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FKT stands for “Fastest Known Time” and refers to a speed record on a popular and predetermined route. These times and routes are curated and posted on fastestknowntime.com
We wanted to be the first women to record an FKT from Zurich to Zug, two Swiss cities 34 km apart and separated by the Albis Mountain Chain. So on Saturday, 21 September 2019, Ana-Maria and I nervously got on the train in Basel and headed to the edge of Zurich.
The route is called ‘Zurich – Zug, Swiss Regional Route 47 (Switzerland)’.
We had the advantage that we were actually attempting the First Known Time. Since the route was added to fastestknowntime.com only recently, there are no previous attempts to beat. We could simply finish the course to be the first recorded female effort!
Ana and I are an unlikely pair to attempt an FKT, a feat normally associated with trail stars like Scott Jurek or Kilian Jornet.
I had started trail running in July and my recently acquired trail shoes have only done two runs longer than 30 km. Beside my inexperience off-road, I tend to be on the slower side of my trail running squad; generally careful on the descends and unhurried on the climbs (Possibly because I carry the heaviest load of snacks?).
Ana-Maria is a much better runner than me and has Transylvanian mountain marathons under her belt. But, she has never run trails in Switzerland and has taken the entire summer of running to focus on other endeavours. Since Ana loves climbing stairs, this route was practically made for her. I have never been in a public place with someone who has such an instinct for avoiding escalators; she always manages to get us from one train platform to the next without encountering any form of automated stairways, but lots of tedious steps.
Besides our lack of speed, our outrageous lack of planning counted against us. I had only told Ana that I planned to run 18 hours in advance. Since I would arrive home in Switzerland after the stores are closed, my flatmate kindly offered to boil my favourite trail snack: salty potatoes. I then confirmed our outing when I caught the last connecting flight to Switzerland 11 hours before Ana and i were set to catch the train.
Another mistake was arriving at the starting point, Zurich Triemli, thinking we could change our clothes. Triemli is just a tram stop: It has a ticket machine and a rain canopy, but no changing rooms or doors with ‘WC’ signs on them. The stop didn’t look like it was in the middle of a bustling European metropole like Zurich but seemed more like a scene from a tumbleweed filled town in a Hollywood movie.
After our failed scheme to change gear at Triemli tram stop, walked down to town to grab a coffee at Cafeteria Monti.
Now in shorts and back at the top of the hill, we asked a friendly stranger to take our picture at the Route 47 sign.
At 10 a.m we started our watches and sprinted across the tram tracks, only to be forced instantly to a hiking pace by the incline. The trail soon changed to a wide serpentine road that leads up to the top of Hohensteinstrasse, a perfect spot for an en-route selfie.
We continued through the maze of trails meeting many other hikers, bikers and runners. From Hohensteinstrasse to Uetliberg the route had stairs a plenty, which Ana merrily bounded up while I wondered when I would be able to unfold my poles on an accent.
After another summit selfie at Uetliberg, a great deal of stairs let us down the back of the peak. We then climbed up to Felsenegg Gondola station where I enjoyed a protein bar. Since this would be Ana’s longest run of the year, we initially thought she might drop out at Albis Passhöhe where there is a bus service. We were chatting and jogging along by the time we got there, and it didn’t even cross our minds to go our separate ways.
At Albishorn restaurant, Ana watched in disbelief as I snacked on a medium-sized boiled potato. It was my second one on the route and I still had a supply of four to devour.
Once we left Ebertswil and entered the canton of Zug, the route started to live up to its ‘urban belt’ description. Leaving the woods and meadows behind, the route briefly merged with an asphalt motorway, passed a few warehouses, followed the train track, the highway and then the train track again. While we found the scenery mediocre, the path was mostly flat, so we covered it quickly.
The final stretch crossed a busy camping site where we had to navigate cars and pedestrians before turning into the promenade with a view of the lake and harbour. We sprinted the last few hundred meters and touched the ‘Zug Bahnhofsteg’ sign in 5:08:54.
The weather was too good.
We had clear skies with 23 to 30 degrees Celsius. Since it had been cold the week before, we unnecessarily carried long leg pants, thermal vests and rains jackets. Always expecting the worst, I also had gloves and arm-warmers.
- You don’t need poles on the route.
- You don’t need lunch. A few bars or a single banana should suffice if you are planning to better our time. (I ended up in Zug with 1.5 bars, a banana, a bag of seeds and 4 potatoes.)
