Running in the Swiss Alps

Living in Switzerland means that I have access to thousands of kilometers of marked trails which is fantastic for training and staying motivated. The trails around where I live, in Aubonne, are mostly rolling hills through farmlands and forests. I enjoy the trails I get to run on every day, but sometimes I need to supplement that with some serious climbing and for that I head to the Alps.

There are lots of options a few train stops away. I've run from Martigny, Aigle and Orsieres which are all close to the border with France and an easy day trip for me. There is an added advantage that the UTMB route passes through Switzerland close to Martigny so I can run on that trail and learn some of the climbs and tough parts of the race.

I love the little towns that seem to pop up in the most random spots between passes and in mini valleys. It means there are lots places to either start or stop a run, the trains and buses run quite regularly to even the smallest villages, and for me to top up on water or some food along the way. This really is trail running heaven!

Climbing out of Martigny is always beautiful in the morning.

There are some amazing cabins in the valleys around Champex Lac.

There is already some snow on some of the higher trails in the Alps.

The trails continuously move above and below the tree line.

Trient is one of my favorite stops in the Swiss Alps.

Lots of options of places to go from La Creta.

The views are spectacular from the Alpine trails.

Water fountains make it easy and quick to top up supplies on the go.

Week in review: Autumn colors!

Long run

Quality training sessions

Hill pyramids: 2 x [1min hard/1min easy /2/2/3/3/3/3/2/2/1/1]

I really enjoyed this session again. It's awesome to have a high-intensity training session where I can run any route and do the intensity work anywhere I want. I ran well and had a great day out.

L2/L3 run for 1.5hrs

A good run where I ran consistently through the rolling hills. I want to be faster and more efficient running on hilly routes where the climbs are not too big as I believe these are important for my races in the next year.

I continued with my general strength and mobility program and I'm still pleased with how it's going.

Equipment used
Salomon Sense Mantra 2, Skechers GoRun Ultra, Nike Terra Kiger 2, Garmin Fenix2, 32Gi (Endure and Recover), Zero Point Compression (intense socks and ankle socks)

Garmin statistics
137bpm (average heart rate)

A good week consolidating on the higher mileage that I started the previous week. I mixed in a lot of hill running which I believe is important for my focus races next year. It was a well rounded week and good progress in my form.

A photo posted by Daniel Rowland (@danielwrowland) on

Week in review: base week #2

Long run

Quality training sessions

Hill pyramids: 2 x [1min hard/1min easy /2/2/3/3/3/3/2/2/1/1]

This was a great session on a rolling route with lots of little climbs. I enjoyed doing intervals based on time and on different terrain for each interval. It was different to my normal hill intervals and a good way to bring some variety into my training.

L2/L3 run

This run effectively replaces the interval sessions that I have been doing. It was at an intensity a little easier than a tempo run, but also pushing a little out of my comfort zone to do some faster running. I set an even pace and enjoyed moving a little more quickly on the trails.

I continued with my general strength and mobility program and I'm still pleased with how it's going. I also added back my first TRX session going back to basics and doing the exercises I first did when I started training with Ian.

Equipment used
Salomon Sense Mantra 2, Skechers GoRun Ultra, Nike Terra Kiger 2, Garmin Fenix2, 32Gi (Endure and Recover), Black Diamond Ultra Z-poles

Garmin statistics
140bpm (average heart rate)

A very solid week of training. It started out well with a long run in the mountains and continued with some double days and quality sessions at a lower intensity than normal. The goal now is for me to build my weekly volume and get the time on my legs. This week was a perfect start towards that.

Getting started in a very wet and rainy Orsières.

Champex Lac - one of the most beautiful places I've been!

Leaving Champex Lac and heading down the valley.

The descent from La Giète to Trient - it was slow and slippery for me.


Catogne is an aid station on the UTMB route after a brutal climb from Trient.

Downhill running

In my focus races for the last couple of years, stage races, I didn't have to be a good downhill runner (or a climber). Usually stage races are relatively flat races that have challenges coming from other aspects of the race rather than from running in very mountainous areas. Now that I'm focusing on running in the mountains and looking towards some tough mountain races in 2015 I've had to learn how to handle steep terrain and the long downhills in these races. This is what I've learnt so far.

I believe that there are two competencies in running downhill fast: strength and technique or skill. A great downhill runner will appear to flow down the mountain without any effort or uncertainty and this come from acquiring both of the downhill running competencies. However, making gains in one area of downhill running can greatly increase downhill speed.

