That’s largely up to you! Because there’s no rush, you can fast hike many of the routes, or test your mettle against the verticality of the Alps, and arrive early for lunch at the neighborhood hut. Thanks to the mountain infrastructure in the Alps, many runs also include options such as taking a lift to pass on a demanding climb, if you want to take it easy. The Alps are steep, though, and you can expect an easier run to have 500 meters of climbing, over perhaps 10 km. A typical run might have 1000-1500 meters of climbing over 10-20 km and a harder run may have you hunched over a map calculating vertical thousands of meters over dinner!
We try to include a variety of options on each day’s runs. That’s not always possible, but it’s often the case that there’s a lift, funicular, tram or cog railway waiting to take you back to wine, a croissant, and a massage if needed!
The Alps are classic “big mountains,” so the answer has to be, expect anything. We’ve seen snow in August, sunny days in November, and driving rain for a few days at a time. On average, however, it’s typical to have a few days of unsettled weather over the course of a ten-day period. September usually has better weather than August, which usually has better weather than July. Up high in the mountains, poor conditions can move in quickly, so it’s imperative to pay close attention to the forecast, watch the sky over the course of the day, and be flexible with your plans if conditions dictate. Remember: the mountain will always be there. We can come back another day.
Good question! In general, you’ll get the most enjoyment out of a trail running vacation in the Alps, if you can comfortably trail run about ten miles at least a few days a week, and don’t mind an hour of steep uphill hiking or running. If you’re planning to run a trail race, it’s helpful to have run at least one comparable trail race elsewhere. Prior mountain experience, such as hiking trips, backcountry skiing, or climbing are certainly helpful, too!
Here’s a serious point for us: we’re not competitive. Trail running for us is about personal accomplishment, the pleasure of being in the mountains with friends, the joy of working hard in a beautiful setting… and enjoying a few luxuries after the run. If you’re into running as fast as you can, go for it—we’ll see you at the hut!
It can vary, from rocky footing to decadent pastures. In general, the terrain is usually quite running-friendly, with switch-backed routes and plenty of soil. The higher we go, however, the more challenging the footing will get. Over 2,500 meters, it’s not uncommon to encounter scree or boulder fields.
Alp running will have moments of exposure to steep cliffs and airy gaps. These locations are almost always equipped with chains or cables that are bolted to the rock. At spots like this, we stop running, and always make sure to have one hand on the cable. If you’re subject to vertigo, there are often other running options or, as we’ve been known to do from time to time, simply watch the feet of the person in front of you and focus your mind on a fine alp cheese. (Do you see a theme here?)
If you insist, but we’ll want a full report on the tarts, cheese and wine you found in town! If you went to a nearby thermal baths, we might find it hard to avoid being envious. Be forewarned.
We’re in the mountains, and that means being able to take care of ourselves in the event of an accident or foul weather. Guides will have additional resources, such as Swiss cell phones and first aid kits. You’ll know what works best for you, but, in general, we’d suggest the following:
Some runners, particular locals, like to trail run with carbon fiber running poles. This is a matter of personal preference. In the Alps, we find it handy many of the times. A third point of contact with the ground can be comforting on very steep terrain. And the poles serve to move a little of the hard work to your upper bodyon climbs, and remove a small but noticeable percentage of the pounding on long down hills. Plus, they’ll identify you as a European mountain runner—though your clothing may not.
That’s just what we were talking about! How do you identify a Swiss mountain runner? Look for these telltale signs: Salomon compression shorts, Salomon compression shirt, Salomon trail running vest, Black Diamond poles, not a speck of dirt on the “uniform”—and well-coiffed hair. Also? They won’t be sweating. They will have just run 2,000 vertical meters, and will be chatting with the local farmer.
In general, it’s quite good. In fact, Swiss trails are famous for their accurate signage. The center of every village features a collection of signs for destinations in all directions. Many junctions include the elevation and a name for that location, so you’ll be able to pinpoint yourself on the map. Lower elevation, walking trails are marked in yellow, mountain trails are blazed with a white-red-white combination blaze, and technically challenging paths are blazed white-blue-white.
There’s lots of good water all over the place in the Alps—troughs fed by springs are a reliable source of drinkable water. Huts, auberges and other buildings usually have potable water, too, though you might have to pay for it if you’re at a high alpine facility, where it’s been flown in by helicopter.
They do—but you will need a data plan. Please discuss this with us before coming, if you want to track your progress on your smart phone. In general, upon arriving in Zurich or Geneva, you’ll want to sign up for an Orange pre-pay Internet plan, and make sure it’s working before leaving the shop.
In our opinion, they’re amazing. Really. Many, like Sierre-Zinal or Swissalpine, are internationally renowned and attract big crowds and some of the world’s best mountain runners. Others, like the smaller Valais Cup series, are friendly, local races with community meals served afterwards. It’s common to have hikers and locals along the route, cheering you on in French and German. Alphorn players and bell ringers are often en route, as well.
In Switzerland, as in much of Europe, trail races are a much bigger deal than in the United States. There are cash prizes, and the winner will likely find himself on the front page of several national newspapers, the next day.
Read a few of the blog posts from the Run the Alps crew! Here they are.
That depends! In general, there are two categories in alp trail races: “Elite” and “Tourist.” Each is a slight misnomer. Any one can enter either category. It really depends on with whom you want to run!
The elite division often starts before the tourists, and includes the best runners nationally and internationally, if the race is well-known. (One notable exception is Sierre-Zinal, in which the tourists start several hours before the elite division. This allows tourists to watch some of the world’s best mountain runners as they sprint towards the finish in Zinal.)
The tourist division includes many very strong trail runners, and also runners who may be taking it easy, walking up the hills. Sometimes, the tourist division will also include Nordic walkers, though they may have their own division. One way to decide where you might be most comfortable, is to estimate your finish time, then look at results from prior years.
Most Swiss trail races are very well supported! There are regular aid stations, and it’s not uncommon to see fans out along the trail, providing their own impromptu support in the form of water, cheese or other snacks.
You never know what you’re going to find at the aid station of a Swiss trail race! We’ve seen everything from a 70-kilo wheel of Gruyere cheese to fresh buttermilk. (No kidding! It was right before the final 10 kilometer uphill to the top of Mount Pilatus, at the end of the Mountainman Marathon. Nein Danke! )
In general, though, you can expect the following, at most aid stations:
Many trail races are point-to-point, with transport provided back to the start. Larger races will often include complimentary travel vouchers for mountain transportation before, during and after the race. If the race is point-to-point, almost all races will transport a small bag for you to the finish, often via tram or helicopter. This is a great opportunity to include a change of clothes, snacks, phone, and additional warm clothing. Longer races will also provide drops of supplies at intermediate points in the course. If you’re running a race as part of a tour, we’ll provide all the details prior to the race.
Yes, you’ll need to register directly with the race organizers. However, we can walk you through the process. We’ll be glad to help, too, if you’re adding a trail race on to your stay in Switzerland, before or after your trip with us.
Keep your eyes open. Alp trail races, even the small ones, often draw some of the best mountain runners in the world. Watch for Kilian Jornet, Emile Forsberg, Rory Bosio, Max King, Rickey Gates or many others.
Regardless, have fun. It’s a memorable experience!