12. September 2023

Swiss Peaks 360, Race Reviewed

The Swiss Peaks 360 foot race is done. Finished after 5.5 days of madness, covering a distance of over 360 km, 25900 m elevation gain, 26900 m elevation loss. Deprived of sleep, but enriched with an intense experience; body fatigued, but mind inspired. Time to look back on this unique adventure in the spectacular scenery of Valais in Switzerland.

In previous articles of this series, I wrote about Prepping for the Next Edition, Base Period Reviewed, Support Period Reviewed, and Specific Period Reviewed. In this article, I am covering the actual Swiss Peaks 360 race in 2023.

The race


To recap, the Swiss Peaks 360 is a course over the mountains of Valais in Switzerland. The route starts in Oberwald in the east of Valais and then traverses various mountains, ore more often mountain passes up to nearly 3000 m of altitude, and valleys south of the Rhone river until reaching Le Bouveret in the west of Valais at the eastern end of Lake Geneva. The terrain is technical, including some rope-secured sections in a handful of places; boulder fields are encountered on the route as well. The 2023 edition featured various changes to the route, swapping one mountain pass for another, or changes to checkpoint locations.


Participants must cover this course within 156 hours (6.5 days): this requires an average speed of 2.3 km/h (360 km / 156 h), an average uphill speed of 166 m/h, and an average downhill speed of 172 m/h. There are several cut-off times at intermediate distances of the race. The major challenge is that participants need to factor in time for resting, sleeping, refueling, maintenance—activities that only indirectly contribute to forward/up/down progress.


There are six “life bases” in between the seven stages of the race (Fiesch, Eisten, Grimentz, Grande Dixence, Finhaut, Morgins), where participants have access to a 50 l follower bag, as well as a wide range of facilities. There are a total of 32 staffed checkpoints along the route, including the six aforementioned life bases.

The challenges to the crews staffing the checkpoints and handling the logistic deserve mentioning. It’s not only the participants that put in a huge effort, it’s the crews that ensure that participants find food, drink, and encouragement at the checkpoints—at any time of day or night. Such support is essential to the success of participants. It is therefore important to always view the achievements of participants in this context.

What I said would happen

In short, my plan was to complete the 2023 race less time and in better post-race shape, whilst experiencing great views during the race. I wanted to arrive in Le Bouveret in under 144 hours, around 8 hours faster than in the previous year, allst while finishing in a better shape, particularly when it came to my feet. Here are some quotes from earlier articles, illustrating these goals:

there will be opportunities to experience sections in daylight that I was only able to “see” during the night in the 2022 edition, and opportunities to revisit places during different weather conditions (Prepping for the Next Edition)

complete the race with my toes in decent shape, and to prepare and execute such that I can arrive before Saturday noon (Prepping for the Next Edition)

will put on gaiters this time in order to reduce chances for dust, dirt, and stones making it into my shoes. Taking care of the feet is really important (Specific Period Reviewed”)

What actually happened

I completed the 2023 race in less time, in somewhat better post-race shape, and certainly was gien the opportunity to enjoy stunning panoramic views along the route.


It took me 5.5 days (under 132 hours) to move through the course: 20 hours less, and 15% faster than in the previous year. So what went differently? There are multiple factors to consider. Were external conditions different? After all, this is not an indoor 400 m track race. Was I faster on certain sections of the route? Did I spend less time at checkpoints? Did I slow down less over time? What went differently?

The weather conditions were not the same between the two editions of the race. In 2022, there was one episode of rain and thunderstorm which soaked a portion of the trails during one stage of the race. In 2023, it was dry throughout, yet overall much hotter. Much hotter to the point that I was feeling uncomfortably warm at times in in the middle of the night wearing only my base layer. The heat—as an additional stressor on the body—certainly slowed me down, particularly during afternoon ascents to high mountain passes well above the tree line.

