Hey, it’s me, Sarah. The friend who bought Janae the watermelon smoothie that gave her Giardia and talked her into coming to London on the cusp of the 2020 Covid outbreak. I’m clearly the friend you should be thrilled not to know.
I sent Janae a few pictures of a stunning trail race I did in Grindelwald, Switzerland last weekend in an attempt to lure her over for a trip. Then somehow I ended up writing this race-recap/long-winded diatribe on why you should consistently challenge yourself.
Before I dive in, I just want to shamelessly take advantage of this platform to give you some advice I learned in the ninth grade. I was sitting at a table in Ms. Johnson’s English class, waiting for the other students to file in from lunch. I was in my third junior high school in three years and sick to death of making friends.
Two girls sat down at my table, they kindly smiled at me, then one turned to the other and told a fairly lame joke, laughing so hard at her own joke, she couldn’t breathe. I knew then I wanted to be friends with that girl. I have glued myself to Janae ever since. I just told my teenage daughter looking for new friends–find friends that really love to laugh.
Yellow signs mark the trails–telling you the direction, difficulty, and often time to destination.
Back to running. I’m a casual runner. I’ve done a few races just to prove to myself that I could. I’m not fast and nor will I ever be. I tend to put my shoes on and go primarily for the mental health boost from being out in nature. Since moving to Switzerland, I have fallen in love with being on the trails. Switzerland has an incredible trail system–they claim 65,000 kilometers of marked trails. I live in Central Switzerland, in the lower alps, so there are plenty of trails right outside my door.
I credit the trails with helping me overcome many different challenges. During our strict five week lockdown in 2020, when I was homeschooling my kids in German (I speak German about as well as a three year old), I was going everyday for hours. I know getting outside is the quickest way for a mood boost–for everyone in our family–but especially for me. Sometimes when I’m particularly prickly, my children have been known to recommend I go out for a quick trail run.
Color me biased to our little Swiss town with it’s lake and small ski hills.
Life in Switzerland is designed to get you out in the mountains—from apartment living to public transport direct to mountains to designated forest days in school and even entire preschools spent only in the forest. It’s my favorite thing about our Swiss life and my dream as a parent to create the framework of seeking peace in the mountains for my children
Family favorite activity is Via Ferrata (or Klettersteig, in German).
Again, back to running. My love of trail running is shared by my husband, Rocky, who is a bit more serious about all things sport. For the last couple of years he has been signed up for the Eiger Ultra 101 Kilometer Race in Grindelwald, which has been canceled for covid. This year he was unable to train because of a stress fracture. I had hoodwinked a few friends into joining me for the 16k and we made it a party.
Here’s to friends who will join in and make you stick to your goals.
We arrived in Grindelwald on Friday afternoon just in time to pick up our race packets and get our two boys (ages 8 and 5) pumped for their kids’ race. We had been training the last couple of days on a trail in the forest near our house and they were very excited. Plus, they got to warm up with Snowli (the bunny mascot of Swiss Ski School). Side note: whoever put on that outfit to dance with the kids in the heat is not making enough money.
Photo by Eiger Ultra
The kids races were a blast and luckily the people waiting at the end of the ramp didn’t have to catch our five year old but they did have to catch several other kids who took it too fast.
After cheering on the first teams from the 250k to finish (58 hours, they started on Wednesday), we headed to our hotel, reminiscing about our favorite ski runs from the past winter in Grindelwald-Wengen. I spent the night tossing and turning about missing the four hour race cut off time. I ran the race seven times in my head and each time came up short.
The 101k starts at 4 am Saturday morning. Rocky was clearly experiencing FOMO and he woke up before the sun to do some recon on my race. He got a bit lost and ended up with some of the 101 runners. He did make it back before I started and was able to give me some good tips on the course–the down hill is runnable and just when you think you’re finished, there is one more hill. He admitted he was glad he didn’t have another 80k to go.
View from our hotel breakfast of the Eiger Express Gondola going up next to the Eiger Glacier.
A 9 am start time is 1000x better than my last race that started at night.
I’m a big believer in doing hard things. Especially things that scare you–that you initially think are too far outside your abilities. It’s easy as an adult to stay only where we feel safe. The great moments in my life have most often come from moving outside my comfort zone and into my growth zone—embracing hard work and discomfort.
Since I’m constantly preaching this to my kids, I love when they get to see me actually practice it. TBH they see me do hard things every day when I start conversations in German and inevitably crash and burn. But that’s mostly just embarrassing to me. My five year old is only one year into Swiss Kindergarten and already rolls his eyes at my grammar.
I have a quote from Steve Pressfield sitting on my desk to remind myself that fear is not something to always run from.
“Fear is good. Like self doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or a calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
The elevation profile was really helpful before and during the race. They had signs along the course showing where you were in terms of elevation gain.
I spent a long time debating about whether to bring my poles. I was glad to have them uphill. I’m terribly uncoordinated and constantly trip myself with them on the downhill but I credit them for taking the heat off my legs on the steep climb.
Rocky and the kids met me at the midway point at Bort and I was able to give them high fives and pass off my poles. The whole weekend my kids were confused at me being the one in the race and not Rocky, I realized I needed to do better about signing myself up for things.
My goal was to be at 6 miles by the time I got to 2 hours. When I was at 7 miles in 2 hours and feeling strong after the long climb, I knew I was going to be okay.
The race was stunning in every direction. The trails were mostly shaded and the peaks of the Bernese Oberland were showing off in the bright blue sky.
Thankful for friends who reminded me to take photos.
Just me being my signature brand of boring–here is my playlist for training and racing.
In the end, I finished in 2:46 and was just glad to be able to spend the day in the mountains.
And I got my finisher T-shirt–which I will be wearing every day from now on.
I refueled with some of my favorite Swiss grocery store finds. And we headed down to Iseltwald on Lake Brienz to jump in and cool off.
It was a fun race and a good reminder that hard can be good. I’m hoping we are back next year and maybe I will do the 35k—because just thinking about it terrifies me.
Who wants to come with me next year to do this race with Sarah?
Pretties place you have ever been?
Any questions from Sarah about living in Switzerland?
Something that you have done recently that scared you before you did it?