In late 2019, Roger started putting the bug in my ear about Eiger. I entered the lottery and didn’t get a spot, but I kept it on the backburner for July 2020 because runners are able to transfer bibs. As we all know, July 2020 was a bust and so I re-entered the lottery for 2021. I got in, but then the race canceled the 101k distance. So when July 2022 rolled around, this race had been nearly 3 years in the making.
It had seemed like a dream for so long that I was pretty negligent about training for it as an A race. I was training as I always do, but my race-specific buildup was super short and I was going into it relying heavily on fitness and adrenaline rather than course knowledge and terrain specificity.
I flew overnight Wednesday and arrived in Zurich on Thursday morning. I slept for a few hours on the plane, but was definitely quite groggy throughout the day. We had lunch at a brewery in Bern along the river and then drove through Ruschegg, the town that my family is from on my father’s side (my maiden last name is Ruegsegger).
From Ruschegg, we continued our drive to Grindelwald, passing the beautiful Lake Interlaken along the way. Once in Grindelwald, we checked into our hotel room and then eventually went to have an early dinner.
I wasn’t really even hungry, but had some cheese fondue and bread because, well, Switzerland. Back at the hotel, I was tired, but found it hard to fall asleep because it was so warm in our room. We opened the door and window, but there wasn’t much breeze so I just tried to rest until I fell asleep.
The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel and then went to pick up our bib numbers and do a little shopping at the expo. We grabbed some sandwiches for lunch and spent the afternoon trying to rest and get our gear ready. The race had a complimentary pasta dinner with non-alcoholic beer for runners and our hotel was at the finish line so it made sense for us to go with this option.
I found it hard to fall asleep again because it was so warm in the room. We had to leave the door open to cool it off, but the race announcers were playing music until 10pm. I put in earplugs and eventually dozed off for supposed just over 6 hours.
I actually felt pretty good when I woke up so I clearly got some deep sleep. I drank a coffee drink I had bought at the grocery store the prior day and choked down a roll. With a 4am start, Roger had been up since probably 2am, but I made him let me sleep until at least 3am. We left right at 3:30am which was plenty of time to drop off my drop bag, turn on our locators, and stand around nervously with other runners.
Roger wanted to go out more quickly than me so I fully intended to spend the entire day alone unless some poor soul who happened to speak English found themselves near me at some point. We lined up way closer to the front than I cared for so when the gun went off, I let the field whoosh by me as I found a groove further back in the pack.
The first 3ish miles were on pavement and we slowly climbed towards the trailhead. Maybe I’m just used to being further back, but it was WEIRDLY quiet. I feel like there is always nervous chatter for the first few miles in trail races and I felt like aside from the footfalls and heavy breathing, I could have heard a pin drop.
Once we neared the trailhead, everyone started pulling out their trekking poles and I followed suit, snapping them into place just as I reached the single track. I was happy with my placement in the conga line, pushing comfortably, but not too hard. I didn’t want to be holding up the line so I felt good about my choice in the field that I was consistently closing the gap, but not feeling the urge to pass. There were a few times that the trail spilled out onto a road and runners would reposition themselves at these points. I wasn’t really thinking too much about pace or time, just trying to stay comfortable and run my own race.
The first aid station at the top of the first climb was at Gross Scheidegg (mile 5.2) and I topped off my water at this point. It was a little hectic and you just had to push your way into a spot to have your water refilled. Waiting your turn wasn’t really a thing unless you wanted to wait all day. The sun started to come up and I stopped a few times to snap some photos, knowing that a few extra minutes of photography were likely not going to make a difference in my race.
I switched off my headlamp and threw it in my very full pack, glad to finally be able to see without it. At some point in this next section, I caught up with Roger. He was not feeling great, but was still moving okay and though he tried to push me on ahead multiple times throughout the day, we spent the rest of our race together. We saw his dad atop First on the east side and he looked so genuinely excited to see us that his joy easily rubbed off on me.
