Mozart 100 – Going Ultra in Salzburg

20th of September

These days it doesn’t happen often that a race I’m doing breaks not just one but several personal records. I think that’s great, because for me it’s still important to sometimes push myself to new levels and see what I can do.

🏆 For The Record! 

The first record is one that was completely out of my hands, though. Longest time between race signup and the race actually taking place. This, obviously, is due to the COVID-19 pandemic which had the world in its hands since the beginning of 2020. I signed up on October 1st, 2019 for the 2020 edition which was supposed to take place in June. The race got postponed, then cancelled. I was presented with the option to use my registration to do the race in 2021 instead, June again, but it got postponed again – to September 4th. By now, most of us are vaccinated and it seems like it’s rather safe to do such an event. Between registration and race, that’s almost a full two years.

Two other personal records right up front were the distance and the elevation. The not-so-aptly named Mozart 100 would be 108 kilometers long this year. I’ve been told it varies a bit from year to year due to the route conditions. It’s also the first official race I’m doing of a similar distance. My first two 100 kilometer runs were just me alone and self-timed (2. Grüner Ring in 2019 and Hamburg to the Baltic Sea in 2020). And very flat.

The next record would be the elevation gain and loss. Officially, it goes up for a total of 4,750 meters, reaching three distinctive peaks, and because it ends at the same spot as it starts, it has to go down that same amount of elevation, too. That’s about the height of Mont-Blanc, western Europe’s highest mountain. Now, I have taken part in and helped organize a running event of even longer distance and elevation, the Hamburg Everest 2019, but I had to DNF (= Did Not Finish) that one just like everybody else except for the two winners, the incredible Griegers, who got to 164 kilometers and over 10,000 meters of elevation gain plus loss in the end. I dropped out after 82 kilometers and 5,500 meter of gain. (I know it doesn’t add up, blame it on the less than perfect GPS elevation recognition of different running watches.) But when you drop out of a race, not finishing it, none of that counts!

💪 Making it Count 

It’s funny how these failed experiences shape you. You develop a this time I just won’t quit mentality. I’m not going to Salzburg just to come home with nothing to show for, after all!

Having had this race on my radar for such a long time also made an impression. I couldn’t wait to race again. One and a half years after my last race, which was the Nicosia Marathon in February of 2020, I missed the shared experience, the excitement, the camaraderie on the course, and basically everything surrounding such a day, even including the traveling methods.

Training-wise, I didn’t pay very much attention. I’m still running a lot, some longer distances too (72k in Munich on beer recently), and for more than 50 days I have been on a streak of at least 5 kilometers of running per day. Still not a fan of the only hilly region of Hamburg, Harburger Berge, so there wasn’t much elevation in my runs. It’s a gamble how well I would cope in Austria. 

The week right before the Mozart 100 race was unusual as my wife Sophie was doing a week-long seminar also down in Austria, coincidentally, and I was at home in Hamburg taking care of our four little daughters on my own. Although challenging, I enjoyed that week a lot. And I got more sleep that I could have hoped for, which was lucky. 

A challenge: fitting everything into the small backpack because Sophie took the bigger one ✅
A challenge: fitting everything into the small backpack because Sophie took the bigger one ✅

Sophie and I then almost met at Hamburg airport when she came back and I went south to the town of Salzburg. What beautiful place this is! If you haven’t been, put it on your list. After a relaxing bus ride from the airport I got off in the city center and found myself right in front of Mozart’s birth house. Yes, that genius rockstar of classical music is a proud son of the city, in case you hadn’t put one and one together already.

Of course I immediately had to inspect the racing area
Of course I immediately had to inspect the racing area
For entrance, vaccination proof was required, but a recent negative test result would be enough, too
For entrance, vaccination proof was required, but a recent negative test result would be enough, too
Always important, getting a glimpse of the finish line before the race to help visualize crossing it
Always important, getting a glimpse of the finish line before the race to help visualize crossing it

🛒 Preparation

One thing I love about running is that our gear objectively keeps getting better over the years. There’s so much noticeable improvement going on and it makes me happy spending money on it and getting to enjoy the benefits. At the moment, I am particularly fond of:

Notable mentions:

All of those items are great and I can recommend them even without getting paid for that.

The gear for tomorrow, including some mandatory equipment
The gear for tomorrow, including some mandatory equipment

For this race, there was a list of mandatory items we would have to carry all the way. No, not a Kumara, unfortunately. Instead, it included a warm hat/beanie, gloves, a safety whistle, a small first-aid kit and thermal blanket, and also two headlamps in case of battery or lightbulb failure. My friend Oli, who had also signed up but couldn’t run the race with me due to timing conflicts, gave me his headlamp so I could carry two 🙏. And I was glad to read that there would be no plastic or paper cups handed out at the aid stations, so everyone was required to carry a cup or flasks. This reduced a lot of waste.

