The marathon route goes from Interlaken to Kleine Scheidegg, via Lauterbrunnen, Wengen and the moraine of the Eiger glacier. It gains 1,829 metres of altitude along the way, with almost all of that climbing being in the second half. This year was the race’s 20th anniversary, and the event was also this year’s Long Distance Mountain Running World Championship race, both facts which meant that this was a much bigger event than I realised before I arrived.
On Saturday morning, breakfast was available from 5:30 in the hostel, allowing runners plenty of time before the race start time of 9am. The marathon was actually being run on both Saturday and Sunday, with 4,000 runners each day. Saturday’s race was for all women and for men over 50. The younger men had to wait for Sunday for their race.
We had to line up in expected finishing time order. I stood at the 5hr 15 mark, and chatted to those around me. We all agreed that we had no idea how we’d really do. All of a sudden, we were off. The first two kilometres were a lap around town and back past the start, and then we headed off to the village of Böningen, where all the villagers seemed to be cheering us on, and a band was playing enormous cow bells. From there, we continued to the 10km mark at Gsteigwiler, after which I was surprised to be heading up hill – I’d been convinced that the first half marathon would be flat. I was running steadily, aiming to get to the half-way point in about 2 hours, leaving me plenty of leeway to slow down dramatically for the steep second half whilst still being on track to beat the 6 hour 30 time limit.
I got to half way feeling strong, in a time of 1:54, and that gave me some confidence. We looped past Lauterbrunnen and back again, before hitting the steep hair-pin bend track that would make its way as directly as it could up the steep valley-side to the mountain village of Wengen. There was no possibility of running this section – in the space of one mile we gained 360 metres of altitude. This steep climb set the tone for the last ten miles of the race, which went up and up and up.
Once in Wengen, there were about 7.5 miles left to go. The sun was out, and the mountains looked spectacular. My tummy was in knots after the effort of climbing, but I persuaded myself to keep running on every section that I could possibly do so, and to walk only when I felt I had no choice.
After Wengen, we passed through forests and along open, grassy mountainsides, before reaching a ski lift station at Wixi. Wixi is unbelievably close to the finish in distance terms, but not in terms of effort. From there on, the route takes a narrow ‘bergweg’ or mountain path, leading steeply up onto the Eiger glacier moraine. Once on the moraine, it’s a single-file power walk going ever upwards. The only overtaking came when people dropped to the side for emergency leg massages.
Finally, we dropped off the moraine and turned towards Kleine Scheidegg, about ¾ of a mile away. After all the up-hill, this last section included some down.
The finish arch finally came into view, and I was very happy to see it. My finishing time was 4:49:17, and I was thrilled with it. I was 207th woman in what was a world championship race, so for the next 12 months I think I’m entitled to claim to be 207th female long distance mountain runner in the world! The actual world champion was crowned that day, having finished nearly an hour and a half before me.
I’d recommend the Jungfrau Marathon to anyone who wants a well organised, challenging race in a beautiful place.
(M) (1) Marcus Hohenwarter, Austria, 2:59:42
(F) (1) Stevie Kremer, USA, 3:22:42
(F) (207) Sharon Woodruff, GB, 4:49:17
Saturday: 1883 men (over 50) and 1363 women
Sunday: 2985 men (under 50)