Zermatt Marathon 2023

by Trevor Wilson

Having finished in 189th position in my last Hill and Dale race over the Meels, I deemed myself ready and headed off to the Alps to undertake the Zermatt marathon. As the name suggests, a full 42km with a climb of 2400m, mostly uphill, with a finish at the height of 2,585m.

I did briefly consider down grading to the half marathon but when posed with this question, the organisers replied ‘Sorry, but this category is fully subscribed, or in Belfast parlance, Suck it up, big lad!’.

‘Starting in St. Niklaus, situated in the lowest-lying mountain valley in Switzerland, and ending on Riffelberg by Gornergrat, the highest-altitude finish line in Europe at 2,585 m, the Zermatt Marathon is the supreme alpine racing challenge’, so says the website blurb.

The weather had been poor on the days leading up to the race, low cloud and rain dominated and kept my practice (ha ha) sessions confined to in and around Zermatt. Race day dawned overcast with low lying cloud, but dry. Wet weather gear was packed and carried during the race.

Got the early train down the valley to the start and at 8:35 we were off, on the way back up the valley to Zermatt, the half way point. All the runners around me started off a quite a slow pace, around 10 min miles. I thought that most had probably run this race before so I just went with the crowd.
Turned out to be a good idea as it saved my legs for the second half, where the real climbing was to be found.

Spotted on the start line, one runner had no difficulty with shoe choice, the lack of a sock tan line would indicate that this is his normal attire.

Arrived in Zermatt in under 2 hrs 30 min with only 850m of climb completed – it had all been steady going on a mixture of tarmac and gravel tracks, nothing technical.

The cloud lifted for about 15 minutes, giving a brief glimpse of the Matterhorn, which is as much as we seen of it over the weekend.

A lap of the town then brought us back onto the mountain at the 15 mile mark, when the climb started in earnest. The next 10km was all up, ascending another 850m on gravel roads before the course flattened out and then went downhill along tracks which consisted of tree roots and loose rock until reaching Riffelalp at 24 miles, where the local band was keeping everybody entertained.Then the cruel finish – the last 3km went up 360m, which was slow going at this stage of the race. The route actually went past the finish line as it went up another 50m to a rocky spur, where you turned and ran back downhill over the finish line, crossed in 6.5 hours.

at the finish as the mist closed in

The first half was really just a warm up for what was to come, it took me 2 hours longer on the second half than the first. I was 18th out of 28 in the V60 class, not that it matters. And in case you thought that the half marathon was easier, it starts in Zermatt and covers the second half of the marathon route – ha ha!

Got the train back down hill to Zermatt, had a shower and to the bar for a celebration beer.

As always in the Alps, the weather dictates everything. While the overcast and cooler weather suited me for the race, the magnificent scenery was obscured by the low cloud, which was unfortunate – but at least the threatened thunderstorms stayed away. But a great experience.

This graphic probably gives a better picture of what the route felt like. Point no.1 is Zermatt, half way.

Then we went to Italy for some R&R in the sun, finished off with the parkrun in Lucca. Summer holiday, B.A.R.F. style!