These festival bands were given out right after the COVID-19 station visit, making it easier to be identified as a healthy person
These festival bands were given out right after the COVID-19 station visit, making it easier to be identified as a healthy person
Side note: even conservative Austria shows some pride these days
Side note: even conservative Austria shows some pride these days

I used the remainder of the evening to walk the city, have a double portion of pasta at a nice Italian restaurant, and enjoy Mozart’s haircut.

There are similarities between his haircut and mine. Different color, though. And I think, for him a ponytail at the lower back was part of it. Give it a few more years, I’m patient.
There are similarities between his haircut and mine. Different color, though. And I think, for him a ponytail at the lower back was part of it. Give it a few more years, I’m patient.

The night before the race went well. I slept from 8:00 PM to 3:29 AM, waking up one minute before my alarm went off. Do you also experience this when there’s an important early wake up time scheduled? The body somehow knows what’s going on and acts like an alarm clock itself.

Breakfast consisted of a big smoothie, half a liter of coconut water, two bananas, a CLIF cereal bar, and to round it off, a coffee and a double Espresso from the hotel vending machine because no café is open around here at nighttime unfortunately. This made me feel strong and awake, ready to take on this challenge!

Everything is still fitting
Everything is still fitting
I love the uneasy feeling when walking to a starting line in the middle of the night along with some likeminded fools
I love the uneasy feeling when walking to a starting line in the middle of the night along with some likeminded fools
Pre-start area, you can see my nervousness
Pre-start area, you can see my nervousness
A few words by the patrons to a tired crowd
A few words by the patrons to a tired crowd
There were a handful of pros being interviewed at the front
There were a handful of pros being interviewed at the front
Me and the other non-pros waiting behind
Me and the other non-pros waiting behind

The chief couple said a few words and enthusiastically asked us if we felt alright and up for the challenge of the day. The response from the two hundred of us was so underwhelming because of the tiredness apparently, that it was followed by a big shared laugh from us all. Our own situation made us laugh. I liked that. Don’t take yourself too seriously. 

⛰ Run to the Hills 

I don’t even remember if there was a gunshot, but after we counted down the last 10 seconds to 5:00 AM together, it was finally time to race again. I have missed this so much. Especially this moment right after the start, when all systems are go, the focus sets in, but also the tension of the days and minutes before is released at once. It’s a feeling best described as maximum freedom for me. It’s also a meditative experience, being able to concentrate on just this singular task. No other thoughts are present except for “how can I make sure I finish this race in the best possible way”. My brain usually won’t let any other deep thoughts happen, especially on a technically demanding course like this one. This is a big contrast to training runs or even self-timed (“virtual”) races, where I think about so much else all the time. It’s why I enjoy these races a lot. It’s good for my soul. 

Right through the city
Right through the city
A visual of the last of the three peaks we would have to climb today – the smallest one
A visual of the last of the three peaks we would have to climb today – the smallest one

It’s still quite dark outside, cold and damp. What else can you expect from an early September morning. I think the usual June date of this race really does suit the type of race better. 

The first kilometers are flat. We’re slowly moving out of Salzburg’s quiet city center, which is at about 430 meters above zero. The earliness of the day and the tired focus of the people surrounding me make these kilometers disappear like nothing. It’s no problem keeping the heartrate under 130 bpm and the pace not faster than 5:30 minutes per kilometer. Those are the limits I have set for myself for today’s easy parts. Hopefully this will save enough energy for the tough ascents and descents. In the darkness, we’re coming through a gloomy gorge, an invisible river providing the soundtrack. It’s freezing here. A few meters up. Not a problem. Then, a bit later, we’re outside of the city. The green meadows begin, the rolling hills, and the sun provides us with some vision, too. 

There it is, the first aid station after one and a half years
There it is, the first aid station after one and a half years

I have missed these aid stations. Maybe most of it all. Especially those during ultramarathons, as they normally offer a diverse selection of food and drinks. The feeling is comparable to coming home. To having completed a significant portion of the task. You can divide a long race into the bits between aid stations to make it more digestible in the head. I certainly have. 

On the other hand, the later in the race, the better the aid stations. This station has a lot, but I kind of don’t need much at this point. The water flasks are still almost full, but I choose to top one of with electrolytes. Also, a freshly peeled banana is looking nice right now. Other than that, I’m happy to continue. 

Time to turn off the headlamps
Time to turn off the headlamps

☀️ The Sun is All We Should Need to Feel One

Still foggy and damp, the sun is doing its best. For me personally it’s a big relief to be able to put the headlamp back into the backpack. Not because it’s slightly annoying to wear, but because I don’t like running in the dark that much. I’m not afraid or anything, it just seems wasteful to me in such a pretty area. I have no idea what nice sights I have missed during this first hour of the race. Now I’m glad I get to enjoy these surroundings.

