On April 12, I ran the Vienna City Marathon. Vienna is the capital of modern Austria. Prior to World War I, it was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was also a major cultural center in the 18th and 19th centuries.
When I was in college, I started to develop an interest in classical music. I grew up with popular music, but one day, I heard my dad listening to an album of Viennese waltzes. He was listening to a waltz called “On the Beautiful Blue Danube,” which was written by Johann Strauss II. I recognized the melody and realized this was music I liked. I borrowed some of my dad’s records to see what other classical music I might enjoy. I took an instant liking to the waltzes of Johann Strauss, the ballet music of Tchaikovsky and the symphonies of Beethoven.
A few years later, I took a music course, where I learned different musical forms and the characteristics of music from different periods. That’s when Mozart became one of my favorite composers.
The movie “Amadeus” is a fictional account of the life of Mozart. It’s set in Vienna, where Mozart lived for 11 years in the late 1700s. Johann Strauss II lived in Vienna about 100 years later and became known as the waltz king. I have a collection of classical music, but I had never been to a concert by a professional orchestra. There’s no way I was going to Vienna without attending a performance.
I left Wednesday afternoon on an overnight itinerary. My first flight arrived in Amsterdam Thursday morning. After a five hour layover, I had another short flight that arrived in Vienna on Thursday afternoon. Then I took a train from the airport to the city center. I stayed at the Vienna Hilton, which was conveniently located across the street from the train station.
Hilton Vienna is right next to Stadtpark, a city park on the eastern edge of Innere Stadt (the inner city district). I had a room on the 12th floor, overlooking Stadtpark..
After checking in, I went on a walking tour of Innere Stadt. My first stop was Stephandom (St. Stephan’s Church).
Next I wandered down one of the main shopping streets.
Finally, I walked around the Hofburg Palace complex. This has been the home of several Austrian emperors. I can’t really do these buildings justice with pictures.
Later, I visited Mozarthaus. This was Mozart’s home for two and a half years. Now it’s a museum.
For dinner, I stopped at an Italian restaurant for pizza. Now I’ve had pizza in 20 countries.
When I got back to my room, I was disappointed to find that the room was uncomfortably warm. I moved to a different room, but it was no better. I had the thermostat set to the coolest setting, but I don’t think the building had air conditioning. I had a window that tilted open, but there wasn’t enough air coming in to cool the room down. When I went to bed, the room was still 78 degrees. I have trouble sleeping when it’s 70.
I tried to sleep without any covers. At first, I was surprisingly comfortable, but I wasn’t falling asleep. I didn’t sleep at all on my overnight flight, so I was beyond exhausted. Around midnight, I got up to go to the bathroom. When I got back to bed, I suddenly felt hot. The pizza was big, and sometimes my metabolism revs up during the night after eating a large dinner.
I tried to sleep with a cold damp wash cloth draped over me. That didn’t help as much as it should have. The air in the room wasn’t moving. When I no longer felt as hot, I put the washcloth back in the bathroom. I eventually got to sleep, but I only slept for a few hours before the sun came up. After that, I was wide awake. I got just enough sleep to be able to function, but I worried about the next two nights.
Friday morning, I had breakfast at the hotel. Then I went to the nearest train station and bought a Vienna Card. Vienna has an extensive system of public transportation including, the U-Bahn (subway), S-Bahn (street-level trains), and busses. The Vienna card gave me unlimited access of all of them for 72 hours. It’s also good for discounts at certain shops restaurants and museums.
Next I took the U-Bahn to the expo. It was crowded, and most of the signs were in German, but it wasn’t too hard to figure out where to go. If you needed help, there were plenty of volunteers.
After dropping off my race packet at the hotel, I went for a run. I started with a lap around the perimeter of Stadtpark. That was about a mile. Next, ran into the Prater neighborhood between the Danube Canal and the Danube River. I was hoping to run to the river, but I had trouble finding streets that went through. What started as a round-trip became a one-way trip when I got lost. Fortunately, I brought my Vienna Card with me. I ran just over seven miles. Then I found a train station and took the U-Bahn back to the hotel.
After getting cleaned up, I went sightseeing. There’s a train station in the middle of a bridge over the Danube. I stopped there so I could get my first view of the river.
Next, I went to the museum district, where I visited the Kunsthistorisch Museum. I saw exhibits of Greek, Roman and Near East antiquities, but the highlight was the picture gallery.
From there, I walked back through Innere Stadt, so I could look for a restaurant. I had dinner at Café Mozart. I wanted something distinctly Viennese, so I ordered Emporer’s Pancakes. This time I saved room for dessert (by skipping lunch), so I could have apple strudel with vanilla sauce. My Vienna Card saved me €1 on both the museum and my dinner.
Later, I went to a concert of Strauss and Mozart music at Vienna Kursalon, a historic concert hall at the other end of Stadtpark. Strauss used to conduct performances of his music in this same hall. I could write a whole post about how much I loved this concert.
Friday night my room was more comfortable. I got to bed late, but slept well all night. In the morning, I slept in as late as I could to get caught up.
