The long-awaited event, the first edition of the Stelvio Marathon, came and went.
While Outdoor Blogger Network friends and colleagues headed to Friedrichshafen for the OutDoor fair, I switched from the train which I would have taken there to a set of trains into Italy’s Southern Tyrol.
Or you could say it is all old Austria.
After all, that there would be an area with even more historical and traditional connections to Austria than Liechtenstein.
Southern Tyrol. Connected, but Not Quite
The train connections were a bit strange, though.
No booking a through ticket, barely any vending machines, tickets for the local railway network seemingly sold at the railway station’s TrenItalia window even though the Italian railways’ vending machines don’t work for those (neither does the TrenItalia website show the right connections, you have to check the local Southern Tyrolean railways site).
So, getting from Innsbruck over the Brenner pass into Italy, to Bozen/Bolzano was easy.
Getting via Meran to Spondinig took a while and cost quite some nerve, plus a 5 Euro surcharge (to the 12.50 ticket) for having had to buy the ticket on the train (which left mere minutes after my arrival).
And then it took a bus to actually get to Prad am Stilfser Joch / Prato allo Stelvio.
But well, I made it there, found the signs to the sports center (next to the Kiefernhain camp ground), picked up my bib number, learned that I’d probably not be able to get my backpack stored or transported to the finish area, and went my ways.
Time for a walk around, to not worry about anything too much, just trust that things would work out alright.
I found interesting places to walk around, get slightly up the mountain we’d run up in the marathon the next day, have some views of the area, and eventually settle on a sleeping spot in a pretty odd place.
Where a hiking/walking trail seemed to go on but didn’t, just above a bend in a road below, hidden and on one of the very few (by and large) flat bits of ground all around.
Pre-Marathon Microadventure: Wild Camping
Who ever said it was easy to even just find a spot to settle in for a halfway decent night’s sleep of wild camping?
How would you ever notice just how nice a good bed can be if you’ve never slept in the rough?
It would have been warm enough for the light sleeping bag I brought by itself, but with mosquitoes noticeable, using my usual (Outdoor Research Helium) bivy as a bag cover and mosquito netting seemed advisable.
With the ground slightly sloping downwards and the 3/4 mattress I use fully inflated, I turned out to have such a bend backwards in my hip, it was necessary – but also, made things quite okay – to let most of the air out of the mattress.
Then I was in deep sleep pretty soon, only to wake with the sunrise and bird song. Early enough, but after a surprisingly decent sleep.
But, you probably came here to learn about the Stelvio Marathon, not my sleeping before it (important as sleep is to performance).
Stelvio Marathon: Run to the Magic Pass
Mountain Marathon Running Magic
The course for the marathon distance of the Stelvio Marathon is a bit odd.
There is a 16 km ‘triangle’ at the beginning which is mainly flat and looked good for nothing much more than getting tired, running too fast, and pushing the total distance up to that of a full marathon.
In practice, there was a bit of that, but it was also quite worth it.
Getting the Distance
In that first section of the Stelvio Marathon, the course first goes out past Lichtenberg/Montechiaro with its castle ruins and on to Glurns.
On that section, there are some smaller roads and biking trails, mainly, going up and down quite a bit but in a way that just makes for much more interest than a straight city course would have.
Glurns Itself looked particularly odd, like some strange curves would be run through that town just because they could be – but they turned out to lead along and through this town’s fascinating city walls, which were quite an interesting sight to see.
Back towards Prad/Prato, the second leg of the triangle is a pretty straight shot slightly downhill on a bicycle road, with bicyclists wanting to pass regularly.
There should not have been much interest here, but the even ground and slight descent actually made for easy running that was enjoyable enough.
At Prad’s fish pond, finally, we turned onto the last, small, leg of that triangle, back into Prad and through town, and then, finally, into the mountains.
From Prato, Up and… Up
Immediately after around km 21 (yup, with half the marathon already finished), the climbing begins.