It’s straight-up ripped from a fairytale
It’s straight-up ripped from a fairytale

It all looks so neatly groomed. As if they were getting ready for us to have the perfect view. The meadows seem cut, the fields in perfect shape, the houses look well maintained. All the trees are thick and healthy. This is not a bad place! I take a deep breath and feel thankful. 

“Why on earth would you run for 108 kilometers?” – This is why. And it gets even better.
“Why on earth would you run for 108 kilometers?” – This is why. And it gets even better.

So far, the race has been easy. Nothing of the 4,850 meters of elevation gain has been noticeable. Not even real trails so far.

Until now! This is the first single trail. I did not check these wires for electricity.
Until now! This is the first single trail. I did not check these wires for electricity.

I am enjoying this run so much. With every passing kilometer I naturally am reminded how lucky I am to be able to run – let alone in these crazy beautiful surroundings. 

Some oldschool water management somewhere in a forrest, why not
Some oldschool water management somewhere in a forrest, why not
There are a few more hills now, and it’s getting warmer
There are a few more hills now, and it’s getting warmer

We’re suddenly at about 750 meters above zero, 300 up from the start. Hadn’t noticed. 

Second aid station at the town of Hof
Second aid station at the town of Hof

A bit more than 20 kilometers are down. Just 88 to go. And most of the elevation. Still, I feel like it can’t take long enough. I don’t want this race to end it’s so nice. But I’m looking forward to that first big climb. I would like to see how tough it really gets. It will be the highest of the three peaks at just over 1,500 meters above zero, which isn’t extreme, but still a bit of an effort, I’m sure. 

A bit of downhill foreshadowing the future
A bit of downhill foreshadowing the future
Then, suddenly, Fuschlsee
Then, suddenly, Fuschlsee

A lake, that’s right! I forgot about the lakes. Even better – mountains and lakes, a good combination. The water in this lake is looking healthy as the trees. You’re almost able to see to the bottom. With the sun warming me up there could be worse ways to spend your day. The course leads along the lake towards the other end of it, where the little town of Fuschl is located. At that point, about 30 kilometers in, there’s a bigger aid station. It serves as another aid station on the way back, and runners are additionally able to put their drop bags down here. That’s personal bags containing some gear runners would not like to carry for the whole distance but still think they might need later. For example: new socks in case it’s raining. Some special food. A pack of blister relief patches. People have the weirdest things in them. So far, I have never made use of the option, and today is no exception. I think I have everything I need with me but there’s only one way to find out if that’s true.

The stations all offer the same food mostly, including these peanut based power bars containing lots of carbs while being vegan
The stations all offer the same food mostly, including these peanut based power bars containing lots of carbs while being vegan

🌱 Plant Power

Until now I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it through the race completely plant-based. Maybe you remember that I set myself a task for 2021 to live vegan on at least 200 separate days. It’s a fun challenge and I’m doing well so far. But on special occasions, for example birthdays or holidays, it’s not easy and therefore I usually “sacrifice” a vegan day, defaulting back to the standard vegetarian diet (plus fish, sometimes – which actually would be called pescatarian, you nerd). A race like this could be such a special exception day, depending on what kind of food they’re offering, and also what sort of weird need I would develop after the finish. You never know what your body suddenly craves! 

But when I came to this aid station (here in Austria, they call them Labestelle, which is a funny name for us Germans, sounding sort of ancient and religious), realized I was hungry for some real food, and saw these vegan bars, my reaction was that I could be able to make it through the race just on these bars. And all the other vegan options here, of course. Salty sticks, different varieties of crisps, bread, and all the fruit is vegan, too. No problem! I wasn’t sure about the chocolate cake, which usually has some eggs in it. That’s a bit of a damper, because you know, chocolate cake, but I’ll resist. 

A bit before this place I had a phone call with my friend Oli in Hamburg. He was sitting at breakfast with his kids, his daughter enthusiastically telling me about some adventure she’d just experienced with a neighbor’s cat, and I feel a bit bad that I get to enjoy this day and he is not. Another friend, Mathias, called as well, and we had a chat about the race. He offered some advice even though he never ran an ultra before – maybe soon to change! –, but then the connection dropped as I was making my way up the first serious bit of elevation in a forrest.

At this point, looking at my watch and realizing all the kilometers I’ve already completed, I feel like this is going away too fast. I would like to savor more of it, stretch it out, and not have this run end too soon. A good sign.

During the call, I came by a fork in the road and took the wrong option. Mostly the signage was made quite clear. And it’s a difficult task to put down signs for all 108 kilometers, in rough terrain, mind you. At this point it wasn’t one hundred percent clear and I was distracted. Thankfully, a few runners were a couple hundred meters back and saw me. They shouted, I heard them, turned around, and course corrected. Some others did not have that much luck, as I would find out later.

