Sierre Zinal 2017
When you are looking for the most iconic mountain race Sierre-Zinal must be right on top of the list. This year there were again 85 invited athletes coming from around the world and most of them with an amazing palmarès. The starting list reads itself as a who is who – especially if you look at the history of this race.
Here you are toe to toe with so many (World-) Champions. But how did I feel previous to the race? I was not able to do the kind of training I was hoping for. The previous races cost me more energy than I thought they would and at the Swissalpine Davos I was slower than the previous year whilst fighting harder. On a positive note, I was then able to train a few days in the Engadin really good to also get used to the high altitude. I just didn’t know if my shape was any good. I would be happy with a time of 2:45 hours.
At dinner before the race legend Pablo Vigil (4-time winner 1979-1982) sat next to me. He was talking about all the fancy material one can buy nowadays and all the nutrition. But in effect running is simple. So he said: “You have to train hard and race like hell” – that was his secret and he must know!
First part (steep!)
After this inspiring conversation, I was quite positive for the race. The preparation went well and I felt ready. The first kilometre on the road is usually a bit fast so I was trying to find my own rhythm. There were probably 50 runners in front of me and as we hit the steep climb which would go from Sierre (585m) to Ponchette (1870) I would just gradually overtake one athlete after the other. After about 30 minutes I had Juan Carlos Cardona (2nd in 2013 & Olympic marathoner) in front of me and Marco DeGasperi (6-time World Champion and 3-time Sierre-Zinal winner) and Matthias Kyburz (4-time Orienteering World Champion) around me. I had no idea what position we were in but the feeling was surprisingly well.
Second part (undulating uphills)
Once we reached Ponchette and with it the flatter section I was still doubtful of my form but I was able to keep up with the others. I kept my rhythm, was able to maintain my energy level with the right nutrition thanks to the Winforce Gels I was carrying with me. With the exception of Max King who was just flying past us on the short downhill (up&down World Champion 2010) at Tignousa nobody would overtake me. It was my strategy to save some energy and finish strong. I realised last year that you need enough reserves from Nava (highest point with 2424 masl) to the finish even though everything is “just” downhill. It is still about 40 minutes (for me) of running. If you are out of energy it is a long way! I went up there the day before to look at every passage to be prepared for every step that was somewhat technical. It helped me also mentally that I knew I had everything under control.
Last section (downhill)
When we were climbing to Hotel Weisshorn (20km) I saw all the athletes who were in front of me ligned up one after the other. There were still quite a few of them but the gap was surprisingly small. Steadily I closed the gap of a minute on Frenchman Thibaut Baronian who would then chase me to the finish line. On the steepest part of the last kilometre a couple of Columbians (Jose David Cardona – Jungfrau Marathon 2017 Winner) were probably struggling with their quads as we were just flying past them. The last 500 meters are always tricky as they are on the road. I had immediately calf cramps. Usually I am able to get rid of them quickly but not this time. It was a fight to the finish line but was able to hold of Thibaut by 4 seconds. I crossed it as 6th in a time of 2:37:12 and am extremely happy about this result. In the meantime Petro Mamu was caught positiv which means I am ranked now in 5th position.