Ahead of the World Mountain Running Association (WMRA) World Cup at Sierre-Zinal on Saturday, Francesco Puppi has admitted he was star struck when making his debut at the iconic race.
The Italian was the 2017 World Long Distance Champion, but it was the year prior when he made his first appearance at the historic event in the Swiss mountains.
Puppi, who finished third at Montée du Nid d’Aigle last month, cast his mind back to some of the big names he lined up alongside that year, recalling his excitement of competing against some of the sport’s most accomplished athletes.
“One of the things that really motivated me as a young athlete taking his first steps into the sport of mountain running was studying the history and learning from the incredible champions of the sport,” he told the WMRA.
“When I entered Sierre-Zinal for the first time, in 2016, just hearing those names, having lunch beside Kilian Jornet, Jonathan Wyatt, Pablo Vigil, Anna Pirchtova, Marco De Gasperi and Ricardo Mejia in the Salle Polyvalente in Zinal gave me goosebumps.”
The current WMRA World #3 admitted that some of the fastest split times ever recorded on the 31km course at Sierre-Zinal have remained ingrained in his memory.
“It’s full of posters and pictures of those champions’ past feats in Zinal,” he explained. “I don’t know if you’ve ever wondered or tried what it takes to pass through Chandolin in 1:00:06, or 1:05:59 like Kilian Jornet did in 2019.
“Or [reach] Hotel Weisshorn in 1:42:11, like Jonathan Wyatt did in 2003. But I can tell you they just blow my mind.
“I know these splits by heart, because I feel like they are part of my background of information that I’ve learned as a mountain runner. It’s like asking a track athlete what the current 5000m world record is.”
Puppi picked up third at Sierre-Zinal in 2016, and such are the high standards he sets himself, he will be looking to improve on that result at the renowned ‘course des cinq 4000’.
“In 2016, before the race, I wrote down the race splits I was looking to hit, to run a time that I believed was within my possibilities,” he added. “I achieved that and ended up running 2:00:36 for a third place finish at my Sierre-Zinal debut.
“There are many other races that are worth studying from this point of view, and I would like to tell you more about this. But for now, let’s focus on the biggest mountain running showdown on earth this Saturday. The legendary Course des Cinq 4000.”