The Mozart Marathon was my first race abroad and also my first attempt at getting some UTMB racing
stones (which would give me a chance to run the Tour du Mont Blanc, one of the biggest trail races in
the racing calendar). I’m not sure why I wanted to do this given that I fastpacked the TMB last summer
and it was the singular most terrifying experience I’ve ever had in the mountains.

Despite that, I like being abroad, running and stones, so this race made sense. I signed up for the 50k
category race — a marathon distance with around 2000m of elevation. As it was the Edinburgh
Marathon the weekend before, it’s fair to say I’d given this race absolutely no thought. In fact, maybe
at best I saw it as a nice jolly jog in the mountains. This was my first big mistake.

Salzburg is a nice place to start out — if you’ve ever been to Austria you’ll know that much of the
country resembles Playmobil. A sort of unthreatening, bucolic beauty that all looks like a child’s
drawing of what the object is. In Scotland mountains are rambling and jagged, with odd angles that
crumble into nothingness. In Austria, they are snowcapped, pointy triangles. In Scotland, sheep are
matted, tangled creatures. In Austria they resemble perfect puffy white clouds with gleaming veneers.

I’m sure that on any other day, the Mozart 100 would be a similarly perfect course. I gambolled past
enough Alpine Streams full of trickling clear water and through ancient woodlands to be sure of this.
But it was raining.

And when I say rain, I thought I knew rain.

Living in Scotland and training throughout the winter for Edinburgh Marathon I thought rain and I
were intimate. At the Mozart Marathon, which kicked off in St Gilen, a village around 42km outside of
Salzburg, rain and I became bedfellows. I’d expected Austria to be a bright summer adventure after
Edinburgh’s drenching. Instead I was soaked, but this time it was also accompanied by a bitter alpine

The race had put a shuttle on to the start from the centre of Salzburg which was free and a brilliant use
of race-entry money. It gave everyone else on the bus the chance to find out where we were all from,
and when people found out I lived in Scotland they all told me I had an advantage. I was cocky because
maybe I did. Some of these people were from the south of Spain (Do they even have rain there?). I was
there in a thin gortex layer and no raincoat. Wimps. Thank god I had borrowed (again) Richard’s
Portobello Buff (sorry Richard) because that was the only nod to warm weather appropriate gear I had.
I had no poles as I couldn’t be faffed to have them confiscated by Ryanair. I had no hat because it was
June. I had trail shoes, but those sort of pointless fancy trail shoes that are appropriate only for jogging
along some flat dry grass.

In short, I was deeply unprepared, sore, and had eaten some oats soaked in cold water from a hotel mug
with my fingers for breakfast. Like I said, unprepared.

So the race starts slowly. In fact, stationary. After 3km of running into the rain, we stop. A line of
runners pause as they wait to pass through a kissing gate. I’m there for about 15 minutes. In a way, it’s
freeing. There was no way I was going to race this now to get a great time, but having to literally wait
for one thousand people to pass through a gate is a good way of making sure you’re going to do very
badly indeed. The ‘run’ started after the gate with a steep hill walk. Everyone was using poles. My
knees wept. At the top the run turned into a great, undulating trail and for a moment I thought how
perfect and beautiful this all was — in the Alps, in the mountains, maybe this was going to be fine.
And then there was a plunge south and the trail veered off over the hill like an out of control
rollercoaster and my joke trail shoes went — warghhhh — and that was it: the first of about 200 skids
down the side of a mountain. One woman wasn’t so lucky. She fell, tumbled down the hill, and seemed
to hit her head. About ten people stopped to help, which was good for her, but bad for me as I wanted
an excuse to stop running, help her and go home.

The first aid station was well stocked with chocolate cake, watermelon, salt and bananas. There were
also slices of pate and crackers, and cheese on little sticks like at kid’s parties. After only 8km, it felt a
bit excessive, so I pushed on, making up time. The rain was torrential. My airpods stopped working.
My phone was in a dog poo bag but had also stopped working. I was alone with the sound of my
desperate, ragged breathing for the next 38km. After a stretch of tarmac it was back on the trails and
through the muddiest, churned up paths I’ve ever run on. Forget cross country. This was knee deep
churn, swirling, mudsliding down the hills.

After an hour I was freezing. I couldn’t physically go faster because I was already tired, but everyone
else seemed tired too. It was a strange feeling in a race. I felt like I was doing a two day ultra. There
was a lot of walking which just sapped the energy of the race out, but this was because it was so deeply
muddy, even men who looked like Killian Jornet were shaking their heads at the trail and picking their
way down the hill carefully.

A particular highlight was being stuck behind an Italian man who comedically fell in the mud, tried to
get back up and slipped back down multiple times, until he looked like he had been dipped in chocolate
fondant. He became more aggravated each time he fell, until eventually he found his footing, bent
down, picked up some mud and threw it hard on the ground, screaming a swear word. The rest of us
were basically surfing. It was joyful fun, but every mudslide came with an increasing dose of cold. At
one point we summitted a mountain in fog and more rain, and even the photographer who was up there
was hiding behind a rock.

This was a dank and dismal race. I wanted to move faster to warm up but I couldn’t because of the
weather conditions. When the course opened up a little in between the mountains and down some of
the less-muddy slopes it was great to swoop down, but time and time again I found myself behind the
Italian man, often on his knees in another puddle.

Another highlight was the aid stations, which were phenomenal. The bleakest race experience I’ve had
so far was also the only time I felt like throwing in the towel: when I reached the aid station 10km from
the end. Volunteers were clinging onto the tent to stop it from blowing away. I was eating watermelon
in what felt like sub-zero temperatures. Another British woman told me she was probably experiencing
hyperthermia. I looked out beyond the tent and I saw a load of sad people beaten down by the weather.

Pep talk time. “10k is fine.” I had some more watermelon. “10k is just 10k.” I knew there was a big
ascent 3km from the end. No issue. “I love ascents,” I lied to myself. “They’re my favourite. The best.”

So I left because there was no other option. At the bottom of the last mountain — the Kapuzinerburg
— I saw a woman wrapped in a foil race blanket. “Are you ok?” I asked, thinking perhaps she’d
developed full blown hypothermia and needed help. I prepared myself to drop out and lend support.

“Oh yeh, I already finished, I’m just supporting someone who’s still running. It’s ok, you’re nearly
done!”. I had no idea who she was then, but when I got to the finish line I realised she was the second
place finisher. The winning time was around 3hours 40 mins. I came in in around 5 hours and — I have
no idea how this happened — I was 9th woman in my age group and 36 th woman overall. Maybe
everyone else just abandoned the race. She did remarkably to finish in that time. I was in awe of her
while I plodded my way up and over the final mountain. And then, on the way down, steps.

A million steps, a viewing platform, a hazy city through the rain, and then my splits rocketed. I pushed
myself to some ungodly sprint pace as I ran for my life on real tarmac, real roads, desperate to feel my
limbs again. People must have wondered who I was, this weird wet rat person finishing relatively late
in the day and yet power sprinting just to get to the end of this horrific experience.

The finishing tent at the end of the race had more watermelon, which I bafflingly ate. I then had a
shower in a portoloo. 10/10 recommend if you like mud. I was straight on the train back to Vienna, and
out of there that evening back to balmy Scotland.

Eleanor Ross