Author Archives: Tegyn Angel

A Bohemian Odyssey that will Rock You: Montreux Trail Festival Race Report

Written by David Lipman

In just it’s second year, the Montreux trail festival is QUICKLY gaining the momentum of a flying European descending from Rochers-de-Naye (1600m descent over 10km to the finish line that all races in the festival have in common). Billed as the Vaud Alps experience tour, it does not disappoint! Race directors Diego Pazos (Swiss Ultra Trail Runner of the year 2015) and Cédric Agassis and their team have put in a lot of work to create this gem and it is sure to continue to grow and become a massive part of the European summer race calendar considering its unique mix of beautiful trails, family-friendly nature of the festival and clear background of the RDs as trail runners!

It’s the little things that let you know that these RDs REALLY, get it: the way things are streamlined for gear check-in, the free buses to the start line, the manual explaining how people can follow the race (any race) and the full card explaining what is available at each aid station. It is no surprise to me that the big ticket races sold out here. When you add this crucial catalyst into the mix of a family-friendly environment, excellent racing, unbelievable trails and the stunning setting of Montreux, you have something extraordinary! And all within a short train trip from Geneva.

This was reinforced for me when I was with the media party watching the start of the MXALPS. Due to weather conditions and the course, they delayed the start by 45mins (from 8:45 am to 9 am). Finally deciding it would not go ahead that morning, the entrants then had three options: start at 4 pm that evening, change to the MXSKY the next day or get a refund on their bibs. Additionally, those who stayed were given lunch, and the rest were transported back to Montreux, all at no cost to the entrants.

Based in Montreux, a stunningly beautiful Swiss town on Lake Geneva, North East of Geneva, it is roughly an hour via train the Swiss capital (90mins with connections from the airport itself and well worth the time, the scenery is phenomenal). The town is steeped in musical history, something that becomes very apparent when researching the race and upon arrival in town! This includes the burning of Montreux Casino being the subject of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” and the town’s iconic statue of Freddie Mercury facing Lake Geneva in the main square and race hub (see picture).

Freddie-MercuryFreddie Mercury Statue on Lake Geneva, Montreux

Despite the beauty of the lake and spectacle of the statue, I could not keep my neck from craning around (and UP) to the awe-inspiring mountains of the Alps that surround the town (I was in blissful denial that I was to run up and down them at this stage).  This beauty is something the festival takes very seriously, with a great list of activities and sights to explore on days surrounding the festival for family and runners alike.

montreuxMontreux from the Mountains

I had little knowledge of the region before researching it, but I was continuously surprised by the incredible history of Montreux. Beyond the aforementioned residence of Freddie Mercury and the burning of the Montreux Casino by a fan letting off a flare at a Frank Zappa concert, the broader region has some impressive claims to fame! This includes: being the location for the genesis of milk chocolate, boasting the Lavaux UNESCO heritage listed wine region and “Chaplin’s World”- a venue dedicated entirely to the life and works of Charles Spencer Chapman.

In a style familiar to many in the Australian and New Zealand trail running community the festival offers a whole host of events for varying abilities, ages and levels of insanity. Also, in a similar fashion to some Australian and New Zealand trail running festivals, there is a full itinerary of free entertainment in the race zone, not mention the expo. The main courses all follow a common route to the finish, that is, the MXYSKY is the last 34km of the MXALPS, which is the last 60km of the MXTREME.

