I squinted when we left the shadowy city streets and faced the sunny slope towards the mountains. My long-sleeved shirt weighed 50 pounds, and I had to strip it off , and tie it around my waist in a way that its flapping wouldn’t annoy me for the duration of the race.
This was Kilometer FIVE.
I vowed never to run the JungFrau again.
Four THOUSAND runners corralled like feedlot cattle on the streets of Interlaken. It was elbow to sweaty elbow.
The 4,5 hour pacemaker blew by me like he was doing a 200 meter sprint. When the 5 hour pacemaker rushed past as if his shorts were on fire, I was concerned. When the 5,5 hour pacemaker caught up to me, I thought: “What the hell kind of race IS this?”
This, my friends, is a mountain marathon.
Willkommen in der Schweiz.
Bottlenecks. Staus. Runners coming to a complete and utter standstill on the trail due to sheer numbers. It was a tooth-grinding experience.
Facing the long slope to Lauterbrunnen, I said to myself: “This is NOT a race for time. Run your own race.”
With that thought carrying me through the frustration. I could finally look around and see exactly WHY I was running.
The sheer beauty of the mountains, the power and ruggedness, the full technicolor landscape; it saturates your mind.
Lauterbrunnen marked the halfway point, and as we passed through the town, there, near the campgrounds, stood my kids cheering. After briefly fantasizing of ducking into my tent, taking off my shoes and having a beer, I kept going, bolstered by my kids’ confidence in me.
We looped around Lauterbrunnen, and when we hit Kilometer 25 and headed up the mountain towards Wengen, everything went into slow motion.
You know a race is tough when walking is faster than running.
My strategy was this: run when you can. Walk when you’re dying.
Surprisingly, this worked.
And also surprisingly, I’m pretty good on the switchbacks.
I credit my CrossFit Bogatyr training for this completely.
I never felt out of breath on the climb, as I worked hard to stay upright, so my lungs could fill with air. And I was able to keep going up the mountainside by using my hams and glutes. I saw a lot of runners clutching their quads, trying to give themselves more power on the climbs, but I was in a different gear. Passing a lot of people on the climbs.
When I looked at the stats later, I found that in my age group, I moved from 105th place to 80th in the last half of the race. That means I passed 25 of my competitors on those switchbacks. I passed a lot of men too. Probably because we were outnumbered 4 to 1.
When the switchbacks ended, we were on a narrow trail, single file. At one point we were stepping up from one boulder to another. It seemed like miles of this. And I kept thinking of the weighted box step-ups we do in Crossfit, and how I HAD to keep moving.
My legs were strong.
Runners were cramping up, crying in pain, sitting by the path waiting for the massage team to come to them, and I kept going.
Finally we were along the narrow ridge line, and I was happy when the bottleneck got so bad we had to pause, so I could look away from the stony trail and take in the mountains and glaciers. But it’s like sitting too close to a movie screen, your eyes just aren’t big enough to take it all in. And you wish that you could somehow absorb the majesty of it all and let it fill you.
My heart leapt when we reached KM 40. And when the trail broke wide open and began to descent, I had a burst of energy and sprinted the last 2,2km, passing a few more competitors.
Some of them tried to keep up, but my legs were flying, and I had a smile on my face.
I was going so fast, that I couldn’t see my kids. They jumped out from the crowd and chased me down the lane before I saw them.
The very best part of the marathon is finishing with my kids. They inspire me. They support me. And even if I had stopped at the halfway point, they would still cheer for me just the same.
I don’t know if I’ll have the chance, or the drive, or the time, or the energy to run another marathon. But if I do, the Jungfrau is at the top of my list.