Once we arrived at the downhill portion, we passed a ski stop that had a real bathroom and Roger ducked inside. Luckily, he felt mucho better after that and we cruised our way to Bort (mile 10.8) in good spirits. The aid station at Bort was inside a barn. Which was kind of cool but then I dropped my bottle top on the ground amid the muck and it became less cool.
As we climbed out from Bort, we slowly inched our way back up to First (mile 14.3). The sun was rising, but it was cool in the shadows of the mountains and I was really comfortable. I was trying to soak in the views of the alpine valleys as much as possible, grateful for that exact moment in time of being able to attempt this race.
The climb up to First was really spectacular because we could see people all along the switchbacks of the trail as it was fully in sight. As the cliff walk came into view, I was geeking out about how spectacular of an experience this was. I was grinning ear-to-ear as I walked along the cliff walk towards the aid station. Roger’s dad was there again and we were all in good spirits as he cheered us on.
|Photo from TripAdvisor|
I don’t recall the aid station at Feld (mile 18) which I suppose means that all systems were operating properly at that point. I was using my eat timer on my watch to try to consume something every 30 minutes and was pretty on top of it. At this point, I hadn’t peed yet, but wasn’t concerned as that is pretty typical for me in an ultra.
I do remember the climb to Faulhorn (mile 21) though as it was another stunning look at the alpine valley. It was at a ridiculous grade though and we climbed over 1,000’ in one mile. The frontrunners of the 50k started passing us in this section, leaping up the mountain like goats. We talked to some other runners from time to time and I remember that in this section we talked to a guy named Sasha who I recognized had made a comment on the Eiger Facebook post the day prior.
Atop Faulhorn, the highest point in the course, the views were just unreal. My mouth was alternating between a giant grin and my jaw dropping. It helped that it was a bluebird kind of day that made the scenery pop even more. The aid station was tucked in away from the winds, but was a tiny space. We sipped Coke, filled our water bottles, and then began our next section of rocky descent to Egg (mile 24).
It was slow going for me coming down as the rock scree was not something I was used to and given that a slip was extremely dangerous, I was taking my time. Lots of people were along this section of trail as well, hiking in both directions. Most groups were kind enough to let the runners have the right of way, though it was often tricky in narrow sections.
Once the trail flattened a bit and we got out of the scree section, we finally were able to do some running! The aid station Egg was just a spot in an alpine field with a very kind group of volunteers who were offering hydration in this section. We topped off again and then had a really enjoyable section of running towards Schwand (mile 28.6). It was heating up, but we were still high enough in altitude that it was not uncomfortable. And we were running along ridgelines that were breathtaking. We stopped to take photos, we chatted about anything and everything, and we were both just truly having a fun time. For a while, I kind of forgot that I had a bib pinned on my shorts.
As we neared Schwand, the descent in elevation and the midday sun started to feel toasty. I realized that I hadn’t peed at all by this point and that was a bit concerning, but I was able to go a little at this aid station. I put more sunscreen on at this point and was grateful for the volunteer who had a hose to douse my head with cold water. We set off down the nice forest service road and thought it would be easy cruising to the midway point. Ha!
It was at this point that we found ourselves on what we later dubbed “The Frodo Trail”. It was some straight up bullshit. The descents were so steep that you often had to use your entire body to lower yourself. It was all single track full of roots, rocks, and deadly drop offs. There were many portions that had fixed ropes and sketchy bridges. I couldn’t imagine trying to do this trail while it was wet or in the dark.
Once we finally came out onto a less terrifying trail, Roger was feeling defeated. He was wanting to just run it in from Burglauenen (mile 33) and take the 50k finish. I was actually feeling pretty good at this point and spent the next couple of miles telling him that he was doing great and to just take a little extra time at the aid station to sit and eat.
