Sunday, June 17, 2001

TR Liechtenstein

England – Liechtenstein – England
6/5/01 to 6/17/01

Planning for this trip started early last spring as I was searching the running magazines and web sites for marathons in Europe. I needed to run marathons in Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Latvia and Iceland to complete Northern Europe. I prefer to run at least two marathons in one trip to get more value out of the trip and reduce the number of trips and jet lag forced on my body. Luckily I found summer marathons scheduled for Liechtenstein and Iceland that were two weeks apart. Normally I don’t like to go for that long but since I have a sister living in London at this time I figured it would be a good opportunity to spend some time with her and her family in between races.
And as it turned out it was much cheaper to fly to London and use London as a base to fly to the marathons using discount flights out of London. After checking with my sister to make sure she would be home in June and wanted some guests, the trip was on.

The first race in Liechtenstein was scheduled for Saturday, June 9. This date presented a bit of dilemma because Jason’s graduation was scheduled for May 26 in Galveston, TX. Do we book flights out of Tampa, FL or Denver, CO? We finally decided to close up our home in Fl in May and drive to our summer home in Colorado via Galveston. But the schedule was tight and meant that we would only be in CO for one week before we had to leave for Europe. I have reported previously how tough it was to train for that one week at 10,000 feet. To make things worse Nicole had picked up a bad sinus cold at the graduation and although she was almost over it, she managed to pass it on to me the day before we left for London. It really is fun flying for 10+ hours with stuffed-up sinuses and wondering if you can get rid of the damn cold before the race?

But we departed on schedule on June 5th and arrived at London- Heathrow at 8:30 am June 6th where my sister Mary Lou and her husband Tim picked us up. They took us to their home in Windsor, helped us get settled in and then went to work for a few hours while we tried to nap and overcome the jet lag. That evening we unfortunately followed the normal Wallace tradition of partying and drinking too much and Tim and I were still in their pool drinking beer at 2am. We had a 9am flight out of Heathrow to Zurich, Switzerland that morning so with only three hours sleep, a massive hangover and a sinus head cold I got on the BA flight to Zurich. Believe me, if you ever want to know what it feels like to be dead (or wish you were), just get on a two-hour flight with a triple whammy: hangover, jet lag and sinus cold! And of course I got no sympathy from Nicole. She kept reminding me that one of the conditions was self-induced. But I got even! When we arrived in Zurich I was so sick that I laid down on a bench at the airport and made her go find the train station and make all the travel arrangements on to Liechtenstein.
We still had two trains and a bus to catch before we arrived at our final destination –Vaduz, Liechtenstein. The train ride offered spectacular scenery –what little I remember as I tried to sleep my hangover off! Finally we arrived in Sargans, Switzerland where we transferred to a bus that took us into Liechtenstein.

The weather was great, sunny and very warm. We should have spent the rest of that day sightseeing but in my sorry condition all I wanted to do was go to bed and sleep which is what we did. But I did come back to life by dinnertime and we explored the capital of Vaduz and enjoyed a fine dinner, which accelerated my recovery!

Now where are we? Liechtenstein? Where is that? The Principality of Liechtenstein is a small country (61 sq. miles) that lies between Switzerland and Austria. The total population is 32,000 people living in 11 villages. Liechtenstein is divided into the Lower Country along the Rhine River and the Upper Country in the Alps. Most of the villages or hamlets are along the river but there are a few villages in the Alps. Vaduz, the capital has a population of 5,000 and Malbun, a hamlet or ski resort in the Alps has a population of 500. The scenery is spectacular with the Swiss Alps on one side and the Austrian Alps on the opposite side. The country is affluent and meticulously groomed. We never saw a slum or poor home or building in the country. There is a public bus system ($5 for a one-week pass) that runs often and efficiently and can take you anywhere in the country. Lodging and restaurant prices are comparable to US prices, which is not bad for Europe. I checked prices on jewelry and watches – a Rolex watch cost about 50% of US price. Liechtenstein does not have its own currency. It accepts Swiss Francs, German DM and Austrian Shillings but the most common one used is the Swiss Franc. Most citizens speak German and English so language was not a problem. Tourism is one of the main economies so the people are very friendly and hospitable. However there are not many tourist attractions to see or visit other than the mountain scenery. If you are in to hiking, mountain biking, skiing, etc; then there is lots to do. But back to the trip.

After the fine dinner and a good night’s sleep the hangover was gone, the jetlag and sinus cold almost gone. “God, it’s great to be alive!” Now it’s time to explore the country. Only one small problem. The sunny, warm weather has been replaced with cloudy, overcast skies and a cold rain. We can’t even see the Alps! Not to be daunted, we find the tourist/information office, collect lots of brochures (in English) and set out on the public transportation (bus) system. We stop at each small village, explore for an hour or less and move on to the next one. We are able to visit the whole country in one day. Our last stop is Malbun, the only ski resort in the country. Malbun is located at the bottom of a bowl, elevation 5,000 feet, between Gamsgrat and Augstenberg Mountains (7500 feet). As we are traveling up the mountain on paved roads with 8 to 12 degree slopes I remarked that “this marathon is going to be a bitch”! I assumed that the course would follow the paved roads. Wrong! How nieve and stupid I was! As we were waiting for the bus to take us back down the mountain a friend from London got off the bus accompanied by four friends from the 100 Club in England (you must run 100 or more marathons to join). They soon advised me that most of the marathon was run on single-track trails. Oh Goody – I just love trails! At that point Nicole and I decided to travel to Nendeln at the other end of the country (10km away) to pick up the race package and more information.
The local runners confirmed the information about the trails and advised me to add 50% to my normal marathon time for this trail race! That would mean a 5:15 to 5:30 time for me but I decide that I am going to be aggressive and target for 5 hours or less.

