Friday, August 30th presented me with a difficult decision. Previously on August 6th, I came across a post online from Irish Runner Magazine about a competition with the prize of 2 tickets for the Swiss City Marathon in Lucerne in October. I was on a family holiday in Spain when I read it and had several beers on board when I pressed send to the email that I thought might win me this competition.
As the beers continued to flow that day, I had forgotten that I entered. Fast forward again to August 30th and I got a lovely email from Bernie Commins saying I had won! The initial reaction was “nice one”, and then I googled Lucerne Swiss Marathon as I had never heard of it before –it looked cool. The date looked familiar…. October 27th!, F*&k it, the same day as Dublin Marathon. I had a decision to make as I already had a ticket for Dublin.
Dublin 2018 was my second marathon ever and I thoroughly enjoyed it and was actively looking forward to the 2019 iteration. I ultimately reasoned with myself that it’s good to test yourself and if an unexpected opportunity presents itself, then you should grab it with both hands. Decision made, Lucerne in lieu of Dublin was the only choice. As I had 2 tickets, I offered the second one to Jason who has been on several marathons with me this year and he didn’t need to be asked twice. With entries sorted, we needed flights and accommodation. Aerlingus for approx. 170e return each and Airbnb for an apartment approx. 2km from Lucerne centre for approx. 120e total each for 2 nights.
This marathon was to be my 6th one this calendar year having previously hobbled over the line in Kinvara in March, Manchester in April, Limerick in May, Cork in June, Galway in October. It would also be the 8th one I’ve ran in a 12-month period. The first 4 ran over a 12-week period and Galway being just 3 weeks before Lucerne. Details below.
I was still a bit sore and my IT band on my right leg has been acting up all year, the longest run I completed since Galway Bay marathon 3 weeks prior to this one was only 19km and that was a difficult run. Kept it short distance-wise for the rest, other than that, just lightly jogging a few 10k’s and 7k’s.
The flight was 7am Saturday, October 26th so booked Clayton airport hotel in Dublin the night before – about 100e. Decided to take the Eireagle bus from Limerick to Dublin instead of driving. Now the snob in me hates buses, I like to drive and control my route whenever I travel. The bus took over 3 hours in Friday bank holiday weekend traffic and nearly 50 mins of this was just getting from Limerick city centre to the start of the motorway to Dublin about 12km’s outside limerick! It was comfortable enough seat wise but as I am 6 foot 3, legroom was not optimum.
The hotel was large, nice room and the bar food wasn’t too bad. There was some entertainment that night in the hotel in the guise of an American chap who was sitting at the bar. The guy unashamedly hit on pretty much every female in the bar, one by one to little success. We were sitting near the bar watching and having a laugh about it, at one point, he passed by one of the girls who was working in the bar, said “room ***” and then walked away past her, the girl and her colleagues were bursting laughing, chap had no shame!
Got up Sat morning at 4.15am, quick shower and got downstairs for the complimentary shuttle bus to the airport, takes about 10 mins. Made it through security just after 5am and headed for some breakfast – typical overpriced fare, sandwich and coffee (14 euro). Jason had a fry which I think was about 12 quid. The flight was short, 1 hour 40 mins but as usual, from Terminal 2, had to wait about 35 minutes for the plane to take off due to runway congestion. The flight, in general, was fairly turbulent in places, quite rough and very foggy on entry to Zurich runway, so much so that I didn’t even know we were in the process of landing…it just sort of happened – thick fog outside window.
We got off in Zurich airport and automatic scanning passport control was quick and painless. We had to get a small shuttle to go out to arrivals. Then got a train to Lucerne. The train tickets came free with race entry (normally about 40/50 quid). Currency in Switzerland is the Swiss Franc and its there or thereabouts equal to euro. The train was large, 2 levels. We sat on the top level and was very quiet and smooth, not the newest train in the world but clean and plenty of space. Trip scenery from Zurich to Lucerne went from urban flats, houses to countryside views. I think Lucerne, in general, is viewed as popping down to the country in the same way we’d head down from Dublin for a few nights in Kerry.
Got out in Lucerne and it really is a very pretty touristy town. Nestled around a clear blue lake with fantastic buildings and mountains all around, some snow-capped – it really is a beautiful place.
Outside the train station were huge bike racks, well over 50 bikes were at these racks and one thing I immediately noticed that none of them were locked! Very surprised, if that was main street Limerick if I left my bike unlocked, it would be halfway to being logged on a DoneDeal ad for 50 quid by the time I had the actual lock locked! Crime rates must be low in Lucerne.
Expo was in a hotel about 5 mins walk away so we headed there first. Freebies were being given out outside, protein milk/cheese and we made our way inside for registration – quick and efficient and even came with a free bowl of pasta and sauce. Also got a small bag filled mainly with vouchers and advertising.
We didn’t stay long and went to google maps to find the Airbnb. Took a while as I later discovered Jason had incorrect address pasted into his phone 😊. Found it eventually and it was a nice 2 bed apt, very clean and about 2 km’s from Lucerne centre. The bus stop was directly outside and they run every few mins like clockwork.
After we got settled, we went to local COOP shop (which was downstairs under the apartment block) to get a few bits for breakfast the following morning (race day) – meat is super expensive both eating out and in shops e.g. packet of mincemeat is about 12 euro, frozen pizza’s just under a tenner. Beer ranges from 50cents to 5 bucks, wine looks cheaper than Ireland and other normal stuff in and around the same price or a little more expensive.
