If you have read Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, you will get an itch in the back of your head and on your feet that screams "Get out there!"
Humans are runners. If you want the short version of the book, you can check out his TED talk. One thing that I can testify to is that running is addictive.
I started running four years ago. At first I would do just a few kilometers and from there I built up. Then two years ago, my best friend said that we should run a marathon.
"A marathon? What are you, crazy?" I thought to myself, but being a guy I responded with "Sure, let's do it."
Before I knew it, I was signed up for the Lucerne Marathon at the end of October, and I had to run almost every day to build up my endurance.
It's Race Day: Jungfrau Marathon
The end of October came around and the morning was cool, but beautiful. I was nervous and had no clue if I could survive the run. I had never run 42.195 km before. I always insist on the .195 because 200 meters can seem like 10 kilometers to some!
The gun was fired at exactly 9:00 AM and we were off. My first marathon. The crowd was amazing with their cheers, their music, and their shouting of people's names which they read off your start number.
When you feel a little tired and you hear someone yell out your name with a "Great job!" or a "You're just about there, keep going!", you get a blitz of energy and keep going. In fact, the crowd can carry you to the finish line. This being my first, my virgin marathon, it was amazing. I set out to simply finish and did that in 3 hours and 56 minutes. I was hooked - I love distance running.
The following year, I started my first marathon at exactly midnight on New Year's Eve and by 4 AM on January 1, 2010, I had already run my first marathon of the year! That year I also ran my first mountain marathon. Why not I thought, let’s run where I would normally go hiking. The Swissalpine Marathon was a dream.
The weather was stunning and the helicopters filming the event made it all seem larger than life.
This year, my goal was to run the Jungfrau Marathon — my second virgin marathon. While the run through Interlaken might not be as picturesque as that of running through Bergün, once we passed through Gsteigwiler my senses started to become overwhelmed with beauty.
Running down the Lauterbrunnental, I was half euphoric and half sad. Lauterbunnental is known as the "Valley of 72 Waterfalls" and was J.R.R. Tolkien’s inspiration for Rivendell in the Lord of the Rings. However, the disappearing glaciers mean that waterfalls are disappearing and only flowing in the early spring.
The crowds in all of the little towns and along the way were wonderful, with bands playing to give the runners a boost of energy. As we reached Wengen, where every year one of the oldest downhill ski competitions takes place, the view of the valley brings a tear to your eyes with its splendor.
It is no wonder why in 1998, Dennis Craythorn and Rich Hanna named the Jungfrau Marathon "The world’s most beautiful marathon" in their book The Ultimate Guide to International Marathons. Which is also why it is hard to get a pass to participate in the marathon. This year, people from 52 nationalities ran the Jungfrau.
As I run past Wengen, the path goes "up up up" to the Eiger glacier, which has also retreated some 400 meters in the past 15 years.
At the highest point of 2'205 meters, runners are greeted by a man playing the bagpipes, and a panoramic view of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. The final two kilometers are a 300 meter decent to the Kleine Scheidegg. Standard practice at the end of any marathon is to drink a beer with friends and take in the atmosphere of achievement.
A Bucket List Item
Whether you are a runner or a hiker and are looking for the most beautiful challenge, the Jungfrau Marathon should definitely be on your list. Simply the hike from Lauterbrunnen up to Kleine Scheidegg is worth a trip to the Bernese Oberland...
After running the Jungfrau Marathon, I can definitely say that the most beautiful marathon is the "Virgin" (="Jungfrau"). My first marathon was an amazing experience and I highly recommend the Lucerne Marathon — for it has the best crowd in Switzerland by far! But if you're looking for that breathtaking experience, the Jungfrau is one of a kind.
(Photograph copyright by jungfrau-marathon.ch; glacier history source)