The 14th Zurich Neujahrsmarathon: 2018
This is an informative post for anyone considering running this course. It is the post I wish I could have read before running it myself. Feel free to ask me any questions about my experience. Enjoy and good luck!
Known as the first official marathon of the year, part of the novelty of running this course is ranking top in the world. The full marathon course is divided into 4 laps of 6.55 miles each. This allows the choice to complete a quarter marathon, half marathon, or full marathon. Curiously, no ¾ marathon options…
Even if you sign up for a longer race, you can always “re-register” for a shorter race by completing fewer laps. For instance, we could have registered for the half marathon, but only completed one lap and so automatically re-registered for the quarter marathon. The cap for the quarter marathon is 300 registrants and the cap for the half marathon is 400. The full marathon has no cap.
Colin and I already ran a marathon two months previous, and although it is a new year – we were feeling too lazy for another. We registered for the quarter.
This is our second official New Year’s midnight run – our first was the 4 mile Midnight Run through central park in New York City. Signing up for this one, we already knew we liked the idea. The run in NYC was much colder than the one in Zurich, though we were often reminded by the race organizers of how this year was the warmest they’ve ever had. I remember running in NYC and being given a cup of sparkling cider at the halfway point which was frozen into a slushy. In Zurich, at midnight, the temperature was around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
We drove from Geneva to Zurich on the evening of December 31st. Colin had been sick so we weren’t sure if we were even going to go until the last minute. The drive was a little over 3 hours.
Having been in Geneva for a few months, we were comfortable with the French language… and so we were quite surprised when the radio abruptly changed to German as we crossed over into the canton of Bern (another state in Switzerland)… It was like we entered a foreign country! In actuality, the cantons of Switzerland are very distinct and can almost be considered separate countries.
We arrived at the sports hall “Unterrohr” in Schlieren a little after 8pm. We were able to get by with French when speaking to the parking lot attendants. English was not getting us anywhere. At this point, parking was open and free in the lot near the gymnasium. Alternatively, the race directors also e-mailed participants free public transportation passes that could be used to get to the race by metro– which I hear was uncomplicated.
Once inside the sports hall, it was time to pick up bibs and shirts / champagne / anything else pre-ordered. We sprung for the shirts and decided to share 1 medal. The shirts this year were bright pink for women and bright blue for men, very appropriately. Along with their bibs, participants also received a complimentary goodie bag. The goodie bags came with uncooked pasta, shower gel, Läderach chocolate (yum!), 2 granola bars, and some booklets / coupons. We would later be thankful as the pasta came in handy when we were stuck for the next two days without any open stores or restaurants.
Entering the hall was similar to arriving at a low-key dance party with American pop music and colored disco lights, except no one was dancing. The music was loud enough to drown out conversation, which made for a relaxed atmosphere. I was thrilled to see the food for sale – pasta, salad, sandwiches, cake, and some drinks. We settled at a table near the start / finish line (an inflatable indoor archway) and primed for our last supper of 2017 (an important ritual). We ordered pasta and coffee to start and followed with a German nut-cake to invite sweetness in the new year. The pasta came in a small Styrofoam bowl with sauce and parmesan cheese. The parmesan cheese seemed unlimited… except the attendant watched move every spoonful on your plate. The cake was a small slice similar in shape to that of a loaf. New Year’s has always been my favorite holiday and I can never pass up cake!
After dinner, we changed into our running clothes in the locker rooms. Space was tight, but it was not a bad idea overall. I wore a base layer with my “We Make Pour Decisions” team shirt on top, thicker running leggings, a headband, and a thin pair of Nike running gloves that I ended up removing anyway. I ran in my Nike Free sneakers. The hardest part of running can often be choosing what to wear.
We sat back down at our table around 9:30pm (space was starting to fill up at this point) to read our books and pass the time. I read Dust by Philip Pullman (huge His Dark Materials fan) and Colin read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. At 10pm, Colin started celebrating the New Year and rushing me toward the start line. After he realized his mistake (a common confusion of his with the 24 hour clock) we laughed and this woke us up a bit. I don’t usually stay up late and so sitting and reading in a warm environment was starting to get to me. Some runners were napping on the bleachers upstairs.
