2011 Sierre-Zinal Results and Commentary

The fourth stop of the Sky Runner World Series at Sierre-Zinal turned into a fantastic duel between familiar foes.  Sierre-Zinal results tell us a lot about mountain running, especially from an American perspective.  First, however, the race itself:

Here at Inside Trail we were spot-on with the men’s winner of the Race of the Five 4000m although we had Kilian Jornet running mano-a-mano with the victorious Marco De Gespari instead of the other usual suspect.  Indeed it was the man from Martigny, Cesar Costa, who repeated his 2nd from 2010.  Certainly this is a great result of consistency for the young Costa.  The three runners stayed away early only to see Costa and De Gespari gradually separate from the Catalan.  In second at Weishorn, De Gespari made his definitive move and over the final 11 kilometers left little chance for Costa, as the two leaders made their final descent into Zinal.  In the end, Jornet was nearly 4 minutes in a-rears, and Costa about a minute behind as the victorious Italian improved his best at Sierre-Zinal to 2:30:18, again flirting with Jonathan Wyatt’s course record of 2:29:12, and confirming “his 2008 coronation.”  Luis Hernandez and Juan Pablo Rangal round-out the top 5.

Our two prominent American women had a very good day.  Despite not finding the top spot like she did a year ago, Megan Lund-Lizotte has to feel satisfied with a super solid 4th only six minutes back.  Brandy Erholtz finished a very respectable 14th.  Unfortunately, Megan Kimmel did not make the trip as had been reported.  The women’s podium was the result of an equally contested battle.  Like the men’s race, the winner, Oihana Kortazar, trailed early on.  Sitting comfortably behind France’s Aline Camboulive and Lund-Lizotte, Kortazar made her move mid-race and cruised to a nearly two-minute win over Camboulive in 2nd and France’s Celine Lafaye in 3rd.  Lund-Lizzote and the young promising Russian Zhanna Vokueva complete the top-five.

The crowds enjoying the festive 2011 Sierre-Zinal race watched 3,315 participants from 20 countries, which is the most the race has had in its 38-year history.  Reports circulating print media and some email and You Tube videos suggest Sierre-Zinal again was a grand occasion for competitive and difficult racing along with an electric post-race atmosphere that’s carried runners and spectators along in this annual parade of mountain running pageantry.  Look for Inside Trail next year to be enveloped in the elegant chaos that appears to be Sierre-Zinal.

So, what do we take from the happenings at 2011 Sierre-Zinal?  First of all, we have not congratulated the handful of American runners that made the trip to run this epic 31k alpine up-and-down.  Glen Randall finished a terrific 8th at 2:45:34.  Based-on his video interview provided by Runcolo.com via Nick Clark (there’s a slew of video over there), he has a genuine interest in running despite his seemingly serious competitive skiing commitment.  This is good news for us mountain running fans as the winner of the 2010 Pikes Peak Ascent, in an astounding rookie 2:09:xx, has plans to run and compete.  Randall looks like he has the goods to be a real fixture and representative on the American mountain running scene (and hopefully competing for us in team competition).

Otherwise, aside from the remarkable 17th place by ultra regular Dakota Jones, who ran 2:53:17, our mountain specialists got a case of the not-this-years.  Joe Gray was injured.  That seemed to surprise even the interviewer of his video.  And Max King had a cold (but still registered 2oth).  That left it to the three ultrateers to get out there on that unruly ascent and show the short course specialists how it’s done.   Clark  took 36th, and Scott Jaime 64th.  Looks  like a nice start to a little UTMB prep.

Indeed, Dakota’s 17th and beating Max King has to be quite a shock (that he beat King or that King raced ill).  We intend to watch the Americans and the sky running scene very closely as they work towards the world mountain running championships in Albania on September 11.  Let’s hope someone is putting Randall on a plane, in shoes, and at the starting line on 9/11.  He’s our ringer.  He was very ambivalent on whether he would try to defend his 2010 Pikes Ascent crown next weekend.  Pikes happens to be the 5th stop on the Sky Running World Series.  Unfortunately, we don’t suspect we’ll see any of the big international contenders competing at Pikes.

As for a little international perspective, Inside Trail promises that you will become much more familiar with these runners, these incredible ascent assassins.  Most of us already know Kilian Jornet.  Do we chalk-up today as an upset?  Say something really incisive like some days are better than others?  What if one was to suggest that Kilian might be undermining his own cause?  Crazy?  Overreaction?  What exactly is Kilian’s cause?  An interview with Jonathan Wyatt characterizes a time when he was asked when Kilian will see his running prime (Wyatt was asked the same question and answered unequivocally that it was 2004.  He was 32 and aside from his insane mountain running exploits, he finished 20th in the marathon at the Olympics that year).  He said a prime might be a tough call with Kilian because he’s doing so much mileage at such a young age.  He went on to say he’d probably have some good years of fitness, and then perhaps some not so good, but it depends on what he’s focusing on.  That seems a huge point in the type of running that we see at Sierre-Zinal (or any competitive running for that matter).  The American boys described their attempts to run up the initial ascent here at Sierre-Zinal, and there were international guys hiking past them.  It was astounding, according to these American ultra runners.

