Friday, July 26, 2019

Race Report: Swiss City Marathon Lucerne

Switzerland is a beautiful country, one that I visited for the first time right after college, part of a trip that took me all over Europe for a month.  Me and my friend Mary only spent four days in the country, taking on Zurich, Basel, and the tiny village of Vals in the Swiss Alps, in an attempt to hit up as much architecture as possible.  So fastforward 12 years later, as I take on marathons in all these different countries, and with a stable job to allow me to afford to get there, I decided to find a good road marathon in Switzerland to register for.  I narrowed it down to five...
  • Zurich City Marathon - April
  • Harmony Geneve Marathon - May
  • Swiss City Marathon, Lucerne - October
  • Lausanne Marathon - October
  • Neujahrsmarathon Zurich - January
October panned out the best, and as it turned out, the Lausanne and Lucerne races were happening on the same day. Ultimately, I opted for Lucerne, as flights to the closest major airport in Zurich came out better pricewise than to Geneva, where Lausanne was closest to.  Despite the race being a double loop, which I'm not crazy about, I sucked it up and registered.  I was going to Switzerland in October!

The Old Train Station Gate
After work on the Friday of race weekend, I got on my evening flight to Zurich.  The forecast all week in Lucerne showed rain, so I packed accordingly; it was going to be COLD.  I had even hoped the clouds and rain would maybe go away at one point during the weekend; so much so that I even prebooked a paragliding excursion off of Pilatus Mountain, but after back and forth with the organizers, they ended up cancelling due to weather.  The flight was fine, and I managed to get a good 5 1/2 hours of sleep after meal service finished on the direct flight from JFK. It was already raining in Zurich when we arrived at 10am after the seven hour long flight.  After getting through immigration, I easily got onto a regional train from airport that took me straight to Lucerne, arriving just before noon. As part of the race registration, an added bonus was getting free travel with public transportation from all over Switzerland to get into and out of Lucerne.  Upon arrival at the quite modern looking Lucerne station, I exited the station and was confronted by a magnificent looking archway, all that remains of the former 1896 station that burned down in a fire in 1971. I broke out GoogleMaps and walked straight to my Airbnb to meet with my host Christine to drop off my bags.
Overlooking Lake Lucerne
Ahhh, Switzerland...
Having smartly brought my umbrella, I headed into town as the rain began to pour to explore, this time doing the scenic route and walking along the shore of Lake Lucerne/Vierwaldstättersee.  Part of this would area would be my route for the marathon the next day.  Crossing over the Seebrücke (the paved river span for pedestrians and vehicles, right at the mouth of Lake Lucerne), I first stopped off at the Hotel Schweizerhof to pick up my bib for the race at the race expo. It was a much smaller expo than I thought it would be, and it was actually quite crowded. The rainy day made it worse, as the air felt very saturated; I wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible.  I did manage to however, try what many consider to be Switzerland's national dish: rösti - a potato fritter, much like hash browns - which was another included benefit of the race. After leaving the expo, I continued to explore, sitting by Lake Lucerne, watching the massive swans as they swam by; and then made my way walking around Lucerne's very walkable city centre centered around the River Reuss.

The expo at Hotel Schweizerhof
Exploring the Kapellbrücke
Lucerne's city center has a lot of unique sights that I was able to see all in that first day.  First up, the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) and Wasstertrum (Water Tower) make up one of the most photographed landmarks in all of Switzerland. Both were built in the first half of the 14th century, with panel paintings depicting scenes from the history of Switzerland and Lucerne under the covered roof having been added in the 17th century. It straddles the River Reuss alongside the Seebrücke. Not far from there was the Spreuer Bridge, the oldest wooden bridge in Switzerland, completed in 1408 as part of Lucerne’s fortifications; and the Reusswehr or Nadelwehr, one of the last remaining needle dams in the world, a fascinating technical construction from the 19th century. The water level of Lake Lucerne and flow of the River Reuss is still regulated by hand using this amazing piece of technology. One can tame the flow of the river by adding or subtracting these thin pieces of wood that make up the weir, known as needles. The water level of the lake can now be maintained at an optimum height regardless of weather conditions.
The wooden interior of the Kappellbrücke
A few minutes walk away, I headed up to see the Hofkirche Luzern, or the Church of St. Leodegar, a Roman Catholic church built in the 1600s with its prominent double steeples that define the Lucerne skyline. Also near there was the Löwendenkmal, “The Dying Lion of Lucerne,” one of the Lucerne's most famous monuments, and is a well known symbol of this city. It was hewn out of natural rock to commemorate the heroic death of the Swiss Guards who were killed during the storming of the Tuileries Palace in 1792.