We dropped off the shopping and headed down on a local bus for a few beers. We went to Mr Pickwick’s on the waterfront – essentially a chain English type bar. The average price of a pint is approx. 8-9 euro. We got talking to some chap from Switzerland (people are very friendly in Lucerne) – he was down to do the half marathon, Swiss Army. He even had his rifle in his bag pack in the bar, so we availed of a photo opportunity.
Shooting is popular in general in Switzerland he told us. We probably had a few beers too many but were back in apartment by 8.30pm and fairly tired from the days travelling, had an early night. Fairly broken sleep but some rest was had at least.
Woke at 6.10am Sunday morning, grabbed a shower, some toast peanut butter and banana and left the apartment at 7.30am. Arrived down in main square shortly before 8am. Hadn’t a clue where the start line was so asked a steward and he told up approx. 2 km away, but the quickest way was to head down a short distance down the road and take a boat over to start line…. which was very cool. We legged it to the boat, and it set off approx. 8.30am. Took about 6-7 mins but a very cool way to get to the starting line of a race. We had a drop bag so the next obstacle was finding drop gear place, we found lockers eventually but needed 2 swiss franc coin to use. Neither of us had changed, I had a 50 swiss franc note so legged it to find someone who could give us change. There was a very unfriendly chocolate vendor at a cart, I asked him had he change, he said no abruptly. I asked him did he know where I could get it, he also growled NO! and said something in German, I thanked him sarcastically for being so friendly and legged it again in to some building where I found a café, and a nice lady gave me change. Literally 3 mins to go to start, got locker sorted, key fastened to the wrist and ran to start line.
The start was buzzing, honours system as to where you started and started in 3 min intervals from 9am. I think we went with 9.06 wave after muscling our way along the side to get near the front of the wave to avoid congestion. Course map below:
The weather was cracking, no wind, early twenties and to be honest too warm for a marathon. The start is located at Haldenstrasse, which is a few metres from the Swiss Museum of Transport. I started at 5min km pace but after the heat and first few hills, it was apparent that a PB was not on the cards. Its 2 loops in total and the full marathon, half and a 10km were the disciplines on offer to run. All the hills are in the first 6/7km and after you hit them first, you know you must hit them again. I found the hills quite difficult second time. See splits and elevation per Km below – definitely dropped off last 12k or so
Water stops were plentiful, some had some natural isotonic drink which tasted like monkey shite, cut bananas and sweets. There is also a section that takes you through FC Lucerne football stadium which was very cool. Supporters were top class, they could read your name off the bib so must have heard the words “HOP ANDY” several hundred times, which any marathon runner will tell you helps. I think it means “GO ANDY!” After the elevation periods, it’s largely downhill and flat which helps. As I rounded the first half, I was just under 1.50 min half marathon pace. I was tired and hot, I remember thinking how easy it would be to just stop, take a half marathon medal and go on the piss. Then I said “F*&k it, if this was easy everyone would do it” and dug in deep for the second lap. Second lap was tough, I knew hills were pending and had to really dig in. I finished in just over 3 hrs 47 which all things considered could have been worse given I had run a full 3 weeks prior. My IT band came at me at intervals also so took the opportunity to stretch every time I took water on board. I was never so happy to finish a race in my life when I passed the finish line. That medal was well earned!
In total – this was included in the race registration:
- Free public transport within Switzerland (Swiss Runners Ticket)!
- Free shuttle boat to the start and finish area for runners and spectators
- Start permission, bag with the race number & further information + digital goodie bag
- Memorial medal
- Time measurement, time data chip, ranking list online
- Nutrition stations along the course
- First aid
- Warm showers
- Wardrobe and valuables depot
- Finisher gift of high quality
- Free SMS-service, free personal certificate download
- One portion of pasta or classic swiss “rösti” at the expo in the Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern
- Free admission at the “Swiss Museum of Transport” on marathon day
- A sweet surprise at the finish line (only for marathon finisher)
So the race was over, queued up to get a medal, a beer, chocolates for marathon finishers, decent quality blue ASICs technical top and got the ferry back. Went back to our local (Mr Pickwick’s) and had a few beers and met Mr Rifle man again who was happy to have finished the half marathon. I also bumped into Yvonne who was in my Elbrus climbing crew back in August which was a mad coincidence, she was visiting friends in Zurich of which 2 were also running the half marathon and 10km races respectively.
We headed back for a shower and change and hit a few more pints and ended with a McDonalds (14 euro!) and in bed for 10pm…. solid wrecked. Bad nights sleep, restless legs and aches from run but woke up Monday with that usual achievement feeling! Good pain, some might say exquisite pain!
Checked out of the apartment at 10am, went down for breakfast and a few beers before getting the train back to Zurich. This was also followed by several beers and killing time in duty-free. Burgers are so expensive in the airport, its 26 euro for a beef burger……7 euro extra if you want fries! 😊 . Flight back was 7.50pm – 1.45 flight time back.
F*&king Aerlingus again – we had a bus booked for 10pm to return to limerick from T2. We arrived in Dublin 9.30 Irish time. The pilot announced that due to a staff shortage we would be delayed unloading from the place. Didn’t get off till 9.45 and therefore missed the bus and had to wait until 00.30 for next one! Got to say, not impressed with Aerlingus in general either on way out or on the way back. Wouldn’t go out of my way t use them again! Bus got us back in Limerick for 3.10am and the swiss adventure was over. Arrived back in my leaba by 4.20am and slept until 11am the next day.
Soooo that was the Swiss City marathon. Did I do the right thing swapping Dublin for this? Yes, I think I did. Its not really a PB circuit. It’s also not very difficult, but the scenery is magnificent. Would I do again, yes. The only thing putting me off is how expensive Switzerland is in general.