It’s fun to dream big and imagine doing things that seem out of reach. I often gaze at Instagram and scroll through hundreds of photos of snowy capped mountains, beautiful flowers, waterfalls and endless trails… I often imagine the start line, the buzz and the vibe, the cowbells and cheering crowds. It really is fun to daydream… It’s even more fun experiencing the dreams when they come true. I’d been dreaming of competing in this iconic race for about 3 years now. It had been on my radar but always seemed too good to be true, too big, too competitive and quite out of reach. And then, voila, there I was on the start line, literally rubbing shoulders with some of the best athletes in the world.
Also called the “Course des cinq 4000” (the five 4000-metre-peaks race), Sierre-Zinal is one of the most beautiful but also one of the hardest mountain races in the world. It attracts athletes from all over the world to see how they fare in this extremely tough race. I was one of those; eager and ignorant, curious to see just how hard 31kms could be… And I definitely didn’t expect it to be quite that tough!
We started with over 1300 metres in elevation in the first 7km. About the equivalent of running twice up to the top of Table Mountain. After a very brief respite of fast flat (ish) running, there’s another 1000m up. Everyone had warned us to start easy and save something for the second half. I’m still not sure how that’s possible. Starting a 30km race with a vertical kilometer is going to take it out of you either way. And having literally hundreds of people ahead, behind and next to you, puffing and pushing their way up the trail doesn’t make it easier to relax!
The rest of the race is a bit of a blur of heat, relentless climbing, altitude and cowbells – not quite the Instagram perfection I had imagined. But I do remember finally descending sharply to the finish, hearing the music and experiencing those cheering crowds I had dreamt of. I finished 24th lady, which – looking back, I’m pretty proud of. It’s a crazy competitive field and a completely unknown event to me. I ran my heart out and I’m happy with that.
The crux of the adventure is the in the people you spend it with. I was lucky to be travelling with my brother, Neil. My Aunt and Uncle from Paris came to support the race which was also incredibly special.
The day before the race, we went for a shake-out run with all the other Salomon athletes from Germany, France, Scotland, Norway and Austria. They are all incredible people full of inspiration. The unforgettable experience of going to compete in Sierre Zinal reinforced why I love to run, travel and compete in big mountains. The people, the vibe, the beauty and the challenge were once in a lifetime!