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Inspiration, Tools and Support for your own Great Bad Adventure Idea » 13 – Can’t get Any Higher Than This

13 – Can’t get Any Higher Than This

When I began running just a few months ago at the beginning of spring, 2020, I would have never thought it would get me to where I am now. Not just to the end of a 1000KM Ultramarathon – my goals had been more simpler than, aiming for a mere 100KM – but also towards learning what it means to be a beginner again. I remember gushing with a friend from my climbing team, @verena.isab, about our newfound love of being a newbie. How good it felt to be proud of those first small steps again. How inspired and in awe we were of our own surprising growth, the human capacity to slowly, but surely, build up endurance, one extra mile at a time. I remember going through the same phases with my brother, @theboywithnodestination, who’d taken up running half a year before me.

My favorite feeling, aside from sharing all of this with people I love and care about, remains the delight I felt when I realized how much my body loved this movement. How much I loved to run.

I began running with no real goal, and only a friend’s book “20 Weeks To Your First Marathon” to guide me through the stacked training regime. I had my previous knowledge, gathered in climbing gyms, books I’d read and friends I’d talked to over the years, on the importance of nutrition and recovery. That helped to no insignificant amount.

And here I am now. Running the last section before I begin my ascent of the Highest Point in Germany tomorrow.

I can’t quite believe what this journey, that started with a simple 5KM run from my lab to the river and back, has turned into.

It started off so small.

Thinking back to Little Me, back when she could only dream of running free…

I guess most of the best things in life do.

Let’s go get that peak.

Two kilometers before the finish, I was convinced I’d have to DNF this run. (DNF = Did Not Finish) The vertical meters were killing me. Some muscle I didn’t even know existed kept cramping in the heel of my right foot. At points it became so rigid that I could feel the rocks underneath my shoes pushing the entire muscle out of place. Thankfully, though painfully, it did relax each time again.

But that didn’t really help my sinking morale and blood sugar levels. There were still 1200 vertical meters to go – all tucked into the last kilometers of the Rheintal ascent of the Zugspitze.

Perhaps the 5hrs of sleep I’d had – I’d been too excited end nervous to fall asleep, and had woken up again ahead of our alarm at 4.30AM;
our lack of breaks – due to the rising panic of the group where we’d reach the peak in time to catch the cable car back down; or even just the fact that I had almost 1000KM in my legs were to blame for our crawl up this beast of a climb. Whatever it was that was keeping me from my goal, it did result in a frustrated, angry tirade of curse words flung at a mountain that seemed intent on labeling me as “WEAK”.

“Oh MAN!” Maxi gasps as I climb a little closer to him. The ground we’re trying desperately to ascent is a pile of rubble, with a vague idea of a serpentine route drawn upon it. Each step we take up, we skid down two. It’s a Sisyphean effort to say the least. “I trained my endurance for a year to climb mountains, only to be pummeled by the mountain like THIS?!” Maxi raises an angry fist towards the mountain peak. If mountains could smirk, I swear this one is actively doing so. We’re out of breath. Out of energy. Out of water. Julia, Maxi’s girlfriend, has tunneled deep into the pain cave, barely making a peep as concentrated as she is on the mountainous task ahead of her. I look around. Many of the tourists around us seem to be following her lead. We’re all on our very own personal journeys to the top – and none of them seem to be pretty.

As these days of desperation and extreme exhaustion always seem to go, this one had also started off smoothly.

After waking up by an alarm I had heard in my dream, I open my eyes – only to realize that there had been no alarm in reality.
I’m too nervous to go back to sleep.

Eventually I get up, prepare the water for coffee, tea and oats on my camping cooker on the windowframe of the hostel Maxi and Julia had convinced me to stay in for the night. I had wanted to sleep at the base of the trail, but when I finally fell into Maxi’s big welcoming hug the night before, I was quickly persuaded otherwise. A warm bed, and the promise of electricity pre-run was too tempting. I didn’t care that I would start 5KM away from the actual trail head.

That was before I knew the cable car would set us a time limit to reach the top. A fact which, when we finally leave at 6.45AM after a luxuriously long breakfast, is going to hit me like a brick a few kilometers into the run.

That was before I knew the cable car would set us a time limit to reach the top. A fact which, when we finally leave at 6.45AM after a luxuriously long breakfast, is going to hit me like a brick a few kilometers into the run.

“THE LAST CABLE CAR LEAVES WHEN?!” I yell, scrambling to pack my bag. Julia and Maxi had just caught up with me again, after I had mistakenly taken the wrong turn in the road 6KM back, accidentally dropping my support team 1.5hrs into the run. They – like the smart people they are – had remained up on the first hill ridge, while I had galloped down into the valley, and then had to march straight back to where they were. Thankfully, that stretch of the trail had been quite easy to run, even if it trended uphill. I ran past tourists, feeling smug and strong. I thought all the vertical would be like this.

I was so, so wrong.

“Yeah, so we’ve got most of the vertical ahead of us still, something like…” Maxi checks his watch. “1700 meters. Maybe more.” I’m already back on my feet, moving again. “And how much time left?!” – “…6.5hrs for a section that’s said to take 8hrs.”

Oh my Gods. And I had used most of my energy to run past hiking tourists, and go down and up a valley I could have avoided. Just. Fantastic.

We zip past the next 5KM. It’s disturbing how flat the trails still are. I run small sections of the trail, waiting every few kilometers for the other two to catch up with me again. I’m nervous, anxious, and very, very displeased with this situation. This was supposed to be my last day. I like taking my time on my last day – not be forced into a race against the clock.

“Guys, I need to eat.” Julia has been an absolute trooper so far, keeping up with our absurd pace with the composure and stoic acceptance of a wartime general. When I say I’m setting a timer to 18min breaktime, she doesn’t bat an eye.