The list is as follows(info correct for 2018):

MXTREME (164km and 12’000m D+, 11’650m D-) (6 ITRA Points)
Departs 06:00 Friday morning
The big kahuna. This thing pulls no punches with some absolutely brutal sections, including the aforementioned final descent from Rochers-de-Naye and an almost mirror image climb to start the race. Boasting 2000m more elevation and only 6km shorter, this course may well be more difficult than UTMB in many ways. It will remain to be seen in the coming years as this event grows and attracts more and more elites whether the already impressive course record drops significantly (Sange Sherpa knocking off his time from last year by almost 3 hours, running 26:42:39)

MXTREME Relay (5 ITRA points each)
Runner 1: 99km, 8’000m D+ 6’970m D-
Runner 2: 91km, 6’700m D+ 7’600m D-
Departs 06:00 Friday morning
This is a super cool concept, clearly from the minds of people who have had the benefits of some awesome friends pacing them or the likes. In short; runner 1 starts, is picked up by runner 2 prior to some shared trail time, after which the runner 2 finishes their leg (around ~70km solo, with ~26km common for those playing along with their calculators at home).

MXTREME course, with colours for duo and individual portions for the MXTREME Relay. Note: MXALPS uses the same course but starts in Gyron and likewise the MXSKY starts in Leysin

MXALPS (60km and 4’062m D+, 4’884m D-) (4 ITRA points)
Departs 08:45 Saturday morning

MXSKY (34km and 2’451m D+, 3’319m D-) (2 ITRA points)
Departs 09:00 Sunday morning
As mentioned this is the last portion of both the MXTREME and MXALPS and as the race that I ran, I cannot fathom how one would do this on tired legs. Granted this was the bulk of the climbing and descending of the MXALPS, I was still pretty intimidated by the thought of that. This course was tough and technical but had some absolutely breathtaking views.

MXFAMILY (800 m (child) + 34km (adult) + 1 km (child+adult)) (2 ITRA points)
Departs 08:45 Sunday morning
Clearly understanding the family nature of many festivals like this and having watched many an ultramarathon finish, the organisers have done a great job of creating something really special for families.
A child (<15 years old) starts, running an 800m segment prior to passing the baton (read ‘space blanket’-SO PERFECT!) to an adult who then completes the MXSKY course, whereby they are re-joined by the child at the entry to Montreux to run the last kilometre together (note finish only official with BOTH team members).
I am sans children, but if I were not, I think this would skyrocket to the top of my bucket list!

Freddie’s Night (15km, 950 m D+)
Departs 20:30 Saturday night
In homage to the late Freddie Mercury (who’s statue holds prime position near the finish line) this race is ideal for those who are not able to go long yet or just want some extra hurt for the weekend. And, in the tradition of many great trail races, has a dress-up theme and big party attached to it. Don’t get confused though, it’s nearly a vertical km course!

Queen’s Night (6km, 350 m D+)
Departs 21:30 Saturday night
For the rest of the ‘band’ (see what I did there) along in support there is a second, shorter night run.

Departs 10:00 Saturday morning
Hard to do a better job of explaining this than the race description: “A 2km race in the streets of Montreux to imitate their idols (parents or Kilian).”

So why is it you would even bother to run in Europe you ask?

WELL, my first answer is to ask anyone you know who has done so to watch their faces light up!
But as someone who has returned to do so, I will provide something a little more concrete for the discerning readers.  Unlike our small corner of the world, where trail running and mountain sports, in general, are considered fringe sports, they are front and centre in Europe, particularly in the Alpine regions. As a result, the support and vibe are unrivalled with anything I have come across in Australia and New Zealand. The passion for all things mountain sports is palpable and definitely rubs off on you!

For those looking for a challenge, the pure weight of numbers in terms of participation rates in general and in each race means that the level of competition is much higher than what I have personally experienced in Australia and New Zealand (Caveat, I am by no means professing myself as an authority in our region, not having been to either UTA or Tarawera for example).

Racing holiday? Yup, the European racing season is perfectly poised for this. Take the short flight over to Europe (what’s a day between friends really) to escape the Australian winter and experience some epically long days, with amazing sunsets and all things European: cuisine (wine, cheese, cured meats and bread. I mean I am sure there’s more but why look).

Finally, and most importantly; COW BELLS! (disclaimer, some are actually on cows), or indeed the bull I found lying on the trail part of the way through the race. Don’t worry, me carefully walking around him didn’t seem to even make him bat an eyelid.
Things I personally love about racing in Europe?