Enjoying Swiss Beer!
By the time I was done going through all the city sights, it was late afternoon, so I decided to have a late lunch/early dinner at the Rathaus Brauerei, which came highly recommended from the Lucerne page on Wikitravel.  Two different beers are brewed in house (lager and amber), and I was able to try both, before enjoying some food.  Considering meals can get pretty expensive in Switzerland, I ended up getting one of the cheaper things on the menu - a weisswurst, a traditional Bavarian sausage (despite not being in Germany, whatever) made from minced veal and pork back bacon. It doesn't have a long shelf life as no preservatives are used when making it, so when these are made they have to be eaten within the day; usually as a breakfast sausage. Despite having it at 4pm, I enjoyed it, accompanied by a Bavarian pretzel and Bavarian sweet mustard.

The sun had already gone down, so I decided to get some culture in and went across the river to the Luzerner Theater, the only professional theatre in Central Switzerland.  I purchased a ticket for that night's performance, which was a fantastic ballet - Tanz 28: New Waves, a triple bill featuring the works of two choreographers, Spaniard Cayetano Soto and Austrian Georg Reischl. The program read:
New season, new order. We turn the tables and start our 10th anniversary with a Triple Bill evening.

It all starts with «Twenty Eight Thousand Waves» by Spanish choreographer Cayetano Soto - fascinating and disturbing at the same time. The title is based on the image of an oil rig, exposed to the waves of the ocean, which hit the pillars no less than 28,000 times a day. Soto's work is pure — pure dance of modern style: Grace, power and sensuality.

Part two shows «Sortijas,» another piece by Cayetano Soto. The duet portrays human destiny in just five minutes to music by Lhasa de Sela. How is it when things melt between our fingers, when everything decays, when it was so well thought out? Soto tells the story of life in which plans fail, but always something new.

The final act belongs to our associate artist Georg Reischl in «Let’s Bowie!» featuring the songs of David Bowie. The Austrian choreographer moves between well-known and lesser-known songs - with the aim of interpreting Bowie's music into dance. As a master of transformation, Bowie was (and is!) a symbol of diversity in the most dazzling colors. Likewise, Reischl's new creation is a golden firework for the senses and not least a love sweep of Bowie's music.

Three dance pieces, two choreographers, a new beginning
The ballet was a lot of fun, especially the David Bowie piece at the end!  But having been awake for so many hours after only 5.5 hours of sleep on a transatlantic flight, I was beat; to be honest, it was pretty tough to keep my eyes open for most of the show.  I walked back to my Airbnb and promptly crashed, needing all the rest I could get for the next morning's race.

Getting on the ferry to the start
After an entire day of rain, it was almost imminent to happen yet again for race day. Forecasts had predicted rain for more than a week out, and it barely changed as the days went on. Immediate forecasts in the days prior even predicted snow and/or sleet! When I woke up race morning, thankfully, it was just overcast, and there was no rain... yet. I got up at 6:30 (thankfully getting an additional hour of sleep thanks to daylight savings time ending in Switzerland the morning of the race!) and was out the door a little after 7 for the short walk over to the train station, where a unique aspect of this race was being able to take a ship shuttle across Lake Lucerne to the start area at Verkehrshaus der Schweiz (the Swiss Transport Museum) where the start and finish areas were located.

