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Vienna City Half Marathon

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On Sunday, April 14th, 2013, I ran my first Half Marathon ever at the Vienna City Marathon, officially called the “OMV Half Marathon”. I was too tired to do my race recap on the train home and on Monday I was unable to think of anything else than the Boston Marathon tragedy. Later than I had planned, but here is my report.

Friday: Travel to Vienna

Part of the reason to run in Vienna was that apparently it has one of the nicest city courses in Europe. Another – even more important – part was that we have friends living there who would be happy to host us for the weekend. So on Friday afternoon after school we headed out of Munich by train, dragging quite some luggage (two suitcases, one backpack and my Nike bag with the running gear) with us.

A mere four hours later we arrived in Vienna and transferred via the two short underground rides to our friends’ place, right in the heart of Vienna and very close to the marathon route. It really doesn’t get any better than that, so thank you, Susanne, Gerhard, Vincent and Konrad!

After a delicious dinner (Steak and salad, no carbs, thankyouverymuch) we stayed up way too long drinking wine and catching up with old and new news. A good time was had by all.

Saturday: Race Expo

I went to pick up my race package on Saturday morning. The pickup was well organized, with different stations for the half, the full marathon, timing chip and the two bags (one for clothes at the finish and one “goody” bag that basically only contained flyers (wth?)). After I had grabbed all the important stuff I wandered around and visited the various vendors (Adidas, Asics, Suunto, Garmin, Salomon were all there amongst others, Nike was missing). I equipped myself with another pair of compressions socks from the fine CEP folks. They even offered the possibilty to customize your socks with special VCM 2013 applications.

I also visited the KT Tape booth. While I had asked my physiotherapist if taping the thigh would help (he said “not really”) I figured the least it would help for would be in my head. The staff was very helpful and they did a live-taping right there, so that was that, 5 minutes later I found myself with two bright-green stripes of tape on the back of my leg.

As I didn’t need any other gear I headed out to meet the rest of my friends and family. The rest of the day was spent at the Vienna Prater and the surrounding parks.

Sunday: The Race

Being situated so close to the race course I decided I would make my way to the starting line by foot, taking the opportunity to get some warm-up along the way. Since I had my personal support crew I didn’t even have to drop off a bag and so I just grabbed my Garmin FR610 and headed out. The weather was beautiful, blue sky, and warm enough so that no jacket was needed (another problem disappeared). The only downside of this was that I had trained at much lower temperatures all winter and wasn’t quite sure how I would be able to cope with 20° Celsius. At least I made the right choice in regards to clothing, knee long running tight and short sleeve shirt.

On my way to the starting line crossing the Reichsbrücke I passed some fast guys: The future winners?The future winners?

It seemed most of the runners went to the start by underground transportation, approaching the corrals from the back/side. I was quite happy to be able to just pass over the bridge and roll up the field from the front. Much less crowded plus I got enough room to warm up! After the usual portapotty dance I noticed that the different starting corrals were not controlled at all and that the yellow one (the third corral) was still half empty despite it being T-20 minutes to the start. So I jumped the small fence and walked towards the front of the corral as far possible. While I felt bad about my bib clearly showing my wrong-being I figured it would be ok (others did the same, no-one really cared) and in hindsight it was a good choice; there were still a lot of runners in front of me that I would have to pass. Judging one’s racing ability seems to be hard for some people.

After just a little standing while (announcements, welcoming Haile Gebrselassie, and the Austrian national anthem) the gun went off and the crowd got moving. 41000 runners set off to run either the marathon, the half or a marathon relay.

Thousands of runners crossing Reichsbrücke right after the startThousands of runners crossing Reichsbrücke right after the start

As per my Race Plan I started very conservatively, hitting a 5’15” per km for the first three kilometers more or less exactly. I quickly noticed that I’d have a hard time running my own pace as there was a lot of passing, accelerating, stopping and detouring going on. Nevertheless I tried to push the pace from kilometer 5 onwards, aiming for a 5’ pace or below. I knew I wouldn’t need any nutrition for this distance so I sped through the water stations as quickly as possible1.

At kilometer 9 I noticed one of the pace guys and as I got closer I realized he was carrying the “1:45 HM finish time” banner. I tried to hang onto him which was a challenge more due to high traffic than due to pace. At kilometer 11 I was able to pass the pace runner and things improved from then on out – at least traffic wise.

Very early in the race I felt blisters build up on both of my big toes, something very rare for me. I had run long runs with the exact same socks and shoes and never have had any problems. What was the difference? I kept thinking about this while trying to ignore the blisters as much as possible. Focusing on the road ahead and enjoying the spectator crowd kept me entertained quite well. Pace-wise I couldn’t keep up with my goal, but I didn’t bonk either. Running a fairly constant 4’55” pace (give or take) per kilometer, I knew I’d be able to finish ahead of the 1h45’ pace guy (little did I know!).

I passed the 12km mark after just under one hour and noticed some drift in my Garmin’s distance versus the official kilometer signs. They had been spot on for the first few kilometers and now at kilometer 12 my Garmin chirped about 250m early. I attribute this to my sloppy pace line, that is, all the passing of other runners with various detours. At the finish line, this had accumulated to a whopping 350m-400m (about 1’30” to 2’)!. Not that it would have helped, but I also noticed that for this race they did not have any paceline painted on the road at all.

For the last 6-7 kilometers I could start to feel my legs getting tired, but all in all I didn’t have major problems, so those kilometers went by really fast. I was able to keep my pace, ignoring the blisters and rushing through water stations. I figured after passing the pace guy that I might have built a small lead on him, and I was very surprised when he re-passed me on the final 500m. At that point I didn’t have the legs to follow him and I ran through the finish at 1h45’15”. Really happy with my time and the overall experience, especially since there are a few things I can improve on besides pure training. Extra kudos to the pace guy, because he literally finished on time (1h45’00”). Awesome pacing on his part!

Here’s all the glory via Strava:

And here is the official finisher picture: Happy camper at the finishHappy camper at the finish

Lessons learned

As with every “first”, there are a few things I want to take away from this race and improve upon in the next race(s):

  • Don’t wear freshly washed socks for a race. Supposedly this was the reason my huge blisters. I never paid attention to this in the training, so maybe I was always being lucky or it is not the only reason.
  • I learn to love running 2. I think I prepared quite well (minus the injury right before the end of the training period) and I felt confident going into the race.
  • It is worth to get your pace line right. Not having a good pace line will result in a lot of extra distance, about 400 meters in my case.
  • Choose smaller races for PRs, enjoy the scenery at the big races (unless there are really well organized starting corrals).

I’m looking forward to the upcoming races and to the opportunity to improve!

  1. the amount of runners going abruptly from their pace line in the middle to either side of the street surprised me more than once, often forcing me to a full stop.

  2. I used to tell everyone I had a love-hate relationship with running and would only do it to stay fit.

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