And it continues and continues, partly on trails, even single trail, partly over forest and small-but-normal road sections.
The path almost imperceptibly turns into more and more of a mountain trail.
Suddenly, after the Furkelhütte, it is an outright mountain trail, with rocks and boulders and Alpine meadow flowers.
And the climb goes on.
It is all not quite as relentless as it sounds, actually.
Road surfaces vary, sometimes again it isn’t roads but trails and even single trails.
Sometimes there is little chance for passing others because the trail is truly single trail.
Other times – many times, in fact – it’s just good to have to slow down and go single file, fighting one’s way up further.
Downhill to the Franzenshöhe
The main downhill only comes after around km 31, where a trail that is sometimes, again, just a mountain hiking trail over rocks, sometimes a slightly wider hiking path, sometimes road-like, begins and continues for quite a while.
And it continues for quite some fun, too – or at least, so I strangely felt about it.
With the climbing oftentimes having felt slower than I might have been able to push myself, with the inclines not quite as steep as the climbs at the Hochkönigman had been, I felt quite fit here.
On the slight, let alone the long, downhills, I just let it rip.
The same Icebug Mist shoes I had used at the long Hochkönigman Marathon Trail distance last year without any issues, on our journey through China last summer, and in the Bratislava Marathon (resulting in an enormous blister) performed just perfectly here.
The cushioning they gave was just enough for the roads and rocks, the grip was the usual Icebug pleasure, and the fit somehow worked again. (Was it the socks? Might well have been…)
Around km 35, finally, the trail lets out onto the mountain pass’s road just below the Franzenshöhe, and the final climb begins.
Meandering to the Pass
From the Franzenshöhe to the finish, one is back to outright road running on the tight curves so beloved by cyclists and motorcycle riders.
Being a road, the incline is not very steep anymore, but at that point, hardly anyone (certainly in the mid pack like I am) is able and willing to do anything more than fast walking anymore.
In typical mountain fashion, the path is still long and takes its sweet time even as the finish is already in sight.
The meandering road turns and turns, and climbs up and up…
And at some point, you notice that the turns are numbered in countdown fashion, and you are at turn 15… 10… 5… 1.
Suddenly, there is the final few hundred meters, the finish.
The views up were great, the view back down is positively amazing.
The Ortler group is just there, having been a companion for a while already, the goal that seemed so tremendously far away as the views to it opened up from the valley bottom has been reached.
How was the Stelvio Marathon?
For me personally, this run was the best in a while.
Admittedly, a big part of that is due to my not having had the issues I was expecting. Cramps seemed to be close to coming on, but the climb never got so steep and tough they actually happened.
The views were great, the experience well worth it, the aid stations perfectly spaced even for a hot day as this had been.
And the mixture of surfaces I had rather dreaded, with everything from road to singletrack, seemed to have eventually worked to the advantage.
Between ascents and descents and the very different surfaces, the run was great fun to me.
I could understand if pure road or trail runners would be less happy, and the choice of shoe was rather difficult because of these switches, but I enjoyed it greatly.
Oh, and the starter packs turned out big enough that my 40l backpack fit in well enough for them to take it to the finish ;)
And on to the OutDoor
The main trouble was only that I missed the bus I really should have taken to get on my way to Friedrichshafen for the OutDoor fair, where I wanted to be the next morning.
Stupidly, I would have been there (even as the bus rides down from the pass took longer than expected – they were organized for us, but first with smaller buses/vans, then normal buses, entailing some waiting times to get the buses full).
However, the bus timetable was shown where that bus I would have needed did not go, but on the bus stop opposite (and a bit up the road).
So, I ended up having to take the next bus to the next town (and railway station), trains back to Innsbruck.
There, I had to wait and sleep on the railway floor (basically) until the first train in the direction I needed came by the next morning just before 5 am.
Only another two train and one bus rides later was I finally at the OutDoor Friedrichshafen, ready for marathon sessions checking out upcoming gear and networking – on very little sleep but surprisingly strong legs.