3. June 2023

Running the Wachau half marathon – on my own, just for the heck of it

Wachau half marathon route

Better late than never


Back in 2011, I registered for the Wachau half marathon. Held in September every year, it is probably the second most popular running event in Austria, right behind the annual Vienna City Marathon.

And no wonder — the course takes runners straight through some of Austria’s most spectacular scenery (and Austria has a lot of that, believe me). The Wachau, a part of the Danube valley flanked by steep forested hills, impressive fortresses and sumptuous vineyards was even awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2000.

(Fun fact for history buffs: Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned in Dürnstein in the Wachau between 1192 and 1193. He’d managed to bend Leopold V’s nose out of shape by tearing up the Austrian flag and refusing to shares the spoils of the crusades, so Leo responded in kind by banging the English king up in Dürnstein castle.)

It was not meant to be

I remember the weather forecast for Wachau half marathon day looking perfect, I was fit and well-trained and looking forward to a good day out. Then, a week before the race, I came down with a nasty stomach flu. I spent the best part of the next 48 hours in the bathroom. Even when the worst of it was over, my appetite took its time coming back. Whatever bug I’d had, it had left my insides feeling most seriously insulted and unwilling to resume their full function.

Two days before the race, it was clear that I’d have to capitulate. Running 21km with a digestive system still in recovery and without having been able to absorb nutrition for the best part of a week? It was just not a good idea, so I skipped the race. The right choice for sure, but what a disappointment. Next year, I’ll do it, I thought. There’s always next year.

And yet somehow — due to conflicting holiday plans, work, the pandemic and sheer laziness — I never did return.

Until last Friday.

The Wachau half marathon…on my own terms

I got to thinking — why do I have to take part in the actual event? Why not just take a Friday off work (easy when you are self-employed) and just run the course on your own? The Danube Cycle path follows more or less the same line as the official Wachau half marathon course, I could just follow that. No sky high fees, no crowds, no faffing around having to collect my race number — but all of the scenery.

poppies in a vineyard in wachau austria
Poppies in the Wachau vineyards

Yes, that is what I will do. Finally get this project done after all these years. I made the decision in February and began to train and up my weekly running mileage gradually.

I set Friday, 26th of May as the date for my run, as the weather looked good. Dry and not too hot. Up at 6am, out at 7am, take the train from Franz-Josefs-Bahnhof at just past 8am. Quick toilet visit, liberal application of SPF 50 to any exposed skin and then a bit of a wait for the bus to the starting point for my run at Spitz an der Donau.

I’m off!

And finally, at 10:50am, I’m off! The sun is shining, there is a gentle breeze and the Wachau is as lovely as ever. Thanks to the recent rains, everything is a lush green, with the unapologetic red of poppies shouting for attention from every grass verge. There are a few cyclists on the path, but all of them are very considerate and give me plenty of space. This is excellent running.

And, today, I discover the joys of running post-40. In my younger years, I would have been running as fast as possible, straight ahead and not taking in the experience from anything other than a racing point of view. I always put myself under so much pressure, felt like I had something to prove.

And now? I’m not bothered about time any more. Of course I want to be fit enough to make a decent fist of this run and have trained for it adequately. But, with my glory days about 10 years behind me, never to return — who cares if I stop to smell the roses?

Weissenkirchen Wachau
Weissenkirchen, Wachau

Taking time to enjoy

Today is about enjoyment too, so I stop occasionally to take a picture, to admire the view, to stroke a cat, and to talk to some local men who ask me where I’m running from/to. They are some years younger than me and are still quite impressed at the project (although a little non-plussed as to why I’ve come out so far when I could have just run up and down the Danube Island in Vienna). I’ve still got it!

In almost no time (well, actually just under two hours if you must know), I get to my “finishing line” in Krems — just in time for the next train to Vienna. Win!

What a great day — I think I shall do these little running excursions more often!


Related articles:

Highlights from my 27-year running career

My 5 worst running experiences

My ultimate (very millennial) running playlist

Why I’m cutting back my running mileage – permanently

3 amazing female athletes who have inspired me – in sport and beyond


Featured photo: screenshot from Google Maps

Remaining photos: Katharine Eyre © 2023