Gornergrat Zermatt Marathon 2016

Everyone who knows me, knows that I love running and ever since 2012 I have caught the bug. There have been highs and there have been lows. I did a lot of fast times and a lot of crappy performances during the fast road marathons. However my secret love when it comes to the sport is to challenge myself and run up mountains. I haven’t done too many hilly races, the odd cross-country back home in England, Hong Kong and I completed the Jungfrau Marathon in 2013 (but also got a DNF – did not finish) in the same event in 2014. A few years later in the summer months of 2016, it was time to do the Gornergrat Zermatt marathon in Switzerland. For this event I entered the ultra-marathon distance which is 45.595km long (28.33 miles), which is around 3.40km (2.11 miles) longer than the marathon distance. I will explain more shortly. By the time this event came around, it was four weeks after the birth of my eldest daughter, the training was rubbish, I had a slight niggle on my right glute muscle which I had for quite some time. But hey ho, it’s a mountain, I spent a lot of money on this trip so I thought I would try my best and take it easy. Luckily I managed to finish the Gornergrat Zermatt Marathon race.

Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running

For this event I based myself in Zermatt (of course) and took a flight from London to Geneva and hired a car, drove to Tasch and then took the train to the next stop in Zermatt (as the resort does not allow vehicles with petrol unless with special agreement from the local authority). I rented out an apartment and went self-catering. Whilst here I also did some hiking, one of my favourite routes was the Five Lakes Trail (read my blog here) and also took a second trip to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (again, read my blog post here). This was my second trip to Zermatt in six years and the place hasn’t changed much.

Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running

The day before the race I had to collect my number in the town of St. Niklaus, a town on the railway line between Visp and Zermatt. As I was already in Zermatt, it can be a pain in the ass to go all the way back to St Niklaus to collect the documents and head back up to Zermatt. If I did this event again I would stay in the St Niklaus area just to free up time and also have a lay in on the day of the race as the ultra-marathon and marathon events also start here. The collection was swift, quick and easy and also had a good variety of stalls here selling products so overall view is very well organised.

Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running
Running through the streets of St Niklaus

On the day of the Gornergrat Zermatt marathon race (where the race commences at 8.35am), it was an early start with the usual preparations, eat the porridge, make sure the kit is comfortable and all the equipment I need like gels, GPS watch was on me before I left the apartment (even though I got all this ready the day before as well) and took one of the early morning trains down to St Niklaus. On arrival in the village, it was a short walk to the start line, plenty of room to do my warm up and listen to the alpine horn-blowers from the locals.

Check out my guide on what to do in Zermatt during the summer months

Then it was on! The race had started. God, I put on some much weight in the last year, why the hell was I here? I wasn’t race fit for this event (when I applied for this event when the entries opened I was race fit) but as it was a bucket-list event for me, I wanted to tick it off. I gave it a good bash but my pacing was all over the place. Running through St Niklaus with the crowds spurring on all the runners, was a bit of a hilly affair straight away. Not the best way to start a race as I haven’t got into a rhythm yet. I always had this ‘thing’ in marathons where the first 5km (3.1 miles) I just don’t get going. It takes me a while to warm up and get moving, even though I did a quality warm-up beforehand. The route goes southwards (and upwards) through the Mattertal valley and takes runners onto trail paths which run alongside the Mattertal Vispa (I just call it the River Vispa) which is a tributary of the River Rhone. The route is uphill all the way but that didn’t bother me. I got to see the Tummigbach waterfall as well as the mountains overlooking the villages of Ronda and Tasch.

Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running
Eventually I got into Zermatt which is the half-way point for the Gornergrat Zermatt marathon (not quite so half-way for the ultra-marathon), where there was a bit of a crowd cheering runners on. By this point I have already ran an elevation of 500 meters (Saint Niklaus is 1116 meters above sea level and Zermatt is 1616 meters). I felt ok, not so tired and not much of a niggle from my right glute muscle so with the determination and thinking positive thoughts, I carried on. Time at Zermatt (21km) was 02-13-50.

Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running
Running around the lake at Sunnegga

Then it was time for the challenge. After a lap around Zermatt, the route goes slightly northwards (and upwards), and now is around 2,100 meters above sea level in most places. A view of the famous Matterhorn mountain was in sight. It felt like I had the whole area to myself as all the faster runners were miles ahead of me and I was well ahead of the slower runners. I took my time going up the steep sections (no, not walking..he he), and the views were breathtaking. At Sunnegga there were quite a few hikers cheering the runners on and running around a lake with the reflection of the Matterhorn was a truly amazing experience. The route was challenging but totally enjoyable and eventually reached the area known as Riffelalp.

Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running

Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running
From Riffelalp to Riffelberg was probably the most challenging run I have ever done in the mountains in my life (to date). This stage of the race I am running from 2,200 meters above sea level to 2,580 meters. One section of the route was a long steep drag, god knows what this part of the route was called but it ran alongside the railway line. I was buggered. This bit I did walk (like all the other runners). I was feeling a bit low but kept my spirits up by taking in the amazing view out to the west. By heck, I am high up and I ran all the way through the valley to Zermatt and up the mountains to this point. Again, what a view! Once this steep section was completed I was in the final mile or two of the race. I was still running upwards, passing the beautiful Bruder Klaus (the Riffelberg chapel), before I came to a junction in the path. Turn left was for marathon runners finishing next to the train station at Riffelberg and turn right for the ultra-marathons to go to the summit of the nearby Gornergrat and do the extra 3.40km (2.11 miles). Tough choice as I was feeling tired by this point but I got this far, so I turned right.

Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running
That ‘steep’ section before Riffelberg
Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running
Can you spot me running passing the Bruder Klaus (the Riffelberg chapel). Also behind that is the valley which the route goes! I ran that high.

Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running
Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running

Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running

Again, more uphill. I think I was getting a bit fed up of all this uphill running, it was all I had been doing all day. I wasn’t ready for this race, that is for sure. I wasn’t even ready for the next and last section of the race. This part had an elevation of 508 meters between Riffelberg (2582 meters) and Gornergrat (3090 meters). The air was getting colder, the altitude was slightly affecting me and I was getting a bit burnt by the sun rays as the sun lotion I had was just not doing the ‘job’ as my sweat was not allowing the lotion to work on my skin. All I can remember from this section was running along a trail path before running through a ‘snow’ section. The trail path had a lot of snowfall recently, like a few feet from the ground, so the organisers had to cut a ‘path’ through the thick snow (see my photo). It was crazy. After this bit I was getting tired. Then at some point I just stopped and fell asleep. It felt like a long time I was asleep but someone at the finish line who saw me said it was like twenty seconds I was standing there before waking up and running on (that person also took a photo..bless them).

Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running

Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running

Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running

Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running
There it was, the finish was in sight. The buildings on the summit of the Gornergrat which consists of the train station (end of the line) of the Gornergratbahn, cafe and gift shop. There is also a chapel nearby. I actually felt a burst of energy and sprinted up the ramp to the finish line. And the same emotions came out as when I completed the Jungfrau mountain marathon a few years earlier. Not only I achieved the minimum objective of completing this challenging event with lack of training etc, it is always an achievement for me to run or hike up a mountain from way down below and to reach the summit. There is always something which overpowers me when I am at the top of a mountain. There is a feeling I can’t describe but it is one of the best feelings ever. I just love mountains and the stunning scenery which goes with them. Would I do the Gornergrat Zermatt marathon again, yes, but I make sure I am fit next time. The time I finished this event was  07-20-09. It was a pretty shit result to be frank however, I knew I wasn’t race fit and was glad I finished the event. Seriously. This time and my position, I don’t really care about. It’s about doing it, finishing it, taking the memories away, learning from the experience and building on it for next time.

Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running

Gornergrat Zermatt Marathon organisers and the local people of the region as well as all the other runners in the event, you are amazing. I will be back!

Check out all the other marathons I have done on my blog post here!

Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running Gronergrat Zermatt Marathon, Switzerland, Mountains, Running