Monday, August 24, 2009



It's so easy to ignore the fact that dynamite can also come in petite packages/cases,but such was the case of ",le petite equipe americain" in Switzerland this past summer,consisting of Rickey Gates and Brandy Erholtz. Both Rickey and Brandy pulled off an impressive 4th and 5th place finish, respectively. This year's 36 edition of Sierre-Zinal once again proved to be a very competitive,international field,yet both USA runners staggered in with prior,successful summer races leading up to the prestigious Sierre-Zinal 31k mountain race in Val d'Anniviers in the canton of Valais. So,they didn't exactly come in as fresh and focused as they could have, yet they managed to do some SERIOUS INTERNATIONAL ASS KICKING.....Furthermore,take into account all the stress of travel, time zones,language barriers,etc...Bravo le petite equipe americain!!!!!

ALSO,and in all fairness,a special BRAVO and RECOGNITION goes to non other than to the original pioneer/vagabond/legend of european mountain running/racing:Chuck Smead. Thanks to his '70s racing endeavors/success in europe that other future USA mountain runners would later follow. To name a few:Rick Trujillo,John Esquibel,Jay Johnson,Matt Carpenter,Simon Gutierrez,Paul and Kelley Lowe,Jeremy Wright,Pablo Vigil,etc....
Chuck Smead's '70s seed planting in european mountain racing certainly paid off for generations to come. They certainly paid off for me. Chuck literally dragged me along into the european mountain racing scene in 1979,and I can never thank him enough. His inspiration and ripple effect continues to pay off years later...and will continue as long as mountains are around. The USA certainly has an abundance of great mountains,altitude,and talented men/women mountain runners that are very capable of competing with the best in the world on any given day... As they say in French,"On verras!!"..."We shall see!!".......Personally,I don't see why not!!!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

wednesday, august 12th:
after sprinting on my bike to the airport at five in the morning, i find out that my flight is actually on thursday.

thursday, august 13th:
sprint to the airport on my bike. head to norway.

mid august and summer would appear to be over here in norway. i check with a norweigen on the bus from bergen to stryn and he acknowledges as much. he tells me that it usually lasts two months but this year it only lasted five weeks.

after a full day of travel, i arrive at the Hotel Alexandra at the base of Skaala in the small town of loen (pop. 300... 150 of which work for hotel alexandra). still light out at 10pm so i go for an easy jog up the valley from the fjord.

friday, august 14th:
the day is spent trying to rid my legs of the sierre-zinal. massage, stretching, warm bath, sweet talking, idle threats, etc.. Jonothan Wyatt and I go for a run up the valley from the fjord. talk of competition (ie kenyans), the new track for the course and plans for the remainder of the summer.

exquisite buffet at the hotel... honestly the best i've ever had and early to bed with a face mask to keep the late night light out of my eyes (welcome to 55degrees n.).

saturday, august 15th:
i weigh my backpack to make sure that it reaches the 2.5kilo requirement. coming up short, i supplement the weight with chocolate rather than rocks and sand as i did last year. the requirement is meant to encourage safety which, on a day like today, is well heeded. from the start line (elevation 38m/110ft) you can almost see the finish line covered in snow (1848m/6063ft).

of course the race started out fast. i've only raced kenyans in european mountain races (31:30 10k doesn't quite put me up there with them on the roads in the states;) and i've found that they always start fast... i would say relatively faster than they would in a road race. being somewhat new to the sport of mtn. running, maybe they don't know what is in store for them which would seem to be the case as many of them so often come flying back just as quick.

there is little to report of the race. not from my perspective anyway. sierre zinal was still fully present in my legs. there was nothing i could do about that. i knew there was a good chance that six days would be less than adequate time for recovery for such a brutal race but i took pride in what was quite clearly a gamble... and a loss. i finished 10th overall. earning 40 points towards my grand prix standing... which didn't change anything... i was in third place and remain in third place.

there was fresh snow covering the final two k of the course. that's something to report, i suppose. the calculated grade of the ascent is 22% average. there's something else. compression socks make for great arm warmers. norweigens are a strange brew. it seems to me that they have taken 1986 apart, studied it intensely and perfected it. i'm not kidding - think mike + the mechanics, heart, nu schooz... and they can dance to it!! alright, so i was only five then... but so were they! so i digress.

