Sunday 7 April 2019

Vienna City Marathon 2019

6th April, 15:00 - Rathaus



WOW... And I mean the big WOW! As I enter Vienna's City Hall, my head rises and my sight gets lost in the high ceiling,  gold archways and crystals chandeliers. Where other cities gather runners in dusty fairs, Vienna chose its magnificent City-all to host the legendary pre-race pasta party. That's what I call appetizer :)

That's where I finally meet "Mihh", inside a vast and sparkling room, at a little standing table and while eating a plate of tortellini drown in tomato sauce. Mihnea has been living for six years in Vienna now and he has become the Romanian Ambassador for the Vienna City Marathon (VCM), that he finished a few times already. But before all, he's my brother-in-law (or brother-in-run as we call each other's) and the person whose adventures inspired me and made me start running. I probably wouldn't be here today without him!


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- So Mihh, can you tell us a few words about you and what you are doing in Vienna?

- Hi Alex, I started running around since I was little and I don't want to stop now that I'm a grown-up :)) I am working in Vienna as a software engineer, and use my spare time to train and promote running. My life goal is to travel the world and promote the diversity of each marathon I encounter during my journey

- What kind of runner are you and where do you like to run?

- I am an "All-rounder", meaning that I don't mind running on asphalt, tartan track, land, sand or on muddy terrain. Since I'm living in Vienna, my favourite running routes are along the Danube or in the main parks (Prater, Sch├Ânbrunn etc.)

- You are the Romanian Ambassador at the VCM, what does that mean?

- My main responsibility as Ambassador is to bring the whole Marathon Event closer to the participants from Romania (and not only!) by giving them updated news and insights on social media. Apart of this, I am also responsible for providing them with useful information and tips about the event

- Thank you for these kind words (and letting us crash on your couch!)

­čĆâ

On these last few words full of hope, we raise our (alcohol-free) beer and cheer on a plate of Kaiserschmarren, the "king's dessert"! See you tomorrow on the starting line.




7th April, 8:00 - ONU city, 0 km



After a short night and an even shorter breakfast, we aim outside in the cold morning breeze. "We need to hurry, Mihh urges me, the train will be crowded". God I hate running before a marathon! But indeed, the station is full and impossible to enter the first two trains. We zip ourselves inside the third one, which takes us to the start at the International Center. The area is packed, runners everywhere on every inch of grass. Same atmosphere than on Berlin marathon. I'm not used to that anymore, having run countryside events of a few dozens runners top lately! We drop our bags and aim for the starting line

A few words on the VCM, as we wait for the gunshot. It's the official yearly marathon of the city of Vienna, in Austria, a small country in the heart of our beloved Europe. Surrounded by 8 countries and mostly covered by the Alps, Austria was the heart of the Hapsburg Monarchy and the Austro-Hungarian empire, influencing the fate of Europe for centuries. It is also the birthplace of eternal names like Strauss, Mozart, Klimt, von Erlach, Freud, and more recently Hanneke, Falco or superstars like Waltz and Schwarzenegger!



Capital of Austria, Vienna is a vibrant and magnificent medieval town. Heart of the baroque, the whole city is an open-air museum and each street corner will blow you away. People have come from all around the world to live and work in the "city of music", making of Vienna a multicultural hub and one of the world's most livable city for more than a decade. But for me, Vienna will always be the place where I spent my honeymoon and where I felt outside of time for a few romantic days :)



But enough chit-chat! The music is rising and Freddy's vibrato voice echoes all around us, on the high walls of the UNO City, as we raise our hands and clap loudly. The first waves started already, one more minute to go... Countdown... We break the crowd and jump forwards, arms in the air, reaching for the stars. 42km ahead of us, let's make history!



