Race Review – The Swiss City Marathon, Lucerne

Schweizerhof Hotel – the Swiss City Marathon EXPO Venue

I do love Switzerland, he says, making the heart sign with his thumbs and fingers over his sternum. The last time I was here in the mountains of Zermatt I enjoyed, if that is the correct term, my second DNF of the year. But I often say that you are not defined by your last race, but the next and so I have been continuing  to plod through my 12 marathons in 12 months for Pancreatic Cancer UK (Link here), ticking off Hull Marathon and Yorkshire before finding myself on the shores of Lake Lucerne.

Europe’s Most Beautiful Marathon

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em. The Swiss City Marathon in Lucerne has been on my radar for several years. In 2014 I signed up for the first time. I had seen the photo above, I had read the self-proclamation that this is Europe’s Most Beautiful Marathon but, due to getting into the Berlin Marathon I deferred for a year.  Fast forward to 2015, again my attention was drawn to Lucerne with the deferment, but again the Berlin Marathon appeared, I just couldn’t avoid it, like Gunter, the overweight German housemate at uni who at parties spends all night standing in the kitchen next to the chips and dip and thinks wearing silly hats is fun. I chose Berlin again. I chose Gunter. I asked Lucerne if I could defer again but alas they said no, you could only defer once and so I binned the idea, deciding instead to sign up the following year.

Hallo. My name is Gunter. Will you be my friend?

But in 2016 with a lot of expenditure and trips to Luxembourg, New York, Athens, South Africa, the Maldives and beyond I once again bailed on Lucerne. It was bloody annoying I tell you. And so I punished myself by signing up for and running one of the UK’s most difficult marathons, Beachy Head and decided that in no way on God’s green Earth I would defer it again. So this year, 2017, it made it one of my 12 marathons in 12 months for Pancreatic Cancer UK. And about bloody time too!

THE EXPO AND BUILD UP

To be honest you would be hard pressed to tell if there was a large international marathon going on or not in Lucerne. You saw some runners, but not the armies I did at Barcelona, or Athens. The EXPO was held in a swanky hotel facing the lake. Very nice but, from what I could tell, bereft of any merchandise. When asked apparently you could buy it online, but really? This is the place to sell the tees, the hoodie, the buff,  a giant foam hand with a pointing finger and the Swiss flag on it, anything. PLEASE SELL ME CRAP I DON’T NEED, TAKE MY MONEY! Instead, all I got was a massage from a 190CHF electrical massager, and a carton of iced tea in the shoe bag that came with my number. A bit disappointing really. But I guess with all that Nazi gold, the Swiss don’t need my money.

THE RACE DAY

This was pretty unique. As the Transport Museum was quite a hike (over 30 mins) from town COOP, the sponsor, laid on free ferries to shuttle the runners, and their supporters to the start. I did love it. Although I was pretty knackered early doors, so didn’t do the whole I’m the King of the World thing.

Once disembarked you were one side of the museum. After following some local runners, it became obvious that the bag drop was the exact opposite side. Actually, scratch that, it was not obvious at all. We had to ask at the information desk, where we found that the ladies’ and the men’s bag drops were separate in different buildings, with the men’s bag drop spread over several buildings. Very confusing.

My bag drop was the changing area of a gym. Long benches, hooks on the wall, and no lockers, no security, no one guarding my valuables. It did make me nervous. But everyone was doing it, so I put my faith in the fact I had only heard two sirens in 3 days and both were ambulances, so maybe crime had been eradicated in this part of Switzerland. Maybe they have a secret weapon.

Vier… drei… zwo… eins… I am now authorized to use physical force!

THE ROUTE

Two laps. Let me get that out of the way at the start. Two, count them, laps. You start outside the city at the Transport Museum. It is pretty cool, planes, signs, a drill head used to drill through mountains. You get the idea. From there you run a long straight back to Lucerne Old Town and then across a bridge. Here you turn sharply and go down by the docks where you caught the ferry from, and then are already in the wide, tree lined backstreets of the commercial area. Alpine horn players pipe you along. You run through the outskirts of town, hitting the only two inclines (totalling 75M overall) and then circumnavigate the most picturesque loop, lake on your left, mountains in the distance, trees on the right, a vineyard, cuckoo clock houses before turning back to town.

You hit the stadium of FC Lucerne  (my arch nemesis on FIFA), go into the stadium, do a half lap of the pitch, then head out, back into the town, alongside the rail yard, some allotments, back to the commercial district backstreets before running through the Concert hall, complete with music, flashing lights, and a lot of supporters staying out of the cold. Not that it was all that cold. Probably 11 degrees.

I like to move it move it

You run out of here and up into Old Town, by the Old Chapel bridge, across the next bridge, and up a cobbled shopping street before hitting the long, long, long, did I mention it felt long, run back to the start. The start being the turnaround point for the identical second lap.

HOW I DID

I started strong. I had a cold going into Yorkshire but ran it anyway. And, despite the cold going, the rattle had stayed on my chest so I had taken much of the fortnight prior to this race off. I had only run a couple of hours in total and so was pretty rested. I kept up with the 4:15 pacers as we left town, and then went ahead of them as the view became one of true natural beauty.

Stunning. The lake and mountains, not me.

A word about the start, before I continue. It was a bit of a clusterfuck, in the same vein as Manchester. There were no policed pens. It was all a bit free range. You basically lined up with the pacers and decided where you should fit into the scheme of things. After originally deciding on standing with the 4.30 pacers, I moved forwards, and was glad I did.

