What better way to wake a sleeping dog than prod it into motion? In this case, 21k of motion.
But, you wonder, where have you been?? Nowhere, actually. Which is kind of nice.
Our summer holiday, long finished as I type this, slammed right into the first day of school. It was a headfirst, limbs akimbo kind of collision; we were desperately clinging to our non-school time, like Rose and Jack on that damned door, refusing to let go. If you are wondering how this can be, I'll elucidate: we had picked up an incremental child in Germany and were hanging onto him, even though our natural children had gone back to school already. So, I was, like, hanging out at home with a kid who wasn't even mine while mine were in school. I know, weird. But it was summertime!
Anyway, we finally let the spare kid go home, donned our fleeces and faced the harsh reality that summer was over, school had started and Birthday Season was upon us. Being a tidy sort of people, three of us have birthdays basically in a week. Hope kicks off the season, followed a few days later by Tom and I finish it off a few days later, generally breathing a huge sigh of relief as it's the parties that make Birthday Season a bit hectic. Really, trying to arrange a kids birthday party when you don't speak the native language can be a drag.
But, they were awesome this year, and reasonably easily organized assuming you are the sort who can manage a googol of cupcakes and one Pi cake ...
...school geared up, birthday parties over, I signed up for a Half Marathon. Because, why not? And, just to keep things interesting, I also organized a group of Fifth Grader's (Tom's class) to run in the Vienna Night run, a 5k race at the end of September. I ended up with a larger group than expected (about a dozen are in "training" with me) and realized, after committing, that this meant I was going to have to accommodate all of their little Fifth Grade Social calenders in order to get them all up to speed in time. So, I run with some subset of them every day after school. Every day. Bad planning.
But, whatever. I ran the Half Marathon yesterday and it was so different from the first one I did, I thought it would be fun to brag talk about it here. Let's reflect back to the last (and first) Half Marathon that I ran: Hallstatt. Hallstatt is one of the most beautiful places in Austria. So is the Wachau Valley. Hallstatt was about a three hour drive, while Wachau is only an hour away. Hallstatt is just a Half Marathon with about 1400 runners. Wachau is a Marathon, Half and 10k all on the same day with something north of ten thousand runners. So, a big race.Hallstatt is a tiny little place, peacefully situated in the Alps. It's easy enough to get to by car or by train, but the logistics of the race aren't really all that tricky. 1400 people gather, a cannon goes off and everybody trots around the lake. There were huge (relatively) crowds cheering - there were easily as many spectators as there were runners, but, still, we're talking small volumes of humanity.
Wachau? The logistics were amazing. This was the fifteen renewal of the race, and the organizers have their s&^t together. Wachau is also a rural sort of place, but, the organizers leverage public transportation to make a point to point race come off over three distances with over ten thousand people running. Kudos all around.
So, smart money registered for the race early and secured a seat on a train that runs from Vienna directly to the Krem bahnhof. From there, you hop a shuttle bus to the start of your race. The race ends in Krem, so if you are running the full 42k Marathon, you get on a bus and ride 40 odd kilometers up the Danube. Then you run back. If you are running the Half, you get bussed up 21k and you run back.
I have never been what you call "smart money," so registered for the race at the last minute. That meant that me and my compatriots had to drive to Krem, park and then hop the shuttle bus. Still, easy peasy.
We arrived with plenty of time to spare and parked right at the bahnhof, where we would pick up our shuttle buses. Seemed like a good time to make a pit stop. For all of you competitors out there, you know why.
I like this kind of awesome organization:
The map tells you exactly what the schedule is and where to go. We hopped on the bus after our pit stop and headed off to our Half starting point.
20 odd kilometers later we arrived at this map:
Super! Donau is Danube in German, by the way. We were going to run 20 kilometers along the Danube river. So, flat, beautiful, and, hello! perfect weather. Perfect. This little sign gives you and idea of the starting corrals. No corrals in Hallstatt because there weren't enough people to need corrals. The faster dudes went up front and the grandmas in the back.
Here, we registered based on our expected end time: my running partner MB and I thought 2 hours 30 minutes sounded like a fine time (this would be called "Super Slow" by real runners - it's Corral 5, just in front of the Nordic Walkers - we finished Hallstatt in 2:15, so we were hedging our bets), while CC, the third runner in our group, and an actual Real Runner put herself in Corral 4.
Every runner you see in the photo below, including that great heaping crowd of people coming across on the ferry are running the Half Marathon. The Marathoners were being dropped off 21kilometes farther upstream. The 10ker had their own starting place. The logistics are mind boggling, and yet, it all ticked along seamlessly.
This I thought was brilliant. See the sign on the bus? No, you probably can't, but it says Clothing Bus. Here's how it works: when you pick up your race packet with your number in it, the bag has your number on the outside. You bring that bag to the start of the race, pack away any extra clothing, chap stick, rosary beads that you might have wanted at the start, but not during the race, then you drop in on a clothing bus the corresponds to the number on your bag. The buses (there were a dozen of them just for the Half Marathoners) then drive to the finish of the race and wait there with your stuff until you come fetch it. Given how chilly the morning was, this was just brilliant - no worries packing a jacket and leaving it on the bus for use post-race.
