Thursday, 20 October 2011

Eigner Express

Eigner Express Running Team.

I first made the acquaintance of Leopold Eigner about 10 years ago. That's him with his name on the front of his trademark running vest.

It was not long afterwards that I saw him running in his bare feet in an uphill 5km road race. I later asked him over a beer if he'd tell me why he ran on tarmac without shoes. It toughens the feet, he told me.

Since those days I have followed the running exploits of Mr Eigner Express and I have discovered that he not only runs 5km road races in his bare feet but he also runs in marathons, ultra-marathons, mountain marathons, and 6, 12, and 24 hours ultra events in which he covers ridiculously long distances.

I recall the time I saw him disappearing up the side of a waterfall with a TV camera strapped to his forehead. He was making a film about the Hinteralm Brutal Race in which we were both competing. And yes, despite the headgear handicap he did finish ahead of me!

In a recent edition of the monthly sport magazine Top Times he was featured in a double page spread. It was his 50th ultra event and it was the Ötscher Mountain Marathon - a 70km 2-day race. Day 1 consists of a 50km gorge run in rocky terrain. Day 2 is a 20km run over the narrow ridges and the rugged peak of the Ötscher mountain. I was pleased to note that he wore his shoes.

The above photograph shows Leopold Eigner with his fellow team members at the start of the 1st Salzkammergut Marathon in Bad Ischl, Austria.

The marathon route is over the classic 42.2 kms and, let us say, interesting. After a series of undulations, each more severe than the last, the race leaves the road through valley of the Ischler Ache and follows the shore of Wolfgangsee to arrive at a punishing 250 mtr climb and a forest trail. There quickly follows a knee-jangling descent down a gravelly path where cornering too fast could see you sailing into the forest canopy. A disused railway line then takes competitors through the so-called Marathon Runner's Wall and then its back on the road and on to the finish.

One race that Leopold Eigner has firmly in his sights is the Race Across Burgenland. This annual event attracts an elite field of about 20 ultra runners. It is a 268 km road race through the Austrian province of Burgenland from north to south; from the border with Slovakia to the border with Slovenia.

Such is the world of the Eigner Express. Long may it continue.

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