I was unable to make sense of the splits I obtained from the my.raceresult.com website, and I don’t have strava recordings from 2022. It is thus impractical to do a purely data-driven analysis on where I spent time in the consecutive years. However, I remember a few things that allow me to reconstruct where I saved time in the 2023 race. For example, it was midnight when I arrived in Grande Dixence in 2023, and I remember getting to Grande Dixence around noon or so in 2022: I was at least 10 hours ahead after completing the first four stages of the 2023 race (the race started at 12pm in 2022, and at 10am in 2023). The other 10 hours I must have accumulated in the last three stages of the race.

I’m also lacking accurate data on sleep across the two years. In 2023, I kept a tally, and slept about 8 hours in total. This translates to approximately 1.5 h / day. Not a lot. Likely less than in 2022. So that likely reduced the time to finish as well.

Finally, unlike in 2022, I did not suffer much gastrointestinal (GI) distress at all this year—I attribute this to better fitness to start with (as well as with a potentially more cautious approach to eating fatty foods). In 2022, I suffered through ~70 km with GI distress, which must have slowed me down.

Post-race shape

The idea was to complete the race in a way that would allow me to recover in a reasonable amount of time: not being beaten up for months or weeks, but rather returning close to baseline within maybe a week’s time.

Overall, subjectively, I feel I succeeded in this. In the three days immediately after the race, I recovered better, and in particularly slept better than I remembered from after the race in 2022. Delayed onset muscle soreness kicked in, of course, but not to the point that would make me limp, like some other participants on the day or the day after arriving in Le Bouveret.

Yet, annoyingly, my left big toe & toenail suffered again, and I developed two symmetric blisters at the heel—at the very least a couple fewer than last year.

The gaiters I purchased turned out incompatible with my shoes, and the glued-on gaiter trap on the heel came off quickly, which allowed dirt to come into my shoes. The blisters in the heel were partially due to “admin error”: I failed to use the extra shoelace holes for locking my heel in. In combination with moisture developing in the shoes due to the heat, particularly during descents, this led to the blisters on the heel.

As to the big toe and its toenail, according to my doctor, I have “bad luck” in being dealt with a toe shape that welcomes such accidents. Hopefully, the toe will recover smoothly and allow me to return to trail running over more reasonable distances in the not-so-distant future.

During the race, I did not feel much pain due to the injured toe (nail) and the blisters. This was in large parts thanks to the work by the podologists, who once again, saved the race for me. I don’t feel particularly proud about that. I still believe—in line with John Vonhof’s opinions in the book “Fixing Your Feet”—that runners should take responsibilities for their feet and be able to prevent and fix issues without help. I’m certainly not there yet.

But if the feet issues had gone out of control (they didn’t), those issues could have laid the ground for a DNF (“did not finish”) in this race. A pretty guaranteed method to make it through the race is to (1) get out of every checkpoint, and (2) take one more step. The success of this method hinges, however, on your feet being able to take that one additional step.


Why sign up for the same race again? Wouldn’t I get bored of the same views again? The answer is clearly No. First, I can hardly get bored by an amazing panorama, and I certainly won’t get bored on the second time I see it. Second, there were various sections of the race I had not seen during daylight: meaning I only saw whatever the beam of my headlamp allowed me to. Third, there were a couple of modifications to the route between the two editions. I could write more on the views, but pictures will tell more than words.


For such an adventure, gear matters. For example, no sunscreen likely means plenty of sunburn (for me). I wrote about some of the gear in Specific Period Reviewed. Some of the gear turned out to be useful, some of the gear broke before its first use, and other gear wasn’t as useful as I thought.

As a note, there’s zero affiliate links here on this article, and there’s no ads on this blog post So when I mention brand/product names, it’s because they are worth some praise, or require improvement, all according to my anecdotal experience.

