This is ENDURObeet athlete Fiona Hayvice's memoirs of the 2016 Mozart 100 where she placed 3rd. A great read for any endurance athlete.
It turns out that my body is not immortal. However, my mind is considerably stronger than I ever gave it credit for.
Earlier in the year I received an invitation from the Ultra-Trail World Tour (UTWT) to participate in the Mozart100, Future race, as a semi-supported Elite Athlete (Future races are not yet fully accredited with UTWT, hence ranking points aren't obtainable). Slightly bemused by the fact I was being regarded as a top competitor in my field, yet allured by the opportunity to race not once, but twice, during my debut racing trip to Europe (I had already signed up for Eiger Ultra-Trail (E101), Switzerland (16 July) as my third UTWT points obtainable race for 2016), I gleefully accepted.
On paper Mozart100 appeared to be 'easier' than; Ultra-Trail Australia (UTA) that I'd raced 5 weeks earlier, and E101 that I'd be racing 4 weeks later. The elevation gain was 1,400m and 3,700m less respectively, and the trails (65% of the course) weren't classified as technical. Hence, looking back I was perhaps a little nonchalant approaching the 105km event (comprising two almost identical loops – 48km + 57km).
Traveling to Salzburg to represent the UTWT at Mozart100 was an ultra in itself. From the time I left my husband and 4 year old son (who I wouldn't see for the next 5 weeks) at Wellington Airport, until the time I was warmly greeted by Race Organiser Claudia Kolussi at Salzburg Airport, was a mammoth 35 hours. Throughout the journey I did everything possible to ensure I came out the other end, as race ready as possible. I drank copious amounts of water, took an electrolyte tablet every 5 hours, and regularly motioned my body through exercises set-out by my Fascial Stretch Therapists. I have to admit I did receive a few odd looks from fellow travelers exiting the toilets!
Once I finally arrived in Salzburg (10am Wednesday 15 June) I then had two and a half days leading into the race. During this time I attended two welcome dinners, a press conference, a Sound of Music bus tour, shock out my legs twice along the banks of the Salzach river, and rested whenever possible. The race organisers had orchestrated my itinerary at an moderate tempo, and gone out of their way to ensure I felt at 'home' and part of the Mozart100 family. So, by the time race day came around I was feeling at ease, and ready to run.
The Mozart100, 105km event commenced at 5am (the three alternative distances; 57km, 26km and 12km would start later). Consequently, as per my normal race routine, I rose at 2am in order to consume breakfast 3hrs prior to the starting gun. However, what wasn't so typical was the fact I didn't have my family alongside, to coordinate and get out the door with me. So, finding myself ready, and somewhat twiddling my thumbs, I wandered down to the start-line (1.3km through dim, narrow, cobbled streets) with ample time up my sleeve.
Mozart100 starts and finishes in Residenzplatz, Salzburg Old Town; a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site intertwined with the spirit of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the Salzburg Festival and surrounded by spires and cupolas. In the misty, dawn light the setting was truly mystical!
Race Organiser, Joseph Mayerhofer wanted to create; “a professional running event of international format in his home town of Salzburg. An unforgettable and unique experience for all participants”. In my opinion he's succeeded. The event staff where wearing lederhosen (males), and dirndl (females), Mozartkugel (Mozart balls; pistachio, marzipan and nougat, covered with dark chocolate) were on offer, there was an authentic Austrian folk atmosphere, to say the least. Additionally, a lot of thought had been given to ensuring runners needs were met, including; a super efficient race morning drop-bag system, and a heated 'warm-up' tent to shelter in once you'd shed your warm layers. Ultimately, a perfect opportunity to chat with fellow competitors and calm the nerves. However, I quickly discovered that when you're racing in Europe not everyone speaks English!
At 450am, we were asked to enter the starting box by way of a 'policed' gate. As we passed through, our two mandatory gear items (whistle, and cup or flask for fluids) were checked. There were a few enthusiastic words of encouragement over the loud speaker (most of which I couldn't understand, although not imperative as I'm typically internalising at this time), and we were off.
The first five-six kilometers of the course was flat, tarmac, along the banks of the Salzach river. On fresh legs, this presented the perfect recipe for speed 'wobbles'. I felt comfortable and strong at the time. However, looking back I'd say that my swift pace in these early stages, almost certainly contributed to my wobbles later in the day.
At 6km we stepped into the trees and onto trail. The uneven surface underfoot and slight elevation gain, incurred a welcome change of pace. The next 5km up to Aid Station 1 (10km)/6, passed by relatively quickly. I smiled dodging a few ruts in the trail, and sneaking the odd glance at the waterfalls cascading down the adjacent stream.