Running down a huge dune in the Atacama with Vlad.


The ability to run a long downhill or a downhill at the end of a long race depends greatly on leg strength. Independent of the level of skill a runner possesses, speed on a downhill during an ultra-marathon can fall far below skill level due to sore legs or a lack of mobility that has arisen from the pounding of the kilometers already run. Very often in ultra-marathons I see runners hobbling or nursing their quads and running downhill much more slowly than they are capable of. I would suggest that strength is the first place to start developing downhill speed and fortunately it can often be done even if long descents and big mountains are not available to train on.

Pure strength and muscle capacity can be improved through gym or free-weight training. I favor doing body-weight exercises and TRX as these have worked well for me and don't require a gym membership. Good exercises to include in a training program for building leg strength are:

  • single leg squats
  • lunges
  • TRX single leg squat
  • TRX sprinter start
  • TRX crossing lunge

When I first started doing these exercises I did 2 sets of 15 per leg and two sessions a weekly. Gradually I built that up 4 sets of 15 per leg and extended each of these basic exercises to be more dynamic with jumps. The key to remember with this training is that a little goes a long way. Two sessions of 20 minutes a week can lead to solid improvement.

The second step that I took to improve my strength was to include downhill intervals in my training runs. My hill interval workouts in the past were some variation of 200m to 400m at a hard effort uphill and then running down slowly to recover. I changed these sessions to be 200m to 400m hard uphill, a minute rest recovery, then 200m to 400m hard downhill. This helped me to run downhills hard and learn to handle the different stresses that occur when I'm tired and running downhill.

Finally, if possible I run my long runs on routes that include long downhills and lots of climbing. This is the specific work to put the strength work to the test and to practice a sustained pounding of a long downhill.

Technique and skill

I found that a few small changes to my technique on the downhills made a tremendous change descending confidence and this improved my speed. It's not hard to learn good technique and only takes a little time and practice to improve. The steps for good downhill running are:

  • tighten up a pack, stow bottles and poles so nothing is moving
  • lower the body's center of gravity slightly (a little like a skier)
  • use the center of gravity to control the pace: lean forward to go faster
  • use arms for balance and to "lean" into corners
  • look far enough ahead to anticipate potential trail hazards
  • increase cadence to keep each landing as lightly as possible
  • land flat-footed to provide maximum traction and minimal braking force
  • [open your legs wider than shoulder width for more stability] - I haven't tried this yet
  • [run with a high knee lift to keep stride rate high] - I haven't tried this yet

The bosses taught me a lot about running downhill.

Good technique helps, but doesn't always remove fear from previous falls. The best way to do this is keep in mind what happened to cause the last fall and be wary of this during descents. I've fallen a few times from trying to turn out of a steep descent and losing traction as my foot is no longer parallel to the slope. Another issue I've had is trying to slow down on a wet and steep downhill and losing traction as I tried to brake too hard. Now I make sure that I'm running with good technique and that I'm looking ahead for potential turns or points that I need to slow down and either slowing before the situation where I fell previously or finding a way to avoid it.

Working on my strength and skill have helped me improve my downhill running so that it's now a strength. I still have a long way to go to be a "great" and "fearless" downhill runner, but I'm working on it. Any suggestions to improve are welcome in the comments.

Week in review: returning to base work

Long run

Quality training sessions
I didn't do any high intensity training sessions this week. Instead I started my first week of focused training for races in 2015. Ian and I decided to remove the quality sessions I've been doing so that I can put more endurance work into the coming months. The plan is to reduce the stress from high intensity work so I can put that effort into longer runs and more volume.

This week was my fourth week of general strength and mobility and I'm still happy with the work I'm doing and the progress that I'm making. However, I feel that I need to add some more core strength and upper body work. Next week I'll add in some of the TRX work that I've done in the past.

Equipment used
Salomon Sense Mantra 2, Skechers GoRun Ultra, Nike Terra Kiger 2, Garmin Fenix2, 32Gi (Endure and Recover)

Garmin Statistics
133bpm (average heart rate)

This week was a return to base training for me. I haven't had a very busy season this year, but with the changes in weather and the closing down of the trail running season in Europe it makes sense for me to start working towards races in 2015. I'm excited about what is coming up next year and the progress I made in Les Diablerets racing in the mountains a couple of weeks ago. I feel that I have enough time and knowledge to prepare for my upcoming goals and now it's full steam ahead to becoming a mountain ultra-marathon racer in 2015!

