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Ultra Bielersee

11-May-2019 Lake Biel, Switzerland


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Trail Race Race Terrain
50KM / 31Miles
1 Day

DIFFICULTY Race Difficulty Intermediate  

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Elevation: Very little change < 500 metres. Benign running terrain, not technical.

Suitable for: First ultra runners completing a marathon or doing regular long distance running in the last six months.


Elevation: Increase of up to 1000 metres

Suitable for: Runners who have completed at least one ultra distance race (or similar event) or are doing long distance running (>26 miles) regularly, with elevation shown.


Elevation: Increase of up to 1500 metres

Suitable for: Runners who have completed several ultra distances or similar events, or are doing long distance running regularly, with elevation shown.


Elevation: Increase of up to 2000 metres with some challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity or heat) and or technical terrain

Suitable for: Experienced runners who have completed at least regular ultra distances in last 12 months, or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races may be subject to evidence of recent qualifying race participation and recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements.


Elevation: Increase of up to 2000 metres with very challenging climatic conditions (e.g. ice, snow, humidity, heat or at high altitude) and or technical terrain.

Suitable for: Very experienced long distance ultra runners (min 3 years’ experience) or are doing regular long distance running (>50 miles) with elevation and conditions shown (where possible). Admission to these races is often subject to evidence of recent qualifying race participation and recent medical examination certificate. Purchase of specialist kit is often recommended for these races.

Endurance - Multi-activity

Type: An ultra distance race including at least two of the following activities such as running, swimming, cycling, kayaking, skiing and climbing. It may also include different climatic conditions (eg ice, snow, humidity, cold water, mud or heat).

Suitable for: Experienced multi-skilled athletes who have trained for the different activities included in this event. Admission to these races may be subject to receipt of a recent medical examination certificate. Check with the race organiser regarding entry requirements and any specialist equipment required such as a wetsuit, skis or a mountain bike.

Global - Virtual

Type: A virtual race which can be run at any time shown on the dates shown, on any type of terrain in any country.

Suitable for: For runners from beginners to experienced as you choose your own course and challenge based on the guidelines and options set by the virtual race organiser.

Review Ultra Bielersee

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06:55 23-05-18

year of race: 2018

The Biel Lake (Bielersee) Ultra Marathon. May 12th 2018-05-16
Bern, Switzerland.

Five weeks ago, I lined up in with 40,000 fellow runners to participate in the NN Rotterdam marathon. This Saturday, I was one of 136 runners about to start the Lake Biel Ultra-marathon. The scene could not have been more different. The atmosphere in Biel or Bienne (the French name) located just 40 km from Bern was relaxed, friendly and low-key.

Parking was just metres from the start banner. If you chose to come by train, the station was a mere 7-minute walk. The 4 potties in the adjacent hostel were clean, with no lines. There were also showers in the same hostel available at the end of the race. I saw a few happy runners still registering for the event 30 minutes before the start. There were no police motorbikes zipping around the elite runners, no booming music making our hearts pound even faster, no national anthems, no security, no pacers and no barriers separating runners and public. The sun was radiating an early morning glow and the coffees were steaming.

Next to the registration table you could deposit your special nutrition and drinks into simple supermarket cardboard boxes labelled Erlach, Neueville or Ligerz the names of some of the water tables in thick black marker. There was no fancy tracking system, no timing mats, the bibs were just numbers. The whole race was run on an honour’s system.

Ten minutes before the start, instructions were announced over a microphone in both French and German. Basically we had to follow the yellow spray-painted arrows that we would find on the ground. If in doubt the announcer said keep going straight. And then we were off.

