As an Austrian who has lived abroad for many years, the annual home vacation each summer is always a special occasion. That much more this year as it was to be a “runcation”; yes, it is exactly what it sounds like: a vacation planned around a running event. We had both signed up for #mozart100. The 12,5km city trail for Liz and the 104km Ultra Trail for me.
Our other holiday destinations will no doubt be covered in separate posts.
But first it’s off to the run in Salzburg. And after all, with many International running events behind us, this was to be extra special as it was our first big run in Austria.June 15: The pre-event dinner with fellow runners and race organizers in an idyllic Tavern in Salzburg, set the scene. Here we get to enjoy astonishing scenery, overlooking Salzburg and a beautiful sunset while dining.Somewhat intimidating perhaps, given we were seated at the table with the elite runners but a great opportunity to get to know some of the participants and the race organizers.June 16: we take a stroll through the city and find lunch at a nice Italian restaurant – I have never seen, much less eaten such a huge Pizza – perfect for more carbo loading
After lunch, we hop on a bus with a group of fellow runners to enjoy a guided tour tracing the steps of the “Von Trapp Family” of the movie “The Sound Of Music”, which of course was produced in original locations in Salzburg and the surrounding Salzkammergut. Here also our first glimpse of some of the country I would be traversing through, the next day…
…extremely beautiful…but equally humbling to see the actual distance and what’s more the mountain ranges which would present us with a cumulative elevation gain of 4,700m over the distance. My legs start to hurt, just looking at these mountains!
JUNE 17, 2017 – Race Day:
Alarm at 03:00am, gear up and off to the start line well ahead of the 05:00 gun time. 322 registered nut cases for the 104km distance begin to gather. It is clear very quickly that the level of runners whom arrived from some 50 countries is very high. All in all over 1,000 participants for the various distances of the event. For me, it is all about finishing within the 20 hour cut off.OMG – Liz would have another 12 hours to her late afternoon start …, so I guess back to bed; thank you for getting up to see me off…! 😘In good Austrian fashion, the race starts on the dot and off we run in the slight morning chill. The day promising to be overcast, a blessing that would make for perfect running weather all the way.
I place myself somewhere in the middle of the pack, trod along nicely and feeling good. The course largely flat, with some moderately rolling hills, we had been warned to preserve our energy for the latter part of the race. And we should soon find out why!
Out of the city, right pass the first checkpoint at KM10 in Hinterwinkl and a very quick stop at the second at KM25 in Hof for a few pieces of watermelon and slices of orange. Then on and into Fuschl where the panoramic lake view is by our side.
Still fresh enough to enjoy the view, I even take a picture or two and a short video on the run. A quick pit stop at the refueling station here at KM30, which is well stocked with fresh fruit and other goodies. Most runners have a drop bag and many a support crew; I am no elite and don’t have nor really want either. Too much trouble, just get on with it. This is also the first cut off point and I am making reasonably good time by my standard with 2 1/2 hours spare. We are reminded to take our jackets, 7 degrees Celsius waiting for us up on the mountain, without chill factor. Only later I will learn that 20 runners will be taken out of the race at this point for not making this first cut off. The next 15 km start to become more taxing with elevation ramping up.
Another quick pit stop in Winkl at KM45, a few deep breaths to get mentally ready; and then on to the mother of uphill climbs – Schafberg! No more road, no more easy trail, highly technical and steep uphill terrainwell rewarded at the top albeit with burnt quads but with the most stunning panoramic views of Wolfgang See.Yes, I was really there! 😜Then more muscle and tendon burning technical downhill and on towards the next checkpoint in St. Gilgen at KM65, immediately ahead of the 12er Horn.
With a significant elevation just done, this one seems merciless. Should I yell? curse? complain? Whom to? I AM ALONE and after all, I did this to myself…! So quit whining and keep on moving! On top of Sausteig Alm I try to catch my breath, I have hit the point where I can no longer eat and even drinking becomes a chore. Next to me a runner who drank too much isotonic is busy getting rid of it again, quite violently so, only to DNF (drop out of the race or in Runners terms: Did Not Finish) subsequently. So what to do, keep going.