After a late breakfast, I went to Schloss Belvedere, which was originally built as the summer palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy.
Inside the upper palace, there’s an art museum. On the palace grounds, there’s an alpine garden, with hundreds of varieties of flowers.
In the afternoon, I went to the Friendship Party. This was the pre-race dinner, accompanied by music, dancing and a parade of nations.
There were two choices of entrée – pasta or Austrian pancakes with plum sauce. Naturally, I had the pancakes. I stayed at the party for about two hours. I got back to the Hilton just in time to watch a children’s 4.2K race that ran right by the hotel.
The Hilton has an executive lounge that serves drinks and appetizers in the evening. Since I had an early dinner, I supplemented with appetizers.
Sunday was race day. I didn’t get much sleep. I don’t know if it was pre-race nerves, too much caffeine, jet lag, or the fact that my room was warm. Maybe it was a little of each. I’m lucky if I got three hours sleep.
The race started at 9:00, but I got up at 6:00 so I could be ready in time to have a light breakfast. Hilton started their breakfast service at 6:30. I was there at 6:45. There are certain foods that are staples of European breakfasts. One is muesli. It made a nice light easy-to-digest breakfast to provide some pre-race carbs. I also had some English breakfast tea to help me wake up.
The race started in front of the Vienna United Nations building. It only takes 15 minutes to get there by U-Bahn, but I left early. I was worried that the trains would get crowded if I waited too long. When I arrived, it was still more than an hour until the start.
After a quick trip to the bathroom, I found a bench where I could sit down. They were playing classical music from some large speakers near the start line. I relaxed by listening to the music. The first piece was Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. That’s appropriate, since Beethoven lived in Vienna. Next was “Vltava” (The Moldau) by Bedrich Smetana. That was a reminder that someday I need to do the Prague Marathon.
About 30 minutes before the start, I took off my warm-ups and dropped off my gear bag. The gear trucks were behind the last corral. I had to get back to corral 1, and the start area was getting crowded. It took me 15 minutes to work my way through the crowd.
The weather was just how I like it. It was about 56 degrees at the start, and it would get into the low 60s by the time I finished. There was no rain, and only a light wind.
The start was on a divided street. Odd-numbered corrals were in the southbound lanes, and even-numbered corrals were in the northbound lanes. Each side had their own starting line, and they were about a block apart. There were barriers to prevent runners from switching sides.
About three minutes before the start, they started playing “On the Beautiful Blue Danube.” That wasn’t by chance. We started the race by crossing the Danube. I was on the right-hand side, so I had this view of the river.
As we left the bridge, I saw the 1K sign and checked my watch. I ran the first kilometer in 4:49. That pace was slightly faster than what I averaged in my last race, but it seemed reasonable. I wasn’t sure if I would try to beat my time from that race or just focus on breaking 3:30. I had to see how I felt as the race developed.
At about 2K, we reached a large roundabout. The runners on the left side of the street went clockwise, one quarter of the way around. Those of us on the right went counter-clockwise three quarters of the way around. That’s why we had different starting lines. After we left the roundabout, we had all run the same distance, and the two groups merged.
I started to feel like I was getting carried away and running too fast. That suspicion was confirmed, when I reach the 3K sign in 14:00. At that pace, I would be well under 3:20. I knew that wasn’t sustainable, so I backed off a little.
We were now on Hauptallee, a tree-lined parkway through the Prater district. This area has lots of green space. At 5K, we turned onto another parkway that would lead us to the Danube Canal. We also reached the first aid station. I was surprised to see that they were using cups. It’s common in European races to hand out water in small bottles. It’s also common for the aid stations to be spaced every 5K, so I was pleased to see another aid station at 7K.
I was gradually settling into a pace of 4:50 per kilometer. That was still somewhat fast, but it was once again reasonable.
We were following the Danube Canal back toward the city center. In the distance, I could see the tall spire of Stephandom protruding above the other buildings. We eventually turned onto Ringstrasse. Ringstrasse forms a ring around Innere Stadt. At one time, there was a ring of fortifications around the inner city to protect it from attack. The fortifications have since been removed and replaced by Ringstrasse.
At 10K, I heard music. I recognized it as “Voices of Spring,” a Strauss waltz. As I got closer to the source of the music, I saw a stage with dancers in formal attire. They were doing the waltz. Vienna has been the home of many great composers, including Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. It was becoming abundantly clear, however, that Strauss owns the hearts of the people of Vienna.
We were almost to Hofburg when we began a long loop that took us through the southwest part of the city. Twice, I saw fixtures with several water faucets on the side of the road. Some runners were drinking by cupping their hands to catch the water. I skipped them. After a while, I realized it had been a while since I last saw an aid station. Maybe I should have been drinking from the faucets. I was getting thirsty.
At 14K, it occurred to me that I was one third done. My pace so far was fast, but it wasn’t sustainable. I was on pace for 3:21 and change. I eased back to 5:00 per kilometer.