A runner in the wild using cheat sticks to get up there
A runner in the wild using cheat sticks to get up there

I saw quite a lot of participants carry and use these sticks. So far I have been unsure about their meaning. My ultra-experienced friend Michael Mankus says “I run with my legs, not with my arms!” – he is generally opposed to these sticks because they are dangerous to other runners close behind when not used properly. Today I saw what he meant. Some people are careless and sometimes think about themselves first. Now I can say that there was no situation today during which I would have liked to have these sticks for myself. 

The first difficult technical part
The first difficult technical part

As you can see, it’s not easy running at all times. It’s getting serious now. I’m certainly glad I have the proper grip with my Altra shoes and still good enough eyesight and focus to not put a foot in the wrong place and tumble down the hill here. I would have liked to see some statistics about how many runners made mistakes at points like these which resulted in falls or injuries. I would later appear in those statistics, too. But sticks couldn’t have saved me either, they might even become a dangerous weapon during a fall.

Meeting other runners became a rare occasion as the course went on
Meeting other runners became a rare occasion as the course went on

This guy and I met a few times, much to my surprise. At the starting line I noticed him, because he was somewhere at the front, together with a few others who looked similar to him. Very slender, tall, minimalist backpack, looking like they are here to win. So why would he be running at my pace? He was one of the many people who were slower on the uphills and a lot faster than me on the downhills. I think this is definitely due to my weak downhill technique. I’m very careful. On the uphills, though, I’m good. I even got a few comments from other runners, complimenting me with things like “Du Rakete!” (= 🚀). Same here, I passed him by, he passed me by. Again and again. Later, at an aid station, I saw him sleeping in a chair with his worried crew and special food surrounding him. I’m sure he gave up at that point and it just wasn’t his day. We all can suffer such a weak day, of course. 

🔝 Zwölferhorn

No time to joke around anymore. Sweat is required. I’m chatting to another runner I’m overtaking who tells me he has done a similar run in this area a year ago and tells me about the upcoming mountain, Zwölferhorn. The Fuschl aid station was at 670 meters, the mountain is at 1,500. Between both are about 10 kilometers. That’s an average grade of 8.3 percent, which isn’t nothing. But I’m looking forward to it. Climbing up to be able to look down is fun to me and always an undeniable achievement. 

The climb comes in stages. The first 300 meters are slight and steady. Then, it plateaus for a while.

Part of the plateau, above the clouds already
Part of the plateau, above the clouds already

On a long straight slightly inclined stretch another runner appears and asks me for my tracked kilometers. 39. He is disappointed, says he’s at 45. Now he’s sure he’s been here before and has run a 6 kilometer unnecessary loop, because of taking the wrong route at some point. That’s unfortunate, but not the end of the world, I tell him. He won’t have it. He’s annoyed and will quit, he says. Now that’s a bit extreme, I think, but he’s convinced. No point in continuing for him, he says. I can’t belief it, but he’s certain. I better keep my own eyes open for the actual routing to avoid this situation, although I’m sure I would just continue on, given his situation. Not a huge difference between 108 and 114 kilometers. 

These arrows, like 99 percent of them all, are clearly visible
These arrows, like 99 percent of them all, are clearly visible

After about 40 kilometers, the switchback ascent to the top finally begins. And it’s hardcore. Insanely steep, slightly muddy, full of roots. So steep you often have your hands on the ground and feel like a climber.

Another guy about to be passed by the uphill rocket – see you on the downhill!
Another guy about to be passed by the uphill rocket – see you on the downhill!

I have to watch my step as my heartrate climbs to 170, my speed obviously drops down to almost nothing, and the sweat drips from my head. I love it. Just one kilometer in distance later, it‘s done.

The aid station at the top
The aid station at the top
Absolutely worth it
Absolutely worth it

Almost a marathon is completed and the toughest ascent is done, too. I feel good. That wasn’t too bad! I think I can do this. 5:50 hours with this elevation also isn’t the worst time, considering what I’ve got in front of me. Better than I expected. Now it’s time to enjoy the food and drinks. I’m having some more Cola for a caffeine boost, top up the water and electrolytes in my two flasks, have a few more cups of both, and a vegan peanut power bar, too. I feel good again. Time to get rid of the jacket, as well. It’s warm up here, the sun is fully out, not many trees at this height and so there’s no protection from the elements. This morning I put on special sports sunscreen, which now has formed and alliance with my sweat and runs down into my eyes, giving me pain and making it impossible to see. Tears are running down my cheeks, tissues don’t do much. A few other runners ask me to take their pictures in front of this incredible view. I do my best but barely see their phones through this mess of tears, sweat, and sunscreen in my eyes. You win some, you lose some.

After a few more minutes, it passes. Whatever did the trick, I’m glad. On we go. After this aid station for the gods it’s still a small ascent to the absolute top of the mountain, and I’m happy that bit is part of the course, too.

