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Racereport 2013-13: 40th Sierre-Zinal

“Mischief. Mayhem. Soap.” Fight Club

Better late then never I guess. I just wasn’t in transcribing mood the last couple of days, so after some gentle reminder emails I sit down and get pen to paper. Sorry. Fingers to keyboard. Whatsoever.

Before I even knew about mountain running, trail running or whatever you want to call it these days I knew about this competition leaving in the valley just outside Sierre and heading up to Zinal. This race is something exceptional. The history, the fallen favourites and the surprise winner’s just sum up how tough an unpredictable this course is.

Just after I found out that I would be staying in Europe I signed up. There is probably a so called “bucket list” somewhere deep in my head. Sierre-Zinal must have been extremely close at the top of this list.

Sun behind mountain. Always good for pictures. 

Friday late afternoon I met up with Seb in Hamburg and the two of us headed down south. Hendrik came to Heilbronn and after a couple of hours of sleep later we headed down to the Valais region of Switzerland. Everything went smooth and race day came fast.

A star-struck Hendrik and I made our way down the scenic valley for the race start. As the buses scrambled through one switchback after another it seemed to me like the opening ceremony to a great day. We arrived just outside Sierre. I met Stephanie Howe. Last year we raced together in Ecuador. It was nice to meet her on the other side of this world. Not much talking as the two of us were already psyched for the start.

You want my number, baby? 

The Dixie band just stopped and the race countdown started. Around the corner and up the road we go. The usual hectic sorts itself out after a couple of meters. The climbing is severe right from the start. If you have a closer look at the course profile as well as the very informative blog posts set up by Sage and Hendrik you will get the notion. This thing is sharp. The continuous switch between running and power hiking was tough for me. It is very hard to find some sort of a rhythm in the first part. I tried to switch off and get that fight mode on. Pretty early but necessary.

Evening sun on the mountain. Always good for pictures.

The first “flatter” and runnable part just put a smile into my face. A proper stride instead of small run-like steps feels good. The trails are pure joy and make you forget the soreness and the agony as you continue to go up and up.

I don’t want to bore you with an overly long post about the greatness of the course. I recommend you to check Doug Mayer’s Run the Alps website and read his piece about Sierre-Zinal. Everything he says is true. Spot-on.

I never really cramp. This course made me cramp. After approximately half way my calves got cluttered. As I got stronger and stronger the longer the race went my calf’s did not agree to my brain as I tried to run harder on the uphill’s. A really weird feeling, which I never had before. I drank. I ate lots of gels but I couldn’t get the two dudes to loosen up a bit. So I went on waiting for the downhill to come. And the downhill came. Unbelievable. Uniquely insane. I just shook my head in absolute disbelieve. After Canazei I thought I got my downhill running in check. This thing is another level, though.

Race Morning sun behind the mountain. Always good for pictures. 

And there was asphalt. The last meters. It felt great. Relief and joy. I’m in Zinal. Just a couple of meters and I’m home. I check the watch. It looks alright. I knew that this race is going to be hard to a time goal was not really there. Less than 4 hours was the very loose goal. I got it with a 3:44.

As I sit down to get a massage I don’t know if I should be happy or not. This race is unique. This race has character. I was part of it. I ran well and that’s it for today. I’m happy and I know that I want to come back. Merci Sierre-Zinal!

Tune of the day: Cyril Hahn – Perfect Form (Henry Krinkle Remix)

Little hommage by myself for the hosting nation. (P: Seb Heinrich)

The word “picture-perfect” really hits the note. (P: Seb Heinrich)

Probably still the original signs from the first edition. (P: Seb Heinrich)

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