It has been a dream for several years that the Swiss born Ultra Trail Runner has been fascinated by the thought of crossing the whole of his country by foot. The Via Alpina is one of the greatest classics of hiking in Switzerland.
The route stretches from Vaduz to Montreux, passing through 14 alpine passes and 6 cantons, for a total of 391 kilometers (and 23,500 metres of elevation gain) that is generally covered in 20 (generous) stages. Unless, of course, you're one of the best ultra-trail specialists in the world.
Setting off from the capital of Liechtenstein last Thursday morning at 4 am, Diego Pazos intended to reach the Vaud Riviera before sunset Sunday evening. This left him some 90 hours to make the trip at a frantic pace, and without sleeping much, which is a challenge even for him. But in true ´Zpeedy´ style, the father and forensic scientist made short work of his goal. Despite suffering deeply with knee pain and then later a quadricep adhesion, he never once thought about backing off. Digging deeper and going further; mentally and physically than he has even done, Diego reached Montreux after 79 hours and 36 minutes!
My schedule was planned to finish around 84-85 hours, I simply took the time of the last winner of the TOR des Géants which is 74 hours for 330k, knowing that I had 60 additional kilometers on this project which meant more or less 10 hours. Despite the big problems on the last 20km (I lost between 1h30 and 2h), I finished way ahead of my provisional time so I am very happy about the performance and I can't wait to support the next one to attempt this wonderful FKT".
Why did you choose this project and what is the significance of this route for you?
As a Swiss Ultra Runner, crossing my own country through the Alps was a dream. Five years ago, I did half of the Via Alpina with a young girl (Myriam Duc) who was doing it in 13 days and was searching for resilience. She is sick (Ehlers Danlos syndrome and very serious cardiac problems) and with parents who were mistreating her instead of educating and supporting her. I met her for the first time when I created the running team of the University of Lausanne back in 2013 and she became like a little sister to me. When she decided to run the Via Alpina as a big introspection and in order to answer some personal questions, I decided to join her on different parts of the trail. This experience was a key moment in her life and on the way I decided that one day I was going to do it myself as fast as I can...in the way she would have liked to do it! So 7 years later I have done it and Mimi was part of my support team. It was a special experience!
Through this route you really pass into the wild Switzerland, through some of the founder cantons like Glaris or Uri which are simply amazing. Like the section with four mountain lakes; Trubsee, Engstenalpsee, Tannensee and Melchsee….just WOW!. Then we passed through the Berner Alps which are very famous with the Eiger and some jewels like Oeschinensee. Finally we arrived on the top of one of the most beautiful regions of Switzerland; Montreux Riviera, with astonishing views on the Leman Lake and all the French Alps.
How did you feel during the route? Explain your overall feelings throughout the 4 days….
At the beginning, it is always hard to know if you have good or bad legs but I was very confident because I knew that on such a long distance it is even a positive sign to not have the best feelings in the first kilometers.In general, I felt very good and I was in control almost the whole time. I trained specifically at this pace and I knew that even if I was going fast I was at a comfortable speed.
Day 1 was really hot, so managing this factor was really important. I started feeling some pain on the inside of my left knee after 80k and after 195k I had to tape it. In the first 24 hours I did 166k (100 miles) but the last summit of the day, the Surenenpass was really hard for me because I started to feel tired for the first time. I was falling asleep while power hiking on the last 300 meters of elevation.
Day 2 was very warm again and for me it was the decisive one to see how my body and my brain will accept my sleep strategy. Every 30 to 40k I was stopping for a short nap of 20-25'. Strategically I was always sleeping before a hard or long push or when it was really hot. On the other side, the nights were incredibly good and I keep in mind some incredible moments where we all switched off our headlamps to watch the milky way and the stars on the second highest peak of the Via Alpina at 2660m (Sefinenfurgge). I did 100k on that day so two thirds of the distance were done, but you know on that kind of distances everything can happen. On the beginning of Day 3, I started with a big climb to Hohtürli at 2778m, the highest peak of the Via Alpina, a terrible steep climb where we got some thunder and rain. It was kind of mystical to get up there. The hardest climb of the day for me was definitely the Bunderchrinde end of the morning, I was literally falling asleep while pushing to the summit and the weather was really bad at that moment. Surprisingly every time I was feeling asleep and with no resources anymore, the situation changed when I started descending. I was focused again and my muscles allowed me to play on technical downhills. On that day more and more people were coming to do 15 or more kilometers with me, which stimulated my motivation even more. I did 100k again on the third day but the last 10km of the day were very hard and I started to feel my right quadricep and ischio. I decided to sleep 25' in Rossiniere with just 33k, and 2000mD+ remaining to the final line in Montreux.