Not the worst place to be running – it still keeps getting better and better
Not the worst place to be running – it still keeps getting better and better
And here we are, top of the Zwölferhorn
And here we are, top of the Zwölferhorn
As is tradition, a Jesus cross belongs on top of the mountains in this region
As is tradition, a Jesus cross belongs on top of the mountains in this region

Lately, some people have gone increasingly fed up with all the religious signs on the beautiful mountain tops and cut some down. I can understand that, after all what does Jesus have to do with it? Seems like a thing from a long gone era and not the most inclusive move towards people from other religions or no religion at all. Claiming these tops for Christianity is a bit silly – they belong to all of us. “But it’s tradition!” is not a great point.

I say, bring them down and replace them with statues of people who were significant to the particular mountain or region, holding out high-five hands you can hit when you reach the top. That’s the type of positivity you need when reaching a mountain top!

📉 The Downhill

As mentioned, going up is no problem for me, down is where it’s at. I have no idea why I suck so much at downhill running. Living in flat northern Germany, both uphills and downhills, especially on technically difficult trails, are nearly impossible to practice. Sure, there are some, but nothing comes even close to this. I think it’s a matter of experience. Uphills require more power and effort, but are technically easier to do, while downhills are certainly more difficult and dangerous. 

Flying down? Not exactly.
Flying down? Not exactly.
Thankfully I don’t look like a complete fool on here as I certainly did for most of the time
Thankfully I don’t look like a complete fool on here as I certainly did for most of the time
Some paragliders use this chance, too. Time to take the shortcut down? Never!
Some paragliders use this chance, too. Time to take the shortcut down? Never!
CHÄIR with a view, shoutout to @ultrarunningmemes
CHÄIR with a view, shoutout to @ultrarunningmemes

This part really is something else. The track is narrow, insanely steep and full of huge stones, sometimes even boulders. There are some smaller trees I can use to hold on to at times. Most of the time I need to put on the brakes and put lots of stress on the legs. Over the course of the next 4 kilometers, we’re losing nearly 1,000 meters of elevation. Roughly 20 percent grade. You can feel the pressure changing in your ears a lot. This is tough and I am struggling. Of course, this too shall pass, and it does. 

After the descent we’re rewarded with Wolfgangsee
After the descent we’re rewarded with Wolfgangsee

A time to relax on flat surface for about half an hour during 5 kilometers around parts of the lake. That was necessary. After half of this, another aid station was a very welcome sight and I took a five minute break to regain some energy. 

A bit later there was another fork and it took me some looking around to find the arrows. I saw another runner take the wrong road just before, but he was too far away to hear my shouting. And I too slow to catch up to him and give him the correct directions. I hope he somehow recovered and didn’t also quit like the guy on the Zwölferhorn ascent. 

50 kilometers, it’s already time to climb the next mountain!
50 kilometers, it’s already time to climb the next mountain!

⛰ Aignerriedel

On paper, this next challenge is not as tough as Zwölferhorn, but it comes close. The top is at 1,326 meters, and we’re starting the ascent from about 550 meters. Because the start here is lower than the base of the previous mountain, it’s also around 800 meters of gain, but over just about 5 kilometers. 16 percent up on average. One of the kilometers has 253 meters of gain alone. I manage quite well, though. Passing by a few more runners and feeling good while the body is working hard again. 

Another aid station right next to the top
Another aid station right next to the top

This aid station is a bit disappointing. They only have a small selection of the stuff they usually offer. Possibly this place isn’t as accessible as the others. 

View of the Schafberg peak
View of the Schafberg peak

Schafberg is at 1,780 meters and clearly visible here in this amazing weather. I am a bit disappointed to realize that it won’t be part of the route to be honest. The views must be even more spectacular from up there. A reason to come back some day. 

🥊 The Fight Starts

Until now I have been doing exceptionally well. So well, in fact, it’s making me feel a little uneasy. I mean, I trained okay, got enough sleep last night, nutrition is and has been great, and there’s no reason to doubt my own abilities. On the other hand, this is an extreme run for me. I am not familiar with 108 kilometers and nearly 5,000 meters of gain and loss. I can just piece together the flat 100s I did and the one mountain marathon in Austria with 2,300 meters of gain and try to imagine what will happen to me. Combined, these runs sure would in theory put quite a strain on me, maybe even too much of it. 

On this descent, I would find out exactly how much. 

I can’t say which part of my body broke down first, so I think it’s just a general feeling of fatigue creeping up and trying to win me over. My legs are tired, that’s no surprise, the heat took some power out of me too, and 60 kilometers of uphill and downhill running put pressure on my ability to focus and just stay awake. 

Now, the trick is not to let this feeling take over the mind. After all, the mind is the most powerful weapon we all have when trying to accomplish crazy hard tasks. From kilometers 55 to 65, this is easier said than done. I finally decide to use up an ace I was carrying up my figurative sleeve. Ibuprofen 800. This is the first time during a race I have ever felt the need for some relief, although on some other ultras I have carried a pill of it just in case, before. It’s not really a pain I’m trying to combat here, but I feel like this anti-inflammatory and race-legal drug is fine and might help me. It feels a bit like giving up on doing it the natural way, whatever that might mean. After all, if it comes down to it, running in shoes isn’t even natural. Gotta draw the line somewhere. 

