(Wolfgang Bernath – marathon4you.de)
They give you courage : “The path becomes rocky, the path is not easy, but every goal will be reached at some point. The sky in view and no’ step back, each for each, and yet for himself. Icy wind, the pain, the goal at the top, we feel free. Step by step, now we leave and so this run begins. Everyone is the winner, there is no loser, late or earlier, we will meet again at the finish. Run to the limits! Requested by the wind, chased by pain, it won’t be easy, but we remain hard. Before we fail, we stop for a moment, want to do our best. The pulse, the breath, the war against the spirit, the son of a bitch rebelling and biting. We’ll keep running, we won’t stop, the flag will fly for all of us!”
In the slightly martial anthem “Everyone is a winner” about the alpine marathon from Brixen to the local mountain Plose, for which Philipp Burger from the group Frei Wild, a native of Brixen, is responsible. And on closer inspection, for most of us, these words quite aptly reflect the circumstances and the roller coaster of emotions on this demanding route: almost two and a half thousand metres uphill, coupled with almost 600 metres downhill, destination on the summit plateau via numerous narrow paths. That’s where I have to go! And because South Tyrol is always worth a trip, we stay directly for a whole week. And the reputation of the organisers for the region has already paid off. One should give in to temptations. Who knows if they’ll be back.
Among other things with this wisdom of Oskar Wilde in the luggage on Friday at the crack of dawn, the first way leads us directly into the heart of Brixen to the start number distribution, because it is safe. At the beautiful Domplatz – more about that – you can pick up your documents the day before between 1 pm and 8 pm, and if necessary from 6 am to 7 am on Saturday. The starter bag is well filled, the great finisher shirt is already available this year as an advance laurel and not only at the finish. Brixen, as one of the oldest cities in Tyrol and with almost 22,000 inhabitants the third largest city in South Tyrol, impresses with its beautiful, historic architecture. In the medieval old town are the cathedral of Brixen with the adjacent cloister, the Frauenkirche and the Johanneskapelle, the Hofburg (the former prince-bishops), the seminary, the two alleyways, the mother house of the Brixen Tertiary Sisters, the Clarissan monastery, the Capuchin monastery, the parish church St. Michael as well as the protestant churches St. Gotthard and St. Erhard. For each highlight you could write your own travel guide, so I only mention the cathedral district as an absolute must to visit, because until 1964 the cathedral housed the bishop with his administration, before it was moved to Bolzano.
Early on Saturday, after an earlier breakfast, the start will be at 7:30 am. I find a conveniently located parking lot in the multi-storey car park Dantestraße, for which one could buy a discounted day ticket (5 €) on the Dome square.
The (pre-)registration situation is good: 372 individual participants (one quarter of them women) together with 37 squadrons of four and 48 relays of two want to climb the Plise. The good weather, despite the fact that the sky was cloudy at first, has some dangerous things in store: The high temperatures with a lot of sunshine could be accompanied by heavy thunderstorms. This was the fate of Bernie and Karl-Heinz last year, as the two unfortunate men had to be taken out of service with a few other accomplices for their own safety just a few kilometres from their destination. I hope I will be spared this huge disappointment today. After my alpine missions on the Jungfrau, the Matterhorn, the K78 in Davos, the Karwendel or the magnificent 5.5 km mountain run in St. Moritz, will I experience another cloudless spectacle with 1,000 vertical meters?
First, however, it is necessary to get a good place in the queues in front of the double Toilets (male and female separated). The Dutch colleague from Tilburg is quickly checking out the competition, but, boy, I’m not. For old men, all that matters is arriving with dignity. Daniela and Steffen, good acquaintances of the Rheinsteig-Erlebnislauf and my Wiedtal-Ulratrail, please me by their presence, and also some other dear running friends meet.
The moderator and the anthem of the event give you a powerful sound and you count down the seconds and hundreds of mountain runners start, strongly accompanied by spectators, from a height of 560 m to the storm to the top of the Alps. Whereby the start-up is as relaxed as possible, at least as far as I can see. Because this expected tough test will not produce a world champion and it is important to divide up strength and distance very well. The first meters take place over the paved cathedral square, lined by very beautiful houses, which alone is already worth a visit. I know I’m repeating myself, but it’s true. Through the White Tower, the ice cream parlour Pradetto, fortunately still closed, which allegedly produces the best ice cream in South Tyrol, forms a first test after just a few metres. Of course, the first portion of the wonderfully creamy ice cream was already eaten yesterday. Who knows how much time I wouldn’t have lost here if this had been the first unofficial catering station.
On a cycle path along the Eisack, the flat running-in phase comes to an abrupt end after just 4 km and the crossing of a bridge over the water. A few meters of asphalt are followed by a wonderful hiking trail in a gentle up and down through a shady, light deciduous forest, known as Charles Promenade after the last Habsburg Emperor Charles I. The Austrian emperor often stayed in a sanatorium in Brixen and took long walks along this forest path. The Karlspromenade ends at the Milland pilgrimage church “Maria am Sand” at 650 m. This is a good time to go down in history, a little too briefly, of course. Tyrol in Felix Austria, South Tyrol in Bella Italia?
