Vajin Armstrong Zermatt Marathon Race Report

matterhorn V

Vajin in the shadow of the Matterhorn

New Zealand’s leading ultra runner Vajin Armstrong backed up his 2nd place at the Zugspitz 100km Ultra Trail in Germany, with a solid run at the Zerrmatt Marathon- below is Vajin’s race report.

Part Two: Zermatt (or “Always Beware of the Silver Fox”)

Two weeks had passed since I had raced the toughest 100km of my life and here I was again getting ready to race. This time it was going to be shorter but also much faster and it was this that I was most concerned about. That and how my legs were going to respond on the climbs………
The Zermatt Marathon has been running for 12 years and over that time a plethora of trail running greats have graced its course. It is a standard marathon distance, with the added bonus of climbing 1900m mostly in the second half. New Zealand has had some great success there in the past with Jono Wyatt holding the course record at 2.57. Every year it draws a top class international field coming to enjoy both the views of the Matterhorn and the generous prize money that runs 15 deep.

I was running this race as it was a good tune up 3weeks out from the Swiss Alpine Marathon (78km) and a chance to get some quality speed work in. As well as this the opportunity to spend a few days at the foot of the Matterhorn sounded too good to pass up. We arrived to perfect weather, which would remain throughout our stay, the Matterhorn standing proud and majestic overlooking the valley. This was a good sign I thought, as often the peak is obscured by clouds, many visitors go home with only a post card to let them know what they missed out on.

Race day dawned clear and calm with a nice chill in the air, but also the knowledge that it was definitely going to heat up as the day went on. Kindly there was a solid wind blowing down the valley which although it slowed the times, it made the conditions much more pleasant. I only knew a couple of others competitors, last year’s champion Paul Maticha from Kenya and that legendary renegade of world mountain running, Martin Cox. Spotting Martin on the start line, we settled into a semi comfortable early pace talking and catching up. A group of seven formed in front of us that included all the big names, Martin was great as he knew and had raced them all and passed the time by filling me in with a brief bio on each of them. At some point they must have gotten sick of Martin and my chin wagging and they stepped up the pace and we let them go.

Coming up the first decent climb of the day into Randa at around the 10km mark my legs were feeling very average, and I was struggling to stay with Martin. I knew though if I let him go at this point it was a long way to go and it would make for a lonely march up the hill. So I gritted my teeth and hung on. The next 10km up to the town of Zermatt were relatively flat and I managed to settle into a good rhythm, helped by a nice section of rocky single track which really helped wake my legs up just before Zermatt. Martin and I were still together, in 8th and 9th, and I was certain that when we really started climbing at the 24km mark it would be all over.

Looks can be deceiving however and when we did start heading up it turned out that it was I who was feeling it, and Martin who was now hanging on. I tried to push through this next section which was a nice runnable climb through lovely forest and out into the alpine area. I managed the 5th fastest time for this section and I managed to catch two of the runners from the early lead pack. At this point I had put about 90secs on Martin and was sure that I had dropped him…….

Martin Cox

Martin Cox

Looking back on this race I now see that everything up until the last section is really an appetiser, or a preparation for this last 3km. From about 32km we were traversing and descending across the hillside to get us into the right position for the final push to the top. Once we hit the Riffelalp at 39.1km it was 3.1km and 350m vertical to the finish. This fails to take into account that there were a couple of decent flatter sections along here so in reality when we were climbing it was more like 15% grade, at the end of a marathon after already climbing 1550m. This was where things really sorted themselves out, if you could run this whole thing a la Ralf Beitmaier, the 50 kg Swiss runner who moved from  8th to 4th on this final section things were all good. For the rest of us it was a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and trying to walk as little as possible. I hit the climb in 7th ran/walked down the Ukranian at about the 41km mark to move into 6th, and immediately was surprised to hear cheers of “Hop, Hop,Hop, Hop” for a runner coming from behind. As he came past, here in the last km of all places, I immediately recognised the stylish haircut and lack of shirt, it was Martin Cox back from the dead and ready for a fight to the finish. However he chose the wrong man and the wrong day if he wanted a battle to the finish, I was cooked and moving forward at all was doing well for me at that moment. Martin raced through to the finish overtaking Patrick Weiser in the last 400m, moving himself up to 5th place, not bad at all for someone with a dodgy left calf and a hatred of poor course marking. I just missed catching Patrick but I did hold on to a very hard earned 7th.

In the end I am extremely happy with this performance and feel that it shows I am in good shape for the upcoming Swiss Alpine race. Definitely the 100km would have taken something out of the legs, and these guys were all real specialists at this type of race. Looking at the guys ahead of me 3 of them were in the top 10 at the WMRA Long Distance champs last year at Junfrau, then you have guys like Martin and Jean (who placed 3rd) who have been dominating for years. All in all a good bunch of guys to be competing with and it sets me up well for the coming races. Bring on the Ultra’s……..

Big thanks and love to all my friends and supporters, especially the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, Macpac, Saucony, UltrAspire, Buff, Injinji and Zensah.

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2 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. If I was on Facebook I would definitely LIKE this report, but I’m not, however I am now on Twitter so please follow me even though i am not a big Tweeter… It’s not always easy to express oneself in 180 characters though and my comment here is really just to say that Vajin’s report is, as always, very accurate and very modest…. He had a truly inspirational run just 2 weeks after racing a one of Europe’s toughest 100km races (and without sticks, what!!!) that would have finished most of us off for the rest of the season…. I’m not surprised he hit the wall in the last couple of klicks; most of the guys did, check out the splits… I doubt that I will be able to come up with such an impressive late surge when next Vajin and I meet in the Swiss Alpine Marathon (80km of horribleness)… And it’s true, The Europeans hate it when you TALK during a race: jeez, how they’d just love running with Marty Lukes; I’ll be using that tactic again…

    • well said Mr Cox
      and I am sure you and Vajin will enjoy some friendly banter during the Swiss Alpine

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