Monday, January 2, 2012

01.01.12 - Neujahrsmarathon, Zürich - Review & Race Report


The Neujahrsmarathon is an annual Marathon, that’s 26.2 Miles (42.195KM), held in Schlieren, just outside Zürich, Switzerland. The race starts bang on Midnight as the date changes to the 1st of January, so, while most are out already heavily drunk you can console yourself with the joy and pain of a full marathon in the dark along the banks of the Limmat (the main river which flows into lake Zürich)

Getting there

It’s public transport all the way for me when travelling to events, Schlieren is a few stops from Zürich central train station and the S-Bahns are frequent even on New Years eve, it’s worth remembering that, unsurprisingly, there are a lot of revellers out on this night, although most are travelling into Zürich, not out of it. I travelled in from the opposite direction, the S-Bahn coming from Brugg, and indeed it was full.

NJM this way, follow the grumpy old Swiss guys ;)
If you take the S-Bahn you’ll have to make the ten minute or so walk to Unterrohr Sports hall by foot. Now, if you are travelling alone you might want to reconsider the suggested route given by the organisers, the area surrounding the station is very “industrial” with little residential housing, and the route given, shown in on the image below, is poorly lit, although they had gone to a lot of effort to mark the way with flags, plastic barrier tape and a couple of larger signposts.

From train Station to Sports hall, Green vs Red Routes
I would suggest taking the alternate route shown above, the streets are wider, better lit, and I’m sure anyone walking alone would feel safer.

Marathon, yes please...
Location, amenities and the Start Line

The great thing about this marathon is that the start/finish line is indoors, within the sports hall! Not only that, but there is a large seating area, food and drinks (even alcoholic drinks ;-)) are available, with a number of changing rooms, showers, and plenty of toilets as well. It’s very well organised, especially considering all those people volunteering behind the scenes, you really can’t be anything but impressed.

Sports Hall "unter-terror"
I took a small amount of footage to give you an idea of the atmosphere before the start of the event >>

Footage before the start of the Marathon, inside the "Unterrohr" sports hall.
The Race

First up I have to mention the amazing start to this event, once the start is announced and you run down towards the river you are welcomed by what seems like your own personal fireworks display, and it goes on for a long, long time. I think I spent the first 30 minutes looking into the sky as fireworks went off right, left and centre, simply amazing, I wish I had some camera footage of it. I had to keep reminding myself to keep an eye on the track as to not run off into the river or down a ditch.

As far as the route of the Marathon goes, the organisers couldn’t have been any more generous, fours loops of just over 10.5KM (6.5 Miles) which are as pancake flat as you could hope for, with the only ascending you’ll be doing is to run up the ramps which link the bridges at the two river crossings.

Follow the blue line, counter clockwise.
The track and the elements are what really makes this a tough race. First up it’s dark,and although there are a few lights, burning logs, and lit flairs along the course it can get very dark in some locations, you WILL need a head lap, make no mistake about it, a nice bright headlamp, I made a big mistake of only using my standard lamp which was way to small. I would go as far as to say if you don’t like the dark, this race is not for you, on the later laps, when the field had thinned out there were large parts of the race you’ll find yourself alone and it can be very dark, don’t be surprised if you pass the odd stray pedestrian taking his dog for a walk at 3am (…I have no idea, and I didn’t stop to ask ;-))

Size matters!! get a bigger one.
One area when a good headlamp is especially invaluable is when you cross the river for the first time, for a few hundred metres on the other side are some nasty big tree roots running across the trail, and although they have been painted red or white, they were very difficult for me to make out and I had to slow down and be careful on each of the four occasions I went through this area.

Caution: trees!
Be warned, expect some harsh conditions, bits of snow, rain, cold, puddles, BIG puddles, feet will get wet, very wet, make sure you’re dressed correctly and your footwear is up to the task. Luckily It was mild temperature wise for me, if it had been colder it would have been super nasty, if you like the possibility of tough conditions, then this race is for you.

As you would expect, there aren’t many spectators on the course, there was a bit of rain and snow around, so it’s possible on a clearer night there might be more watching, but essentially you are out running alone with your fellow competitors. There is also only two fuelling stations along the way, but these split the 10KM route, gels, isotonic drinks and water (water warm!) are served, it’s also worth pointing out that these areas also have burning logs, so if you do succumb to the cold you could seek refuge here.

Go right, right, right....
One last thing to mention, on the first lap, make sure you turn to the right after the second river crossing, NOT left as a big group of runners did in front of me, confusing the hell out of me to the point I had to stop and look around for confirmation I wasn’t 1. hallucinating and 2. about to go in the wrong direction myself. Luckily I was saved by a lovely girl from datasport timing team, who then had to run off into the dark shouting as hard as she could at the other runners who had disappeared into the distance.

The Finish Line

I think I missed most of the fun at the finish line, I was late getting back ;-). However, the atmosphere, even at the late time I got there was still very good, again, with it being indoors, straight away it’s warm, snacks (bananas) and drinks (warm and cold) are available for finishers and although I didn’t use the service there was also massages provided.

 Footage at the finish line, inside the "Unterrohr" sports hall, at 5:20am

One thing to mention, if you’re unlucky enough to finish over 4 hours or more, chances are you’ll be having a cold shower, and as a fellow participate joked with me, “The shower is cold, you were too slow, but so was I!”

Still going strong at 4:52am
 Overall Rating

This event is something special, truly one of a kind, I can’t fault it at all, well organised, the volunteers are great, the organisers enthusiasm really shines through. It’s also tough, the conditions give it an extra edge, it kicked my ass, that’s for sure. If you wanted to bring along supporters, there’s music playing, places to sit, and food and drink available, so it’s still a good place to spend New Year even if you’re not participating.
I’m already considering signing up again in the future, next time with a bigger headlamp!

The podium!
My Race Report

There’s not much to say here, the original plan, way back in October, was to go for new personal best (PB/PR) time of under 3 hours 30 mins, but due to training disruptions in November and December that was off the cards a long time ago.

Anyway, for some time I’d been saying that this would be a “fun run” to anyone that asked, but….as soon as I started running I just couldn’t help myself, I went for it anyway….BIG mistake :-)

That's me, before self destruction...
I hit the wall really early, at only Kilometre 13 (8 miles) but I just kept going, in my head I was convinced there was a hidden Paula Radcliffe just dying to get out, but unfortunately I was just dying. By the half way point I was cooked, I had to stop for the first time because I thought I was going to puke, I have a confession, I nearly quit at this point, even asking one of volunteers if they knew if I would get a Half Marathon time if I snuck off towards the first line, his answer “No!” so, off I plodded, shuffling for another 21KM (13 Miles)

I have to say, I was proud to get to the end, proud, relieved, dazed and a little amazed, I can’t remember feeling that terrible out on the run, it really beat me up, at one point I was nearly “sleep running”, and I’ve never yawned while running before, but would i do it again, hell yes!

Gory Garmin details below if you so wish to see :-)