  • The small, refillable tubes for sunscreen lotion were a disappointment (“Matador Refillable Toothpaste Tubes”), as the lid broke apart even before the race begun. Fortunately, I had taken a spare one for redundancy with me, and this one lasted for the remainder of the race.
  • The long-sleeved base layer hoodies (“Mammut Selun Fl Sun Hoody”) are good products, but were too warm for my purposes and the heat, even without actually putting the hoody on. I can imagine that the better use cases for these hoodies are during colder months when sun protection still matters, though. During the race, I reverted back to to the time-tested long-sleeved base layer shirts.
  • The onion head idea worked out well: multiple compatible hoodies allowed me to quickly thermoregulate during often rapidly changing conditions—for example, cold drafts nearby streams or cold winds coming down from cols—without having to remove a layer.
  • Prepacking zipper bags for each stage turned out a bit less useful than I thought. When in a life base (having access to my 50 l follower bag), I ended up cherrypicking items out of the pre-packed zipper bags. Some stages are also longer than others (for example, Grande Dixence – Finhaut), something that I only thought of during the race, and then refilled my backpack accordingly.
  • The second pair of shoes turned out to be useless: they no longer fit my expanded feet on the second day of the race. I needed to revert into my roomier shoes such to avoid putting unhealthy pressure on my big toes.
  • The 2.5 l hydration bladder turned out to be useful during the conditions. For some additional weight of the bladder, I could refill the bladder to whatever I estimated I would need along the way to the next checkpoint. The tricky part was to know how much to refill (and how fast to empty) the hydration bladder (2.5 kg is no fun to carry with you up a mountain pass for no purpose). Having a second water bottle allowed me to know that I have about 0.5 l reserve.


Stage 1 – Oberwald to Fiesch

The first stage is relatively easy from a technical aspect. I tried to remind myself to be patient, and that there are many more hard days to come. But it was soooo tempting to go out and enjoy the unique combination of fitness and freshness after the two week taper. So of course, I got carried away as so many others and moved probably a bit faster than sensible.

Fortunately, after a while I found myself behind Denise Zimmermann (the women’s race winner from 2022) so I knew I would likely get in trouble if I tried to stay there. I came to my senses, tried to save energy for the upcoming stages. Given last year’s experience, I did not try to rest too much in the lifebase in Fiesch, but rather headed out soon again towards Eisten.

Stage 2 – Fiesch to Eisten

The uphills get longer, and so do the downhills. I remember grinding my way up to checkpoint at Lengritz near the Simplon pass in the dark. There was not much respite to be found there: this is one of the places and times where it’s too cold to stay for long, despite of donning my extra jackets. But after the ordeal up to Lengritz, things become easier.

Things brighten up in particular when getting to the checkpoint at Giw: yes, they provided the super-tasty müsli again, form which I took a few helpings before heading towards Eisten, napping for 20-30 minutes on a bench in the morning hours. In Eisten, the sun has already heated up the tent at the lifebase. This did not prevent me though from devouring a warm meal, charging my phone and headlamp batteries, and refreshing myself with a shower (my typical ritual when at a lifebase).

Stage 3 – Eisten to Grimentz

Starting right in the afternoon sun, the ascent from Eisten was challenging. I kept my effort deliberately low in order to avoid overheating. Some shelter in the forest then gave way a downhill on a gravel track exposed to the sun. I was glad to stay indoords in the checkpoint at Grächen where I devoured a lot of watermelon, and risked eating a whole sandwich.

Things cooled down once reaching the town of St. Niklas in the valley, somewhere halfway between Visp and Zermatt. The valley already cast in the shadow of the mountain flank to the east, I was able to head up towards Jungen in the shade. Jungen had been one of my favorite & memorable spots along the way in 2022, and 2023 made no exception. Then across the Augstbordpass, which required traversing a lot of boulder fields. Back down in the next valley, the crew at the checkpoint at Blüomatt offered the next treat: Omelette! I believe that over such a distance, it’s important not to just eat easy carbs, but rather getting some protein in as well, plus foods that make you feel satisfied. Omelette ticks the boxes.

