Arguably one of the most beautiful settings for a marathon in the world. On 30th October 2016, I took on my 4th international marathon, and completed it in 3:19:56, my fastest international run to date.
I had not intended to run Lucerne this year, I had not even heard of the event. In 2014 I ran Berlin Marathon and since have had an ambition to run an international marathon every year. After travelling to Australia earlier in the year and running the Bunbury Marathon, I had thought this was most certainly it for the year. But then a friend on Facebook announced to the “Run For Your Lifer’s” that she had won a place via “Running Heros”, and could not go. The place was up for grabs if anyone wanted it. Interestingly my wife saw this post first and said “you should do that”… Now my wife should know me better than this, but the rest is history, I booked flights and accommodation, and the entry was transferred to me… We were going to Switzerland!
Running abroad is always going to be expensive for me with a wife and two kids, but I had not anticipated how expensive Switzerland would be. I had got a really good deal on a 5 star hotel, so I guess this had me a little fooled. We arrived at Zurich airport, far less prepared than usual, and asked how much a taxi would be to Lucerne (perhaps it would work out better). The reaction from the help desk was our first warning, clearly taxis were very expensive, and we later learned that this 30 minute drive would have cost us about 250 pounds. So we went to get the train, after looking it up it was going to cost us about 28 pounds, not to bad, except that they advertise the tickets at half their value as the locals have a half price card. So, the return journey, our first experience of Switzerland, was to pay 100 pounds for our airport transfers.
We then got a bus to our hotel (again this makes London feel cheap), and unfortunately we were at the end of the day. But what we could see is we had made a fantastic hotel choice.
Lucerne is such a beautiful venue for a run. You are surrounded by lake and mountains as far as the eye can see. This time of year it is a little misty most of the day, but this does not get in the way of the natural beauty.
On Saturday morning we started making our way into the centre to explore the old town, and we were discussing what we would do for the day. It was at this point I remembered I had a run the next day, and needed to go to the expo. This really is not like me, and sums up the sheer lack of preparation for this holiday. I ran back to the hotel to get my passport and met my family on the way into town. We chose to walk rather than get the bus, mainly as the walk from the hotel was not too far (4K) and it was a lovely walk around the lake, passing parks for the kids to play. As we approached the centre you could not miss the expo, so we made this our first stop. The inside was very small with just a few leading sponsors there, but a nice touch was that they brought the games and competitions outside so there was a real buzz as soon as we approached.
Unfortunately, even after contacting the organisers prior to this point, I had not been sent my confirmation email with bib number. But this really did not matter, as I walked straight up to the “trouble desk” and they got my bib for me. We also collected Benjamin’s bib as they had a free race for children to run the final 195 metres of the course.
We spent the rest of the day walking around. This really is a beautiful city. I do think, however, that it has more to offer those without young children, as it strikes me as a place to relax taking in your surroundings, not something we could do… Relax 😂😂
We also spent time just trying to find somewhere to eat that would not require a remortgage, something we were struggling to achieve. We went into a busy “tea room” as I saw they had pizza slices, perfect I thought. However, I’m not sure what sort of pizzas these were but they had more of a quiche consistency and tasked a little foul with very strong cheese, not the best experience.
When we got back to our hotel we had fun looking at our bibs. I was not entirely sure whether Benjamin would happily run by himself so needed to make it exciting for him.
Later on we researched the area and walked the other direction from our hotel to Meggan and found a pleasant, and affordable hotel/restaurant. This was much more reasonably priced and served generous portions, I was very happy with my pizza, and could not resist a large beer #hydration
Race morning I got up and gave the family cuddles goodbye.
On my walk to the start line I considered once again my race strategy. Three years earlier I was in my best shape, and nearing sub 3. Over the last couple of years I have tried without the right preparation which has resulted in two international 3:30 finishes, where my first half was faster than sub 3 pace, and I gave up the second half. I knew I was not ready for this, and wanted to just enjoy the run. As a regular 1:40 half marathon pacer I thought I could comfortably run that twice, achieve 3:20 (an international pb, and a bloody good time). So that was the plan, enjoy the run, and achieve a good time without having to push too hard.
As I approached the event village I noticed a swarm of people coming from the lake, a free boat was operating connecting the start with the old town. There was a real buzz in the air and friendly atmosphere as I entered the finish area.
One downside was I don’t understand the lingo, and unlike other races I have done there was no English translation (why should they). I found it difficult to find the baggage drop, and when I did I found it to be a good 15 minutes walk away from the start/finish area. This must also be a Cultural thing, but the baggage area was also not secure, it was literally a locker room. There was a queue where you could put valuables in envelopes for safe keeping, but all I had was my phone that I needed for selfies anyway!
I made my way to the start line which was self seeded. Naturally I made my way to the front pen, and just waited. I couldn’t understand what was being said, but it really does not matter, I’ve heard it all before. Then there was a gun shot… I guess we are off!!
I made sure I didn’t get carried away at the start. It’s ironic that pacing is the thing I enjoy most about running, however I never manage to get it right for myself, always too greedy and overconfident. But I reminded myself that this was just a relaxing run for me. I eased in to slightly faster than desired pace, but I held myself back and enjoyed the views.
