Swiss Irontrail Preview

Swiss IrontrailIt’s an exciting time to be involved in ultrarunning with so many races already available and many new ones appearing almost on a daily basis. One such race is the Swiss Irontrail which takes place this weekend and includes one of the longest and highest single-stage mountain race in the European Alps at 125.2 miles (201.4k).

In its second year, the event is held in the beautiful Graubünden region of Switzerland and it has great ambitions. Unfortunately the race had to be stopped midway last year due to severe weather, so this year should see the first finishers and has a slightly adjusted course. I first heard about it when a friend asked me if I was going to run it last year and when I checked out the website I immediately added it to my long ‘to-do’ list because it looks gorgeous… it’s just difficult to fit every race in.

If you haven’t had a chance to race in Switzerland yet then it’s something to cherish and save up for. The trails are as beautiful as any part of the Alps with excellent markings at intersections. Plus every mountain village is like a scene from The Sound of Music. I’ve done a few races there and consider it the most picturesque mountain scene except for the really high altitude places such as the Himalayas.

Trail running Davos Switzerland

Running the trails near Davos, Switzerland. Photo: Ian Sharman

The Swiss Irontrail Courses
Consisting of four race-distance options, the main event is the T201 which reaches an altitude of 9,856′ (3,004 meters), giving it significant bragging rights for the length and high point compared to other races in the Alps. The organizers aim to break 4,000 entrants within the first five years of the event and have already had huge success with the Swiss Alpine Marathon series of races which are nearing 30 years since their inception. This year there are 424 entrants across the four races, the T201, T141 (134.7k or 83.7 miles), T81 (82.7k or 51.4 miles) and T41 (48.2k or 30.0 miles).

As expected from a race in Switzerland, the views are unbelievable and the course has been selected to maximize the scenery. Between kilometers 9 and 32 of the T201, runners have to cross a glacier twice, and all the races follow high alpine trails ending in Davos. Some parts of the glacial section are very exposed and steep, requiring alpine experience, but that’s what the runners want and expect. There’s also the typical long list of compulsory equipment similar to other European races and pacers aren’t allowed.

Each race is a point-to-point run with the shorter versions making up the latter sections of the T201. The full course starts at Pontresina, near St Moritz, and has 36,581′ (11,150 meters) of ascent and around the same descent, which is equivalent to a longer version of the UTMB in terms of climb per mile, with a 56 hour cut-off. The other races are in a similar vein with the T141 having 25,098′ (7,650 meters) of ascent and similar descent, the T81 having 16,601′ (5,060 meters) of climbing and slightly less downhill. The T41 has 9,613′ (2,930 meters) going up and about the same down. Course profiles can be found here.

This year’s race will be held between Friday, August 9 and Sunday, August 11. The T201 and T141 start on Friday with the shorter races beginning Saturday.

This video to advertise the 2012 race gives a good idea of the course:

Elite Runners
The list of fast runners isn’t very long given the newness of the race, but includes Helen Bonsor, Ildikò Wermescher, Csaba Németh (top eight at UTMB six times), and Beni Hug which are all running for the Mammut Pro Team. Also Frank Arrigoni and Bernadette Benson will be running.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Is anyone “called” to this race by that video, those views, and the vertical?
  • Did anyone start last year’s race, which was canceled midway due to weather? If so, what can you tell us about the race routes and experience?

There are 10 comments

  1. Roger

    Wouldn't call it the longest neither the highest, Tor des Geants in the Italian Alps is way longer (and I also think it's higher), while many other (maybe shorter) races are higher.

    On the other hand, I had some friends going there last year and came back really disappointed with the organization. Actually, they cut the race way earlier than halfway through, and, while I don't recall exactly how did it happen, people was not very happen with the way it was handled by the organizers.

    Anyway, it sure has to be a beautiful race!

  2. Kristin Z

    i would so love to do this… i need a few more years to get into a slightly different place in lief before i could train to do this justice. "my people" are from switzerland and it just feels like home.

  3. Lucio

    Hi, I've been last year at the start (Pontresina) of the T141…really disappointed about the organization!!! Forget the precision of the swiss people: we were lost in the mist and the frozen rain on the mountain above St. Moritz (Piz Nair) just 10 kilometers after the start, without markers and without people of the organization telling us what to do… It has been a pity because the mountains and the landscapes of Engadin are really beautiful!

  4. Jason H

    Many first year races seem to run into seemingly simple issues like poor course markings. Here's hoping they come back stronger this year. Looks like a FANTASTIC place to run. I've flown over Switzerland a number of times. Magical!

  5. Tom M

    Thanks for this write-up. There seems to be many races over a short time period in the Alps this year including Sierre-Zinal, the Mountain Man, and of course UTMB.

    I am going for the T81 on Saturday – might have stepped up to the T141 but I had an entry due to the T81 version's total cancellation last year. In defense of the organizers vis-a-vis last year's situation, from my point of view it was handled well and clearly communicated. I can understand how it was disappointing but from friends I heard that the longer versions really had bad weather problems and the voluteers really had to scramble to get runners off the course for safety. In our sport, that's always a risk.

    Anyway, looking forward to good weather tomorrow and the run itself.

  6. chris BH

    This is my 2014 back up if I fail for the second time to get into UTMB (too close to do both). I'd love to hear reports from anybody that takes on the t201 this year. I'm happy with a map and compass or a GPS so markings aren't the biggest of deals for me, but if they say it is marked it needs to be suitable for all weather conditions.

  7. Ian Sharman

    Good spot, Roger – I was going off (incorrect) press from 2012 – TdG is indeed longer and slightly higher at its max. We're updating it now to reflect that.

    From all reports it sounds like last year had issues, as first year races often do. But having seen how well they organize the Swiss Alpine Marathon ultras and shorter races, I would expect them to have learned and improved things significantly, including the alterations to the course.

  8. Bernadette Benson

    I will be blogging in a few days on my 201 experience this year. I lead (females) from the start through to the 140k mark at Tiefencastel, where I'd finally just had enough hiking. To give a sense of the terrain (made worse by the storms before and during), my avg pace was 12 min/k. This race really made me appreciate how much I love running (vs hiking), and although I'm quite happy to hike a bit when it's steep, there was just too much hiking overall for my tastes. The longest, highest, steepest, hottest, toughest …when is it enough?

  9. Erik Jurander

    I did Swiss Iron Trail T201 last year and this year.

    2012: Very bad weather,I understand why they had to stop the race even if I did not suffer that much.

    2013: I was one of the few that finished. A very tough race with long climbs and decents. Good support and gps tracking of all runners. The route was well marked but one of the climbs was difficult to do during the night.

    The glacier part and two of the most exposed peaks of the 2012 route was this year replaced by other sections. That made the course more safe in bad weather conditions.

    Summary; a real challenge in beautiful mountains if you think UTMB is too easy. :)

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