Having passed through Aid Station 1, 50mins in, without pausing (as per my nutrition plan – 300cal Tailwind/500ml + 500ml water per 3hrs) I found myself back on the tarmac. This time an undulating narrow country lane. At one point the road forked. I wasn't 100% certain that I'd taken the correct fork, so I back-tracked 50m, just to be sure (for sure!). Less than half a kilometer later Renato Jorioz (partner / crew for top Italian ultra-trail runner, Francesa Canepa) zipped past me in his car. A clear indication that Francesa was hot on my tail.
Leaving the tarmac and rising up out of the misty valley on a shingle 4WD foresty road, I settled into a comfortable rhythm (a run-able incline, well the first time around anyway!). I was conscious that Francesa was not being far behind me, but I couldn't tell you how far, as one of my motto's is never look back! Over the next 10km of trail and tarmac country lanes, I continued to move at an assertive, yet what I felt comfortable pace. The terrain forced me to hike twice through this section. One of these a hill at 19km, aptly signposted by the race organisers, “The Climb”.
Opting to pass through Aid Station 2 (21km)/7, I then ran up through the forestry and over Kleiner Hirschberg (874m), taking in the race organiser signposted “The View” before descending down to the northwestern tip of Fuschlsee (lake). The first time around we turned left at this point (25km), cutting across the top of the lake and rejoining the course at 27km, just short of “The Wall” (29km). For a third time, I was forced to hike, almost all the way up to Aid Station 3 (30km)/9.
As planned I refilled two soft flasks here, unawares of Francesa slipping-by. Restocked and ready to roll, I made a hasty departure, and instantly spotted her just up ahead. It was still far too early in the race to be making adjustments to my pace in order to catch other runners. So, I settled back into my own rhythm, and kept Francesa in my sight. Over the next 11km I was never more than 300-400m behind.
It was during this time that I passed through probably my least favourite section of the course; Salzburgring (motorsports race track). Being a Saturday the track was in full swing. For me the noise pollution from 33-34km (90-92km) was almost intolerable!
Perhaps it was this disturbance that provoked me to fire up my own engine, as 6km down the line I caught up with Francesa. The course marking was somewhat ambiguous around this point, so we worked together to ensure we stayed on track (I noted the second time around that there were considerably more spray painted arrows on the tarmac. It's likely that the race organisers had been tipped-off).
Over the next 7km through to Residenzplatz (48km, marking the completion of our first loop) Francesca and I bantered. It was a pleasure to have company, and especially that of such a kindred spirit.
It was somewhat of a challenge entering Residenzplatz the first time round. Incorrect instructions from a race marshal sent us off in the wrong direction, down the Salzach river (I later discovered this added 600m to our total distance). Upon realising we immediately made a u-turn, and retraced our strides back to the the underground passage that we should have been directed to take. This lead us through to the center of Salzburg Old Town and ultimately Residenzplatz. It was imperative that we passed through Residenzplatz as this was an official check-point. As we passed through the 'finishing-chute' (for a split second wishing I'd entered the 57km, one loop race!), I looked up at the neon race timer; we'd completed the first loop, 48km in 4hrs34min.
I didn't pause here (Aid Station 5 (48km) / Finish-line), instead I shot out over the 'start-line' again, turned right and made my way back down along the Salzach river. It was time to do it all again. Although, this time round we'd turn right at 73km, and circumnavigate Fuschlsee (lake), adding 9km to the second loop.
Traversing the banks of the Salzach river for a second time, I almost suddenly felt a marked difference in my stride. A quick glance at my watch confirmed my inkling. I wasn't that concerned about my decrease in pace (to be expected over an ultra event), however I was concerned by a tightening in my left hamstring. Making my way up Glasenbachklamm (54-58km, 240m over 4km) towards Aid Station 1 /6 (58km) was problematic to say the least. My hamstring was not happy; making it increasing difficult to move at the pace I wanted to.
Reaching Aid Station 1/6, Francesca and I were both quick to utilise the permanent water-trough to refill our flasks, rather than fight our way through the masses at the race table. A quick chat with Renato (he and I exchanging gestures only, due to our language barrier) and we were on our way again.
The second time around Francesa and I were both gleeful at the sight of inclines; don't tell coach, but they presented a perfect excuse to walk! Even with the tightening in the back of my left leg, I was still managing to make good time striding up the hills, but I was finding any subsequent transition to down, excruciatingly painful. As much as my mind was willing, my left hamstring was not!
By 70km, I was trying extra hard to convince myself that nothing was wrong. Yet, at times I was being stopped in my tracks. The severe cramping was now almost all the way up the back of my left leg; from my ankle to my glute. I'd never experienced any like it before. Much to my dissapointment, I just couldn't keep up with Francesa.
