07 May 2015

Race Report: Geneva Half Marathon 2015

London. New York. Tokyo. Those are some of the names that spring to mind straight away when you think of big city marathons. However, there are loads of other great, less well known (and less expensive!) city marathons aside from the World Marathon Majors; and if you're in Europe you're spoilt for choice. I pretty much always see travelling as a way to squeeze in a run (either organised or solo) somewhere new, and that's how I came to sign up for Geneva Half Marathon. My parents moved to Switzerland last year, which has been a great excuse to check out some Swiss races. Switzerland is an amazing destination for outdoor holidays in general, so when I heard my parents were moving there, I immediately had visions of me training like the Brownlees in St. Moritz. Yes, just like that. But much more slowly and far less elegantly.

The Geneva Marathon festival, which took place on the weekend of 2 and 3 May, has the marathon as its key race, as well as other races including the half marathon and a 10km, making up a weekend of races. Over 16,000 runners took part in the 8 events over the weekend, so the city was full of runners. I flew in to Geneva on Saturday as the half marathon was on Sunday morning. Upon arrival at the airport, I grabbed my free train ticket from the machine in the baggage collection area, and then jumped on a train for Geneva city. I wanted to check into the hotel and dump my bags before heading to the race expo in the Jardin Anglais to pick up my race number.

We (I'd roped my Dad in to run too - his first half marathon!) stayed in the Hotel Royal, which was located really near the race expo and finish line. It was also super accommodating to all the runners staying in it. The hotel was offering an extra-early breakfast for runners on the Sunday of the race, which was at a lower cost than the regular breakfast buffet (which is only fair, given you're not going to stuff your face before a race!). They also put aside empty rooms for runners to use the showers in afterwards (as check out time was before most people would finish their race and arrive back at the hotel).They obviously understood the issues facing travelling runners and offered what they could to make the stay as comfortable as possible, and ensure people didn't have to worry about things such as where you could get breakfast that early or where to shower afterwards - so I'd definitely recommend the hotel for that alone.

After checking in, we wandered over to the expo, which was located at the finishing line of the race, just by the shore of the lake. It was a fairly small expo, with some exhibitors selling race kit and advertising other local races. We collected our race numbers, race bags (they give you a specific bag to put your check-in gear in) and our t shirts. You ordered your shirt size in advance, and I opted for small because in the UK even the smallest size is usually about the size of a tent. However, the ladies small here was actually genuinely quite small, so I don't think I'll be wearing mine too often!

We had our race evening supper at Luigia. You can't really go wrong with Italian the night before a race. Unfortunately they didn't take reservations which worried me slightly, as pasta places are always full of runners the night before a marathon. But when you arrive they give you one of those buzzers that lets you know when your table's ready, and you can just wait in the bar in the meantime, so we didn't have to queue outside or anything like you have to in London sometimes! I had a glass of white wine while we waited for our table. I wasn't planning on having a drink, but as we had time to spare and I quite fancied one I thought why not. The night before a marathon I wouldn't drink, but I've done so many halves now (about seven I think) that I'm quite relaxed about them and worry less about getting my preparation 100% right. 

I would usually opt for pasta the night before a race, but the pizza looked so good that I had to go for that. I went for a Stromboli, which had peppers and neopolitan sausage on it. It was delicious, and even the crust was amazing (I hate a bland crust). The restaurant wasn't too far from the hotel so we managed to get back and have a fairly early night before the very early race start the next day - 8.30am!

We got up to have our breakfast around 6.30am the next morning, leaving a good couple of hours to digest before the race start. When I'm staying away from home the night before a race I always bring my own breakfast. Partly so I know I can eat early enough, and partly so that I can eat something I'm familiar with and have eaten during training. My go to is an instant porridge pot, because all you need to do is add hot water from a kettle, so you can make it in even the most basic hotel room or apartment.

It took us about 45 mins to get to the race start. We must have gotten on the tram fairly near its starting point, as we were able to get on easily, but we ended up passing many tram stops that were full of runners who simply couldn't get on because it was so packed. I dread to think how all those runners finally managed to make it to the race. The start was quite far out of the city, and not really running distance before a race. I even saw a couple of runners with their thumbs out, trying to hitchhike to the start! The city really needs to learn from these mistakes and put on extra transport the morning of the marathon.

