Monday, September 19, 2011

Italy, day nine

Despite my inability to take care of it, my body showed surprising resilience to my demands of supporting Beat all night followed by hiking all day. But on Friday morning, that all came to a crashing halt, and I woke up feeling like someone injected liquid lead into my bloodstream during the night. I wasn't entirely surprised, given that I had climbed anywhere from 5,000 to 11,000 feet every day but one for the past eight days, endured hundreds of kilometers of stressful driving, slept an average of three hours a night, and fueled myself with a sporadic diet that contained about 90 percent simple carbohydrates. Still, I can't overemphasize how crappy I felt when Beat dialed in his daily dawn update to tell me he was starting up the final pass of the Tor des Geants. I mumbled that I would likely not get out of bed for the rest of the day. Of course, thanks to my extended bout of jet lag insomnia I couldn't sleep anyway, so I got up and cleaned the apartment, organized Beat's gear, and packed up so he wouldn't have to worry about anything after he finished. Beat called again from the top of Col de Malatra and asked me if I wanted to meet him for the final stretch. I hadn't planned to, given this was his moment to shine, but I did appreciate an opportunity to share what I imagined was the extremely satisfying experience for him.

I dragged quite a lot on the way out of town, but picked up energy again on the steep climb to Refugio Bertoni. I caught Beat running along the flat traverse a couple of miles later. He said running felt better on his painful feet, but caused a number of other problems that he was only occasionally willing to deal with. I wasn't faring too well myself with a still-sore twisted knee and deep fatigue, and whenever Beat ran I actually struggled to hold his pace. As we started down the final steep descent, he mentioned possibly leaving Italy that night for Switzerland, a four-hour drive to his brother's house near Zurich. In a twist of Beat's borderline-masochistic sense of humor, we were both signed up for a half-marathon the following day: The Internationaler Greifenseelauf, a massive event with more than 15,000 participants. The reasoning behind this crazy plan was to: A, allow Beat to spend time with his brother, who was registered for the race; B, continue one of Beat's regular traditions; C, be a unique first road race experience for me; and D, secure bragging rights for Beat ("My warmup run was only 200 miles. Do you think that's enough?")

However, over the course of the arduous week, I had come to believe that the half marathon could not possibly be a serious plan. Even less fathomable was driving four hours that night when Beat wouldn't finish the race until 6 p.m. and hadn't even given himself a single minute to recover. "You can't possibly still be thinking about that stupid race," I snapped back. My comment was mostly directed and convincing Beat that I was exhausted and had no business driving that night, but it was the wrong way of saying it, and the words "stupid race" really irritated him. I instantly felt bad about it given the last thing I wanted to do was steal his thunder, which is why I hadn't planned to meet him on the trail in the first place. I tried to dial it back and apologize, but we were both up against a raw edge. When we reached the pavement of town, Beat broke into a celebratory sprint and I let him go. Because of this, I actually missed seeing him finish. I arrived several minutes later to find Beat sprawled out in a folding chair with a huge smile on his face. All was forgotten and forgiven.

Beat's finishing time was 128 hours, 13 minutes and 55 seconds, for a position of 111th male and 117th overall among 473 starters and 300 finishers. He was happy with his time given how many struggles he experienced in the last half of the race, and very happy to have finished the whole thing not just once but twice — an admirable display of mental fortitude. We celebrated with individual gigantic pizzas at the pizzeria across from the TDG tent, cheering as dozens of other smiling racers sprinted, ran, walked, and limped into the finish.

I'm incredibly proud of Beat and grateful to have shared in a small part of his experience. The little support I offered him was really for my own satisfaction; he didn't really need my back massages, dessert deliveries and commiseration, although I like to think that maybe I contributed a small part to the mental fortitude that led to his success. And of course supporting Beat meant traveling with him to Europe, which has been such a great experience for me. Some have asked if my first venture outside North America has been strange for me, and in some ways — the terrible soda options and the driving — it has. But here in these beautiful mountains, among people who love mountains, is in other ways as close as I ever feel to home.


  1. Thanks for letting us share the last 8 days with your words and pictures, fantastic.

  2. Please give Beat my congratulations for a race well run.

  3. Jill, thank you for bringing us a glimpse of these mountains, since one never knows if we get to experience it live. They are amazing. Absolutely. Congratulations to Beat - and while I am certain he would have done just fine without you, your presence has enriched his own experience, and you will share this trip for the rest of your lives. This is much more worthy than anything else.

  4. Urs, let me explain. I have several brands of soda I consider my favorites that have proven to be completely unavailable in the regions I've visited so far, even in large grocery stores: Dr. Pepper, Root Beer, Ginger Ale, Pepsi and Diet Pepsi. My favorite of course being Diet Pepsi, which has a particular taste quite different from what is sold as Pepsi Light here. I do not like Coke Zero, Coke, or Coke Light — all taste far too sweet in my opinion. Other prominent flavors here are Sprite and Fanta, also not my favorites but tolerable. And of course in Europe there is the absence of ice, which is my favorite part of a soda.

    I know it's not hip to admit being a connoisseur of soda but it's honestly one of my favorite indulgence foods. I feel as strongly about soda as others might about wine or beer, and I am being serious when I say this. So to have no access to my favorite sodas in my favorite medium (iced in a glass) has been probably my only complaint about European versus American food culture. (Everything else here is, of course, superior.)


Feedback is always appreciated!