Sierre-Zinal Race and Swiss Ironman 2021

I mentioned back in May that I’d entered the Sierre-Zinal race. Just in case it was impossible to stage the event on the appointed day, due to Covid, (which of course it was), the organisers had a rather neat Plan B. This required competitors to choose and register for a date between the 4th August (when the élite race still took place) and the 12th September. Up to 400 competitors were allowed each day and they could choose to start at any time between 6am and 8am. This naturally spread out the field, even before the start. Feed stations were still available at 4 or 5 locations, so there was no need to carry anything unless you wanted to. I chose to do the event on 25th August and since it promised to be a warm, sunny day, I carried a small water bottle along with some gels (but no camera unfortunately).

During my ‘reccy’ back in May, it had taken me 1h 45 minutes to get to Plonchette. This represented about one third of the time to complete the 31km/19 mile and 2,200m/7,200ft of ascent course. My goal therefore for my ‘race day’, apart from simply finishing, was to reach Plonchette inside 2 hours and complete the course in under 6 hours. 🤞🤞

In the event I arrived at Plonchette in 1h 40 minutes, so I was a little worried that I would fade (badly) in the closing stages. I therefore decided to take it very steadily from thereon in and just hope that I got to the finish in a decent time. However, I needn’t have worried, with the ‘aid’ or company of 2 fellow runners, who were either 10 to 30 seconds behind or in front for much of the course, I finished in 5h 14 minutes 28 seconds. Result!! (See happy finisher in pic 2 below).

It’s a fabulous event and if you’d like to ‘see’ the course, please check out this video link or the official Sierre-Zinal website.

But if you think I’m crazy, read on below…

Swiss Ironman – 5th September 2021

Just before we left Switzerland, my younger brother, Steve, came over to do the Swiss Ironman, which took place in Thun on 5th September. For those of you who are not familiar with the distances involved, this requires competitors to swim 3.9k or 2.4 miles, then bike 180.2k or 112 miles and then run the marathon distance of 42.2k or 26.1 miles. (And you thought I was mad!)

Jude and I had planned to go over to stay in Thun both before and after the race to support Steve, but packing (and very welcome visitors in the shape of the Pounders) meant that I went alone and via public transport on the day. However, this did mean that I’d miss Steve getting out of the water (not that I would have recognised him in his wet suit) and would only see the bike and run sections.

The bike course was around two loops (of quite a hilly course) and although I got into position for his first lap return, I didn’t get a good photo of him. Thankfully, I caught him on the second lap and the 3 lap run course meant that I had plenty of opportunity to see him in action!

Well done Steve – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN! (This phrase was my overriding memory of the announcer as each competitor finished!)

Becs de Bosson Cabane from Evolène, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland (Part 1 of 2)

I thought I only had a couple of posts to catch up on, but a quick flick through my old photos, yields at least four more (not counting this one and part 2). Still to come we have a short trip to Lake Maggiore, a few butterflies, a walk up the Pic d’Artsinol with the Pounders and the Swiss Ironman… (This was not completed by me you understand, though I may yet tell you about the outcome of the Sierre Zinal ‘race’, which I mentioned waaaay back in May…)

It was with this event in mind that, as part of my training, I decided to do one of the more challenging walks on my list – to the Becs de Bosson Cabane. As you will see from the Route map and profile at the end of the gallery, it’s around 20.5km or 13 miles long and has an overall ascent of over 1,700m or 5,600ft.

The route itself is straightforward… After reaching Volovron, along the track leading out of Evolène, the path climbs through the woods. Emerging slightly to the right reveals a view of the small hamlet of L’A Vieille and a wide panorama down towards the Rhone valley. (See pics 16 & 17). From there, the going gets steeper and steeper, until you reach the Pas de Lona, where we will leave this walk until tomorrow… (I’m such a tease! 😊)

Fully to Sé Carro Walk, Valais, Switzerland

It’s hard to believe, but the snow-line is now lower than it was a month ago. Yesterday it was down to the 1600m (5,250ft) mark in our valley compared to around 1,900m (6,235ft) in mid-April, when I did this walk.

It was with this in mind that I drove down to Fully (pronounced to rhyme with Huey, Dewey or Louie) in the Rhone valley yesterday to do another steep walk, or training hike if you like. My aim was to reach a point called Sé Carro* at 2,092m (or 6,864ft), though I expected to hit snow as some point. And so I did – I turned around about 100m (330ft) below the summit, when the snow got a bit deeper and the going was still very steep. (See pic 20).

