Route 47: FKT attempt from Zurich to Zug

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

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!

The ‘attemptees’

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.  

The attempt

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 the start next to 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.

Hohensteinstrasse

 

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.

The top of Uetliberg.

 

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. 

Two silhouettes and a view.

 

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 finish line sign.

 

Weather

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. 

Lessons learned

  • 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.
Café Monti is conveniently located 650 m from the start and serves good coffee.
  • 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):
Left is the official path, right is the slight detour we took after missing the sign.

 

  • 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.

My weight on the chair is barely holding up my heavy pack, which has still had enough clothes and food for a weekend.

 

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!

 



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