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… 😉

Châteaux de Sion et Environs, (Route 140), Valais, Switzerland

Most of the routes that I use are derived from the SwitzerlandMobility website, which is a fantastic resource (should you ever wish to explore this fine country). Not only does it show every single walking path or track, but it also includes cycling, mountain biking, roller blading and, would you believe, canoeing routes. It’s very easy to use – just zoom in to the region you’re interested in then select the appropriate type of exercise on the left and specify whether you’d like to view the National, Regional and/or Local routes. You can also draw and download your own routes, (as I do frequently), but this requires an annual subscription of around 35 Swiss francs (35 US dollars/£30). Well worth every cent, I’d say!

So, while searching for another new route to walk, I had a quick look at the cycling options and discovered this circular, regional route (no. 140) around the villages above Sion. At 42 km (or 26 miles), it didn’t seem to be too far, for a part-time cyclist like me, though it did have 950m of ascent. The altitude profile suggested that it would be done in 2 separate climbs, with a level-ish section in between, so I thought it might not be too difficult. It was only during the drive down to Sion with my bike in the back of the car that I realised it was the equivalent of cycling back up to Evolène from Sion. (My family and friends, who have visited us, will appreciate how big a climb that is!)

Anyway, all went well as you will see from the images below. Though, try as I might, I couldn’t get the Speed Checker by the side of the road to register anything, such was the incline (see pic 18). The first climb had an average incline of 8.5% over 4.5 km and, purely in the interests of producing this post of course, I did stop frequently to take a few photos. 😊

Lastly, I should also praise the Garmin Edge, which you can see in Pic 9. I’d only used it in the past to track where I’d been and this was the first time I’d downloaded a route to follow. For something so tiny it did an amazing job, giving an alarm around 150 metres before and then at any significant change in direction and also an alarm when I went slightly off the route, plus confirming when I was back on track. 👍👍

Swiss Trip to the South-East (Part 1)

For our first full day in the Engadin, we decided to walk from Maloja along the path which runs by the side of Lej da Segl or the Silsersee to the village of Sils Maria. Jude was keen to see what it looked like as Colletts Mountain Holidays have (or at least would have, had it not been for COVID-19) started running holidays there.

Quick aside here: I first met Jude while on a Colletts Mountain Holiday in the Italian Dolomites in 2004. Jude was the chalet host. The rest is history as they say… 💕😊

Anyway, even before we’d left our apartment, we’d noticed some people, running in pairs towards the lake. Only the day before, Jude had read about an event called the ötillö, which required a team of 2 people to run, swim, run, swim, run, swim, etc. for a total of 45km. (39km of this is running and 6km swimming across the 2 lakes in the Engadin). One of the rules is that the 2 competitors should never be more than 10 metres apart, so they are tied together with a piece of rope. (The madness of the human race never ceases to amaze me!) On the plus side, if there is a plus side, they are allowed to use paddles on their hands and floats between and on their legs. (In the second picture below you can see the 2 competitors had them on their shins, but not everyone had them). Of course, these had to be carried during the run sections. All I can say is, it’s not an event you’ll catch me doing!

We stopped at the rather quaint village of Isola on the way for a coffee, where there’s a huge cascading waterfall. Sils Maria itself was quite charming, with restricted motorised transport from what we could see. It’s clearly a great base to explore some of the excellent walking routes and attractions in that area. (But it’ll never beat the Val d’Hérens of course! 😉)

We returned to Maloja via a small ferry boat, which criss-crosses the lake to pick up passengers. Apparently it’s the highest operating ferry in Europe, at an altitude of 1,797m or 5,896ft. Swiss facts – Jude has them all! (It’s no wonder I married her! 😍)

Trans-Swiss Mountain Bike Ride, July 2011, Part 2 of 2

We awoke to freezing cold mist. Even the bouquetins (Ibex) were looking for shelter. (See pic 1). And, I confess, the last 2 photos in my post yesterday were taken on the morning of Day 4, mainly because the evening before we were all glad to get out of the rain and into the warmth and comfort of the hut.

The four in the Elite group had done an extra bit at the beginning of Day 3 and so the rest of us waited nervously, and for what seemed like an age, for them to arrive as snow started to fall. Werner decided he’d go out and look for them and about 20 minutes later, they all arrived, but Guy was in a bad way – suffering from both exhaustion and hypothermia. He was almost incapable of speech and so was stripped where he stood, though he could barely stand. Thankfully after several hot cups of tea and a warm shower, he thawed out and was fine for the rest of the trip.

