The Virtual Swiss Alps 800: Running Motivation During a Pandemic

I am not necessarily a highly self-motivated distance runner. I love running for hours on the trails. I love being outdoors. I also love to do lots of other things outdoors. Without races to motivate me I tend to do… lots of other things that aren’t running.

I had a decent slate of trail races scheduled for this year. The first was the Bishop High Sierra 50 mile race in May. Next was the Angeles National Forest Trail Race 50k in July. After that was the Angeles Crest 100 in August.

All were canceled.

Most of the easily-accessed trails were closed.

Running around the neighborhood, while doable, was not the same.

Lacking the training need to run and lacking fun places to run at, I was hardly running at all. A lot of race directors started “virtual races”, but none of those interested me. Outside of my work, I was spending a lot of time sitting around, gaining weight, and losing fitness.

Enter the Virtual Swiss Alps 800.

Like a couple other races with a similar concept that arose at the time, the idea is to log to your regular running or walking mileage and times in a website, with the goal of completing the distance in a specified time. In this case, the goal is to complete 800km from May 16 to August 16, which is the approximate distance of a course the race director mapped out around Switzerland. During the race, you can check the map and see where in Switzerland you virtually are.

My personal Swiss Alps 800 tracker I put together in Numbers. I can enter my runs on my phone or my tablet.

There’s a couple reasons I chose this race versus one of the others:

  • The 800km distance over that amount of time is a reasonable running volume. It averages to a little over 35 miles per week, which is 10-15 more than I had been doing the last few months.
  • I know the race director well and I like the guy.

Fortunately, it is right at the start of this challenge that trails are starting to reopen.

I did my first run on Saturday with the intent to run about 15 miles, running in the San Gabriel Mountains from Charlton Flat to the Angeles Crest 100’s Mt. Hillyer Aid Station location and back. It was near the far end of my out-and-back route that I was starting to realize just how much fitness I had lost. I didn’t want to have to climb back up the mountain from the turnaround point, so I turned around while still high on Mt. Hillyer. I ended up walking the last couple of miles back to the car. The total distance was 13.75 miles. I was pretty wiped all evening. I enjoyed much of the early portion, though, and was happy to see all of the blooming wildflowers and hear various birds singing for the first time this year (like Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, and Black-chinned Sparrow).

I slept well overnight and did another 5.75 miles in the San Rafael Hills this morning.

I finally feel motivated to run… for once. Hopefully I can keep it up, at least until August 16.

Snowplant along the Charlton Trail.
I’ve always loved the boulders atop Mt. Hillyer.
Ponderosa Pine meadow near my turn around point.

Published by marcuscengland

I am a wildlife biologist, artist, photographer, writer, and sometimes trail ultrarunner based in southern California.

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