Soon I find myself back in Fushl for yet another stop now at KM75, I need 15 minutes to recover. I have lost a little time but still 1 1/2 hours ahead of cut off. A cup of hot soup and a banana later, I am back on my way.
Several significant elevations and 75km into it, I am no longer in the mood to take pictures and as usual at around this time/distance, I am questioning my own sanity for signing up for these events.
The cut off time always on my mind; I have rarely been this close to it; why am I doing this? Why run? It’s cold! I will never do this again! One step at a time; If I miss the cut off, I’ll retire my running shoes right now; I’ll take up tennis again! Or maybe chess? Keep going; my stomach is cramping; I am hungry; where is the next way marker? How far to the next check point? What will I eat tomorrow?
It’s only another 35km further after all – a piece of cake – or so it would be, if only it was flat for just one freaking KM …!!!
Up, down, up, up, down, up…, really? I am ever closer to the cut off and I am beginning to wonder if I will make it? Stress!
95KM – last check point, it is dark by now and the headlamps are on. One race volunteer seems to think that I am not looking very fresh anymore – no kidding!? And tries to convince me to drop out and take the shuttle back – really? Are you not supposed to motivate me? Another race Marshall takes a better approach and encourages us to run in teams in the dark…, very sound advise! One runner takes that of the former and after emptying his stomach into the field, he boards the bus – OMG, you came this far!? But as we say; Listen to your body! I am not a good listener. Off I go…
What’s another 10KM? A long, long journey in the dark, when you have been through 95km of mountainous trails already, through forests you don’t know, along a treacherous trail that wants to make you stumble and fall with each and every step and yes, up more elevations. I team up with another Austrian runner – Bertl – his headlamp does not work well; we help and motivate each other; both of us determined to make it before the 20 hour cut off.
Elite runners long home and having beer with their friends we hustle along. I am leading the way, suddenly it occurs to me – no more way markers for a while – NO WAY – are we lost??? It can’t be, not at this point, we don’t have time to get lost, we can’t afford voluntary mileage …! But a quick check on the GPS watch confirms; we are off track! PANICK! Frustration…! We backtrack; fortunately only about 20 minutes lost but that is an eternity at this point in time. We find the way marker. Someone has turned it so it is no longer visible to the runners – who does that?
Back on track and finally with end in sight we reach the foot of Kapuzinerberg; the final elevation, ironically the church bell signals midnight; one hour to cut off; we should be safe now; nonetheless with Bertl in the lead now, we engage in a blistering pace uphill steps…, steps…, steps…
Yes, this pic was taken earlier in the day by Liz, when she mounted Kapuzinerberg; it was dark by the time I got there … and then: more steps…, a final zip of water; my running mate out of water so I am sharing mine; we are at the top; final descend; did I mention blisters? Probably about half a dozen by now; never mind; so much pain in so many places; too much adrenaline; downhill…! We reach the city streets; last few hundred meters; suddenly not tired anymore; across the bridge two more turns; 200 meters from the finish line we pick up another runner who needs dragging along; glorious – the finish line in sight… we cross together! Liz is there; she has long completed her run, which included Kapuzinerberg as well.
19 hours and 40 minutes; by far not my best result but I/we made it!
I am off balance; need to sit; looking for a sugar rush; no coke; with red bull as sponsor, someone hands me a can of Red Bull Cola; one big gulp – big mistake and moments later I am around the corner giving it all up again…Ahhh, I feel better now…; another medal for the collection. A short, slow walk back to our hotel for some rest now…; mission accomplished; what an epic day it was …;
And now, two weeks of vacation ahead of us.
And if it happens to be a rainy day with nothing else to do, feel free to check out this short video, taken on the run: