I stumbled across the Jungfrau Marathon site one January evening looking for races in the Alps, similar to another multi-day race I had done a couple of times – Defi d’Oisan. The pictures on their site looked amazing and I had been in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland a few times previously so knew that the scenery would be quite amazing. I also felt that Claudia – now 2½ – would enjoy seeing real mountains and travel in ancient, little mountain trains.
I’d never done the 26 mile distance before but felt that nothing could be harder than the Jura fell race, which I had completed often enough to know better. Henceforth, I signed up and paid the extortionate fee – well over 100 SFr. – in the hope that with careful preparation I would get the fitness and stay injury free. That kind of worked out, except for a 6-week layoff with a knee ligament problem in June/July.
The race can almost be split in 2 halves: The first half is pretty much all on tarmac or well built-up gravel tracks and gently undulating at most. That part wasn’t really of much interest to me. I just had to pace it sensibly to then get to the second half in a reasonable state. I had decided to run at approx. 8 min/mile, which was comfortable, although my knee would play up a little during that stretch. The second 20 odd kms provided for the bulk of the 6,000 feet climb, but still mostly on very runnable inclines and paths. Only the last 4kms would be on very narrow mountain paths, with little room for overtaking.
The stretch from Lauterbrunnern to Wengen presented the first proper and fairly steep climbing section – zig-zagging through dense forrest. Beyond that the route stretched out again into open fields and through small villages, but with mostly runnable gradients. During those stages I was full of optimism and managed to run well and overtake a lot. I made a point to stop at each drink station, which came roughly every 5km. Taking a cup or two of the free energy drink plus bites of some energy bars and loads of banana did help tremendously. Only after km 34-35 did I begin to fade and nothing I ate or drunk would change that. But at that point I had already passed a number of First Aid stations where runners received free leg massages to get them back on track. I was surprised to see how many runners would make use of that. Perhaps going flat out in the first half and ignoring the hilly second bit would cause trouble for some eventually.
Once we hit the open hillside on fairly narrow paths overtaking had become impossible. I did once, but ended up in deep heather without gaining too much. [If you are serious about this race do your overtaking before that!] However, during that last 4-5km the views of the Eiger and Jungfrau glaciers are breath-taking to say the least. Most runners will have little energy to enjoy those but it is worth taking those in. Once you hit the top of the ridge near Kleine Scheidegg the pace picks up again, but you have no more that 1400 m to run – most of it flat and some of it down, round a little lake close to the finish.
My aim had been to finish as close as possible to the 5-hour mark and I eventually finished in 4:56 in 1032nd position. Given that there must have been around 5,000 runners I was delighted.
All in all this is an extremely well organised race. Food and drink stations are so frequent and well equipped that most runners carried no gear at all. In the villages we passed the hundreds and hundreds of spectators provided an amazing background and support. Weather was excellent and the scenery beautiful and varied.
On the downside: The field is too big for my liking. Overtaking was difficult during too many of the stages, even early on. You had to pay good attention not to trip up and slot in with the pace of the group. I’d also prefer a better balance of up and down hill and less on the road.
Coming to think of it, tomorrow’s Two Breweries race will be much more my cup of tea and at £14 an absolute bargain. Weather is promising too…