I again tried my best not to be distracted by the views and various butterflies fluttering around, but when several Cardinals are about you just have to stop. Like any photographer, I’m always looking for that ‘perfect shot’ and so I stopped quite a few times – mainly for the Cardinals. And it was while reaching up to capture one, that another landed right next to it! (See pic 13). In the end, I was glad I did stop so often, as the weather turned decidedly grey and cool and there were not many butterflies around on my return (along the section of the Chemin du Vignoble which I failed to finish a few weeks ago).

I’m often surprised by some of the things I see in Swiss villages, but the trompe l’oeil in picture 28 is just amazing.

*Note that Sé Carro is spelt a number of different ways… The Sé can be seen written as Sex or Scex (all three pronounced like ‘say’ btw). I even saw it as ‘Six Carro’ on one, albeit handwritten, signpost. But I decided not to use the most common, Sex, version in the title of this post, just in case it offended the internet police or attracted the wrong type of reader!

Sion to Ollon Walk, Valais, Switzerland

Whenever we talked about marathon training, my good mate Colin always used to say “It’s all about time on your feet”. So, as part of my build up for the Sierre-Zinal race (which isn’t strictly a marathon distance, at 31km, but it’s as good as, if not more, when you consider the 2,200m of ascent), I’ve decided to complement my runs with a series of long walks. (That is until the snow disappears off the mountain tops and then I can start doing some big ascents).

So, on Thursday, I set off to do a walk from Sion to the small village of Corin-de-la-Crête along the Chemin du Vignoble (which is Swiss walking route no. 36). The distance between the two is around 14km or 8.5 miles, making it a 28km or 17 miles round trip. I expected it to take around 3 hours to get there and 6 hours altogether. However, after 3 hours, I was still only in the village of Ollon, about 3km or 2 miles short of my target. Something had slowed me down… See the numerous pictures in the gallery below (and this was just the tip of the iceberg!)

But I was happy that I’d gone ‘out’ for long enough and that it would still be 6 hours ‘on my feet’, so I set off back again. As you will also see below, the weather started and finished relatively brightly but in between it was quite dull – as well as quite cool and breezy, so there were not many butterflies to slow me down even more! For some reason (must be something to do with walking on your own) I seemed to get a bit of a fixation with the wide variety of steps leading up or down to the vineyards. (See pics 24-26 for some examples, which were again only a few of the ones photographed).

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… 😉

Bramois and Tour de Romandie, Stage 4, Valais, Switzerland

I’m aware that not everyone likes cycling, or even maybe sport, but this post is not just about cycling – honest! Please read on…

As I mentioned in my post on Thursday, a stage of the Tour de Romandie professional cycle race came up our valley yesterday, so I just had to post a few pictures. Although the route had no loops as such, like Stage 1, as before I managed to find 4 different places to take pictures; two near Bramois, one in the village of Vex and the fourth on the final climb, around 6km (4 miles) from the finish.

Also as before, I got into position early so I had plenty of time to wander around the village of Bramois, taking a few photos to show you what a typical Swiss or Valaisan village looks like. As you will see, it’s a mix of the very old, the traditional and the new (with a most unusual house) and with excellent sports facilities. (Even the smallest villages in Switzerland seem to have fabulous football pitches and tennis courts – no wonder they punch above their weight on the world stage). I also discovered where all those hubcaps go to that you sometimes see lying by the side of the road…

As for the race, you have to feel for these Pro cyclists. The stage included 3 category 1 climbs and the weather was awful, with rain falling throughout the second half of the race and 2 of those climbs – the last being to over 2,000m (6,500ft) with winter snow still by the side of the road. Spare a thought then also for Geraint Thomas, who took the lead with only a few kilometres to go and was tracked by Michael Woods. In the sprint finish, Thomas, with freezing fingers and only a few yards to go to the line, lost his grip of the handlebars and crashed to the floor. He got up, climbed back on his bike and finished the race and remains in second place overall, having now been overtaken by Michael Woods, but the fall cost him vital seconds and the lead.

