I hate running down hill – it is easy and gravity is on my side, but there is an ever present thought weighing on the back of my mind: what goes down must come up. It was a dark morning and with heavy eyes and heavier legs we fifteen stumbled out of the Hotel de Ville. Martin’s shadow, a German shepherd by the name of Winnie who serves as our constant stick gnawing companion, matched us stride for stride across iced over pastures under the seemingly vigilant watch of the magnificent Swiss Alps. Down and down we went, below the town of Chateau d’Oex and across a narrow bridge, quivering and rocking with one of our every steps. Now in the wooded gully formed by the River Sarine with month old ice dwelling on the past glory of a once proud existence as snow and, perhaps out of spite, refusing to give our shoes purchase, there was only one way to go: up and back into the town of Chateau d’Oex, back to the Hotel de Ville. Now regretting the too-easy time we had been “blessed” with descending into this chilled river valley, we plodded one foot in front of the other up and up and back to the warmth and full stomach prepared for us by the wonderful and ever-helpful Mike Horn team.
Several hours later we found ourselves once again preparing for a run. This run, however, would be very different from our early morning adventure. This exercise would have one objective- to take us to the point of absolute exhaustion in as close to twelve minutes as possible, all the while recording the volume and O2 concentration of our breath. This test was performed by PH.Ds from the prestigious MAYO clinic in Minnesota, USA. We put masks over our mouth and nose and were made to run on a treadmill as the speed and incline were steadily increased until we were sprinting up a moderately sloped hill. We were made to run until we felt like dropping dead, and then we were made to run some more. Between our burning legs and the fog which began to settle in the space around our eyes, we felt like we were living the definition of pain. And then it was over. Suddenly and with little warning, we were done. As the pain began to leave us and our perception of reality began to return to normal, we steadily began to realize that the world was not, as we had been so sure of only minutes before, about to come to a crashing end. With the pain, the world had been simple, for only the pain and a desire to push through it had existed. Now, the world came rushing back: all of our worries and concerns and more than that- an exhilarating realization that we were in Switzerland, we were living life to its fullest, and we were without question the luckiest people alive.