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The interesting COVID-19 workaround of the Sierre-Zinal race

Runners will have a month to race the 31K route through the Swiss Alps

Many races around the world won’t be held in 2020, and others have gone to virtual formats due to COVID-19, but the Sierre-Zinal, a 31K mountain race in Switzerland, will still be run in person this year, just with an extended competition window. Instead of having one race day, as would be the case in a normal year, Sierre-Zinal organizers have decided to give racers 33 days to run the race route, from August 17 to September 18, as outlined on the event website. While travel restrictions may prevent many registrants from making it to the start line during that month-long window, this new format will be welcome news for those runners who can race and salvage some of their 2020 schedules.

What is the Sierre-Zinal?

The Sierre-Zinal is one of the most famous mountain running races in the world, and this year will be the 47th running of the event. The race, which is part of the Salomon Golden Trail World Series, takes runners through the Swiss Alps, and the course features more than 2,000m of elevation gain. In 2019, Spanish ultrarunning sensation Kilian Jornet won the mountain race for the seventh time, breaking the 16-year-old course record along the way. Maude Mathys, a Swiss ski mountaineer, won the women’s race, also beating the course record, which had stood for 11 years.

RELATED: Jornet and Mathys smash course records at Sierre-Zinal

A month-long single-day race 

While virtual races can be skewed with some runners running easier routes than others, this format will be much more fair, because all participants will run the same course. Some days might be better than others on the course, but everyone will be running the exact same route and facing the same challenges. Race organizers have called this month-long event a “free-form” race, and it will make social distancing much easier than if thousands of athletes ran at the same time. 

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Event staff will still be present at the start and finish lines, and runners have been told they can start their races between 5 and 8 a.m. throughout the 33-day period. There will be one aid station on the course, but participants have been told to take extra caution and to monitor the weather conditions ahead of their runs to ensure they can be as safe as possible when racing. 

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