Emotions surface as the clock high above the iconic Kapitalplatz inches closer to 5 o’clock on a mid-summer Saturday in Salzburg, Austria. Surrounded by fellow European ultra-runners waves of relief, grief, happiness, anger, joy and frustration surge through me…
I’d originally entered Mozart 100 in January 2020 before COVID would unleash it’s force around the globe and shrunk my running world to chasing FKTs from my doorstep in Wiltshire. Fast forward two years my world has drastically changed; the culmination of navigating the painful process of divorce, gaining the friendship of four-legged fur ball, buying a renovation project/future home in Frome, Somerset, resurrecting my COVID battered coaching business and frantically rehabbing a vicious ankle injury. It’s definitely been a tumultuous period of my life with a newly emerged smattering of grey hairs on my temple as proof!
My relationship with running has also shifted slightly. Since 2015 with my inaugural Marathon des Sables across the Sahara Desert I’ve travelled, trained and raced around the world at an eye watering pace. It’s been an intense lifestyle which I’ve loved and concurrently invested a huge amount of time and energy; almost obsessively. I’ve placed a tremendous amount of physical, mental and emotional pressure on myself to perform and push my limits; which again I’ve loved; yet simultaneously made large sacrifices. I’m not 100% sure I’ve got or want the drive, hunger or edge to push myself to those levels again.
The Mozart 100 route traces a wonky double figure of eight east from the City of Salzburg with two meaty climbs at 35km up the Zwolferhorn mountain and 55km up Schafberg; the remainder of the route despite looking convincingly ‘rolling’ on the profile profile is deceptively hilly and technical in places. Passing through idyllic Austrian Alpine mountain pasture I almost expect Heidi to appear through the morning mist leading a heard of goats and fight an inner urge to burst into the song the ‘Hills are alive with the sound of music’ in my best Julie Andrews impersonation.
Tracing the banks of Lake Fuschl and Lake Wolfgang watching people frolicking in the cool waters I seriously began to question my lifestyle choices. Swimming, SUPing or simply watching the world go by seemed infinitely preferable to grinding it out one foot in front of another in the relentless 31 degrees heat. The race descends into a search for streams to pour water over myself; race tactics changed to 'shade = run' and 'sun = power walk'. Every step a step closer to the finish line.
For 105km I was accompanied by ghosts of the past; my younger self. Memories of the relentless heat during Marathon des Sables, standing on the podium for Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc, tackling steep canyons in Oman by UTMB, the steamy jungles of Sri Lanka and more - I’ve surpassed my wildest dreams and pushed beyond my perceived physical, mental and emotional boundaries on the trails again and again. Maybe it’s time to step away. Endings yield beginnings. Create space for a new era. Whatever that looks like.
After the fiasco of recent few races over the last few months it was enough to finish. Thankfully, there was no peeing blood (courtesy of Lakeland Trails 100 in July 2021 - blog 'Explore Discover Stop - link here), no time penalties for missing a chunk of the route like SDW50 in April 2022 (Centurion Running blog - link here) and my grumbly right ankle courtesy of a severe strain in August 2021 held up. Crossing the finish line in a respectable time of 15:28:48 as 10th lady and 140th overall could be labelled a success by my logical and rationale persona. However, my unhelpful inner critic takes glee in taunting me to what a younger, fitter and more determined Anna-Marie ‘could’ have done. My journey is to make peace with this part and be gentle with this wistful longing.
The ultra-world has changed over the fifteen years when I first toed the start line of the CCC in 2007. The Ultra Trail World Tour (UTWT) Series is dead and long live the UTMB World Series, echoes of the IRONMAN corporate sheen begins to percolate from triathlon into ultra-running, points have morphed into ‘running stones’ and an entire new world ranking has been created. I’m not sure I’ve met anyone (yet) who fully grasps the new qualifying scheme whereby all roads lead to the hallowed UTMB start line in Chamonix-Mont-Blanc. Change is inevitable and there must be benefits from the new system though I’m grateful to have been a part of the rise of the ultra-runners over the last seven years.
Ultra Mini Break Combo – I’ve finally (!) learnt the art of staying in-country to rest and relax post-race. Think hunting out the perfect coffee at Alchemie Café and 220Grad, watching the world go by, lying by the open-air pool, devouring my body weight in chips with chilli mayo sauce. The cosy one-bed Airbnb apartment tucked above Café Mozart in the old town was the perfect base for exploring.
Travel – Our self-induced environmental climate crisis makes it ever harder for myself to justify the need to travel by air, despite my decision to carbon offset each flight. Post COVID the aviation industry is in disarray with chaos across the UK and wider Europe. Bristol to Salzburg courtesy of Lufthansa involved flight delays, missed connections and six days later still a missing hold bag.
Running Coaching – Every coach needs a coach. It’s a pleasure - though admittedly sometimes painful experience especially after a hard session - partnering with Coach Mike from Purple Patch Fitness over the last two and a half years. His knowledge and experience on cross-training for endurance sports combined with his upbeat American enthusiasm keeps me on track. Additionally, it was a delight to stand on the start line with one of my athletes for his first overseas ultra for his journey to the UTMB start-line.
La Sportiva* Mutants - These stable and versatile mountain running shoes have been my ‘go-to’ for the last four years. The higher than usual ankle support has been invaluable since my injury last summer.
Bolero Cool Wings - I discovered ingenuous beauties at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas in 2013 and have been a firm convert ever since. I’m still sporting the original pair which demonstrate their longevity. Ideal for combating toasty temperatures.
PH* 1500s – I’m a salty sweater. It’s official from results of the Precision Fuel & Hydration sweat test. I find the tablet form is convenient to pop into your 500ml soft flask; left is PH and right is water. Repeat at each aid station! I find the PH team are always super helpful to talk through pre and post strategies in a personalized call.
Train Smart. Run Happy.
Note* I’m kindly supported by La Sportiva as part of the UK Team and Precision Fuel and Hydration.