The downhill was short-lived and soon as soon as we left the bustling town of Wengen, we were climbing again but I now found myself pushing forwards instead of falling backwards. Within a few kilometres we had climbed up into the cloud line and away from civilisation. The world became small and damp as you could only see a few meters ahead of you, with only the briefest of glimpses at the immense mountains standing sentinel above. The temperature began to plummet too and I was glad of my many extra layers.
The final few kilometres featured some of the sharpest climbs and hardest terrain I have ever experienced but they were my strongest of the entire race. The day before the race a few inches of snow had fallen on the higher ground which had now melted making the ground sodden and slippery. While most runners had opted for road shoes, having trekked in the local area for the week leading up to the race I knew what the terrain was going to be like so opted for my trail shoes instead. The grip of my Brooks Cascadias paired with the flapjack fuel meant that I was now the one doing the overtaking, feeling more like a mountain goat skipping through the mud and up slippery rock rather than the floundering sloth I was earlier on in the race. Most were following the single file death march but there were a few of us scampering up the mountain side desperate to get to that finish line.
As I neared the final climb I looked back and marvelled at the moment the Jungfrau Marathon had gifting me. Behind the line of runners tracing the whole way down the mountain, their strength in tatters, the clouds that had blanketed the past 10km parted revealing the snow encrusted mountains above. I doubt anyone else saw it as the clouds quickly hid their secret once more, but I snapped the photo below. It felt as if I was being gifted that awe-inspiring moment for the battle scars I had earned during the race. I thought to myself wistfully that here at my feet lay the mind-boggling beauty of Switzerland and I had gotten here through the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. It felt utterly ridiculous and utterly wonderful in equal measure.
The pinnacle of the final climb was so slippery that they had an army of volunteers helping ensure no one slid off the mountain side. While they offered a steadying hand they also had buckets of chocolates and the one they handed to me was swiftly inhaled as I knew what was coming after.
Having walked this section of the route only a few days before I knew that after this final climb there was only about two kilometres of steep downhill descent separating me from the finish line. In an act very unlike me, I threw caution to the wind and launched myself down that mountain side like a man possessed. I trusted in the grip of my trail shoes to not turn me into a muddy avalanche.
I was sprinting, or at least it felt like I was, as I sailed past a sea of runners. I saw my partner with a few hundred metres still to go and grabbed the Welsh flag that comes to every race and wrapped it around my neck like a heroes cape. In all honestly I felt like a hero in those moments, but I wasn’t saving a cat from up a tree, I was saving myself and with it my love of running.
The Jungfrau Marathon encapsulated every agonising torment running can inflict: self doubt, searing pain, watching helplessly as times slip by, weary limbs and mental battles. But (and it is a gigantic but) that feeling of flying towards the finish line, that utterly addictive feeling of absolute freedom and that blazing sense of self pride, makes all the suffering meaningless in the ecstatic joy.
This race reminded me why I am a runner, why I chase this ridiculous way of life. The early nights, stiffening muscles and ungodly chaffing. Because without it I would not have been stood in the shadow of the unspeakable beauty of the Swiss Alps, with an intoxicating mix of joyous emotions. As I had the medal slung around my neck and a silver foil blanket draped around my shoulders I saw my partner running down the hill to me and appreciated how running had gifted me a brand new beginning, a new path.
I didn’t know what was going to happen in the race but as Greg Child put it; somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit I found my answer: It was to help me fall back in love with running again.