After 30 kilometres I am running alone at the front. Trailing behind me are the favourites from Africa. I am suffering but manage to run at my own pace. The Africans are closing the gap, but they can’t catch up. I am the first runner to cross the finish line at the Vienna Marathon 2015. It’s my first victory at an international marathon and one of the most emotional moments of my career. Days later I am still carried by feelings of joy and happiness. A reward for all the years of hard work.
2019, four years later: the same city, the same marathon, but a completely different feeling. The confidence and sensation of pleasure and elation of 2015 are long gone. I am plagued by fears of failure. I’m afraid of having to quit again. Due to injuries I had to give up the last two marathons and have found myself in a downward spiral ever since. In Vienna I finally wanted to break the cycle. I don’t succeed. After 15 kilometres I feel that I am too cramped. After 20 kilometres I give up. Again. I failed to meet my own expectations and find myself in a crisis.
I’ve known for a long time that I like women. At the age of 20 I realised that I was more attracted to women than men. But it’s hard for me to say when and how I came to that conclusion. There was never any epiphany. The feeling of being a lesbian came slowly. And so I gradually entered a world and acted on my emotions. I never felt the need to make a big thing out of it, which is why I never actively came out in sport. But I never hid my love, neither in my private life nor in athletics. I think this is my nature. I’m not a talker and I don’t always feel like talking and sharing everything.
Recently I ran the marathon in Berlin. After dropping out of the last three races, I had a single goal: I wanted to make it to the finish line. But after thirty kilometres the doubts suddenly returned. I felt like crying. So I interrupted my run and took a short break at the side of the road. I then imagined that this would be my last marathon and that I therefore wanted to enjoy the run. These thoughts carried me to the finish line. My time was 2:46, two minutes slower than my very first marathon 13 years ago. Back then, like now, the time was secondary. It’s all about the emotions. I am not sure what my athletic future will look like. One thing I do know: running is a part of me and will continue to be for the rest of my life.»
Maja Neuenschwander is our EuroGames ambassador and Switzerland’s former marathon record holder.
Photo above by Lilian Salathé.