Sierre Zinal is an iconic Swiss race. It is a special race as the competition is always steep, the route is extremely demanding, and everyone in Valais knows it and expects trail runners to have done it at some point in their lives. In the past I have run on the route during altitude training camps in Chandolin, but I had never run the race as it falls right in the middle of the season and amongst other races I've prioritized in August.
This year was the 50th anniversary of the race and a big celebration of the event. Fortunately for me, my other goal races of the year meant I could make it and run my first participation. Having run on the route before, I knew that it requires specific preparation to run well there. I tried my best to fit in some of the types of sessions I thought would prepare me well, but didn't quite find the right blend with the other training I was doing for my race goals in September (Otillo and Wildstrubel). Nevertheless, I was super excited to experience the race and learn more about it.
On race morning the atmosphere was more like a big city marathon than a trail race in Valais! There were so many runners there and it was quite chaotic around Sierre and getting to the start. Everyone was really excited before we even set off. It was a very hot day (my watch said 34C at the start) and I was sweating already as I stood in the start box. When the gun went off that stopped being a worry and I just fought amongst all the other runners to find a good place and settle into my pace before the single track.
The climb from the start to Ponchette is long and tough. It accounts for more than half of the races elevation gain in just the first 10km. I settled into a good threshold effort (around 160bpm) and kept a steady pace running and power-hiking up the climb. I think I was more consistent in my pacing than a lot of people around me as I gradually moved up the field going up the climb.
From Ponchette through Chandolin and Tignousa and until Hotel Weisshorn I knew the route well from running it a lot in the past. I was able to keep a consistent pace, run almost all the little climbs, and I didn't feel the altitude too much. I was having a great time and enjoying seeing the people and also enjoying the feeling of running quite fast on the trails I know. The Fribourg crowd at Hotel Weisshorn was amazing and something I've never experienced in a trail race before.
From Hotel Weisshorn and along the top of the course it's super runnable and fast. This section felt longer than I remembered and I felt like I was lacking a little in speed to execute a great race. I was moving well, and still progressing through the field, but I could definitely run faster in the future. The final descent is a relatively short section of the race and I had been warned that it was tough, but I felt good there and was moving well and still overtaking some runners. Nevertheless there were some athletes throwing themselves down the hill and really giving it everything which made me realize I could probably go harder too.
I was really pleased with how I managed my race even though I was slower than I hoped (I was aiming for 3h00 and finished in 3h19). I couldn't stop smiling at the finish and just soaked up the crowds and the ambiance in Zinal. It was a fantastic day and the race delivered everything that was promised!
I will definitely be going back (hopefully many times) and I'm already thinking of the things I can do better next year. Sierre Zinal is really special!!
|Running along the top section of the course.
|It was a beautiful day for the race with perfect weather.
|I felt like I was smiling all day long - what a cool event!
|Zinal in the distance.
|The atmosphere near Hotel Weisshorn was incredible - so much noise and excitement.
Race result12 July 2023