Warning: Do NOT read unless you don’t mind me sounding bitter!
The Mittersiller Wandermarathon is a race I was looking at 2 years ago already – back in 2012, the race was brand new and in my ‘I-never-run-hills’ naivety I thought it was doable: 26 km with 850 m up/down. Thank God I became pregnant – which pretty much killed the thought to participate for both 2012 and 2013 and saved me a major humiliation… till 2014.
Fast forward to yesterday: Here I am on a rainy Sunday morning, sitting in the car next to V and with the girls at the back, crying (me – not them, for once). I don’t want to run and I definitely don’t want to run at the back of the pack of muscled mountaineers. Turns out that small local races are small and local. So while I am being pushed out of the car (“If you don’t go, you will be unpleasant all day long and you know today is my birthday!”), all the other runners are frantically warming up and lining at the start line.
There are nine
thousand hundred ty runners and me: NINE athletic figures in shorts and T-shirts – and me, in long pants. And a jacket. And a camel bag as from the web of the race I never found out anything about the aid stations. And I knew I would need 3+ hours to get to the finish again…
As I was checking my co-runners (ehm), my worst nightmare became reality: immediately after the start shot the race pack started sprinting towards the hills… and I plodded behind them. Even with a 5:50/km pace I was not able to keep anywhere near them and I knew that this would not change as for the coming 4 km, the track profile was offering a long and steady climb.
The race was everything but boring. Two km into it the ambulance car caught up with me – luckily the paramedics let me continue as I was (sort of) smiling to them. And then the first nordic walker (yes, the wandermarathon was opened to them as well, hence ‘wander’) who started 10 minutes after us passed me and that pretty much outlined the rest of the race :-).
For the first time I did not take the mp3 with me as I wanted to enjoy the atmosphere (which, to some extent, I managed). The one thing I did not consider upfront was the irritating noise of the nordic walkers’ poles ticking to the ground as they were approaching me. I know you will laugh but on occasions, the sound combined with my fatigue felt as if The Death itself was coming to get me.
After the 4 killing kilometers up, I hit a nice 5 km descend back to the valley of Salzach. In the woods above Hollersbach I spotted the first aid station. I took a banana there and tried not to listen to the guys’ remarks (“The last runner? Really? This late? I thought she was walking…?). In Hollersbach, at 9 km mark, I was passing a chip control and although my self esteem was completely gone by then, I struggled to find some positive thoughts and to continue. The rain stopped for a moment which helped me to start focusing on the surroundings, the (few) people along the road clapping for me and the fact that there was still 17 km of a beautiful track ahead.
As I was running further, I ate some fruit sugar and the rest of the banana I took earlier at the aid station. To the credit of the race organisers, there were clear road signs everywhere so even though most of the time I ran alone, I almost never doubted the direction. Also, on many crossings there were volunteers (cute guys from the local fire brigade) cheering me up and prepared to help. It would have been so easy to faint into their arms…
At km 15, we were getting really close to the start/finish area in Mittersill (the track is shaped like a long cipher ‘8’) and I was considering turning there and announcing that I was only participating in the 16 km race. Unfortunately, exactly at that point yet another nordic walker passed me saying: “Are you running? Really? The long one? Wow, super!” You see, dear reader, it was this guy (aged 60 plus) who simply made it impossible for me to turn to the finish. I swallowed a gummy-bear and hit another hill instead.
Climbing to Thurn Pass (km 16) stripped me of the last bits of energy that I had. It was steeper than steep (for me), I only know this area from skiing, not hiking or, God forbid, running! Here again Mother Nature saved me: less rain = more views. The valley below me looked fantastic and I even had a short glimpse to some snowy peaks. Then between km 17-21, the track was really beautiful – forest and meadow paths, up and down, mud, rocks,…. it is just that I was really tired by then.
Above Stuhlfelden (km 22), I had to force myself to continue running. I slipped from a wooden bridge into the muddy pool (feet and legs wet, no damage) and realised I had enough. Knowing that the only option to end my misery was walking (which would get me to the finish even slower), I somehow plodded on. Running (literally!) out of resources on how to proceed, I even ate about half of a gel that I had with me. Disgusting, as always :-).
The last 4 km represented a sheer struggle. With shaky fingers I sms’ed V that she could pick me up in 25 minutes or so but what normally would have felt like a nice flat run along the river turned into my desperate attempt to move forward at all. Luckily at that stage the horse started to smell the stables so eventually I passed the finish line.
The muscle ache in my upper legs continued a bit longer, however, after 1 km of a very slow jogging it was nearly gone. A bottle of beer helped as well and when I saw the girls coming towards me, both the bitterness and pain were (almost) gone.
To recap, this was a 25.8 km race with +/- 851 meters. I needed 3:37:30 to deal with it and ended up last (nr 10). On the bright side, I ended as the third woman. 7 nordic walkers (out of 34) were faster than me – and of course all 9 runners. I needed to be half an hour faster not to end up on the tail. Quite a reality check, I must say.
Apart from that, in all honesty, it was a very well organised race: for EUR 15 (or 10, if registered earlier) there were several aid stations, many volunteers along the track and a rich kids programme at the start/finish area all day long. The locals baked a variety of delicious cakes and prepared goulash for the finishers. And not to forget: there was an impressive average of 0.5 portable toilets per racer :-).
As I am writing this post, my bitter face is lightning up. It was a tough race for me and no matter how it went – I made it (while the toughest part was to walk to the start line). Deep down in my head I already hear myself saying: “Next time better…”
It is Thursday evening and I have just unwrapped a thick envelope from the race organisors… with a diploma and a medal for my achievement: 3rd place among the women :-).