OMU Marathon 2023: The dead travel fast in Transylvania – we trailrunners are faster

OMU Marathon 2023
OMU Marathon 2023 © Darian Stan

A cold wind blows over the OMU summit, which is a good 2,500 meters high. We’ve been completely soaked for hours, I can’t feel my fingers anymore, the cold leg muscles are running unsteadily – and soon it’s a steep downhill again on the 42km Carpathian loop of the OMU Marathon.

The Transylvania100 is one of the legendary 100km runs and has a little brother since 2022. The same team organizes the OMU Marathon with its 42 kilometers and 3,200 meters of altitude, which, like its big brother, starts at the Dracula Castle in Bran, Romania. The inaugural edition drowned in rain in 2022 – and it’s been raining almost constantly since yesterday again in 2023. Almost half of those registered don’t even show up – the rest of us start at 9:00 sharp from the castle park onto the road, into the forest, and onto slowly upward meandering farm roads. Visibility is down to 50 to 100 meters.

After the wet comes the cold

After about 7km, we are at 1,000 meters. Now the real climb starts. Up, always further up. Now and then a runnable passage, then it’s further up. Above 2,000 meters it gets really cold. I now understand why gloves are part of the extensive mandatory equipment.

OMU Marathon 2023
OMU Marathon 2023 © Alex Bulgariu

When the wind briefly pushes the clouds aside, a breathtakingly beautiful landscape reveals itself. Wild and lonely. Green high valleys and wild mountain edges paint a dramatic backdrop. We are not only walking through the home of Vlad Dracul, the historical model of the legendary Count Dracula, but also through a landscape full of myths and legends. How fast the dead really travel here in Transylvania may be up for discussion – today we trailrunners are definitely faster.

I’m running in the top 10 for a long time. The almost complete competition hiatus in 2023 is paying off – the body wants to run, climb, fight. I rarely see another person running over the rain-soaked single trails or climbing up the steep climbs. After the Scara summit, the two routes „Scara Skyrace“ (about 25km and 1,800 meters) and „OMU Marathon“ separate. It gets even lonelier, but at least the trail is now temporarily on the wind-protected side of the mountain.

Suddenly the path falls through a dense ground forest and extremely steep downhill. Eventually, a runner approaches, passes me at the end of this massacre of branches and sets off. After one of the few aid stations – on an idyllic plateau with horses running around – I see him again and catch up with him on the ascent.

“Good luck!”

If I thought the track so far was challenging, the Carpathians now show their true colors. A warning is painted on a rock face in large white letters. I hope it is only about the steep path … First, we climb on a steel rope, then chains provide a somewhat safer grip. We climb close behind each other, help each other with tips for sensible steps – and are otherwise completely alone. There is no mountain rescue service here to keep an eye out. From the top, water runs towards us in small rivulets through the few footholds. After the ascent, I move on alone. „Good luck,“ the Romanian runner calls after me.

OMU Marathon 2023
OMU Marathon 2023 © Alex Bulgariu

The clouds briefly push up a bit – I am left breathless. What a panorama. But stopping is not a good idea. I am freezing. Everywhere. My fingers are completely numb. I want to finally get off this mountain and into the warm but the path stays up here for a while. It would be perfectly runnable, but my legs have become too cold and unsteady. In this seclusion, I don’t want to risk twisting my ankle or hurting myself in any other way.

Small trees appear. It must go down there, because trees I have not seen for a long time. As soon as I enter, I curse the micro forest. A narrow, completely submerged mud path winds shoulder-wide through the needle trees. At least there’s no wind blowing anymore.

First steep and technical, then rock-slippery, then mud-slippery

It’s getting warmer when it’s seriously downhill again. The rain also slowly subsides, the visibility becomes clearer. I’m glad it’s only a marathon today. The remaining energy can be put into the descent. First steep and technical, then rocky, then slushy. After various small counter ascents the final opponent comes along: A boring, muddy hollow-way brings us out of the mountains to normal level. About 600 meters down within about 3km distance. And every step is slippery. Shortly after, I am back in this morning’s track meandering back.

The now clear view hints at what we could have seen higher up. Dreamlike and beautiful. I run through the last aid station but need nothing anymore. Unlike the outward route, another beautiful, quite steep forest path awaits, which at the end leads into an unofficial tour through the side areas of Dracula Castle. Back in the castle park, the wet finishers run past a few visitors towards the finish-line where deafening vuvuzelas welcome us.

I am exhausted but happy about 15th place overall and 6th place in my age group. In the German speaking ranking it would be place 1, but there is – contrary to the registrations – only one other runner from this area on the marathon distance.

Carpathians adventures

OMU Marathon 2023
OMU Marathon 2023 © Aniela Stan

Running in Transylvania is definitely an adventure. Hardly any course marshals, no race briefing. Instead, comprehensive mandatory equipment and time penalties if you are caught without it. You have to take care of yourself.

Being held in September, the OMU Marathon has a realistic chance of good weather and picture perfect moments. Maybe in its third installment. Then the – really dear – aid stations might also get some of the sports food, which should be easy to obtain from the new sponsor in 2023 and would give exactly the right energy for such a demanding run. But that is criticism on a high level.

Tobias Gerber

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