This race was my second ultra and my first distance longer than 50 kilometers. I had signed up more or less without knowing a lot about the region or the race. This was the first edition and I had never before been to Wienerwald – the forest around Vienna.
I found the event by browsing the ITRA homepage and looking for a race that would give me another 3 UTMB points in order to get into the lottery for the OCC 2019.
My first impression was that the area seemed to be beautiful, yet quite easy to run. Probably easier than the coastal terrain of the Jurassic Coast where I ran my first ultra in June this year.
I convinced a friend to come with me for his first ultra distance and we traveled to the village of Purkersdorf, just outside of Vienna.
Kilometer 0 to 15: The race started at 7 a.m. on the main square in Purkersdorf. There were 130 participants for the 55 k, 35 for the 110 k and 12 for the 100 miles. Overall it was a classic line-up of nervous and over-equipped trail runners. The first two kilometers led us out of the town and of course everyone started to run at a way too fast pace, as it is in the beginning of almost every race.
In the weeks prior to the race I had some problems with my right leg, wondering if it was shin splints or even a stress fracture. After an x-ray and even a MR showed no signs of any serious injury I decided to the give the race a shot even if I was a bit anxious about the pain and how it would develop under such a long distance.
My legs were feeling stiff and my heart rate was too high – it’s never easy to get over anxiety on race day.
The course led into the forest and over rolling hills. The trails were more like tractor roads and without any technical difficulties. I could run or walk uphill without having to look at my feet the whole time. Something that saves a lot of energy.
The first hill included 200 meters of elevation gain and the second one around onehundred meters. As soon as runners of the same speed were sorted loosely into groups, I met the same people several times. I overtook them, they overtook me, we had a little chat and it felt good to be in this together.
Kilometer 15 to 25: The first aid station was at kilometer 16 and I only stopped to fill up my water bottles and to eat a slice of apple. I had a big bowl of müsli for breakfast and ate some gels and energy bars I brought in my pack. In hindsight it would have been better to eat more at the first aid station as I started to feel weary not long after. Feeling hungry or not is nothing to go by – just eat what you know is good for you.
The trail was now quite steep, both up and downhill. For some time it didn’t bother me too much but then fatigue was creeping up my legs. I stopped for some short stretches to feel less tight and stiff.
Kilometer 25 to 36: The steep inclines kept on coming and I started to feel worse, both mentally and physically. Every uphill seemed longer and the downhills were tough on my legs. I felt nauseous and didn’t want to eat any more disgustingly sweet gels and bars. The landscape was still beautiful but I wasn’t really having any of it at that point. My mind was all set for the next aid station and the break that I would take there.
Kilometer 36 to 45: Coming into the aid station I felt quite sick. I took off my shoes, set my phone to charge and filled up my bottles. Texting with a friend who wanted to know what I had eaten so far made me realize that it wasn’t enough at all. I felt like my stomach was full of gels and sugary water but consuming about 300 calories in 5 hours of running and hiking was really not a lot. I forced myself to eat a banana and to drink some coke – and it worked! I felt better almost instantly.
Before leaving the aid station I mixed a super strong tailwind energy drink with about 300 calories in 0.5 liters. I continued my journey and everything felt so much easier. I put on some music and even danced a little bit to the music as I walked through the forest and the fields.
My enthusiasm lessened over time and I started to look forward to the next, and last, aid station at kilometer 45.
Kilometer 45 to 55: Reaching the aid station, I was quick to fill up with banana and coke again but it didn’t quite do it’s magic as it had done one and a half hour before. I was tired and no amount of carbohydrates would change that fact. My legs felt so stiff and running downhill hurt in every muscle. Running uphill as well.
I continued together with a local runner and we entertained each other with little stories about other races. Getting this done with was easier while not concentrating too much on negative feelings. The kilometers after the aid station were basically only uphill, a hill that would not end. I looked on my watch every minute to see how far I had come 46.7 kilometers. After a felt eternity I looked again and was at 46.9. This was never going to end.
I drank some more, both water and tailwind, I ate a gel and took a bite of a snickers but everything just made me feel more nauseous. The thought of throwing up scared me a bit and I took some deep breaths, trying to stabilize my stomach and feel less weary. I don’t think anyone can really see these struggles that happen inside a runner. To everyone else I probably just looked bored as I was hiking down towards the finish line. But the spectrum of emotions and sensations during a 9 hour effort is just incredible. From anxious to calm, from ecstatic to wishing I had never signed up for this.
In the end I reached the finish line and I think it was all worth it. If it doesn’t scare you a bit and shows you your limits – is it really a challenge?