Salzburg last year was bitter sweet. It was a stunning place, the people were so friendly and welcoming, I was treated like a celebrity and the atmosphere of the race, and the race itself, was just unfaultable. However, I had a horrible injury, (I was opting for the expensive bus even 2 stops because it was so painful), I was still a “rookie” elite ultrarunner, Debbie couldn’t be at the finish as she was in Germany for her own pro race, and (although re-reading this, I don’t know why, but) I was slightly disappointed in just missing top 3 (the top 4 were separated by just 8 minutes!).
This year felt so different; there was the familiarity in staying at the same elite hotel, catching up with friends from last year, knowing my bearings around town, not having to haul around a bike box, and not being injured for once (apart from a forever-niggling piriformis)! Furthermore, this race was a B race as great preparation for the UTMB in only a couple of months, so there was less pressure on myself and all I wanted out of it was to gauge fitness and learn some lessons for August. It was a great tune up, given the distance, time on feet and elevation, and just to make it extra challenging, the gods above decided to make it 30+C!! For a pale ginger Scotsman it was not looking good for me to better last year’s result! Not to mention the field was incredibly stacked with Pau Kapell making an appearance (he won the entire UTWT series last year!).
Instead of being intimidated or nervous, I took it in my stride (literally) and was more excited just to see where I was at and race for the last time as a child-less man. Although it was a nice feeling whenever it was getting tough, just thinking about next month being so satisfying and rewarding – no sh1tty race could define who I am as a person or future father, again relieving more pressure..!
I arrived on Thursday in Vienna airport, got some lunch that I ate at a park near the train station (beautiful place!), chilled for an hour, and then got the train to Salzburg.
I knew where the hotel was, so a ten minute walk later I was checking in, unpacking, and changing for a wee shakeout run. I was tired (it was a red eye flight from Edinburgh) but just excited to be there! The temperature was intense, but I prepared by hydrating and eating regularly. The elite’s meal was in the evening, so I headed there for another warm welcome from the organisers Claudia and Josef, and a delicious Austrian meal of pork and sauerkraut to kick start the event! I was sat with some phenomenal runners, but they were all so friendly and I actually felt like one of them!
After the meal and a couple of beers, I wandered back to the hotel with my new friends and tried to sleep for as long as possible! When I woke up on Friday, it was too hot to stay in the room! So I did another little jog, recced the “Stairway to Heaven”, took some selfies, and got an ice cream in the town square. Once the bib was picked up, the entertainment began and then an early night before awaking at 3am (not a typo) for the race.
The morning was relatively straightforward. The hotel put on a great carb heavy breakfast at 3am, and I headed to the start line about a mile away at 4am. The gun went off at 5am (I may or may not have had to sprint from the portapotty as my warm up…) and off we went.
Starting off VERY conservatively, I was in about 40th place at 10km. Guys shot off at 6 minute miles and even at my 7ish minute miles I was so far back! We had a very long way to go. Run Seanie Run (my new Irish friend and social media celebrity I had had pizza with the previous night) ended up interviewing me at the 6 mile point just asking why the hell I was so far back, then admired my composure and off I went.
From then on, as the temperatures soared, I continued to pick people off, take fuel every 20 minutes, and stop at every burn I could find to soak my cap and buff to trick my body into feeling cool. I think it worked, because I hadn’t prepared for just how insane this heat would be!
I also made the decision to bail out of using my new poles. For one, I hadn’t practiced enough, so would not be utilising them efficiently, but also, they were going to add weight that I didn’t need for 110km when I would be putting off using them. HOWEVER, if you have followed the Mozart 100 race on Facebook, you might have seen an “interesting” video of me with an “interesting” set of alternative poles which I did use going up one of the mental climbs towards the end… I’ll just leave this here… [A MUST WATCH!]
There was an additional climb added this year, higher than all the other climbs, and right at the end, and it really killed me! I was in 4th and was really tiring. A combination of heat and just how long I’d been running for had hit me, but I found that smiling was actually the game changer in making me feel better! Having banter with the volunteers (who were incredible!) really raised my spirits and kept me going! Also, I am very glad I recced the Stairway to Heaven because, after doing that monstrosity of a climb, the stairs really weren’t that bad as I had remembered (for those of you who are local, they were like the rocky part at the top of Bennachie).
Coming into the town centre, I had settled for 5th place, but it turned out a Japanese guy took a wrong turn, missed the biggest summit completely, and came out ahead of me, and so was DQ’d! 4th again but in a much better place mentally and physically!
I did NOT end up in hospital this year and, instead, was treated to all you can eat food and beers in the town festival afterwards with my new ultrabuddies!
Recovery since then has been some walking, stretching, one spin class and LOTS of eating and drinking. Thankfully, zero toenail issues or blisters (Salomon Ultra Pro is what I chose for my feet in case anyone is wondering about my shoes), and the chaffage was diminished in the shower afterwards by applying a further coating of Vaseline just in case…!
And when I landed back in Edinburgh and crashed and Best Man Mattie’s, I had a lovely surprise waiting for me at midnight!
I have been very thankful Debs encouraged me to go – I had lost my mojo for a while with not being able to race as much, and having all the focus on one race, as well as forcing myself to train out of my comfort zone – at night time, for example – and really just wanting to spend time with Debbie. Luckily, she has been a phenomenal pregnant lady (she has not forced me to say this!) as she seems to still have so much energy (even at 36 weeks!), is training, or “exercising” herself, and has had no hormonal strops (any different to usual!). She has been motivating me to get out there as opposed to playing the P-card, but trust me I know I owe her so much when this baby comes and when I have finished (and hopefully smashed!) the UTMB!
(My present from the organisers definitely brought a tear to my eye..!)
Another huge thanks must go to my coach Lewis Walker, who has been hugely instrumental in believing in my potential and although some lessons before UTMB, I must admit I am feeling much more confident that I can perform well in August!
It is such a great event and I would encourage anyone to do it! There are different distances for all abilities and I will definitely be back!
For anyone who wants to hear more about the race, please stay tuned for this week’s episode of Tartan Running Shorts!