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Running into history Vienna City Marathon

08 January 2013, 8am

Come spring Vienna is the perfect place for a runner to be – particularly this spring

A well orchestrated event

by Andreas Maier

The Vienna City Marathon celebrates its 30th anniversary on 14 April 2013 and will inspire an expected field of 40,000 runners from about 110 nations.

No less a man than running legend Haile Gebrselassie, who ran the race in 2011 and 2012, says: “Don’t miss this chance! The course is fast. The wonderful public buildings are a delight. I am sure that I’ll go back to Vienna one day.”

Those who come to the 2013 race will be presented with a special jubilee medal. Starting places will soon become scarce as there is a huge demand for the anniversary race. Alongside the full marathon a half marathon, a relay marathon and kids races will be staged as usual.

Vienna fascinates as both a historic and modern cultural capital: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was at the peak of his creativity here; Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalysis in Vienna; and concert halls, museums and theatres offer the visitor a fascinating range of cultural experiences. Vienna has a global reach; it is home to the United Nations and many other international organisations. It is a city much in demand for its lifestyle and as a holiday destination. Worldwide surveys often place Vienna number one for quality of life. The Vienna City Marathon fits perfectly into this setting. It brings together the classic tourist images of Vienna combined with modern lifestyle.

Back in 1984 the first edition of the race was a big boost for the running scene in Austria. Though just 794 participants crossed the finishing line, and among them only 25 women, it was an instant success. The number of runners rose to 4000 in 1990. The marathon was enthusiastically embraced by the Viennese, and big crowds lined the course even in the early years. In 2012 the field numbered 36,157 registered runners, the biggest so far in Vienna, but the Jubilee edition in 2013 will almost certainly top these figures.

The course is being dubbed a “visit to a museum wearing shorts”. The Vienna City Marathon takes you to Vienna’s most impressive modern and historic sights. The race starts between the skyscrapers of the United Nations complex and heads straight across the 864m long Imperial Bridge (Reichsbrücke) over the River Danube. The race takes you past the giant ferris wheel and through the green expanse of Prater Park. The famous Opera House, Schönbrunn Castle, the former imperial summer residence, numerous museums, the neo-gothic Town Hall, the Burg Theatre and many other outstanding examples of Vienna’s architecture are situated along the route. The finish lies in the heart of the city at the impressive public space of Heldenplatz.

Vienna is an IAAF Gold Label race and welcomes star athletes each year. Winners have included two-time Commonwealth Champion Gidamis Shahanga (1990), Olympic and World Championships medallist Ahmed Salah (1997), multiple World Champion and winner of the Boston Marathon Moses Tanui (2002), Marathon World Champion Luke Kibet (2007) and double Marathon World Champion Abel Kirui (2008). Course records were set by the Italian Maura Viceconte with 2:23:47 in 2000 and Kenyan Henry Sugut who clocked 2:06:58 in 2012. Many young athletes have used Vienna as a springboard for their international careers. Two runners stand out from the rest: Haile and Paula Radcliffe. In 2011 Gebrselassie stormed to a half marathon victory in 1:00:18. A unique competition was set up in 2012, when he competed against marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe in a specially designed half marathon race. Paula got a 7:52 minutes head start, based on the difference between their personal best times, and Haile chased. Radcliffe, suffering from bronchitis, was caught well before the finish.

In April 1995 Vienna was the first big-city Marathon (about 12,000 runners at the time) to use the Championchip transponder timing system without a back-up. Back then discussions raged over the new system’s reliability and conformity to the rules; today it has become the international standard. In 2000 the Vienna City Marathon launched the SMS result-service. Immediately after crossing the finish line the participants were sent their results and places via text message on their mobile phones. Currently the Marathon organisers are working with the Institute for Pervasive Computing at the University of Linz to develop another novelty, the “Sports Community Token” which combines time keeping, health security and other convenient services for runners.

Vienna stages a marathon for all the senses. In the world capital of classical music runners discover their rhythm in tune with the melodies of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the waltz king Johann Strauss – with more than 10km of the course resounding to music. The “Marathon Sound of Vienna” gives you wings at the very start, when runners are welcomed to the strains of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Participants can hear classic melodies as they run along the ring road. While spectators in the packed stands at the finish on Heldenplatz await the approach of the winner to the sound of Richard Strauss’ “Thus spoke Zarathustra”, and a tide of emotion is unleashed over the last 200m as runners approach the finish. The finishing straight, as beautiful as any in the world, is a moving experience for the great mass of runners.

Vienna offers a special take on the traditional eve-of-race carbo-loading party. The “International Friendship Party” offers an exciting meeting place for participants from over 100 countries. The neo-gothic banqueting suite of Vienna’s Town Hall provides an inspiring atmosphere in which to load up with “Kaiserschmarrn”, a traditional Viennese pancake, in addition to the pasta offering.

Recently the marathon in Vienna has taken a different subject for its main theme each year. The first was Mozart’s 250th anniversary in 2006. Since then the event has adopted the motto “Run Vienna – enjoy classics” and has gone from strength to strength. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra have given special concerts. In 2009 Vienna became the marathon for debutants – only those runners who had never run a marathon before were invited for the elite field. In 2012 the celebrations were to mark the 150th birthday of the renowned Art Nouveau artist, Gustav Klimt. In 2013, it will be the Marathon’s own 30th birthday. This will be a special occasion for any runner.

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