Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Sierre-Zinal: It's like the NASCAR of European Mountain Running

Not the Red Cross...Switzerland!                                           photo: Sage Canaday

With the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon in the rear view mirror, we cannot neglect to speak of "one of the finest mountain races in the world," the famous European mountain race in Switzerland called Sierre-Zinal. You know it's a big deal when they have THREE helicopters and over THREE AND A HALF hours of race coverage

Dear American mountain running, we have some catching up to do!

In what we consider an amazingly well-translated description of the Sierre-Zinal race on the race website, it states:
The race Sierre-Zinal (August 11, 2013, 40th edition), also called the Race of Five 4000m Peaks, is considered to be one of the finest mountain races in the world. It was once written that it is to mountain races what the New York Marathon is to marathons. It is the oldest mountain race found in its category in Europe's mountains. 
Advising proper footwear since 1973
Sierre-Zinal, which takes place in the heart of Valais' Alps, offers its participants a significant challenge: distance - 31 km, 2200m ascent and 800m descent. Incredible scenery, a warm atmosphere and exceptional organisation explain the success and longevity of this challenge.
As Jonathan Wyatt (record holder of both Sierre-Zinal and the Jungfrau Marathon, as well as a multiple world mountain racing champion) wrote, "As a mountain racer you must experience the tradition and history of this race."

A few Team Colorado members took a crack at this Swiss equivalent of NASCAR and we were able to track a few of them down to ask them about this classic race.

As a formal introduction to Team Colorado, an all-star rockin' the Pearls, a smiler on-par with our Chef d'équipe, Amy Perez, we would like to introduce Stevie "Sunshine" Kremer
"Yeahhhhhhh," says Stevie as she wins the Pikes Peak Marathon           photo: The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett
Stevie--or "Steveee Ktktkemehr" as they call her in Switzerland (that accent is really difficult to put into words, check out 1:16:09 into the race coverage video)--placed 2nd overall female in a time of 3:03:12, matching her result from 2012 (3:04:33). 

On the mens side, Team Colorado's Rickey "MIA" Gates placed 9th OA in a time of 2:40:47, Sage Canaday was 17th OA with a 2:45:01 and Glenn "Pulling a GR" Randall was 21st OA (18th according to the Awards Ceremony) in 2:47:01.

Stevie Kremer

Team Colorado: Stevie, first of all, welcome to the Team! We are excited that you are adding some additional sunshine to it! We hear Sierre-Zinal is one of the most, if not the most, prestigious mountain races in the Europe. Why does it have that slogan? Is it true? 

Thank you so for letting me be part of this extremely talented group of runners! The best part is they all have such phenomenal personalities with so much going for them, including fast legs and huge lungs, that I'm really looking forward to meeting and learning more about everyone! 

Sierre-Zinal is one of the best and most popular races I've ever competed in. I believe one of the reasons this race has such a prestigious reputation is the runners that come out for it and these runners come back year after year...for example, this past year, many of the past winners from years ago came to race and celebrate the 40th Anniversary of it. It is five days filled with delicious food at various places around Sierre and Zinal, beautiful areas to run in, plus a phenomenal group of people from, literally, all over the world.

Team ColoradoHmmm, sounds nice, can you pack me in your bag next time you go!? A lot of us on this side of The Pond have a certain idea of mountain running. How is it different than European mountain running? This race in particular or a general mountain race in Europe? 

Stevie: It's funny because this is one question I get asked a lot since returning (the difference between Euro and US mountain running, that is, not human trafficking), and I'd have to say one of the biggest differences is how technical the trails in Europe are, although Sierre-Zinal is not particularly technical. In addition, I would say the trails seem to be much steeper than those in the U.S. You go from Sea Level (or close to it) to 1,500 meters in a super short distance.  

But another big difference are the spectators and fans that come out to watch big trail/mountain races in Europe. People line the course, regardless of how steep or technical the trail may be. You feel like you're in the Tour de France running in Europe!

Stevie, showing the men who's the boss...not Tony Danza!           photo: Ian Corless

Team ColoradoHow does it compare to Pikes Peak?

Stevie: I loved Pikes Peak. It's not too technical and not to steep. Besides the 16 Golden Stairs, I was capable (although I'm not sure I actually did) of running the rest of the course, which is more than any European race I ran. In Europe I did a bunch of "riking" (run/hiking...something a good friend of mine from Crested Butte taught me), something I didn't do much of in the trails back here. I loved being in the mountains of Europe and running in the diverse terrain, but I did miss the smooth trails in CO.

