Updated: Jul 15, 2021
I sat on the rock, my head on my hands and tears pouring down my face, with the world-famous Eiger north face staring down at me. Swiss mountains surrounded me; however, the beauty, peacefulness and tranquillity, did nothing to ease my negative mood and thoughts. I wanted to be back in my hotel apartment, relaxing and chilling, enjoying a good cup of coffee. I wanted to be slowly enjoying the beautiful views and not hurling past at speed. With the tears falling down my face, I am not sure I understood, at that point, why I got back up and joined the race again, but I am delighted I did.
I was taking part in the Eiger Ultra Trail race that runs around Grindelwald. The race route, of 101km and 6700m height difference takes in the most breath taking viewpoints the area has to offer Gross Scheidegg, First, Faulhorn (2680m), Schynige Platte, Wengen, Männlichen and Kleine Scheidegg, before tackling the awesome traverse along the base of the Eiger North Face itself. It is a mighty challenge, to even the most seasoned trail runners and it was testing me right from the beginning.
From the start in Grindelwald I was hiking up 1000m to Gross Scheidegg. It was 4:00 in the morning and dark. The stream of runners with the head torches looked like a long snake moving up the mountain. My energy felt great and I was enjoying the hike. I was taking it fairly easy as I knew most of the course, having trained on these routes over the years, and I knew I would be in for a long tough day. After Gross Sheidegg the route takes you along to First with a gentle incline. I started running here and it didn’t feel light and freeing as it usually would, instead I felt heavy and thoughts of how I could stop were creeping into my head. They subsided as I ran down to Bort. I love downhill but I still wasn’t getting that fun feeling I normally get as I let myself go and enjoy it like a child running free.
From Bort it is a climb of 750m back up to First and I hated every minute of this climb. I was thinking of many excuses I could use to leave the race at First (the next checkpoint). My foot that I hurt last year was sore, I had rolled my ankle and had a stinking headache; however, none of these was enough to take me out of the race. I was full of negative thoughts, and no matter the mental games I was playing to get to positive, nothing was changing. I was thinking of all the positive stuff about this area, the beautiful scenery, doing what I love, smiling....however, nothing changed. I was in this negative loop that wasn't serving my running very well.
As I arrived at First, I had to run on the frightening construction built alongside the cliff. It is a narrow and winding platform thousands of meters above the valley and pastures below, over the suspension bridge that bounced with every step. Thousands of tourist come to enjoy this Cliff walk however for me it was hell and I hated being suspend in the air with only metal slats supporting me. When I finally arrived at the checkpoint, I was surprised how little space there was, as there was no room for sitting down, I never got to contemplate quitting, I was ushered through after refuelling, and before I knew it I was back on the course. From First you take a lovely big path towards Bachalp lake. The views are astounding, and you cannot help but be in awe as you run along here. However, these views did nothing to quench my gloomy mood. About 20 mins from leaving First, I saw another path that would take me back to First without seeing the runners. I thought this was my chance to quit. I got off course and wandered to a quiet spot where no one could see me. It was here I sat on the rock and cried.
The running felt like a heaviness that I had to endure and I didn't want to do it. The thought of having to take the walk of shame past the runners to First to hand back my number and finish the course, and endure the humiliation of giving up for no particular reason apart from my heart wasn't in it. I thought about telling the hotel check-in lady when she asked how it went, and I would say I quit, I didn't want that. I didn't want to feel ashamed for stopping but most of all I didn't want to give up on me. Then I thought about what I do and my purpose, I coach and inspire others to live their lives fully and be their best selves..." Getting out of their comfort zones and not be held back by their fears" and here I was about to give up at the first hurdle, give up on myself. What kind of a role model was I? Connecting to my life purpose and my WHY, was what got me off my arse and back into the race again. I didn't want to give up on me and my dreams, even when it felt tough. I knew it would eventually pass, and I was prepared to stick it out and keep reminding myself of my WHY to keep me motivated and positive so I could enjoy the race.
