Waking to the sounds of cowbells, we are met after breakfast by our new guide for the day, Sarah Kleinknecht from TrailRandoVerbier.
Sarah takes a slightly different approach to Jules-Henri, and we begin the day with some stretching.
Sarah has also been on the podium a few times too, but as a mountain leader and keen climber she says she wants her body to continue to work - and the only way to do this is with a good stretch before and after a good stretch before and after.
Following a few calf, groin, quad and hip flexors we head off from the Hotel Weisshorn to Zinal, the tiny town that’s the finish of the Sierre-Zinal mountain race, 12 km away.
After an initial climb for about 250m we carry on, on some of the smoothest trails so far, through alpine meadows and pine forests, past grazing cows and blueberry bushes. In contrast to the previous days’ big ups, the meters accumulated fast.
But just as I relaxed into the pace, it kicked in as we hit the infamous big downhill into Zinal with great sliding potential through the trees and hurtling down the final tarmac descent, we hit the main street of town, and lunch at the historic Hotel le Besso, Zinal.
Again I resist the urge, following a heavy lunch, to carry on running. But the others headed up onto the Trail des Arolles, on a circular trail, of almost 9km and over 650m climbing,
I instead opt for a dip in the spa at the nearby Hotel Europe and to shop for some famous Valais wine.
That evening at our hotel, La Pointe de Zinal, we have dinner with two organisers of the Sierre-Zinal race, Vincent Theytaz, director, and assistant director, Valentin Genoud, who echos Jules Henri – “The heart is before the time, always race against your personal record.’
As we discovered on our ‘taster’ of the race, it definitely comes in two parts, so neither a sub 2 hour marathon runners or hill climbers are likely to win it.
“It’s interesting to see, that when the race started in 1974, there were more people running it in under 4 hours than there are now,” says Vincent.
Infact, the stats are as follows:
In 1987: 2713 finishers, 601 running in less than 4h.
In 2009: 2806 finishers, 389 running in less than 4h.
In 2018: 4257 finishers, 411 running in less than 4h.
Perhaps, I muse, endurance running has become a bit of a trend for people who are not just hard core club runners and perhaps something to put on the CV of life, a kind of 'neoliberal leisure pursuit’?
The next morning, we meet Sarah again and dash to catch the 9am telecabin to head up the mountain and experience our last trail in the Val d’Anniviers, the Barrage de Moiry via Corne de Sorebois. With ten km and 1200m vertical I fear I’m really pushing it.
So I walk, slowly, all the way up and down. Good thing as the path is steep and I didn’t want to hurtle myself into the infamous cow fight we encounter on the way down..
Finally resting at our lunch spot, the Restaurant de Moiry, overlooking the Lac de Moiry, I opt for local sausage, wrapped in paper and cooked in leak and potato, followed by my favourite, Genepi ice cream. A final treat after 5 days of sunshine and perfect trails. I’m not sure how this choice the day before an ultra-race would have gone down with Jules-Henri – but we shall see tomorrow.
(race report coming soon)
Part 1 of Running up that hill - trail running Switzerland's Valais with the pro's Part 1 can be found here.
www.valdanniviers.ch – official website of the destination Val d’Anniviers