Tag Archives: Jungfrau

What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Marathon

The tent was still dark as my eyes opened, my body wrapped up like a microwaved burrito. I had shed my socks, stocking cap and flannel pants during the night. It is one of the anomalies of having a good sleeping bag: the nuclear world within and the frozen world without.

But it wasn’t because of the climatic disparity I woke so early.

It was nerves.

There are now less than 24 hours before I board the bus that will take me to the starting line of my tenth marathon.

It is my third Jungfrau marathon, so you think I would be a little calmer, knowing what to expect.

But a marathon, as I told a friend recently, is a lot like having a baby. You spend months preparing. You know basically what’s going to happen, but you’re nervous because of the thousands of unknown things that might play out.

Your body has changed since the last one–for better or worse; and you don’t know how that will affect the labor.

You don’t feel like you’re doing anything admirable. You’re still the same person who scrubs toilets and forgets to bring her own grocery bag to Lidl. It’s nothing extraordinary. You’re just doing something that you do.

However, it is exciting. It is nerve-wracking. It gives you both self-doubt and self-confidence.

It is emotional.

The first time I ran it, I cried like a baby at the end. Yes, I was glad to finish–but it was so much more than that. A friend of mine accurately described marathon running as cathartic. It is. The weights you carry when you begin are scattered across the path like a trail of breadcrumbs. If someone could read the emotions left behind on the trail, there would be enough stories to last multiple lifetimes.

What is my story this year? What will I leave behind?

I didn’t run a marathon last year. Last year, I spent a lot of time letting my health go to shit. I didn’t take care of myself. I incarcerated myself in an emotional lockdown.

Then suddenly just before my 44th birthday, my husband, my hero-turned-nemesis, died.

At age 53.

The text messages with silly animal emojis stopped.

The skype requests stopped.

The phone calls stopped.

My nightmares stopped.

23 years of history.

Stopped.

Dead. Cremated. Interred.

All I have left are medals & patches & ribbons & photos & these 4 incredible humans who bear half his DNA.

And the memories, of course. However, foggy and (sometimes) romanticized they might be.

Michael had always scoffed at my marathons–calling them selfish or a waste of my time. But he was always the first one to brag to other people about them.

During the height of his psychological problems, I signed up for my first mountain marathon–the Jungfrau.

Michael was always worried about my marathon running: “What would happen to the kids if you got hurt?” he would ask. His years in Alaska search and rescue fed into his fears like a glacial river.

I never ran marathons to spite him. It was therapy for me. My quiet time. My escape. He could never fully understand that. When you marry at age 20 and spend your life homeschooling four children, sometimes, you need a little time alone with your own noggin. Maybe it is selfish–but it is a much-needed selfishness. The type that staves off depression in a weary mom. The selfishness that gives you some semblance of control over your own body, your own mind, when you live a life in which those two elements belong to god, your husband or both–but never to your self.

I ran the Jungfrau depsite his long-distance skepticism. I ran it again the next year, though stress had already begun to gnaw at the edges of my health.

The next year, I skipped the marathon altogether.

Then Mike died.

And I was alive.

Suddenly. Completely.

A princess startled and alert, not from a kiss but by the death of a deep love.

I was alive.

Alive!

Let that word roll around on your tongue for a bit. Let it sink into your mind. Breathe it in and out.

Life means you still have the ability to choose.

You can eat more vegetables or take the dog on longer walks. You can go to the gym and lift heavy shit; or to stay home and drink two bottles of wine. You can choose with whom you share your bed; to whom you give your heart; and you can decide if those two things are mutually exclusive.

You can do the really hard things–like mend broken relationships or walk away from unhealthy ones. You can say what’s really on your mind; to be authentic; to expose your inner thoughts and weaknesses; to forget about busting your ass to be a people-pleaser.

You can make the terrifying choice to be happy, which is like jumping off a cliff, when all you’ve chosen before is to cling to anguish.

I am allowed to be happy?!

Mike’s death is not a crossroads for me–it is a trajectory. Whichever way I point the sharp end, that’s the direction I’ll go.

I am choosing a life that makes me happy, healthy and strong. I can see the person I want to be from here. I can’t lose sight of her–not now, not after going through so much.

The marathon is symbolic for me–this year especially. My whole world has changed. I am happy. On the road to health. Discovering myself along this rocky new trail.

I carry a lot with me this year. The sadness, the anger, the depression and self-loathing. Regrets.

I plan to leave it all behind; and at the end, come out with something beautiful and healthy. A rosy-cheeked bundle of joy.

Kicking.

Crying.

Cooing.

Alive.

