Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Running my Switzerland TDY

So finally, I get a business trip to return to Switzerland.  I haven't seen Switzerland since July of 2009.  In case you might remember, I spent my last two weeks living in a tent at the flying club's "SaanenLager" (camping at Saanen).  Here's the story, if you didn't know: .

I returned on the 25th of July, and wondered if my ability to understand Bernese German had faded, or if I could still make out what the Swiss were saying.  Due to work, I wasn't able to make it to Bern until the 30th of July, when I decided to spend the day running along the Aare valley.

But that's not what I wanted to write about quite yet...

I'm still a runner, and just because I'm in another country doesn't mean that the running stops. I got in some nice runs in the town of Fribourg.  When I lived in Switzerland, I never spent much time in Fribourg, usually showing up just in time for work, and leaving directly to home.  There are many streets that I have never seen, and since I was never a serious runner when I lived in Switzerland, there is a lot of new ground to cover.

First Run
My first run was to see what lies east of the bridge that I first discovered on my first day to Switzerland over 4 years ago.  I ran through town to be bridge over the Saarine river, down the "Chemin de ZigZag", and into this magnificent valley, carved out by a little creek.  I ran up that river until my GPS read that I had gone more than 3.5 miles, and the trail got very difficult to run on.  In fact, it was so difficult, that it was more like hiking rather than running.  I turned around and took a different route through town to get back to the hotel.  The last part of the run was up the stairs next to the "Funiculare" a 121 meter climb on steps.  Here's the route: (Google Earth)

Second Run
The next morning, I had woken up at 0340, and decided that after several hours of unsuccessfully trying to get back to sleep, it was time to run.  Four hours of sleep was going to have to do for the day.  I followed a different path this time, but ended up going up that valley, just like the day before.  I turned around before the trail became too much like a hiking trail, and decided to take the foot-bridge back into town.  In order to get the kind of miles that I was expecting, I ran up the street toward work, and returned for a good start to my work day.  Here's the route: (Google Earth)

Long Saturday Run
I've been energized by being able to run in weather that hasn't been terribly stifling. Although my two runs so far haven't really been that fast-paced, they were quite easy to accomplish, especially considering that I spent a lot of time being lost, or watching the scenery go by.  The hilly runs I've been doing earlier in the week really weren't going to make me that happy for my long run of the week, so I chose to run in the flattest part of Switzerland that I knew: the Aare valley.

I started in downtown Bern, where I walked with co-worker Justin.  I dropped him off during the Saturday morning Market in downtown Bern, pointed out all the places to visit, and started off on my run.

With my camelback filled with water, and my running belt filled with running goo, I took off my running shoes, and ran through the city barefoot.  The cobblestones were so wonderful to feel on the feet -- soft and smooth after dozens or hundreds of years of people walking on them.  I did get some strange looks, and I did get stuck behind slow pedestrian traffic a few times.  There were two joggers who were stopped in their tracks with shocked facial expressions.  Apparently they have never seen a barefoot runner before.

The Bear pits of Bern are now completed.  When I was living in Bern, there was a big stink about how the construction for the bear pits took much more money than was originally expected, and the time to construct took much longer than expected.  I was a little unfamiliar with the terrain, and found myself taking several turns, trying to get to the eastern bank of the river.  I eventually found a path to run, but later found my path turned to some quite-uncomfortable gravel.  I had to really concentrate on relaxing to get through this part, but I did not know exactly how long this gravel was going to last.  I finally stopped to get the shoes on.  100 meters later, the gravel path ended, and I was met with nice pavement again.  So I took off the shoes one more time.

I ran along the river on a very clean path, without fear of glass shards or other stray bits of gravel, even though these do not harm my feet bottoms any more. The banana I had taken along was starting to turn rather grey and brown in the shape of my hand, so I ate the banana, and threw the peel away in a very conveniently-located trash bin.

I traveled around Dählholzli, the zoo of Bern, and found another part of the path as rougher gravel than before.  I immediately shod up with my VFFs, and ran the most of the rest of my run with the shoes.  I stopped at a water fountain, and filled up my camel back, which was not yet empty.  I wasn't sure how many water stations I would find along the way, so I tanked up at every opportunity.