I sit down on a bench in the woods during the downhill, trees above me providing some shelter and a few degrees less of temperature. A CLIF bar I carried as another ace helps me gain some strength, too, and I use this chance to empty the remaining water and electrolytes from my flasks into myself. A runner passes me by, makes a frowny face and asks if everything is alright. Well, kind of, but social protocol requires me to answer, that sure, everything’s perfectly fine. At least I don’t need any help.

Now that I have done everything that’s possible to help myself succeed, there’s no other way than forward. 

Getting to enjoy our planet like this still helps a lot
Getting to enjoy our planet like this still helps a lot

And, over the next few hours, it really does get better. I find my stride again. 

The descent ends at Wolfgangsee and I have to fight internally to resist taking a shortcut by stealing a boat here
The descent ends at Wolfgangsee and I have to fight internally to resist taking a shortcut by stealing a boat here

It’s just all so pretty. This part of the world is incredible. I make so many mental notes to come back to different parts of the course for a holiday. 

The town of St. Gilgen, located right on the lake front, is the next aid station at 65 kilometers. It has been a comparably long time without aid, because the last place was on top of the Aignerriedel at 53. That’s 12 kilometers of tough downhills and some uphills, on just one load of food and drinks. I’m glad to have reached St. Gilgen again, it’s another nice place to put an aid station. View of the lake, lots of food. Even cold non-alcoholic beers, but I pass for now. That’s more of a celebratory drink for me. I think it’s here that I decide it’s the last time I’ll have a Cola or any caffeine today. Because while it really helps to stay awake during the tougher later hours, as I’ve learned from a bunch of long distance triathlons and other ultramarathons, being able to fall asleep quickly after the race is really a lot more important. A racing mind won’t help an aching body screaming for rest lying in bed. 

⛳️ Course Correct

After leaving town, another route specialty presents itself. The course is crossing itself and then we’re running on the same stretch into the same direction as before for a while until we reach another fork. There’s a volunteer at one of those difficult navigational challenges helping out, but not on the other. On one crossing with arrows pointing into multiple directions, two fellow runners are waiting and looking around confusedly. Hikers come by and point us towards the volunteer they saw a few minutes ago, but I’m quite sure we’re supposed to take the other way towards him. Another runner catches up, looks at the track on his watch and is confused, too. In the end we all take what turns out to be the correct track, but this last runner has to realize he incorrectly went this way before, so he made a mistake which could get him disqualified and is annoyed. The good news is that his total kilometers are the same as mine, and I definitely took the correct way at all times, as I was able to confirm later. 

You know it’s serious when they put a steel rope into the mountain side so you don’t die falling down
You know it’s serious when they put a steel rope into the mountain side so you don’t die falling down

By now we’re back up some considerable height from the lake and get to enjoy another breathtaking view. 

Me taking a mental picture
Me taking a mental picture

At 870 meters, the lake is 330 meters lower than this point. Enough for now. The next part is flat again and I’m really happy it is. The route is the same we took before, but going this direction it all looks different. It’s pleasurable to just run on asphalt for a while, no climbing, no thinking, no focus, just rolling and eating up some kilometers at a significantly stronger pace than possible up in the mountains. I have to give credit to the people planning the route. This variety is perfect. I’m rolling into the next aid station, which is at 75 kilometers, and which I know from before as well. It’s the Fuschl one. 

You just can’t go wrong with this lake
You just can’t go wrong with this lake

The course now diverts from before and leads along the northern coast of the lake as opposed to the southern one from this morning. There are lots of hikers and tourists around here, many of whom ask me about the race. Every answer I can give them leads to the same reactions: disbelief, then admiration. I think at this point I actually deserve some of that. 

After that lake is behind me as well, the course reunites with another part from before. Some slight hills, but nothing major. It’s late afternoon by now, the sun not that much above the horizon anymore. It’s relaxing. At 85, there’s another aid station I knew from before and now I’m enjoying more of my new ultramarathon favorite:

Tomato slices with lots of salt!
Tomato slices with lots of salt!

Taking in enough salt is obviously important during such a long sustained effort. During previous races, raw salt was most often offered together with cucumber slices or dissolved in a cup of water. Tomatoes during a race are a first for me and I really like the combination. Not as tough to chew as cucumbers. Another peanut bar, some water and electrolytes, the usual. 

☝️ A Half Marathon is Always Possible

The remaining distance suddenly seems so tiny. Sure, I’m getting tired and the sun going down is supporting that tiredness, but I feel like I’ve got it in the bag now. Not so fast! 

The first kilometer sign!
The first kilometer sign!

