What would it take you, to accept a crazy challenge? What would it take you, to do something you have never done before? What would it take you, to run two half-marathon races in two days? How would you call this? Madness? Danger? Passion? In April 2018, I accepted this challenge and found a name for it: crazy half-marathon weekend.
Until that moment, I have completed tens and tens of official running races. I do on every weekend my long run longer than 21k. Few times a year I run a full marathon. I even ran a half-marathon on Saturday and an 11k race on Sunday few years ago, not on time, just to complete it. Running two official half-marathon races in two different cities during one weekend and in quite some tempo was certainly a new level of challenge.
Saturday – Prague Half-marathon
Only very unwilling, I took a break from all sport activities and rested on Friday before the weekend. The Prague Half-marathon is every year the season opening of the RunCzech organization, the highest quality you can find in the Czech Republic or even in the world (all of their races are awarded with the gold quality label of IAAF). On Saturday 07 April 2018, the weather forecast showed a beautiful weather with even a bit too many degrees. Despite the forecast, it was all other than nice and warm on the race morning – you could literally feel the cold weather with 5 degrees Celsius. As closer the start as more the weather improved and at 10.00 AM it was already very pleasant.
If you are a runner then the RunCzech events give you every year a great opportunity to meet all your running friends but also get to known new people. The RunCzech events attract every year many of the elite runners, you can be a touch away from the best from the best. Since couple of years, the winner of the Prague Half-marathon tended to finish below one hour, the course record is owned by the Ethiopian Atsedu Tsegay. He ran it in 2012 in 58 minutes and 47 seconds, which is at the time when I write this article still the 8th fastest half-marathon in the history. My aspirations on the race day are lower – I would like to finish the first 21k of the weekend slightly below 1 hour and 35 minutes, keeping the average at 4:30 minute per kilometer.
The first few kilometers the running wave is massive – more than eleven thousand runners are on the way to beat their personal bests. I start on my planned average but very soon, I realize that I want to run faster. The first nine kilometers I do without issues in an average of 4:19 min/km and the 10 kilometer is my fastest in the race (4:16min/km). Many friends in both the running field as well as cheering by side make the race an unforgettable experience. Most of the racecourse is ran alongside the Vltava River through the heart of Prague, which allows a beautiful sightseeing as well. From the 12 kilometer, I am coming back to my initial plan and I start running kilometers slightly below 4:30 min.
Nutrition during races is very important; on the other side, it should not be over-combined. Many runners consume during a 21k race many gels, bars and other nutrition, which is not needed by far. The first 10k or 45-50 minutes an average runner should be able to run without any drinks and food, depending on the weather of course (with the exception of a very hot weather, when especially the drinking part needs to start earlier). A role for sure plays how the runner hydrated and ate before the race. An experienced runner can run a half-marathon without any nutrition, drinking only iso drinks and water at the refreshment stations. During the first half-marathon of the weekend, I consumed only one pack of fruit mash (pure fruit based, no chemistry!) and a piece of banana at the last station, when the fuel started to run out. Finally, I was happy to reach the Těšnovský tunnel, the part where you suddenly run through the darkness. Hill up, one more time to the other side of the river and approaching the last kilometer. Back to the initial side and enjoying in full the amazing atmosphere during the last sprint. I am satisfied with the final time of 1 hour, 33 minutes and 09 seconds, with an average pace of 4:25 min/km and an average heart rate of 154 bpm. The first part of the weekend running puzzle is completed, the easier one, if you like.
The recovery process after the first race is very important: since this is also a pasta weekend, which I normally hardly eat (pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner), I will have some with the best backup crew team member ever, before the massage afterwards. The massage will help me to get back on my legs and survive the race tomorrow. Luckily, I was not giving all in the first race and the energy I saved will help me to continue tomorrow. After the massage, I jump into the car and drive on the worst highway in Europe to my hometown, Bratislava.
