Sierre-Zinal initial climb, Valais, Switzerland

Since my aborted attempt to run the Swiss alpine K23 race back in July last year, I thought my ‘running’ career might be over and I didn’t go for run at all for the remainder of last year. But there is something about getting out there and putting one leg in front of the other as fast as you can which appeals, to me anyway . It’s partly the fresh air, partly the desire to keep fit, but it’s mostly the sheer joy and satisfaction of completing a run.

So it was that about 12 weeks ago I embarked upon my latest comeback. After a couple of 5k’s (3 miles) I’ve managed to get the distance up to nearly 13k (8 miles). Part way through this period, I received my usual email from Datasport (i.e. the people who manage the entries and timing for most Swiss races). The email contained the usual “Races not to be missed” and that included the Sierre-Zinal mountain race (which is 31km/19 miles long and has an ascent of 2,200m or 7,218 ft).

Now, I hate running uphill. Throughout the past few months I’ve driven down to Sion to run, well jog, along the cycle path by the side of the river Rhone – to avoid even the slightest climb between our home here in Evolène and Les Haudères. But this is an iconic race, (part of the Golden Trail World Series) which I’ve always wanted to do and I figured (possibly quite rightly as it turns out) that a lot of it would be walking up steep paths.

Entry to the race was on a strictly first-come-first-served basis and, although there were a few technical problems due to the number of people applying, I did eventually manage to get registered for the race. There are two categories, “Runners” and “Tourists”. I presumed the latter was/is for people, like me, who just want to do the race and so that’s the category that I’m in, though they do start at 5am in the morning! (This could be a good thing as the race is on 7th August and the sun could be blazing down by mid-day. The Runners start at 10am).

As you might expect, I have no idea how long it’s going to take me to complete the race (assuming of course that I do!) Apparently Runners average 4 and a half hours. On the official website, they provide a useful calculation spreadsheet to help you work out the timings at different stages. This is OK if you know your expected time and I had an idea that I might be able to do it in maybe 6 hours. (I’d certainly be happy with that time sitting here now!) The website also provides a course profile which indicates the percentage effort to reach the various feed stations. (See gallery).

Of course, Sierre is ‘just down the road’ for me, so yesterday, with the sun shining brightly, I decided to check out the first section of the race – which is pretty much uphill all the way to Plonchette. It’s ‘only’ about 6.5 km / 4 miles but rises over 1200m / 4,000 ft and represents about a third of the effort or time required to complete the course.

I’ll not divulge how long it took me to get there, but suffice it to say that, even though my legs felt like jelly, I did feel good enough to continue a little further along the course – that is until I reached the point where ‘running’ was impossible due to the snow. (See pic 22).

Note that all of the pictures below were taken with my mobile phone – and on my return/descent from that furthest point. Accordingly, they have been rearranged into ‘ascending’ order… 😉

14 thoughts on “Sierre-Zinal initial climb, Valais, Switzerland

    • Yes, sorry Viv. The race will be a challenge for sure. I’m just hoping it takes place. There is a back-up plan for people to do it individually, but that won’t quite be the same as being part of a big event and rubbing shoulders with other competitors.

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      • Is rubbing shoulders allowed 🙂 ? I just read that the Motorcycle Museum on the Timmelsjoch pass between Obergurgl and Italy burned down in Italy with over 250 classic motorbikes destroyed, not to mention a very fine caff and a rather trendy building.

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        • Given the width of the path it may be inevitable, if you need to pass or be passed, though they do group people according to estimated finishing times and release them in 5 or 10 minute slots. Hopefully by then we may be living more normally. That’s terribly news about the Motorcycle museum. I’ll have to google it up.

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  1. Wow, that’s quite a challenge. Have to say I’d be tempted to do a lot of stopping to take in the views on a course like that. That’s if I was anywhere even vaguely fit enough to take it on which I don’t think I ever have been. Would have trouble walking it! Good luck with the training.

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    • Yes, thanks David, I think that was partly my plan – not to get drawn into a race, but to savour the atmosphere, of both the event and the scenery. Though I will need to travel as light as possible, so I’ll not be taking my normal point and shoot camera I’m afraid. I will however be carrying my mobile phone in case I need to let the organisers know that I’ve abandoned. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. At least the last 10k/6 miles is more or less all downhill!! 😊

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  2. Wow r e s p e c t ! The elevation gain is huge! Such a wonderful area to trail run and jog. Happy to read you managed to get your spot in the race. Leaving at 5 am in the morning might be quite a blessing in August indeed 🙂 Good luck with the training!

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  3. Enjoy it Mike! Sierre-Zinal is a beautiful trail! Arriving to Ponchette is the best feeling, everything after is so much easier! If you want company, i’d love to join you on one of your training runs

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    • Thanks Selin – it’s good to read/know that things get easier after that, though no doubt an undulating half marathon (or more) is never going to be easy after that climb! I was only thinking yesterday that I should repeat that ‘hike’ sometime soon – if only to remind myself how hard it is (and to do the Bisse above Ponchette, which I only noticed later). I also hope to do the ‘middle’ section sometime from the Weisshorn to Ponchette, but not sure when it will be free of snow. It would certainly be nice to have a training partner. I’ll have to contact you separately to organise something. 😊

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