But as you will see below, the going was still not easy. At the higher altitudes it was more suitable for skiing than mountain biking. And, remember, this was during July.

The photos cover Day 4 from the Terri hut to Sedrun, via Campo Blenio, Luckmanierpass; Day 5 from Sedrun to the Grosse Scheidegg via Passo Maighels, Andermatt and the Furkapass (with a little help from a bus and train) and Day 6 from Grosse Scheidegg to Kandersteg. I offered to drive the minibus on Day 7 to Gstaad, so I have no pictures of that particular leg via Adelboden I’m afraid.

But, I have to say that, despite my inexperience and the obvious challenges posed, it was a fabulous trip!! So good in fact that I went with them the following year, from Orsières in Switzerland to Monte Carlo on the Mediterranean, all the way down the French/Italian alps ! Thankfully the weather was much, much better… Post to come in due course… 😊

Trans-Swiss Mountain Bike Ride, July 2011, Part 1 of 2

When I first moved over to Switzerland in 2005, I thought I was reasonably fit and active. But I soon discovered that a lot of the people in the office were what some might consider to be absolutely bonkers. It seemed like everyone was either running or cycling or swimming or all three, you name it, someone was a keen whatever. And it wasn’t just a mere jog or a few lengths of the pool, they were fanatical. Triathlons and Ironman events were their ‘standard’ events.

It was hard not to get sucked into their enthusiasm. Every year there was a ‘Tour du Lac’ Cyclotour – a bike ride around not just any old lake, but Lac Léman (or Lake Geneva if you like). It’s only 176km/110 miles! Though it’s not a ‘race’ as such, more of a challenge to yourself. “We’ll all go round together” they said and, after buying a very expensive road bike and a few training sessions, a group of about 12 of us set off hoping to break 6 hours. Needless to say I couldn’t keep up with the best of them (who did break 6 hours) and I finished in around 6 hours 40 mins.

A 9 stage Corporate ‘Gigathlon’ relay event – involving mountain biking, running up a mountain (not only to reach the snow, but through some of it too), cross country skiing, ski touring, running and mountain biking back down again, a swim in a lake, a 17km road bike ride and a 10km run – “Let’s form a team” and that was from just within our office. I was due to run the last 10k leg but, at the last minute, due our mountain runner not liking to run in snow (who does?!) I had to swap and run up and down the mountain. As I said, bonkers!

My boss at the time, Gerard, always took a week or so off work every year to do what was termed ‘The Trans-Alp’. It was legendary and involved mountain biking from A to B over passes as high as nearly 3,000m/9,840ft – not to mention haring back down again. Never having done any mountain biking, I resisted the temptation – until they mentioned going across Switzerland, from Davos to Ollon (near Montreux). “What a great way to see some of Switzerland” I thought to myself. And with 14 takers, which would be split into 4 groups (the Elite, 2 Medium level and a Beginner…) I was in. (Another expensive bike had to be purchased of course!)

Gerard decided to do it with his son, Noe, so the 2 of them and a not so fit, Pascal, formed the Beginners group and I was teamed up with the 2 organisers, Alistair and Joern. They were both experienced bikers, so I thought I’d drawn the short straw, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared. Indeed, the three weaker groups mostly stuck together and we just let the Elite group do some extra sections while the rest of us hitched a lift in the back-up minibus. 😊

As you will see from the pictures below*, it proved to be quite challenging – though more due to the weather. And if you think this looks tough – wait until you see Part 2 tomorrow… 😉

*For the record and anyone interested in the detail of this crazy pursuit, these pictures cover Day 1 from Davos to Radons Savognin via the Scalettapass; Day 2 from Radons to Safien Platz via Pass da Schmorras and Day 3 from Safien Platz to the SAC Terri mountain hut via the Pass Diesrut.

In the first picture are (L to R) Pascal, Chicco, me, Martin, Gerard, Noe, Joern, Werner, Norbert, Guy, Alistair, Stevie, Nikolaus and Jan.

Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, England, UK

Let me take you back to 1995, if not a little earlier than that, when my mate Colin and I had the ‘idea’ to do the English Coast to Coast walk, created and made famous by the great Alfred Wainwright, from St. Bee’s in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. Our plan was to run the 182 mile (293km) route in relay, over the space of 4 days, with one person on the route and the other driving a car to a prearranged changeover point. This way we could travel light, leaving the rest of our gear in the boot of the car, and we’d overnight in B&Bs or, preferably, Inns. 🍻👍😊

But we soon realised that there was a flaw in our grand idea – What if one of us got lost or was injured? (Remember, this was when mobile phones were still evolving even into those early ‘bricks’). Answer therefore: Recruit another two mates, called Pete and Tim, so that we’d have 2 on each leg, for a second opinion on any tricky route finding and someone to run for help, just in case. So it was that the 4 of us lined up in traditional fashion, with our toes dipped in the Irish Sea in April 1995. (See pic 1).

The event went so well, the following year we did the Offa’s Dyke Path (this time with Liam included) and in 1997, the West Highland Way (in 2 days). These were followed by The Wold’s Way (1998), where Dave was added to our happy band of runners, the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path (1999) and a trip to southern Ireland in 2000, to do parts of the Dingle Way and Beara Way, plus a hike up to the top of Carrantuohill (which scared the living daylights out of Pete. It was only then that we discovered he suffered from vertigo).

Wind forward a few more years and, after St Cuthbert’s Way (2005), Glyndwrs Way (2007) and the Dales Way (2009), in 2010 we decided to re-visit the best route of them all – the Coast to Coast (C2C). But this time in a more leisurely 5 days (well, we were 15 years older) and with all 6 of us present. (Pic 2).

Below, we have a small selection of my photos from that event. But, because we were doing it in relay format, even after doing the C2C twice I still haven’t done it all. Due to the way we rotate the groupings each day and the different stopover points, some of the legs I covered the second time around were the same or similar to the first and I still haven’t had the joy of bog-hopping near Nine Standards Rigg. (Or maybe, as one of the main organisers of these events, I deliberately avoided that leg? 😉)

Gozo

With the Malta Challenge Marathon being off my agenda due to my injury, I had more time to explore than I expected.  So I took the ferry over to Gozo to check out some of the places that Jude and I had visited 3 years ago.  I knew that the Azure Window had collapsed, but I wasn’t expecting to see the San Blas beach completely covered in seaweed.  To show you the contrast I’ve included images from 2016.

As I drove along I was also lucky enough to spot the Ta Pinu National Shrine.  The interior and mosaics outside, which appeared to have been done by people from all around the world, were very impressive.

Mdina, Malta

My apologies for not publishing a ‘real’ post for a while but, like many bloggers it seems, I’ve been busy doing nothing in particular.

Anyway a few months ago now, my wife organised a trip to Iceland with her friend Kate, so I had a look for something to do while she was away.  Naturally I wanted to find some warmer weather and I looked at the AIMS marathon calendar for some inspiration.  To my delight I discovered that the Malta Challenge Marathon was on at the same time.  It consists of 3 races over 3 days, covering a 10 miler, a 5k then a Half marathon.   So I entered, arranged all my travel and set about getting fit.  My training was going really well (even running while I was away in Finland and Mykonos) and I’d managed to get up to 20k in a respectable 1h 50 mins, so I figured I was ready…  That is until my final training run, the Saturday before I left, and my left calf seized up yet again!  (Insert a suitable curse or emoji here).

Thankfully I had another reason to go… My father spent some time in Malta after the War, as a Signalman on a minesweeper and he had mentioned enjoying some time ashore down a street which he called “The Gut”, but is actually called Strait Street in English.   So when my wife and I went to Malta / Gozo a few years ago, we searched for a copy of a book by George Cini, called Strait Street.  We couldn’t find an English copy anywhere, so I got in touch with George and managed to get hold of a copy to give to my dad.   During my email exchanges with George, I mentioned my dad’s book and he suggested I present a copy of it, personally, to the Fondazzioni Wirt Artna (FWA), which is an organisation dedicated to preserving the history of the island.  And so that was also arranged…

So, like London buses, you don’t hear anything from me for a while and now a few posts of my, sometimes very wet, time in Malta & Gozo, beginning with the Mdina…

 

Tour du Wildhorn, Switzerland (Day 3 of 4)

I should mention at this point that my mate Pete suffers from vertigo.  He also currently has 2 bad knees (as you can possibly tell from his knee supports in the photos) and, as Monsieur Alfonse used to say on ‘Allo ‘Allo, a dicky ticker.  Plus, he will tell you that he only has one lung.  (Of course, if this were true, he would never have been able to run a half marathon in around 76 minutes, but we have to humour him…)

That said, our route for Day 2 looked simple enough on paper – a descent back down the path we had climbed the day before, a casual stroll along the valley floor, over the Col du Rawil and then up to the wonderfully (and as it turned out appropriately named) Col des Eaux Froides (Cold Waters), before dropping down again to the Cabane des Audannes.  It’s a distance of no more than 7 miles and around 750m (or 2,500ft) of ascent.  Simple.

