Jungfrau Marathon 2016
I drove up from Munich on the Friday before the race, writes Mike McCarthy, and this took 7 hours as opposed to the 5 it should have taken but there was a big delay around Lake Lucerne. This meant I missed the expo and number collection and would have to do it early on the race day next morning. I just arrived in time for dinner at my hotel in Wengen which is at 1,300m and you take a train up the mountain to get there as there is no car access. I had a nice steak and allowed myself one glass of red wine, followed by a peaceful night other than the occasional cow bell. The hotel laid on an early breakfast and I joined another runner from Germany to get to the start by train down to Interlaken at 560m. Quite a civilised and stress free way to get to the start. As the train wove its way down other runners joined and the train was now full into Interlaken. A short walk to the Expo to get the number and bag drop took little time with the expected Swiss efficiency. The temperature was a pleasant 16C for the 9am start. It was expected to rise to about 25C with dry and sunny conditions, perfect. The entry was around 4,000 runners but it sells out fast each year and this was the 24th running of it. As you might expect the entrants are mainly Swiss, German and Austrian but it is surprisingly international and the UK had around 100 entrants.
I paced it steadily and a modest 1:46 at halfway but conscious of what was to come. Then the fun begins as the route rises to 2,200m before dropping to the finish at 2,100m for the last km. The course is mainly tarmac in the first half then switches to hiking trails and mountain paths in the second half. It gets so steep running is impossible at times but you are still working at the same effort, I’m guessing the thinning air has an impact too (my excuse anyway). I found on these sections I was passing people with a fast walk despite their attempts at running. The scenery is spectacular from the start with lovely paths through the mountain valleys before you head upwards and greeted with views of the snow capped Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. The weather was considered to be unusually hot but it felt comfortable particularly as the altitude increased. The finish with the 1km descent was a welcome sight. There you receive the usual refreshments and a nice medal plus an alcohol free Weissbier which went down very well! The only disappointment was a bright pink technical finisher’s t-shirt, just not my colour...but that was overcome with a big slab of Swiss chocolate that was also handed out. The support was excellent through the villages with cow bells of all shapes, sizes and noises, lots of shouts of "hopp, hopp, hopp" not literally but local dialect for GO, GO, GO! Locals blew long horns in traditional dress, and even a piper at the highest point, was he playing "if you take the low road and I’ll take the high road" out of jest! I could now sit back and take in the post-race vibe and appreciate the amazing scenery rather than cursing the gradient moments before. I took the train back down to Wengen for a relaxing afternoon and a well-earned dinner on the hotel terrace overlooking the mountains I had snaked up hours before.
My time was 4:32, my slowest marathon with a 2nd half of 2:46! That was actually ok as my overall position and age category improved at every checkpoint. I made the top 13% overall and 10% in my age category. I was happy with that as I don’t have the Eiger in my backyard to train for this, and a treadmill at 12% average gradient isn’t quite the same! I believe it is at least a time adjusted 1 hour+ for mere mortals compared with a flat City marathon. The winning time was 3 hours and consistently around this level in prior years. Of the 4,000 or so starters, 3,649 finished. There are cut-offs and where the time limit is 6:30. Next year is the 25th running with the field increased to 5,000, a special finish prize is promised and I’m thinking of doing it again!
It was a fabulous but challenging race in a beautiful location. I recommend giving it a go one day if you are so inclined (pardon the pun)!