The Zermatt Ultra-Marathon giving a short distance Ultra at 45.6km but with 2500m of climbingMark Hartree

My mate Mark Hartree has been at it again  – he is some man, he sent me this a wee blog of his latest adventure – I hope you enjoy it Mark is a talented mountaineer and omwas with me in the RAF MRT many years ago – he was more of a rock climber in his day but now is among that band of hill runners. He has entered for the Salomon Glencoe Skyeline Race an extreme hill race on 22. August that I wrote about on my blog on 29 July 2015.


Here is a write up for the Zermatt race which you can use if you like on your website, blogs from Mark Hartee.

Mark Hartree in ghis RAF MRT days on the Needle in Shelterstone - now a bit of a runner!

Mark Hartree in ghis RAF MRT days on the Needle in Shelterstone – now a bit of a runner!

After a great run on the Skye Trail Ultra at the end of May, June was plagued with a painful tendon tweaked in my knee becoming a problem after a Carnethy Handicap race. Pooh, but I had left June fairly clear in my 6 (now 7) Ultra-Marathon schedule for The SMA Support UK charity during the summer and now I needed it to rest and get physio making a trip to Lochaber unfeasible. To keep the training up I interrupted this rest with the Edinburgh 7 Hills race which I wanted to do. Not the best rest strategy, but I got a good PB in that race showing good improvement – but then needed rest and physio again!. New Ramsay’s Round records and Dragon’s Back achievements made me eager to get on the hills again.

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A family holiday in Switzerland gave the opportunity for the Zermatt Ultra-Marathon giving a short distance Ultra at 45.6km but with 2500m of climbing. The route starts a half marathon away from Zermatt down the valley in St Niklaus at 1100m and finishes at 3100m on top of a mountain next to the Matterhorn called Gornergrat which in the Swiss style, has a railway up to it and a nice big restaurant. Half-marathon, relay, marathon and other fun runs options take you to lower finishing points and a train back to the valley. I have never done a city marathon with lots of people, so experiencing the buzz and anticipation of about 600 Ultra runners, 900 Marathon runners and 700 other 1/2m and relay runners crammed into a small mountain village at the start was a great experience despite feeling like I was in an oven with overflowing plastic portable loo things (beware trademark infringement….).

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Such a big event meant that the road down in the steep valley between Zermatt and St Niklaus had to be closed as our tracks crossed it several times and we followed it here and there. Also, the railway line was closed for the same reason. Our start was delayed while a train was moved to safer position on its track. To help my family meet me at various check points accessed by mountain railway, I had done an estimate of splits giving me an optimistic finishing time schedule of a fast 4hr 40 mins or a more leisurely 6hr estimate for the race. People at the start said 6hrs would put me in the first 50% so I felt happy with that as a target. Physio, rollers, stretching and massages by Fiona and the kids on my sore knee and calf had helped but I hadn’t run much and not acclimatised to the 32C temperature that Switzerland was experiencing in its mini heatwave – 15C hotter than last year’s race. At 0830 the starting temperature was 27C. OMG! I was going to melt. Race Strategy – don’t try too hard, look after the knee, avoid anyone with noisy ear phones blaring the ting-ting-ting of annoying so-called music, drink 2 cups at every stop and eat what I could stomach.


Stage 1 – St Niklaus to Zermatt is 21km with 500m ascent:. This was on nice tracks and a bit of tarmac and thankfully soon hugged the shaded side of the valley mostly and passed in 1hr 55mins, bang on schedule with loads of supporters along the way. Lots of fluids taken. Family seen several times as we went in, out and around Zermatt.

Stage 2 – Zermatt to Sunnegra is 12km with 650m ascent: This was on lovely forest tracks with steep intervals, runnable at the start but ever steepening. 1hr 31mins and just on schedule. Fluids, 3 bananas, power bar.

Stage 3 – Sunnegra to Riffelberg is 19km with 750m ascent: This gave magnificent views of the Matterhorn, an Oompah band playing Queen’s ‘ We are the champions’ as I passed (which is hard to sing when running up a hot hill) and fine single track and trail with wee lakes and streams. 1 hr 34 mins and suffering with the heat, getting late to my schedule. Coke, water, electrolyte, bananas, fudge, chai gel. Met the family at several train stops along the way.


Marathon and relay runners finished at Riffleberg where a huge marquees and lots of facilities, food, showers, massages etc helped everyone recover and get back down on the train. Fiona, Lauryn and Finlay were most welcome as Stage three was in the full heat of the sun and the highest temperatures of the race well over 30C. I was glad to have worn and hat a lots of sun cream. Several people have been resting on the way up and getting washed down from streams and hoses and I could feel the air was a bit thinner with a hot wind. The family had painted a some encouraging pictures and a Scottish flag which was great as there were two bag-pipers on the hill playing ‘Flower of Scotland’. Another picture by Lauryn and Finlay said ‘Give it some beams Dad’. I opted for flat coke and a bag Jelly babies, offering them to other runners and pushed on.


Stage 4 – Riffleberg to Gornergrat is 4km with 600m ascent: Open mountainside in the glaring sun gave a brutal end to the race and would have benefitted from sun glasses. It would be partly runnable if fresh and acclimatised. People at the start had said it was a really tough finish and I had looked forward to it but I walked nearly all of it along with everyone else it seemed behind me. Several aide stops gave more cokes, electrolyte and water but no more bananas. I tried a power gell that was given out but was violently ill alongside another guy with the same problem. As I am more used to this with my guts on long runs than the watching medics, I had to struggle to let the medic allow me to continue, drinking a half litre of water and explaining it was a common reaction to this type of gell. I ran off in the oppressive heat before he could stop me through what was more like a desert than a central Europe mountain. In the distance the domes of the observatory at the top of the mountain 300m above me . Between me and it was a path up steep screen and rock steps. Finlay ran down with a huge snow ball that I rubbed over me and crushed down my neck. Lauryn ran down to give me a push as 2 guys closed the gap on me. I didn’t care too much. Before the finish a killer staircase cramped the legs to cross the rail track and get to the finish. The views were awesome and the reception thrilling. Medal, goody-bag, tee shirt and foil blankets despite it being over 25C still. 1hr 9mins.


I had soup, beer, bratwurst, shower massage, beer, soup at the end and felt pretty good despite the hottest race I had ever done by some distance. A stunning train ride took me back down to Zermatt where buzz and partying continued.

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I finished in 6hrs 9 mins in 177th /536 Ultra finishers being 4th M45. This years race must been slower due to the heat. The winner finished in 4hrs 3 mins.

Lessons learnt: Scottish running doesn’t prepare you for the heat! The knee was fine after all. Queen by an Oompah band strangely works. Switzerland is fabulous.


Offers for sponsorship for the final 3 Ultra marathons (Glencoe, Tiree and Jedburgh) are still possible at



Mark Hartree


If you can maybe donate to his charity?  Spinal Muscular Atrophy Justgiving >mark-hartree


Many thanks and all the best to Mark for a safe event.

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Charity, Hill running and huge days!. Bookmark the permalink.

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