Sunday – Bratislava Half-marathon
On Saturday evening, I am very curious to see how the legs will feel on Sunday morning. Since I need to pick-up the BIB number 3 hours before the race start, I wake up before 6 AM. After seven hours of sleep the legs are not hurting much, they only… hurt. After another (sweet) pasta, this time with date (no bananas at home), I am heading to the city. The weather is warmer than yesterday, though the sun is missing. That is not too bad, having in mind how sun can ruin your running plans on the running morning.
After spending some time in the huge shopping center where the start is located, I am finally reaching the technical area. Although the race in Bratislava is the same massive as the one in Prague and in addition to the half-marathon also the marathon is ran, the technical area is well prepared and organized. It does not take you too long to get ready for the race. Small tip – should you need to pie for the last time, do not wait in the long line and run a bit the direction to the river, there is enough green for everybody. Getting to your corridor, last selfie and it can start. The atmosphere is amazing and I forget about the pain from yesterday! Luckily, I am meeting one of my triathlon mates Danny, who uses the opportunity to run a marathon during his Ironman preparation. He targets the same average as I do and as I did the day before – 4:30 min/km. We start together and chat very comfortable during the first kilometers.
All the sport and running races have one in common – great supporters! It is not different in Bratislava. The people who are cheering are incredible. Running together figures out to be the best tactic ever – we are cutting kilometer for kilometer, in a very pleasant but also quick pace. After the slowest kilometer (the second with 4:33 min/km) we are trying to run around 4:20 min/km and are even constantly increasing the speed from the 12 kilometer. The kilometer I was afraid of the most, the one with the uphill at the Square of Slovakian National Uprising, is the fastest one (4:07). The next two kilometers are the most picturesque part of the race – we are running through the very heart of the city, which is rather small but a great experience. Michael’s Gate, Old Town promenade, the old National Theater, the traditional Carlton hotel or the Square of one of the greatest Slovakian poet Pavol Orszagh Hviezdoslav. In the meantime, it becomes warmer and while I am few kilometers from my finish, Danny would suffer on the crazy tempo later. At the kilometer 17 and again 20, once the race crosses the river Danube, I get the last needed support from my dad. Through the small but scenic Janko Kral Park, back to the river, one more uphill, one more time through the bridge (passing by the runner who just collapsed) and here we go. After I am wishing Danny enough energy to finish in his personal best, I am approaching the finish line. In a time, I would not dream of before the weekend: 1 hour, 31 minutes and 27 seconds, in an average pace of 4:20 min/km and an average heart rate of 151 bpm.
What would it take you, to accept a crazy challenge? What would it take you, to do something you have never done before? What would it take you, to run two half-marathon races in two days? To finish the first one in 1 hour and 33 minutes and the second one in 1 hour and 31 minutes… Would you call it madness or danger? I call it commitment, passion, hard work. Confidence into yourself… and pleasure the same time! You simply do what you love and you do it the best way you can, only this way you will be able to improve. It is all in your head and in your mental setup; it is all in your heart. Once you accept the perception that something is not possible, you will not win. Moreover, the world belongs to the winners and the winners are the leaders. Always strive for improvement, always beat yourself!
On your way to tomorrow, don’t look back to yesterday!
PS: After having another but last pasta on that weekend and after resting a bit in the mall, I went to the finish line to wait for my fellow runner Danny. I was expecting him somewhere around 3 hours and 10-15 minutes. As the time was passing, I started to fear. He did not arrive at 3:10, 3:15… not even at 3:20… and then, 3 hours and 26 minutes after the start I see him approaching the finish line, suffering the last meters. Not a nice view I can tell you. Somehow, I felt guilty for that tempo we kept during the first 21 kilometers. Danny was very devastated.
Nevertheless, do you know what is great on running? On one day, you finish your marathon in a very devastating shape, in a much worse performance that you would hope before. Swearing, that you will never ever stand at the marathon start again. However, the next day everything is different and you cannot wait the moment standing on that bloody start line again, trying to beat your personal best again. This is running, friends. This is life!