Coming into Burglauenen was super fun because it was full of civilization! There were runners and crew everywhere. I filled up my bottles, grabbed some bee-laden watermelon, and asked for my drop bag. I repacked my bag and tossed a few things that I didn’t need. Luckily, my feet seemed to be great so no shoe change was needed. I was sitting on a bench just taking my time when Roger came over and said he was ready. I was startled by his change in demeanor, but was happy he was ready to get going again.
We walked across the street and over the train tracks to begin our ascent in the next section. It started out gently enough on a paved road and we were laughing and feeling good. Soon though, I found myself starting to feel wiped as we made our way to the summit of this section. Roger began gapping me and I was struggling to keep him in my sights at times. I felt completely beat up by the time we reached the top and I must’ve looked like it too because the volunteer stopped me and asked me some questions to make sure I was okay. I got some water and allowed myself to walk a bit even though it was completely runnable. Within a few minutes of walking, I finally felt okay again and so we ran into Wengen (mile 38.5).
My sports bra had rubbed my back nearly raw with chafe and despite me trying to rehab it with Squirrel’s Nut Butter, I needed something to come between the wet bra and my skin. I drank some Coke and ate some Pringles first and then asked the medical volunteers if they could tape my back. I could hear their collective shock as I pulled up my shirt for them to see it. After fumbling around a bit, they finally found a large bandage about the size of a greeting card and stuck it to my back. It still stung for a few minutes afterwards, but then it started to become far less painful.
As we started walking out of Wengen, Roger told me to take a salty bar. I knew I was likely feeling bad because I was starting to get tired of eating (weird, I know) so I took his advice. We rounded the corner towards the trailhead and he pointed to the top of the very large mountain in front of us and said, “oh my God, we are going up there”. It was just coincidental timing, but I immediately puked And kept puking until all the Coke, Pringles, and salty bar were now lying in a field in Wengen.
I did actually feel a little better after puking for a short while. The initial climb wasn’t too steep and though we were going slowly, I was still moving. However, by the second mile, the steepness increased and I was trudging very, very slowly. I started to take breaks more frequently and longer, but was comforted that other runners were doing the same.
There was a group of volunteers about a mile from the top who were making sure that people were not in medical distress. I was likely very glassy-eyed at that point, but continued moving through, happy to see people who were not 40 miles into a mountain run.
The last ascent just crushed me. I could see Roger pulling ahead and it wasn’t even like he was moving quickly. It was that my walking had been reduced to a shuffle, shuffle, stand. I knew that once I reached the top that in order to go on, I would need to sit for a while and make sure I ingested calories. And then keep them down.
There was one section that I came to that had a rock maybe about 3.5’ tall that I had to climb over and I just stood in front of it, staring. How the hell am I going to get over this thing? I eventually pulled myself over it, but was seriously contemplating just living next to that rock forever.
As we came closer to the avalanche fences, I saw there were a few small sections that appeared flattish by comparison. I was hoping that I might be able to pick up the pace a bit when I wasn’t climbing. However, they were false flats and I was still trudging along just as slowly as the climbs. Roger was standing at the top of the climb watching me come up the last couple of minutes, encouraging me to keep coming.
In the next 30 minutes, we would both go from thinking that we wanted to continue to finding ourselves handing over our trackers. Apparently, Roger had alerted the medical team to come check me out as I was deathly pale. I knew I wanted to sit down and get some calories so I got a cup of broth and slurped on it from a bench. A medical volunteer came over and asked me some questions and while not exactly telling me that I needed to stop, was strongly urging me that I should not continue. He said that they could give me a bag of saline or two if I needed it as it was likely that I was extremely dehydrated. In 14 hours, I had peed only once.
I was still very steadfast in my wanting to go on at this point. I knew it was going to be hard, but I was really wanting to finish. I’d been waiting 3 years and had spent the time and money to come to Switzerland just for this race. It was really hard to make rational decisions when the pull to keep going was so strong.
