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Great organisation, beautiful views and an oompah band at Geneva Marathon

by Susie Chan
Friday 13th May 2016
This year saw the 12th edition of the Harmony Geneva Marathon for Unicef. What originally started as a race organised by the local running club, has grown into a weekend running festival.
2016 saw its biggest line up of races. It included a 10k, walkers’ 10k, women only 6k, half marathon, junior races, relay half marathon and full marathon. In terms of race options it certainly caters for all abilities.
The course has been reorganised over the years and this year the course had 25% less uphill running, enticing, the organisers hoped, the first sub 2hr 10 marathon time. The race has just been awarded an IAAF bronze medal, drawing a handful of elites to Geneva to have a go at setting a new course record. The course itself boasts great views and a downhill finish. I was running the marathon option, and hoping to finish in a more modest sub 3.30.
Geneva is nestled in the Alps on the side of Lake Geneva, a 90 minute flight away from London. Surrounded by snow topped mountains, the claim of great views looked promising. With around 16000 people taking part in the races over the course of the weekend, around 2000 were taking part in the marathon start itself, it was very civilised and well organised. No queues for bag drop or loos, there were free drinks available to the runners at the race start, and the atmosphere was relaxed. As I stood at the start line someone joked to me “this is the start of the 5K right?”. Everyone seemed in a very good mood and smiley. There was noticeably also a lot of women, which was refreshing. 48% of entrants this year were female, and looking round at the bibs (race organisers print your national flag and name on your number) people had come from all over Europe to take part.
The sun had come out, and with the mercury rising with the passing minutes, and a calf niggle, I took it easy for the first few miles. The views were fabulous. The course takes you through 13 villages under the majestic Alps. You are treated to a few views of Mont Blanc as you pass through pockets of cheering crowds as villagers come out to cheer for you. Runners are treated to a variety of bands along the way (my personal favourite was the oompah band).

Geneva collage

The heat was making the run become something of a toil, but well stocked water stations, bananas, oranges, and electrolyte drinks kept us all hydrated. I noticed race officials frequently along the course, which was reassuring as by lunchtime it was over 25 degrees, and I honestly thought I would see people fainting (I saw none). There were hardly any uphills of significance, just a few undulations. Then, just as the charming countryside began to become a little tedious, only because Geneva itself didn’t appear to be getting any closer and you are running a marathon, you start the gentle descent to the lakeside, and can see the Jet d’Eau fountain that marks the finish line. Except it doesn’t quite. The course takes you past the fountain, and when you can clearly see and hear the finish, you have to do a little 2 mile loop through cheering crowds on Geneva city centre to make the finish line. Upon crossing the finish line you get presented with a huge medal.
This year the winner didn’t quite pip 2hrs 10, I suspect the heat played a part in the result. Julius Chepkwony finished in 2:11:11, with the first lady, Jane Kiptoo finishing in 2:35:04. If you are a speedy runner then you would do very well in Geneva. This year sub 3 hrs would see you in the top 40, and if you are a lady, sub 3hrs 12 would have seen you in the top 10. The same would go for the other races in the series.
The course really has great PB potential. It’s a busy enough race to feel like you are taking part in a good sized event, but at no point is Geneva marathon packed like a big city marathon. No need for dodging round runners or worrying about sticking to a blue line. The marathon was spot on 26.2 miles when I crossed the finish line (3hrs 33, I’m blaming the heat) and the pacers were all remarkably reliable too, if you like to have someone else worry about your pace. All of them crossed the line bang on pace. If your inclination for marathon tourism is to just enjoy the chocolate and or as a team you would be in good company as there were lots of runners there who shared this goal.
With friendly volunteers, crowds and well placed drink stops, Geneva has just the right amount of everything for a great European marathon trip.

About The Author

Susie Chan

Susie Chan is an endurance runner, who runs all sorts of races from 1 mile to 100 miles and beyond. Her favourite races are multistage ultras. Find her on Twitter @susie__chan Instagram @susie_chan_ or read about her races on her blog www.susie-chan.com

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