The Bieler Ultra is four races in one. The XXL is a 160 km or 100 miler, four times around Lake Biel. The circumference of the lake is a convenient 40 km. The announcer told us that eight athletes had started this race the previous evening at 17:00 and that they were still out of the course, 2 of them were women. The UBS, The Ultra Bieler See was the 50km, which I was about to start. We were to follow our arrows around the lake and, at 19 km peel off onto St Peter’s Island, which was a 5 km long peninsula adding 10 km to the 40 km lake trail. We ran to the top of the St Peter’s Island and back. There was a 40 km race, which omitted the island and a half marathon, which ran 10.5 km out with us and turned around at the first water table and headed back to the park where we started.

After the first water table at 10.5 km, there were tables with super friendly volunteers at about every 5 km. They were offering water and Energy Drink, pieces of banana and orange, chunks of power bar, dextrose, chocolate (we were in Switzerland after all) and pretzel sticks. It was perfect.

Lacking were potties en route. Maybe that is how it is for ultra-marathons in general; I was learning, this was my first ultra. It turned out that we just had to be creative. We passed through many campgrounds, little harbours and cafes where I could have gone to the bathroom, but I did not know that this was necessary. There were two porta-potties, not sure if they were part of the race or part of sporadic construction sites along the way, one at around 7 km and the second at 22 km, in the spirit of “never look a gift horse in the mouth,” I used those.

The scenery was glorious, the lake was shimmering and the long water reeds were swaying in the gentle breeze. There were many people out in the parks, on the beaches, on the trails, sunbathing, reading books, biking, swimming, jogging and walking. This made up for the complete lack of supporters for this race. The event was so low-key, no one had any idea what this bunch of sweaty people wearing camelbak packs and flimsy numbers was doing. Some asked what was going on and were very enthusiastic in their response. Most stood aside to let us pass, as it was obvious we had some mission in mind even if it was not quite clear exactly what it was.

Aware of this lack of support along the route, I had downloaded podcasts and music during the slow taper phase to ward off negative thoughts. I did not use one second of this entertainment as the unknown trail and friendly faces of those out in the sunshine were enough to distract from dark moments.

The Ultra Bielersee was not about medals and t-shirts, there were none; just large bottles of wine for the winner of each age-group category. This race was organised by athletes, for athletes, with athletes. It was a hot day, so where the trail or road was in the shade, the running was more comfortable. About half the course is on asphalt and the rest on trails, with the lake always in view. 11 water tables were dotted around the course, often in very secluded areas, how the volunteers hauled their tables, water and goodies to these remote spots I was not sure. Each was manned by encouraging and kind people.

As we double-crossed each other on St Peter’s Island or over-took each other on the trail there were nods of encouragement and brief non-verbal exchanges, mainly of thumbs up. Not many words were spoken, as we were all focussed on conserving energy. Some runners were carrying their fuel; others had chosen to rely on the water tables. I was glad I had my backpack with salty liquorice and water readily available because I tend to sweat well.

For me it was the perfect race for a first ultra. It was almost completely flat, with a climb and decent total of 85 metres. With a time limit of a generous 8 hours; I felt no pressure to push myself beyond my, as yet, untested ultra limits. Because many of the trails were wide, my husband was able to bike much of the route alongside me. When the trails narrowed and bikes were not allowed, he took to the road and biked through some gorgeous medieval towns. I have learned over the years that keeping your groupies entertained is also an important part of endurance events.

The record time for finishing the UBS is held by Thomas Frieden. In 2012 he finished in a time of 3h 16′ 35“. For the women it is held by Belinda Hall, 2017 at 3h 51′ 19“. If a participant succeeds in running the race at a new record time, then his/her prize is the reimbursement of the 50 Swiss Franc entry fee. Interestingly Thomas Frieden’s time is also the unofficial Swiss record over the 50 km distance.

For a few hours on Saturday 12th May 2018, the 76 participants of the 50 km Ultra Bielersee were bound together by our passion for running and our spirit of endurance. I had a wonderful experience, loved just about every minute of my 5 hours and 41 minutes out on the course and to finish off the perfect day, I unexpectedly came in third in my age group.

Tiffany Jolowicz, author of:
iron wish, iron will, Ironwoman


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