Where do you start a story that you haven’t told anyone yet and, moreover, don’t know exactly how it will end? To be able to set the right context, probably best at the very beginning.
In my childhood I spent almost all my summer vacations with my family in the beautiful Zermatt/Grächen area. Here, my father was able to pursue his hobby of mountain climbing, while my siblings, mother and I explored the hiking trails in the area. So, you can confidently say that this became something like my second home and has a very special place in my heart to this day.
Therefore, it is not surprising that one of my dream competitions right at the beginning of my trail running “career” was the Matterhorn Ultraks. I was to realize this dream in 2021. This day was made even more special by the fact that my parents decided to accompany me and my husband, so they would be at one of my competitions for the very first time. I don’t have to tell you what a moral boost this was for all my training sessions. No matter what the weather or how I was feeling, I just imagined myself running on the trails around the Matterhorn and my parents waiting for me at the finish line.
So, perfectly prepared, we set off for Switzerland in August 2021. The week before the start, I went on short hiking tours with my father and for a proper acclimatization we took the gondola up to the small Matterhorn. The day before, the four of us spent the evening at a traditional pasta party in a restaurant in the middle of Zermatt, where we could discuss the last details. My mother was going to cheer us on at the start and then go back to the hotel to rest until we would text her to let her know we were approaching the finish. My dad, meanwhile, was to slowly make his way to Schwarzsee, the highest point of the race, after the start, where he would be crewing me and my husband and providing us with water and pancakes. I have never been so calm, composed, and sure before a race that it was just going to be great. I was probably too busy showing my parents the world of trail running and all its facets.
To top it all off we had perfect weather. Bright blue skies and just the right temperature for running. From here on it becomes difficult to put the race into words. It was just incredible! After almost every turn you had the Matterhorn in all its glory in view, on the right and left of the trails were hikers and people cheering you on, children who wanted to high-five you and constantly you heard your own name called by strangers as motivation. Buoyed by the certainty (and occasional news) that my dad was already in position and waiting, I ran ahead of myself and tried to just enjoy every step.
Once at the top, it wasn’t hard to find my dad among all the crowds. With a big grin, he immediately handed me food, squeezed me to see how I was doing, and chided me for drinking far too little so far. After about 15 minutes and a photo, I continued the last 10 km towards the finish. The last kilometer through downtown Zermatt was simply indescribable. Accompanied by my husband, who already finished some time before me, and under the cheers of the crowds of people standing on the right and left of the racecourse, I ran towards my parents. Once at the finish line, not only did I learn that my mom hadn’t left her spot at the start/finish for a second – impressed and thrilled with every single person who finished the run, but I also found over 79 messages in our family group chat from my siblings who were live tracking me and cheering me on.
So, without a doubt, it was a perfect day and a perfect race that I will never ever forget.
In the following days my parents and I already made plans to repeat the whole thing next year.
However, everything turned out differently than expected.
Only a few weeks later I got the news from my mother that my father had to be hospitalized and was in intensive care. The remorse and reproaches crept into my subconscious only little by little. I blamed myself for the fact that my father was in such a bad way. Again, and again my thoughts circled around the same thing – The whole Switzerland trip was too much for him! We shouldn’t have hiked so much! The high-altitude air wasn’t doing him any good! I wore him out! The whole thing was just a stupid idea and my fault!
Ashamed and racked with guilt, I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. Mainly for fear that the others from my family would confirm my feelings and blame me as well. At this point I would like to emphasize that this is total nonsense. My family would never blame me for my father’s illness. But, as we all know, one’s own worst enemy is oneself, and everyone’s imagination likes to run wild. And the deeper you fall into this spiral of self-destruction, the harder it is to climb out of this hole.
And I was really good at that! My father was soon able to leave the hospital again, but it quickly became clear that this would be the first and last competition in which he would accompany me. And here I should have known better. If I had paused for a moment, I might have realized more quickly what I now knew. Instead, I slowly but surely fell into a hole in which the thoughts of never wanting to run a race again and that my parents would never again be waiting for me at the finish line manifested themselves. On top of that, at the same time, I changed jobs, which slowly but surely turned into a nightmare. In a toxic environment, my self-esteem was destroyed. The worst part, however, was the fact that running, which had always been my safe space and gave me a sense of joy and freedom, became more and more a space of claustrophobia and failure. Instead of enjoying every step, I started having panic attacks and the flame that usually burned inside me for running became smaller every day until it finally went out completely.
Here, unfortunately, I can’t give any tips or tricks on how to get out of such a situation. Every person is different and therefore deals with such situations and feelings differently.
For me the turning point was the invitation of my sister to Ireland, where she wanted to run our first trail competition together. That gave me at least a little bit of a jolt in the right direction. I slowly resumed my training. However, this was far from constructive and so I was standing poorly prepared at the start next to my sister. However, heavily impressed by her run and happy to feel something like a competition feeling again, I signed up for another one, which was also supposed to be my first ultra, when I arrived back home. My ulterior motive was that it would get me motivated enough to run a regular work out and find joy in it all again. What I underestimated, however, was my tendency to self-sabotage. I kept finding excuses why I couldn’t go running today or tomorrow, and the closer it got to the day of the start, the clearer it became that I had absolutely no business being there. This was, in fact, a course that could not be underestimated and should only be entered perfectly prepared, both physically and mentally.
What I really needed was a race close to my home, which gave me a feeling of security, which conveyed a family atmosphere, where I could be as I am and above all, which is rather rare in Europe, where I could have a crew and a pacer. All this and much more I then found in the WUT – Wienerwald Ultra Trail (Vienna Forest Ultra Trail). Reassured by the fact that I could stop at any time, that my husband was waiting for me at every aid station and then accompanied me the last 12 km to the finish and with the little trick that I told everyone about my plan, I was standing at the start. The only thing I was afraid of, was falling into a deep mental hole during these long 50 km. However, this never came. Already at the start I received a message from my new boss (I had already changed jobs) wishing me good luck and fun, the whole organizing team made me feel welcome and after the first few kilometers I finally remembered again what makes the trail community so special, why I like to run and most importantly I finally realized where in the last months my thinking mistake was. During the whole race I never felt alone. Again, like back in Zermatt, I was accompanied every kilometer by encouraging messages from my family. My father, in particular, was constantly sending me video and voice messages. My husband was at every aid station as promised and then was able to pace me to the end thanks to an acquaintance who drove him to the last aid station of the race. Arriving at the finish I was overwhelmed by the pure joy of the organizer to see me, the pride of my husband that was written on his face and the admiration of my whole family. Finally, I felt in my element again and the fire inside me was lit. I must thank all the people who made this run special and showed me that I am exactly where I belong.
That was three weeks ago.
What’s next on the schedule for me? Well, I’m going back next year where it all started. For me, it’s important to leave everything behind. Despite all the problems that arose after this run, the Matterhorn Ultraks is still for me the most beautiful run in my most favorite spot in the whole world. The accommodation is already booked, and I am beyond excited, because the most important thing I’ve learned over the last two years is that someone doesn’t have to be physically present at a competition. It’s enough to know that this person is with you in their thoughts and cheering you on from afar.