For the second half of August, I’ve been on a fantastic family holiday to Saas-Fee in Switzerland. The village is at 1800m above sea level and is surrounded by over twenty 4000m+ peaks. We stayed in an apartment in the village and the image below shows the beautiful view out of one of the windows:
As this is a running blog, I’ll keep on subject… I wanted to cover two main aspects of running from the holiday in the blog but I’ll do it over 2 posts. The first (this one) will be a description of the routes I took, some of the challenges and lots of pretty pictures 🙂 The second post is intended to cover things I learnt, equipment I used, what worked and what didn’t etc.
In total, I ran a little over 25 miles across 2 weeks. This doesn’t sound a lot, but all runs (except one track session) were either entirely uphill, or up to a peak then all the way back down again! In my first week, I ran a little over 6 miles but with 1100 metres of ascent (all runs were uphill with a cable-car back down). Compare this to the week before the holiday where I ran 35 miles but only climbed 300m and you can see it was very different terrain to what I’m used to. The second week involved up-and-down runs and the distance went up to just under 20 miles with 1400m of ascent (and for this week, 1400m of descent too).
Saas-Fee to Hannig
On our first full day in Saas-Fee, we took the cable car to Hannig. This was at 2350m (taking about 5 or 6 minutes in the cable car to climb the 550m), and consisted of a cable car station, a restaurant and a play park, as well as a large penned area for mountain goats. The day we went up was raining slightly and the visibility wasn’t great, but I knew I wanted to run up here.
As we had lots of busy days, my runs had to take place in the morning, so I got up at 0630 the following day (made even more painful by the hour time shift!), got ready and went out the door.
The first part of the run was through the village for about half a mile to the bottom cable car station, then up some steps and slopes. Within three quarters of a mile of leaving the house, my calves were burning like I have never experienced before! I had to stop running and kept a fast walking pace up the steeper sections until I joined a rough rocky path intended for large-wheeled scooters where I could start running again at a gentle pace. There’s something nice about knowing the complete course is uphill – there’s no disappointment when you round a corner and see it’s still uphill as you know it’s going to be. I kept running on the scooter section of the track until I found a walking track, and took off up a steeper, rougher section.
It wasn’t long before I was walking, trying to keep a fast pace up the path. But when you’re faced with sights like the ones below (I did stop a couple of times to take some shots with my phone), it’s easy to ignore discomfort and keep marching on:
From the mid section, the route went up through some fairly dense alpine forest, then out onto an open zig-zag path to the top. Having climbed about 400m in 2 miles I was really feeling it, and only managed a fast walk to the top, but I was really pleased to have got there. The view was amazing, and I had really enjoyed the physical and mental effort needed to get there.
I ended up doing this run twice in the first week, getting the cable car down both times. On the second week, I did it 2 more times but this time I ran down as well which was an interesting experience. You may think it would be easy, but running a relatively technical trail down 550m in 3 miles means you’re working your quads hards and really having to concentrate on footfalls so as not cause any ankle injuries. Strangely, though, it seems to use almost no lung capacity – I was actually singing to myself while I was running down the hill!
Here are a few more shots of the route, taken with a better camera than the one in my phone:
And here’s a set of 3 shots from my phone – before, during and at the end of a particularly cloudy run up!
In the second week, I wanted to have a break from hill runs and decided to give the running track a go. It was a straight 100m track rather than standard 400m oval track, so I opted for a warm up, then 8 x 200m intervals (two full lengths of the track) with 90s rest between the intervals.
It was hard work but nice to do something speedy as a change from the hills.
I managed the following times (which are slightly slower than I’d expect on a 400m track as I had to turn around in the middle):
Saas-Fee to Morenia
During the first week, we also visited a place called Spielboden which was at 2550m above sea level – 200m higher than Hannig with 750m total ascent from Saas-Fee – and this was next on my list of places to run. I set out on Monday of the 2nd week of our holiday to try this new route… and ran out of time before I could get to Spielboden.
On the last day of the holiday, I tried again, and this time I did get to a cable-car station. However, both times I’d taken a wrong turn and ended up at a new place called Morenia with a deserted cable car station which was really quite eerie in the clouds! It stood at 2420m , so I had climbed over 600m to get there.
Below are some shots from my phone for the run which finally got me to Morenia on the last day of the holiday:
And these two shots show the cable car station at Morenia, taken from the Alpine Express cable car on route between Saas-Fee and Felskin:
Running (well, running and walking) up and down hills is hard work, but very, very satisfying. You get a real sense of achievement when you climb up hard, and generally the views where I was were incredibly rewarding. I’m going to miss being able to just run out the door and up a massive hill (although it is quite nice to run on relatively flat surfaces again). I know there are a few hills North and West of me in Dorset so I’m thoroughly intending to make some trips out that way and keep working on my hill running.
As I mentioned above, there will be a second part to this post which will cover equipment and techniques, and how things worked and didn’t work so well in new terrain. So keep an eye out – it should be up within a few days…