Team ColoradoFrom pictures, the finish line of Sierre-Zinal looks like the Tour de France of running (are we really using the TDF reference twice in this interview?). Are runners really treated like rock stars over there? Stevie, you ARE a rockstar, you were 2nd there this year (oh, and 2nd last year, as a matter of fact). 

Stevie: Oh yeah, everyone is treated like a rockstar, it's incredible. Everyone is friendly and excited FOR you...and when I say everyone, I mean supporters as well as your competitors. We get spoiled with food and's one of the best vacations ever!

Team ColoradoStevie, you qualified for the US Mountain Running Team in July (2nd at the US Mountain Running Champs at Cranmore) but you turned down you spot because of work obligations (you are a teacher and couldn't leave the little ones to their own devices). Was that a difficult decision? 

Stevie: It was a very hard decision not to run in Poland with Team USA, not only because of the amazing experience it would have been but also because of the camaraderie that comes with it. Being part of the Team last year was one of the most incredible running experiences I've had and I hope I am able to relive that again one year. It is such a strong team and I am super excited for them to crush it:-)

Team ColoradoDo you like cheese!? I heard there was some amazing cheese there in Switzerland.

Stevie: You know, I'm not a huge cheese fan, but if I had to choose one, I'd definitely choose Munster--a cheese that isn't in Switzerland:-/  Boring answer, I know!  They do make some sweet cow bells that I love to wear (and so do my dogs!).

Team ColoradoHas anyone ever told you that your style is di bomb digi bomb di deng digigi

Stevie: When you say style do you mean my stylish pearls that cover up my big ear lobes when I run, or do you mean my popped collar look that is part of my every day wardrobe? Thanks for the nice compliment, by the way!

Yeahhh (again) at zee Mont Blanc Marathon finish...Stevie is always happy, can you tell?   photo: Ian Corless
Team ColoradoWhat is up next for you--more world domination?

Stevie: Basically, in a nutshell, I just hope to continue enjoying running and doing okay, all over the world, and of course, with the pearls in:-)

Top 3 women (L to R), Steveee Ktktkemehr-2nd, Eliso Desco-1st, Maude Mathys-3rd         photo: Fred Bousseau 

Rickey Gates

When we asked Rickey about what he thought of this huge European Mountain race, he poignantly added, "Yeah, what she said."

So, that is what you call a trail in Europe                                      photo: Ian Corless

Glenn Randall

GR with the now-extremly-tanned-and-acquirer-of-some-kilos, Lance Armstrong, the Maillot Jaune, in the background

Team ColoradoWe hear Sierre-Zinal is one of the most, if not the most, prestigious mountain race in the Europe. Why does it have that slogan? Is it true? 

Glenn: I think you hear that because it is true. This is a race that gets a lot of really good people running it. I got 9th at World Mountain Running Championships last year and 18th (according to the awards ceremony) at Sierre-Zinal this year. Also, I only saw one helicopter at Worlds last year, but I saw at least three helicopters at Sierre-Zinal. As awesome as World Mountain Running Championships is, the numbers seem to be on Sierre-Zinal's side, somewhat like they are for a couple of the world's biggest marathons. 

Team ColoradoA lot of us in 'Merica have a certain idea of mountain running. How is it different than European mountain running? This race in particular? A general mountain race in Europe?

Glenn: The only mountain races I've run in Europe are Sierre-Zinal and Worlds last year.  However, I will say that both courses had much steeper ups and downs than I've seen in the States. Also, Sierre-Zinal probably does the best job of any mountain race I've ever run of including pretty much everything you can run on, so you are forced to confront your weakness, and although you are using different muscle groups through a lot of that, for me, this just means pushing harder, which means there is more of my body to hurt. This may not make me popular, but I think that mountain running in Europe is a much more painful endeavor than it is in the United States. As for Sierre-Zinal, it's difficult to describe. Mountain races hurt in a much different way than road marathons. Sierre-Zinal, at least in my experience, is somewhat to mountain running as mountain running is to road running. Amazing trails, scenery and locale, but also probably the most pain I've ever put myself through. 

Team ColoradoI guess you have never experienced child birth, have you, Glenn!? You said Sierre-Zinal was probably the most painful experience of your life (after child birth, that is). How does it compare to Pikes Peak on the pain-scale?