I would love to say it was plain sailing from here and I genuinely wish it was, however, that was not the case. From BachalpSee there was a lovely downhill which did energise me a little however the hike upon 600m to Faulhorn at 2680m, was like hell. The 51km runners, going at a faster speed, were now overtaking us. It is hard to stay motivated when people are continually passing you, especially when you find it hard to stay positive. I was so slow going up this hill and kept stopping. It was now getting hot, and my headache was like a drum beating in my head. Again I contemplated giving up and walking back to First from Faulhorn; I couldn't see how I could run another 70km feeling like this. When I arrived at the top, I sat down, looking at other runners, I could see that many found it hard to reach this highest point on the course. I wasn't suffering alone. Again I connected with my purpose and my heart, and this pushed me on from here, and maybe the thought of running 1600m downhill, and perhaps in part my stubbornness or just loving this part of the route and wanting to experience its beauty.
The snow, the single technical track and dancing to avoid rocks, brought back some of my mojo. The twists and turns in the path kept me focused on where to place my next step, and with the help of gravity, my speed got faster. I stopped thinking about quitting and started to enjoy my journey. To make it easier, instead of focusing on next 70kms, I rather focused only next section ahead. My quads and the front of my ankles started to cramp, and I realised I probably wasn't drinking enough so made a concerted effort to increase my fluid intake, stopping at some beautiful cold streams to fill up my water bottles.
By halfway, at Berglauanen, I was tired, however motivated to continue. I had been worried about getting here and wanting to quit, due to DNFing at this spot a few years ago because of deficient iron levels, so it was significant progress to be in good spirits. Due to my intolerances, I had decided to bring a packet dehydrated food to eat and give me energy for the second half. The REAL Turmat, the Pulled pork was terrific, and I surprised myself by eating the whole thing. I usually battle with eating during these long runs, so I was delighted that I managed to consume the entire thing. This meal gave me energy as I powered the 600m up to Wengen and for the first time in the race, I enjoyed the uphill.
This vitality was soon over, however, with 1000m hike up to Mannlichen. It was still hot even though it was early evening and with little wind and no shade, I was finding it hard to keep my momentum from earlier. I made it to the top with slow progress, and very quickly, my temperature dropped, and I was suddenly shivering. I spotted a blanket on a chair and sat down with it wrapped warmly around me. The medic came over to check on me and brought me a hot water bottle. I felt so content sitting there drinking my lukewarm tea and cuddling my hot water bottle; it was so hard to leave. However, I knew I needed to push on; I wanted to get finished and still had another 30km to complete, which would take me about 7 hours.
With cooler temperature and all the significant ascents over, I finally immersed myself into the race. There were still uphills; however, these felt more doable, although still slow. The downhills were great, and I began to overtake many people in the last 20km. I felt like I was finally finding my flow. The final run down from Pfingsten felt easy, and I could hardly believe that I already run 95km. The nasty little twist to the end of this race is a horrible hill right before the finish. I pushed up this fairly hard as all I wanted to do was finish. Finally, I crossed the finish line at 23:42 just as one runner was down on one knee proposing to his girlfriend. How lucky I was to be able to witness that as I finished.
From the beginning, my heart was not in this race. I tried to run the race with my head, and my body was not happy with this approach. It made it much harder to push myself and to try and enjoy it. When I connected with my heart and why I love doing these types of races, I enjoyed and went faster. This approach is also true for activities outside running, connect with your heart, and why you are doing something, and it will bring more enjoyment and motivation. Now time for relaxation and recovery and reconnecting with myself.
Author: Debbie B is a Transformation and Leadership Coach. She brings her experiences of getting out her comfort zone, overcoming her self imposed barriers and connecting to your WHY to aid her coaching. Working with individuals and teams she supports them to perform at their best and fulfil their potential.