Top athletes like Laura Muir and Charlie Da’Vall Grice have been training in St Moritz this month and after visiting the Swiss mountain resort it is easy to see why
High in the Swiss Alps lies the picturesque town of St Moritz. A glitzy ski resort in the winter, it transforms into a ‘Monaco of the mountains’ in summer. Situated 1850m above sea level, the thin air also means it has become a mecca for endurance athletes.
Rolling trails weave around the outskirts of the town and encircle the crystal clear lakes. Geography and meteorology combine to ensure it receives an average of 322 days of sunshine each year. At its centrepiece is a four-lane running track which is used by many of the world’s greatest endurance athletes during the summer months.
When AW visited St Moritz this month top British athletes such as Muir and Grice, Kyle Langford, Jemma Reekie, Ellie Baker and Elliot Giles were there training, but they were far from alone. Polish middle-distance men Adam Kszczot and Marcin Lewandowski were also in St Moritz, while the Ingebrigtsen brothers from Norway had visited a few days earlier to train in the clean air and to give their red blood cells a boost at the altitude.
The town has staged the Winter Olympics twice before – in 1928 and 1948 – but it is also a sanctuary for endurance athletes with Summer Games ambitions. It was first used extensively by runners in the build-up to the Mexico Olympics of 1968 and over the years athletes like Seb Coe have used it as a mid-summer training base. Training in the oxygen-thin air, of course, encourages the body to produce more oxygen-carrying red blood cells.
“This is definitely the best summer place I’ve been to,” says Grice, a veteran of altitude training camps and an athlete who is featured in the latest (Aug 8) issue of AW. “We usually go to Font Romeu but the track has been out of action recently. But when you come here to St Moritz you don’t really want to go anywhere else. It’s just amazing.
“There’s a lot more driving involved when I go to Font Romeu,” he adds. “You have to drive 20 minutes down to the lake to run. But here everything is right next to where I stay.
“I live 200 metres away from the track. There are so many athletes here that you can train with and get to meet and it’s just a really beautiful place. The only downside is that it’s expensive.”
It is also arguably a little high to do high-quality track sessions, so athletes like Grice often travel an hour or so down the mountain to a track at Chiavenna, just over the Swiss-Italian border, where the altitude is not quite as harsh and intense workouts are more achievable. Other athletes prefer to live at even higher heights. Muir, for example, is this month toying with staying just outside St Moritz at a height of nearer 2400m for maximum gains while sleeping, whereas some even take an altitude tent to their altitude training camp so they can train high and sleep even higher.
As a reporter for AW I’ve experienced altitude camps in Iten, Ethiopia and Font Romeu. They are all impressive and beautiful in their own way but St Moritz is not quite as spartan as these other venues.
Training at altitude is not a guaranteed route to athletics excellence. Talent, hard work and ability to avoid injuries are more important. But if you are already maximising the key areas then training in a place like St Moritz can definitely give you an edge.
» See the Aug 15 issue of AW magazine for a feature on how athletes like Laura Muir, Charlie Grice, Ellie Baker and Kyle Langford recover after running
» AW was in St Moritz to see the launch of the Nike Joyride Run Flyknit, which is available from nike.com from August 15 for £159.95