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October 8, 2017

On an intense marathon in Switzerland

It is always interesting to talk with other runners and to compare the different marathons they have run. Some have large numbers of entrants, like Houston and Dallas; others are smaller and often have a uniqueness about them. I saw the course in Maine last year, and it had two unique characteristics about it: it was very hilly and very scenic.

This year, while I was visiting Switzerland, they had a replay on television of a marathon that had been run two weeks before. It was the Jungfrau Marathon. The Jungfrau is one of the highest mountains in the Alps at 13,642 feet. I am quite sure the marathon did not go to the top of the mountain; but the city of Jungfrau is at 11,333 feet, up near the top. Since the announcer explained everything in German, and I do not understand German, I am not sure the name of the city where the marathon started.

The marathon started out in the city streets, and around the buildings and bridges of the city. A short view of the runners going through a covered wooden bridge over a river was near the beginning of the run. The runners then moved out into the countryside and on paved roads with the mountains and hills in the background.

It wasn’t long into the race that the paved road became a packed dirt road. The uphill was evident but not steep. The lead pack of runners held steady with about five runners. This packed dirt road then narrowed down to a dirt trail with enough width for maybe two runners. By then the runners were all in single file.

The next scene on the video had the runners on a single dirt path that must have been used by mountain goats the rest of the year, as it sure was not a major path for people. Part of it disappeared into a grassy covered section that had a runner tripping over a brush root or grass extension across the path. The elevation was also increasing as the course continued on.

The part of the marathon that stood out in the video was the next section. It had runners coming up out of the fog on a steep incline. Many of the runners had their hands on their knees and were pushing down on them to make it up the dirt and gravel path.

They were rewarded with a raincoat-covered bagpipe player playing music for them, and a couple of course monitors cheering them on. I am not sure how high the elevation was at this point; but the pace was a lot slower, even for the lead runners.

The next view on the television had the runners on this narrow path going over an outcrop of dirt and heading down the other side. The path was not a smooth, well-used path, and was more of a “first time it has been used” path.

The lead men’s winner came in at 2:58 for first place. The women’s winner came across in 3:15. The finish was back in the city where they started, and everyone seemed happy to have made it.

Watching replays of the marathon had me thinking that this had to be one of the most difficult marathons to run anywhere in the world. The finish banner that the first-place runners hit was a plastic one that did not break, but just slowed them down enough so race personnel could welcome them. The rest of the video showed children’s runs from five years on up to teenagers, and the distance was from 200 meters to 1,500 meters.

If any local runners want a challenging marathon to consider, this one in Switzerland is in the first week in September. I will watch you on the video and wish you the best of luck.

For local runners, get ready for races here in San Marcos. On October 21st, there are three races to choose from. On October 28th, you have a choice of four races here in San Marcos, plus two more within a few miles distance, for a choice of six races that day. More on that next week.

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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