Jessica Whittington travelled to Switzerland on Geneva Marathon weekend and found it a great way to take in the stunning city
When it comes to resplendent running routes, a recent trip to Switzerland proved how the Harmony Geneva Marathon for Unicef has some serious bragging rights.
The event’s strapline is “Fast is Beautiful” based on the courses, which combine miles of stunning countryside with a city finish, and the fact that in 2015, 50% of runners achieved a personal best time.
While running was the focus of my visit, Geneva – voted Europe’s leading city break destination at the World Travel Awards for the past two years – has so much to offer that a three-day trip to run a half-marathon quickly turned into an action-packed and varied weekend.
THE HARMONY GENEVA MARATHON FOR UNICEF WEEKEND
This year saw the 12th edition of the Geneva Marathon, with 16,000 participants taking part across the series of races on May 7-8.
The programme offers eight events: a marathon, relay marathon, half-marathon, wheelchair half-marathon, 10km, 10km walk and Nordic walk, La Genevoise (women-only 6.5km) and junior races (from 1km to 5km).
The early May date makes it an ideal spring event to target, but in my case it also meant that it came two weeks after the London Marathon. Having reluctantly decided against taking on another 26.2 miles, I signed up for the half-marathon.
The courses take in both countryside, nestled between Lake Geneva and the French Alps, and the city centre. In the marathon and half-marathon events, after the countryside the course descends towards the Pont du Mont-Blanc and the Jet d’Eau fountain along the shores of Lake Geneva in the final miles.
The marathon and half-marathon courses have been established and approved by Swiss Athletics and the IAAF, with the 26.2-mile event this year taking place for the first time as an IAAF Bronze Label race. It is the first and only running event in Switzerland to have so far received that IAAF recognition, and with 25% less uphill running than in 2015 on the marathon course, organisers hoped for the event’s first sub-2:10 performance.
However, racing on the hottest day of the year so far, with temperatures reaching 20 degrees Celsius by the end of the marathon, 2015 Venice Marathon winner Julius Chepkwony clocked 2:11:11 to miss the course record by just 11 seconds, while his fellow Kenyan Jane Kiptoo successfully defended her title with a time of 2:35:04.
The downhill course does mean it is not eligible for record purposes, but there is good PB potential. If you’re a good club runner you could place highly – a top 50 finish overall this year required 3:05:41.
“This has to go down as the most successful edition of the Harmony Geneva Marathon for Unicef yet. Some 16,000 competitors from all over the world have experienced the best of running in this incredible city and the surrounding countryside” – Race director Ben Chandelier
The Harmony Geneva Marathon for Unicef weekend had a great festival feel, with activities in the race village taking place across the two days.
With around 2000 participants in the marathon and 5400 in the half-marathon, the Sunday morning start area wasn’t as busy as I’m used to. There were some queues for toilets but it was quick and easy to drop off, and later pick up, my bag.
For the marathon there are 10 feed stations offering water, fruit, energy drinks and gels, while for the half-marathon there are four, though on a warm day I’d recommend having your own drinks bottle too. There are live bands playing music along the way, groups of supporters in each village and a very warm welcome back in the city centre as you weave around the streets for the last couple of miles.
After crossing the finish line participants get a well-deserved medal to go with the Compressport microfibre T-shirt runners receive when collecting their race numbers.
Running the half-marathon meant I could enjoy watching the finish of the marathon too, and with typical Swiss timing, the pacers I saw cross the line did so exactly as the clock ticked over on to the time on their flag.
With around 700 British runners taking part across all Geneva Marathon weekend events, Britain was the third-best represented country in 2016 after Switzerland and France.
Next year’s Harmony Geneva Marathon for Unicef weekend will take place on May 6-7 and early-bird discounts are available for entry. See harmonygenevemarathon.com for further information and to enter.
With Geneva Marathon weekend events spread over two days – the junior races on Saturday afternoon ahead of the La Genevoise and 10km and then the half-marathon, marathon and relay marathon on the Sunday – there is time to explore some of the many other things the city has to offer.
With physical activity the focus of our trip, the weekend began with a Harmony yoga session by Lake Geneva before a transfer to Port Noir on a Mouette Genevoise boat (if visitors stay in a hotel, youth hostel or a campsite in the Canton of Geneva, they receive a Geneva Transport Card with which public transport in in the city is free) for a stand-up paddle board session at Tropical Geneva (trop.ch).
From there we travelled to Mont Saleve. After a bus ride from the city centre and five minutes in a cable car, you’re up the mountains, where you can either enjoy the views at an altitude of 1097 metres or hike even higher.
The Geneva Pass is a great option. Available as a 24-hour (CHF 26.00), 48-hour (CHF 37.00) or 72-hour (CHF 45.00) pass, it gives you free or discounted-price access to over 50 attractions, including 13 sports and leisure activities and 15 sightseeing tours. Passes can be purchased in advance online at geneve.com/en/see-do/geneva-pass or from the city’s Tourist Information Centre.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Just a 90-minute flight away from London, Geneva is easily accessible from Britain and Europe. A return flight for this trip cost less than £80 from Gatwick with EasyJet.
Once in Geneva, the city centre is a less than 10-minute train journey away, with public transport free. A Unireso ticket, offered by Geneva Airport, allows you to use public transport in the Canton of Geneva free of charge for 80 minutes.
The hotel for our trip was the four-star Hotel Rotary Geneva but the Geneva Tourism website at geneve.com/en gives options for hotels, B&Bs, hotels and camping to suit a range of budgets.
» This travel feature was first published in the June 16 edition of AW magazine