Today was the 29th annual Vienna City Marathon. It’s a big deal — 36,000 people run, and it feels like most of the rest of Vienna comes out to watch and cheer. The course runs around and through some of Vienna’s most famous sights, and roads and significant parts of the above-ground parts of the public transportation system are shut down to accommodate the runners.
One of our friends, Krishana, ran the half marathon today, so we particularly wanted to go out and support her. Benjamin was excited about the idea of watching so many people running (he gets excited when our whole family participates in an around-the-house race, so the idea of thousands and thousands of people was pretty impressive). It was a good day for running — cool and drizzly — so the novelty of being out and watching the people come by ran out kind of quickly for the boys (we put them in the stroller, with the rain cover, and then it was fun again).
We headed down to where the course crossed the Danube Canal and (after being temporarily thwarted by not having the Strassenbahns running, which hadn’t even occurred to us) staked out a spot on the bridge. As the runners came by, and the crowd cheered and clapped, the massive bridge, which usually carries 4 lanes of traffic and a streetcar, was noticeably bouncing. We decided to ignore that, assume all would be well, and enjoy the race.
Like so many things, running a marathon in Vienna is different than it would be at home. All types of people were out running today, young and old, fit and fat. (And we only saw people running 10-11 minute miles and faster, so the mix of people was pretty impressive. I can’t run that fast, at least not for that long.) I was incredibly amused by several people who were running in whole-body foam beer costumes, as well as the folks I saw running in their Marlboro and Camel t-shirts, but the guy running in lederhosen was my favorite.
We saw Krishana, waved briefly as she breezed by, and headed to our next destination near the finish. We worked our way through the city, into the crowds near the finish, and along the way a woman gave the boys a loud clapper to help them cheer the runners along. It turns out that we got to our spot, just before the finish, just as the women’s top marathon finishers were coming in (pretty darn cool). We waited for a bit (along with half of Vienna), cheering and clapping, yelling encouragement to the multitudes running along the Ringstrasse. We saw Krishana again, as she neared the finish, and then tried to work our way through the crowd to meet up with her.
We weren’t able to catch up with her before the wet and the cold sent us all back home, but on the way to find her, I again was struck by the differences in the runners, and the race, from what I’d expect at home. After the finish, there was water and goodies for the runners, but they were also giving out large glasses of non-alcoholic beer. We saw several people, just having finished a half marathon, drag themselves out of the athlete area and immediately light up their cigarettes, which had apparently been with them the entire run. (Did they smoke on the way? It’s certainly possible . . .) It Austria, it seems that being a runner is less of an identity and more just something that they do — it truly seemed, watching some of the runners, that this is something they just decided to do on a relative whim. Many (maybe most?) of them didn’t seem to be “serious” athletes in the way we think of it in the States. (But they ran a half-marathon today and I didn’t, so I guess I’d better not talk!)
It was really fun and we had a great time. I loved the enthusiasm of the runners, and of the city in support of them. Now Dan is talking about running it next year . . . we’ll see! That would certainly be a big ending to our Austrian adventure!