It was back in 2012 when I was doing a rail trip around Switzerland with my good friend from Spain, Juan Carlos when we were going up a mountain to the ‘Top of Europe’ on the Jungfraubahn. At this point of time I had a very uneasy time with my ‘real job’ back home in London and had to take some time off. My wife told me whilst I was at home not to think about being lazy and staying in front of the computer or watching television all the time. She told me I put on a bit of weight so she threw a gym card at me. So that day I went to the gym, trained for two hours a day, loved it and kept doing this for several months, even when I returned to work. I lost weight, I got fit, I was a lot healthier. Going back to the train ride, there was a television screen showing an advert about the Jungfrau Marathon which takes place in this area. I said to Juan Carlos afterwards, I am going to do that next year. I was already in training and now I needed a challenge. This was going to be the challenge. I haven’t even done a marathon before. The extra spur was I lost my Uncle Dennis a month before this trip in Switzerland, so I wanted to raise money for the charity for the condition he had.
I kept training through the winter of 2012 into 2013 (the Jungfrau Marathon takes place in September), did more and more outdoor running by myself (I wasn’t with a club by this point), and entered a few events to prepare myself. I did a half marathon in Milton Keynes, my first marathon in Brighton where I got a time around 3h53, then another marathon in Halstead, Essex with a time of 3h40 and a few other events over the summer. I joined my first running club, Fairlands Valley Spartans of Stevenage and the training went to another level. The entries for the Jungfrau Marathon opened on Valentine’s Day and I got a place straight away. I was in. Switzerland here I come.
September came around and I was ready. Flying out of the UK with Easyjet to Geneva, there was a group of us. Olga, Paul from my work, some guy called Daniel whilst Juan-Carlos and his wife would meet us out in Switzerland when we landed as they were traveling by train. Once in Geneva, we took the beautiful train ride to Bern going along Lake Geneva and changing at Bern for the train down to Interlaken. After checking into our apartment which was a few side streets away from the famous Hotel Victoria in the centre of town, it was time to get my race number and pack which was swift and easy, then it was time to relax and sleep.
The day before the marathon (it was a Friday), I stupidly entered another event to warm up with but it didn’t start until the evening. So we all took a trip up the Harder Kulm to enjoy the views looking over the two lakes, Interlaken and down into the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Truly amazing views and the Rosti’s were served on the outdoor terrace at the restaurant was bloody brilliant. An afternoon of shopping and checking out Interlaken followed before I had to be on the main street ‘Höheweg’. I entered the Jungfrau MiniMarathon, a 4.7km (2.92 miles) three-lap course around the main green in Interlaken. The event had a few runners like myself but mostly young children under the age of 16, running for charities etc.
There was a big crowd, television cameras, the noise was loud when I was standing at the start line. Then we were off. I was right up the front and managed to stay with the leading pack. I got into second place on the second lap so when I crossed the finish line, I started celebrating. The crowd was loud. However I wasn’t sure if they were cheering. I looked over to my support crew and they were waving their arms like crazy. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on until a marshall came up to me and said in broken English that this event was a three-lap course. By this point I have now slipped a few places so had to muster up all my energy to finish the final lap. I finished in seventeenth with a time of 17-36. What a cock up and wasn’t feeling that good afterwards. It also played on my mind during a late pasta dinner as it was the evening before the marathon and I really hope it didn’t affect my performance the next morning.
Saturday morning was here, the day I have been waiting for. Eleven months since watching that advert on the train inspiring me to do this event. The sun was out, the temperature wasn’t too high but the spirits were. I was just eager to get out there and do the event. My time had come to run up a mountain for the first time, the Jungfrau. The event claims to be the most beautiful marathon in the world. I wasn’t to be disappointed.
At the start line (which is 568 meters above sea level) an older guy from Wales was standing next to me. He could see I was a bit nervous so he started chatting. Asked me questions like is it your first time? First event running up a mountain? He could see I was a newbie to this sort of thing. He gave me a few last minute tips. I didn’t grab his name but he calmed me down a lot. After the sounds of the alpine horns blowing and a national anthem being played, the race started.