A refreshingly moderate climb towards the Forcletta pass was then offset by a long downhill towards Ayer, where I am trying to hang on to a group (who as usual seems to take the downhill sections much better than I do). The last section to Grimentz is rather flattish, and I decide to do a bit of running again. In Grimentz, it’s then time to go through some proper lifebase routine: charge, shower, fix feet, refuel, and in this case also sleep.

Stage 4 – Grimentz to Grande Dixence

Another start around noon. Again, the sun was prying on me when I headed up towards the Barrage de Moiry. Soon however, with increasing altitude, the sun became more bearable. The Lake Moiry, its stunning blue color reflecting what remains of the Moiry Glacier. The crew at the checkpoint near the Alpage de Torrent spoilt us with freshly made crepes. Crepe with cheese. Crepe with ham. Crepe with chocolate. This day continued to take for the better.

But the day was not over yet. In the afternoon heat, the sun following me onto the western mountain flank, the descent into Evolène down through shadeless fields turned out rather tough. Ironically, the route even passed a newly tarmacked road, to which my running shoes would stick on every step. The checkpoint in the valley was thus more than welcome. Refreshed, in the late afternoon, a long and wide path led towards the Col de la Meina. Now dark, the sounds of a dog barking did not add to my comfort, although after a while I realized that it must be a shepherd’s dog just doing its work.

The Hôtel du Barrage—serving as the life base—was visible soon after crossing the Col de la Meina. However, looks can be deceiving: the path leads first away, than back towards, then down and thus away again, before leading steeply up again to the Hôtel du Barrage. By the standards of this adventure, the accommodation options in this life base are luxurious, and the excellent timing of the arrival (around midnight) in Grand Dixence provides me with a good bout of sleep.

Stage 5 – Grande Dixence to Finhaut

The stage beween Grande Dixence and Finhaut is the longest of the race. I set off at 3:33 am in the wee hours, climbing up to the Col de Prafleuri, making it there just in time for the sunrise. I rolled myself up into a burrito with all my jackets and took a little break in order to be awed by the spectacular atmosphere created by the rising sun. Through the Grand Désert, past Col de Louvie along a balcony trail to Col Termin down through the now scorching sun towards Lourtier where I cooled down by dunking my head into a fountain.

Another trip up the mountain brought us to the Cabane Brunet (best packaged ice cream ever), and a tent-as-checkpoint near the Écuries de Mille. A long descent brings us closer to Orsières at the foot of the Mont Blanc massif.

On the way down to Orsières, I could identify with Zach Miller (though I would be unable to keep up :-D) when Zach described the challenge when hiking in a group with taller people with longer strides. In my case, I was unable to keep up hiking with a fellow participant on a relatively flat section. On this flat section, it felt right to go slowly and keep things neatly together before going on the long and strenous climb from Orsières (887 m) via Champex-Lac (1470 m) to the Fenêtre d’Arpette (2665 m). His strides were too long, and I would need to start running. However, once I started running to keep up, my pace would be slightly above his. We were not matching well on such flat ground.

We were a much better match on the uphill section to the Fenêtre d’Arpette, though. This was now around midnight, and visibility was constrained, so we saw nothing more of the Mont Blanc massif but what our headlamps illuminated at a time. As usual, I was dropped on the downhill section and made my way into Trient on my own, enjoying sunrise with pasta, waffles, nutella bread and alcohol-free beer sponsored by the private support crew of another participants (thanks!). The combination of the latter drew some comments of whether that’s a good idea, but I believed in it. Splendid breakfast, splendid start into a new day.

Stage 6 – Finhaut to Morgins

After a decent portion of warm food, it’s time to start yet another stage in the hot afternoon sun. I drenched the sleeves of my baselayer with cold water in a few streams before setting off for the next climb. Not far into the forest, I decide to take advantage of a flat, grassy spot in ordert to nap for a little while. Somewhat refreshed, I am able to continue up to the Col de Fenestral.