9:15 - Prater, 1-5 km


A few strides and we are already crossing the Reichsbr├╝cke over the Danube and the Donauinsel, a long and narrow strip of land in the middle of the river, where Mihh took me running a few times. What about Mihh, by the way? He's right next to me, live-streaming on his Instagram story where he recently started as a marathon ambassador, offering insights and advice to whoever wanna try the great adventure! I invite myself on his video, ruining all his efforts, mouhaha! I'm so funny at kilometer 1, not so much around kilometer 38! He quickly breaks the starting pace and disappear in the crowd, far away from me. I'm all alone, again, as usual. Well, still surrounded by 200 runners, I'm really not used to that. On my last marathon, I spent an hour alone and even had to ask locals for directions!



We follow the road to the left and quickly reach the Prater's Hauptallee, a narrow straight road bordered by trees that disappears on the horizon. The famous high wheel is raising over our heads, turning slowly, people in the cabins pointing at the lemmings running down there. The Prater is one of Vienna's largest leisure area, with endless green spaces, sports courts, playgrounds, a stadium, and even a theme park open all year. It's famous Riesenrad is more than a century old and was the tallest one until 1985! Bikes, electric scooters, roller-blades, skaters, everyone is overtaking and reminding us how slow we are... Yep, but I wanna see them try to cover the 42 km!




We reach a crossroads and leave the stadium on our left - see you in a few hours! - and turn right towards the Donaukanal. I leave the main road as often as I can and run on the side, in the dirt and grass. Trailer's habit, always fleeing the rough asphalt.



A first aid station marks the 5th kilometer. I risk myself on the blue Gatorade - mountain dew flavor - that doesn't taste so bad, in spite of the endless list of poisons they put in it. But I prefer my Isostar magic powder. I took a plastic bag full of it with me and refuel my water bottle. I barely resume running that my heart miss a few beats and my stomach sickens. It's not the mountain dew but the mountain of plastic glasses thrown in the grass all around. I think about the Eco Trail de Paris, where we had to bring our own cup and carry a trash bag with us. Sigh... I miss trail running!



9:50 - Donaukanal, 5-10 km


Soon after, we reach the outskirts of the Donaukanal, a brave little river that decided to leave Daddy for a while and find it's way through the city. We run on the pedestrian lanes, bordered by leafy trees and a few fisherman who's day just got ruined. A few selfies while I still feel fresh and I'm back in the crowd. We are close to Mihh's place now and I think about milady and my cheese cubes that will come and cheer us up, but they are probably still breakfasting. We should meet them later, around km 26.



We finally cross the river near Schwedenplatz and enter the city center. I can't repeat myself enough, but Vienna is a magnificent city. Everywhere you look, it's just endless baroque facades featuring the finest workmanship, statues so real you could almost see them break their prison of stone to meet you, eternal churches that seemed untouched by time, people dressed in medieval clothes and talking to you with a noble and singing accent... You can easily loose yourself in the city, forget who you are, where you are and what century we are. Suddenly you are not running anymore but hunting the boar on your king's land, or slipping in a silk dress to go waltzing!

10:30 - Sch├Ânbrunn, 11-16 km




We follow the ring inside the city up to Karlsplatz, where we will head to the finish line later on. Then suddenly we head South-West, towards the Sch├Ânbrunn Castel. We leave the colorful city center for a long and narrow street along the underground train line. I'm starting now the hardest part of the race, and it's terrifying, because at that time, I don't know it's just a weak moment and that I'll feel better afterwards. Despite the two weeks of rest, my legs have been aching since the morning, due to the early travel yesterday and the hours standing still at the pasta party. I look at my watch, I barely covered 12 km. How am I ever going to finish this race, feeling down so early?



A supply station comes to the rescue. I refuel, swallow an energy bar and takes a few minutes to sit and massage my calves. I also put on my second ankle pad, to maintain and protect my right foot. I feel better already. Let's see how far I can continue, hopefully at least up to the half.

11:15 - Mariahilferstra├če, 16-21 km



I'm so lost in my thoughts, trying to forget the needles in my legs, that I miss Sch├Ânbrunn! My attention is drawn by the relay runners, waiting for their fellow teammate to start, and I completely miss the superb silhouette of the castle. No regret, I've been there a few times already. If you ever come to Vienna in December, don't miss its magical Christmas market and live classical concerts.

