Don’t try this at home!
We only decided to visit Poland’s fourth largest city because of the great reviews of its many vegan restaurants! Our run-down campsite was at the Olympic Stadium, a convenient tram-ride from the city centre, but we were puzzled - had Poland ever actually hosted the Olympic Games? Those of you who are better historians than us will know that, prior to WW2, the city had been in Germany. The stadium had been built as a back-up to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, but was never actually used then.
On Saturday morning, we called into reception to advise that we’d be staying another night. The man spoke Polish, but we understood that no vehicles would be able to leave next day between 8.00 am and 3.00 pm, “because of the marathon”. Marathon? We walked outside into the park where, literally 50 metres from the campsite gates, the start and finish area was being set up. We saw signs for a family run, and tried to sign up, but the office wasn’t open. So, into the city as planned, and the best part of ten hours on our feet, visiting the Market Square, Cathedral area, Botanic Garden and the sound and light fountain show at the Centennial Hall. Whenever I had internet access during the day, I tried to get onto the Marathon/Half Marathon website, but it kept crashing on me. Getting lost on the way, we had a long walk back to the Olympic Stadium. It was 9.15pm, and I went into registration to try to enter the half. Yes, of course, I could enter, but there was no half, only the full marathon. Did I want to sit down and think about it? So … no marathon training at all, in fact, hardly any running for 9 months. No carbo-loading, no special drinks, lots of late nights and caffeine, ten hours on my feet that day - what was there to think about, of course I’d enter the marathon!
The organisers were really kind to me, gave me a special number, 4500, and took me through registration. For 100 pzl (about £20, would have been 80 pzl if I’d entered before June and free if I were over 60), my goody bag contained a technical vest, Isotonic drink, sunglasses with “Wroclaw Marathon” on the rim, a couple of packs of sugar cubes, promotional 3-day gym pass and sauna vouchers, Compeed and, of course, a sponge. I’d missed the pasta party, which would also have been free, but got vouchers for tea and food after the race. A guy even gave us a lift to the campsite, where Peter made a quick late pasta, and I made a quick list of kit to find. I then stuffed myself with biscuits, chocolate and water. Ideal marathon preparation, followed by a disco that kept me awake until the early hours. I was then wide awake at 5.15, even though we were so close to the 9.00 start I wouldn’t need to get up until 7. We had just one small packet of instant porridge, which I bulked up with muesli. About an hour before the start, I was in the shower and washing my hair - I wasn’t racing today, so I was so relaxed. I wasn’t nervous at all, just concerned that this was stupid and really going to hurt. I climbed over the barrier into the start pen, and lined up in the 4.00 - 4.15 area. Soon, a gun went, and we were off. Then we stopped again - the start was so narrow, even with just about 3500 runners, it took me over 3 minutes to cross the start line.
Perfect racing conditions - a cool 16 degrees, with no wind, but I started to feel cold -should I have worn a T shirt or even Helly Hansen under my vest, as I was jogging, not racing? Then, a fine drizzle, so I felt even colder. I soon warmed up at the feed stations, though, as there was such a scrum! Tables with bowls of water (don’t go near them, as you get soaked when runners dip their sponges, hats and heads in), sugar cubes, bananas, water and isotonic drink. Being the only ones I had with me, I experimented with a make of gel I’d never used before (proved to be a revelation, and will be my regular from now on), a dried fruit bar and some white chocolate buttons. I’d thought I’d run 6min/km, and looked at my splits more out of interest than as a race plan - I was going to run as I felt, but I was averaging 5.45s - would I pay the price later? About 9km, I could hear a stampede behind me. It was the 4-hour pace group, and I was sorely tempted to try to stay with them as they passed. Hang on a minute, these guys have (hopefully) trained, prepared, and were following a race programme. I was just trying to complete another race in a different country on our European tour. Then there was shouting, as the pace-maker ran off the course and into a grassed area for a pee. I smiled to myself, as I imagined the whole group following him. By about 10.5km, the group was going at my pace, so I decided I would stick with them as long as possible. There was only one portaloo at each feed station, and by 15km, I had to join the blokes who’d been going for a pee behind trees. In shame, I covered my face with one hand, and my Harriers top with the other, but now I could run comfortably, and was effortlessly back with the group. I felt a bit of a fraud, as all the thinking was being done for me, but 4 hours of running without being able to speak (Polish) was the biggest challenge.
The course was flat and fast, and along some dull highways, with pockets of spectators, but those were very supportive, and there were various groups of cheerleaders holding up numbers (at first, I thought they were mile markers). I loved looking around, taking in the scenery, watching the other runners (fairly quiet - I was tempted to shout “uggy, uggy, uggy” under the bridges, because no-one else did, but resisted).
By about half-way, though, my calves began to ache - although I’ve run about 35 marathons, my last was 11 months ago, and my body knew it, although my mind was really relaxed. Fitness-wise, I still felt good, and we were still knocking out 5.45s, but my calves ached like mad. How I wished the 26km marker was actually 26 miles! At about 30km, the pacemaker kept looking at his watch, then shouted something out. I asked if he spoke English. No. Concerned that he might have been saying that we needed to pick up the pace, I shouted out: “Does anybody speak English, please?”. A guy translated for me: “He’s motivating us. He’s telling us that these people were faster than us at the beginning, but now they’re slow, and we’re passing them, because we’re fresh”. Is that so? Still, it was the motivation I needed, and I hung on as we reached the painful, cobbled city centre. By about 34km, though, my calves ached so much, and I thought “why punish myself? I’m not meant to be racing this”, so I eased off the pace. 2km to go, and I could still see the pacemaker’s balloon ahead of me, so I cracked on again. Into the finish straight, 4.02 something showing on the clock, but at that stage, I had no idea how long I’d taken to cross the start line. The pacemaker finished more or less alongside me. My watch showed 4.00.53 - *@~#*!!!! A lovely medal and handshake from a VIP, banana, bottle of water and isotonic drink, vote for my favourite cheerleaders, and I was able to lie on the grass to stretch. As I writhed about in agony, several people kindly asked if I was OK.
Meeting up with Peter, he showed me the video he’d taken of me finishing and, simultaneously, my result on the big screen. 4.00.49, 2nd FV50. There was a lovely atmosphere at the finish. Unlike London, where everyone goes their separate ways, here, 1000’s of runners, family, friends and volunteers sat on picnic benches, chatting, scoffing and watching the presentation. It was really moving, as it included a presentation to a handicapped children’s charity, with the children smiling and clapping as we joined in with some traditional Polish music and singing. The army served up 1000’s of portions of soup and bread, and we met some lovely fellow runners. As a surprise, Peter had my medal engraved with my time and new surname, Singleton-Lawley (there hadn’t been space for my double-barrel on the entry form). A great idea, there was laser engraving at the finish for just 10 PZL (about £2.50).
I thoroughly recommend Wroclaw as a well-organised, friendly, excellent-value marathon, especially if you’re looking for a slightly different experience. Other big city marathons have come and gone, but, amazingly, Wroclaw dates back to Communist times.
Did I enjoy it? Absolutely!
Did it hurt? Of course!
Would I enter another marathon less than 12 hours before the start? Definitely! (but as I said at the beginning, this may not be sensible unless you’re an experienced marathoner).
So, what race will I find in Lithuania?
Race Results :