If you’d rather avoid planning, navigating and being self-sufficient in the mountains whatever the weather, a guided trip would be best. You’ll have one or two trail running guides who’ll share their knowledge about local languages and customs, as well as being expert trail runners. As qualified mountain leaders, they’ll ensure your safety and also point out wildlife, mountain peaks and historic sights. There are some options to go at your own pace by running ahead to a certain point or taking a variant, but normally the group moves together.
If you prefer to travel solo or with your own companions, always at your own pace, a self-guided tour would suit you. You should be reasonably confident in following trail descriptions and handling the challenges of trail running in a mountainous environment. Dates are flexible, based on your needs, and you can run in one region, or several – it’s your decision. Check out this blog post for more info.
Absolutely! Here’s a serious point: Pretty much everyone walks up the hills in the Alps – including the Pros! 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!
That’s largely up to you! Because there’s no rush, you can fast hike many of the routes, or you can test your mettle against the verticality of the Alps by running, 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! You can see how we grade our tours here.
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 available for part of the route or waiting to take you back to wine, a croissant, and a massage if needed!
This is one of the most common questions we get, and it’s an interesting one! Here’s why. In the Alps, glaciers and technical climbing starts around 3,000 meters, or 9,800 feet, roughly speaking. The highest pass we cross on the Tour du Mont Blanc, for example, is 2,490 meters, or about 8,170 feet– just high enough to begin to notice the altitude. And before you know it, you’re down in the village of La Fouly, at 1,600 meters, or about 5,250 feet. So, in general, altitude and acclimatization is not an issue.
In short…. often, yes. We sometimes have one or two partners on a trip who prefer to hike or bike instead of trail run. Our guide(s) will do everything possible to accommodate them. In general, many of our day trips can be accomplished as a hike, sometimes with the addition of a bus, train or tram ride. During the day, it’s often possible for the partner to meet the trail running crew at a hut or inn. Some trips are better suited than others for a combination of hiking or biking and trail running. Going self-guided is optimum, as this allows you and your partner maximum flexibility. To discuss options, please drop us a note.
We constantly develop and produce some of the best support materials in the business, such as our 60 page Guide to Trail Running in the Alps – every guest receives this and Run the Alps Aid Station documents, to help get your trip off to a great start. We hire the best trail running guides available and invest in their training. We use top local suppliers, staying in a select number of carefully-vetted high quality hotels, avoiding dormitory spaces. From our year-‘round base in Chamonix, we can provide you with 24/7 support. Please compare tour offerings carefully!
Run the Alps trip pricing is based on a double-occupancy room. However, if you’re a single traveler and prefer your own space, the single supplement fee covers the cost of upgrading to private rooms where possible. On some trips, however—notably our Tour du Mont-Blanc trail run—it’s not always possible to secure a private room at the smaller mountain inns. In the Alps, innkeepers will generally not allow an individual to pay for a double room and use it as a single, preferring to fill their inn and make the best use of the limited space. On our Tour du Mont Blanc run, therefore, the single supplement only guarantees a private room in Chamonix at the start and finish, as well as Courmayeur. Where possible, we will work to secure one of the few single rooms at the remote mountain inns. If you are traveling alone and would like to share a room with another trail runner, we will do everything we can to match you up with another traveller in either a single-gender or mixed gender room, according to your preference. If that is not possible, however, the single supplement will apply.
Tipping is less important in Europe than it is in much of the rest of the world. In general, you could tip around 5-10% of your bill, or simply round up. For example, paying 40 euros for a meal that cost 36 euros is entirely reasonable.
If your Run the Alps guide did a great job, please consider a tip for him or her, too! About 5% of your tour cost per guide is a reasonable rule of thumb, but any tip or gift will be greatly appreciated.
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! There’s more info on how we grade our tours here.
Simple! Crank up the angle on the treadmill at your gym. Run hills. Need distraction? Study a few simple phrases of French or German. Our Guide to Trail Running in the Alps, which is sent to all trip participants upon sign-up, has a special training section written exclusively for Run the Alps by US ultra runner Krissy Moehl.
We also offer a Personalized Alps Prep Program.
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, or about 8,200 feet, 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!
If you insist, but we’ll want a full report on the tarts, cheese and cappuccino you found in town! Our Tour du Mont-Blanc and Via Valais trips are probably the hardest of our trips to take a day off, so consider another trip option if you think that is likely to be necessary.
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 cell phones and first aid kits. Our Guide to Trail Running in the Alps, sent upon signing up for a trip, has full details on what to bring. 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. We recommend the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z trekking poles, ordered in the length that is right for you. (The adjustable poles add not-insignificant weight.) On our guided trips, Run the Alps will bring a variety of poles for you to try out, and in Grindelwald, Zermatt, Courmayeur and Chamonix, it’s possible to buy them.
Generally, we don’t stop for heavy lunches during a trail running day. Our guides will purchase a variety of snacks to share out at the start of the day. We’ll do our best to match the desires of the group with what’s available locally, but many brands familiar to trail runners in other countries are not available in the Alps. We’ll have chocolate, nuts, chips, energy bars, and other foods along for us to choose from each day. If you have a specific brand that works well for you, we’d suggest you bring enough with you for the duration of the trip. We’ll also stop at huts and mountain inns, en route, if you find yourself in need of something more substantial, or would like a treat during the trail run.
That’s just what we were talking about! How do you identify a European 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.” 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, Alp trails are famous for their accurate signage. The center of many villages 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. In general, lower elevation, walking trails are marked in yellow, mountain trails are blazed with a white and red combination blaze, and trails that require mountaineering skills, with longer stretches of exposure, are blazed in blue and 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.
In our opinion, they’re amazing. Really. Many, like Sierre-Zinal, Eiger Ultra, Ultraks, or the Mont-Blanc Marathon, are internationally-renowned and attract big crowds and some of the world’s best mountain runners. Others, like Switzerland’s 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. Throughout the Alps, 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 regional or even national newspapers, the next day.
If you are taking part in a trail race during your time here on a Run the Alps trip, one of the first things you’ll receive is a copy of our Guide to Trail Racing in the Alps.
In France and Italy, a medical certificate is required to participate in trail races. For runners from most other countries, this is an arcane process with several potential pitfalls. And, it’s taken very seriously in France, because it’s a requirement of the federal government. For those of you running with Run the Alps, we’ll guide you through the process.
Read a few of the blog posts from the Run the Alps crew! Here they are.
That depends! Often, there are two categories in alp trail races: “Elite” and “Tourist.” Each is a slight misnomer. Sometimes, one can enter either category. In the really major races, like the Mont-Blanc Marathon, it might depend on the number of ITRA points you have. The elite division sometimes starts before the tourists, or at least places you at the front of the race, 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 Alp 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 trail race in the Alps! We’ve seen everything from a 70-kilo wheel of Gruyere cheese to fresh buttermilk. 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 or via Run the Alps. For major races, Run the Alps has partnered with Race Directors, and has access to bib numbers. In those cases, we’ll register you directly or give you a promo code for race registration access. In all cases, we can guide you through the process. We’ll be glad to help, too, if you’re adding a trail race on to your stay in the Alps, 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, Jim Walmsley, Tim Tollefson, Alex Nichols, Mira Rai, and many others. Have fun. It’s a memorable experience!