- Since there are no toilets or café’s at Zurich, Triemli, I would recommend walking 650m down the hill (36 m elevation) to a cafe before the start. Alternatively, get your caffeine fix at Zurich Main station before heading to Triemli.
- Toilets at Uetliberg are €1 or CHF 1 coin-operated but the ones at Felsenegg are free. There are also free toilets at the finish, but they are slightly hidden under the motorway bridge.
- We carried a lot of unnecessary things like chargers, power banks and warm weather clothes. I would recommend leaving a bag at Zug station or arrange a support crew to hand you a clean vest at the end.
- The route is very runnable with a bit of steepness in the first half. The second half is flat and fast on asphalt and gravel paths.
- The course is not well marked everywhere. We think we missed a marker in Oberalbis, where we ran straight through town, and the path seemed to have turned left. As far as I can tell we did a slightly longer detour (see below):
- Disable notifications on your smartwatch. I had my phone connected to my watch for Garmin Live track. On route I received 94 work-related WhatsApp messages, each one vibrating on my wrist and making me nervous about the battery.
What I’ve also learned from emerging myself in the world of FKTs and this attempt, is that Fastest Known Times are fleeting. Even Scott Jurek’s Appalachian trail record was bettered. Your moment of glory will be brief; lasting only until a faster runner casts a shadow over your achievement.
But an FKT (First known time) is different. No one can go back in time and beat you to being the first person on a route. Like diamonds, a First Known Time will last forever.
Faster runners will run this course and our attempt will move lower and lower on the rankings, but it will always remain first on the list. For all of eternity, Ana-Maria and I will be the first known females to run from Zurich to Zug on Switzerland’s route 47.
Special thanks to Ana-Maria for being an excellent support crew, sabotaging her A-race on Sunday to join me and talking to me for over 5 hours!
Thanks also to Joel who came up with the route, submitted it to fastestknowntime.com and encouraged me to attempt it. FKTs are made to be broken; looking forward to you bettering our time soon!
The water stations felt like running on the sticky side of Duct Tape.
I can only assume that prior runners ran at full speed while trying to gulp down sports drink from a cup. Clearly, they got more on their shirts and on the road than into their mouths.
Instead of trying to save a few seconds and making the road as sticky as a two-year old with a lollipop, we took our time, thanked the volunteers and calmly took on the minefield of cups and sponges. This made our shirts and shoes happy, as well as the outstretched hands of spectators competing for high-fives.
On the 21st of October, I had a blast at the half marathon of Amsterdam.
In 2014, Amsterdam was my first ever go at a half marathon and it was exciting to be back there. My goal was to have fun and enjoy the company of my five year running buddy. We helped each other get through the boring parts of the course in 2014. This year we chatted throughout the race and had even more fun.
We misjudged the time it would take from the first gun to go until it was time for our bibs to beep. We ended up waiting more than 40 minutes in the starting pens. Most people stared at their phones or simply stood around looking bored. One guy stood with this finger on his watch ready to press start before any of us could even see the start banner in the distance. Instead of hanging around aimlessly, we snapped selfies, dicussed our race strategies and enjoyed the vibe before the start.
I don’t usually high five people during races. In the best case, my hands are sticky from spilling gels or energy drink over myself. In a more dire scenario, I just came out of a porta-potty sans hand washing facilities. Why spectators insist on making contact with my hands is beyond me.
But during this race, my running buddy was a big hi-fiver and I soon caught the bug. I was still running along as an anti-high-fiver when a DJ stuck his hand in front of me so unexpectedly that I had to hit it or risk colliding with his hand. After this self-defense high-five, the ice was broken and I started swerving to the sides of the course to reach little kids’ hands.
The culmination of extending our hands came 400m before the finish. My friend high-fived 6 kids in a row but then had to veer to the right to turn a corner. She narrowly missed the 7th extended hand and left behind a very disappointed looking adult woman, who clearly felt she missed out on the fun.
We also waved our arms above our heads like monkeys at every single photographer. You never know when one of you will be only half in the picture or looking the other way, so we tried to make sure we get at least one perfect shot with outstretched arms and open eyes.
Entering the Olympic stadium is always a special experience and in my opinion, the best part of this half marathon. Unlike the Marathon that starts in the stadium, the finish stretch is the only time the half marathoners can experience this historic track.
We have a customary finish line photo since 2013. After the race, we always take a minute to get our bearings back, grab our medals and then bug a stranger for a portrait. After four years in Amsterdam, we have a montage that shows our connection with the race over the years.
