A couple of weeks ago I took part in the "Greifenseelauf" - a half marathon held in Zurich, popular for its flat, scenic course.
I ran not just for the thrill of the challenge, but to raise money for The MS Society - an organisation seeking to beat Multiple Sclerosis. It's a cause close to my heart as my mother is a sufferer, and we have several friends whose relatives are affected.
Thanks to the incredible generosity of friends and family, when I stepped up to the start line I'd been promised £568, money to go towards helping those with MS and to support research aiming to identify a cure. All I had to do was run 13.1 miles. Gulp.
I'd run that far twice during training, so I was quietly confident I'd go the distance, but with the weather surprisingly hot, I wasn't sure I'd be able to beat my previous personal best of 1 hour 45 minutes, set at the Great North Run in Newcastle a couple of years ago.
It was interesting that I didn't see anyone else in a charity running vest as I made my way around, and I've never heard of any of my Swiss mates doing a sporting activity to raise donations for a cause. That isn't to say that they don't take on such challenges – the culture of sport and fitness here is incredible. If a Swiss person is late back from lunch, they may well have done an Ironman.
I think that's what's behind the lack of fancy dress competitors and fundraising requests. So many people do so many events here that they need to do something even more awe-inspiring to warrant asking for funds. Or they just consider their sporting endeavours and charity contributions as two very separate things. Maybe it's bit of both.
Anyway, back to the race, and just a few hundred metres in, my MS Society charity running rest came in handy. I stuck the bottom half of my face in it to mask the smell of an initial stretch past a sewage works. The pong didn't last long, however, and the scenery soon started to improve as we began snaking around the Greifensee.
The few folks that live along the rural route came out to offer encouragement by jangling cow bells and spraying the runners with hoses. Though the intention is kind, I tried really hard not to get squirted. Wet kit can lead to chafed nipples. And there really is very little that's worse than chafed nipples. As a result, some of my fastest stretches were those that involved sprinting past farmers wielding water cannons.
Though the course is flat, they throw in a cheeky climb at the end, just for good measure. It's not too big or steep, but coming 12 miles in, it feels like the Matterhorn. Thankfully, I'd been running up the hill behind our flat quite a bit during training, so I managed to make it to summit without too much trouble.
By going steady at the beginning of the race, and picking up the pace at the end, I'm pleased to report I came home in 1 hour and 39 minutes. Not necessarily a time an East African would be proud of, but
a great result for me. If I'd had the energy to celebrate, I would've done, but as you can see from my finishing video here, it took all my effort just to turn off my stopwatch. I was delighted and relieved to finally see my finishing committee of Zoe and our friend Nat waiting to point me in the direction of a seat.
If you check out the video, watch out for the tall bearded guy storming in behind me. I used him as a pacer for the last four miles but it seems he went for a different finishing strategy to me. I have to say, anyone can go that fast, and get their knees that high, is impressive, not least at the end of a half marathon.
So, all in all, a great experience for a good cause. And, as my legs are still a little heavy, I figure I can still make one last fundraising plea. It's not too late to donate online - you can do your bit to beat MS by heading over to www.justgiving.com/halfmarathonmikey.
Mike Stuart moved to Switzerland in 2013 when his better half Zoë landed a job in Zurich.