2 hours away along lake Geneva from its airport is the town of Aigle (the race start point). Aigle is on the main line service from Geneva that takes passengers through Lausanne and Montreaux and eventually past Aigle to Brig – a main connection station to Zermatt and other areas of the Alps. Leysin (the race finish) is accessed via a fun cog train that runs up the mountain from Aigle, from there you can take the gondola up to the top where the Berneuse where there is a large revolving restaurant.
Around 100 people run the Aigle-Leysin half to celebrate Swiss national day, most of this definition that follows is typical in Leysin and makes for a fantastic evening. Swiss National day : (abridged extract from switzerland.isyours.com) “On August the first, the country gathers in public places around bonfires and would traditionally listen to speeches about the independence of the country from the Austrian rulers, which started with the Grütli Pact of 1291. Songs and music, gymnastic shows and group performances of the Swiss national anthem are the traditional elements of the holiday. Many municipalities set off fireworks, and these are often ignited from the mountains and hills. They serve as a reminder of the expulsion of the foreign bailiffs in the 14th century, for the great news was announced in this very way. The children march through the streets at dusk with candle-lit Chinese lanterns. Flags with the arms of the Confederation, the canton and the municipality fly proudly above public and private buildings. Even the bakers get involved, decorating their rolls of bread with little Swiss flags”.
A race of small attendance, this year numbers were up 100% as the organisers have increased advertising and together with Datasport (and other sponsors) are now pushing online entry via their new website. It is for sure one of Europes toughest yet most beautiful and rewarding half marathons and will perform well in the coming years as more people discover it.
This year would be the third time I had run it. This time with a difference though as only one day before this I had run the Davos K42 marathon and and I would be running in a cow costume! I would also be running with my girlfriend and doing my best to keep up with her, since she has been going from strength to strength increasing speed on every run of late. To those not familiar and to make some sense of why a cow, around Swiss national day, all the cows are moved down from the mountains in preparation for the coming Autumn/ Winter and the sound of cow bells are often heard along the route.
As usual, we were kindly given a lift to the start by some of Kelly’s friends who support the race every year by managing the bag drops. We were there early so went for a coffee with for a necessary caffeine injection and then prepared for the start. For me this means attaching my nmber and then using my patented gel delivery system, involving attaching them to the inside of my shorts with safety pins! Simply turn back the edge of your shorts, rip off the top of the gel and off you go – job done. This year however it was going to be made slightly more difficult since I was wearing a suit and on two occasions I had to ask someone to unzip me at the back to get to my shorts!
The 13.1 miles takes runners on a 2K tour of Agile for before starting a climb along side wine groves giving excellent views back of Aigle and the
Château du Cloître castle, the climb starts at approximately 402m and aside from a couple of brief flat sections and dips, the route takes a driect hiking trail to the top of Berneuse at 2035m; providing rewarding views of the Evian mountains, lake Geneva, Mont blanc in the far distance.
Leaving Aigle, the route becomes mainly forest soil trail, some sections of switchbacks with some frighteningly steep sections which dont last too long but get the heart racing ready for the next hill. The first 5 K marker always takes forever, after running about ~8min miles through the town your pace drastically changes to ~20min miles, the forest is full of turns and after 6K your already hoping for some flats to gain time. The flat does come about 8K just after the hamlet of Veyges, this being the second aid station and the first bit of crowd support. The flat (ish) section is a large switchback where at the end there always seem to be a large group of Kumon japanese school students cheering everyone on, the Kumon School really deserve a shout out for the best supporting throughout the race.
The trail breaks out onto Prafendaz, a great spot with a resturant and some great viewing points over lake Geneva. Here there is a further aid station and from here the trail leads a very step upward section on mountain rocky trail up to the summit at Berneuse, the trail taking the path following the Gondola via a series of switchbacks. With wet weather trail running shoes are a necessity. On reaching Berneuse there is a 700vertical meter series of sharp descents down one of Leysins main ski runs to the village of Leysin (1315m).
The cow suit really did take a fair amount of ‘fitting’ to avoid too much head shake, general floppiness, increase visibility, ease of breathing and so on. These were lessons learnt from having run the great north run in a similar dog suit for guide dogs for the blind. All told it was a great race, finished in 3hrs:25, waffles at the finish and an evening celebration with beers whilst watching the festival fireworks in Leysin. Until next year …