Salzburg’s Hohensalzburg Fortress is the largest and best preserved citadel in all of Europe. The Castle towers over Austria’s lush green, farm filled landscape and old cobblestone streets where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756. If these city walls could talk they would tell tales as far back as 1077 when construction began. Perched high above the Salzach River the view for kilometers around is dominated by this royal mythical structure giving us insight into past Bavarian culture.
Perhaps more famous in western culture is the song a nun named Maria sang in the movie the Sound of Music which was filmed in the countryside where the Mozart 100 course tours. The hills were indeed alive with the sound of music and some bizarre looks from locals when I won the premier edition of the race in 2012 sans top.
Mozart 100 / Salzburg Running Festival is the brainchild of managing director Josef Mayerhofer and his ultra marathon & European Speed Golf Champion friend Michael Fried. The two developed the idea on a flight back from the Rain Forrest Run in Costa Rica where we first met in 2011. Their goal was to showcase the beauty of the Austrian countryside filled with deep lakes and mountains that mark the eastern edge of the alps while including the rich culture and history of old town Salzburg. They also ambitiously sought to create a world class competitive race with an international field of ultra marathoners. With the help of an incredible staff including Elisabeth Mayerhofer, Josef Gruber, and Claudia Kolussi the Mozart 100 is now very much on the international map of the endurance sports community.
With runners from 33 nations represented the 3rd edition on June 22nd 2014 went off without a hitch to the sound of Mozart’s classical music played by a symphony of violinists. Registration for the 4th edition of the Mozart 100 / Salzburg Running Festival scheduled for Mid June 2015 will open in September 2014. Expect nothing less than a marketing campaign the likes of my next European race, UTMB, with an event next Summer Solstice that will be sure to leave a lasting impression on the hearts of all Nordic walkers and runners. Thankfully the course is manageable enough that participants’ soles will heal but their souls will forever be changed in a positive way.
The 2014 edition included a 100 kilometer race, a scenic 55 kilometer run around Fuschl Lake, a 25 km trek from the lake to Mozartplatz, multiple relays, and a new City Trail Run presented by Smart Car with a distance of around 11 kilometers. The 2015 edition promises to included a distance for every participant of any ability.
My decision to return to the 2014 Mozart 100 as a competitor was solidified in late 2013 when my father passed away. He was not only a big fan of classical music but enjoyed hearing the stories about my first European win at the pinnacle of my career in 2012 at the Salzburg Running Festival. As an international businessman in his prime my pops worked for the French & Japanese. Dad instilled a respect and love of experiencing different cultures in us from an early age.
My left sciatica nerve was over firing neurochemical synapses via my spinothalamic tract throughout the 2014 Mozart 100. The biomechanical impact caused an imbalance in my stride. As my right leg over compensated it became clear I was not going to regain my title in Salzburg. I wanted to quit so badly at the turn in Residenzplatz. I day dreamed of curling up in my hotel room bed and watching the World Cup, anything excepting continuing the journey causing the stabbing pain in my lower back. I gazed to the statue of Mozart. I knew my dad would want me to finish the task at hand. How bad could a few more hours in the Bavarian countryside really be on a perfect cool, sunny day which started summer? I channeled my memory back to Mozartplatz on another pleasant summer afternoon as I pressed on. 1400 hours on June 23rd 2012, finishers tape broken, a smile on my face, a giant beer stein handed to me to hoist in victory.
It got dismal for me as a competitor especially as I would pass aid stations where folks recognized me from my previous win. It was very emotional and physically difficult for me to finish the Mozart 100 this year. I enjoyed the new trek that included two tough climbs and quad pounding descents of the Salzburg city mountain Kapuzinerberg. I endured the anguish and did not stop to overlook the Alps during the race from the top as I had enjoyed earlier in the week as I reckied the course. Time and place were inconsequential to me as anything less than a win was a huge personal disappointment. I had failed, but I finished collapsing on the church square where ages ago bodies had been buried.
