Sunday, 30 September 2012

A Family Affair

I had been disappointed to have to pull out of my Spring marathon due to injury, but know it was the right decision at the time, and hence I was really keen to get an Autumn marathon under my belt.

In front of the Zamek (castle)

The decision of which marathon to do was a tough one……..did I run Loch Ness for a position as it was the Scottish championship marathon?......did I opt for Berlin to try for  a fast time?.....or did I go elsewhere for personal reasons? I think I surprised a lot of people by opting for the Warsaw marathon, but it made perfect sense to me. My father grew up in Warsaw and the marathon date coincided with both school and university reunions that he was attending. His cousin Jurek has always been one of the biggest supporters of my running, following religiously online when it is possible to track my races, and so I really wanted to run in Poland so that he could be there too. My “Dumfries family” also came out to Warsaw and so it was lovely for my Durham family and my Polish family to show them round a beautiful city (all that was missing was the Basingstoke family, but they were with me in spirit)!

Team Durham

Team Poland

Team Dumfries


Warsaw's Nike

The Uprising Monument
After arriving, it was straight into immersing ourselves into Polish culture…..with local beer, pierogi (dumplings) and szarlotka (apple cake)….and then sightseeing the next morning. Well, when I say sightseeing……I really mean jogging the first part of the race route. It was amazing to see that we were going to race along Nowy Swiat (Warsaw’s most expensive street) and then Krakowskie Przedmiescie (the royal route that the kings used to travel to Cracow, the old capital) before detouring round to pass the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (though I’m not sure the soldiers guarding the eternal flame were that interested in runners). We passed Copernicus’ Memorial, the Grand Theatre, the Royal Castle, the Nike Statue (not the sportsbrand, the famous fighting lady which is a memorial to Warsaw's Heroes) and the Warsaw Uprising Monument before meeting Jurek who kindly drove us around the rest of the course. The only bit of the course I didn’t see was Natolin, which is a national park, only opened for the running of the marathon……but this may have been a blessing in disguise….more about that later!

1 of the kamikaze squirrels
The only things left to do in preparation for the race was some strides in Lazienki Park (next to the race hotel)……made all the more difficult by having to hurdle kamikaze red squirrels in the middle, a relaxing massage (where I desperately tried to remember my Polish for different parts of the body) and a trip to the National Stadium for the race briefing and to meet the cyclists. The stadium was built for the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship with the opening game being played there (a 1-1 draw between Poland and Greece).
We were given our numbers and our timing chips, and introduced to the cyclists who would be out on the course with us (mine was called Grzegorz…..making me “Gregory’s girl…..but due to my lack of Polish, I was slightly worried about communication as he spoke no English).

