Insiders Guide: Trail Verbier St-Bernard

After my experience in 2016 of running the Eiger Ultra Trail I knew I wanted to do another trail adventure the following summer. Seaching through ‘Run The Alps’ website earlier this year Trail Verbier St-Bernard stood out to my husband and myself as the next Alps adventure for us to take on.

Since running my first marathon 4 years ago I set myself the challenge to stay fit and strong enough to be able to run at least marathon distance in a new part of the world every year for as long as I can. This was the next new adventure that was going to take me to a new part of the world I have never seen before.

There were 3 options to choose from; X-Alpine at 111km, Traversée 61km and the Liddes-Verbier 29km. I was initially drawn to the X-Alpine 111k however I needed to be realistic, I wasn’t prepared to do the training required to get there, I was prepared to take on the training for Traversée 61k, I knew it would be a challenge and I would have to do more preparation than I’ve done before to able to accomplish this goal to a level I would be happy with. My 3 priorities are always – finishing within the time frame, having fun and not getting injured.

Even though Traversée wasn’t the ‘hardest’ it is still a highly demanding race covering over 4100m of assent – the most I had climbed in one go, running the majority of the race at over 2000m altitude and taking anywhere up to 21 hours to complete.

Trail Verbier St-Bernard

Event: Trail Verbier St-Bernard, Traversée 61k, 4100m asscent

Price: Very reasonable

Organisers: Compress Sport

Overall difficulty rating: Advanced/ experienced ultra-runners (I have done 4 ultras prior to this event), good sense of direction needed!

Course scenery: Out of this world beautiful

Aid stations: 5 across the course, therefore you must be prepared to take your own fuel and hydration. Clear fresh mountain streams are plentiful for topping up water along the way. Essential to take a foldable cup for the sports drinks and coke that was on offer.

A range of snacks available at the aid stations including; oranges, water melon, apple, crackers and biscuits, chocolate bars, cheese, ham and peanut butter sandwiches, as well as hot spaghetti and tomato sauce!

Essential kit: Head torch, camel pack, poles, fuel, sun protection, wind protection, trail trainers.

T.shirt/SWAG: No medal and you need to pre-buy race T.shirt. Completion of the race compression socks!

Communication: Regular email updates leading up to the race in English.

Bib pickup/ bag drop: Easy and organised.

Sign up process: Online.

The start of St-Bernard is at La Fouly 1600m altitude, 35km from Verbier. We booked a 7:15am coach ride from Verbier through the event organisers and arrived just before 8am, plenty of time before the 10am start time.

Luckily the weather was beautiful, we sat around the little village eating our pre-race breakfast and soaking up the atmosphere of the arrival of over 500 runners.

The first 5k led us up a steady climb along a road and then winding up a trail to 1955m altitude to Les ars Dessus, taking 2 hours. The terrain was a mix of road, grassy trail (as well as some bulls to get around) and rock hills.

Once accounted for at check-point we climbed to the second highest peak of the race, 2698m altitude reaching Col de Fenetre, at this stage of the race we were in single file with a line of other racers, it was a steady, continual climb to the top.

Next check-point is Gd St Bernard, heading down along the traverse to 2469m before climbing to the highest peak of the race at 15k in, Col des Chevaux 2714m. Reaching the top was one of the toughest climbs I’ve done and I definitely experienced my self-doubt creep in, especially as more and more runners over took me. This is where the training comes in though, having run quite a few tough races this year in the U.A.E, I recognised the thoughts in my mind as thoughts and that I’ve experienced this self-doubt before and always beat it. I knew I wasn’t going to give up, so I knew I had to change my thoughts, and that’s exactly what I did. It sounds too simple I know, but it really works. Instead of thinking “You’re so slow, everyone is going to over take you, you’re not good enough” I reframed them to “It’s ok, going up isn’t your strength, just wait for the down, you’ll catch them up”. And you know what I did!

The first 15k took 4 hours in 30 degree heat, but it was worth it for the views running down and along the traversée for the following 12k to the next check point and aid station at Bourg St Pierre 1632m altitude. This little village gave such a warm (and needed) welcome. Families cheering us on in the street until we reached the aid station where we had the chance to refill our camel packs and grab some snacks. The trail led us over waterfalls, where we would stop to splash the sweat from our faces and refill our water bottle, along rocky cliff edges, past the bluest of blue mountain lakes and fields filled with wild flowers… absolutely beautiful. We stopped a few times to take it all in because if you don’t you can easily miss it all by having to focus on running across the uneven trail path.

Getting to the next check-point at 38k was a hike up to Cbne Mille 2480m, we reached here at 8 hours into the race and got a second wind knowing we had just over 20k to go and could see Verbier into the distance. The 11k down hill to Lourtier was exactly what we needed, like I said before downhill is my strength. Enjoying the views, forest trails and mountain bike tracks we caught up with many of the runners who over took us during the uphill earlier in the day. This 11k was our fasted of the day, getting down to Loutier in 2 hours. Running through the village we were greeted with groups of locals having an afternoon beer, cheering us on by name to get to the check-point at 1074m altitude.

Knowing there was only 12k to go we were on a high and ready to take on the final intense 5k up hill to La Chaux at 2200m altitude. This part of the race was up through a pine tree filled trail that took us into the night, putting our head torches on we reached the final peak at 10:30pm.

The final 7k was a direct downhill race to the Verbier 1490m altitude finish line and we flew down, jumping over streams, running down the switch backs and managing a sprint finish crossing the finish line at 13 hours 47 mins.

The race was hard, we were totally exhausted by the end but it was worth every minute. We joined the other finishers in the beer tent, helping ourselves to a big plate of complimentary pasta and just sat and absorbed what we had achieved.

Supporting links:

http://runthealps.com/races/

https://www.eigerultratrail.ch/en/home.html

http://www.trailvsb.com/en/

As an adventure I fully recommend this trail event to anyone who wants to explore the Swiss Alps and push not only their physical ability but mental capacity too. Having a goal like this not only helps keep you motivated and on track throughout the year to keep up with your exercise routine and healthy lifestyle, it gives it a deeper purpose. When you have the answer to ‘why’ it’s much easier and more enjoyable to keep going with your goals, even when it gets tough.

A health coach supports you in identifying and overcoming the obstacles that are holding you back to living your healthiest and happiest lifestyle. If you would like to know more about the health coaching program or in need of an accountability partner, get in touch by emailing heidi@heidijonescoaching.com

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