The Swiss Mountains Were Alive with Joe Gray's Swift Feet!

Posted by: Garden of Life on Monday, August 18, 2014
Sometimes you think back on an accomplishment in your life and its hard to believe, other times you think back and realize "I got what I worked for". This year at Sierre Zinal, I earned my time on the course this year. I came in to SZ to get a different type of challenge. A Skyrace (High Altitude) with some of the best runners from various distinctions from around the world. The field was quite deep and any and every athlete on that start line knew what was coming...pain. With runners coming from orienteering backgrounds we all knew the technical sections would be deathly fast with many taking risks.
Secret Training Camp..Swiss Alps
With the guys like myself coming from the faster mountain running background and shorter events, we all knew the pace on runnable terrain would be uncomfortably quick. We had many of the top Europeans in the Skyrunning (series) world lined up, steep terrain masters, descent magicians....We had it ALL. Races that field such a diverse field always create interesting results and of course, the pace is always inconsistent which makes for an entertaining yet highly competitive race as it unfolds. If you haven't heard of SZ lets just say its 31k of various terrains from extremely steep uphills, flat technical terrain, flat runnable terrain, screaming fast dirt roads, ridiculously steep and technical sections, oh and yes, tons of elite and professional athletes from around the world. Some argue that the race is the most competitive Mountain race in the world. I tend to say its at least in the top 3 being that the World Mountain Running Championships in my opinion is the most competitive race I've experienced.
Legends of the Sport on my left and right! Mejia, Wyatt, Burns
 Tour de Swiss
Upon arriving in Switzerland this year to start off my Euro tour I came in with great fitness and workouts had gone quite well. The main focus was to compete at SZ before heading back to the USA to represent Team USA at the World Mountain Running Assoc. Long Distance Challenge. From a quick glimpse at the list I could tell the field was probably the strongest to date. We all wanted to run fast times and even some talked of taking a crack at Jono W's course record. When I saw the forecast I knew this was out of the question. Wet terrain on this course usually slows down the early climbing quite a bit and thus requires an abnormally strong descent to even sniff the record. Before the race I spent some time in one of my favorite training spots high above Sion in the Swiss alps. Days went by enjoying the delicate Swiss chocolates and fine Swiss raclettes from valleys swaying throughout the Valais region of Switzerland. I ventured around the mountains more this year and discovered trails I'd never seen after many years training in this very location. Some of the views were so epic that you had no choice but to stop in the midst of the scenery and stare in awe of the beauty surrounding.
Zinal, CH


As the race started to heat up you could see the Columbians working together making a push to get up front in the lead pack. You also had Jono W. pressing the climb hard along with his teammate Kilian J. A few strong skyracers from Spain, Italy, Romania and Switzerland also were in the mix in the early steep ascending. Then there was me, a top French Orienteer runner and Rob S. of GB making a move at the back end of the pack. As the climb got steeper and we approached the end of the first major climb I found myself gapping the field a tad. I felt great so I kept going, I knew I was fit and I had been training to climb like this so I didn't second guess myself. Some may think "oh well don't you think you started too fast, you were ahead of such and such". NO. By the time we reached a historic land mark in the course known as Chandolin I had about 40 seconds on Kilian and another athlete. Still feeling strong I maintained that lead as we approached the highest point of the course around 2400m+. At this point I looked back and saw I had a good lead and maybe relaxed too much, not giving myself enough of a lead before the really technical descending started. Just after the last checkpoint I extended my lead and at that point I KNEW it was over...After all the years of poor finishes I knew at the least I was going to win and run a fast time. Buuuut
The taste of victory was on my tongue and I could literally see the finish area from the steep area I was about to drop into. Shortly after this, I tried to go around a tourist and took a spill into some mountain bushes. Nothing major but it did hurt my quad a little and a few scuffs. The drop hurt more mentally than anything as I knew any time not running meant I was losing time...FAST. I look back, limping a little, and see Kilian pop out from the rocks and at that point I knew I was not going to win today. I was ok with that at the moment as I knew I came into an event that was a little long for me and I wanted a challenge and for sure I found what I came for. I couldn't ease up on the descent as I had 2 more guys who were great downhill runners coming my way. Cesar who ended up 3rd reeled me in a bit but then I surged hard to seal 2nd place with a huge drop in my PR on the course from the last time I ran it. In the end I ran 2:32:58 which now stands as the American Record on this course! I'm happy but at the same time I realize I have unfinished business here...still. I will be back.



Up next, I will try to recover as best as possible in order to represent Team USA to my best abilities at the WMRA Long Distance Challenge in Colorado Springs! We have a strong team so getting our team on the podium is the ultimate goal!

For more updates, race info, and what's next check out my Twitter Page: @joegeezi



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