Saturday is M-Day! It is still raining and the temperature is in the mid 40s as the race starts in Nendeln. I decide to wear just shorts, T-shirt and no gloves. The first 10Km are run on a flat and paved bike path along the Rhine River. I run an 8min/mile pace for this part of the course because it will be the fastest part of the course. At Vaduz the course changes direction, runs through the town square and heads up a dirt trail past Schloss Vaduz (Vaduz Castle) so the Prince can view his subjects and guests as they run past his front door. By 11Km the trail becomes so steep that I cannot continue a running pace and quickly realize that I am going to end up walking anyway so I might as well be smart and start NOW! I alternate between a running pace and a power walk and find that I can keep up with those runners who are trying to run all the time. The trails continue so steeply with no flats or downhill that I am only able to average about 14min/mile; that is, until Km 20 & 21 that are so steep that I struggle to average 16 min/mile. I struggle across 21Km (Half marathon) at 2:20. That means 50 minutes for the first 10Km and 90 minutes for the next 11Km! I only have 2:40 left to do the 2nd half to beat my target. No way in Hell if the course continues this steeply! Fortunately Kms 21 to 25 were mostly downhill as we traversed Gramsgat towards Augstenberg. Those 4Km saved my butt because I was finally able to stretch my stride out and alleviate the cramps from the constant climbing. Kms 25 to 32 presented a series of hills, mostly up but with a few downhills as we continued to traverse. Much of the trail was dirt that had turned to mud because of the rain. At many points we had to run through glacial streams that were rushing wildly because of the rains. And at one point the trail had washed out and narrowed down to a few feet with a 500-foot drop-off. I just closed my eyes and forged on. At 32Km we hit the hardest part of the course. It was so steep that I literally had to scramble up on my hands and feet for 2Km. I struggled to manage a 20 min/mile pace over those 2Km! Finally at 35Km, we reached a point on Augstenberg overlooking the village of Malbun. I could hear the cheers of the crowd at the finish line and hoped/assumed that we had an easy 5Km to the end. Right - only in my dreams! The sadistic race director ran the course up to the top of the ski bowl on Augstenberg and across three snowfields in the ski bowl. The snow was wet and slippery and the footing was very treacherous. I knew that if I slipped my legs did not have the flexibility or capability to recover so I just followed the trail made by the other runners and prayed that I did not slip. After traversing the ski bowl we hit the 40Km mark on the opposite side of Malbun and started our descent to the finish line. My time at that point was 4:34! I might even have a chance to break 4:45. I literally flew down that mountain even though the trail was a narrow single track covered with six inches of mud and water and crossed the finish line in 4:46:02.
Within seconds of crossing the finish line my legs (and even my arms) started to cramp due to fatigue and cold. I struggled over to the equipment tent to get my sports bag with my warm-ups. As I tried to put my warm-ups on my whole body started to cramp and spasm so much that I had to ask a race volunteer to help dress me. And where was my faithful companion and manager? Back at the warm hotel watching the French Open (Tennis). As the volunteer
was dressing me he advised me that I was the first and only American to ever run this race. And if y’all are as smart as I believe, you will heed this advice: “Don’t try to be the second”! After I warmed up I caught a bus back to Vaduz and a very relaxing hot bath before Nicole and I headed out for our customary celebration dinner. After dinner we enjoyed a free music concert in the Town Square but did not stay long because it was still raining and cold.

The following day we headed back to Zurich to catch our flight back to London. Still raining! At the train station in Sargans we met a German couple who had run the race this year and last year. They remarked that last year the weather had been beautiful and that the course is really beautiful and a lot of fun when you can enjoy the scenery. Right – I will take their word for it – I am not going back! But now it is time to return to London and enjoy our visit with Mary Lou, Tim and their kids, Kurtis and Kasey.