As midnight approached, we resolved to use the restrooms for the last time in 2017 (another important ritual – but this one more running related). The wait for the women’s room was long, but conversation was friendly as always among runners. I met an Israeli woman who had been living in Switzerland for the last 14 years. We talked about races around the world, Born to Run, and running shoes. It was her second time running this event and she planned on doing a full marathon for the second time. I doubted I would have the motivation to go out for a second lap, much less a third or fourth. She admitted that the second lap was difficult, but that the third and fourth were easier. It was our turn to use the bathrooms- we wished each other luck and parted.
I joined up with Colin by our belongings at the picnic table. We donned our reflector straps (completely unnecessary) and headlamps (completely necessary). There is no bag check at the event so you kind of leave your things somewhere and try to remember where. There is an option to give your keys and wallet to the reception desk in a small clear bag. I wasn’t nervous about anyone stealing our things- people are very law-abiding in Switzerland. All geared up, we went to line up for the start together and ended up in the very back. I bent down to tie my shoe and missed the New Year- which served me right after laughing at Colin for celebrating it two hours early. Maybe we will get it right next time. I stood up and we kissed each other on the cheeks (Colin had a terrible sore throat). We advanced with the crowd of runners, crossed the start / finish… and were off!
Instantly once we were outside, our ears observed crackling and exploding noises from every direction. I turned my head back to the gymnasium and saw fireworks down the main street. I turned forward and saw them across the river. They continued to line the river and explode from the hills nearby for at least over an hour.
The transition from warm sports hall to cold outdoors was not as shocking as I anticipated – probably something due to excitement and adrenaline… or probably due to it not being as cold outside as I expected. My GPS watch didn’t work inside the gymnasium, but quickly caught signal once we were outside. The beginning mile was a little congested as expected. It was not a big race with only about 1,000 runners… but all the distances (quarter, half, and full) start together. As there were no corrals, it took some distance to sort out which runners belonged in front vs back.
Reflector straps were unneeded as the course followed a pedestrian path along the river. The route trailed up one side of the river, traversed a small bridge, returned down the other side of the river, and crossed over another small bridge leading into the gymnasium. Headlamps were essential as there was nothing illuminating the path. It would have been hazardous to run without a headlamp. Roots were sprayed with reflector paint and stood out when shone upon.
At each turn was placed a signaling fire torch identical the one pictured above. After the first bridge crossing, at the halfway point, was an aid station supplying hot, sweet lemon water (iso), regular water, and some morsels to eat (looked like brownies but might have been protein bars? I didn’t have any). I grabbed the iso not knowing what it was and, right before chugging it, was stopped by the unexpected steam. It was hot. The man who handed it to me seemed to also be startled and had his hands up ready to stop me. I saw the regular cold water, grabbed a cup of that, dumped it into my iso, and then chugged that.
Iso became my new favorite recovery drink. It was sweet and warm, which was welcome in the cool night. The flavor resembled a mix of tea and lemonade. I had two more cups at the end after we finished.
On the other side of the bridge, we started to see runners on the opposite side of the river. Distance across the water steadied the headlamps and gave the appearance of a steady stream of lights flowing like the river itself. The river of lights paired with fireworks setting off in the background was stunning to watch.
As we approached the end of the lap, we ran through a fire torches lining the path and some spectators cheering us on. They announced our names as we crossed the finish line.
At the start / finish, there was an additional aid station set up both for finishers and for those enduring more laps. Available were cookies and bananas in addition to the iso, water, and brownie-type morsels that were at the other station. While we were running, lounge chairs had been set up in the sports hall and were now filling up with sleepy spectators and finishers. The picnic tables were covered in sleeping children who were, in turn, being used as pillows by their parents. The event was due to end at 6am. I recovered my bag from our picnic table snug between two sleeping children and took a quick shower in the changing room. I dressed in my New Year’s Day outfit which incorporated my new race shirt and reunited with Colin on the second floor bleachers. Changed and dry, we rested and observed the finishers until we felt prepared to leave.
This was a really fun event – though I see why they have to limit the participants. The hall was very small and began to feel crowded closer to midnight. Not just runners were present, but also their entourages. I would definitely do this race again if I am in the area – not sure if I’d ever have the willpower to do more than one lap though.
What to bring:
- Towel / clothes to change into (you get soap in your goodie bag)