There are 20 kilometers and there are 20 kilometers. I still don’t know what sort of mountain the last of the promised three peaks will be, other than that it’s the lowest of them. Sounds good to me, although it’s still an unknown and everything can happen. Right now I’m feeling confident, though. 

Sophie and I are exchanging a few messages and videos from the kids and for the kids. I tell them good night and that I look forward to seeing them again in a couple of days back in Hamburg.

Some golden hour picture taking before it’s time to pull out the headlamp again
Some golden hour picture taking before it’s time to pull out the headlamp again

Now it’s official and another first for me: I have run from before dawn till after dusk. I am envious of the faster runners who got to enjoy finishing during day time because now I don’t get to enjoy these last hours of beautiful scenery. Only a bright circle of light surrounded by darkness in front of me. What a waste. On the other hand, it’s quiet. The world is slowly going to have some sleep. I like that, too. 

The last uphill is not too bad. From about 700 to 1,000 meters above zero, but stretched over more kilometers that during the other two big ascents. I think around 6 or 7. Shortly before the peak, Nockstein, the last big aid station is situated.

🍜 Late Night Aid

After 95 kilometers containing lots of ups and downs, right now I feel chipper. After the volunteers tell me about the hot vegetable noodle soup they are offering here, even more so.

Cheers!
Cheers!

That hot cup of salty soup is pushing me forward a lot. Everything else they’re offering, too. Here I meet four other runners who look destroyed and down. Two of them are on the verge of giving up, this close to the finish. I can’t understand that – there’s still so much time left before the official cut-off at 3:00 AM, they could just take it easy and walk those last 13k. But somehow, they don’t deem this possible right now. Maybe someday I’ll understand. 

The prospect of just 13 kilometers in front of me makes me very happy. At this point I would like to finish the race and I’m looking forward to jump into my cozy hotel bed. The feeling from this noon, wishing to make it last as long as possible, has moved to the background. Mainly because of the darkness. I feel like I would have it in me to go on for more that just 13 kilometers. I’m pretty sure a 100-miler would be doable for me. But these next 66 kilometers which would make it a 100-miler would have to be not as hilly as these first 95. Or I would need to move to a different area with more mountains to practice on. 

Just this nighttime running is getting on my nerves. It’s really such a waste. It’s difficult to find a 100-mile race which can be accomplished during sunlight for me, but maybe it exists somewhere. In the arctic circle, for example. For now, I decide to focus on daylight runs – taking into account the distance and time of year. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m still here in Austria with a bit more work to do.

At a random point in a forrest, a pro photographer has taken up shop.
At a random point in a forrest, a pro photographer has taken up shop.
Just 10 left!
Just 10 left!
View of Salzburg – almost home
View of Salzburg – almost home
Are they trying to kill us with these surfaces?
Are they trying to kill us with these surfaces?

Those downhill steps are now starting to hurt noticeably. The muscles, not the joints. The good kind of pain that’s temporary and makes you stronger. This downhill from 1,000 to 440 meters is one last try to punch the last bit of energy out of me, I’m sure. It’s almost done, I think. The last tough peak is behind me, the last descent too.

Was I wrong!

Down some more steps please 😫
Down some more steps please 😫

Now I’m so close to the city I can hear it. The watch says it won’t be more than five kilometers. I’m actually running on the city streets, crossing train bridges, coming by another last tiny aid station. This must be it, right? Right?!

No, it’s not. I wasn’t yet familiar with Kapuzinerberg, a 640 meter peak within the city of Salzburg. And although it’s just 200 meters up from the surrounding city (and down, too…), it’s almost killing my spirits. So close, yet so far away!

It’s mostly abandoned looking chilly forrest, not much to brag about at night. A seemingly never ending chain of different sorts of stairs are leading down from it. My legs are screaming right now. This is mostly due to the fact that I haven’t looked at the elevation profile close enough before the race and therefore was surprised by this last hill. Mental note for next time. 

Finally, almost down at street level again
Finally, almost down at street level again

🌃 Back in Salzburg

I’ve been on this bridge yesterday, and now I’m positive that this must be it
I’ve been on this bridge yesterday, and now I’m positive that this must be it

The watch agrees. Finally no more hills. 

Along the Salzach river banks, the party is starting. It’s around 10:00 PM on this Saturday evening, so the streets are roaming with drunk and cigarette smoking youths shouting at me and threatening to follow me. That’s annoying, honestly. In other news, I’m getting older.

I’m led across the plaza where I found the Mozart statue. The last few volunteers along the course are giving me directions. It’s not a great job, they would have to sit here for around 5 more hours. You have to be very thankful.

A few young ladies are overtaking me here, clearly not participants, but here for a participant who is now also overtaking me. He says to me: “I’m so sorry I have to be the asshole now” as he makes his way sprinting towards the finish with his girls. Can’t blame him, and honestly I don’t care at all about my end result here in regards to position in the field of runners. Today is just about making it to the finish line in one piece and enjoying it as much as possible.