Like anything, one needs tremendous focus to be successful, especially at the international level.  Nick Clark’s interview we posted here at Inside Trail a few days ago touches on this very point of training.  What is Kilian’s focus?  He’s been successful certainly these last few years, but is his determination on running longer races going to affect his more immediate skyrunning results, and might there be anything long-term to the “kid” logging so many miles?   Here in the U.S., our sort of infatuation with ultra running has made Kilian a super hero (will we one day mean something else when we talk about the Catalan’s “descending skills”).  We hope Kilian and the U.S. mountain running teams a long streak of success.  So, let’s get focused and healthy for the next set of intense competitions.

Comments and feedback always appreciated.

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Stay-tuned for Inside Trail’s Leadville 100 preview tomorrow.

11 comments

  1. I don’t think we can read anything into Kilian’s loss since he and Marco De Gespari have been going back and forth for some time now and Kilian gave De Gespari a significant loss only a few weeks ago. Likewise, Cesar Costa is equally competitive. It really says something when we expect Kilian to win every single race and start questioning his abilities when he loses to legitimate, world-class competitors.

    1. Good point, Jason. Marco is a world class competitor, as we point out in the post. We read a lot of pre-race thoughts on the SZ race from around the world and Kilian was the pre-race favorite almost across the board. All we’re asking is does the ambition to be the best in distances ranging from 10 miles to 100 miles over varied terrain diminish the ability to compete against someone who focuses on one discipline? Jonathan Wyatt seems to think so. Scott Jaime told me yesterday that, “those guys just went away quick, probably 20 or so guys and it’s not that they were running fast but hiking unbelievably strong. I would have to run to keep pace with their hike, this is what these guys do. But just imagine the first climb is 5000 ft in 5 myles and the leaders went through the time check in 51ish minutes. Nick, myself, and Dakota were already back 5 minutes or so. But I will tell you that once we got to the flat stuff we, the ultra doods, were passing people left and right, so it was clear they were climbing specialist. Not only climbing but it turns out they descend just as good.”

      He emphasizes the speciality of events and pursuits. 51 minutes up a 5,000 ft climb in 5 miles? Stunning. Scott points out that they, “the ultra doods” had their strengths and the mountain runners had their own. Kilian is covering both and we’re asking if it makes a difference in his results. Dominating (usually) as he does at varied running disciplines is beyond impressive. Few could match his skill at any event he chooses to race but does competing at all those distances throw a kink in the chain once in a while?

      Thanks for your comment. Are there specific things you’d like to see at Inside Trail? We value the feedback.
      Tim

  2. I remember when Kilian won SZ for the first time two years ago it was a bit of a surprise because SZ really is kind of a “shorter” race and, well, Kilian is quite a good ultrarunner. Dude just PRed on the course and ran a time that only a handful of men have ever beaten. And I would hazard an educated guess that no one who has ever run faster than Kilian at SZ would be able to run 20hrs at UTMB. His range is astounding.

    Although Kilian beat Marco just a couple of weeks ago at Giir di Mont (and then a few days later at a Vertical K, no less), the small margin of victory was really only on the strength of his astounding descent skills (excellent final descent vid: http://youtu.be/8zL5eeB8Tb4) , and the race was a 1/2hr longer. With the rolling terrain on top of SZ after the initial climb, Marco’s shorter-distance skills was bound to have his number. I picked Marco for the win beforehand simply because he had run a full 5min faster at SZ than Kilian and he really wasn’t that far back from Kilian at GdM, a longer race.

    Who knows about his longevity in the sport (but, I think with his winter skiing his longevity will be just fine), but I think his 2:34 on Sunday, which despite being a loss, was actually super-impressive, especially since it showed improvement.

    Love that some Americans are finally covering the Euro scene and showing some interest in the non-American players, even if they haven’t raced in NA (Marco, Cesar, the top women, etc).

  3. Thanks footfeathers and good points. Kilian’s accomplishments across the board (sky racing to ultras) are without match. He may need to start to focus more in order to continue to win but maybe not. So far he has done very well in a variety of races. I also agree with Anton that his winter sking mountaineering racing keeps his total annual running within reasonable bounds. I could see him going for a very long time.

  4. Jason, to reiterate what Tim said, we’re just here to give very thoughtful consideration to trail/mountain running and racing topics that interest us. We’re submitting questions like that because we feel they follow lines of reasoning that will become more evident (if they aren’t already). Thank you for the comment. What do you make of the American men?

    Anton, thanks for your thoughts. Great video. Indeed, Kilian is so special. I REALLY look forward to paying close attention to his career. And we’re pleased you’re enjoying the work. Spread the word! Hope your recovery is coming along. Inside Trail has its eye on you too!

  5. Its funny to watch the Americans in the video ‘that crap was just too damned steep’ and then remember what Kilian said in the final mile at Western States as to if he would come back again ‘I dunno, Western States is too flat’. 🙂 Kilian’s range is amazing…

  6. Thanks Matt. I appreciate the questions. They certainly made me think and comment so they did their job! I am very impressed with Glen Randall. Especially if he focuses on running he could have a very successfull international career. I look forward to watching him. Very exciting.

    Let’s hear it for Dakota too!

  7. It is amazing how different running is in so many ways. SZ is different than WS100 is different than a road marathon is different than a mile race and is different than a 100 meters. We all call this running, but the culture, the approach, the training – very different.

    I get pissed at myself for how little I can seem to translate from one event to the other – or how a focus on one means a loss of performance at another. Makes me look at KJs effort and turn green with envy.

What say you?