Popular as marathons have become, they are usually in cities one first has to travel to. The Wachau Marathon is a fast road marathon, but it goes through the world heritage Wachau valley – and one can get to it in a very nice way…
Why Go Wachau?
The Wachau valley, shaped by the Danube, is an area of rolling hills with wine and fruit trees, especially apricots, growing on their sides.
Villages and small towns dot the valley floors, some monasteries and several castles are found here.
Going not so far back in time, Dürnstein castle where Richard Lionheart was held is in the middle of the Wachau. (If you’ve ever watched a Robin Hood movie and wondered why Richard’s return from a crusade was delayed: His imprisonment here, as a hostage, was the reason.)
Going much further back, Willendorf is in this area, the place where the Venus of Willendorf was found.
Many people come to visit in spring, trying to catch the right time for the apricot trees’ bloom, when the hillsides get covered in white. It’s not a Japanese hanami (cherry-blossom watching), but just about as pretty and short.
Wachau Marathon Basics
The Wachau Marathon takes place towards the end of September.
Sometimes, temperatures and conditions are a bit bad (as they were in 2017, with rain and cold). Often, they are perfect for running, with cooler temperatures and comfortable conditions.
This year (2018) had near-perfect running weather, with some drizzle but hardly any wind and very nice temperatures for a run.
The marathon is a pure road event.
It starts out on the bike paths next to the Danube, but generally goes across the country roads through the valley.
There are hardly any uphills. Rather, in general, one just follows the valley floor, in view of the Danube river, on its downstream course. That alone would make it a fast course.
The run is on some tighter paths towards the beginning, but generally on wide roads, too.
With the half marathon and 10k runs starting at similar times as the full marathon, but at their respective distances from the finish, this is also a run where one does not have to contend with non-marathon runners.
Starter Packs and Getting to the Start
The fast, downstream course is already nice, but what makes the Wachau Marathon also nice is its rather different organization.
Other marathons I’ve been to make it necessary to come to the town where the start will be to pick up the bib number and all that, to organize at least some transport, etc. …
For the Wachau Marathon, you can go to Krems, the major town in the Wachau.
The day before the race, there is a marathon expo and bib number pick-up there.
However, a few days sooner (typically Wednesday before the Sunday race), you can also pick your starter pack up in Vienna.
Same with getting to the start: There are buses and trains from Krems to the start area(s), but there is also a special train leaving Vienna in the early morning. This train is only for the runners (and free for them).
It takes pretty long, but gives a bit of an impression of the Lower Austrian landscape. (If you want even more of a tourist view, you can sign up and pay to go from Krems to the start by ship.)
As usual pre-race, toilet lines get long, but the train ride offers a decent chance for managing that, too. Or one just relaxes, chats, whatever.
(Clothes and such can be changed on the train or at the start area, starter bags put onto buses there, which then wait in the finish area in Krems.)
The WACHAUmarathon Run Experience
Being a road marathon, it is easy to just get into one’s own head.
The pounding on one’s legs – this is my trail runner / mountain hiker side talking, clearly – does get quite intense. The roads are nice, though.
Even nicer, if you don’t forget about it, is the view when you remember to raise your head and take a look around.
If landscapes aren’t your thing and you need buildings and people all the time, you might still find it too much of the same.
But know something of the landscape, really look, and you have the Danube you are often running along. You have fields and vineyards on the side of the road. Hills rising on the side, not so seldomly with castle ruins on them – not least, Dürnstein of Richard Lionheart fame. Quaint villages.
Somewhat like with the Venice marathon, it all starts somewhat outside and ends by getting into the pretty little local town, for a few turns around it – and there it is, the finish line.
In the combination of rather lonely roads and lovely (if always similar) landscape, interspersed with little villages, the Wachau marathon is nice for the views, and nice to just run.
If it is distraction and constant cheers you need, this is probably not the race for you.
To run for a personal best or for a nice experience, in your head or chatting with other runners, though, this is still one of the nicest all-around run experiences I know.