As forewarned by the weather forecast, it was a rainy day - so waiting around after the obligatory baggage check and toilet stop wasn't much fun, but luckily it wasn't cold. At around 8.15am we made our way to the start line.

The race started on time (as you would expect in Switzerland!). We were in the 2 hour pen, which was quite near the back. The last pen was > 2.10. The cut off time for this race is 3 hours, which is quite tight! It's never taken me 3 hours to run a half, but I think most races are slightly more generous with their time allowance to accommodate for slower runners.

Soon we were running through the countryside, surrounded by fields. I hadn't studied the route map too much so this was a nice surprise, as I expected to be running though a lot of residential areas. There were fields of wheat and canola, and some vineyards too! Some of the paths were dirt paths that had gotten pretty muddy with the rain, so getting wet and muddy was unavoidable.

The water stations were evenly spread out, and I think there were 5 in total, which was plenty. Most offered water and an isotonic drink. There were gels at some stations (I always bring my own so I didn't try them). There were also cut up bananas and oranges to take which was a nice touch! It was great to have real food at the stations as well as 'sports nutrition'.

The last third or so of the race was along Lake Geneva, which was the most scenic part of the route, and by that point the rain had started to subside a little bit. With just 5km to go I realised we could dip in just under 2 hours if we picked up the pace a bit -  so we did just that. The last couple of km take you right past the race finish to do a loop back through part of the city - it was a bit cruel to have the route pass the finish so late in the race, only to continue on into the city. However, the crowds were at their densest in these last few km, which definitely helped keep everyone going. Everyone had their name written their race bib, so it was a great boost to hear people cheering your name!

At last we crossed the line, with an official time of 01:59:57 - just narrowly dipping under that 2 hour mark!

Despite the huge number of runners, moving through the finishing tunnel, grabbing water and a snack (fruit, crackers, cake) and being awarded with a medal was quick and easy, as was our collection of bags, which were located in the underground carpark. It was great the baggage collection was indoors as it meant people could get out of their soaking race kit in the dry, and slip on some fresh layers!

We celebrated with a post-race beer at Les Brasseurs.

And a burger at Holy Cow.

I went for the Smokey Big Cheese and Bacon: Swiss beef, cheese, bacon, BBQ sauce, red onion relish and lettuce. It was incredible, and just what I needed after the race. The chips were also amazing - crisp on the outside, fluffy inside, skin on, and not too skinny!

Once I'd had time to look at the race data (geek that I am), I realised that I'd actually run a negative split, which I've never managed for a half marathon before! I've posted the strava link for those who love a statistic as much as I do.

Have you ever been on a running holiday? Which big city race is at the top of your wish list?


  1. This sounds like a great race - love that the hotel was so accommodating with putting on an earlier breakfast time although I always take my own food if I'm away from home, too. I did the Paris half back in March and loved it - I'd definitely do another running holiday - thinking maybe the Berlin half next year!

    1. Berlin is a brilliant half marathon, I definitely recommend it! It was my first ever HM when I ran it a couple of years ago with Hannah. The route is really well designed to take in lots of the key sightseeing attractions of the city, and the crowd support was brilliant too. And they serve beer at the finish line (albeit non-alcholic!). Paris is definitely on my list too. We're lucky that from London there are so many great races we can get to within a couple of hours' flight!

  2. Awwww I ran in the Geneva Marathon Weekend last year! Similar weather! lol I did the relay marathon though so only ran about 10km which was perfect for me! Well done on your 1/2 time! I'm aiming for under two hours when I start training again! I'm hoping to take my mum to Geneva to see it too, was such a lovely place x

    1. Thanks! I read yours and Leah's race reports last year actually: so when my parents moved to Switzerland the race immediately sprang to mind as one to do. Do you have a particular half marathon in mind for your sub 2hr attempt? Choose a flattish course and it's definitely achievable :)

  3. I've been on a few racecations! I love traveling and running, why not do them together! Thanks for linking up with us at #TuesdayTales