It's time to go back! After two sharp turns, we are heading back to the city. I suddenly recognize the high buildings around me, covered with giant bills and sparkling monitors. Our route led us to
Mariahilferstra├če, Vienna's famous shopping street. A few years ago, the residents voted to make it car-free, and since then you can meander and shop around peacefully. We cross the large avenue, followed by the eyes of amused residents, watching us from the high windows or the side benches.



My legs are hurting. It's constant, not painful enough to stop but still quite bothering. I try to focus all my attention on the city around me, on the people cheering us, on the aid stations pumping me up... The kilometers on my watch pass before my eyes. I hear a distant uproar, voices rising, runners getting excited around me. I realize that we are approaching the 21st kilometer, end of the half marathon. There is something pretty unique at the VCM, that I've never seen anywhere else: half and full marathoners all start together and can decide on the way if they want to attempt the half or the full experience. If they feel down, they can stop at kilometer 21 and still go home with a medal, without having to abandon.

On the other hand, being given such a choice really makes it hard to stick to the plan, and I have to resist the temptation, as the road suddenly parts in two directions, indicated by two crazy dancing girls on top of a tower: turn right to finish the half or left to aim for the stars! I think at milady and my minions waiting for daddy 5km forwards. I can't disappoint them! Let's stick to the road and we'll see how things goes.


11:40 - Museumsquartier, 21-27 km


We keep progressing quietly. Runners around me are reaching that point when the race is not a walk in the park anymore and each step is harder than the last, each passing kilometer is a new victory over yourself. We can feel that the so-feared wall is getting closer, the question is always when it will hit us and if we'll manage to finish? I let my attention wander around me. We are crossing the Museumsquartier, gathering the most impressive museums and buildings of the city: Kunsthistorisches and Naturhistorisches Museum (museums of art and natural history), Volkstheater and the striking Rathaus (City-all).



We cross the Friedensbr├╝cke (bridge of freedom) over the Donaukanal and turn right, to follow once again the brave little river, this time from the other side of town. Nothing really exciting on this part of the event, I'm just focusing on my steps while suffocating with the fumes of cars driving next to us. God I miss the trees! But the kilometers are flying before my eyes and the 26th one I longed for is finally here. I see a French and a Romanian flag flying on the horizon, some arms waving at me, shouts of joy. I feel wings of hope deploying in my back.



I take my son in my arms, ignoring my back crying of pain under the effort. My wife, her mom and Mihh's girlfriend are here too, asking me tons of questions. I exchange a few words, realizing how tired I am. I try to reassure them, it's all gonna be alright. But I need to continue, each passing second not moving is attacking my legs with a soldering iron! They tell me that Mihh is not far, only 15-20 min ahead. Like we say at family barbecues: "let's ketchup!" ;)



12:20 - Prater again!? 27-35 km


As we leave the Donaustra├če and head North, a giant wheel appears out of nowhere. What a minute... D├ęj├á-vu! Is that a second one or are we back to the Prater park? Indeed we are! I remember that the VCM route looks like it's been drawn by a 3 years old on Red Bull! That's how I find myself running the same path East. A quick check on the app, Mihh is just a few kilometers ahead. He's running out of energy, but so am I. The trick is now to spare every ounce of it and stay focused.



We reach an agitated crossroads and we are sent North, while runners on the other side head South. My watch marks the 30th kilometer, as I reach the stadium, where the relay runners take over. Lucky ones, I should have joined a team! After this brief diversion, we are back on the long pavement lane crossing the Prater. We are supposed to make a U turn at the end of the way and come back. I have to fight the urge to join the runners heading back, but they probably installed a chip tracker at the turn around point! Indeed they did and we cross the 33rd kilometer while running around the Lusthaus... My only lust is to finish this race and crash in the hammock for a well-deserved nap!