At 15K, I finally reached another aid station. It was only the fourth one so far, so I drank both water and Powerade. In the next several kilometers, I found that even five minute kilometers was taking an effort.
Just before the halfway mark, we turned back onto Ringstrasse. We were getting close to Heldenplatz, where the race would finish. Runners doing the half marathon kept right and headed to the finish line. Those of us doing the marathon kept left and continued around Ringstrasse for another kilometer.
At 22 kilometers, we left Ringstrasse to do a loop through the west side of the city. Without trying, I sped up to 4:50 per kilometer. I didn’t think I was working any harder. Maybe it was a subconscious reaction to passing the halfway mark. I ran faster for the next few kilometers. Then I returned to a 5:00 pace.
We eventually turned and followed the Danube Canal back toward the heart of the city. I once again saw the spire of Stephandom over the other buildings. This time, we were approaching it from the opposite direction.
At 26K, we turned again. In the distance, I saw the top of this building. I recognized it as a building that’s right next to where the race started.
We came back to the same roundabout that we ran around earlier in the race. We were about to retrace our route through Prater. As I was running around the circle, I recognized a hot dog stand. I had run by it twice during my training run on Friday. Now I was running past it for the second time in the race.
We followed the Hauptallee for about three kilometers. Then we turned left and did a short out-and-back that brought us past a stadium. At 31K, we turned back onto Hauptallee and followed it for two more kilometers.
This section was also out-and-back. The turnaround was at a small roundabout. I only had nine kilometers to go, but my legs were complaining.
Coming back, I heard music from several large speakers mounted on the trees. They were playing “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift. It was just the music I needed to shake off the soreness in my legs.
“I'll never miss a beat, I'm lightning on my feet.” In my head, I was singing, “I’m just going to run, run, run, run, run.”
Just past 35K, we left Hauptallee. We were now retracing our route back to the Danube Canal. I could no longer shake off the soreness. I couldn’t hold my pace. I was gradually slowing down, but I was hopeful that I could give back some time and still break 3:30. I had less than 7K to go. We were working our way back toward Hofburg. This time, we would get to stop there.
As we got closer to the city center, we took a different route. We ran along another canal that I knew would take us to Stadtpark. At 40K, we made a turn right next to the Hilton. We crossed the canal and turned onto Ringstrasse. Now we would follow Ringstrasse the rest of the way.
As we ran by Stadtpark for the second time, I heard music by Strauss again. This time it was the Tritsch-Tratsch Polka. The same dancers were now doing the polka. Their stage wasn’t big enough, so they were dancing right into the street. That’s an energetic piece of music, but I couldn’t pick up my pace. My legs were dead.
As I reached the 41K sign, I looked at my watch. It read 3:23:06. I was still on pace to break 3:30, but it was going to be closer than I thought.
The last 1.2 kilometers seemed to take forever. I didn’t know how much I had left. Then I saw a “500 m” sign. I wasn’t sure if that was 500 meters to go. Then I saw “400 m.” Then “300 m.” Finally, I saw the 42K sign, right where we turn to head into Heldenplatz.
As I ran through the gate, I saw the digital clock at the finish. It was changing from 3:29:59 to 3:30:00. I reminded myself that that was gun time. My chip time would be faster. In fact, it was the gun time for the elite athletes. They started a minute before everyone else.
I crossed the line with a chip time of 3:29:33. I broke 3:30, but that was way too close for comfort. I started the race too fast and paid for it in the last seven kilometers.
I’ve run nine marathons in Europe now. All nine were in different countries, and I’ve qualified for Boston in all nine of them.
The finisher medal was in the shape of a star, with a small gemstone at the bottom. I’m not sure if that has some special significance. The ribbon has the race slogan for this year, “Wir Sind Europa” (We Are Europe.)
Most races give runners Mylar blankets or something similar to help them stay warm after finishing. This race had plastic vests. It was like wearing a trash bag, except they already had holes for our head and arms. I was warm during the race, but I needed the vest after finishing. There was a cold breeze.
Next, they had a volunteer handing out bottles of water with the caps already removed. I have to learn to pass on the first bottle of water. There are usually other beverages up ahead. They gave us each a tote bag filled with post-race snacks. I was surprised how heavy the bag was. Among other things, it included another bottle of water, a bottle of Powerade, an apple and a banana. Next, there was a table with free beer. Did I mention that I didn’t really need that first bottle of water?
My legs didn’t like walking, but I made it out to the street to get my gear bag. I discarded the plastic vest and put on my warm-ups. I couldn’t remember where the nearest U-Bahn station was, and I couldn’t cross the course, so I started backtracking alongside the course. That led me to Karlplatz station, and I took a train the rest of the way.
When I got back to my room, I could hear music. My window was open, and the stage where they were playing Strauss waltzes and polkas was just on the other side of Stadtpark. I had a free concert until the race was done.
For my last dinner in Vienna, I found an Italian restaurant in Innere Stadt and had this pizza.
For dessert, I had pancakes stuffed with gelato. That’s something you’d only find at an Italian restaurant in Austria.