Monday August 6: Day 1 – Getting there and introductions
Got the 7:20 Easyjet flight from Luton to Basel – Mulhouse – Frieborg. An uneventful flight landed pretty much on time. The weather was nice and sunny. A bus trip later and I’m at Basel SBB Station. The trains to Interlaken seemed to run every 20 minutes or so so I jumped on the next available one and waited to see the famous Swiss railway punctuality at work. Sure enough, the doors slid shut with 20 seconds to go and the train started to glide out of the station, in that incredibly smooth way that only Swiss trains do, bang on time. Got some lovely views of the Eiger (north face), Moch and Jungfrau from the train after leaving Bern (note that the train leaves the way it came in so make sure you’re facing backwards with the window to your left going into Bern).
Arrived at Interlaken West then Interlaken East. Had I know it I’d have jumped off at the West station as that is nearer the hotel. So I walked the half mile or so in glorious sunshine to the Hotel Metropol. I can only assume that the town planner had one of is bad days when he gave permission for this hotel to be built. Don’t get me wrong it’s lovely inside, well located, good food and a cracking view but it’s 14 stories high, ten higher than anything else in the town (city?) and is made of concrete. It sticks out of the surrounding classic Swiss buildings like the proverbial sore thumb. Mind you, I can't complain with a view like this out of my window / balcony:
To be continued.....
Wednesday August 8: Day 3 Up the Wengenwand (The Wegen Wall)
On the map Lauterbrunnen and Wengen are almost joined at the hip. It is little over a kilometer between their centres. A run of 5 minutes or so should get you from one to the other, until you look at the contour lines. Vertically there is a height difference of 480m (or 1560 feet in old money). That’s steep in anybody’s book.
I don’t know if it is intentional or not but there is a cruel trick in the route of the Jungfrau Marathon. You are taken to Lauterbrunnen via a gentle run climbing only 250m over some 20km. On your right are the stunning vertical cliffs hundreds of feet high over which several small rivers and streams launch themselves into space, vapourising on their way down. However, your attention should be on the left where the almost as steep Wengenwand sits immutably awaiting your best efforts but, and this is the trick, you don’t get to suffer it just yet. Instead you are taken in a loop up and down the Lauterbrunnen valley, allowed to stew in your thoughts. Enjoy the view because you’ll soon be staring at the ground in just in front of your feet for many weary minutes.
And so it was we set of on the train to Lauterbrunnen on a grey and wet day. The torrential rain from overnight was now coursing its way down the many streams feeding the Lutschine river. This was close to bursting its banks in many places and as we passed the path that we’d run along the previous day I could see that there was a small section of the path missing, washed away in the night. That would cause Richi to replan the run on Friday, but back to today. Some of us were familiar with the wall having run it before. Thanh has been up the wall some 20 times and I’m sure Richi could do it with his eyes closed. Personally, I had no idea what to expect, more from my own capabilities rather than the actual route. I knew from studying the map that it zig-zagged its way up mostly through trees, the path and the railway line taking it in turns to lead the way but a map is very different from reality. Would it beat me?
The rain had fortunately stopped when we reached Lauterbrunnen. We left our bags in the capable hands of the Jungfrau railway company hoping to see them next in Wengen. Off we went at a gentle pace up into Lauterbrunnen and along the highstreet heading south, deeper into the valley. Past the shops, then the car park where I'd parked with my family two years ago on the weekend when I first discovered that the Jungfrau Marathon existed, then out past the graveyard and the Jungfrau Camping site and out of the town. We didn't know it two years ago but our route to the Trummelbach falls followed the Jungfrau Marathon route. Running it brought back memories from our visit. Just before reaching the falls the route turns back along the road, this time east of the river, and we head back to Lauterbrunnen. I've used this time to drink most of my energy drink from my Camelbak bladder in preparation for the Wengenwand.
We turn left and find the river, following it back to Lauterbrunnen. Not far to go now before we leave the comfort of the valley floor. We cross the river, a few hundred metres alongthe west bank then out onto the road, across the bridge then a left turn and we're running northwards parallel to the river but slightly uphill for a few hundred metres before the route turns right up the side of the valley. We stop at this turn and Richi demonstrates how the Jungfrau Marathon record holder, kiwi Jonathan Wyatt (at a staggering 2:49), ran this stretch. He also shows us how we should run it, either short steps on the balls of the feet or at a fast walking pace. Then we are off.
I have been training myself for months to run up hills where possible by using approprately small steps rather than try a fast walk so I settle into a steady rythm with nice short steps. The uphill stretch starts on tarmac for a hundred yards or so until the houses drop away then we turn left over a stream and we're onto a track. This raises fairly gently for another hundred yards till we reach the first of many hairpin bends. Keeping to the outside to use the favourable gradients I keep my pace constant. Karl-Ludwig has decided to adopt the fast walking tactic and is keeping abreast of me. It's weird running alongside a walker at the same pace.
The path meets and crosses the railway track before turning to run alongside and above it. The railway disappears into a tunnel just as we turn another hairpin and head away into a series of six short hairpin switchbacks. I keep my tempo, using the full width of the bends. The walkers coming down the hill must think we are mad. Maybe they are right but it feels good to be in a groove running uphill. After the sixth hairpin we meet the railway again this time we go underneath it. Denise and Peter are on my heels and eventually pass me. Four more hairpins and there's a house. Is this Wengen already? No such luck. The hairpins keep coming. Four more then hope at last as the gradient eases and the path enters a flatter wooded stretch. We are up into the fields below Wengen. Another gentle rise then a downhill stretch at last.
It is here that I make one of my discoveries of the week. The Swiss runners don't use the downhills. I released the brakes and shot downhill overtaking half a dozen runners in front of me. I'm not sure if it's because they don't tend to run downhill having so much uphill to run on (and trains or cable cars to come down on) or whether they think they'll injure themselves but it was the same all week, me whizzing down the few downhill stretches leaving the Swiss runners in my wake. I put it down to the Swiss inventing mountains and the English inventing gravity. If the Jungfrau Marathon was the other way round I reckon I'd get a good placing.
Crossing the railway line we are soon onto tarmac again and a steady kilometer or so brings us into Wengen high street lined with shops and cafes. We refresh ourselves at the fountain while Dani immerses himself in it as usual. My stopwatch says we did it in 38 minutes. Not too bad after all. Later I see that my heart rate was as steady as a rock on the steep hairpins with the rate staying between 138 and 141 bpm all the way up.
Our bags are waiting for us in the baggage room where we all strip off and get changed. Any little old ladies coming in to pick up their luggage would have been in for a treat! We then wnet off to a local cafe (run by a former skiing star whose name I forget) for a drink before taking the train back to Interlaken. A grand day was had by all.