South Tyrol with its 520,000 inhabitants today, the state capital is Bolzano, belonged, if you are surprised, to Austria until 1919. A good hundred years earlier in the course of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s subsequent wars of conquest, a resistance movement emerged in Tyrol under the leadership of Andreas Hofer, which violently resisted the secular reorganization imported from France. After the military suppression of the Tyrolean uprising in 1810, Bolzano and the area south of it, together with Trentino, were annexed to the short-lived Kingdom of Italy for the first time, but were recently occupied by the troops of the Austrian Empire in 1813. In the course of the restoration of pre-revolutionary power relations in Europe at the Congress of Vienna, Tyrol was reaffirmed as part of the Habsburg Monarchy in 1815.
Because of the First World War and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian double monarchy, the newly formed German-Austria was ultimately too weak to resist Italian pressure and that of the victorious powers and had to cede the south of Tyrol from the Brenner. Decades of Italian repression followed with the attempt to eradicate everything non-Italian and to take away the South Tyroleans’ identity. This phase also included the artificial renaming of all villages, which had no grown, historical background. Today, benefiting from extensive autonomy (partly also in budgetary matters), South Tyrol has developed into a prosperous region in Europe and one of the best placed in Italy in recent decades. The European integration process initiated with the Schengen Agreement and the introduction of the single currency, the euro, has made it easier since the 1990s to build on the long historical ties between the federal state of Tyrol and the countries of South Tyrol and Trentino. With the establishment of the Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino European Region, cross-border cooperation with the other parts of the former crownland of Tyrol was institutionalized. Now you know.
Would you like some more interesting facts? Of its 7,400 km², 80% are mountainous and only 6% inhabitable. It records 300 sunny days a year, the vegetation ranges from palm trees and vineyards in the sub-Mediterranean valleys over dense deciduous and cloud forests up to the high alpine, partly still glaciated area. Dry is the Vinschgau, rainy the Ahrntal, the highest mountain with 3.905 m the Ortler. And: South Tyrol’s forests, which cover 44% of the area, are still growing!
Very beautiful forest paths take us over Riffnol (750 m) – at km 7 there is already the second cathering point – to a meadow from which you can catch a wonderful view over Bressanone and the Isarco Valley. Of course you have to turn around for it! The Eisack River is the second longest river in South Tyrol. It rises at the Brenner at an altitude of 1,990 m and flows after approx. 100 km south of Bolzano into the Adige, which is less water.
Mellaun at 862 m is a small fraction of the old bishop’s town of Brixen with a wonderful panorama of the opposite side of the valley, the town of Brixen and the Ritten in the south and the Zillertal Alps in the north. Some groups of spectators, unmistakably both holidaymakers and natives, give friendly applause, which is gladly accepted with a proudly swelling chest. The third cathering point at the pretty Schnagerer organic farm at 982 m shortly before km 9 lets me rethink my logistics: “Wouldn’t it have been wise to choose our domicile right here and get on later without attracting too much attention? Of course, this is not meant seriously. However, the wonderful view of the valley from the balconies of the holiday apartments gives rise to the idea of returning.
Over a country road well secured by the police and over another wonderful meadow trail at km 11.4 at an altitude of 1,067 m you reach the valley station of the Plose cable car and thus the first change point of the four-seater relay teams. The Plosebahn is a cable car that runs from St. Andrä to Plose. It overcomes an altitude difference of 979 m over a distance of 2,675 m. It can carry 1,800 passengers per hour. Numerous spectators welcome applause. Relays on the left, individual runners on the right and after refueling in a good mood, the race continues.
Some great moving pictures painted by children now enrich the scenery, while a steep ascent is to be taken. Under the cable car above the hamlet of St. Jakobs, the first thousand meters of altitude difference have been checked off. As a reward we are sent steeply, but partly over a nice trail, back down again. A wide forest road can be predominantly run, but of course in my price range the first meters have already been inserted long ago. False heroism is not the order of the day, the duck is fat in the back! Suddenly and abruptly, you turn right into a steep, downhill root trail through the forest. Great! Just like at home!
An Italian-speaking colleague confirms all clichés, while two fans stun our ears with whistles. 19.2 km have passed in Afers, a part of the municipality of Brixen. This is the second time the two relay teams and four-man teams have changed. As we leave the place, the first rugged Dolomite peaks can be seen on the horizon. Via St. Georg (1,504 m) and Niederwies the next km lead downhill to the end of the valley in the direction of Hinterafers.
I reach half time after 2:39 hours. However, this term only applies to the distance, as almost one and a half thousand of the 2,450 metres of altitude to be climbed are still to be mastered. And they should have it in them and not be long in coming. The second half is, you should be prepared for, the much more difficult one. A Swiss couple of my calibre thrills me: She, a little stronger than him in running, is always a few steps ahead and then waits for him. When I tell her: “Does your husband actually know that he has the best wife of all?”, another woman is happy.
