"If I say I'm going to do that again, stop me."
Those were the words that came out of my mouth as I was greeted by Zoë and my parents after I finished the 2010 London Marathon.
Despite this outburst, in three weeks' time I will be toeing a marathon start line once again, this time in New York City.
So why the change of heart? Well, that's Switzerland's fault. Here are three of the reasons that my country of residence has pushed me to take on 26.2 miles again.
1. The people
The Swiss are sporty. While the UK sadly tops the European obesity table, you'd be hard-pushed to spot an obese person in Zürich (and this in the land of chocolate and fondue!) And it's contagious. In fact, it's almost harder to avoid sport than partake.
After completing my first Swiss half marathon, I was sent a book of all the events happening in the coming year. It was a tome. It seems there are about two endurance events a day here. From 5k charity dashes and family runs and mountain ultra marathons, there's something for anyone who wants to don their running shoes and get out there.
As such, there are a lot of colleagues at work who run. This has resulted in me taking part in a team relay in the hills around Zürich and even a Gigathlon. There, my point exactly – I'd never heard of a Gigathlon before I came to Switzerland either!
The Gigathlon was also a relay race, though much more testing. Comprised of five disciplines (running, mountain biking, road cycling, swimming and, randomly, inline skating), this two day beast of an event covered all the main historical landmarks in the neighbouring Kanton (county) of Aargau.
Many of these are castles, and, as the people who built them didn't want their enemies just sauntering up to portcullis, they are of course at the top of hills.
I did the running for my team (24 miles over the two days, climbing 880m in total) and it was one of the toughest things I've ever done, not least because it took place in the middle of a summer heat wave.
Some crazily impressive people took on the whole thing in pairs or even as individuals. Our office alone had three teams of five competing and our head of events Andrea did the whole thing as a pair with her brother. Respect.
The Swiss, quite simply, are endurance sport mad. So, as the old saying goes, if you can't beat them, join them. In most events, I can't really do either, but it's fun trying to keep up.
2. The setup
These big events take organisation, something the Swiss have got nailed. Events like those I've mentioned require a marathon effort in logistics to pull off, but in the many I've done, I've never so much as experienced a false start. Bag transport is so fast from start to finish that I doubt even Usain Bolt would have to wait to collect his backpack at the end of a race.
The clockwork Swiss might also be helped by the fact that their athletes compete pretty seriously. While we Brits like to enter races in costumes to raise funds for charity, Swiss runners, as a rule, seem to do neither. While a warm up at a British city race might consist of tea in a styrofoam cup and a sausage roll, a Swiss warm up resembles a floor gymnastics routine at the Olympics. I swear I once even saw a pirouette. It makes my slow jogging up and down look positively half-hearted. I get exhausted just watching them.
At least the lack of costumes removes the embarrassment that occurs when someone dressed as an animal passes you. Getting overtaken by a conga-train style centipede in London was humiliating ten times over.
Equally professional though, are the volunteers at the events, and I'm so grateful for that. Bar one mishap in the Gigathlon when I inadvertently received a hot bouillon instead of water at a drinking station (imagine if I'd poured it over my head! – it's good salty nourishment for those doing the full event apparently), I've always received refreshments at regular intervals with smiles and words of encouragement.
The crowds are great too, and I now love running along to the jangle of cow bells which are used to spur people on to the next checkpoint, together with shouts of "Hopp Hopp." I think I might give Zoe a bell to ring in New York just so I can have the same accompaniment. Or perhaps I could even wear one...
3. The setting
People are always telling me that not to ski in Switzerland is a crime (maybe this winter folks, ok, jeez), I think you can just as easily say the same about running. When I first arrived here I punctuated my initial job search with laps of a dedicated running track in the nearby park. Gently undulating, made of knee-friendly peat with compressed wood chips and complete with mile markers, it was the perfect way to get back into the sport.
I then progressed to climbing the nearby Zürichberg hill and, with its staggered climbs, I literally took my running up a couple of levels. There's also the Käferberg opposite, which affords great views of the city and the lake. If I'm feeling "urban" I can head into the city — there and back is a nice gently sloping 10k, and I can extend down to the lake if I want to go further. Our friend Linda, a Hungarian who has caught the Swiss running bug too, also tipped me off to a route along the river. It's stunning, and it goes on forever, perfect for logging those pre-marathon miles.
From the office, I can take a leaf out of the book of my mate Luisen "the ironman" Ramos (a Spanish running machine long before he arrived in Switzerland, though as he doesn't like cheese or chocolate I think the sport is what keeps him here ;) and do the 17k around the circumference of Zürich airport, which is surprisingly picturesque, with both jumbo jets and birds of prey zooming close overhead. The nature in general is stunning. On a jog here you can run into deer (hopefully not literally), have your tempo set by a woodpecker, and see majestic red kites up close.
There are also a plethora of mountain run options. I think I'm some way from taking on the Jungfrau marathon, but to train in the Alps is an incredible experience. The famous "runners high" seems easier to achieve with snow capped mountains in view, though I suppose it might just be the thin air...
Running through Swiss scenery has only gone badly wrong once, when I inadvertently ended up surrounded by naked men. As it turned out, I'd wandered into a nudists area near the river. My immediate reaction was to speed up, but that didn't work as it turned out to be an island, so I had to run back through them again. It was the fastest kilometre of my life. The lesson? Run through nature, not naturists.
No end in sight
In short, Switzerland has made me a runner again. And I run like never before. Two-day events would have been unthinkable until I came here, never mind the six-day-a-week training plan I embarked on to prepare for New York. I've run new half marathon bests and even finished 8th in my age category a recent 10k. If all goes to plan in NYC (and that's a big if), I should knock over an hour off my time from London in 2010 and have a much more enjoyable race in the process.
Plus, possibly best of all, through the generosity of Swiss and English folk alike, I've raised a lot of cash for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. My latest marathon exploits stand to generate over £1000 once offline pledges are combined with those at justgiving.com/newyorkmarathonmike. If you haven't donated yet, anything you can give would be hugely appreciated.
A few days after the marathon I turn 30, and my new-found love of running is the best present Switzerland could ever have given me. It's a release, a social experience and a fitness boost all at once. And, body allowing, this is just the start. I hope that for my Swiss running journey, there is no finish line.