I didn’t feel much better than a corpse when the gracious champion of the 2013 and now 2014 Mozart 100, Csaba Nemeth from Hungary, approached me with kind words of inquiry into my condition the morning after the race in our hotel before his family joined him for breakfast. My first proper 100K finish of the calendar year yet I had to toy with myself mentally dealing away any thoughts of racing again in the last marathon of the trek. It is ironic that perhaps my greatest athletic achievement and most embarrassing moment as a runner are now one in the same geographical local, on the cobblestones between Mozartplatz and the Cathedral.
Pre race at Mozart 100 was again a phenomenal experience. From the airport pickup thanks to Salzburg Airport & Mercedes, to a beer overlooking the lake thanks to Stiegl, to a tour of an island castle thanks to Michael & Salzburgland.com, to the elite athlete dinner in the beer gardens, to the press conference thanks to Austrian television ORF, and newspapers Salzburger Nachrichten and Kronon Zeitung, to being called on stage at the race briefing session thanks to Austrian Bussiness Lawyers & Wilheim Muller, I was treated like a returning king to his empire.
Post race was amazing thanks to Duracell’s funny bunny costumes, some proper draught pilsner, and an amazing race staff. Stories were shared like those of a 12 year old who trekked the 25K with her father and the gentleman who was running for a children’s charity donating a euro per kilometer which the race matched. New friends from across Austria, Europe, and the world were made. Old friendships, like the Czech Republic’s Daniel who toed the line with me at the 2011 IAU World Trail Championship in my first European race, were rekindled. The award ceremony was again professional and first class with music, medals, & roses. It was bittersweet to not make the overall podium but I was excited for local star Andreas Pfandlbauer and new Mozart 100 Champion Maria Vrajic of Kroatia. The Bad Ischl baker and 24 Hour World Championship competitor, Andreas and I shared a hug on the age group podium as I was introduced in a mixture of German and English by an enthusiastic DJ. It was an honor to share time with Salameh Al Aqra, the Jordanian running legend who won the 2012 Marathon Des Sables, as well as my old friends from Kenya who swept the 25 km race podium.
After the race stage was taken down, sponsor banners put into storage, the promotional vehicles returned, press releases written, and a good nights rest had following a traditional meal of schnitzel it was refreshing to return to the small lakeside village of Mondsee with the race management.
As we soaked in the chilly lake my muscles healing as much as my soul I started to relax again. I will always have a special place in my heart for the Mozart 100 and hope to return someday soon to see the growth of the event.
Josef was born in the village of Mondaee in the province of Salzburg. On my last morning in the rain after we ran the golf course for my first run back Josef took me to pay my respect to his family’s burial place. His parents and brother are laid to rest in a catholic cemetery that reminds me of my families’ in Poland. Josef, his wife, and son holiday at the bed and breakfast his family has owned for generations. Bedrooms are themed in one single color; Pink, Orange, Green, and Blue. The logistical offices of the Salzburg Running Festival take up the ground floor now. I took a lot of pride in the success of my dear friends much the way I imagine they were excited for my premier win just two years prior.
Claudia served as my very beautiful and extremely knowledgable tour guide up Schafberg Mountain where we overlooked the lakes and alps after a strenuous vertical kilometer hike up. The Cog train down the hill to Wolfgansee was a bumpy ride on the coal powered, steam driven engine but the views were amazing. A “boat” taxi on the lake took us to St. Gilgen where Mozart’s sister had her house. I got to meet Josef’s uncle in his traditional attire of lederhosen. The women in dirndl, the smell of the farms, the sounds of the birds singing, the cows mooing, the church bells ringing, there are so many memories from Austria that will forever remain in my heart as I return home.
There is a mystery and myth to this region where time seems to stand still or just move slower. When you walk through the narrow passageways in Salzburg or along the open footpaths between the farm villages you just feel as if Mozart is leading you somewhere very mystical and special. If he were alive today there is no doubt the legendary composer would dedicate a piece of music to the world class Mozart 100 in his hometown.