Length – 31km, 2200m climbing, 1100 decent
So it all started with a book for Christmas from my good wife Jill, as these things often do. ‘Beyond Running’ by Ian Corless - a book you must check out if you haven’t already done so – and start planning the next few years holidays – ‘One a year from the book’ as someone recently said to me.
Honestly, the Sierre Zinal was chosen as not only did it look great but is one of the shortest in the book, so I was being sensible…ish
The 44th edition of the race took place on Sunday 13th August so the Hall family headed off for a weekend in the land of the Toblerone, Alpline Horns and cow bells. We stayed in the finish village of Zinal for a few days along with several dozens of other runners from all around the world – Mexico, Eritrea, USA, …. You name it, they were all there, including a lot from all around the UK, even as far afield as Lochaber and Sheffield !
The undoubted favourite for this years race was Kilian Jornet of Spain in the mens, going for a record 5th win, and Lucy Wambui from Kenya in the ladies, looking to repeat last years victory. Also running was last years mens winner Petro Mamu from Eritrea and Rob Simpson from the UK, plus Michelle Maier (Germany) in the ladys race.
1277 runners started in Sierre at an altitude of around 650m at the foot of the valley, the course being a climb for 24km to an altitude of 2425m followed by the descent into Zinal, with a finish altitude of 1650m. The days weather turned out to be good for running, with sun and mid twenties temperatures, this coming after a couple of days snow and rain.
So the race, well, what a cracker ! Never having run a half marathon uphill followed by an 7km sprint, I was really looking forward to it. Add to this some stunning scenery, some great company, great feeding stations, what was there not to enjoy? The initial 1km was a blast up the main Sierre ZInal road, rather like starting a race by running half-way up Newlands Pass, before a hard left up somewhat of a ‘rude’ hill onto the trail proper. The first 5km saw us climb over 1000m (that’s three miles and 3000 feet), so in my head, similar to the Ben Nevis race, with the gradient then easing out until the 24 Km point. So far, so good – I was enjoying the running, the chat with other runners either in English, broken French or broken Dutch. We were entertained by bands in the woods – surreal – by spectators and by the scenery as we came out of the tree line. Feed stations were well stocked and organised as we all took advantage of them.
|Initial Part of the Trail|
…and the wheels came off my wagon at the 16km mark (2,180m/7,150ft)
|Out of the trees, the views opened up|
|Told you there were alpen horns !|
The remainder of the climb was a tough one with me falling away from somewhere near middle of the field to the last third of the field. Feed stations were well used and upon reaching the final ‘major’ part of the climb to the Hotel Weisshorn, I was a happy man. Now 7km of rough, rocky, grassy descent.
On any normal day this would have been perfect for someone used to running in The Lakes or Scotland, and would have been covered in 20-30-40 mins, but the legs were ‘a little heavy’ hence it was a gentle run or a ‘barely controlled fall’ down to the finish in Zinal.
By the time I got the to finish, my wife Jill was a little worried as she was monitoring my progress using Strava Becon (note to self – don’t use that again ) and saw my early good progress drop off. I was never so happy to see the finish line in a race though – I clocked 5:04:29 against a prediction of 4:15 or so, hence was a little disappointed, with a position 936 (94th Over 50).
Up front, Kilian Jouret took the race win in 2:33:05, with Robbie Simpson 14 seconds behind him.
|Kilian Jornet approaching the finish|
|Lucy Wambui in the final 400m|
….. and me, some way behind, wishing I was like Kilian Jouret but really just wanting a cold beer
|Pete in his Cumbria Fell Runner vest which he is also a member of.|
So Jill….next year….where we going ???