Back at my sister’s place in Windsor we decided that we just wanted to relax for a few days and then maybe drive to Land’s End at the end of the week. Mary Lou had obtained some invitations to a formal state reception where the Queen would receive or welcome the President of South Africa in Home Park near Windsor Castle. Although we are not ‘Monarchists’ we decided to go along and really enjoyed the pageantry and color of the ceremony. The Queen’s Royal Guards parade in full red dress on foot and horse and another horse guard pulls in the cannons/guns for a 21-gun salute. They have been doing this for hundreds of years so are very precise and good at it! The Queen and the President arrive in separate Rolls Royces, meet, exchange pleasantries and then depart in the Royal Carriages. I was a little upset that the Queen didn’t stop to chat with us though –see if I ever visit her again!
The next few days we just lazed around. Nicole met with some of her old staff and colleagues at Nortel in Maidenhead, which is only about 10 miles from Windsor. I explored the area around Windsor on my daily training runs such as a run through the city center, around the castle and along the Thames River; another down to the Castle and along the ‘Grand Walk’ and into the Great Windsor Park. This park is owned by the Queen and contains a few farms so much of it was still closed to the public because of the foot and mouth crises. On Wednesday, we rented a car and drove over to our old stomping grounds in Bishops Stortford. While Nicole went to dinner with an old NT colleague I went back to my running club and enjoyed a run through the countryside with my old running mates. It was almost like I had never left – the same old gang and the same old routine. Do a hard run and then return, shower, open the bar and drink lots of beer and ale! My only disappointment was that ‘Magic Fingers Sue’, the masseuse who tortured me (and kept me together) for the year I lived there, wasn’t doing the club massages any more.

The next day Tim left for Germany on a business trip so Mary Lou, Nicole and I took off for Cornwall and Land’s End which is the southern-most point in England. Land’s End is one of the few places in England that we had not visited during our year in England and Mary Lou had not visited yet either. It rained most of the way there but fortunately stopped as we passed through Plymouth. We decided to stop and explore St Ives, an old fishing and seaport on the Atlantic Ocean. It is a marvelous little village with some real sand beaches and an old fishing harbor that is still used after hundreds of years. It has been turned into a seaside/tourist resort with lots of great pubs, restaurants, shops and B&Bs. We considered staying there for the night but decided to move on towards Land’s End. As we were leaving St Ives I found myself trapped on a one-way street that was about 500 years old and had not changed since it was built for horses and carts. I was driving Tim’s car, a Landrover and we had less than one inch of clearance on each side of the car between the mirrors and stone houses! Only after I slowly inched our way down that city block did I remember that I could have collapsed the mirrors for more clearance! Oh well –just a quick refresher course in British driving. But it wasn’t over yet. I decided to take a short cut and use back roads to drive to Penzance. Those damn roads were so narrow with 8-foot hedges on both sides that I had to back up twice to allow oncoming vehicles to pass! And when we arrived in Penzance we discovered that it was a dump compared to St Ives. So back we went to St Ives (on the highway this time). But now it was after 6pm and most of the B&Bs were booked. We finally had to split up – Nicole and I got a double room in one B&B and Mary Lou a single room in a B&B across the street. Mary Lou had never stayed in a B&B before so she was a bit nervous but a good trooper. After we checked in, we strolled on down to the harbor and had a beer at the Sloop Inn, a pub established in 1312! We then continued our stroll along the harbor trying to select a restaurant for dinner. We had an excellent seafood dinner for half the price in London! After dinner we strolled back to our 300-year old B&Bs (built in 1730). St Ives is a wonderful little seaside resort and I strongly recommend a visit and stay there if you are in Cornwall.

The next morning, following our cholesterol-laden, but delicious full English breakfast we were off again to Penzance and Land’s End. We passed St Michael’s Mount; a scenic castle built on an island off the Cornish Coast but did not stop to visit. Finally we arrived at Land’s End. The tour guide and rumors had indicated that you have to pass through an amusement park to get to Land’s End, which turns some people off. But the ‘amusement park’, is a series of mini-theatres that show videos about the Atlantic Ocean and marine life in the area, etc. – NOT the American style rides and carnival we had pictured. And they are optional so the only cost to visit Land’s End is a 3-pound parking fee.
There are several walking paths along the cliffs at Land’s End and fortunately they had just reopened after being closed for months due to the foot & mouth crisis. Mary Lou and I walked and explored a few miles of them in spite of a very strong wind that tried to blow us off the cliffs. But Heh – “we’ve now been there, done that”. So it’s time to go home! On the way home we stopped at St Just, another small seaside resort where Mary Lou bought some home-baked goods and ‘Cornish clotted cream’. I had trouble understanding all the moans and groans and sighs coming from the back seat as Mary Lou and Nicole ate their way through pounds of scones and clotted cream? Our next stop was in the town of Bodmin so I could enjoy a Cornish pastie for lunch. NO – not the type you put on a breast and twirl – get your mind out of the gutter! This pastie is a pastry like a meat pie although it looks more like a calzone. It can be filled with meat, cheese or veggies or combinations – and is very delicious. For some reason the girls weren’t hungry and I couldn’t convince them to try a pastie? Now that we were full it was time to return to Windsor.

On our final day at Mary Lou’s (on this leg of the trip at least) we lazed around again. Nicole and I joined some old friends – from Ottawa but now living in England- for lunch. Then Mary Lou, Tim and we tossed around the idea of going into London to catch a musical in the West End. But we got lazy and didn’t want the hassle of catching a train, metro, etc so we decided to go to the Royal Windsor Theatre in Windsor and watch a play written by Richard Harris. Unfortunately I think that we all agreed that we would have been better to go to London!

But now it was time to get ready for the next leg of our journey –Iceland. But that will be the subject of my next trip report. Stay tuned!

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