This week's photos are from my current favorite running route (the "easy hour" as my friend Moi and other people who follow me on Strava know it). It's about a 10km run from home and goes out to the Arboretum and back. The route is marked all the way by yellow trail signs and yellow diamonds.

A gentle climb early on.

Beautiful forest in the Arboretum (notice the yellow diamond on the tree?)

A little winding single track.

The sign says 1h 10min to Aubonne for walking - it's about 25min running.

The forest of the Arboretum.

I love all the little bridges and walkways in the forest.

My favorite section of trail - soft and smooth running :).

Run nutrition strategy for an 8-hour run

Ultra-marathon running and race nutrition go hand-in-hand. It's not possible to perform well in a long run without the appropriate fuel for a couple of reasons. The first is that the energy expenditure over a long run is very high and some of that energy needs to be replaced. In my 8-hour run my heart rate monitor estimated that I used 3,938kCal. The second is that a long day out also means that some normal meals will be missed putting the body further into deficit. I started my run at 6AM and finished just before 2PM in which time I would normally eat breakfast and lunch.

It's not easy to figure out race nutrition. I've had problems in the past and tried all sorts of different products and strategies. I have friends who have tried similar strategies to me and those strategies have not worked for them. As a crew member and spectator at UTMB I saw lots of people with stomach issues (I think this was from the tremendous shaking on the long descents). I'm pleased that the strategy I have now is working for me and this post is to share the plan so anyone can try it and use it.

There are three underlying principles that I built my plan on. I think that these rules apply to everyone and that they need to be followed as closely as possible. How each athlete chooses to adhere to them and fuel their running is a personal choice (in terms of products and timing), but these principles are a great place to start building a race nutrition strategy.

(1) The body can assimilate between 175kCal/hr and 325kCal/hr through the digestive tract. This is far below the energy expended during running so energy will have to come from other sources within the body (glycogen stores and fat). However, the most efficient and effective way to provide energy is through a balance of these sources that include stores within the body and the food and drinks taken during the run. Keeping the nutrition coming into the body through eating and drinking during a race is important.

(2) Different fuels and products have different impacts on the level of insulin in the blood and the rate at which energy will become available. A measure of the rate at which each item ingested delivers energy to the muscles is the glycemic index (GI). Low GI foods are more stable and take longer to deliver energy to the muscles; nuts, some dried fruit, meats and vegetables are low GI. High GI foods deliver energy to the muscles very quickly; sugar and colas and fruit are high GI. High GI foods need to be taken very consistently to avoid spikes and dips in energy, however, they can be good to give a fast boost in energy when it's needed. My principle is to take low GI food and products in the earlier parts of a long run and slowly phase in higher GI products towards the end of the run when the effort becomes more intense.

(3) There are lots of options to put fuel and energy into the body. While it's possible to meet energy requirements during an 8-hour run by eating 16 gels of the same flavor, the gels later in the day are going to taste bland and boring (no matter how much you love the vanilla, coffee, peanut butter or salted caramel flavor!). My final principle is to take a variety of different fuels and products during a race, in terms of both flavor and texture, to keep things interesting and improve adherence to the nutrition strategy. [sometimes this principle cannot be followed due to specific race requirements like carrying all the fuel for a multi-stage race. Here it makes sense to carry the lightest products possible even if they provide little variety.]

In practice for me this means eating about 200-250kCal per hour starting with bars and energy tablets and then switching to gels and chews later. The energy input is correct (1), the products during the first part of the race are low GI with some high GI products towards the end (2), and there is a variety of things for me to eat (3).

I'm sponsored by 32Gi so I have great access to a range of their products for my running fuel. I believe in the high quality of the 32Gi products, I like the range of options that I can use during a training and racing and the principles behind the company and product range match what I try to do. Nevertheless, the race nutrition strategy below is based on the three principles I wrote about above and it can be used with any products. Obviously I would recommend using 32Gi if it's available!

Food for 8 hours of running (loop 1 on the left, loop 2 on the right).


One hour before the run I ate and drank the following:

1 bottle of Recover
1 Foodbar
I cup of coffee
1 Trumag tablet
1  caffeine tablet 150mg

kCal = 428

First loop (3:45, 28km)

On the first loop of the run I ate the following:

0.5hrs: half a Foodbar
1.0hrs: 3 Endure Tablets, quarter a packet of Chews
1.5hrs: half a Foodbar
2.0hrs: 3 Endure Tablets, quarter a packet of Chews, caffeine tablet 150mg
2.5hrs: half a Foodbar
3.0hrs: 3 Endure Tablets, quarter a packet of Chews
3.5hrs: half a Foodbar

Loop total = 728kCal at 194kCal/hr

On this first loop I had no problem at all sticking exactly to the plan and eating as I was supposed to. I took enough food for four hours and finished the loop in about 3:45 so I had one more set of food to eat when I arrived at the checkpoint. I loaded my pack with food for the second loop and I took a Trumag tablet in the checkpoint.