Along with the physical pain, the realisation that I was slipping behind was very upsetting, and bought with it a considerable flood of tears. This was the first time I'd ever properly cried during an ultra event. I usually shed a couple of tears a some point; typically when I'm alone, talking to my mother and others who have gone before me, but it only lasts for a few seconds. This race was different. I really had to fight to pull myself together and ward off the voices in my head that were suggesting I should call it a day. I was looking down the barrel of a DNF (Did Not Finish) against my name. Should I stay or should I go?
Fortuitously, I wasn't wallowing in my own pity for too long. Less than a kilometer after watching Francesa disappear over a rise I came across two (57km event) runners (from Greece and Estonia) who I'd met at the official Welcome Dinner a couple of nights earlier. Their 'familiar' faces, and sympathetic yet firm words, encouraged me through the next 8km along the foreshore of Fuschlsee and into Aid Station 8 (78km).
It was here that I had the fortune of crossing paths with another (57km event) 'familiar' face, German, BereNice May. Seeing the distress in my eyes, BereNice reached out for a much appreciated hug. An experienced ultra runner herself, she ensured I had the nutrition I needed, reminded me of my own inner strengthen, and then quickly sent me on my way.
Between here and Aid Station 3/9 (87km), I just focused on moving forward. I walked any inclines and tried wherever possible to find my running rhythm along any flats (albeit not the one I was accustomed to). The cramping down the back of my left leg became slightly more tolerable (at times!).
I had no idea what, if any, lead I had on third place. As it turns out, at approx. 82km, I discovered that I had none! Being passed by a lady, but unable to see her race bib, I quickened my pace so I could pull up alongside. From here I was able to view her number and identify that she was in fact running the 105km event. Bugger! I now had to push even harder and dig even deeper, if I was going to retain the number 2 position.
For the next 15km Ulli Striednig and I played leap frog. Under my breath I was cursing. However, there was a silver-lining, as Ulli's presence provided motivation, and made me even more determination to battle on to the end. As much as I tired, by 97km I just couldn't keep tabs on Ulli. I watched as she disappeared, down the second to last major decent, into Salzburg city.
Not dissimilar to the first 20 or so kilometers of the day, the last 8km of the Mozart100 were almost solitary. As I struggled up over Kapuzinerberg (1km, 200m climb) for a second and final time (1km short of the 105km finish-line), I thought to myself, how fitting that the heavens are opening.
Reaching the finish-line in third place I felt an enormous sense of relief and pride, wash over me. I was so pleased that I'd completed the 105km goal that I'd set out to achieve (in 11hrs12, just 14mins behind the first female, Francesca Canepa). It's fair to say I wasn't overjoyed with how my race panned out. I hadn't completed the task in my usual consistent, strong manner, yet I had unlock inner strength that I never knew existed. I'll certainly be taking this finding, along with a deeper respect for what I'm regularly expecting my body to endure, on with me to my next races.
The Mozart100 was wrapped up that evening in fading light, not dissimilar to how it had all begun some 14 hours earlier in the dim dawn light. Although, by now approx. 900 runners from more than 40 countries had traversed along the trail of The Sound of Music, through lush meadows, and forests, past gushing waterfalls and crystal clear lakes, and back to the historic Salzburg Old Town (for the majority of us) twice!
I wasn't accustomed to attending prize-giving on the same day as race day. However, I feel it's something that other race organisers should seriously consider. The emotion of success is still so raw, and therefore transfers wholeheartedly into a spirited celebration. In this case, egged on by the race organisers choice of loud, party music. There was no chance of anyone being anything but enthusiastic about the triumphs of the day.
Big shout out to my NZ based supporters;
Gear and nutrition; Icebug, CEP, Further Faster, Tailwind Nutrition, and ENDUROBeet
Fascial Stretch Therapist; Alex Butt of Back To It
Coach; Scotty Hawker of Mile27
And my two boys for always making it possible for me to chase my dreams; husband Todd and 4 year old son, Spike.
NB. Post race analysis suggests that the head of my femur (thigh bone) was wedged up and tilted slightly (in the socket). Hence, my whole superficial back-line was under a lot of stress, as it was having to tighten up to hold everything in place. My Fascial Stretch Therapist (Alex Butt, http://www.backtoit.co.nz/) kindly set me daily sequences (via video clips as he's back in NZ and I'm in Austria) to help release the tightness around my hip. I've been doing these religiously, along with drinking a lot of water, and moving regularly. I'll be back!
My Race Outfit:
CEP, Run Sock 2.0
Lululemon, Run: Speed Short
Lululemon, Strap It like It's Hot Bra
Montane, Sonic T-Shirt
Montane, Via Visor
Salomon, S-Lab Sense Ultra Set
ENDUROBeet + Oat Milk smoothie
Nutrition During Race: