat fazed state, I didn't grasp whether she had applied it to someone else, or they had applied it to her; but as she said, it did make a big difference to the amount of effort required to get up the hill.) Down the other side of this hill, and now we were in the Sihl valley, following the river. I've actually walked this route on a previous occasion, but didn't remember it being so undulating! Sort-of resigned to my fate now, I drifted to the back. Ruedi, happy to play sheepdog and round up stragglers, kept me company, together with a couple of others who either also welcomed the slower pace or were just kind enough to pretend they did. I apologised for my occasional little walking breaks, but he said it was no problem, he enjoyed walking too. I think he could see I was a bit discouraged, and took my hand companionably at one point. Up ahead, J. was still quizzing Jasmin about her training methods etc. (he does sometimes have a tendency to talk people to death!), and she was apparently telling him about a trail race that made a great impression on her last year, Les Templiers in France. Then at some point it was 'all change': Ruedi went off ahead taking photographs, and Jasmin took over 'sheepdog' duties at the back. With her on one side and J on the other, I worked my little socks off. (Though of course this was snail's pace to her - an easy morning trot.) Oh well, our trio might have been bringing up the rear, but we did it with a smile!
My escort got me safely to the next stop - and yes, they'd left us some Isostar! (and some chocolate -though the aftermath of this clinging stickily to my throat made me wish I'd left it alone!) Several of the men were casually taking a pee - it was hard to know where to look. (Oops, that could be misconstrued...........!) Five minutes to regroup and take more photos, then we were on our way again. By now, though, the weekend's cumulative effort was beginning to tell on me. I was definitely getting tired; it was starting to feel seriously effortful, though pride kept me pushing on. Leimbach and 25 kms seemed a step too far, however; I decided I would call it a day at either Sihlwald or Wildpark Höfli.
Sihlwald turned out to have one train an hour, and we'd just missed it. Wildpark Höfli it is then......... but at my own speed. So I said my goodbyes now in case they'd already gone by the time I got there, and when the group moved off, made no attempt to stay with it. In fact, when I set off following, for a few seconds I felt really light-headed and strange, and had to walk for a while. It was hard to get running again at all - I was spent. With the coloured jackets and tee shirts still in view in the distance, we followed on more slowly, seeing them cross the river and continue along the other side. A curve in the path, and they vanished. I didn't actually think we would see them again. So it was a real surprise to come round another bend and find them all just standing there. Surely they hadn't waited for us? Touching as this idea was, the truth was otherwise - they'd somehow missed the Wildpark stop and Stefan, and were just debating whether to go back or to leave that stop out and carry on. Apropos, they said then.......... what are YOU doing here? Were't you going to get the train at Wildpark? Yes, WE had missed it too! Decisions to be made all round......... Eventually they decided to go on, and we decided to go back; so goodbyes were said again, and we retraced our steps along the river to the next bridge and its rather modest signpost: 'Wildpark Höfli'. By now we had covered just upwards of 21 kms.
The station was easy enough to find, but there was an unforeseen problem. The ticket machine would take either plastic cards or small change - not notes. And what did we have..........? Scraping together every last coin we had between the two of us, it was just enough to get us to the next station, where we hoped to find a bus to Thalwil. Which, thank goodness, we did. It would have been a long walk! 40 minutes to wait in Thalwil, so we went into a kebab house we spotted near the station. I ordered the first thing I saw - a slice of sickly-sweet chocolate cake, with coffee. J insisted on having a salad, which took so long to arrive, he ended up decanting most of it into a Robidog bag (they are intended for disposing of dog s--t, but we tend to use them for other purposes!) to eat later. I offered to go and get our tickets if he would buy me a carton of chips to eat on the train (the chocolate cake having been inadequate as a meal.) This involved a footbridge with a long flight of stairs at each side.......... interesting at this stage of the proceedings! - but I made it, and was on the right platform when the train came in (and so was J, clutching chips and Robidog bag - an interesting combination!) And home, after a long, tiring, interesting weekend. A 60 km week, 45 of that in the last 3 days, redeeming an otherwise meagre month of running in February.
RuediRennt, meanwhile, had reached Zürich. I was sorry to have missed a delegation of blind runners who joined them for the last few kms. The next 4 days took them to Rapperswil, Murg, Vaduz (in Liechtenstein), and to Chur, with a massive group accompanying them to the Special Olympics celebrations on the final day. I followed them from afar, via facebook and the tracker on their website, and let out a cheer as I saw it come to a halt at the final destination. Well done, lads!
Apparently plans are already afoot for the next project, in 2018...........
Apologies for this magnum opus - I think it's my most excessive yet!
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