William Ernest Henley would be proud.

We pass by a family carrying two kids. We pass by a couple carrying rope and climbing gear. We pass by a boy looking radiantly red, the sun having turned the color of what I assume must have been his pale skin the color of his sweater: burgundy. We pass by hikers raging at one another: “If I’d know how hard this frigging route is, I wouldn’t have come along in the first place!”

“Fanta!” One man says as I pass him by, the sight of my hat putting a smile of relief and longing on his sweat streaked face. “Something to look forward to on the top,” he wheezes. “Something ALWAYS to look forward to,” I grin.

Admittedly, I’ve been drinking less Fanta. I think I overdid it with the 1.5l bottle. Whoever said that was too much… was correct.

I can already see the top. It’s so, so close. Maybe it’s psychological, or it’s the entire packet of Fruit Mentos I’ve tossed down my ravenous gullet, but suddenly I’m ahead of Julia again.

Then Maxi.

The top is so close.

I’m not sure where the energy is coming from. I was dead inside just a few hours before, convinced I’d have to try for the top again the next day. Now, I’m passing more and more people, a woman with a blue bandana, Fanta guy, two grandparents teaching their grandkids how to use a Via Ferrata, another group of hikers. The top is so close.

And suddenly, it’s there. I rush up the stairs to the top platform, gasping for breath, expecting some sort of relief, reward, a feeling, something will hit me when I reach the top-

The top of the Zugspitze is crowded with tourist, milling about and looking bored. Most of them must have come up here with a cable car, their rested, relaxed faces and bodies spelling out their ignorance of what it physically takes to get up here.
I’m hit with nothing but a sense of feeling intensely out of place.

I turn to a man, who’s made the mistake of coming too close. “Excuse me, I just need to tell someone, I just… I just finished a 1000KM Ultramarathon from the Lowest to the Highest point of Germany.” I don’t know what I’m expecting him to say, perhaps something that makes this entire scene seem real.

“Huh. So you’re really fit now?”

Yeah, that wasn’t it.

I’m still feeling lost and out of place when Maxi and Julia finally arrive. Maxi collapses on the ground next to me. “This… was the hardest…thing…. I’ve done in a while.” Julia stumbles up to us and quietly murmurs: “Water…” Then she leaves for shade and an attempt to hydrate, I presume.

I don’t know what I was expecting to feel.

Definitely not this. Not this feeling of complete exhaustion paired with disappointment at everyone’s ignorance of what just transpired here. Not just the climb. It feels like I’ve gone through hell and back and then some to get here. The cold nights, where I would wake up every few hours from the cold, shivering myself back to sleep. The days of unrelenting heat, the nausea when my blood pressure couldn’t keep up with my bodies demands, the pain in my feet, my brain, my soul. I feel like I’ve been split apart, and taped back together, over and over again.

This was hard. This run was really hard. And reaching the end was supposed to come with a feeling, any feeling, really, or at least… a hug? I understand now why Ultrarunners need that volunteer to greet them at the finish line. Someone needs to acknowledge the madness that just transpired. Someone needs to look into your face and say: “You did it.”

But none of the tourists milling about in the glaring sun are ready to dole out smiles, much less hugs.

My poor brother is dead to the world, already sleeping on the ground. His girlfriend is somewhere to rest.

And I really want a hug.

Without that, this entire run feels … empty.

Or maybe that’s just me.

That’s when Maxi suddenly jerks up, pointing a finger. “Look!” I follow the direction of his hand.

And that’s when I see him.

It’s my Berlin-Stationed Support Team of One. But he’s not in Berlin – Denis is here. At the Zugspitze. At the finish line.

I toss my Fanta hat to the ground. Before I can even think about what I’m doing, I bound across the space between us. I jump up into his arms and wrap him in a tight Koala bear hug.

I’m never letting go again.

He chuckles, holding me tight. “You’re so light now!” We both laugh softly.

“You did it,” he whispers into my ear.


This is it.

This is the feeling I was waiting for.

When I began this run, all I wanted to see was whether this could be possible. To train for an Ultramarathon of this proportion in just a few months, in a single quarantine lockdown spring season and then… pull it through. I was excited, I was inspired, I was curious beyond measure.

I wanted to see what the human body is capable of.

What my mind was capable of.

But what this plan needed was also the love and support of the people around me to turn it into a reality in the first place.

From my beloved running training team @2psiap, to my awesome climbing troupe who’d laugh with me at my strange habit to join our Zoom training routine right after training runs.

So many friends have made the last year so, so much better than the past had been. I do hope you know who you are. I do hope you know how much I love you all.

The last year has been so different from what came before. The voices telling me to change, to be someone different, to be quieter, calmer, easier, anyone but who I am have left my life. The echoes of their voices grow quiet in my mind as time passes.

One day, they may even be completely silent.

Sure, this run was nuts. I don’t know what possessed me to pull this off. But I think the answer lies in something I’ve written before: This run was driven by something other than pain.

This run was driven by relief. The relief and happiness of finally feeling accepted and loved as the woman that I am.

No one’s trying to tame me anymore.

This is who I am when I am free.

And Denis played no small part in teaching me to embrace the person I am again.

To find someone so fiercely protective of my quirks and misbehaviors has been transformative. To be able to tell the person I love what I feel, what I think, of my dreams and aspirations, no matter how nuts or crazy – and to be able to do that without shame – has helped me heal.

As Martha once said: “Stick with that one. He’s good for you.” She was right about me taking my own bike to the Nordkapp.

She was right about this one, too.

There’s only this one life to live. As best we can, we choose with whom and how.

And I want to live it exactly as I am: wild and free.

Wouldn’t you?

The End

…. or is it? 😉