Glenn: Pikes Peak is a strange mountain. I think the great challenge of Pikes is the altitude. But that oxygen deprivation means that you are kind of numb to the pain. Marc Lauenstein, who won Sierre-Zinal this year, was second when I won Pikes. After the race, he told me that shortly after timberline, he started to feel drunk and then I pulled away. The altitude didn't make me feel drunk until I finished. But nonetheless, that kind of dulls the pain. But Sierre-Zinal is at a low enough altitude that you have to feel the pain, and it is really severe. It's kind of like the difference between morphine and no morphine. Pikes has substantially more staggering and slobbering on yourself, but it doesn't hurt as much.

Team ColoradoFrom pictures, the finish line of Sierre-Zinal looks like the Tour de France of running. Are runners really treated like rock stars over there? Glenn, now that you are going to grad school for physics, could you answer this in physics terms.

Glenn: Much like Schroedinger's Cat, you're never sure if they are treating you like a rock star or treating you like a pig being fattened up for slaughter until you run the race. At that point, the wavefunction collapses from a superposition of both into one state. This year, after the race, I was a pig that had been fattened up for slaughter: popular at the dinner table, basted in wine, sizzling hot, but also fatty and nonmoving. On that note, I'm kind of hungry. 

That is a cute little mountain!              photo: Glenn Randall

Team ColoradoGlenn, you made the USMRT (as they used to call it when TEVA was our sponsors and the rest of the world thought we were the country "TEVA"), when do you head out to Poland? Are you going to eat a lot of perogies? 

Glenn: I leave for Poland on September 4. I'm going to eat whatever they give me to eat out there, because the food is half the adventure and in Europe, if you're a picky eater, they let you starve. 

Team Colorado: How does physics help your mountain running?

Glenn: Physics makes me realize that a) the pain is not real, it is a chemical reaction (ok, that's chemistry, but chemistry is just applied physics), b) an undetectably small part of me has already finished (seriously, quantum mechanics is awesome), c) as I climb, the gravitational pull that makes climbing hard is decreasing by 1/r^2 where r is my distance from the center of the earth, and d) the pain doesn't exist until I observe it, nor do any bad results. 

Team Colorado: Physics sounds fun. Best of luck out there in Poland, you mad scientist!

Sage Canaday

Sage leads CR holder, Jonathan Wyatt of NZ, "for a couple seconds"    photo: Sage Canaday
Team Colorado: Sage, congrats on your race. We hear it is one of the most, if not the most, prestigious mountain race in the Europe. Why does it have that title?

Sage: First of all there's the history of the event: it's been going on for 40 years! Also, it is a beautiful place to run, you are connecting these little mountain towns near the Alps. The ridge line and the severity of the climb on what are usually just hiking trails make it the ultimate mountain race/challenge. 

Team ColoradoA lot of us in America have a certain idea of mountain running. How is it different than European mountain running?

Sage: I don't know much about other European mountain races, but the Alps are just plain steeper than the Rockies! What would be a technical trail in the US is considered a "road" in Europe. As Killian even said: The Pikes Peak Marathon is a "flat road."

Sage with Glenn Randall closely following (there's Lance again!)
Team ColoradoHow does it compare to Pikes Peak, (in your terms, not Killian's terms)?

Sage: I was in a lot of pain at both Sierre-Zinal and Pikes. The pain at Sierre-Zinal was caused by sheer muscle failure and the pain at Pikes was caused by glycogen depletion. As runners like Max King can attest, Sierre-Zinal does something horrible to your legs if you aren't prepared for it!

Team Colorado: The finish line of Sierre-Zinal looks like the Tour de France of running. Are runners really treated like rock stars over there? Sage, you are already a ultra rock star in the States, how was it over there?

Sage: I'm pretty sure everyone knew Ricky and they had no idea who I was. Then again, I didn't finish in the top 10!

Raclette under the heat lamps...just like McDonalds does here in the US!  photo: Sage Canaday

Team ColoradoI hope you brought some of that local Raclette back to the US! 

Sage: I tired to but it all melted on the plane ride back so I ate whole wheel in the airport. 

Team Colorado: Wow, that is a lot of cheese to consume. You probably had a belly ache. So, are you ready for some time off? I am sure you have some ultras coming up soon, which ones?

Sage: I took one day totally off after Sierre-Zinal and then another recovery on the 30 hour train/plane/plane/plane/car ride back from Zinal to Boulder. I'm more determined than ever to train specifically for the UROC 100km from Breck to Vail in a few's the SkyRunning Ultra Series Final and Killian and Anton (and maybe Max) will be there. 

Team Colorado: So, no rest is what you are saying? Thanks and we will look out for you and the rest of Team Colorado out at UROC 100.


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