To put it lightly the Jungfrau Marathon isn’t any ordinary marathon. Regularly picked in the top ten best races in the world, the marathon winds its way up steep inclines in stunning Swiss scenery. Climbing almost 2,000 meters in the shadow of the legendary Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains, reaching its highest point at 2320 metres this race isn’t just a marathon, it’s an expedition and a test of mental fortitude with chocolate at the end.
For those of you who are new to my blogs, I developed severe patella tendonitis in May, in regular language; sharp shooting pain under my kneecap when running, walking or driving my car. You can read all about it in my last two blog posts but it has been caused by undertaking a succession of races without taking adequate rest and losing my focus on my conditioning. Simply put; I put my body through hell and now it was returning the favour.
Thanks to the injury I had not run any further than 10km apart from Race to the Stones, which was a painful joy, since May. Unsurprisingly doubt was at the forefront of my thinking when it came to running a marathon, up a bloody mountain.
On the day of the race, after a restless night sleep the incredibly moving cacophony of Swiss horns beckoned us to the start in the centre of Interlaken. The shambolic storm of emotions raging within were clearly etched upon my skin and as I said my goodbye to my partner, I could tell she was worried about me too. We both knew that this could be too much for my war-torn body. We had spent the last week trekking across the stunning Jungfrau region, carrying all our kit and living a simple and beautiful existence. During many of the miles we walked I thought about the race and couldn’t fathom completing it. If I am being honest there were countless times I debated not even talking part. We talked through contingency plans in nights staying in mountain huts perched precariously on a cliff sides (I’m not even joking as one of the huts we stayed had previously been destroyed after the land it stood upon collapsed and fell into the valley below TWICE). We plotted on the map where I could drop out from if it all got too much. This felt very much like throwing down my sword before the battle had even begun, but the agonising pain I had been experiencing far outweighed by cardboard cutout pride.
However, starting the race, I felt sky high, that addictive rush of adrenalin that only comes from doing something monumental surged through my soul like a drug. This electric mix of emotions twinned with no pain crackling from my knee brought my first smile during a run since May. As we looped out of Interlaken and into the countryside I was overtaking people with relative ease as my body fell into a fast but seemingly easy pace. “I am back” I could hear my heart beat naively.
My plan had always been to run the first half of the race as if it were its own race. With almost all the 1.1 mile of vertical climbing in the final 17km it made sense to run the first half at half marathon pace and then grind out the remaining mountainous miles how ever fast I could.
At the 15k mark we ran into the town of Zweilutschinen. The road turned to gravel and then narrowed until we were funnelled onto a single track trail. It was at this point I began to struggle, I could feel my fitness begin to wane and my knee whisper words of worry. It was then that my smile disappeared and wouldn’t return till the end of the race.
At Lauterbrunnen, which was around the 20km mark, the true scale of the task ahead truly began to sink in. Even though I had trekked through this mountain range for the past week, standing at the bottom of the cliff like valley walls that loomed threateningly over us brought a sense of fear to my muddled mind. Knowing that it had to be summited in so few miles and these awe-inspiring canyon walls with massive waterfalls cascading hundreds of feet down to the valley below were only a small part of the climb to come made my heart sink.
As that realisation seeped into my mental strength like damp upon a wall, the rain began to fall. Having spent almost a week trekking across this beautiful landscape I knew how quickly the weather can flip and luckily, I had extra layers and gels waiting for me in Lauterbrunnen. The cold that came with climbing was coming and for the first time in my running life I had actually planned ahead!
Quickly after swallowing my gel my stomach began to rebel. With being injured and not racing, I had not had a gel for many months. Pair that with having been on a diet of mainly cheese and chocolate for the past week it is hardly surprising that my stomach began to gurgle and cramp. I stopped to walk to hopefully allow my stomach to settle but as I tried to run once more my stomach churned in painful protestation. I struggled for the next 5km to get into any sort of running rhythm and looking back this was when my mental strength began to crack and crumble, even before the mountain had thrown down its gauntlet…