It is special to see the memories made on hot and cold days, before and after weight-loss, before and after pregnancy and soon before and after surgery (which is apparent from this year’s shot lacking a member of the gang).
Running a race can be a serious affair. A race is a perfect stage to give your best effort or run a PB.
While the serious stuff can be important, some days it’s just great to set out for some serious fun and earn a medal while doing it.
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Are you’re a Billy Joel fan? Do you know his song “Vienna”?
If you don’t, it is worth a listen. Like his other tunes, it sad and it sweet and you’ll feel like you know it complete.
It’s about being young and ambitious and learning to slow down and pace yourself.
The chorus repeats: “Vienna waits for you”.
In the beginning of June, I started a new job.
I jumped at this opportunity primarily because it promised to send me around the world on runcations.. uhm.. I mean business trips. The company kept its word and immediately send me to Vienna for a fortnight.
During this time, I had 11 runs scheduled on my Hanson marathon plan. While that lead to a frustrating 11 dirty running shirts and 22 stinky socks, it gave me the chance to plan almost a dozen routes in a foreign city.
Of course, claiming I plotted a dozen routes through an unknown city is vastly exaggerated. I first tried to fill as many runs as possible with races and running events. This meant I could meet other runners and at the same time not worry about ending up between a factory and the highway.
In the 12 days I was there, Vienna hosted multiple running events in the city itself and many, many more in the surrounding area. I joined the Brooks run tour event and entered the universities’ 5 km. I even happily spectated at the Wien 100 km national championships; happily, because I was glad not to be running 2.5 km laps in the Austrian heat myself.
I didn’t plot out all my runs in advance, because I first tried to identify good running areas, and then try to stick to what I learned works. I have jotted down three areas I found for discovering the rich running culture this magnificent city has on offer:
Prater is all you need to remember if you want to have the time of your running life in Vienna. It is a large park between the Danube and the Danube canal.
It is the heart and soul of running in the city. Brook’s run tour, the 100km championships and the University’s business run where all hosted in Prater.
Not only does is have 4.3 km straight asphalt road with marked distances, forest trails and drinking fountains, it has a 400m running track and beer gardens.
I did a speed session on the track overlooking the stadium. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed on the track, but the bartender in the cafeteria gave me a perplexed: “Why shouldn’t you be able to run on it?”, so I felt I had the needed permission.
Run along the river.
Running along the Danube canal is a great runner-up to Prater. If you are staying near the centre and going to Prater is not an option, you can enjoy the traffic and traffic light free bank along the canal. You will certainly encounter hordes of other runners who will do their best to ignore you.
I guess there is some unspoken rule between runners in Vienna: When you see a fellow jogger, look in the other direction while passing them. Under no circumstances should you make eye contact. Verbal greetings seem to be serious faux pas.
In stark contrast to this behaviour, non-runners on the river relate substantially more social as they hang around popup beach bars, drink alcohol and exhale sweet smelling smoke. All of this is set against miles of uninterrupted street art. You are likely to spot artists working on sculptures, mosaics or murals. In the weekend you may pass by poetic speeches or musicians.
Don’t get me wrong, running along the canal is a special experience, but I found it got old. I started getting bored with the graffiti and endless flatness of the banks.
Also, there is a limit as to how far you can go. I did many of my 7 to 8 km runs along the river, but during a 14 km run, the riverbank faded into a gravel path before disappearing unexpectedly and leaving me stuck on a meadow between the highway and the river.
Through the city centre
I ran through the city centre multiple times and loved the stately buildings, statues and fountains. And while I admired the city’s grandeur, so did everyone else. The centre is usually packed with tourists trying to snap selfies and catch rides on carriages. Dodging tourists makes this option difficult running terrain.
One morning I decided to beat the sight-seers to it, and head out at 7 am. I discovered another group that wants to avoid tourists: Delivery vans.
Ever wondered how and when that ‘Austria has no kangaroos’ umbrellas get to the shop shelves or the Spanish riding school gets rid of the manure of dozens of horses? All of this happens in the small window between first light and tourist take-over.
While you might be the only pedestrian around, you will by no means have the city to yourself.
An alternative is to go on the shaded bike path along the ring road, but you would have to wait at the traffic lights.
Despite all the route-planning perils I face during my stay, Vienna is a stunning city and has so many areas to discover on foot.
Why don’t you plan to go for a run in the capital of Austria? Vienna is waiting for you.