Friday, September 27, 2013

Racing the Basel 10K

It is not often that you can begin a story, “The first time I ever visited Switzerland, I raced a 10K.” Well, for me, this line rings true. Last Sunday was my first time to ever make a visit to Switzerland. Along with this exciting accomplishment, it was also my first time to ever enter a 10K road race with over 530 competitors. And to add a little more icing to the cake, it was also my first time to ever win an international road race. :) By now, you are probably wanting to hear the rest of the story, so here goes…

Beautiful Basel

It was a chilly September morning in the beautiful city of Basel, Switzerland. Runners from the surrounding regions came pouring into the city, eagerly anticipating the start of the Basel marathon, half marathon, and 10K. Crowds wearing brightly colored spandex, fluorescent warm-up jackets, compression socks, racing flats, wristwatches, and headbands filed in and out of the registration arena. I breathed a sign of relief amongst these exercise-loving, morning-happy runners. Though I may have been thousands of miles away from my home in West Virginia, I knew at once that I had returned to my people.

BFA Teacher Team!
I stood in line with about 12 other BFA teachers who had all decided that they too would like to be part of this ambitious racing endeavor. As we waited to pick up our registration packets, bib numbers, and complementary draw-string bags, I nervously glanced at the clock. It was less than 25 minutes until start time and none of my teacher friends showed any inkling of wanting to go warm up for the race. In fact, it seemed to me that they were all just going to walk to the start line and go. What about a 20 minute warm-up jog, dynamic stretching, form drills, changing shoes, and pre-race strides…what about everything I was ever taught to do before a race? I tried to calm myself down…“this isn’t college, there’s no points, no scoring, no prize money. This is just to have fun. I’m not going to warm-up. I’m not going to change my shoes. And I’m definitely not going to do any drills. Besides, I’m sick. I caught a cold last Friday in school and I shouldn’t be racing anyway. I’m just going to go have a jolly fun time and jog it.”

Well, this attitude lasted a good 6.7 seconds. As soon as I saw the start line with the hundreds of people lined up to race, I knew without a doubt what I was going to do. I was going to try to win the Basel 10K.

By now, it was too late to change into my racing flats, but I could still manage a 4 minute jog around the start area. So jog I did, across the bridge spanning the Rhine River, past the little old lady who smiled at my smile (I like to smile at people when I’m running) and back to the start line. By now, the starting area was really getting crowded. The other BFAers urged me to go up near the front, but the best I could do was somewhere near the middle. In a pack of 538 people (244 women and 294 men), “somewhere near the middle” isn’t very helpful when you are trying to win a race. But it was the best I could do.

Within minutes, the start siren sounded and we were off. Well, more appropriately “they” were off. Since there were so many people, it takes a while to actually get moving. I was boxed in by at least 150 people. Though I was frustrated, I tried to keep my cool. “The pack will open soon…you’ll be able to get around them.” After 3 or 4 seconds (though it felt like an eternity), I finally managed to take a few halting steps forward and was able to slip through a little break in the crowd in front of me. There was a guy nearby who looked just as frustrated as me. He was tall, muscular, and obviously very fit. I could tell that he wanted to get moving too. So I did what every veteran racer would have done in the same situation, I followed his path through the crowd. Within minutes, he had led me safely through the melee and into the freedom of the open road. Now I could begin to formulate a strategy. I needed to catch the lead woman and I needed to do it quickly before she got any further ahead. Seemed simple enough. With the plan in mind, I set out blazing down the Basel roads in order to catch as many women as I could (and any men that happened to be in the way.)  

I was about 2 kilometers into the race and I was still catching women. The strange part was that these women weren’t even running that fast. I couldn’t quite figure out why they would run the first 2K at 6:00-6:15 pace and then would just slow to a leisurely 7:15. Why go out so hard if they weren’t going to be able to maintain it? And to further complicate matters this guy on a bike kept insisting on biking right in front of me. He wasn’t slowing me down or anything, but he kept staying right in front of me and looking back to make sure that I was still there. He had said something to me in German when he caught up to me, but my German skills aren’t refined enough to comprehend much while racing. Not to mention, he had an obvious Swiss accent.

We were getting near the 3K when I noticed some media people starting to get excited. They were pointing towards me and towards a sign that was attached to the front of the man’s bicycle. One of them called to the others, “Schau mal! Die erste Frau!” The bike made a sharp turn around a corner and I was able to catch a glimpse of the sign that was attached to the front. Sure enough, typed in big bold letters on the sign were the words, “10K Lauf 1. Frau.” At last, I was able to put the clues together. I was “die erste Frau” (the first woman), the bike was pacing me, and I was leading the women’s 10K. Those women who I had been so desperately trying to catch for the last 4 kilometers had been half-marathoners who had started their race about 15 minutes prior to the start of the 10K. I didn’t need to play catch up anymore, I was already winning!

