Monday, 25 April 2011

Vienna City Marathon

 I woke on race day just after 5:30 am, I dressed quickly put my shoes on and crept out of the hostel room. The day id been building for over the last 3-4 months was finally here. I started it with a very gentle 15 min jog, across the hostel grounds and along the road. It was light but the sun hadnt risen yet, cool but not cold. Those 15 mins alone doing what ive come to love over the past year was the best possible way this day.

After getting back i showered, lubed up with body glide, checked my gear bag had everything packed in it again (incase the fairies or aliens had decided to abduct something overnight) finally got dressed and headed down to the kitchen. The Hostel reception had said they would open early for us runners, but the kitchen staff wernt there. I decided to be daring and just take a couple of slices of bread from the top loaf of the bread delivery that was sitting outside the prep kitchen. Filled with Banana and walnut pieces they were breakfast. 

I realised that id missed the first bus heading from the hostel to the train station, but wasnt too worried as about half the guys from my running group were still in the hostel. The next bus would be in half an hour at 7:15, which meant that i could take my time sit down and drink a cup of coffee with the protein bar that id planned to eat on the bus. It was the first coffee in 2 weeks, and it was good. Only one other runner from my group staying at the hostel was ready for the 7:15 bus So we headed up to the stop together. Everyone made it on time in the end, but i didnt want to test my luck.

The trip from the hostel to the start line took about 40 minutes, and we bumped into another person from our group while trasfering to another subway. The odds of that have to be pretty thin but these things happen. The trains were all full, you could feel the excitment and the nervosity of the crowd, people were talking in little groups, it was an interesting moment, each of us was about to share an experience be part of something big, but we were all also intently focused on ourselves. I checked my pulse 65bpm...Nerves of steel i joked to my companions.

We arrived at the start line and immediately headed for the toilet. A quick pitstop for the two lads, and then we made our way towards the drop off for the gear bags. Id brought an old jumper with me, but i also had a big plastic rubbish bag that id 'Tailored' into a disposable jacket. When i got undressed i realised that it was already quite a bit warmer than earlier that morning, that id not really need the jumper so it stayed in the gear bag to warm me some other time. I had my gels, my nipple plasters, and a drink in a little plastic bag. I slipped into my trashbag jacket handed over my gear bag and headed for the meeting point.

It was now about 45 mins to the start, I opened up my drink and started sipping it, it was a caffinated red bull style drink, I chose it because of the increassed caffine, the sugars wouldnt hurt either. Another toilet break on the way back to the starting blocks would i thought tide me over. There was a little bit of confusion about the starting blocks, I was expecting something like in Cologne, where each block is cordoned off and starts seperately. In Vienna it wasnt so strict. My coleague and i made our way right up the very start of our starting block it was still only lightly filled.

20 mins to go, my pulse is 68bpm, Im going trough my race plan, shaking out my legs and arms, loosening up my neck and shoulders. sipping my drink and thinking this is it.... Im ready. Im in the yellow block, the corral in front of us is the fastest non-elite block. Half of them are running short loops to warm up, while we all stand and watch...its then i realise that maybe i could go to the toilet again. I didnt wait to think for long the corral was still pretty loosely packed and i could get out and back in from the front, so i headed to the toilet, again... sometimes its good to be a guy, there was once again no queue at the mens open air urinals.

Back in the corral its a few minutes to go the race announcers go through the list of countries represented, I wonder just how many of my fellow kiwis actually made it to the start line.  Then its the Austrian national anthem... some final warning that anyone starting with the elites that doesnt belong there will be disqualified...and then, the marshals remove the barriers between our corral and the one in front... i look at my companion, and join the rest of the people moving foward to join up at the back of the group in front. 2 minutes to go to the start, i rip of my trash bag jacket, stuff a tissue under the band of my garmin just incase, and fling the rolled up plastic out of the corral. The gun goes off and the elites are away, although it wasnt really a gun rather an air horn... 2 minutes later and the horn sounds again,nothing happens for the first 30 seconds then finally we start moving. almost immediately into a jog. There is the usual jostling, but nothing too bad, a bit of space opens up around us and then with almost a continuos peep tone were over the start mat.