When I woke up on Day 4, I knew it was the last one but I knew as well that everything can still happen. The first climb early in the morning was good. I kept a very good rhythm and I felt very confident in keeping that rhythm towards the end. But when we reached the summit, my right quad didn't allow me to descend...it was almost impossible to put my right leg on the ground. I couldn't bend or stand on it and the first downhill was hard and steep. The pain made me cry... I was also very worried because I knew that I still had one big climb and one big big downhill to reach Montreux. Physically, the pain was increasing and I couldn't do anything to ease it.
On the other hand, I was still feeling like always; with energy and strength so I kept pushing.. but from now on, it was impossible to run so I resigned to finish the last 20km of power hiking and walking on one leg in the downhills, while helping myself with the poles. The last climb was long because I am not used to going up so slowly and at the last checkpoint with the team, they tried to tape it again, but nothing helped anymore. Everything had to be in my mind...the legs couldn't support me anymore so it was time to use only mental strength.
The last downhill...what to say about it...I think images or videos will be more valuable than words but I was suffering like hell and I had to find a new downhill technique. I was literally throwing the poles in front while balancing all my body on them in order to land on my left leg. If one of my poles broke, I wouldn't have been able to finish because I was putting all my weight on them without any security.
Finally in the last 3km, I realised that I would be able to do it and I was pushing to do the best time possible. More and more friends were joining so that with 1km to go we were almost 20 people and when I discovered the music and all the people waiting for me at the finish line, the emotion was incredible. I started crying like a baby in Maya's arms and I shared my happiness with my team, friends and fans. It was the perfect final for a perfect adventure! Without all my team I couldn't have done such a time and such a performance.
Explain the training preparation you did to prepare for this?
I changed my preparation a little bit with my coach Sebastien Cornette for this specific year. First we did a lot of strength training during the Lockdown Period of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Even afterwards, I was more focused on being able to keep a good economical pace during long periods than running really fast as you can do in a normal ultra race. One of the very important parts was to fix the logistics, organise the team and to reflect on sleep strategies for the D days. This last point was totally new for me so I had no certitude at all. I went to see almost all the route as well (at least 350km out of 391km), I think this part is very important for mental preparation. I did a lot of mental visualization before the project but as well during the FKT before resting for example or even when I was pushing hard on big climbs to make me think about something else.
How did you get support throughout the course? You had incredible support. It must have taken a lot of planning and preparation.
8 people were following me throughout the 4 days with 2 vans. My support team did an incredible job. They were positive, motivated, funny and full of energy, so it was really the perfect combo! It was not easy to prepare everything in terms of logistics but also on the trails, I had 5 pacers out of the 8 people and I gave them specific parts to cover each time, depending on their qualities and on my needs. From outside, people think it is just taking the shoes and going for a long run with friends but in reality behind that FKT, there was a massive project that I have had in mind for many years and I did everything to be ready and gave my absolute best across the days.
What is next for you? Do you have some races or other things planned for the remainder of the year?
I started my year running Transgrancanaria (6th), then I had the chance to organize a very successful Montreux Trail Festival and finally I could finish this big FKT attempt, so I did everything that I have wanted to do this year and I am very satisfied. You know you can always ask for more but then you get injured and you regret the last thing you did. Now I just want to recover, to realise what I did this year and find new motivations to come back stronger afterwards. This FKT distance has to be taken seriously... my body was pushed to the limit and I really would like to give it the necessary time to recover properly.
What Compressport products were the most important for you during the course?
The UltRun S Pack was my best friend; extremely light, ergonomic and practical. It felt like I was wearing a second skin with it.
All The socks (Full Socks Oxygen, Shock Absorb Socks, PRS V3.0 Ultra Trail Socks) were perfect as I got only one small blister in almost 400km.
The third one was the Hurricane 25/75 waterproof jacket. It is an incredible quality and durability as when we ran through rain, it gave me the security to feel like I was in a bubble.