We’d signed up for the Vienna City Marathon in last October. I don’t think I’d ever planned for a race so much in advance. It was just about a week after running Berlin, and Chan and I were both still under the enchantment of the BIG MARATHON. We started the new training cycle with great enthusiasm and awesome runs in the early autumn… but as winter advanced on us and spring seemed never to arrive, things got harder and harder. Running through the windy-stormy Galician winter is one thing, but running through three consecutive rainy-wet winters is something the human psyche is not quite prepared for – not mine anyway.
Yes you’ve read it right, three winters… and it is not meant as a figure of speech, but as a fact. So it happened that, last year, after what in the memory of many Galicians had been the worst winter in a long time, I’d set out to spend “summer” in Windy Wellington (NZ), so true to its name. Before you go green with envy, reflect on how in our Eurocentric northern hemisphere world we don’t ever seem to think that summer elsewhere means winter (that is, if you are on the northern hemisphere, dear reader)… After the summer-winter, I came back to Galicia in a heartwarmingly mild September, which was just enough to get a glimpse of what I’d missed out on, and then the winter winds started howling again.
What I learnt over the last year is that however mild winters are here on the Spanish Atlantic Coast, if your body and mind are wired for the regular cycle of four seasons over the year, tampering with them is not the best idea. As for my running, just to say that after ticking a good number of 25+ k runs against all weather conditions, by February-March this year I found myself struggling to head out for a run whenever the skies were grey. I was also longing for feeling warm so much that it was hard to strip my winter running gear even when temperatures were relatively mild. By the beginning of April, flickering between a general bad mood and numbness, I was wondering about the raison d’être of summer clothes suddenly displayed in shop windows. But as if a spell had been cast, spring finally came just a few days before the Vienna City Marathon. Walking down the street without a winter jacket felt like a dream (not exaggerating!) and the numbness started melting away. That’s the mood in which I arrived in Vienna.
I find that running events don’t quite seem real until I arrive at the venue itself. Once in Vienna, it didn’t take long to spot the first fellow marathoner on the airport train, a guy putting on his Garmin, and holding a shabby backpack displaying the logo of a previous race. As we hurried up the stairs to change from one metro line to the other, I saw another runner literally staring at other people’s shoes, assumedly in the hope of discovering kindred spirits. These are the details that just make you tingle with excitement in anticipation of the upcoming event.
We arrived in Vienna on Friday early afternoon, and decided to go to the Expo right away, to get our race numbers sorted. On Saturday morning we went for an easy jog just to run through the finish area – and take some photos, of course. This is somehow a reassuring ritual, which provides a way of connecting with the unknown race scenery. The rest of the day was spent roaming the streets of the historical city centre, where we found that in addition to than scenic horse carriage rides, ice cream shops were clearly among the most booming business opportunities in town – at least for what seemed like the first warm weekend of the year. Early afternoon we headed to the pasta party.
If you are a regular attendant of long distance running events, you know that marathon expos and pasta parties, as well as hotel lounges and buffet breakfasts generally serve as the ultimate scenes for the exaltation of the marathoner. When you are in a city the days prior to a major running event, you spot people dressed in track suits, wearing jeans and running shoes, sporting t-shirts and jackets with event and club logos. Now, mix this up with the imperialistic glamour of the city of Vienna, and voilà, you get what they call the Friendship Party, set in the ball room of the Rathaus, the Viennese town hall (see photo). Runners were offered pasta, kaiserschmarrn, soft drinks and naturally, Erdlinger Alkoholfrei, which would also be served at the finish line. Vienna’s fame of being classical music and waltz capital was emphasized by the presence of a small orchestra and young dancers offering dance lessons (even though I don’t know how many runners seized the opportunity ;)).
Since our accommodation was conveniently located near the Finish – to shorten the distance we would have to hobble painfully before a warm post-race shower –, we had to catch the metro to get to the start on the morning of the race day. Seemingly, we were overworried about this and calculated way more time than necessary, as the trip went seamlessly with plenty trains to transport all runners to their destination. This allowed us more than enough time to do all *whatrunnersdo* before a race, and even to sit around and eat some chocolate. Then the race started and off we went on our 42.195k city tour of Vienna.
Our goal was to run something approximating the 3h 15min mark, but, as I said above, due to the lack of disciplined training, which we blamed on the prolonged triple winter, I was seriously doubting my chances. And Chan seemed to not want to let me in on his opinion. We took off at what felt like an easily maintainable pace, and kept at it the two of us running together until about the 30k mark. That was where I noticed that Chan was starting to feel less comfortable, and we eventually split up. I went on keeping up the pace until about the epic 35k, after which, naturally, it hit me that running a marathon is not that easy after all. This is no news though, and we know these last kilometres are what marathon running is really about. Although my pace dropped somewhat, I managed to finish at 3:16:55. Chan unfortunately had more of a hard time, suffering cramps… he fought hard though, and finished in 3:27:14 (you can soon read his version of the story too).
I don’t know about others, but for me what comes after the finish line is the toughest part of the marathon emotionally. You have trained for months, strained your body, you have spilt water and/or electrolyte drinks all over your top and also your hair, have fought the urge to stop, you achieved your goal, and now you are tired, lost, and all you want is a comfortable couch to lie on, curled up in a warm blanket… and to be teleported to your home – or at least your hotel room. And there is the question: Why have I done this in the first place? And what am I going to do next? Of course, all this goes away in a few minutes, you get a medal hung around your neck, a drink in one hand, food in the other, and suddenly you are back enjoying the moment.
I like to think about how people who have been in a race are all heading home afterwards. We all gathered to participate in an event, to accomplish something at a place we chose. And now everybody is taking something with them, wherever they are travelling. Lines spreading across a map in different directions. And there are the chance encounters, like the man boarding our same flight from Barcelona to Coruña in a white VCM 2015 t-shirt. You spot this person, and you know you have something in common, and chances are we will see each other somewhere else: both of us trailing a suitcase and wearing running shoes with jeans.