Start at 09:01:46 and im #1806 to cross.

The start is up and over a bridge, by the time i reach to top the road in front and behind is just a mass of people. Even before we reached a Km in though i had space to be able to run at my race pace, It was quite a bit faster than my companion, so i said my goodbyes, wished him well and focused on taking it easy, sticking to my pace, and enjoying the start... down the other side of the bridge and i had my first little worrying moment. the course split in two with the runners on our side of the road running around one side of an overpass and the others around the other... I was worried for a second then i figured, no i started in the right block, and this was the course...just run with the crowd. Around the corner the two lanes finally merged.

I heeded the warnings about not getting carried away at the start im trying to stick to my pace but concious that im going a few seconds under it. The Garmin reports a bpm bellow what Ive been running my Aerobic workouts at, and it feels easy. I chat with a couple of the runners around me, were all wishing each other luck. According to the ticker I lost 95 places in the first 5km, but i figure that just shows that i was being successfull in constraining my enthusiasim at the start. I took my first gel as i passed the sign saying 100m until the 5k drinks station, ran through the first 100m or so and then grabbed a water and drank it quickly at a walk before running again.

Km 5 = 24:35 #1901 (+95)

The next 5 km follow pretty much the same, Its still nice and cool the course is mostly flat and ive started to run the blue line...although i must say i was a little dissapointed that i had to imagine it since there wasnt actually a blue line laid down. Being tall is helping as i can pick out the apex ahead and run to it. very few of the runners around me seem to be doing the same. my pulse has now settled in just over my Aerobic training level. Im taking on a few sips of water at each drink station. The ticker shows i pick up a few places.

Km 10 = 49:16 #1856 (-45), Last 5k @ 24:41

Shortly after Km 10 I was on the look out for our supporters, I was expecting them around Km 11, I thought id run past them when i finally saw them at 11.5, it was a welcome boost, because from there on the course slowly climbs as it heads out towards Schloss Schonenbruin. Its not really noticable when your running it but the garmins pretty clear that the pace dropped off a few seconds per Km. I paid particular attention to see both important landmarks at the turn...the Schloss and the BP Petrol Station...(my companions said the previous time they ran Vienna all they saw was the BP) It was about this time that my bladder started to let me know that maybe id like to go to the toilet again... I ignored it figuring that it was still in start nerves mode and not really with the marathon program yet. coming into the 15K drink station i took my second gel, chased it with a good cup of water... and crossed the ticker. Id picked up a few more places and was back to where id started from.

Km 15 = 1:13:35 #1801 (-55), Last 5k @ 24:19

If getting out to the schloss was uphill then coming back to the Halfway point was down hill. It was also back in building lined streets so offered plenty of shade, The road side support was also picking up for the half marathoners amoungst us.. I was feeling really good, and was really enjoying myself. I let the pace creep up a few times on this section, I also started to grin quite a bit. I noticed that i was passing quite a few people although there was allways the odd person that thundered past me, most of which i assumed were ramping up the end of their halfs. I did quite a few high fives with kids watching the race. I tried to interact with the crowds as much as possible...heck i even gave the cheerleader squad a round of applause as i ran past.... It was a city marathon and i was really enjoying myself. The ticker shows i picked up over 170 places in that section, I assume that includes people that decided to cut their marathon short and just run the half. In Vienna you can decide to stop at half way and run in with the half marathoners and youll get an official finishing time for the HM. Personally i think its a great idea, and clearly plenty of people decide to take up the option.