sunday, august 16th:
i take full advantage of the two extra nights the hotel alexandra has given me and go for a run... yes up the valley from the fjord. it was a run that i did with jon tvedt last year at this time who has been on my mind ever since i landed in bergen. he was an incredible athlete who was never lacking in something interesting to say whether it was about which race of people he thought to be the most attractive (kenyan) and unattractive (never mind) or the running style of usain bolt (9.58!?). the news of his death in january went well beyond his norweigen borders.

tvedt's record up skaala still stands thanks, in large part, to the snow covering the final 2k of the course. though i have no doubt that it will be broken within the next couple of years what with a new and improved track leading to the summit and the large purse up for grabs (25,000kn to win and 45,000kn for the record... that's over $11,000 - making it one of the highest paying mountain races in the world).

1. Antonella Confortola Italian National Team 1.26,35
2. Iva Milesova Psk Olymp Praha 1.27,00
3. Guro Flatekval Oppsal 1.27,05
4. May Britt Buer Harding IL 1.27,50
5. Tuva Staver Toftdal Heming IL 1.31,42
6. Merete Helgheim Gloppen Friidrettslag 1.33,49
7. Therese Sjursen Bfg Fana 1.34,52
8. Norunn Stavø Florø TIF 1.38,39
9. Helene Pemmer Il Fri 1.39,00
10.Elisabeth Hildenes Eid IL 1.39,43

1. John Sombol Barakarunner 1.09,55
2. Jonathan Wyatt Salomon Austrian 1.10,00
3. David Schneider Inov-8 Switzerland 1.10,50
4. Jon Duncan Sandnes IL 1.11,07
5. Sammy Kirui Barakarunner 1.12,31
6. Joseph Gray Team USA 1.12,48
7. Øystein Sylta SK Vidar 1.13,31
8. Kristen Skjeldal Bulken IL 1.14,10
9. Sindre Buraas SK Vidar 1.14,41
10. Rickey Gates USA Team 1.14,57

wednesday, august 19th
back in geneva for one more night. tomorrow i head to chamonix for some last minute training before the world mountain running championships in campodolcino - 2.5hrs north of milan. the race is up and down this year and the american team is looking very promising. a preview of the team can be found on the us mountain running team website:


Monday, August 10, 2009


To say that Sierre-Zinal is one of the greatest mountain races in the world would be an understatement - that would allow for the possibility of another race squeezing in there to bask in the light. It is the greatest. "It is to mountain running what the New York Marathon is to Marathons". Just as it has elevated some of the best mountain runners in the world an almost untouchable realm, it has humbled many others to the point of tears.

The course description is simple: 31 km, 2200m ascent and 800m descent (19miles, 7200ft ascent and 2200ft descent). it looks something like this:

If ever there was a middle ground in mountain running, this is it. it isn't short and it isn't long. there are sections where 10-minute-miles would be record breaking and other sections where 5-minute pace would be pedestrian, at best. ups, down, rock, pavement, scree. as british mountain running legend, Billy Burns, put it: "there is no faking it at Sierre-Zinal"

there is no doubt that mountain running is segregated. between long distance, short distance, ultra, marathon, mountain, trail, europe, america, carpenter, krupicka, wyatt, skaggs', killian, sky races, grand prix, mountain cup, mountain championships, wmra, atra, usmrt, nacac. i could go on but i won't. when one becomes unemployed and finds himself talking entirely too much about mountain running (your humble narrator) the subject always arrises - who's the best? who's the fastest? who's the strongest? Before this year I'd have said that the course was too short to hold any sort of advantage to the "ultra" folk. This year, my opinion of that has changed. Sierre-Zinal is truly the Mountain Running Medium.

In an effort to document the "scene" here in the Alps, I have been interviewing various runners this summer. I had the opportunity to talk to Killian Jornet Burgada, of Catalonia, before the race. Though he is most known for his 2008 record setting win of the Mont Blanc Ultra (186k/115m) his accomplishments go far beyond. He recently ran the GR20 (corsica coast to coast - 180k) in 33hrs (fast hikers tend to take 15 days). He has several Sky Marathon wins to his name and he is only 21-years-old. When I asked him what he though of the course the day before the race, he said he liked it even though it was "so short". Though nobody discounted him, I think few put money on him for the win.

