There is a quote by Greg Child about climbing and looking back at the second half of the Jungfrau Marathon it works for running a mountain marathon too:
“Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb”
At kilometre 25 the climbing commenced and I quickly began asking myself questions mainly; why was I voluntarily putting myself through this? It was not a slow sloping introduction but a sudden, drastic and mentally jarring slog upwards. It caught me off guard because I was confident that I would cope well with the climbs, it is after all my strongest part of most races. I believed naively that they would almost be a rest. I was so very, very wrong.
As soon as the sharp switchback ascent began people were overtaking me. At first it was the odd few people but soon there were battalions of runners seemingly gliding past me as I wheezed like an asthmatic squeaky toy. It was like I was going backwards as about 300 people overtook me in the few kilometres that we were on the steep switchback part of the course. I was so worn out that I was using the fencing to the side of the course to haul my lead like legs up the valley. People passing would take sly looks back as they did, to see what defeat looked like. I was only one kilometre into a 15km stretch of 6,000 plus feet of elevation gain and I felt fearfully hopeless.
This was the first of many moments during the race were I genuinely thought that this may be my last marathon. That I was no longer fit either mentally or physically to run these painful distances. That I wasn’t strong enough now, that following the injury something had snapped within me that could no longer be fixed. My will was broken. I honestly thought it was all over, that I would lie on emerald grass and let my race slip effortlessly through my rain sodden fingers.
I knew that after 5km of this it did ease momentarily as we made our way into the town of Wengen but that did little to help my swirling downward spiral. I knew my partner would be waiting for me there and we had even discussed it as the last place I could logistically pull out of the race. “There is no shame in defeat” I heard my subconscious whisper in siren seduction as I entered the final checkpoint before the town, head down and with a tear in my eye.
It was as I left the checkpoint that I felt something in my flipbelt; a Torq flapjack. I had stuffed it there in the final few minutes before the race started and forgotten all about it. I pulled it out and greedily inhaled it’s syrupy oats. The sugar induced energy jolt felt like someone had jump started my whole body. My soul began to spark back to life and with it my resolve.
I decided right there on the mountain side in a country I hardly knew that I would not relent. This injury had taken so much from me, robbed the light and joy that running has gifted me over the last four years. In its place it left only charred remains and a fear of running and the pain it could cause. But all that stopped now. In spite of the pain, the cold and the weariness that was seeping into every muscle I would not quit until I crossed that finish line. I now moved with slow determination; “always forward, forward always” echoing through every step.
The short downhill into Wengen only cemented my new found resolve as I ran with new found joy into the town and towards the soothing sight of my partner. I regaled her with the internal battle I had been enduring for the last 5km as she passed me another of the flapjacks, some pain killers, another layer and a rain-soaked hug. I shunned the gels she had, it is an ultramarathon now not a marathon I told myself; I need real food, solid fuels to keep me trudging on. I told her I would see her at the finish line, and I actually believed in the words. I believed in myself for the first time in months.