September 16, 2016

My first mountain marathon!

Staggering heights between the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains -- the iconic sister peaks of the Swiss Alps – and our GORE RUNNING WEAR® athlete Florian Neuschwander was smack in the middle of it.

I’ve run my share of marathons over my lifetime. How many? I can’t really exactly say. Probably 15 or 20 seriously. For training, a few more of course. I’m guessing that I’ve probably run in 80 or so marathons. Maybe more even? But I hadn’t run a true mountain marathon. Here, in Frankfurt I train almost exclusively on flat terrain. I wanted to run the Jungfrau Marathon a few years ago. And now it finally worked out. On Sept. 10, there I stood at the starting line.

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The first 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) of this race are totally flat. Between 10 to 25 kilometers (6.2 to 15.5 miles), there are two or three small inclines. But the real climbing starts at about the 26th kilometer (mile 16). In the last 16 kilometers (almost 10 miles) of this marathon, there are about 1,200 meters of climbing (3,937 feet) to conquer. The finish line is under the shadow of the massifs Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau with a sweeping panorama.

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I trained for about 10 weeks for the run. With 2.5 weeks of that in Fuschl am See in Austria to be able to run up a few mountains. My preparation went well, and I stood at the starting line feeling fit. But I didn’t really realize what exctly lay ahead of me. I hadn’t taken a personal look at the last part of the course. Like always. I simply run and let surprises happen. That’s always pretty exciting. ;-) In this case, I’d only taken a look at the first steep incline at the 26th kilometer (mile 16).

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About 4,000 runners stood at the starting line and, after the starting gun went off, you first do a short, flat loop (about 4 kilometers / 2.5 miles) through the city of Interlaken. After that first 4k/2.5m there was a sprint challenge, but I stayed out of that to save energy for the actual marathon! ;-) From the start, I was in 12th place. And we ran slowly toward the mountain. My legs were working well. and I felt relaxed. Just don’t run the first half too fast, I thought to myself. So I ran a conservative first half-marathon in 1:18.

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Round about the 25th kilometer (mile 15.5) it gets serious. The first incline of about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) with about a 320-meter (1,050-foot) elevation gain appeared in front of me like a wall. In the days prior, I still thought that I would be able to easily run uphill, but in the race it unfortunately didn’t work out that way. After 26.5 kilometers (16.5 miles), I was already relegated to a combination of power hiking and walking. On this steep stretch, I unfortunately fell off the front by a little time. I still wanted to save my energy for the final climb so I allowed myself to take a little more time on these steep kilometers. After 28 kilometers (17.4 miles)you’re your arrival up at Wengen, the course was again runnable and I regained my stride. At 30k (18.6 miles), my buddy Max was at the ready to hand me a Red Bull. That pulled me out of my slump and, from 30k to 38k (mile 18.6 to 23.6), I ran really well. Of course, it was uphill, but not as steep as before. After 38k is when you hit the final steep climb. Just prior I had worked myself up from 12th to 9th.

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This climb was one I had to mostly power hike and walk. Still, I was able to pass the Moroccan in front of me, moving me into 8th. You then head steeply up under the face of the mountain over a moraine. To the renowned bagpipe player. That is the highest point of the race (2,200m/7,218 ft) and I knew there was only 1.5k left (about a mile) to the finish. I was still able to give a good push there, and at the finish I was enthused about my 8th-place finish in 3:14:59 – as a flatlander! ;-)

Next year I want to be at the start of the Jungfrau Marathon once again to try to run the entire stretch. I can easily win another 8-10 minutes doing that – and I’d of course be pretty far ahead in the pack with that too! ;-) We’ll see.

It was a superb run with great organization and good atmosphere all along the course, not to mention the pretty nice mountain vistas too. I can truly recommend this run for all of those who have no particular desire to run a city marathon!

Yours truly, FLOw

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