  • Mandatory gear requirements are generally much more liberal (Australia and New Zealand having to bow to the pressures of public indemnity insurance which is of a different culture).
  • Racers are both very friendly and much more serious in their own, great ways!
  • Unreal hype and build-up pre-race! Blaring of music is a regular and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers seem to be a common pick (happy days!)
  • The absolute smorgasbords that we know as ‘aid stations’, be weary though, these reflect the local cuisine and subsequently feature large amounts of bread, chocolate, cheese and cold meats.
  • The terrain encountered in Europe is something that I personally find very attractive. I do love the lush trails in wet regions such as the rainforests of Australia and in New Zealand in general, but if I were to choose I find the mountain scenery to be of preference-especially the views!!!
  • The multicultural nature of the races (the race website itself has 4 available languages), which makes for a super cool atmosphere especially pre-race. It is something that was very awe-inspiring for me in my first race in Europe. Oh, and don’t worry, “Get out of the way, I am passing” sounds the same in any language.
  • Serious hills! (Just check out Freddie’s Night Run, at 15km and almost 1000m ascent, there’s generally no way around, only over).
  • The support on course. In all my European racing I have found myself somewhere in the middle of nowhere on course, battling away, often uphill. In all my races, as I was battling the race demons, some awesome local support found its way to the middle of nowhere to yell encouragement and shake a cowbell at me!
  • The difference in trail running culture: forget seeing a handheld bottle or modesty shorts from a European runner and prepare to be looked at strangely at times for wearing your trucker backwards. They often race with very minimal gear and have no issues with powering straight up a set of switchbacks. These differences are what makes sport in general and trail running as part thereof truly great to be a part of.

Things to consider racing in Europe

  • Aid station smorgasbords, you may need to BYO some things you feel you need (Don’t stress you caffiends, “Coca Cola” is one of the most recognised phrases in the world).
  • Altitude. This one is TOUGH! It will kick the wheels out from under you late in a race if you don’t notice yourself breathing surprisingly hard for a low effort early in the race! For me; this is part of the challenge that I like. The nice thing about the Montreux trail festival itself, is that this is not a factor (the town is at 380m so you are never too high ~2000m highest pass in the MXTREME)
  • You WILL be climbing and descending, a LOT (you probably need poles, great excuse right!?).

Reasons to run the Montreux Trail Festival:

  • Very reasonable cut off times
  • Reasonably priced (*obviously these are subject to change and effects of currency prices, not to mention changed depending on when races are entered)
  • Point to point or at worst a big circuit trail (MXTREME)
  • Entry isn’t impossible to gain; European races tend to sell out swiftly!
  • Perfect location for logistics, scenery, vibe and racing.
  • Timing is perfect. You can easily link it with races prior (for instance the Eiger) or afterwards (UTMB or the likes) and or continue onwards to a perfect European holiday (and avoid the Southern Hemisphere Winter)
  • Great location to holiday in, the “Swiss Riviera” boasts a huge tourism industry with exceptional food and activities.
  • Ideal for all experience levels racing in Europe
  • Something for everyone’s ability
  • Awesome scenery and trails!
  • Downhill trends to races (or am I the only one who loves that “can’t walk down the stairs” feeling?)
  • Very inclusive and family friendly
  • ITRA points!
  • European racing experience
  • It’s a short trip to Chamonix
  • Awesome RDs who REALLY ‘get it’
  • Mountains!
  • This:

For more information, see:

Theory of Relativity


They tell me that is your energy systems transferring from glucose (reserves now gone) to fat burning. I just know everything is telling me the grass tree looks a comfy place to curl up. But so early in the run?

Mentally it is over. But I’m a long way from home. So it’s not. Plod. Plod. Should I walk? Yes. No. Get to that post. Then walk. No, next post. A hill, great, I can walk without shame. From here it is a zombie run. Not the ‘fun’ type where horror film and makeup buffs congregate to trot out five kay dead-leg style in homage to their favourite living dead flick. This is just straight day of the living dead running, no Shaun references or makeup required.