Km 21 (HM) = 1:43:28 #1625 (-176)

Following the action and hurly burly of the final few Km's of the Half the next part of the Marathon was a little dull, there were very few supporters, and by now the sun was getting up pretty high and the road was more often than not in full sun. I was however able to run at a pretty consistent pace, I was feeling better and better, stronger and stroonger as the race went on... I started noticing that quite a few of the guys around me(there wernt to many women) were really starting to sweat, the breathing was getting laboured, the footfalls heavier. The heat of the day was really kicking in. I was making sure that i was taking a sip at every drink station, at the main ones at multiples of 5 i was taking a full cup. The bladder was still telling me i needed to go for a pee... i was still saying nonsense. I took my 3rd gel just before the drink station at Km 25... My routine was to take the satchel out of the zip pocket at the back of my pants at 1km to hold it in my hand untill i saw the 100m to go, then id tear off the top, sqeeze it out, swallow the gel and dispose of the sachet before chasing it with a full cup of water taken while walking, It worked really well. I was just worried id be needing a toilet break sooner or later. The ticker shows i picked up a few places in this section but not many.

Km 25 = 2:01:56 #1589 (-36)

Km 26 & 27 were a bit down pace wise, Im not sure why, i think perhapes the course had a few little rises. and the sun was also working its magic, Then we got to the part of the course where the runners come back at you. I was too late to see the leading elites but i did get to see some pretty good african men and women, as well as the odd european. They sure do make it look easy...  maybe the inspired me a little, maybe it was getting out of some of the sun but either way i was able to return back to my previous pace. I was still feeling really good. I could tell that i was doing better than many of the guys around me.  The numbers of runners coming in the opposite direction slowly started to increase. Shortly before the 30k mark we arrive back in the prater park. The ticker shows that i picked up almost 100 places in this section.

Km 30 = 2:26:34 #1494 (-95), Last 5k @ 24:38

The next section is an out and back the whole way you have runners returning in the opposite direction and you cant really see where they are coming from...the road just dissapears into the distance. I imagine that this is particularly hard if your really starting to feel tired. It took me a while to realise that the music being played over the load speaker system along this section was from pirates of the carribean. I thought it was pretty uplifiting stuff, I was still grinning from ear to ear, still feeling strong and I was approaching decision point. Id chosen a race pace that i knew was not a real stretch for me, Id abandoned that at km15 and pushed along a little bit faster but still within my ability bassed on my HM result at the end of febuary. Id told my training companions that i wanted to run at a controlled pace so that i could enjoy myself, take in the surroundings, ensure that i finished, but that if i was feeling strong with 10k to go i might consider racing the last part. Well i was feeling strong, I had no doubt that id be able to finish. I could just continue to cruise, or i could push a little and find out what thats like. I was already consistently passing people even though i was more or less just maintaining my own pace. Then sometime after km 32 a guy in a blue singlet went past me... the first one i noticed that passed me in a while... he still looked fresh but wasnt going too much faster so i decided to latch onto him. I didnt tuck right up on his shoulder, rather left a gap of a few meters, but i held that gap, and now i was racing. In this section the ticker shows we pulled back almost 200 places. I took my 4th and last gel at the 35k drinkstation.

Km 35 = 2:49:59 #1301 (-193), Last 5k @ 24:33

Now we were back out of the park, The streets were wide, the sun was high and there wasnt a lot of shade. It was difficult, but not terribly so. I was able to stay with Mr Blue singlet the whole time. sometimes he'd pull ahead a little then id reel him back in. Some of the guys we were passing were going backwards fast. I can only imagine how disencouraging it must be to be struggling and have a couple of guys blow past still looking pretty fresh. or at least we were at the start of this section... but that it was a pretty long 5k and towards the end i wasnt feeling quite so fresh anymore. But I also knew that it wasnt too much further anmore...besided my damn bladder was still trying to let me know i should go to the toilet... i figured the faster i go the faster im there...the faster i can take a pee. And then shortly before Km 40 i realised that I was shoulder to shoulder with blue singlet..then i was passed him. I picked up a further 178 places in that section.

