The aspect of nationality and performance in a mountain ultra-marathon: The ‘Swiss Alpine Marathon’

Beat Knechtle, Evelyn Eichenberger, Christoph Alexander Rüst, Romuald Lepers, Thomas Rosemann, Vincent Ochieng Onywera


Runners from East Africa and especially from Kenya dominate middle- and long- distance running races worldwide. The aim of the present study was to investigate the participation and performance trends regarding the nationality of runners in a mountain ultra-marathon held in partially high alpine terrain. We hypothesized that Kenyan runners, living and training in the Great Rift Valley, a predominantly hilly, mountainous and altitudinous region like the Alps, would dominate also a mountain ultra-marathon because they are accustomed to high altitudes and mountainous terrains. We examined the participation and performance trends of ultra-marathoners regarding their nationalities in the 78-km ‘Swiss Alpine Marathon’ including 21 km in high alpine terrain where 12,194 men and 1,781 women finished between 1998 and 2011. A total of 1,682 women and 11,580 men, corresponding to 94.9 % of all finishers, originated from Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, Great Britain, Austria, the Netherlands and Luxembourg where only one male Kenyan runner ever participated. Female runners from Denmark, Great Britain, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Sweden as well as male runners from Denmark, Great Britain, and Sweden increased their participation significantly. Women from the Netherlands became slower whereas women originating from Great Britain became faster. Men from the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland became slower. The fastest runners originated from Switzerland for both women and men. To summarize, runners from Switzerland dominated the ‘Swiss Alpine Marathon’. Paradoxically, and interestingly, the Kenyan runners were not dominating the ‘Swiss Alpine Marathon’. Further studies should investigate Kenyan participation and performance in ultra-marathons in Africa such as the ‘Comrades Marathon’.


Alpine ultra-running; Ultra endurance; Endurance running; Ethnicity


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