Second loop (4:00, 28km)

On the second loop I ate the following:

4.0hrs: 1 coffee gel
4.5-4.75hrs: 2 Endure Tablets, half a pack of chews, caffeine tablet 150mg
5.25-5.5hrs: 1 coffee gel
6.0-6.25hrs: 2 Endure Tablets, half a pack of chews, caffeine tablet 150mg
7.0hrs to end: Endure tablets, Chews about every 15 minutes to the end

Loop total = 724kCal at 181kCal/hr

This loop started off well although my run nutrition strategy went a little off plan at about 4.5hrs. There was a big 900m climb about half an hour after the checkpoint at the end of the first loop. I was climbing hard and my hands were full with my poles so I took longer than expected to eat the food I was supposed to at 4.5hrs. I stretched out the time in which I ate a little and from then on each time I was supposed to eat took a little longer with a period of about 15 minutes to 20 minutes for me to eat all the required food. At the end of the run during the last hour I was eating little snacks, an Endure tablet or a chew every now and then to get me to the end. It wasn't as disciplined as I would like to be, but it worked out OK.

Run total = 1,453kCal at 187kCal/hr

Finishing up just under 8 hours and feeling good.

In this run I only drank water and used solid food products for my nutrition. I usually like to use 32Gi Endure drink and will test that out as an alternative to the Endure tablets. During this run, however, I was testing out a new hydration system (soft flasks) and I wasn't sure about how much I would drink due to the colder temperatures and all the shaking on the downhills might not feel too good with a stomach full so I kept my nutrition an dehydration separate. This way I knew that I could manage my nutrition intake independent of what I drank. I carried two 500ml soft flasks of water and drank from them when I was thirsty.

Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.

Week in review: farms and forests

Quality training sessions

Intervals: 6x[1km @ 4min/km, 200m recovery]

This training session went very well. I felt comfortable and it came five days after my long run in Les Diablerets last Saturday so I was fresh and ready to run a little faster. The pace is now second nature and I can handle 6km of intensity well. I think I'm ready to increase the number of intervals.

Hills intervals : 12 x [200m climb hard; 200m descent recovery]

After struggling with this session two weeks ago, I took the appropriate nutrition this time around and I lasted through all 12 intervals without any issues. I still have a long way to go to develop the strength I need in the mountains and this session is going a long way to getting me there.


I completed the third week of an eight week strength and mobility program and it's working. I feel much stronger and more mobile during my runs and I don't have any niggles or small pains after quality sessions. Coupled with the active isolated flexibility work I've been doing I feel like I'm setting up for great training in the near future.

Equipment used
Salomon Sense Mantra 2, Skechers GoRun Ultra, Nike Terra Kiger 2, Garmin Fenix2, 32Gi (Endure before quality sessions and Recover afterwards)

Garmin Statistics
129bpm (average heart rate)


This week was a taper-out week with the goal being recovery from my long run in Les Diablerets last weekend. There was no long run and a couple of quality sessions later in the week. I wasn't too sore after the 8 hours last Saturday, but on Monday and Tuesday I could feel the soreness in my quadriceps on a couple of easy runs so I took Wednesday off. After that I was back to normal and could resume training towards future goals.

The last three weeks have been interesting. I found some routine the first week and then tapered into and out of a race. Nonetheless I believe I'm making progress and back into a routine and momentum like I've had before my best results in the past. It's a great feeling!

Sheep in the hills outside Aubonne.

A very furry cow!

These are my local trails all around Aubonne and the other villages here.

Happy that my legs are back to normal later in the week.

The view from the Arboretum - that's the Aubonne tower on the horizon.

Tips about preparing for altitude, heat and jet lag

An ultra-marathon is any race that is longer than 42km. However, it seems that most ultra-marathons have other features that make them "ultra" beyond the distance. Often races take place in extreme climates and in unique locations that bring about challenges not faced in shorter races or during regular training. Examples are races that take place in the desert, jungle, at altitude, or some combination of all three.

Conditions like these need some specific preparation.

