Monday, May 2, 2011

17.04.2011 - Zürich Marathon Review and Race Report

Getting there, location and amenities

Now normally for me, race day is a hellish early morning wake up call followed by a long, long, long train journey, so the idea of running the Zurich Marathon had always appealed to me, being as it was only a 15 minute train journey away.

Not taking into a account the fact that I DO NOT OWN A CAR (or a drivers license if truth be told) I would suggest to anyone planning to run this event in the future to use public transport. The start line is very easy to get to, if you don’t fancy the longer trek from the centre of Zurich, I would recommend grabbing the s-bahn down to Wollishofen Train station (1 - see map below). It’s in easy walking distance of the changing area and toilets found at Mythenquai bathing area (2) and from there it’s a stones throw from the clothes depot (Kleiderdepot 3), where you can safely stash any unwanted items before the race.


The Kleiderdepot is an excellent feature, a very large, draw string closing plastic bag is provided to each runner, on this you can place a large sticker, which has your name and start number on. Once over at the Kleiderdepot you simply place the bag into the corresponding train wagon, then after the race head back, show them your number and get the goodies back. For me this was excellent, something I hadn’t seen before, it meant I could take a lot of warm clothing, drinks, gels, my mobile, and wallet (although this was still a little risky). Another neat feature is they also provide a ticket, which could be given to a friend or family member, which allows them to pick up the bags for you way before the end of the race, meaning it was possible to make alternative meeting arrangements if you so wished!

View from Mythenquai bathing area on the morning of the Marathon, 7:30am, perfect!

In location, accessibility and changing provision I’m happy to say the Zürich Marathon gets the thumbs up. However, the start/finish area wasn’t so well thought out.

The Start Line

I wish I had had the chance to take some photos to give an idea of how cramped the start area was. The streets along Mythen-Quai (4) are very narrow, normally on the runs I have taken part in the starting times are staggered, based on runners expected finish times. Runners group around the pace makers (for anyone who hasn’t take part before, basically, for each finish time, 3 hours, 3:15, 3:30 to to 4:30 or even 5:30 hours, two runners with helium balloons, with said time written on them tied around their waists, run together, you can follow these runners and try and hit your time). Normally, in 5 minute intervals, the pace makers plus the pack of runners with them, begin their race. For some reason the Zürich Marathon does not use this system, everyone goes off at the same time, which would be fine if the streets were wide enough, but unfortunately, for the first few Kilometres they were not, people were knocking into each other, tripping, and a few fell, heavily.
I would suggest if you are just there for fun, and not looking for a quick time, be very careful where you place yourself, many, many people were following the pace makers, if you plan to following one I would suggest running a few seconds ahead of time, and in front of the pace makers, until the marathon moves out of the city and onto the road leading down the east side of lake Zürich!

The Race

Once the runners spread out it was a very enjoyable run, and as it follows the lake it’s also fairly flat, this makes it, in marathon terms, a fairly “easy run”. Now, I'm not for one moment suggesting running a marathon is easy, just that, it’s easier, than say, the Luzern Marathon (the only other Marathon I’ve taken part in to date). As you can see below, the course rolls along, but with only a max elevation of 424 Metres and a minimum of 405 Metres, it won’t cause you too much pain!
Along the course you will find plenty of water/food stations, one cool feature is the use of small water bottles instead of cups. One word of warning though, the stations are not clearly marked out, and even the pace makers close to me managed to run past them at first, and had to double back to grab supplies. Make sure you study them well before the race, they are all located on the right hand side of the course
On a side note, I cannot stand water cups, in fact recently I have taken to using a Ultimate Direction thunderbolt belt, and instead of drinking from the cups I just fill my bottles up, that way I don’t end up with half the cup down my chin! This has worked really well for me, any water bottle belt would do, as long as it’s padded well and comfortable.

The Finish Line
I’ve got to admit, I found the finishing line completely underwhelming. Maybe I missed something, but there didn't seem to be anything around, there I was, expecting beer, massive bratwursts, and all manor of goodies…but alas..nothing. they could really learn something from the Greifenseelauf, which has a superb finishing area.
If you plan to meet friends or family here, plan well in advance and meet away from the initial finish line, it’s too cramped and with no high ground to gain a clear vantage point, almost impossible to pick anyone out in the crowds I was faced with.
One thing to note, remember to keep an eye on the roadways when coming back into the city, there are tramlines covering most of the course over a few Kilometres and it’s very easy to trip, I noticed this happen to a few runners in front of me.

Overall Rating
The Zürich Marathon falls short on some of the areas of highlighted, it would be nice to have a nice open spaced finish area, with a lot more amenities, I think if you had travelled a long distance for this race you may well be disappointed by this. Luckily for me I was only fifteen minutes from home, so I was straight home for a beer and pizza! :)
The course itself is nice and flat, and once the initial crush of runners has thinned out, there is plenty of room to to run! Along the course you’ll find plenty of water and food (gels/bananas) provided, the atmosphere is a good one, and occasionally there are bands playing and music, while the crowds in the Zürich are fairly large and enthusiastic at the finish line, a few might even call out your name, always nice.
I found there was something missing though, there weren't any special touches which made it memorable, I’d still recommend it to anyone wanting to complete their first marathon, the “flat” course make it perfect, and the 5 hours 30 minute time limit gives you plenty of time to get the end should you "hit the wall" early.

My Race Report
I’ll keep this short and sweet.

I entered the marathon with two things in mind, first was to get one more experience of running a full Marathon well before my participation in Ironman Switzerland in July 2011, and secondly, and not so importantly, I wanted to knock some time off my previous personal best, set at the Luzern marathon on 2010, of 3 Hours 58 Mins.
normally I’m in pain, sweaty and grimacing, so I though, what the hell! ;)

I had a good twelve weeks of solid “build” training behind me, so decided that a target of 3 Hours 45 mins would be more than doable. On the morning of the “race”, I set my Garmin 310XT to 3:45 pace and set out.

From the start of the run I felt good, I set myself snuggly behind the 3:45 pacers and floated along for the first 4KM, as I mentioned, so many runners were cramped into such a tight space that it started to become a little “dangerous” so I decided to move out alone in front of the pace makers. I soon noticed I had picked up the pace, and 10KM later I was all alone running at around 5:09 minute per KM pace (3 Hour 45 mins finish time being a 5:19 mp km pace), now previously I had been in Marathons where I had gone off way to hard and hit the wall at the half way mark and completely blown up, so I was a little concerned, but checking my heart rate I could see I was well within my limits, around Z3 (160bpm for me), so i just kept going, and going, and I have to say, it felt pretty easy until the last 4KM, where I really started to struggle, luckily for me by that time I was already into the city and the final stretch.

In the end I came in with a time of 3 hours 41 minutes, of which I was more than happy, in fact, I even had enough energy to do a little tribute to the Blazeman and rolled across the finish line, which got me some funny looks I can tell you!

Thanks for reading! the full Garmin gps data and stats can be seen below!