French Taper - Page 4
Let go. Relax, breath, focus. I repeated the mantra over and over and again conjured those lyrics as I climbed steadily out of Lauterbrunnen and toward Wengen—a colorful collection of old-style wooden hotels and houses tucked neatly into the folds of the hill—each step a little closer to the finish line.
The streets were packed with spectators screaming and cheering and waving flags along with a deafening crescendo of cowbells. I realized the crowd was cheering for me. I spread my arms like airplane wings and started weaving back and forth across the road, throwing in an occasional leap. I heard clapping and more cowbells. Satisfied with my performance, I let out a long, “Wooooohoooo!” and bounded up the road, letting the adrenaline fuel a slightly faster pace through the flattish paved sections.
We passed through green farmland as the Eiger came into view. I was sitting in third position on the team, somewhere around 14th overall, and, then, suddenly, without warning, everything changed. I looked down to see Brandy approaching. My pace had slowed slightly and then she was beside me, waving her arms and encouraging me to come with her. On a short, steep, rocky section of singletrack, I switched gears to hike mode, reasoning that grinding down with my hands on my knees might be more efficient. … I was wrong. Both my quads and both my calves seized. I yelled and fell over, excruciating pain pulsing through my body.
I could see the finish line less than three miles away. And I couldn’t move. Two huge, boxy Swiss men raced toward me, pulling me up from under my arms and barking at me to hold on to their shoulders. I wanted to keep running. “Arrêter, arrêter!” I pleaded back in French. And I tried to take a step. It was no use. My muscles were in full contraction. I fell again. The big men swooped me up, dragged me off the trail and furiously rubbed my legs. I let out a hiss and clenched my jaw as a long line of women that I’d worked so hard to pass filtered by. I watched my place drop to 20th, 25th … until I lost track.
I heard cheering as the first-place woman crossed the line. I had no idea who it was. Later, I learned it was Stevie. Not only did she win the race, she clocked the second-fastest time ever.
The Eiger looms over the finish line of the Jungfrau Marathon. Photo by Chris Hunter.
“It wasn’t until the bagpipes with about one kilometer left to go that I thought I might win the race,” Stevie said later. Kim crossed third, clenching the final podium slot. Melody came through next, 10th overall. And rounding out the top four for the U.S. team was Brandy, who finished 16th.
Ten minutes later I stood up and walked. The cramps still came, though, and I stopped over and over. When I finally hit the finish, race director Richi Umberg was there and he buried me in a bear hug. “Team U.S.A., I think you have won. Team U.S.A. is first.”
“Oh? Really?” I smiled and hugged Richard again. “Thank you, thank you.”
I turned around to see Gina coming down the gravel path. I waited and gave her a hug when she crossed the line. We all walked down to the patio area, congratulating one another on a good day and a U.S. gold medal. Salt stains ran down our faces and dirt caked our calves.
Above us, snow hung to the walls of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch, sparkling diamond-like against the dark rock and lush green tundra. Cattle grazed aside a long line of competitors, hiking up the steep singletrack toward the chute.
“Hearing the National Anthem played in your team’s honor is an incredibly special moment—one many athletes can only dream about,” said Brandy. “The rest of the world better watch out—U.S. Mountain Running is on the up and up!”
Standing in the terminal in Geneva, Gina and I were the last to board. Gina looked upset.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I’m not ready to go back to the real world,” she responded.
I nodded, not wanting to go either. “I’m staying here.”
Still, we shuffled toward the gate agent and handed her our tickets. Two moments yet again felt simultaneous: It was as though we had been in Europe forever and also for no time at all.
Ashley Arnold is the Associate Editor for Trail Runner.