Km 40 = 3:13:09 #1123 (-178), Last 5k @ 23:10

I dont actually recall running over the mat at Km 40, It was also the first drinkstop that i passed up the opportunity to take a drink. I was on fire, i was storming home... I was running like greased lightening. I was passing people of the left, passing them on the right. I was...wait just a sec...two guys just blew past me...i look at my watch its got to be around a km to go...I also realise im looking at the highest bpm pulse ive ever seen from myself on it.  The crowd lining the streets is starting to thicken up, I see our supporters again... I pick up the pace a little more and try and hold onto those two guys... nothing like a taste of your own medicine huh? but I dont have the legs, they slowly pull away. i check my watch, it says im over 42 km... but i dont see the damn 42km course marker.... i keep running 100m 200m...then finally i see it up ahead... but wheres that damn finish... its no where in sight... then I round a corner and its there... I push on a little more nip quite a few places at the post, A quick punch of the air as i cross and then im trying to stop running.

Finish = 3:22:46 #1044 (M35 #190), 2nd HM in 1:39:18

It takes the legs a good 10 meters to slow me down to a walk...  I look around not really sure where to go See a lady handing out the finishers medals... i join the queue, have one put around my neck and then realise i havent stopped the garmin yet...Once i stopped running however my bladder finally summed up the gumption to become considerably more insistant.... the 150m walk to the toilet was undertaken with much the same urgency as the last couple of Km's, it was pretty clear, a good indication that i had hydrated pretty well during the race.

I grab a couple of bottles of water look around to see if i can see anyone, and then notice  that goody bags are being handed out a bit further along. I queue up for mine, womble along for a bit more before finding a spot out of the sun and turn my attention to the contents... i cant really recal exactly waht was in it.. a banana an apple, some trail mix, two more bottles of drink, some chocolate thingies,  maybe some other stuff too... either way after about 3-4 minutes mine was empty and my jaw was starting to ache a little from the marathon chewing effort id just put it through.

Finshing the Marathon was almost a little bit of a let down, there was no big revelation, no flood of emotions, maybe i was a little bit numb at the time, but even now looking back on the day what stands out for me is the feeling i had as i was running between about km16 and km32.  The very real sense of joy that i was doing something that so few ever manage to do, and that i was doing it well. I guess that is what they call a runners high... I enjoy my long runs, i love to be in the zone, but ive never really had a feeling of pure joy so strong that i couldnt stop myself from grining like a poor mans copy of the cheshire cat before.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with the usual discussions of who ran what time, the ordeals faced along the way, who hit their targets who missed out on them...  I received plenty of congratulations.... and the challenge to actually race the whole of my next one. and Yes there will be a next one, In fact i already have a race selected...

Finally for anyone that has made it this far and still hasnt had enough, here the tale of the garmin for closer study :)


  1. You ran an absolutely brilliant race, you must have been streaming past people in the second half.

  2. Thanks Thomas,

    Its how ive run most of my races so far, finishing strong and reeling in people at the end. I find that locking onto someone ahead and pulling them back really helps me maintain my pace and drive. In the next marathon though ill be trying for much more even splits and a more consistent pace throughout... I figure if i can manage that hopefully there will still be enough people ahead of me that are tiring that i can go fishing with.

  3. what a great read. i'm going to start the vcm in 2012 altough my goal is not as ambitious as yours (3:22 is amazing). the garmin data is also fascinating stuff, your heart rate went crazy on the last 5k. congratulations on your achievement!

  4. Thanks Phillip,

    I do think that the HR strap was playing up a little at the end there, Im not sure that the high peaks are truely representative of my HR, but In the last couple of KM i was really pussing it and I do tend to get these little peaks and troughs when im pushing hard.

    As for the performance, i think that is more representative of the amount of time i was willing to put into my training rather than any amazing ability. Anyone that put in a similar time should be able to achieve a good result.