But at some point, Roger got really, really cold. And likely frustrated that I hadn’t made up my mind, nor had shown any signs of bouncing back to life soon. He told me that I could keep going, but that he was done and was giving them his tracker. I knew it was going to be extremely dangerous for me to continue. There was only about 3 hours left of daylight at this point and we still had about 5-6,000’ of climbing left to do over 21 more miles. I might have made the choice to continue if Roger was feeling great and wanted to keep going. But the thought of being out there by myself not feeling great seemed pretty dangerous.
So I made the tough choice to call it a day.
I asked the medical volunteer what I needed to do to check if I needed an IV. They took my blood pressure and it was 100/70 which is SUPER low for me. Despite all my running, my blood pressure is typically on the very high side of normal. They had me lie down on a cot and covered me with a wool blanket and began the process of giving me a liter of fluid. It took almost 30 minutes so Roger had gone inside the hotel at the top of the mountain to stay warm and get a coffee. I eventually had them give me my phone so I could text Adam that I was okay, but dropping.
Supposedly the color began to return to my face a bit, but I got really cold once I was lying there for a while. My sports bra was wet (and not possible to take off with an IV in) and I realized about 15 minutes in that I still had the cold, wet Buff around my head (that I could take off). I was shivering and they gave me a heat sheet layer below the blanket and found a hot water bottle to put on my stomach.
Once the bag was empty, I put on my jacket to try to keep warm and Roger and I made the ride on the gondola down.
We took the train back to the hotel and took hot showers before going to find food. My stomach was a bit on the queasy side, but I did manage to get down some soup and a few french fries. Apparently, I also was craving salt!
It was bittersweet to be in front of the finish line that night in the hotel. I was actually not too sad about my decision at the time so somehow we were laughing about our misfortune. It really was a spectacular day until it wasn’t and I truly was at peace that night that I had made the right decision.
Later in the week, I would feel a bit of sadness that I had not mitigated my mistakes earlier in the day. But I tried to not dwell in the “what was” as I had no power to change the past. The impetus for the trip was the race, but we still had quite the road trip itinerary across central Europe.
Recap & a few fav pictures below mostly for my own memories, but also, recapping makes me realize we did a lot of living that week!
Breakfast in Grindelwald
Espresso & croissant with a passport stamp in Vaduz, Liechtenstein
A ride on the autobahn
Lunch with lots of beers and an obstler at the brewery in Aying, Germany
Our weird and super warm canopy room
A solo sunset walk to Peiss from the hotel
Gas prices in Europe
A moving experience at Dachau and perfectly timed with accidental free parking
Sandwiches & a chocolate croissant in Munich
Shopping for cuckoo clocks, dress shirts, and wandering through outdoor markets in Munich
Photos in Marienplatz
Dinner at Brunnwart with Fabio
Our suite upgrade
Early morning drive from Munich to Neuschwanstein Castle
The best selfie ever
Lunch in Garmisch
The sketchy toll road and a trip to the ATM
Must go back to Achensee
A trip to the Riedel store
A drink before dinner at the hotel
Risotto and wine at Ambiente
Dessert at the hotel
The scary and beautiful road day
Breakfast at a fancy rest stop
Lunch in Andermatt at the train station
An espresso at the lake on Grimselpass
A train ride next to Lake Interlaken
Ice cream snacks
Hail & thunderstorms up to the top of Rothorn
The candle at dinner
The best night’s sleep atop the mountain
A failed Hardergrat - only 1k
Went to fancy lunch in Thun instead
Came back into town for an Aperol Spritz and ferris wheel ride
Eating chocolates wandering the streets
A little bit of shopping and mocktails at Atelier
Fondue with the Beutler parents and Milo
Beers in the courtyard of the hotel
The glass bathroom
Mr. Beutler driving us back to Zurich
A $65 pork chop?
The most expensive lunch ever
Wandering Bahnhofstrasse and window-shopping
Luxemburgerli and views of Lake Zurich
The Workout Room Suite
Free dunkels at the hotel bar
The last supper
The last breakfast
The airport debacle
One final sparkling wine
What great adventures!!!ReplyDelete