However, the forecast was for rain by mid afternoon and what we didn’t know, was that there was a huge area of limestone to cross, which involved scrambling up and down over the sharp rocks.  Apart from the danger of falling down one of the many gullies, one slip and you could have been cut to ribbons.  This was not ideal with rain imminent.  So we pushed on, very carefully of course, foregoing our lunchtime picnic and we managed to reach the Col des Eaux Froides just as the clouds were gathering.  A flurry of white stuff started to descend, the wind got up and the air was increasingly cold.   Somewhat different to our previous 2 days.  (New readers to this series, please see the images from Day 1 and Day 2).

Even once inside the mountain hut, all was not as cozy as it might seem, as the toilets were in a small building outside.  This is just about visible to the right of the main building in some of the last photos.

As before, Pete’s photos are suitably watermarked.

 

(Long Distance) Running update (Part 4)

I’m impressed by all runners, but especially by those who can motivate others to go out running.  This was the case yesterday when I read RunColbyRun’s post about simply getting out there, whatever the weather, humidity or however you feel – we all make excuses don’t we?  So it was with that in mind that I got of my butt (as she would say) and ran 6k (3.7 miles) today.  Thanks Colby, I just have to keep it going now!

Since I have no pictures of me running today, this also gives me an opportunity to catch up on part 4 of my Long Distance running series…  (I also thought you might be amused by the pics below from 1999 and 2000).

After reaching my goal of a sub-3 in 1994, I didn’t run another marathon until 1999, (then aged 45), when I ran what was being termed the ‘inaugural’ Edinburgh Marathon, which went from the old Scottish capital of Dunfermline to the current, Edinburgh.  It was a linear route, so runners had to catch a bus, at some ungodly hour, like 6am, to get to the start.  I recall sitting next to a chap (aged over 60, which seemed old to me at the time) who was about to run his 200th marathon or something. (He’d only started running 10 or 12 years earlier so I’ve no idea where he must have found them all to run).   Anyway I told him I was aiming for a sub-3 and I could see he didn’t rate my chances.  He planned an ‘easy’ 3h 40m…

The race itself was memorable for starting next to and then running nearby 2 ladies who were chatting non-stop within ear-shot for at least 10 or 12 miles.  It was then I realised that they were running well within themselves and setting a good pace, so I tagged along… At about the 18 mile mark I struck up a conversation and both were aiming for sub-3.   We ran along together until about the 22 mile mark, when we reached a drinks station and one headed off in front and the other lagged behind.  So I was torn between chasing the one in front or waiting for the one behind.  In the event, I did neither and did my own thing, expecting the 2nd to catch up.   I finished in 2h 58m 40s, about 3 minutes behind the first of my companions and the 2nd came in just after me, also under 3 hours.  So the moral of this tale is, run well within yourself (you should be able to talk) for at least the first half of a marathon and possibly even up to 18 or 19 miles, as that’s when the race really starts.

A year later, I set off with my good mate, Pete, to run the Prague marathon.  Before the race, we did the usual tourist thing and, I have to say that Prague is one of the most beautiful cities that I’ve ever visited, even if the marathon (in 2000 at least) was an out and back course along a dual carriageway!   The weekend was also memorable for a visit to a Hall of Mirrors (you have to see it to understand), where Pete and I were in stitches, with tears in our eyes, just looking at our reflections.  🤣🤣  Little things…

As for the race, at the turnaround point I saw Pete on his way back, not that far ahead but, as he’s a better runner than me, I didn’t really expect to catch him.  Towards the finish, I knew I had another sub-3 in the bag, despite a guy ushering us along to run faster to get to the finish line.  And sure enough, Pete was there waiting to greet me as I finished in exactly the same time as Edinburgh, 2h 58m 40s.  Consistent or what?  (This remains my best ever age-related time performance).  Pete tells me that he came 151st in 2h 55m 12s and I was 206th.  We were fit in those days!  (Though Pete is still running around 21 minutes for a 5k Park Run!)

Pete and me, Prague Marathon May 2000