Anyway, I digress. I circled the lake, under the mountains, and ran through the stadium. Now this I liked. The stadium announcer called out your names, there was another band, and plenty of support for your half lap, before heading out and back towards town.

I was still close to the 4.15 pacers and then caught sight of a pair of white angel wings on a black background. It was UKRUNCHAT supremo Jenni Morris and her I RUN LONDON tee. I caught up with her after the allotments and then ran with her as we headed toward the Concert Hall. She was happy to run comfortably and so I surged ahead a little, taking a few turns and losing her as I headed up to half way. I run with a lot of people. Most are faster than me. I think Jen and I have run 5 of the same marathons over the years we have been friends, and she has beaten me in all.

THE TURN! THE TURN!

I remember Paul Addicott mentioning the two laps in his blog last year and thought I would be okay with it. But as I continued along the long straight, surrounded by half marathon runners (the bastards in the blue bibs) it did feel like I was suffering a bit. I saw Jen on the switchback, I was a few hundred yards ahead and slowed to high 5 her when our paths crossed. She too was battling with the idea of stopping half way, especially as virtually 3/4 of the field had just disappeared down the final straight looking for their free tee, goody bag and alcohol free beer leaving the marathon route particularly sparse when it came to actual runners.

It’s ok, Mr Knees, I will carry you all the way to Mordor
The second lap reminded me of Tolkien. “Now at last they turned their faces to the Mountain and set out, thinking no more of concealment, bending their weariness and failing wills only to the one task of going on.” After a toilet break, when she had chance to catch up, I ran the rest of the way with Jen, which was a godsend, as it would have been tough on my own as there were times when there was maybe one or two runners on the same road as us. We adopted an even more cut down version of my run/walk strategy I had applied at Hull and Yorkshire. Buzz at the KM, walk for a count of 25 seconds, and then run to the next buzz, or next set of water tables. It did work, and we made good time. The rain held off, other a light sprinkling (twice). We passed a house where rockers were blaring out Back in Black (twice). We hit the stadium (twice). We ran through the Concert Hall and were a little disappointed about how short it was (twice). And we ran that long arse straight (twice). But not until we had to deal with the 10K.
For OH YES! There was not only a half marathon going on, with a vast majority taking the easy option and doing one lap. There was also a 10K. And this 10K was big. It was big, and it started around the 32K mark of the marathon route, about 3.30 into the marathon time. What this meant was that suddenly as we approached the town, a motorcyclist went by far too fast and far too close. He was followed by cyclists. And then the fastest 10K runners. We had to move to the side. Now, this can be quite demoralising and disheartening as dozens of people come streaming past you. But let me tell you this. They wore black bibs. The half runners wore blue bibs. The marathon runners wore red bibs and it was those that got the biggest cheers, the loudest applause and the loudest HOP! HOP! HOP! from the crowd.
And we did, as we ran the final few KMs, skipping the walk part. Running into the Transport Museum, along a red carpet and home, for my 9th marathon of the year, and 9th for Pancreatic Cancer UK in again way below sub 5. A fraction faster than Yorkshire, and 10 mins faster than Hull. Happy with that.
Job’s a good ‘un.

THE BLING

I had seen the medal before. It is on the paperwork and website. It is unique, pretty, shows the Old Chapel Bridge. So it is unmistakably unique for the city. I like it. We were also given a cowbell on a lanyard as well, which is also hanging with the medal. Just an extra good point to add.

THE SCORES ON THE DOOR – HOW DOES SWISS CITY MARATHON SIT IN THE LEAGUE TABLE?

Okay, so I forewarned you about this new feature a week or so ago. I would be scoring marathons from now on based on a set of criteria that may mean that my favourite marathons to run may not score very highly at all, and those I thought were crap, may well come out on top.

The criteria taken into consideration all the different factors I tend to think about when assessing a race; costs, tee, medal, route, support, value for money etc and so here is the table, with Lucerne added.

THE SUMMARY

I wouldn’t say the Lucerne Marathon is Europe’s Most Beautiful. It is two laps after all. And so I would probably say that it is Europe’s most beautiful half marathon, as the second lap is the same as the first. The pretty bits, the lake and the mountains are beautiful. The run through the Concert Hall was good, twice, but a bit short, the finish narrowed more and more. The long straight there and back at the turnaround for the second lap is an absolutely soul crusher. The support was superb. Lucerne has a lot of unique elements to it. We got a boat to the start! The number pickup was in a swanky hotel. Nutrition-wise it was spot on, bananas, muesli bars, water, isotonic drink at every aid station. Nice tee although it says WINNER on the back, which I don’t like – and nor did the Scottish Mag 8 runners who were on the plane back. Nice medal. Didn’t like the 10K starting around the time you have an hour left. And two laps, that is the decider. When you have two 13 mile laps it really does make that turnaround so difficult. So I did like it, I really had an amazing weekend in a truly beautiful city, and enjoyed the run, despite the small annoyances.

WOULD I RECOMMEND THE SWISS CITY MARATHON? YES. Although I would add the caveat that two laps are a killer, and the city is very very expensive.

WOULD I RUN THE SWISS CITY MARATHON AGAIN? No.

NEXT UP:

SHAKESPEARE RACEWAY MARATHON

STRATFORD UPON AVON

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