Following my bike pacer (I'm in the blue shirt)
I realized then that it was time to put another game plan into action. “Maintain the lead, keep up the pace, and don’t let anyone (man or woman) catch me from behind. Oh, and keep breathing.” The congestion in my chest was not making it easy to breathe and I still had more than half the race to go.

I approached the 5K at about 19:45. By now, my biker friend and I had come up with a good system. When the road would start to get crowded, he would go up a little ways to blaze a trail though the marathoners and half-marathoners. He also was really good at letting the media know which one was “die erste Frau.” If there happened to be another woman nearby when they were about to take a picture, he would always hold up his hand, point behind him and say, “Da hinten!”

Though I was starting to get pretty fatigued, the second half of the race was filled with quite a few highlights. First of all, the scenery was beautiful! What better way to explore Basel than by foot? We made two crossings over the Rhine River and got to enjoy a number of picturesque views of the cityscape.

Racing along the Rhine

The second major highlight was hearing the cheers from the other BFA teachers who were racing. There is a part of the course where the road doubles back and you are able to see the runners who are still coming in the other direction. The cheers of my friends during this section was exactly the encouragement that I needed to keep going. I even had the chance to cheer for them as well!

The third highlight was the encouragement from the local crowd. As I soon discovered, the Swiss do not cheer with the typical American phrases of “good job” and “keep running.” No, they yell something much more inspirational than that. For them, the perfect cheer is the words “hup, hup, hup!” yelled continuously and in great succession. This lively cheer is then interspersed with an occasional, “Jawohl! Jawohl!” I’m definitely planning to take this one back with me to the states. In fact, maybe I’ll try it out on my cross-country runners this weekend. :)

The rest of the race finished in a blur of excitement as I rounded the final bend and took the turn towards the downhill finish line. I had maintained my lead and kept up the pace. Now all I needed to do was finish strong. To help create some additional excitement for the audience, my bike pacer decided to tell the man right in front of me (who I was about to catch mind you) that the first woman was right on his heels. Of course, this sparked some impressive sprinting on his end and I wasn’t quite able to catch him.

I crossed the line in 39:55…nowhere near what I could run in college, but not bad for a weekend in Basel. :) After the race, I attempted to chat with my new racing friends (the biker and the man who beat me to the finish line). It didn’t take long for them to realize that they were going to have to use English if they wanted to have a half decent conversation with me. Luckily, it ended up that they both spoke English really well and were more than happy to accommodate my lack of language skills.

After grabbing some Gatorade, a banana, and a recovery bar, I waited at the finish line to cheer on the rest of my wonderful BFA teammates. For a number of them, it was their first time to ever race anything further than a 5K. I was so proud for what they were able to accomplish!

Celebrating after the run with my roommate Hanna

After all the runners had crossed the finish line, a short awards ceremony was held at the center meeting area. I had the opportunity to walk up on the stage and was announced as “Die erste Frau—ein Ausländer aus Deutschland!” (foreigner from Germany). Apparently, they had seen my German address on the race registration and thought that I was German. I was awarded a beautiful bouquet of yellow flowers, a water bottle, a backpack in the shape of a fish, and a gift certificate for a free appointment with a specialized Swiss sports doctor (worth 210 Swiss francs!) Although, I have to admit I am seriously hoping that I never have to use this prize.

On the award's stand
 Overall, it was a wonderful weekend! To me, this race was a stunning reminder of God’s faithfulness. How thankful I am that God would allow me the opportunity to continue doing something that I love so much even in the midst of serving Him in Germany. I thank Him for the talents that He has given me and the opportunity to use these talents to meet new people, build relationships, and glorify Him. Please keep praying for me as I press on to win the prize here in Germany. No, in this case, not the runner’s prize. (Although you probably know that I like winning those as well…) But what I am really referring to is the heavenly prize—the goal of giving my life to serve Christ by teaching, serving, and loving the students here at this school.


  1. Enjoyed reading every word of this. :) Thanks for sharing your life with us!

  2. Congrats Ahna! Miss you. Enjoying your blog. Skype soon?

  3. Great presentation of your race. It was fun to read! Keep up the good work. God is so good!

  4. I'm soooo proud of you, Ahna! Your beautiful blog of the Basel race brought tears to my eyes, wishing I could've been there to cheer you on. So glad the BFA teachers were able to do that & to participate in the race! If you are going to do another race in October, please email Rochelle & Virginia & let them know where you'll be. Maybe Ro, Va & Bettina can take a train & come visit, cheering you on. I know they'd love to see you run! Keep us abreast of where you'll be. I will be in Europe in 2014, probably March or April after Virginia's baby boy emerges on 8 February. I cannot wait to be an Oma for my 1st biological daughter. Sweetie, I'm so excited about your being "1st Frau" winning the Basel race. Keep safe & healthy. Glad you're enjoying your teaching at BFA & your racing. Love you & miss you, Aunt Linda :-)