It's possible to prepare for these races by training specfically for them and building a program around the challenges of the distance, vertical gain and equipment needs. Unfortunately being fitter and stronger sometimes doesn't prepare an athlete for some of the "ultra" factors that arise in the race. I think that there are three key factors to take into consideration which I consider "non-training" factors as they fall outside the usual training metrics of distance, time, intensity and vertical gain. These factors are the altitude of the race, the temperature and climate, and the time zone. Incorporating a few additional activites into race preparation can make a huge performance difference and often doesn't require that much effort.

Here are my preparation rules that I've put together based on studies that I've read and experience of preparing for various races in the past.


A lot of races in the mountains occur at altitude and other races also start at altitude (the Atacama Crossing and Jungle Ultra both started higher than 3,000m). This is a challenge for almost anyone and especially athletes who live at sea level. For a single-day race it's possible to "trick" the body and arrive as close to the start of the race and then race right away without any acclimatization. The stresses of the race and the altitude are all combined and the altitude is not as noticable. Obviously this is not possible for a multi-stage race as the first stage may be OK, but later stages will seem very tough as the body is trying to adapt to the altitude during the race.

The best protocol is to spend 12 to 18 days at the race altitude or at an altitude higher than the race. I did this before the Atacama Crossing and it made a huge difference for me. I could hear the other competitors breathing hard during the first kilometers of the first stage when they shouldn't have been working hard yet and I felt just as I would during a normal training run at home. In addition to spending time at the race altitude it can help to take an iron supplement to allow the body to generate additional red blood cells during the adpatation phase. This is the best acclimatization protocol that I'm aware of, however, it might not be that practical for everyone.

The next best option is to try and replicate the conditions before traveling to the race. Altitude camps of shorter duration during the months leading up to the race can be effective in improving red blood cell count. Another option that I've heard to be effective is sleeping in an altitude tent. It replicates the high altitude while sleeping and the body adapts during rest. These options can be useful, but are also not that easy to achieve in everyday life.

If neither of the two previous options are possible then the best bet is to try a few on-the-spot remedies when arriving at altitude. Cocoa tea seems to help and aspirin has an impact on the blood's composition as well as reducing any altitude headaches.

Races at high altitude can be very hard on the body.

Heat acclimatization

The heat and humidity of a race venue can have a huge impact on race performance especially if traveling from a different hemisphere (from winter at home to a summer race). In the desert or jungle then heat management is going to play a huge role in race success.

The best protocol is to spend time at the race venue in the race conditions leading up to the race. I believe that about 10 hours of adaptation in the two weeks before the race can lead to 100% adaptation for the conditions. Sometimes this is difficult even at the race venue as a good training program will have a taper of reduced training volume. It's a balance and can be managed, but be sure to hydrate well during the adaptation phase. Again, this might not be the most practical or feasible way to prepare for the conditions.

It's possible to achieve the 10 hours of heat adaptation at home through other methods. I've used Bikram yoga (yoga in a room at 42C) to great success. I have also heard that training in a heat chamber can be very effective for adaptation if it's available. Using a sauna may be another option that could work.

If none of these options are available or practical, the best alternative is to train during the hottest part of the day. It may not be a close replica of the race conditions, but a run in 20C in the early afternoon is still better than a run at 10C during a cool morning or evening.

Preparing for race conditions with a training camp at the race location.

Time zones

Jet lag can pose a problem if traveling to a distant race. Apart from the stress of the travel and being in an unfamiliar environment, the change in time zones can reduce the quality and quantity of sleep in the vital days before the race. My rule of thumb for changing time zones is to allow one day of adaptation per hour time zone changed. This means spending time at the race venue before the race or in a similar time zone.

If traveling to the race time zone is not possible a similar adaptation can be produced by changing a regular sleep schedule by an hour a day to more closely resemble the race time zone. If traveling east, starting waking up and going to bed earlier, if traveling west, start waking up and going to bed later. Gradually adjust the sleep schedule in the weeks before the race until it's as close to the race time zone as practically possible.

These various tactics can be used together or individually depending on the race demands. For a race at altitude in the desert in a distant time zone then arriving 12 days before the race allows for adaptation to the altitude, running the final training sessions during the hottest part of the day at the race venue will allow for heat acclimatization and 12 days should be more than enough to cover any time zone changes. If it's not possible to travel that early before the race, then 5 to 10 Bikram yoga sessions in the two weeks leading up to the race, taking an iron supplement and drinking cocoa tea while adjusting the sleep routine will be far more effective than not doing anything at all.