The race started off just as it did a few years ago - sub 2:10 ethiopian marathoner in the lead... that is to say way in the lead. i learned my lesson two years ago and did not chase him. time-wise the sierre-zinal is longer than a marathon. When they say in a marathon that the real race begins at mile 20, at Sierre-Zinal the race begins at Weisshorn. For the first quarter of the race i remained outside of the top five. To my surprise, Killian took the lead for the chase pack, sometimes running, sometimes walking (you've never seen anybody walk uphill like he does. it's like paul bunyan or something... a lumbering giant, then shrinks down to a normal, guant runner again). I lost two places on the first little downhill running into the small village of Chandolin (9th place). Two years ago, I chased after them. This year I knew that the race wouldn't begin for another 45 minutes. They came back to me in time - a Colombian and a Catalonian. Having never run the race before, the Colombian asked if we were at Weisshorn, which was as much a sign of defete as limping. I reeled the leaders in slowely but surely. 20k into the race I passed the Ethiopian that had been so far ahead and by Hotel Weisshorn first place was essentially shared between Killian, Tarcis Ancay (SZ), Florent Troillet (SZ), myself and Robert Krupicka (CZ), whom I've battled so many times over the past few years. (Robert, in fact, was widely regarded as the favorite for the race.)

I'm all for believing in yourself and whatever else they teach you in positive affirmation seminars but I knew that once the downhill began I would not be able to keep with Killian. I've seen him run downhill before. He disconnects himself from his body. At the moment, all I could think of was "I am in the lead group of the Sierre-Zinal". The moment the downhill began, Killian and Tarcis took off. I tripped and fell. Then I lost my shoe to a mud bog (retrieved, but not without a muddy sock). Then I tripped again. After that I slammed into a hiker, with the full force of my body. I'd have made Dick Butkus proud. With 4k to go I found myself in 4th place with Robert Krupicka not far behind. I started making faces. It seemed to help. Faces that people make when they're in either in a lot of pain or discust or somewhere in between.

I held Robert off until the finish. He came across the finish line 15 seconds behind me. There was a large red cloud at the toes of his left shoe. He had kicked a rock about an hour earlier during the race.

Top twenty:

Killian - victory lap.

Post race festivities included an awards ceremony attended by no less than 3000 people. I sat with American Running legend and four time winner of the Sierre Zinal, Pablo Vigil. They called him up on stage for reasons that I didn't understand. I asked somebody nearby and they said quite simply "he's a celebrity here".

One of Pablo's fourn consecutive wins.

Being slightly technophobic, Pablo does not have a blog of his own (though he should) he has agreed to a guest posting with lots of character.

On the women's side, Anna Pichrtova won her fourth consecutive title. Brandy Erholtz posted the top American time ever with a 5th place finish.

Prerace video from two years ago can be found here. You get to hear what I sound like dubbed over into French.;vid=8099458;tab=loadprogram

And a race video here:;vid=8099450;tab=loadprogram

I've made my way back to Geneva where wonderful mail and other comforts were waiting for me. Wednesday, off to Norway for Skaala (