The race's startline
I got onto the ship rather quickly and followed other runners to the museum itself where people were gathering.  We were there rather early - over an hour before the start time - so many of us took advantage of the museum's café to get some breakfast.  Normally I don't eat much of anything before a race, but I decided to have a croissant and a Birchermuesli to keep me satiated.

Eventually, 9am began to arrive, so everyone headed out to Haldenstrasse to assemble for the race. It was a little chaotic, as runners were allowed to self-seed, and many of these corral areas were spread apart rather widely. The race began on time, and I eventually crossed the start mat at 9:18am.  We began to run toward the city centre on Haldenstrasse, almost immediately met with the sound of brass bands playing us down the street (something we'd be hearing all throughout the race, it seemed!) as well as some more unique entertainment along the way, namely an all-female steel drum band called "Hot Bananas."

Early in the race, running into the city
We approached the city centre with the prominent steeples of the Hofkirche framing our view as we made our way onto Schweizerhofquai and onto the Seebrücke, crossing over it and then turning left onto the Bahnhofplatz past the Lucerne bus station (directly in front of the train station) and around the fountain and under the sharp-edged roof of the Jean Nouvel-designed KKL Luzern cultural center onto Inseliquai.  Despite the rain, many spectators were out, excitedly cheering us on in Swiss German.  The amount of times I heard "Hopp! Hopp!" was maddening, but still encouraging. The course then wound its way around the curvy Werfestrasse, passing by a troupe of alpenhorn players entertaining the runners. We skirted around the train station and onto Landenbergstrasse, eventually turning right onto Werkhofstrasse and past the street where my Airbnb was located!
 Alpenhorns along the race course

Uphill on Langendsandstrasse
Turning left onto Tribschenstrasse, we finally began to run out of the city centre, following the route to take us all around the perimeter of the peninsula.  It just so happened, this was also where the rain started to fall... and fall it would for most of the next two hours.  Also, this was where we realized that this course was not going to be as flat as we seemed.  The elevation rose sharply as the road became Langendsandstrasse. We passed by Richardwagnerweg, the street that led to the Richard Wagner Museum (a country manor house overlooking Lake Lucerne where the German composer lived from 1866 to 1872.)  The landscape definitely felt less urban, with a few homes that even had small grazing pastures for their livestock.

Running right alongside the lake
The road then descended slightly, but before long, we were climbing once again, a markedly more tedious climb until we reached the 5K mark at the top of the hill. But once we got past the crest of that hill, it was a nice downhill for what seemed like the next mile. The road changed names to Stutzstrasse, then to Sankt Niklausenstrasse, and the houses and the land they were on got bigger and more grandiose. These were beautiful homes, with breathtaking panoramas of the surrounding Lake Lucerne and the alps across the water, towering over blanketed by clouds.  We had progressed from district to district, from Langensand to Sankt Niklausen along the edge of the Horw peninsula.  Eventually we found ourselves clear on the south end of the peninsula, through the district of Kastanienbaum, and right at the lakeside.  Across Lake Lucerne, we could see the mountains of Bürgenstock, and further in the distance Stanserhorn, in the canton of Nidwalden.
As we rounded the south end of the peninsula along the road now called Seestrasse, we continued to pass by several lakeside homes, with many residents cheering us on as we passed.  Every so often, we had a short section of cobblestones to pass through, as I cautiously made my way across the wet uneven ground.  The peak of the famous Mount Pilatus was hiding under clouds but it was on the other side of the lake as we progressed north into the heart of the municipality of Horw, down Winkelstrasse. Eventually we were running along Horw's main street, Kantonstrasse, then turned left along Krienserstrasse, as we began to make our way briefly through the neighboring town of Kriens. We turned right along Brändistrasse through a quaint collection of garden homes, then found ourselves staring at a major urban centre development under construction known as Mattenhof. All throughout these later miles, it almost felt like the rain turned into pelting sleet for a moment.