Here's a shot of the three of us with the Danube in the background. We did not co-ordinate on purpose with the shirts. Notice how our names are on the numbers? I ran past a pack of kids at some point who shouted out my name ... I was trying to work out who in the Billions of Blue Blistering Barnacles they could be when I realized they were shouting everyone's name - they were just reading them.
So, then time for one more pit stop at the girls Pipi Box.
The boys had a more laissez-faire attitude about it all. Yeah, that's my finger in the photo. I never claimed to be a professional.
And the starting corrals! Block 5, for the Slow A$$ed runners. Note the random castle in the background. They are all over the place. Also note the dude with the white flag attached to his back. He is the pace runner for this group. If you ran with him all the way, you'd finish in 2:15. There was a pace dude for each starting corral.
Here's the view toward the start line. See that white thing way, way off in the distance? That's the actual start line. MB was wearing a timing chip, so when she went through the line, the chip makes a mental note, and it stopped time when she ran through the finish line. Some day I may invest in a chip. For now, I like running with MB, so I'm happy enough to co-opt her times.
There were a lot of runners.
And then, we were off! Unfortunately, the weak bladder-ed among us (moi - despite two trips to the PiPi Box before I started running, I made the novice mistake of drinking an entire bottle of water on the bus) weren't off for long. By kilometer 2, I knew there was no chance I was going to make it to the end of the race without another PiPi stop, so, poor MB had to wait for me. While I was waiting for the person in front of me, I snapped this shot of the first Aid Station.
When the race ran last year, it was 28C (82F) and people apparently dropped like flies, so the aid stations were doubled this year over prior years. They were really, really nice. As someone who used to scrounge around for volunteers to run horse shows for years, I wonder how they rope people into these kinds of jobs? There's not much in it for the person handing the runner a cup of water, other than maybe a sweaty kind of grunt. But, I am eternally grateful for each and every person who handed me a cup of water or an energy gel.
Once the PiPi crisis had been managed, MB and I ran. And ran. And ran. When you run as slowly as we do, and we do run quite slowly, 21k takes a long time. We chatted a good bit for the first 13 or 14 kilometers, but it was kind of hot. And while the race is entirely flat, it felt like we were going up hill.
The good news was that the PiPi stop had left us back a bit, so we ran past millions of people. Okay, I exaggerate, but, we did run past boatloads and there weren't many going past us. Around kilometer 15, I tend to get a little giddy. I think I said something like, "WAHOO!!! Kilometer 15!! We're almost done!!"
I am probably lucky I didn't get punched out. But, that's about how I felt - giddy, grand, galloping toward the finish. And then again at kilometer 16, well, it's hard to explain this one, but I can run 5k easily now - it's a short, easy run. So when the brain registers, "Hey, it's just a run around the Ringstraße!!" it's all downhill. Figuratively, of course.
The one downside to this particular race is that the Wachau organizers while incredibly organized are also a bit sadistic. You run back into Krem, and THERE IT IS!! THE FINISH LINE!!! YOU CAN SEE IT!!! But, you're still 3 kilometers from the finish. Which, after having run 18 kilometers, made me feel kind of sad.
I do wish I had a photo of this, but imagine, you really do run right near the finish, you can SEE the other runners finishing, but at the last second, the course makes a sharp left and suddenly you are running up the left side of Main Street Krem with the finishers running toward you on the right side.
Okay, you think, we run up some ridiculous distance, then we turn right and run back. Except, that you run a ridiculous distance and then turn left back into town again ... leaving the roaring, cheering crowd of people at the finish behind you. Serious mind f*&k.
Finally, eventually, of course, in something like the 2 kilometers you knew you still had to run because the organized, albeit sadistic organizers had judiciously marked every single kilometer for you, you do turn and begin the final crawl to the finish. We were reasonably strong, so MB and I passed as many people as we could manage, so, you know, it would look good in the finish photos.
In fact, we finished right behind the 2:14 Pace Dude (!!) and so managed a PR. Which, I now know, means Personal Record. We were some few seconds faster than Hallstatt, so it is with great shame that I recall how very long it took to get into that PiPi Box back at Kilometer 2. I should have just dropped trou in a bush.
Anyway, the best part! The free food at the end! There's nothing like running 21 kilometers, even at the speed of a small toddler to make you enjoy cramming in a few calories. All kinds of fruit, an assortment of pastries, water, Coke and energy drinks were available for the runners.
And that was about the end of it. We packed up our finisher medals (ha! kidding! totally wore that thing all day!), returned to the Clothing Bus to get our bags and headed back home.
A long soak in the tub, a few ibuprofen and I was ready to face trotting along with the Fifth Graders for 5k on Monday afternoon.
Running. I don't hate it as much as I used to.