Halfway and there’s an inkling I might make it, but the stomach is turning over, flip flopping on a trampoline of indecision that has me simultaneously ravenous and on the verge of throwing up.
This run is going to be the end of me.

Of course, ultra runners may recognise this narrative well. The legs getting tired at 30km, the shift in energy systems at 40 or so… But the run I’m whingeing about was no ultra. It was, to be precise, a mere 6.4km run. Nay, an epic 6.4km. Epic in particular moments, at least. It may as well have been an ultra, so my mind chatter told me at the time.

But that’s the beauty of running – challenge, brutality, pain, hunger, fear; it’s all relative to the solitary moment and the individual feeling it. And all just as valid regardless of time, distance, ascent or some other self-validating number used to beat a chest with.

Someone’s very first 2km run – perhaps the beginning of a life-changing journey from couch to metaphorical Kosciuszko peak – can be as nightmarish as the worst trainwreck written in the history book of the 240km Coast to Kosci itself.

Which brings me to my point. Every run is worthy. Every run can hurt. Every run can be euphoric. Every run can also be a trainwreck with mental and physical ramifications as serious as the runner judges it to be. It’s all relative.

Ultra runner Rich Bowles loves to say “you didn’t ‘just’ run (insert whatever kilometre distance you like). You ran (insert kilometre distance). Be proud. Any run no matter the distance is an achievement.”

I agree – drop the magnanimous, self denigrating ‘just’ as though whatever you ran doesn’t really count when compared to…to what? Stop the comparisons.

Why is your run any lesser to anyone’s, the Kilians of the world included?

Because it’s not far or tough enough? Compared to who? To what? Because it didn’t hurt as much as someone else claims to have hurt? Judged by whom?

It seems we are in a phase where the ultra is the new marathon – the thing to be held in reverence, to be revered as an experience that allows you into an elite ‘club’ of sorts. It seems the marathon, which used to be held in the same stead, is something to be whipped out between breakfast and lunch, a mere training run. It is no longer to be boasted about, no longer backyard barbeque fodder, for it no longer (seemingly) holds the gravitas it once did in the New Audacious Age of 100km, milers and beyond.

Lest we forget we remain a niche sport. By the numbers, there are more people in our local communities who are yet to run 21km, let alone a full marathon, than there are those who have. That puts those who have run an ultra in a smaller minority again (note: this minority does not equate to superiority). Let us not lose respect for those who tread the trail at lesser distances. Lesser brutalities. Lesser inclines. It’s all very well to push the limits of mileage and pain when your limits have already been stretched into the ultra zone. But don’t sneer down at those entering their own hurt lockers at a Park Run. They are no lesser runner. They are no less brave (for who knows their demons, their struggles and what a 5km run around a park could represent in their context – it may be the equivalent of your Northburn or Buffalo Grand Slam, hell it may be their own personal Barkley Marathons).

Toughness is not measured in sheer distance, elevation or peaks bagged in one run. Respect should be afforded for the mere effort of lacing up and stepping into the environment, no matter where, how far, how long.

No doubt that running an ultra is a massive achievement worthy of the cherishing and of the plaudits. And like any experience of life, once lived you will find you have secret handshake conversations with others who have lived through the pain. You may even succumb to the fallacy that those who have yet to run an ultra ‘will never understand’. Indeed, I’ve seen it bandied that you’re not a real runner until you tick the 100 box.
Bollocks to that.

If you take a step out your front door, manage to get a bounce in your step, and do a blockie at a pace greater than you would when collecting the fish and chips on a Friday, and you do it more than once a week with no other intention than to travel faster than a walk somewhere, around something, through something, to something – then you’re a runner. You didn’t just run around the block. You ran around the block. And while you may not have risked rhabdo or even dehydration, you ought still feel chuffed to have run at all. And we, as runners living all sorts of contexts, should be chuffed for you.