I was near the front of the race but the fast runners from Africa and the former European Marathon champion (of 2012 I think he was), Viktor Röthlin (who I also had the pleasure of meeting the day before…nice chap) were so fast, they were gone by the time the route turned the first corner. The first few kilometers the runners do a lap around Central Interlaken before hitting up Höheweg where I race passed my support crew as well as hundreds of locals cheering on the runners. Passing the ‘east’ train station of the train and underneath the highway, the route goes onto Bönigen (571 meters above sea level), a village on the western tip of Lake Brienz. It was beautiful to see the clear water with the mountains overlooking the lake briefly before heading away from the lake and into the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
Now the route started to get scenic. Wooden bridges, trail paths along a river, small crowds in the villages ringing cowbells, playing music and shouting ‘hop,hop hop!’ (that’s what it sounded like to me). I passed the first checkpoint at 10km in Wilderswil in 43-53 and was thinking I surely couldn’t keep this pace up when I actually hit the mountain.
The run through the valley was nice alongside the river which comes through the valley into Lake Brienz. The second checkpoint came at 15km in Zweilütschinen (652 meters above sea level) which I did in 01-08-43. The trains from Interlaken into the valley were packed with spectators and the noise coming from there was loud. Eventually I got to the halfway point of the race in Lauterbrunnen (21km – 13.1 miles and 812 meters above sea level) in 02-06-45. Not bad and thought I was really doing well. The run towards Lauterbrunnen was slightly uphill so slowed me down a bit. Even though I was in ‘race-mode’ I was still able to see the beautiful scenery, the mountains overlooking me from both sides, the trees, the sound of the water gushing down the valley. It was nice.
A lap south of Lauterbrunnen was the next bit, passing the waterfall and going onto a flatter section. I was picking up pace here before going back into Lauterbrunnen and quickly stopping to see my support crew, hugs and more energy gels given to me. Then it was time to shine. The road out of the town turns into a trail path and the first real test was the path going up the mountain which overlooks Lauterbrunnen from the east. Bugger me, this was tough! I was still running but very slowly. Most runners just wanted to walk this but I didn’t come all this way for a walk. I came to run and that is what I did.
At the top I was rewarded with an amazing view of Lauterbrunnen and the valley down below. It was just perfect. The path turned back into a road and before I knew it, I was going through the resort of Wengen (more uphill into the town) and clocked up 02-54-07 at the 30.2km checkpoint (1283 meters above sea level). The crowds here were loud and gave me a kick start to do the final 12km of the race. The race was opening up a bit now, I was so far ahead of the walkers, so far behind the elite and the average runner like myself, we were very spaced out. I was kind off alone in the final 12km but again, I came here to race, not to chit chat.
My support crew would meet me at Wixi at 37.9km (checkpoint time was 04-04-40), again, the support spurred me on. Now I am around 1900 meters above sea level. I looked behind me and could see the Lauterbrunnen Valley down below. Whooaaa…I ran up that. So high up, but it was going to get tougher.
The path turns into a rocky path going up a very steep incline. This part I just had to walk for a few minutes. I gave it my all, I still had energy but my legs have now taking on a battering. I did as much training and leg strengthening as I could for this race. They could still run but they didn’t want to run up any more inclines. There was a man playing the Scottish bagpipes at the top, this would be the highest point of the race for me. It was an emotional moment for me. At the top before running down towards the finish line, I point up to the sky, this would be the closest I would reach heaven for a long time and said ‘this is for you uncle’. I quickly looked at the surrounding mountains, the peaks of the Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger. Looking down on where I had run. I achieved something which I thought I would never do. It was a bloody marvellous feeling.
The last bit was quite quick and I picked up pace. I looked at my watch thinking I can get under five hours here. Locals and hikers were spurring me on as now I felt like doing 5km speed. I wanted to get the event done now and have a well earned pint. The Fallbodensee (Fallboden Lake) was the last major sight to see on the route and it was very pretty. Then it was a downhill section to the finish line. I could see the buildings and train station of Kleine Scheidegg ahead of me. The crowds were still there and it was loud. I crossed the finish line and punched the air before a few tears came out of my eyes. I just couldn’t believe what I have done. 04-54-22 of running up a sodding mountain and through one hell of a beautiful valley. What a challenge and I conquered. I came here to do a job and I was buzzing for sometime after that.
What did I do afterwards, a massive steak meal and a few beers in Grindelwald which was one of the train stops on the way back to Interlaken. I didn’t care about the high prices of Switzerland, it was time to celebrate. A massive thank you to all those behind the scenes of the Jungfrau Marathon, the locals spurring on the runners, other runners who supported me and my support crew who came to see me do the challenge. And of course my wife, Olga, who supported me all the way. Would this be the only time I run up a mountain…I think not. I loved it. I just love mountains too much. It feels like a second home for me and I am sure I would return in due course for another bash.