Von der "Freakszene" zum bekannten Athleten
We meet Markus Kröll in the tourist board offices in Mayrhofen. He is surprisingly ordinary: friendly, dressed in sports clothing and with the obligatory Red Bull cap on his head. He proudly reflects on how he developed his passion for ultra-trail running.
"I grew up with my Uncle Fritz in Ginzling – the mountaineering village close to Mayrhofen. Fritz owned the Breitlahner Alpine Lodge, which is the starting point for many summit tours to the peaks of mountains such as the Großen Möseler, the Schönbichler Horn or the Hohen Riffler. When I was just a small child he often took me hiking to spectacular mountain lakes and traditional huts. At first I was always lagging behind, but in the end he couldn’t keep up with me”, Markus tells us with a smile on his face.
After this humble start, the endurance runner honed his technique in the classic way. He built up speed by running the 400m, before switching to long-distance running and eventually moving on to marathons. Then he made the crucial decision to start trail running in the mountains, something which Mayrhofen was unique in offering. "At that time we were just a small group of mountain-running freaks, who weren’t really liked by the running associations", says Kröll of the fledgling sport. Years later, ultra-trail running has developed into a boom sport, attracting increasing numbers of athletes.
Markus "the fighter" Kröll
Markus will never forget his first training camp when he was only 15 years old. "My trainer almost killed me. I was running with abscesses on my joints, it was really hardcore", remembers the endurance runner. However, this isn’t the only time that Markus Kröll has pushed himself to his limits. There’s a reason why he has the nickname "the fighter". "The nickname stuck after the Dolomitenmann competition. The day before the race, I tore the ligaments in my leg during a photo shoot. The idea of dropping out of the race didn’t even cross my mind. I made it. That was the only time that Mr Mateschitz has ever reprimanded me”, Markus says with a wry smile.
A second passion: art
What most people don’t know is that Markus Kröll is also a painter and restaurateur. It’s his ‘day job’ and he loves it. His passion is clear as we walk through Mayrhofen and he proudly shows us the houses on which he has “left his mark”. There are almost no building facades which don’t display his work. “I have been self-employed for 10 years. My clients are all in the Ziller Valley and I have my studio at home. There is so much demand in my home town, which I am really grateful for”, the artist tells us.
But how does he balance his family, career and hobby? "It’s not easy", he confesses. "When other athletes are recovering and regenerating, I am working. The biggest hinderance to my running career was always a lack of time to regenerate. This means that I have plateaued at a certain performance level." He met his girlfriend at a Dolomitenmann competition 20 years ago. His loved ones still support him, even if they no longer fly with him to every running event.
Mayrhofen – "the most beautiful place in the world"
He is not only in love with his girlfriend and daughter, but also with his home town. Nothing in the world could convince him to live anywhere else. When talking about this subject we get a glimpse of the sensitive side of ‘the fighter’. “I can’t imagine that heaven is any more beautiful”, he exclaims, in an attempt to express the depth of his feelings about Mayrhofen. He’s travelled the world for 20 years but has yet to see a more beautiful place. "When I think of Mayrhofen, I think of the most beautiful mountains, happiness, peace and tranquillity. Who else in the world has such a sports paradise on their doorstep? I can leave my house and start a ski tour of 2,000 altitude metres. And Mayrhofen also has so much to do in summer. The variety of hiking, cycling and running routes is amazing", raves the nature enthusiast.
It’s hard to believe but there are actually several mountains in the Ziller Valley that Markus Kröll has yet to climb. However, they are all on his to-do list for the coming years. The endurance athlete clocks up between 5,000 and 6,000 kilometres of running a year. One of his favourite routes is – as you can probably guess – in the Ziller Valley. "The route from the Breitlahner Alpine Lodge up to the Klausenalm, Schwemmalm and Alpenrose to the Berliner Hütte is my favourite. Despite ascending some 600 altitude metres, the path is relatively flat, the terrain is great and the scenery is unbelievably beautiful. I recommend it for anyone who loves nature", says the runner.
Markus Kröll as a poster boy
Markus Kröll is an ambassador for Mayrhofen. For the well-known athlete, this is a special honour. But what message does he hope to spread? Without hesitating he replies, "I want to show people how beautiful it is here and everything that Mayrhofen has to offer. The project "Berliner Höhenweg" allowed me to do this. Even as a young child I had the goal of one day running the entire Berliner Höhenweg nonstop. Many years later I pitched the idea to Servus TV, secretly arranged a date with a camera team and did it: 95.4 kilometre and 13,320 altitude metres in under 24 hours. It’s a route which would normally take 7 days to hike. That wasn’t just a great personal achievement for me, but also a great advert for the region around Mayrhofen."
His goal: to run as long as he can
Although the 43-year-old has officially retired from classic mountain running, his career is far from over. "I will continue to push my body for as long as I can", says Markus Kröll, who is planning to dedicate more time to distance running in the future. "As you get older, you get wiser. I now listen to my body much more than before. However, I still want to train six times a week at least until my 50th birthday. There is nothing better than enjoying breakfast with my family after an exhilarating mountain run in the early hours of the morning. You can only do that when the mountains are on your doorstep, that’s why I am so glad to live in Mayrhofen", says Markus Kröll contentedly.