Whilst many in the club took on the challenges of London, I opted for another marathon on the same morning in Vienna. Like London it was hot with clear blue skies and a strange yellow object in the sky which had failed to show its face in the months of training during Edinburgh’s cold, windy, miserable winter. The weekend started though with a 630am flight on the Saturday morning, with a trip to the expo to pick up our numbers for the following days race, on the way to our accommodation at the Ibis.
On the morning of the race, the start line was a little chaotic, with 2 different starts on either side of a main carriageway overlooking the Danube. The half marathon and the marathon relay were starting at the same time, and both races appeared to be considerably more popular than the marathon judging by the identification provided on the bib numbers.
The thermometer was already at 18c at the appointed start time of 9am, the sunscreen had been applied and the cap was firmly on my head to protect myself from overheating. I wasn’t unduly concerned having faced hotter days in Cologne and at the infamous club trip to Palma a few years ago, but I would have liked it to have been a few degrees cooler. In my usual morning panic, I placed my kitbag in the baggage truck, completely forgetting to take my traditional pre-race beetroot shot drink, but by the time I made it to the start line, there was nothing I could do about it. I heard the gun go off for the elite runners who had a 5-minute head start, the field including the world record holder Dennis Kimetto and the equally well-known Nancy Kiprop amongst many other Africans.
My pre-race target had been to emulate Ross’s fantastic 2:54 in Boston and I had worked out what I would need to run per mile to surpass that. I set off a little conservatively though as with the temperature rising considerably wished to ensure I had enough in the tank in the last few miles. I was through 5k in 21:02 which was about half a minute slower than what I expected. I couldn’t find a rhythm to settle into due to the considerable number of runners who had clearly started in the wrong pen and were slowing me down at times. I reached 10k in 42:02, which at least meant my splits were consistent. When I tried to push on a little though, it was difficult in the heat and by mile 9, I had re-assessed my goal and had settled into a rhythm, with a PB my focus. The course split in 2 just before halfway, with the vast majority of runners pulling off to the right to the half marathon finish (it was tempting to join them and apparently many marathon runners gave up and did so!) but even though I felt strong enough I was a little disappointed to cross the halfway point in 1:29:20, a good minute and a half off where I had expected to be, even given the conditions. I kicked on a little to make up some time and between there and mile 18 was averaging around 6:40 per mile. This was the best I felt throughout the race.
The route passed many of Vienna’s famous landmarks and the course was probably the second-best event for spectators I have encountered, with thousands lining the route, though still someway short of what I had faced in my previous London trips. The water stations were every 5k, but as with so many foreign marathons, drinks were in the flimsiest of plastic cups, which as soon as you took a hold of, the contents escaped from, before your hand had even got close to your mouth. At some stations I stopped to take on fluids for the briefest of seconds, figuring I would save more time from successfully drinking the contents.
Miles 18 to 24 were the hardest with an unimaginative route along a tree lined park, including a 6k out and back section, cones separating the runners heading towards you in the opposite direction. This proved useful when heading back and looking at the envious runners who were running towards you, but who were 10-15 minutes behind you on the course! I was beginning to flag and a 7:01 mile at mile 21 hit me hard, as it was my first mile above the 7:00 minute mile. I was annoyed as I was running quicker than that, and I don’t think my Garmin had caught up from the tight turn at the top of the out and back section. My spirits rose though as I saw my friend Gus on the opposite side of the road, probably about 10 minutes behind me and we both shouted encouragement and high fived one another. Nevertheless, whilst regaining a sub 7 at the next mile, miles 22 to 26 were a hard slog (all were the wrong side of 7 mins per mile). I dunked my cap in vats of cold water at the drinks stations to keep me fresh, which definitely helped (I hope this wasn’t the same water that was being used for the drinks!). The temperature was in the mid 20s by now and the heat was unbearable. I knew it would be a race to the line to break 3 hours and the PB chance had gone. I kept working out what I would need to run to ensure I broke this goal and tried to keep pace with a competitor running the last leg of the relay, though he eventually fell behind, leaving me on my own for the last 2 miles. I also knew from experience I was likely to run a little further than 26.2 miles and when that point came my watch read 2:59 something – sadly the finish line was still in the distance and I finally stumbled over the line in 3:00:49. My friend Gus managed 3:09 (he called that a good training run for the following weeks fling!) I was broken at the end and after I collected my bag, which I hadn’t realised was outwith the event zone, an over officious security guard wouldn’t allow me back in to collect my free pint of Erdinger – I was distinctly not impressed, though my trusty pal Gus had the foresight to pick up 2 pints of the stuff and generously handed me one at our meeting point afterwards.
My run of 5 consecutive sub 3-hour marathons was over – I was disappointed. Despite training being a little sporadic with three separate colds over my training period, when I had trained I had trained very well and I had run more 50 mile plus training weeks than I had ever managed previously. I had expected even given the conditions to secure a PB but was a good 3 and a half minutes off that pace. On reflection though once the results were confirmed, I had finished 134th overall, which I was delighted with, considering the number of finishers was in the region of 6000. Conditions were tough enough for Dennis Kimetto to pull out before 25km and I later discovered I was the first British runner to finish (by one second!), which was definitely something to be proud of.
Overall, Vienna is one of the most impressive cities I have been fortunate enough to visit. With the return flight not until the Tuesday, there was plenty of time to enjoy all the hard work and training, with a few beers and ice-creams in the glorious sunshine. The city is easy to navigate on the efficient underground service, it is pristine with a considerable pedestrianised centre and beautiful buildings, museums and cathedrals to admire. The marathon cost of 95 Euros however was a little steep, especially considering there was no t-shirt included and for an IAAF Gold Label Race, some of the organisation at the start and finish could have been better. I have come away though with many wonderful memories of the day and weekend away with good friends. The marathon was an amazing experience and not only a physical challenge, but one combined with a mental battle too. I just need to sit down and figure out which one will be next!