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The Call of the Alps: Swiss Alps 100

swiss alps 100 runner

There is a race that is building a reputation among the ultras in the Alps, the Swiss Alps 100. The race attracts many foreign runners who want to experience the Aletsch Glacier and run in one of the most amazing sceneries in the world. Its race director, Jakob Hermann is a known figure in the sport. He is from Switzerland but lives in California, where he is Angeles Crest 100 race director. He decided to start Swiss Alps 100 a few years ago and built a strong team of locals like him that set the race up for success from the start. In this interview, he is joined by Marc Fischer to discuss the race, its future and more.

You are based in the US, but you are the race director of Swiss Alps 100. How did it happen?

I've been a race director here in the United States for several years for Angeles Crest, a historic 100-mile race in California. Then in 2015, I had the idea, why not in Switzerland? I grew up there and I know all the hiking paths, so I said let's give it a shot. We had the first race in 2017 and Marc was running it.

Since you live in the US and your team is based in Switzerland, how does this collaboration work?

The collaboration is good. The team in Switzerland is amazing and helps me a lot. They do a lot. Marc has always been a big help since he is based in Switzerland.

What is your connection to the local community?

I grew up there and my brother lives there. In the beginning, I felt a bit of hesitation from the people. But they started to accept the event. We have volunteers from the area, but finding them takes work. Most of them want to volunteer at the big races like UTMB. Anyway, every year it gets easier.

How did the event start and evolve?

Jakob: We started slowly because we wanted to test the water. In 2017, we had 50 runners on an 80k course. Then the next year we added the 100k, but we changed the course. It was different from what it is now, it was point-to-point. We changed it to a big loop. The reason why we decided to change it to a loop is that runners emailed us about it. They preferred it this way in Europe. While, in the US it’s common to have a point-to-point course.

Marc: Another reason why we changed into a loop is that we wanted to show more of the beautiful scenery we have. So, in the past, the course leaned more towards the south side, while now we are on the north side where there's the Aletsch Glacier. It is a fantastic scenery.

swiss alps 100 aid station

Did the new course bring more participants?

Absolutely. It helped a lot. Especially once in 2021, we moved the start and finish line to the Sports Resort in Fiesch allowing more runners to run along the Aletsch Glacier.

While preparing for this interview, I noticed you have a race called “Fly”. Could you tell me more about it?

Marc: I was one of the runners of the first edition of Swiss Alps 100. I was also part of the organization since my wife’s family is from the area and I know it well. During the third edition, I wished I could fly down the descents and this lighted up something in my mind. Fiesch is one of the most famous places in the paragliding world. So, it was obvious to combine the two. It is a hike-and-fly race where participants need to reach some checkpoints by navigating the route themselves flying and hiking. I am the race director. I select the checkpoints and modify them based on the weather conditions. The race is very competitive and part of the X-Alps Academy Swiss Cup. I think it is unique to have a trail running race coexisting with a hike & fly race.

Are there any events that you look up to?

Jakob: I mostly look at the ultra running community. There are few races like Hardrock and Western States. Also, UTMB from an organizational standpoint is interesting, even though it is a bit too crowded.

Marc: My background is ultra running. I was twice at Tor des Geants and I like that spirit. Some races in Switzerland and Italy are a bit over-organized. We wanted to have a more relaxed style and not too commercialized.

runner swiss alps 100

Did you bring a bit of the American approach to ultra running at Swiss Alps 100?

It is a Swiss race in American style. I heard it a lot of times. What we're trying to do is combine the best of everything. For example, I don't understand why the European races typically don't allow pacers. They are a good thing for runners. First, it is a safety concern. The pacer helps the runner not to get lost. Then, running together with a friend in such a beautiful environment is amazing. He's the pacer, I'm the runner and we just share this experience.

What are your plans to grow the race?

I have two big goals. One is to keep it family-friendly. We're going to be professional and make sure safety is number one, but we just want to have fun along the way. The start/finish location at the Sport Resort has a lot of activities for families, from climbing to swimming. The other big goal is sustainability. With , our director of sustainability, we made already big steps in this direction. We have runners from 41 countries and only one-third are from Switzerland. This involves a lot of flying and driving. We want to offset all of this and do the right thing.

Trail running is expanding and evolving quickly with all the implications that this brings. How would you rate the state of trail running right now?

Jakob: The sport is exploding. A lot of races are sold out. Again, I think one of the main topics to be addressed should be climate change.

Marc: I think some of the trends are reflected in our race too. We have more participants in the longer distances. Then, we have many foreigners coming from countries like Japan or China.

runners swiss alps 100

Having an international field like this is not always common for trail races, was this part of your strategy from the beginning?

Marc: When Jakob brought up the idea of a race in a Facebook group in 2015, we already had access to a strong foreign community from Germany and Switzerland, mostly English-speaking. Then, Jakob has strong connections in the US, and this helps a lot. We have as many American runners as Germans. These numbers might be normal for races with big budgets like UTMB, but not for events like ours. Our advantage is the scenery. We show the beauty of one of the most astonishing places on this planet.

Jakob: Something we didn’t plan from the beginning is that the race would become a destination race for a lot of people. Runners bring their family here and include the race in a longer holiday. They can stay here and enjoy the environment, then do the race.

How do you position yourself compared to UTMB? Are you interested in being part of it and maybe attracting more elite runners?

I don't want to drive towards UTMB or any of those organizations. That's not what we're trying to be. That being said it's always fun to have good people and fast runners. Last year Kevin Schmidt, Courtney’s husband, ran the race. Of course, if big runners come and run the race, we are happy. So far it is not happening much, so I guess we need to prove ourselves a bit better. On the other hand, we are not pushing too much in that direction. I think we are in a good position. The event is growing, and we are grateful for how far we have come.


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