Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Switzerland: Hopp! Hopp!

I admit I was surprised when Beat got out of bed at 6 a.m. Saturday morning. I expected him to pass out after his shower Saturday night and not wake up for days. Or maybe I was hoping for this. Either way, despite his apparent inability to walk without a pronounced limp, he was still all-in for the half marathon in Switzerland that afternoon.

We expected Steve and Harry to arrive in Courmayeur by early morning. But a results check revealed they were still about five hours away, so we had to roll away without seeing them finish. I drove through the seven-mile-long Mont Blanc tunnel, along the rough and narrow roads of France, around at least three dozen roundabouts (have I mentioned how much I miss traffic lights? Yes, I miss them), onto the smooth and narrow roads of Switzerland, and finally onto a real freeway while Beat drifted in and out of consciousness, but mostly out. We arrived at Beat's brother's farmhouse at 11 a.m., ate a quick brunch of fresh bread, cheese and local yogurt (all of which I absolutely gorged on), and were back on the road by 12:30, en route to Lake Greifensee.

I snoozed most of the way to the half marathon and awoke just as Andy pulled into a series of farm fields filled with thousands of cars. I got a side stitch just walking to the bus, and was still in disbelief that we were actually going to do this race. Beat couldn't even put his shoes all the way on without wincing in pain. I felt as though the liquid lead in my bloodstream had finally solidified. I took comfort in my conviction that Beat would probably be forced to walk the entire thing, and I could just walk with him, you know, in the name of being a supportive girlfriend.

Beat, for his part, did not look extremely enthusiastic either. He wrapped his feet in gauze and then removed it, then second-guessed that. We picked up our race numbers — in the 10,000s — and our suggested start time, 3:50 p.m. Because more than 15,000 people run the annual Greifenseelauf, the race incorporates a staggered start and tracks times with electronic chips. The finish area was still more crowded than Disneyland. In fact, the whole place had a very Disneyland feel — like the queue around the (fake) Matterhorn Bobsleds, with quaint Swiss mountain decor and $4.50 bottles of soda (make that 4.50 Swiss francs, which are worth more than dollars.) The main difference is that here, the sodas are warm, and instead of feeling sick to your stomach after riding too many roller coasters, you get to feel sick before a thirteen-mile run.

Still, amid the nausea and dread, there was a little buzz of excitement. I've never run a road race before, even a 5K. All of my foot races have been on trails. To run with this many thousands of people in a foreign country expanded the already large novelty of my first half marathon. We had to walk three kilometers just to reach the race start and queued up with the cattle line of runners. As soon as we reached the starting line, Beat's brother took off like a flash and even Beat started pounding the pavement to the tune of sub-nine-minute miles. I realize this isn't all that fast but given the circumstances, I had my doubts that he would hold this pace for very long. After all this time, it's strange how I still underestimate him.

Despite his hamburger feet, Beat stubbornly held his pace and I lost track of him after an aid station near 11 kilometers. After downing several cups of "wasser," my sour stomach finally started to settle, but my twisted knee was sore enough to convince me to just settle in at an easy pace. After this, I really enjoyed myself. It seemed like half of Zurich turned out to cheer on the runners, and there were big parties going on at every intersection. The race was meticulously well-organized, in true Swiss fashion, and I enjoyed the fact they put names on all of the race bibs. People would cheer me on as I passed, and I discovered Swiss people have a beautiful way of saying my name — they roll both the first and last consonants so it almost sounds like three syllables instead of one. The name Jill must have revealed me as an English speaker as well because they would tell others to "Hopp Hopp!" but I more often received a "Go, Zzzshilllll, you can do it!"

I saw Beat one more time at an out-and-back section; he was nearly a kilometer in front of me. And then, just like that, the race was over. I couldn't believe how quickly it went. I finished in 2:07. Beat finished right at two hours, less than 24 hours after finishing the 128-hour Tor des Geants.

I really enjoyed my first half marathon experience. There's something a little magical about running in a Disneyland setting, especially when you come into it with extremely low expectations and thus can just relax and enjoy the experience. Could I run faster? Undoubtably, although I'm not sure I'd want to try. Road running is pretty rough on my knees and hips; as I discovered in cycling, my body doesn't respond well when motion becomes too repetitive. I will say that running thirteen miles of road at a two-hour pace (okay, okay, 2:07) felt physically easier than any single two-hour span that I hiked in the Alps. So, as far as I'm concerned, I already ran about 22 half marathons while I was in Italy. (I kid, I kid ... sort of.)

But the fact that Beat not only showed up at the Greifenseelauf starting line, but ran the entire thing, really shows what a nut he is. Crazy Swiss runner.


  1. Go, Zzzshilllll! Really enjoying your Tales o' Europe. You're both insane, in a very good way.

  2. What a wonderful series of posts Jill. You certainly are living an amazing life.

    I love the hat on Beat..."Zombie Runner":)

  3. Jill, as a interested Swiss reader of your blog I am quite excited to read about your stay here in Switzerland. I am only curious about the Disneyland thing... Isn't it in Anaheim? Anyhow, I hope you and Beat will find some time to enjoy other things from Europe than runners food and crouded starter-blocks! I wish you a pleaseant stay and I am looking forward to more posts from Switzerland, Europe,CA or from whereever you are...

  4. Spoony: Yes, we were not actually in Disneyland, only in a place that reminded me of Disneyland. This is actually one of the humorous things about growing up in American culture: There are a lot of superficial mimicries of certain world cultures that we experience as children and feel nostalgic for as adults even amid more authentic experiences. Its why, when I first moved to Alaska, seeing snow-dusted Sitka spruce trees would make me feel nostalgic for the flocked Christmas tree lots I visited during the holidays as a child. And also why, while visiting Switzerland, I can't help but think about the Matterhorn Bobsled ride in Anaheim.

    On Sunday night we went out for a delicious three-course dinner of venison and all kinds of authentic Swiss delicacies. It was scrumptious.

  5. After reading your blog for about 4 years now, I'm convinced you found your soul mate. You two are decidedly crazy! I really hope you find some sweets in der Schweiz.

  6. Just cuz I've been quiet doesn't mean I haven't been following your crazy adventure! The pic of Beat literally made me bust out laughing! What a great trip this must be...you are BOTH insane (in a good way!) It's awesome you found each other...good for you! Life is GOOD!

  7. You truly are nuts, Jill - but in a good way. Hope you have had a fabulous vacation and congrats to Beat on his Tor des Geants completion!

  8. Our family motto is "Anything worth doing is worth overdoing" I think you guys do a great job of this!


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