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JungFrau

jungfrau finish kids

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Positive Energy and the Color Green

I love my tent. And I love my car. Both are green and quirky. It sounds ridiculous to talk this way about inanimate objects, but when I think of them, it gives me a warm, happy feeling.

The tent feels more like home than my rental house, probably because I chose it from among hundreds of others; and there are nothing but good, happy memories zipped up inside of it.

And green. The color of life. I’ve gone from years of silver cars and white walls to color–papaya & glacier blue & forest green–vibrant and alive.

Now I’m surrounded with this incredible amount of positive energy, it’s almost overwhelming. Not long ago, if someone other than a physicist had used the words positive and energy in the same sentence, I would have rolled my eyes.

I was such a hypocrite.

Letting nature fill up my soul during long runs, yet denying its inherent God-given power.

I have a million thoughts, sitting here in my sleeping bag, listening to the rush of the waterfalls over the cliffs beside our campsite. But my thoughts return to the fact that we are connected to the world around us. And our mindsets are important.

No. Not just important but vital to everything we do.

Running.

Crossfit.

Parenting.

Living.

But this positive outlook can’t be faked into existence. It’s cultivated, nurtured and must be protected. Because people will try to destroy it, especially if they don’t understand it.

It’s easy to be inspired sitting next to a waterfall. Maybe less so when I’m home cleaning up dog pee.

For now, I’m letting the good things fill up my tank. Because in 6 days, I’ll be running up the mountain, and I will need all the positive energy I can get.

 

 


Challenges

lean out

“Are you up for a challenge?” our coach asked.

My first reaction was to think of all the reasons why I was NOT.

  • My legs were still sore from Wednesday
  • I’m not the strongest person in the box
  • I was a little tired
  • My toes were cold
  • I couldn’t think of more reasons, but I’m sure I had some great ones

But instead of just saying, “No,” I asked what the challenge was–and he moved on to the next person.

Out of the entire group, only two people said ‘Yes’ without question–and that, really, was the right attitude.

That’s how I want to be. 

My first instinct is to avoid challenges–to stay comfortable and hide in the middle of the pack.

My first marathon was a challenge. But the second? Third? Sixth? Not so much. I KNEW I could run and finish without doing any worse than the last time. But I wouldn’t exactly call it a challenge. A challenge would have been to set a goal, and then win or lose, go for it.

Crossfit and marathons are inherently challenging, but I am also lazy.

Yes, lazy.

It isn’t natural for me to push myself.

I’m not talking about jumping out of Seilbahn and trying to fly. But I do know that I could try to add a little more weight to the bar, even if I end up dropping the whole damned thing.

Ever since I had coffee with a random German guy at the Pitztal Gletscher Marathon last June, I’ve wanted to run the Jungfrau. He said he had done it, and I could too.

Then he showed me pictures on his phone. If you’ve never looked at pics from the Jungfrau, do so. It is INCREDIBLE. That’s the kind of running I want to do.

It IS a challenge. But is it enough of a challenge? I’ve had a crazy squirrel running around in my head telling me that while I CAN complete the Jungfrau (and I know I can, even if I had to drag an Oxygen tank with me across the finish line), I should try to finish in the top half of my age group.

That thought scares me because typically, there are very FEW women my age running, and when they are, they beat the compression hosen off me.

European women my age are members of running clubs and wear matching t-shirts and collapse when they cross the finish line; whereas I like to finish smiling and holding hands with the people I love.

Women my age (who want to do something fun) sign up for the 5k or the 10k or even the half or they clack around in the Nordic walking stick group–but they don’t run marathons unless they’re serious.

If I want to be in the top half of my age group, I’ll have to push myself, or as my son and I say at Crossfit, I’ll have to “put more weight on it.”

I still want to finish well (which means without need of medical assistance) but I also want to stay focused mentally; to correct the negative self-talk that causes me to wither during a race (around km 36); and to ignore the pain. (Marathons always hurt, and so far, slowing down doesn’t help anything).

Most of all, I want to finish smiling.

My goal is to spend the next few months not just training my body, but also getting my mind to the “bring it on” level, which I so admire.

I don’t know if I’ll even get a slot at the Jungfrau (registration opens in February), but my new challenge for myself is that the NEXT marathon I do, I want to finish in the top half of my age group.

[And I’m not going to deliberately seek out a huge one just to improve my odds!]

[Yes, that WAS my first thought…see, I AM challenge-challenged].

If I don’t meet that goal, then who cares? At least I will have given it my best shot, and I can walk away proud, knowing that I went for it without question.

It’s a new mindset for me, and one that requires practice.

Lots and lots and lots of practice, I fear.

I have 10 months to train for Jungfrau. 10 months of pushing myself further and further, aspiring to meet my challenge, yet still smiling, regardless of what the numbers might be at the Ziel.