One cathering point chases the next, the supply density with everything needed and more, including four times gel alone, is unprecedented. Not the first, but again a magnificent view of the Dolomites brings us km 24, before I take my legs up to the Schatzerhütte in my hand. We continue along a great boardwalk, as I know it from the Fagnes or from the Hornisgrinde in the northern Black Forest, for example. At its end I come to the cathering point at the Schatzerhütte at 1,984 m, which in turn offers a magnificent view of the rugged Dolomite peaks.
The higher I screw myself, the more wonderful the path becomes, memories of my previous Alpine runs come up, one more beautiful than the other. However, the nature of the trails changes constantly, the number of stony trails, which require the highest attention, is constantly growing. And they’re still great. However, they also have disadvantages, especially for the relay runners who started half an hour after us: coming by is often hopeless or life threatening at hundreds of meters. Many oncoming hikers must also experience this: They make room willingly, but the stream of runners does not seem to want to end, so a lot of patience and equanimity is needed.
500 m ahead the mountain prize will be awarded! For him, however, I should have arrived here two hours earlier. It’s amazing how fast the leaders are going. The winner will be at the finish after only 3:39 hours. On the Rossalm after 31 km at 2,180 m the next sections fall 130 m downhill in the direction of Kreuztal at 2,050 m again more easily. Here, after 33.7 km, is the top station of the cable car, which already sounds like a destination, doesn’t it? Not at all, there are still 8.5 km to go, which should be the easiest for the final runner of the four relay teams. And yet, even of them, I collect some more.
The next stop at km 39 is the Ochsenalm at 2,085 m, but we are still separated from challenging, stony trails. We are at least encouraged by the fact that since km 35 every half is displayed. This is probably only topped by the Jungfrau on the way up to Wengen: There is a sign every 250 m. After the Ochsenalm it gets really steeply on km 40 and 41: on just 2 km a proud 400 meters in altitude. I drag myself up laboriously, in my mind’s eye the Keschhütte appears at the Davos K78er, which awaited me at that time with 20° (at 2.600 m height!). Fuck you, Täsch, it’s steep! Some runners in front of me, no, moving ones, stop for a breath in between. Fortunately, I can avoid that, but not a snail’s pace.
Not for the first time I am annoyed by the plague when I see an empty gel pack lying along the way. What do some idiots among the participants actually think? Trash cans really have it enough and also everyone has the time to take a few seconds to feed themselves while walking. But no, some illiterate people have to dispose of their cups and other waste just a few meters behind the last collection container – which is also always labeled funny. I don’t understand it and when I vent my displeasure, I only get approval around me.
I am prepared and hear the cowbell at the Leonharder summit cross at 2,365 m, where there is something to drink the penultimate time, already from afar. I take the loving person who swings it in his arms (while he continues to rumble) and say to him in his ear: “They told me, where the madman stands, the goal is no longer far! He hardly ever laughs anymore and accompanies me, hooked in, several meters. An awesome view into the valley is the reward for really demanding two km.
Km 41 appears at the Panoramatic (the highest point of the run at 2 486 m) and yes, it really goes down again! It is interesting that it is really interesting: Not a single meter is boring to me, and when I often yearn for the end of other marathons at km 30 at the latest, I become almost a little melancholy here despite the exhaustion in view of the approaching end.
I can see an advertising sheet just before the finish far ahead at the top of the Plose and can hardly believe that it should be only one slack km away.
In fact, I get back to running, which makes me really happy, because obviously I have divided the strength well. Some places won, however unimportant that may be, are the reward. But of course we are also separated from our destination by several meters uphill. Even now there’s another sip of Coke. Guys, you’re great! Then the operation increases, and along a blue fence the finish arch is shortly ahead. Generous, as I am, the attractive blonde can still overtake. I wouldn’t have followed anyway, to be honest.
After 6:15 hours, earlier than expected, they put a very nice medal on me. The cold wind quickly drives me into the food tent, where one can let oneself be brought back to life, wrapped in an emergency blanket, with many delicacies, especially highly welcome watermelon. And not only that: They even offer a massage service, a pasta dish and a shower container, all of which are included in the entry fee. Respect. If the water had been a little more temperate now, my luck would have been complete. So I part with the feeling of the Bad Arolsen Advent run (legendary ice-cold showers). For three Euros I let myself drive down to Kreuztal, where Elke and I not only enjoy the sun extensively. The cable car takes you back down to the valley free of charge and the bus to Bressanone/Brixen.
A sensationally good event under very good external conditions (the day before was completely rainy) unfortunately came to an end. If anyone asks me if it is worth participating, it can only mean: Of course, because this run is beautiful for kneeling down, and that is not an exaggeration. Why others, comparable races, attract a multiple of participants remains a mystery to me. I, for one, am thrilled. Everybody’s a winner here. Convince yourself next year at the tenth, the jubilee edition.