Tour de Romandie, Switzerland, Stage 1

Long time sufferers, I mean followers, may recall that I ‘covered’ a stage of the Tour de France waaaay back in 2016 and some images of the Prologue of the Tour de Romandie in 2017. Well, with things being as they are, I wasn’t sure whether the Tour de Romandie would go ahead this year. So imagine my surprise (and delight) to see that it was indeed on and that 2 stages of the race would be ‘just down the road’…

Stage 1, yesterday, ran from Aigle to Martigny, and included 4 loops between Fully and Saillon (which just happens to be where I was walking last week). Not only that but Stage 4, on Saturday, starts in Sion and takes in some of the route I cycled a few weeks ago, then comes up the Val d’Hérens, to St Martin, before dropping to the village of Praz Jean, which is less than 4 miles away from our chalet. Result!

In an attempt to get some decent pictures of the event, I decided to position myself part way up the 3rd category climb to the small village of Produit. It’s normally a very peaceful village and residents must have been a little surprised to be selected for this ‘circus’ to come to town. I say ‘circus’, but it’s quite a low key event compared to the Tour de France, though many of the best riders are present since it’s one of the UCI World Tour events.

For the first two loops I managed to pitch myself next to a group of people who were obviously big cycling fans and two of them were dressed in very impressive ‘King of the Mountains’ outfits, with white and red spots. With their clanging cow bells they were well received by everyone passing by, including the motorbike outriders and team entourages, who were tooting their appreciation. Word must have got back to the organisers as a TV reporter was soon on the scene to take a video and record an interview. (See pics 4, 14 and 18).

I also took a video so that you could get a feel for the atmosphere. I aim to please. 😊 For the third and fourth loops I moved further down the road to get a different aspect or backdrop to the photos.

When I got home, I wondered whether I’d appeared on the TV coverage. I admit that I’d donned a fluorescent orange tee shirt ‘just in case’ and in TV pics 29 and 30 you have a game of Where’s the wally? to play. (Videos and games – is there no end to the fun?) By the time the leaders came around for the fourth loop, the wind had got up and I had to put on my top, so the last TV image shows me a few seconds after taking pic 27.

For the record, the peloton eventually overhauled the breakaway group of six riders and the stage was won by Peter Sagan, (seen in pic 24), in a sprint finish. Rohan Dennis remains in overall lead, with his Ineos team mates, Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte in 2nd and 3rd. (See pics 15 & 23).

Chemin du Vignoble Cycle Ride (Route 72), Valais, Switzerland

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Switzerland is criss-crossed by a huge network of numbered walking and cycling routes. Regional route no. 72 is a two stage cycle ride from Martigny to Leuk of around 82km (51 miles) and 1750m (5,740ft) of ascent. I dare say some people might be able to do that in a day but, Why rush? I say, especially when the vast majority of the route is clear of traffic and the views are, well, like below…

So it was that I decided to do just a short section of it above Sion, linking it up with the National Route 1 along the Rhone to make a somewhat less arduous and circular route of only 38.3 km (24 miles) and 830m (2,720ft) of ascent. A little bit of it overlapped with Route 140, so some of these images may look similar to my post of 2 weeks ago, but I’ve tried to find some different views, particularly of the individual snow-capped mountains (see pics 12-17).

I was also very pleased to see and to capture one of the many Queen of Spain Fritillaries, which seem to be fluttering around some of the vineyards. However, I’m afraid I cannot identify the two pink flowers in pics 7 & 8, which were also growing in between the rows of vines. So, if anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to comment.

For more information on the full 2 day Chemin du Vignoble route, please click here.

Snowy walk to Lac d’Arbey, (Walk 8), Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

The plan was to do this walk on Sunday but, on Friday, we awoke to perfectly blue skies, instead of the “very cloudy” day which was forecast. So I decided to go for it. The snow shoes were left at home, as I expected someone to have walked up there already – and so it proved. On the ascent there were clear boot marks, which I was extremely grateful for as that made the climb much, much easier. And on the descent I was lucky that the young lady, seen in picture 7, was snow-shoeing up the way that I would be coming down. She was obviously very fit as she was already resting by the cross (see pic 21) when I arrived. Both routes are pretty much the same distance from the left or right turn (see map) where picture 7 was taken.

I was also very impressed with the little person in picture 3. That track is very steep and he or she was making light of it. They obviously start them very young around here! 😊