We run back all the way to the crossroads. I stick behind a nice lady wearing a French flag and Minnie Mouse plastic ears. She'll take me home for sure :) Mihh is almost done, this gives me some more motivation. I can't wait to share a selfie with our medal and beer!



13:20 - Rathaus and finish, 35-42km


We leave the Prater (again!), heading towards the city center and the finish line. My legs are feeling heavier and heavier. No persistent pain but sometimes a very unpleasant feeling in my feet, that something is not right and that I should stop running very soon. I thank my previous year of training and my two trail marathons.



The Landstrasse leads us up to the Rathaus, through Karlsplatz again, where I was devouring my pastas exactly 24h ago. At that time, I wasn't sure I could finish the race and see the stars. But now I'm sure I will! The music bands carry us over the last two kilometers. As usual, the proximity to the finish line give me wings and I speed up, flying over the crowd of staggering finishers. A yellow carpet welcomes us to the finish line, as well as a nice crowd cheering us from the tribunes. Next to me, a girl is crying while covering the last meters. Probably her first marathon, and surely not her last! I myself cannot prevent shedding a tear of joy and relief.



I cross the finish line 4:47 min after the starting one and 25 min behind Mihh, who's been waiting for me to cheers. A shiny medal is thrown around my neck. Wow, a gold star with a Swarovski crystal ! Vienna knows how to greet its finishers. Food bag: check. Alcohol-free beer: check. I find Mihh lazying in the sun. We finally share a well-deserved selfie, before joining the family and heading home for a giant barbecue.



Conclusion


I know I'm not a city runner and I usually find no pleasure hurting my feet and knees over 42 km of hard pavement, while breathing car fumes and stepping on plastic cups. But I guess it depends on the city! I had a lot of fun running the marathon of Vienna, who is - I can't repeat myself enough - one of the most beautiful city in the world. Even if I'm not planning to run more city marathons in the future, I'm really happy I can strike this one from my bucket list!

I want to thank with all my heart the VCM organizer for inviting me to the event, as well as my brother-in-run, for sharing my victory. Of course, let's not forget the family, they've all been amazing supporters and helped us reach for the stars :)



General Travel Information


Transport:

Vienna really is at the heart of Europe, making it accessible by car from many neighbor countries. But if you are coming from far away, multiple airlines will fly you here. The country's airline Austrian of course, from all European capitals, as well as low-cost ones like Easyjet. Don't forget to book early for cheap tickets ! From the airport, you can reach the city center using the CAT shuttle (16 min, 11/19€) or a regional train (25 min, 8/13€).
https://www.viennaairport.net/

Food:

Vienna is a paradise for delicious food and refine palates, at the crossroads of European cuisines. You will find restaurants flourishing everywhere. But as the temperature was rising, my heart was set on ice cream. If you can't resist either (why should you, you just ran 42 km!), follow the animated Rotenturmstra├če up to Eis Greissler, a little ice cream shop you could almost miss out passing by. It would be a shame, with their collection of more than 100 flavors elaborated with bio milk and local ingredients from their Austrian farms, as well as their vegan and dairy-free options. Dare try one of their specialty, like pumpkin seed oil!
https://www.eis-greissler.at/en/our-ice-cream/

Tip top:

You cannot come to Vienna without visiting its treasures, that you will discover along the marathon. If you have little time, history lovers should visit the Hofburg and the Albertina. If architecture is your hobbyhorse, head to the St. Stephen's cathedral or the City Hall. Art lovers can loose themselves inside the galleries of the Belvedere and the Sch├Ânbrunn Palace. Finally, if you just wanna chill out before or after the race, why not a tour of the Prater's Giant Wheel, or a Viennese coffee and Sachertorte at the Donau Turm Panorama Caf├ę?




Additional links:


You too, enroll for next year's edition and reach for the stars!

You wanna start running but you're not sure how, HE'LL TEACH YOU ALL :)

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