Running above the clouds

switzerland

I was visiting a friend in St Gallen, Switzerland in 2012. St Gallen is situated relatively near the Bodensee (Lake Constance) and seemingly every time I have been there seems to enjoy some pretty apocalyptic fog, whether or not that is actually due to the proximity of the (massive) lake, I’m not sure, but it felt like it might be.

When I visited I was training for the Chester marathon, I was in that point of training where you have become a near-hermit and the entire concept of doing a marathon has turned into something you are beginning to resent, but have spent too much time on it to give up.

I was only going for a short visit, but I had taken my running stuff anyway – more as a prop than with any intention of doing any actual running. However one morning I figured I may as well head out for a few miles, I was feeling slightly nervous that I hadn’t done enough training so any extra miles I could fit in felt like they were probably worth doing.

When I go running I always leave my glasses behind and rarely replace them with contacts, this has the effect of turning the world into the 3 feet immediately surrounding and not much beyond that. I am very short-sighted.

I headed out into the fog, it was really foggy, it was also pretty cold. I don’t know my way around St Gallen so decided to simply head out of town on a road that we had taken the tram up the day before, at least I wouldn’t get lost – my theory being that I could simply follow the tramtracks back into town. The road pretty quickly began to head uphill, “excellent” I thought, this is going to make the most of the few miles I can fit in. I don’t know whether it was because I had gone out particularly early, or maybe it was a public holiday, or simply that people were staying indoors because the weather was pretty rubbish but the streets seemed almost deserted. That, combined with the fog, the lack of glasses and the general sense of not knowing where I was all combined to make this a fairly surreal experience.

I chugged uphill, it was incredibly tiring and I was getting worried that I wasn’t in quite as good shape as I probably should have been…I mean…it was really difficult. It wasn’t even a particularly steep hill, it was just quite long. And I was beginning to get cold. I had assumed my usual running outfit of a vest and shorts which is fine for 90% of the time…I stupidly never make concessions for that other 10% and suffer accordingly (usually with the cold).

The further I ran up the hill, the thicker the fog seemed to get. I had the sense that I was running into a cloud, at least this was what I imagined running into a cloud would probably feel like, I couldn’t see anything, I was wet and cold and – thanks to the hill – knackered.

I began the mental cycle of berating myself into continuing for just a bit longer, I thought at least the return leg would be all downhill but I was feeling thoroughly demoralised, and tired…did I mention I was feeling tired?

Anyway, you may now be thinking, why is this person telling me about an unenjoyable run he went on 3 years ago, in the fog, in Switzerland? Which is a perfectly valid question. I am telling you because of what happened when I got to the top of the hill.

Just when I decided I had had enough of being cold and wet and tired and not being able to see anything the road started to curve to the right, I thought I’d just see what was around the corner and then I’d turn around and go back to my friend’s apartment and go to eat Rösti or fondue or something else suitably Swiss. As I turned the corner the road kicked up very slightly and I finally reached the top of the hill, the yellowish glow that had been getting slightly stronger for the last 15 minutes finally turned into actual sunlight and the fog all seemed to melt away. I was no longer cold. I stopped for a breather, because that’s what the top of hills are designed for, and turned around to see if I could see where I’d come from, I hoped that the hill looked something close to as impressive to run up as it had felt whilst I was doing it.

The view…was incredible. I had run through a cloud, or at least I was now stood overlooking what seemed to be clouds, they stretched thick and white and impenetrable for as far as I could see – punctured by the odd hilltop – and the sun shone in a completely clear, blue sky, in the distance I think I could make out the edge of the lake. I felt a sense of elation beyond anything I can put down in words, perhaps it was because I was tired, perhaps it was because I was cold, perhaps it was simply because I hadn’t seen anything apart from a white haze for the past half an hour and had been running, seemingly on my own, up a never-ending hill. Instead of turning around and going back down the hill I ran on, to the next town, in the warm sunlight above the clouds, or fog, or whatever it was, I felt like laughing out loud, I had a huge smile on my face, I ran and I ran and I ran until I was too tired to run any more.

I can’t really remember a single one of the other runs I did in preparation for that marathon, I don’t even remember the actual marathon all that clearly. But what I do remember, with a clarity that surprises me even now (I don’t have a particularly accurate memory), is that run in St Gallen, up the hill, into the clouds.

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