We then ran behind an area of soccer fields, before proceeding directly to the Swissporarena stadium, a football stadium home to FC Lucerne of the Swiss Super League.  We ran right through the entrance of the seven year old stadium, then ran along the warm up track around the edge of the field, before exiting out onto Moosmattstrasse.  We were now a bit over 9 miles into the course, and got to sip on some Swiss coke known as Vivi Kola, a popular cola brand local to Switzerland that's been around for over 80 years.  We passed the 15K mark as we made our way around the stadium and onto the streets leading right back into the city center of Lucerne.
Doing a lap around the edge of the field in Swissporarena
We wound our way through streets south of the city centre, along Voltastrasse and around Geissensteinring onto a narrower side street called Fruttstrasse that hugged the fence alongside the rail lines leading to the Lucerne train station.  We then ran along pedestrian paths that took us past more industrial areas adjacent to the train tracks, before running through a vehicular corridor of a government office building that took us out to Bürgenstrasse. Before long, we passed right by the same alpenhorn players who were there two hours ago and were back on Landenbergstrasse, now heading back along the route where we could momentarily see some of the marathoners on the start of their second loop, but some four miles ahead of us.

Passing through the KKL Building
We curved back around those routes we had seen early on in the race, detouring through a path made for us through the KKL building with a red carpet, emerging out onto the other side through cheering crowds as we ran along the Bahnhofstrasse past the Kappellbrücke, Luzerner Theater, and Jesuitenkirche, then progressing through the crowded old city cobblestones across the Reussbrücke and River Reuss and onto the Weinmarkt.  Here, the cobblestones were even more difficult to navigate, so I took my time walking them (not wanting to sprain my ankle!) until we emerged back on to Schweizerhofquai and the Haldenstrasse.  We ran past a troupe of Swiss cow bell ringers, carrying massive cowbells as they marched past at a slow cadence, ringing their bells in unison. It felt like forever, but the marathoners begrudingly took our U-Turn as we saw the half marathoners heading to the finish -- we were only halfway done.  I crossed the halfway point in approximately 2:22, nearly ten minutes slower than last week.
A whole chorus of cowbells!
Crossing the Reussbrücke
Passing over wet cobblestones in the Weinmarkt
The treelined Alpenquai
As the second loop started, the rain finally began to stop.  The route became markedly more quiet, as less people were on the route alongside me, and runners on the other side of the road heading to their finish (or the turnaround point) began to peter out.  It was still thrilling to hear the cheers from spectators who were still out cheering us on, but eventually that all would peter out as we left the city center, some 14.5 miles into the race.  Now that it had stopped raining, I finally assessed my clothing and realized my bib was falling apart, so I stopped to readjust the safety pins as they had torn through the flimsy material, a victim of the soggy weather. Somehow, I had managed to stop my GPS watch and didn't realize it until some ten minutes later after I had begun running again, so my mileage was a little off for the second half of the race -- on our second loop, we had passed through a beautiful treelined street near the marina called Alpenquai, with the fall leaves a brilliant yellow color, before taking Eisfeldstrasse back to the route that would take us all around the perimeter of the peninsula for the second time.
Cloudy views across Lake Lucerne toward Nidwalden

Running with the 4:45 pacers in Horw
Now, it was so much more lonely out on the road, becoming eerily quiet, as there were very few people in front of me or behind me. Still, there were several people out cheering on the remaining runners, and it was very much appreciated.  The hills of course that we had run on the first loop were still incredibly tough the second time; but with the weather finally dry, and less crowds on the roads, I got to take advantage of some of the downhills a bit better.  It was around the 17 mile mark that I ended up running alongside the 4:45 pacers, playing a bit of leapfrog with them as we made our way around the south end of the peninsula; I stuck alongside them for the next 4.5 miles, as we made our way back into the center of Horw. There was a spectator near the bottom of the course who was there during our first loop, ringing two massive cowbells - and now, two hours later, he was still there, joyfully ringing it.  I thought it was so endearing!  As we reached the 20.5 mile mark, the 10km race was just beginning to start, right alongside our route, so the loneliness of the course we had experienced for the last six miles had been shortlived.  The speedsters blew right past us, and zigzagged their way through Horw's streets, and we began our last five miles heading back into town.
Clearly, he's having a blast.