 After listening to the rain falling overnight, the Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny. It looked as it would be a perfect day for the running of the 34th Warsaw marathon - Poland's oldest roadrace. I was a bit perturbed by the wind that had appeared that morning, but hoped it would settle down as it had on other days.
I tried to introduce a Scottish influence to breakfast with my imported instant porridge, but everyone else seemed happier with their continental breakfasts and claimed that if they ate my "gloop" then they'd not be able to run!
After being driven to the stadium and handing a couple of gels to Grzegorz, we had a chance to warm up under cover in the outside ring of the stadium before being walked up to the start. My first drama happened here - the promised toilets did not exist  - and they my second drama was being stopped by a policeman when I tried to jog out along the course on the bridge. I nearly cried, but luckily a friendly Pole explained to the policeman that I was in the Elite starting corral so was allowed to cross the line to warm up....and then showed me a basket with my name on it, into which I could ditch my thermal top (well, it wasn't that warm per 9am!!).
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The start didn't bode well for the rest of the race as we were straight into a fairly strong headwind as we crossed the Poniatowski bridge over the Vistula, but luckily we turned up towards the old town and were sheltered from it. I knew there were speedy ladies in the field, as two had said that they were aiming for 2:30 and 2:35 respectively, but the first mile seemed slow even for me. I decided that I should stick to my plan and so found myself heading out the female race as I passed my support crew just before turning towards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Soon after that, the ladies came past me and I clocked their speed as being just over 5:30/mile so I guessed that would be the last I'd see of them. We completed a loop and came back to the Royal Route so I could smile briefly at the team again before heading towards the Royal Castle.
Beyond the old town we descended to the long road running alongside the Vistula. It was weird to be able to see the National Stadium across the river, knowing you'd started there 10K ago and wouldn't be back for another 30K. I delighted in the thought that the wind seemed to have disappeared now, anmd even managed to exchange a few words with a man who ran alongside me. I think that he wanted to use me to pace his run, so my feet pounded along as I tried to think of different numbers to describe my planned speed in Polish. My worry here was making sure that I didn't run too fast, as I felt good, even though the sun was beating down quite strongly.                                    I seemed to have been steadily closing up on the lady in front of me, and as we turned into Wilanowska Avenue I was back in second place. An Englishman who'd recently moved to Warsaw shouted encouragement to me as he waited for his wife running further back in the field. This made me pick my head up and smile, which was just what I needed as we closed down on the halfway point. This section of the route had 2 u-turns in it, and so you could see people ahead and behind you. I moved over to encourage the other lady to go past me, as I am not a fan of having someone running on my shoulder and I wanted to run my own race, knowing she was aiming for a much faster time than me. 
Ominously, we turned a corner after the halfway mat, and suddenly had a strong crosswind - so much so that you had to run away from the edge of the course to avoid the tape ballooning out in front of you. After a couple of Kms, we turned right onto the only section of the course unknown to me - the stretch through Natolin, which I found one of the hardest parts of the course.
Natolin itself is a beautiful park with a number of XVIII and XIX century buildings and sculptures, and ordinarily I would have loved running through the trees......but at this point in a marathon, a windy, twisty turny, undulating 2 mile stretch of rough cobbles is not very welcome. It was very quiet here as the park was not open to anyone except marathon runners. After struggling up the hill out of the park, it was a very welcome sight to see Jurek wearing the bright red cap I'd given him, holding a wet sponge so I could wipe my face down.
The next 12K were tough....and when I say tough, I mean really tough. The road is relatively straight so you can see every undulation coming from a long way off, there are no beautiful buildings to take your mind off the effort you are putting in as the route passes along big dual carriageways through residential areas, and more to the point, there is no respite from the strong headwind all the way. I am not sure how many times I asked myself what I was doing and vowed to never run again!
As I ran along this stretch, I knew that there was no way that I could achieve the time that I'd hoped to run, so I reset my goal to that of a position and not a time. I rooted round the back of my brain for some Polish and managed to ask Grzegorz where the 4th lady was, and the comedic sign language reply was that he couldn't see her (well, not without falling off his bike).

The best sight for me!
The last 4-5K of the race was probably my best 5K of the race......though I wouldn;t have told you that at the time. It was a beautiful part of the course as we passed the Belvedere (the home of the President of Poland), Łazienki Park with the Chopin Memorial, the Prime Minister's house, the embassies, and finally entered Three Crosses Square. A Polish runner had caught up with me as we turned out of the wind, and kept encouraging me with cries of "chodz" (come on). I managed to run alongside him until we got to the palm tree we'd seen such a long time ago (where we turned up towards the old town after the start), and then kept him in sight as we continued onto the Poniatowski Bridge towards the stadium. The bridge hadn't seemed so long at the start as we were just warming up, but it was interminable on tired legs. It crosses road and paths and parks before even getting to the Vistula, but finally you peel off it to the right, run round underneath it, and then up a ramp into the stadium. My word, that clock and the stadium entrance were a welcome were my family and friends there to cheer me in!

Not a bad day's work!

The ladies' podium
Ok, so it wasn't my fastest marathon, and m,aybe I didn't pace it correctly, but you cannot fight conditions on the day (the two ladies in front had both been slower than they'd hoped) and I'd managed to podium in the city where my father grew up, with him watching me run in.....and nothing beats that feeling!

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