Finish line visualized
Finish line visualized
Through the gate, coming out the other side
Through the gate, coming out the other side
There it is, first medal since one and a half years and my first 100 kilometer running race medal
There it is, first medal since one and a half years and my first 100 kilometer running race medal

✅ Done!

I feel amazing. What a day. Tired, exhausted, hurting a bit, but so happy. Just like this guy: 😊

Nice bonus: First Western States 100 qualifying race finished! I’m looking forward to seeing my lottery results some time in November. Not a chance at all, probably, but it’ll be fun. 

The finishing area is not a party zone anymore, that’s for sure. It’s 10:30 PM, the run took me exactly 17:29:29 hours according to the official measuring. That’s four and a half hours less than allowed and I can be proud of that, I think. Also, I’ve come in 76th of 152 male finishers. Even if you don’t count the dozens of runners who gave up, that’s exactly the middle of all males. It can’t get any more adequate, right? I think I have business being here. I’m not just a tourist on ultra races like these and that’s a good feeling. I belong here.

🦿 How to Bounce Back from Such a Race

This is a process taking up a few weeks of different stages of recovery. It doesn’t just go by like nothing, even the pros need to take their time.

You have to start somewhere and that’s usually food. Now, what healthy and delicious food to get at night in a smallish town like Salzburg with its 150k inhabitants? Sure enough, no grocery stores were open, in fact almost everything was closed down already. Except for one store, which you can count on almost anywhere in world. Correct, Mackie D’s. I feel bad going in there as I know the food quality is poor. But hot, fatty, and salty sounds really good to me right now and it’s the only option. Thankfully they are offering the Beyond Meat based McPlant burgers here, so I can stay on my vegan streak today. Two meals instead of one, after all I’ve used up around 10,000 kcals today. 

A dozen pretty partying girls are chatting me up and guess correct how I have spent my day so far. They are in awe and would like me to join their bachelorette party. Yeah, no. They follow me for a while but I just want to have a shower and get to bed now, thanks. 

Back at the hotel, having that shower is like heaven, as expected. Getting rid of all the dirt, sweat, tiny bits of blood from a few minor falls during the last downhills, and sticky filth from the sugary foods and drinks is like a religious experience. 

Battered, for sure, but no blisters, no blood, no new black toenails, nothing
Battered, for sure, but no blisters, no blood, no new black toenails, nothing

Responsible for the good condition my feet are in after 108 kilometers and 4,850 meters of elevation (Strava by the way just found 105 and 4,450 meters, but it’s usually off on these long and partly tree-covered runs) are surely my Altra shoes and injiji socks I mentioned before. These turned out to be the best possible combination for such a race. 

Some Franzbranntwein containing camphor and menthol on the legs and off to bed. Unfortunately my whole immune system was acting up and I started shaking as if I had a fever for half an hour. Understandable, but annoying. I just want to sleep, body! Listen to me! 

Getting out of bed the next day was incredibly tough. The last time my legs were this fried was, well never. My first marathon race came close – I had basically just taken up running and trained weirdly and inadequately. I remember being unable to walk at a normal pace for around three days. This time, the sore muscles needed five days until the let me go down stairs without any pain again. Whew! There’s always a price to pay.

No movement is never a solution, so I went for two 5k walks the next day.

You just can’t miss out on this, you have to get outside
You just can’t miss out on this, you have to get outside
I rate this race 5 out of 5 gherkins
I rate this race 5 out of 5 gherkins

Mozart could have been proud his name is now used for this very unrelated event. I strongly recommend considering this race. They are offering different length races here, too. Look into it if my pictures got you excited for a sporty holiday next June.

The day after I needed to board the plane back home and was a bit sad we don’t live in this picturesque area. But really happy to finally see the family again on the other hand. 

I also decided to end my running streak that day. 59 days are a good effort, but I couldn’t fit in a 5k and then convinced myself that it really doesn’t make much sense to do this. Fun, yes, but in order to have a good and fast recovery and get to doing some faster intervals sooner in preparation for my next race in Lübeck at the end of October, it’s probably counterproductive. 

Now, almost two weeks after the race, I still feel some aftermath of Mozart. That’s normal, but I had hoped it would go away sooner. Next to the legs being still a bit stiff, it’s mostly hunger – my body is still trying to refill those 10,000 calories, I think. This can’t be done in a day, it takes a while. I used up all the resources I had and also developed an annoying cough a few days later, probably because of the used up immune system. But as of now I have been able to do two triathlons already just two weeks after Mozart, and they went really well. My running pace is high up again and I’m looking forward to more flat and fast intervals for a change. 

As a side note, right after waking up that Sunday after the race, first thing I did was look up new ultras from the Western States 100 list. This one was great and I would like to have similar (or better) experiences annually in my life. My favorite for 2022, as of now, would be the Tuscany Crossing. It’s offering either a 103k or a 100-mile course. We’ll have to see about what I choose!

The remains
The remains

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