Thursday, August 6, 2009

same cast, different stage

Same cast, different stage
Where was I last… somewhere in Austria if I’m not mistaken. Running up a mountain? Drinking wine? Or was it hefewiesen?
Anyway. My path took carried me to Slovenia as it did last year. Grintovec. 6000ft of climbing in less than six miles. The little gremlin (more like golum than a gremlin now that I think about it) was still behind the bar at the mountain hut/starting line and offered me a beer before I even took my helmet off. What sort of impression did I leave on these people last year?
This was to be my first Grand Prix race of the year (second of the series) and I expected nothing less that some of the best to be here. Jonathon Wyatt, Robert Krupicka, Marcus Kroll, a hand full of fast Slovenians…. The race went out somewhat pedestrian-like and for the first time in my mountain running “career” I had a lead on Wyatt… that is if you can call one meter a “lead”. I enjoyed all three minutes of it before I resumed looking at his backside from an ever growing distance. The Czeck – Krupicka followed close behind me for a quarter of the race before making his move. By halfway I could see up ahead that he had overtaken Wyatt (which he had also done the week before at Grossglockner in Austria before Wyatt regained his position). For the remainder of the race I ran, wondering who would take the win meanwhile looking back frequently thinking that a Slovenian was closing in on me. He probably was, but when the grade is nearing a constant 30+% a 200m gap is nearly infinite. I arrived at the finish line three minutes slower than what I had run the last year to win the race. Krupick took the win – two minutes ahead of Wyatt. There was a tuba and an accordion playing at the finish. There is only one way to get a tuba and an accordion to the finish of this race and that is to hike it up. If that isn’t amazing enough, the race director, Dusan, was also up there. He walks with arm-brace canes as his knee has been quite bad for nearly five years. He watches the top males and females finish then begins the 6000ft descent.
The Slovenians again drank me under the table well into the evening and I left late the next morning for a visit to a friend in Italy. The Slovenians, it should be noted, have taken the death of Michael Jackson very seriously. In 24 hours I heard billie jean x 7, thriller x 5, beat it x 5 and some other stuff that I haven’t heard for quite some time.
A three day visit to a friend in Treviso, Italy which was a breath of fresh air as I had been surrounded by runners for nearly three weeks. The heat sent me on my way just as fast and I soon found myself camping in the rain on the Austrian side of Brenner pass several hours later. Note: it is quite impossible to feel bad about one’s camping situation whilst reading “the worst journey in the world” by Ashley cherry-girard – an account of scott’s 1912,13 south pole expedition. A night outside in mid-summer Austrian rain just doesn’t seem to compare to -70f with nothing to protect you but canvas tents and reindeer fur for warmth.
Anyway. Next stage. Same actors. Much the same scene. Mayerhofen, Austria for my second Grand Prix race appropriately called Harakiri… the ritualistic Japanese suicide. Though the only thing Japanese about the race was the 13th place finisher. The race went out fast and by the 3rd (of 9) kilometer I found myself in a nervous 11th place. By the next kilometer I was in 5th and by half way I began a long fought battle with an Austrian runner whom I’ve never raced for 3rd. There must have been 25 switchbacks from halfway on. I’d put 5 meters on the Austrian and he’d gain them back. This went on for quite some time until finally on the last climb a blood curdling yell came from behind me. I looked back to see if maybe the Austrian had taken the name of the race a bit too seriously, but here was still there, belly in tact, grinding away but no longer in contention. Wyatt took the win. Krupicka 2nd.
Some trains and some riding later has brought me to the small town of Zinal where finishes the legendary Sierre-Zinal. In the European mountain running community, this race needs no introduction. It is the best race out here and has been for over 30 years. 32kilometers. Starting at an elevation of 585meters, climbing to 2425meters over 24k before descending to Zinal at 1680meters (1500feet to 7500feet over 14miles then descending 2500feet over the next four miles my American friends). There are so many reasons to love this race. 1. Beautiful course. 2. Wonderful hospitality. 3. Great cultural experience. 4. Historical. And 5. Competition. The competition deserves some explanation. The world mountain running championships does not get all of the best mountain runners, nor does the Grand Prix. Politics, money (lack there-of to be specific), timing and other things keep some of the best runners from running in those races. For all the reasons that I mentioned, Sierre-Zinal fills in the gaps. If the names Killian, Mejia, Krupicka, Du Pont, Vigil, Burns or Sneider don’t mean anything to you, look them up. They are, hands down, the best in the sport. A top five finish will give me the greatest amount of joy. Sunday.
Lastly, I have been informed that the kind folks of the American Mountain Running Team have selected me for the at-large (6th and final) spot on the 2009 team. I will be competing in Italy with a most respectable team on September 9th at the World Mountain Running Championships (this is the first year that the race is being recognized as a “championship” race rather than a “trophy” meaning that it is IAAF sanctioned and how shall we say… legit). Thank you.

there is a great blog role right now at