A race marshall points out where the Fenêtre d’Arpette is located that we crossed the night before. The gap looks tiny, and far away! The Mont Blanc massif is towering behind us, and the views are majestic. Important to stop every now and then, turn around, and admire the views. Not only was I enjoying the Col de Fenestral, but also a bunch of alpine ibexes, which I encountered grazing happily at the col on whatever meagre vegetation there was.

A technical descent brought me and another participant (whom I shared portions of the way with, as we were moving at similar speeds) to Emaney, and over the Col d’Emaney to Lac de Salanfe, whose dam and shoreline offered the first runnable sections in a long while. Soon, however, these runnable sections gave way to a slippery, rope-secured descent at the Pas d’Encel.

But the slippery slope at the Pas d’Encel did not last forever. Having left the remote Susanfe, the again runnable approach to Barme gave me a true runner’s high. My legs felt fresh, I was able to push up shorter ascents at a 30 min max effort, and cruised towards the checkpoint at Barme. Happy about not being greeted with a thunderstorm at Barme this year around. I’m on a roll. I preferred not to sit down at the checkpoint, keeping the engines running, and pushed until reaching the checkpoint at Chaux Palin, where I was royally treated by the crew. I’m in your debt.

Half an hour of sleep at Chaux Palin, getting up just in time for observing the sunrise, it was time to fly down to Morgins. This was among the easiest sections to run, with a wide gravel path along a river leading to Morgins.

Stage 7 – Morgins to Le Bouveret

In Morgins, the usual start in the hot sun. The last stage was strange. On the on hand, close to the finish. On the other hand, still dozens of kilometers to go. For this section, I put away my hiking poles, and left them in the follower bag such as to go lighter.

I completed the “Tour de Don” relatively quickly. I let myself be distracted only by the many wild raspberries that begged to be harvested on the side of the trail. For a while, I fell into a bit of a hole all the way to Chalet de Blanc Sé, the tiredness finally catching up. However, after spending some time at the checkpoint, things were trending better.

In particular, I met the runner who held the 4th position (at that time) in the Swiss Peaks 170 race, and his determined strides rekindled my competition spirit. We blasted up to the checkpoint at Taney together, and I caught up with him again later at the Pas de Lovenex. We moved at similar speeds down to Le Frénay, where he realized that I was no real competition for him—different race. Plus, if he knew about my poor downhill skills, he’d have no reason to worry either. I lost him on the downhill section to Le Bouveret, consequently.

My transition sunglasses were broken since the third stage, having a crack through one of the lenses. I wore these sunglasses at night as well, in order to avoid having to carry a second pair. The crack did not bother me too much until this point, but on the tracks through the infamous “Forest” above Le Bouveret, the cracks added some blurriness to my vision. Yet, I cleared this section and its eternal switchbacks, and cruised along the harbor to the finish line.

Someone else took the dinner I had ordered from a food stall, so I got my money back, but also was left with eating cereal bars for dinner. Being truly tired by now, I did not stay around for long and went to sleep in the provisional accommodation provided in the school. This turned out to be three-level bunkbeds in a bunker attached to the shower/changing rooms, full of snoring people. Bunker experience. Five stars! But also exactly what I had paid for. After catching a couple of hours of sleep, I woke up and decided I would better check out than bet on falling asleep again, and thus moved back to setting up camp at the finish line, cheering on finishers in the wee hours before catching the first train back home.

What’s next

I’ll be back to trail running but cannot imagine that I will participate for a third time, as it just takes too much time to recover. I will find something that fits my running purpose:

Enjoy running out in the nature, savouring the moment, strengthening mind and body to maintain and fuel a positive outlook on life for decades, practicing self-control through deliberate, consistent training towards achieving stretch goals all whilst making friends and contributing to the running community.

I simply do not know yet.