Altitude

48 hours from now (1022 CET on Sunday) I’ll be leaving the start line on Day 1 of Swiss O Week – six days of orienteering in the mountains high above Zermatt in southern Swizterland. I’m really looking forward to what should be a great week in the Alps.

Days 1-3 and 6 are middle-distance races (which is good as this is my best discipline at the moment.) Day 4 is a long-distance race, and Day 5 is a sprint through Zermatt village. We thankfully get a rest day after the first three days. The best five day’s results, each day being normalised, count for the overall leaderboard. Unfortuantely I entered the competition back in January, when I was feeling a bit lazy, so I entered HAM (Men’s A Medium race) rather than HAL which most of my peers are doing. I probably would change to HAL if I could, but also I’m quite glad not to be running the extra 2km or so each day - namely because every day will be at an altitude above 1600m. 

Day 1 (Gornergrat) will be a challenge in its own right – after a spectacular ride up a funicular railway, the start will be at 3100m (10000ft) altitude. I’ve never run at this kind of altitude before. I have previously done some walking at this height – in 1996 I was in the Italian Dolomites, via-ferrata-ing for two brilliant weeks – and even at a slow hill-walking pace, I really felt the thinness of the air and had to take breaks from walking every half an hour. The key will be taking it very easy at the start – as a friend of mine mentioned, you don’t win a six day competition at the first control on the first day, but if you aren’t careful, you can certainly lose it by then.

Swiss O Week website.

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