08 September 2018


The Jungfrau Marathon concluded my "3 mountain races in 2 weeks" adventure in the Alps. In the process, I raced +160 miles and climbed +51,000 feet in 3 countries (Switzerland, France and Italy) and across and around some of the most beautiful landscapes and mountains, including the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch, to name the most prominent ones. At the conclusion of my trip to Europe, I had actually had the opportunity to run in a total of 6 countries, including Spain, Germany and Austria.
I arrived in Interlaken, Switzerland via rental car from Zurich airport after a few days of work in Barcelona, Spain. I had only run once while in Barcelona as I was still recovering from UTMB the previous weekend. To be honest, I had no ambitions for the Jungfrau Marathon. I was here to complete another bucket list race and not knowing how my legs would handle it, I just wanted to enjoy it.
The Jungfrau Marathon is widely known as the world's most scenic marathon, so it was no surprise that nearly 5000 registered runners from across the globe showed up the day before the race to pick up their race bibs. There was a decent sized expo in the center of town right next to the race start. The area had already been widely blocked off as I quickly realized when I tried to drive to packet pickup. I had to park my car a few blocks from packet pickup, which allowed my to take a relaxing stroll to familiarize myself with this beautiful town.
I picked up my race packet and enjoyed a free pre-race pasta dinner before checking out the expo and heading back to my rented room. Luckily, I had found a room a 5 minute walk from the race start, but that's about the only good thing I can say about my accommodations. I had ended up with a couple of rather questionable accommodations during my 4 week travels in Europe and this was definitely one of them, but that's for a different conversation. Eventually, I managed to get a decent night's sleep before the 8:30AM mass start the next morning.
Interestingly enough, this race actually provided pacers starting with 4:30 hour goal times in 30 min increments to 6 hours, if memory serves right. I say interestingly, because this race is not like any other marathon I've ever run. For starters, it begins on paved roads and ends on technical trails. More importantly, it is a point to point, all uphill race that continuously increases in steepness all the way to the finish. All that to say that is is extremely challenging to pace towards a particular finishing time under these circumstances.
To help runners pan their race, organizers recommend they add 90 minutes to their most recent marathon times to come up with a finishing time estimate. Since I hadn't run a marathon in some time, I decided to take my marathon PR and add 90 minutes to that for a "goal" time. I lied up next to the 4:30 hour pacer and figured I'd run by feel and use the pacer as a guide. If it felt too difficult, I'd just drop back. I had no plans other than to start slow and see how I felt.
When the race finally started, after a performance of a large group fo Alpenhorn players, I ran completely by feel and immediately lost sight of the 4:30 pacer. In fact, I had no idea if he was ahead or behind me. I didn't realize that he was actually behind me until about mile 12, when an on course announcer I had just passed welcomed the 4:30 pacer along with the crowd of spectators. Prior to that realization, I had actually peeked down at watch when it had vibrated to indicate another mile split. I was surprised to see a pace way faster than I would have expected or hoped. I quickly decided to ignore it and just continue to run by feel. If it felt easy, I was pk with it and if I would start to suffer later, I'd just slow down. The only goal was to finish and to enjoy the journey. For now, I was doing just that.
Around mile 16, I fell in with the 4:30 pacer and we chatted for a bit as we climbed the first of two extremely steep sections on the course. I stuck with him until about mile 20 or 21 and since I was feeling pretty good at that time, I decided to start pushing a little. With les than a 10K to go, I saw no reason to try to preserve any more energy. I was feeling surprisingly good considering the last 2 weeks and with this one being the last in my "race series" I wanted to push at least a little.
Just as I decided to pick up my pace, the course got a little steeper again. I changed to a run walk strategy, letting my heart rate be my guide as we made our way up the final miles to the finish at the Kleine Scheidegg. In the process, I passed quite a few runners. I had a blast. I was feeling great, but the push to the finish did turn into a laborious effort. One only needed to lift his or her head and the views of Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch mountains and their glacier moraines to forget all about any potential pains. I was only disappointed because my iPhone camera would not allow me to take any pictures until after I reached the finish line. In fact, all pictures in this race report are from the finish line area, since my iPhone would not unlock due to its screen being too wet.
I crossed the finish line 10 minutes ahead of the 4:30 pacer and was happy with both my time and my effort. I ended up spending another couple of hours at the finish line, where runners were served free (non-alcoholic) draft beer and lots of awesome food choices were available for purchase. Along with plenty of food and drink, they had also set up the largest mobile shower station I had ever seen. An Oktoberfest sized tent had been set up as a changing room along with another giant tent that offered nearly 100 showers. I was able to take a long hot shower before taking the 1 hour train ride down the mountain via Grindelwald and back to Interlaken.

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