Heading back into town from Horw
My legs started to cramp around mile 21, just before our second trip through the Swissporarena, but I still managed to navigate through the remainder of the course pain-free, taking walk breaks as necessary. The 4:45 pacers were still within eyesight, but they were rapidly fading from view, as I pushed myself to get through the last several miles of the race.  We passed back through the city centre, still being cautious of the uneven cobblestones, and before long, only 1.5 miles separated me from the finish line.  Along Schweizerhofquai, I saw the 40K sign and took my customary selfie, with the steeples of the Hofkirche behind me, and pushed my way to the finish.  There were lots of us on the course, with the full and 10K making our way to the finish, so thankfully, there were still lots of spectators out.  Eventually, we made the turn into the Swiss Transport Museum, and running through the entrance of the museum itself, through its lobby, and finally through the cement model of the Gotthard Base Tunnel along one last red carpet right to the finish line.
Running through the museum lobby!
I crossed in 4:54:27; a great time considering the hills of this race! After passing through the finish line, I went through the finish chute and got my medal, then found my way toward where I could get the finisher polo shirt that marathoners received after completing the race, then went inside the museum to warm up a bit.  I eventually made my way to where runners were coming through the museum entrance for the last few hundred feet to the finish line, and got there just in time to watch my friend Bernadette pass through and complete her 181st lifetime marathon!

Bernadette and I, post finish!
We found each other after she came through the finisher chute and went over to find her husband Richard to get some photos taken, and on our way there, a Swiss City Marathon staff member asked if we could be interviewed quickly for social media - the clip would end up on Facebook and shared worldwide! Richard and Bernadette helped me take my victory headstand photo on the grounds of the Swiss Transport Museum, in front of the old Swissair Convair CV-990 Coronado on display. We then separated and I headed back to the city centre by way of the ship shuttle once again (after taking one more headstand photo with the beautiful city landscape across the lake) and shivered my way onto the boat, heading inside to find a seat and try to warm up from having been exposed to over five hours of cold and wet weather. I begrudgingly walked the 20 minutes back to my Airbnb and immediately climbed into a much needed hot shower!
Victory Headstand #1, at the Swiss Transport Museum
Victory Headstand #2, with views of Lucerne across the Lake.
Chügelipastetli for dinner!
That evening, as the rain began to come down once again, I headed back into the city centre to celebrate my finish with a delicious Swiss dinner, going got the restaurant at the Hotel zum Rebstock, highly recommended by my Airbnb host.  I enjoyed a hearty Lozarner Chügelipastetli, essentially veal pot pie - puff pastry stuffed with veal chunks and veal sausage in a cream sauce, mushrooms, apple, marinated grapes in Cognac, and seasonal vegetables. I accompanied it with a nice glass of 2015 Chateau Montlau Bordeaux, then finished all up with a scoop of Swiss chocolate Mövenpick ice cream for dessert!  I slept soundly that night.

A post race day photo with my medal at the Kappellbrücke
When in Switzerland... Fondue it up!
The following morning, I slept in a tiny bit before packing up my bags and heading back into the city, where I spent a couple hours enjoying it one last time.  I posed with my medals with Kapellbrücke in the background, then headed up high, to Lucerne's Musegg Wall, the historic fortifications and their towers built around the city of Lucerne from the 13th century, where I was able to get some sweeping views of the city from above, and when the clouds happened to clear for a quick moment. Eventually I made my way back to the train station and got myself back to Zurich Airport, grabbing a lunch of cheese fondue and picking up necessary Swiss chocolate to bring home.  I flew to Paris to connect onto the evening flight home to NYC, getting home late Monday night, and readjusting to eastern time as best as I could for work the next morning.
Overlooking Lucerne from the Musegg Wall before heading home

1 comment:

  1. As much as Switzerland is my happy place I still think you missed out by limiting your list to road marathons. If nothing else go back and take a hike through the Alps. <3