At the water fountain was a mother and 2 year old daughter, playing in the water.  They were speaking Bärndütsch.  The mother noticed my shoes, and asked if they were "Spezialschuhe" (special shoes).  I answered in Bärndütsch, and she seemed to be able to understand me. "These are my glove shoes" (Handschuheschuhe)  I say that because it's funny, and the German speakers almost always laugh when I call them that.

I continued on, and found the gravel to be less fun than I had anticipated.  I didn't really enjoy running on this surface, and didn't get to enjoy the scenery as I ran past Muribad, which was empty, strangely enough.   I passed the place where the family camped by the river, and cooked brats (before I was a vegetarian), and found the wooden bridge to Belp. After crossing the river, the gravel ended, but I remained shod, in fear that more gravel would lie ahead.

View Larger Map

I ran past the airport, where the running surface was quite nice.  As I got to the end of the southern part of the airport, I was starting to consider how far I had run, and how easily it was all coming along.  I should never think about how easily 9 miles of running feels.  Soon after, things started getting a little more difficult.  I took in some sugar to keep me happy.  The water was starting to get kind of low again, but I was sure to be able to find some place to fill up again.

I ran through Belp, and down the road to Helikopter Baumann, the place where I used to buy (lots of) replacement parts for my R/C Helicopter.  By this time, I was starting to get desperate for water. My 2 liter camelback was nearly empty, and I had not seen a water fountain since the wooden bridge (where I didn't fill up).  As I was running eastward toward the Viehweid's crossing of the Aare, I figured there would be a nice place to fill up.

I asked for directions, but the lady who was walking her dog didn't seem to be that good at giving directions, and clearly didn't understand my desperation for some hydration.  I ran through the forest for a bit, then turned around and headed back to Belp.

I stopped at the gas station / convenience store called Agip, and talked with the lady at the counter, as I was purchasing two bottles of blue Powerade.  I wanted to see "just how good" my Bärndütsch has held up after two years of disuse.  There is nobody in Northern Virginia who speaks this dialect, so my only practice has been by listening to Züri-West.  I'd been rehearsing the dialog for this moment in the convenience store, so it all came out without having to think about it.

I'll spare you the original dialog, but give you the basic gist of it:
"How are you doing today?"
"Fine and you?"
"Well, I've just finished running about 20 kilometers, and I still have 10 more to go"
"Oh my goodness that's a long way to run."
"And this is going to be my fuel"
"Just like you need gasoline for your car, I suppose"

I asked her how my dialekt was, and she couldn't believe me when I told her that I am an American, and has only lived here for only two years.

Well, that's a first. I've never seen that kind of dialectic success before.  I've fooled the Germans that I'm Swiss.  I've fooled the Swiss that I'm German, but I've never fooled the Germans that I'm German, and never fooled the Swiss that I'm Swiss.

I headed on back to Belp, and filled up at a water fountain, and at mile 14.3, I stopped in on the SGBern, which was having Saturday flight operations.  I peeped into the maintenance room where Sandra, Franco and Jean-Pierre were all working on pieces of the Rhönlerche, the Ka-4 that has been out of flying condition for 4 years now.

After a half-hour of chatting, and explaining my weird shoes, I headed back out on the road.  The sole of my shoe started wearing thin, so I took off the shoes, and ran the last 2 miles of my run barefoot.   At mile 16.8, there was seriously nothing left in this fuel tank, and as I was forced to climb a 100 foot hill, there was simply no more will to continue running.  I hadn't eaten breakfast or lunch, and it was nearly 4 in the afternoon by this time.   I hit "stop" on the Garmin, and started looking for a train to go back to Bern.

But there was no train station nearby.  Although I had stopped along where the railroad tracks were, there were no train stops at the location where I stopped.  I had somehow managed to stop in a little town called "Chly Wabern" (little Wabern), which is almost perfectly equidistant between two train stations.  So there was more walking to be done. :(

Eventually, I found the tram stop at Wabern, so I took that to Bern.  I took a desperately-needed shower at "McClean".  It's something that you would never see in America.  This is a place where you can pay 1 CHF to use their toilet, or 12  CHF to take a shower.  I couldn't bear the thought of riding all the way back to Fribourg in my smelly running clothes, so I think the 12 CHF was well worth the price.

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