Chris Ord, AU Editor 

This editorial first appeared in Edition #20 of Trail Run Mag. available for free download (along with all editions) HERE.

Larapinta strip

Gear: Suunto Ambit2 R Review

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone 

Ain’t that just the case? One week I’m happily logging Kms, blissfully unaware of the glorious Ambit2 (A2) strapped to my wrist and then Suunto Australia send an Ambit2 R our way and all of a sudden I’m asking myself whether my next few runs are likely to need more than 8hrs of battery life. If not, ye’ olde’ wrist anchor is getting left at home! Land-locked, confined to port.

I’ll be perfectly honest: I’m biased; I’m a Suunto fanboy. I had a T6C, I wore my pre-ordered Ambit1 into the grave and the Ambit2 is my daily companion. I love how robust they are, their long, Scandinavian back-story and the fact that most of their premium watches and wristtops are still made in Finland. So why I am leaving it at home? Sure, it’s smaller than some watches out there and it’s definitely prettier than the Garmin Fenix or 910, but it’s still a heavy piece of work. All that extra battery life and altimeter are excessive for a lot of my general training and competition.

Reviews focusing on new variations of an existing product have always frustrated me. All I want to know is how it’s different to the existing products and why I should (or shouldn’t) buy it. I’ll do my best to avoid the trap of rambling on for the sake of it when all you’ll probably read is the conclusion anyway. For those who want more of the gory details, check out the incredibly detailed, Picassoan-prolific DC Rainmaker for more depth than Challenger Deep on just about every sports watch ever conceived.

Suunto Ambit 2R

Suunto Ambit2 R – the GPS for Runners

The Ambit2 R is a GPS watch designed for runners (see our first look post here), and sports a feature set built to please. It weighs in at 70g (vs. 72g for the Ambit 2S and 89g for the Ambit 2) and offers a battery life range of 8-25 hours depending on the user-selected accuracy (vs. 16-50hrs for the Ambit2). Altitude measurements are taken from the GPS which, although less accurate than a combined GPS-Barometric Altimeter system, is certainly accurate enough for most runners; even trailites. For all intents and purposes, the rest of the running-relevant feature set is the same. Navigation, Physical Specs, Speed and Distance recording, Heart Rate monitoring and Training Analysis are all exactly the same as the other models in the range.

The similarities extend to the “FusedSpeed” technology (which has now been rolled out in updates on the other models), which treats the watch like a Wristtop pedometer to calculate distance and speed in the absence of GPS signal (think treadmill cringe). In normal conditions speed and distance would be a synthesis of both GPS and Accelerometer, the former constantly improving the accuracy of the latter. However, when the signal drops, the bounce of your stride still provides surprisingly reliable data and the real kicker: Cadence!

So how does it differ from the other Ambits? Well aside from the halved battery life, the lack of a Barometer / Pressure-based Altimeter means it lacks weather monitoring and the FusedSpeed technology which combines GPS and pressure data to improve the accuracy of elevation recording. While it also lacks a lot of the multisport functionality (think Cycling and Swimming specific features) that the Ambit 2 and 2S offer, as a runner I couldn’t tell you what half of them did anyway.

Let’s look at some criteria. If you want a super solid GPS watch that can be worn just as easily on the daily commute as it can on the trails, keep reading. If elevation interests you, but submitting survey data to the Cartographic Society doesn’t, keep reading. If you occasionally get in the water or buckle-up the helmet and get out on the lazy machine, but these sports are mere breaks between running, keep reading. If you rarely, if ever, plan to run beyond 50k and have access to charging facilities after every few training sessions, keep reading. If you’d rather strap 70g to your wrist than 89g and spend $350/399 AUD (RRP with/without HRM) over $599/$649 AUD (RRP with/without HRM), then put the Ambit2 R on your shopping list.