I had been invited to take part in the Krakow marathon, but I found it hard to get my head around running another marathon when I felt that the Limassol marathon had gone badly for me. It would be difficult enough to recover, train and taper again in the space of 6 weeks, but my mental focus had also deserted me. Add into that a bad cold, a productive cough, and extra work....and all of a sudden I was on my way to Poland without knowing exactly what had hit me!
The "Elite" field...plus myself and Paulina!!
I was sharing a room with Paulina Lipska, the previous year's top Polish female finisher, who was aiming for a time of 2:48 in this year's race, but we felt like frauds in the elite technical meeting, presentation and "photoshoot". She and I were the only non-Africans, and the "pacemaker for the women" was going to go through halfway in sub 2:30 pace (sub 2:10 pace for the men). Then again, we were probably the only 2 who nipped out to the cornershop and bought a couple of beers to enjoy in our room before going to sleep the night before the race.
Room 115 preparing for the marathon
When I woke up on race morning, I still didn't really feel "up for it" (even less so when I saw the weather - it was 3 degrees and drizzling, though didn't start raining properly until warm-up time!!), but as I'd been invited there and my parents/cousins were going to be around to watch the race, I figured I'd just better get on with it, as it would only be me that I would disappoint if I ran slower than I'd like.
I was a couple of rows back from the very front (the Africans and top Poles were presented at the start), but unfortunately this still didn't save me. Somehow I still managed to get pushed from behind while having my feet taken out from under me. I had visions of Seville happening all over again and wondered if it really was a sign that I should give up racing. The saving grace of this happening so early on, was that there was still a blue carpet covering the cobbles and so I didn't not hurt myself (just my pride!) as I hit the deck, and managed to avoid getting trodden on in the 10 seconds that I was down.
A soggy first 5K
I picked myself up, tried not compose myself/my face, and started running. I hadn't realised that the start was slightly downhill (all I noted prior to the race was the wet cobbles) but I managed to get into the stream of runners and weave my way through them catching up with Paulina at about the 1km mark where we turned sharply right, almost back on ourselves.
There were quite a lot of runners around early on, but by the time I first saw my family on the roadside (I was impressed that they'd braved the weather) I was moving into a space of my own....and spent the rest of the race running solo. I know some people say that they are more motivated when running in groups, but I wonder how I'd actually find such a situation as I seem to spend so much time running alone, both in training and racing. It certainly had a few advantages in Krakow as I could pick my line across the cobblestones, avoid some of the worst puddles, leapfrog a couple of kerbstones, and actually avoided tripping on the tramlines (as we crossed them a fair few times over the course of the race).
The flooded route a day earlier
It was a 2-lap race (though the route was only finalised the evening before as the race organisers had to check that the river flood water had receded enough for it to happen), and with a number of sharp corners and a turn in the road at about the 15K mark. This meant that I was able to see the leaders making their brisk pace look so easy (well, I saw them on the first lap anyway).
I realise that am lucky to be able to avoid running in a crowd during a marathon, so I can generally run my chosen "line" but when the long water stations are on the inside on bends and the volunteers move further and further out into the road away from the curb, you do feel as if you are having to run a long way round to avoid collisions. I also really appreciated the support from runners going the other way as I headed towards the end of the lap, but there were so many of them that they spilled across the central cones in the road, which at times became like a game of dodgems.
Lap 2 - the rain had stopped
We'd been warned not to "push" into the start of the second lap, and I soon realised why. Not only is there a cheeky (though mericfully short) climb up to the old town (by the Wawel castle) away from the river, but then there was a tight 180 degree bend on a downhill cobbled slope to start the last lap. I was still feeling good at this point, the rain had eased off, and my parents encouraged me as I ran round them on the lap change.
Going into the last 10K or so
Clearly I'd run this first lap slightly too fast (going through halfway in about 1:21:20), as the next lap didn't feel quite so good!!! My feet were wet and soggy and I kept asking myself exactly what I was doing there. Still, others were finding it just as tough as me, as although a couple of people passed me (1 man said that he "wanted to help me" as he coasted past, but his speed was a sprint relative to mine!), I passed about the same number of people finishing the lap in the same position that I started it.
Finally spotting the finish gantry
Everyone had their first name written on their number, and so people could cheer you on by name (and for a change, people could pronounce "Joasia", though obviously I got a few "Asias" along the way). It reminded me of the Barcelona Marathon as I could understand that some of the bystanders were shouting "first white lady", and the best scalp I took on that (very long) lap was passing the third Ethiopian lady with 4 miles to go. This put me into 4th place, but unfortunately the cyclist meant to accompany the 4th lady (for some reason there were cyclists for the top 4 positions) stayed with her, so I had no way of asking anyone if I was moving away and I didn't want to turn round.
Phew....crossing the line
The final climb up from the river was definitely steeper on the second lap and although I hadn't realised that the first mile was downhill, I certainly felt it as I tried to keep running back up it. I'd forgotten how long the run in was, as I kept thinking that every sharp turn, every tram line and every cobble would be the final one, but eventually I made it....4th lady ("1st European is a more-PC way of putting it) and 30th overall.
A well-earned medal!
Better late than never - the sun came
out as I walked back to the hotel that afternoon!
Seeing the results (after I'd staggered a further kilometre over cobbles and down 2 flights of stairs to drug testing) later, I realised that I should be proud of my 2:45, as it wasn't a day for fast times - (2:13, 2:15 and 2:16 for the top 3 men - all Kenyan, and 2:33, 2:41, 2:42 for the ladies - Kenyan, Ethiopian, Ethiopian)!! I also checked the time of the man who knocked me over....he finished 3 minutes after me, so I guess he didn't need to rush quite so much at the start!!