How about a full three days of unbelievably beautiful summer weather and nearly double the number of participants from all over the world, oh and for good measure the right to host the Long Distance Mountain Running World Championships. Well that is exactly what the Jungfrau Marathon got this year.
I ran the Jungfrau last year for my first time. While it is most definitely a mountain marathon, it features lots for road running, 22.797 kilometers of it in fact. But it also has 1829 meters of climb and some of the most spectacular views you’ll ever see. These factors combine to make it a highly sought after marathon to have completed at least once in your life.
As far as mountain marathons go, this one is also quite fast and the 26km lead up to the climb, mean many start off too fast. I did myself on Saturday and the ascent was not very pleasant. Despite all of the déjà-vu I was having, I did not let Sunday become a repeat of Saturday and listened to my body.
Marathon day starts in Interlaken, a picturesque tourist town situated between two lakes, which along with its grand hotels has a degree of tourist kitsch as well. Starting in front of the Grand Hotel Victoria on Saturday morning, the guests heard some traditional Alphorn music and saw flag swingers. At exactly 9am the gun fired and the women completing for the world mountain running championships were on their way along with men in the senior category and men running the double marathon (Saturday, Sunday). The first 3 KM go by quickly as you circle Interlaken before heading towards Lake Brienz. From there the runners make their way into the mountains via Wilderswil. In every little town the crowds stand along the way cheering.
After the first slight climb you reach Gsteigwiler and more cheering supporters. One of the gear things here is that within 1km there are four identical long fountain-troughs that you can dip your hat into to cool down – this is only KM 12. Running in the woods and shade is wonderful and every once in a while a train with supporters will pass on the right. After Zweilüschinen you head towards Lauterbrunnen, a beautiful valley with mountains that shoot like walls out of the ground from which waterfalls flow. It’s truly breathtaking and should be visited when in Switzerland. Running towards the end of the valley, the runners run back towards Lauterbrunnen on the opposite side of the valley. The shade is welcomed before the steep climb to Wegen, a village best known for having no road access and hosting the famous Lauberhornrennen each January.
The 4KM climb is challenging, especially coming from the fast-paced flat run. One of the things I love here is at KM 27.5 is a house the blares Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall, while two ladies, who must be well in their 80s voluntarily serve water and cola to runners. It was the same in 2011 and my money is on the fact it has been for years and will continue to be like that.
Once the runners get out of the forest there is a little road running, though there are no cars here, and a loop around up into Wengen. At KM 29.5 there is a man swinging a flag and counting all the runners, pointing them out and telling them which number they are. With up to 4000 runners this is surely not easy. Once the marathoners pass Wengen, it’s back to business, as there are about 1000 meters that need to be conquered in just 11 kilometers. I’d say short, but these 11 take many runners some 40% of their race time.
From Wengen and afterwards the panarama views of Lauterbrunnental and all the glory of the Bernese Oberland are to be taken in. On a day as beautiful as we had, I think even those who were experiencing pain had a smile on their face. The run to Wixi is mostly in the woods, which is nice because of the shade. With temperatures in the mid 20s and the sun beating down on us, every breeze was welcomed. Running through Wixi our time was measured again. In the distance along the ridge was a colourful snake of people already making their way to the moraine left by the Eiger glacier, which has retreated greatly in years past. Just before KM 40 a cliff jets out of the ground. Men in traditional costume are blowing their alphorns and flag swingers are waving and tossing Swiss and Bernese flags in the air. From here to about KM 40.5 there is hardly any passing going on as the ascent is very steep. At the top of the moraine is a kilted man playing the bagpipes. Runners pass by and take the flat stretch to run a little before passing between a gate cut in stone for their descent to the Kleine Scheidegg. Those trained in downhill running love this, as the path is road width and they can cut loose – circle past the water reservoir that looks so inviting to cool down in and rehydrate and then to the finish line.
Along the entire route the crowd is brilliant with people hiking up and down the course to cheer on strangers, friends, and loved ones. At the end many are welcomed by their entourage of friends and family and cheers. All finishers receive a medal as testimony to their accomplishment. Crossing the finish line I heard that Stevie Kremer from Colorado had won the gold in the Long Distance Mountain Running World Championships with a time of 3:22.42,9. She was followed by the Austrian Sabine Reiner (3:24.10,1) and fellow American Kim Dobson (3:26.58,3).
Another day, another marathon
Have you experienced déjà-vu? The Jungfrau Marathon 2012 was déjà-vu twice. The conditions on Saturday were as I remembered them from 2011, which was extraodinary considering it had snowed to 2000 meters the week before. Waking up Sunday I was afraid that I’d be stiff and sore from the day before. Fortunately that was not the case and I am positive a great deal of this has to do with the changes in pace that mountain runners experience, but also thanks to my On shoes, which reduce both horizontal and vertical impact. Making my way on bike to the start it really was like Saturday, except there were more men.
After the gun fired and we all started, I noticed I wasn’t going as fast as the day before. I was a little hesitant to push, because I knew I wanted to finish the double and not stop anywhere. At the half-marathon mark in Lauterbrunnen my feeling was confirmed, I was 10 minutes slower than the day before. At the next time measurement station in Wengen I was still 10 minutes slower. Being slower though I had more energy and found that I was going fine without the struggles I had the day before. Where I had stopped on Saturday to help a fellow runner with leg cramps, which also gave me a few minutes to recover, I breezed through. By the time I reached Wixi I had made up all my lost time from the day before. The ascent along the moraine was as tough as the day before, but making it around the bend and between the gap in the stone, I thought that I might just beat my time from the day before and break the 5 hour mark. As I saw the time board at the finish a huge smile appeared on my face as I dashed for the finish. Under 5 hours — 4:59.27,2 to be exact.
A funny story
Right behind me was a runner from Nuremberg, with whom I’d spoken the day before. He was happy to have completed the race for a second time in two days, but would have liked to go faster. I think all runners want to go further faster. His name incidentally is also Christian. After I was showered and freshened up Christian’s father came over to me and told me that he had never seen someone with such a big smile and look of joy cross a finish line before. And then he added that he was so busy taking pictures of my excitement that he missed his own son crossing the line.
Sunday’s winners were also the winners of the Long Distance Mountain Running World Championships and they achieved incredible results. The Austrian Markus Hohenwarter, winner from the year before, broke his old record by 2 minutes and finished with an amazing 2:59.42,2. Right on his heels was the Slovenian Mitja Kosovelj (3:00.47,3), and in third was Hosea Tuei from Kenia (3:01.24,4). Tuei had won in Zermatt running with On Cloudracers and once again raced in Ons.