The locals of Lucerne really embraced the event and the whole course was populated with cheers. Another great thing about an international run is the differences in what is shouted out. After hopping for the first 10k I just couldn’t do if any more, I was too tired 😂 Although I’m not entirely sure what it means, I assume the repeated cries of “hopp hopp” were not encouragement for me to actually hopp, but encouragement to keep going!
The course leads you all around the lake and surrounding areas. I had thought this was a flat course, and although there were lots of flat sections, it was far from flat.
At about 9:55 I had a think about my family. Unfortunately I was missing Benjamin racing, but just hoped they had made it on time, and we’re having fun. I later learned that Benjamin had a great race. This is a really good touch from the race organisers to put on a free race for children. It is a shame that this was not implemented very well. It turns out that parents had to go a different way to the finish than the children, so although only the final 195 metres, you lose sight of them. No one helped my wife with the pushchair, and marshals told her that “she would struggle ” when she asked how she was supposed to get over the bridge. She therefore abandoned the pushchair (amongst numerous bags that had been randomly left by runners who probably couldn’t find the baggage drop off). She got to the finish and there was no organisation to keep the children safe, so although there was a large secure finish area, they let the children out by themselves. When kirsty could not find Benjamin she asked numerous staff, none of whom would help, or were concerned at all. You can imagine her panic as our wonderful boy was lost for 10 minutes. She finally found him as a kind couple were watching him. It transpired that as he just followed all the other children then got lost. He was upset to see his mum upset. But on the plus side he received a lovely goody bag, and finishers medal. Apart from this they all had a wonderful time, but this was so poorly organised and children could easily be taken. It would be fine if not ran at the same time as the marathon, but they need to really work on this set up.
At this point I was oblivious to this, enjoying my marathon. The entire route was beautiful, there were cheers of “hopp” and cowbells of all sizes being rung.
As a pacer I am always interested in how those pacing around me are doing. There were numerous pacers running with balloons, I knew the 3:00 pacers were ahead and the 3:15 were behind. At about 9k a 3:00 pacer came storming past with a look of confusion from those around him. At best I was on 3:15/3:10 pace, so he was atleast 5 minutes behind pace. I get we are all human and pacers may need to stop for whatever reason, but I had not passed him. The only explanation I can think of is he started late and wanted to catch up. This is disappointing, frankly if you start late you need to drop whatever identifies you as a pacer atleast until you are at pace. This would have confused a lot of people and is unnecessary. Again, not the organisers fault, but bad judgement on the pacers part.
The course was two laps, and as we entered the old town, after running through the football stadium, I knew I was approaching the end of the first lap. This event was made up of a marathon, half marathon and 10k, all of which started at the same time. This first lap was fantastic, and I was looking forward to the second. I finished the first lap in 1:35, 5 minutes ahead of pace, leaving myself a good cushion to really enjoy the second half. As I’ve said, I was not here to set any records.
It became apparent that there were far more half marathoners than full marathoners, and this is a tale of two halves. The first half was fantastic, I could not fault it. But the second half is a different story. All of a sudden the field was greatly reduced, so it felt much more isolated, and as we made our way past the town the crowd support appeared greatly reduced. There were still locals out around their property, but most of the support was gone. Clearly people had left to see loved ones finish, most of whom were doing the half. The hills which were not too bad on the first half became very difficult on the second lap, with tired legs and no support to motivate you. The route that had been lined with people shouting “hopp” was all quiet, with the occasional group, and the same few people to run with. The beauty remained, but I was longing for the end. I felt tired, but I was still running strong, just slowing at the hills. Baring in mind my original strategy to achieve 3:20, I worked out quickly what I needed to keep on track. I eased back and just sat at this pace. As I made my way back towards the old town I got to points where paths crossed and I saw runners only just approaching their second lap. I considered how quiet the second lap had been for me, and felt empathetic for those that would be running alone with even fewer supporters. This is not a race for a slower marathoner. If you won’t finish in under 4 hours I would recommend the half. By 5 hours I think they were packing up the route.
Running the final couple of miles the atmosphere returned, with spectators lining the old town all the way to the finish area. This was an impressive finish and I was satisfied to finish bang on target time 3:19:56. My family were there as always to see me finish which makes any event.
I picked up my medal and pint of beer (non alcoholic) at the finish, then had to work out where to pick up my goody bag (which was a good quality rucksack). I then met my wife and kids for hugs (and storey telling) before taking them to the construction site play area to leave them there whilst I picked up my bag.
Overall this was a well organised, beautiful event. There are certainly areas for improvement, especially where safety in the kids event is concerned. I would also suggest that the support and set up for the half marathon is far better than the full marathon, but there is not a lot the organisers can do about that. I would recommend this event, but anticipate it being a lonely event if you take longer than 5 hours to finish, but the natural beauty is still there. When you finish you get a lovely finishers rucksack instead of a finishers top (which could be purchased at the expo if you wanted).
After finishing I took advantage of the free boat, and we went back to the centre for some lunch and a final walk around before returning to relax and get ready for the evening.
After our experience the night before we returned to the same restaurant for our evening meal, and again were impressed with the service a meal.
The final morning we decided to pay for breakfast in our hotel. Something which I think is usually included, but the first thing stripped out when doing deals online. I ate like a King, exactly what I needed the day after a marathon. Sparkles for breakfast reminded me of our honeymoon… It was probably a good job we had a flight to catch as the bubbles were starting to go to my head and I could have stayed there all day.
We all had a great time in Lucerne. A beautiful venue for a marathon.
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