jungfrau marathon race report by adam campbell - world long distance mountain running challenge 2007


Hi guys,

In case you did not know, I raced the mountain running world championships at the Jungfrau marathon yesterday


It is probably the biggest mountain running race in the world with 4700 starters. This is essentially how the route went (for the yanks multiply by about 3.3 to get feet):
0-10k                  15m elevation
10-21k              250m elevation
21-25k                  5m elevation
25-30k                500m elevation
30-37k                550m elevation
37-40.5k             385m elevation
40.5-finish(42.2k) -100m  
So in total, 1829m elevation gain and 305m of descending. The race was 54%on asphalt *almost all in the first 25k, 37% on walking trails, 9%on mountain trails. We started in the town of Interlaken a fairly kitschy resort town in the valley and run up through a series of mountain towns like Lauterbrunnen and Wengen and finish at the spectacular Kleine
Schleidegg at the base of the Eiger and the Jungfrau mountains. There were over 200 elite runners from quite a few countries. The course record is an incredible 2:49 and in a non championship year, 3:15 will finish top-5. I figured that a 3:15 would probably get me a top-10 finish this year (I was right).

Although I have been doing the trail races in BC and Canmore this year, this was my first mountain race. Upon checking out the course this week, I was surprised at just how steep the pitches actually were, but also how un-technical the running was until the final 5k. It is always hard to convert a course profile into an actual mental picture of the course. I had seen pictures of people power walking the last ridge, but figured that those were just for dramatic effect. This assumption was not correct. I was feeling quite fit going into the race and thought that with a good race I might be able to crack the top-10. I was fortunate enough to have had the help of Jonathan Wyatt, the now 6 time world mountain running champion, course record holder and eventual winner in my preparation and he did a great job in helping me.

race start area in interlaken (left) and finish area (right)

The race started in front of a Hooters bar and lead out with a lap around town. The crowds were unreal and they would continue to be fantastic throughout. Even the cows were out with bells on the course! The race went out VERY fast and with an opening Km of 3:24 I was in about 40th place. There are 3 sprint primes at 4.0, 20.1 and 30.3km so there was an incentive to start quick.  I worked my way through the crowd a bit and was in about 30th at 10k in 35:03 minutes. I knew that most of the people out front were running above their level and were most likely going to come back, but it was still disconcerting to be that far back. I continued to pass people and went through the half in about 1:18:08 and in about 18th place (it was hard to really know as everyone was yelling in German and I had no idea where I actually was).

half way point in lauterbrunnen

It was actually quite warm and the aid stations were a little far apart, but I was taking up to 3 drinks at each stop in order to fuel properly. The crowds were incredible through the half marathon as we passed through Lauterbrunnen. I probably went a little too hard through here as I was so excited by the crowds. Once the flat running done, the climb from 25-30k (Lauterbrunnen to Wengen) was just brutal. The trail was soooo steep and the change in muscle groups really hurt me. I was still able to tick it over okay and I knew that there was a lot of running still to come and I could see pockets of runners up ahead and it looked like I was gaining on them, so it was manageable. Once again, running through Wengen was surreal. The noise was deafening and although I was suffering, I had a  huge smile running through there.  I passed a few more guys through Wengen and was now in about 16th.  Despite hurting, the pitch from 30-37k was perfect for me and I was able to run my way up into about 12th as some of the early frontrunners were paying the price for taking it out too hard. The view was unreal through here as I ran through a herd of goats all along the base of the snowcapped Jungfrau.

I hadn't actually seen the course from Wengen on. I had taken the train to the top, but the course weaves away from the tracks, so I was unsure as to what to expect.  I knew the course finished uphill onto a ridge and then into a downhill, so figure that would be okay. I passed one more guy, a Kenyan that was considered a favourite, which was sort of cool :), so I was now in 11th at 38k and I could see 8th through 10th up the mountain. As I was feeling quite good and it looked like they were power hiking, I thought I might be able to take down one or two of them and a top-10 at a world champs sounded much better than 11th, so I tried to go after them. Unfortunately, the course got unbelievably steep and it really caught me off-guard. I made up a bit of ground through there, but trying to lift my pace blew me to shreds and by 39k I was in a world of hurt.

I could see a group of guys coming up from behind me and 10th about 20 seconds up the trail and suffering worse than me. I tried everything I could to get up the last 1.5k, hands on knees, pulling on roots and rocks, running a bit, but I was on jello legs. I got passed by 4 guys all power hiking, just as I caught the guy in 10th. Once we hit the high point of the race (2200m) and I started to head off onto the decent my legs were fried, I almost fell over every little rock and the pain was beyond description. I was barely able to run it in for 15th, 2minutes back of 10th. Not a bad finish for my first mountain running race at the world championships. The last 5k, including 1.5k of downhill took me 32:28 minutes (the winner did it in 25:58), to give you an idea of how brutal it was. My total time was 3:17:42, the longest run of my life. As far as I can tell, 15th is the best place by a Canadian at a mountain running race in quite some time, so I am stoked about that and I know that I can finish much higher up the field.
For full results, check out:

Okay so funny/cool things about the race:
1-starting between a Hooters on one side and a beautiful glacier on the  other.
2-Calypso steel drum bands the whole way along the course, as well as a bag piper at the summit and giant swiss horns through the villages.
3-trains full of spectators slowing down to cheer you on along the course.
4-taking a sports drink only to realize that it is chicken broth.
5-packs of goats and cows as course obstacles.
6-watching a guy that finished in the top-20 light up a home rolled cigarette at the finish line.
7-having a shower in a shower tent full of naked guys on top of a  mountain.
8-handing in a bright red urine sample for drug testing (I was randomly selected) and having the drug guys try to take me to medical because they thought it was blood. I ate beets the night before.
9-watching a mile running race that night that finished inside a huge beer tent.
10-taking a train down the mountain back to the starting point.

Overall, a great introduction to mountain running. I love the scene. As Jonathan said, you race the course as much as you race others. I now have a much better understanding of how steep a hill I need to train on and just how muscularly tough that it is. Aerobically I felt good, I just wasn't strong enough at the end. I would strongly recommend this race to anyone that wants to do a beautiful well run event that will challenge you mentally and physically.

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