The Story Of My Fourth Marathon

A couple of days ago I finished my 4th marathon. I think it’s the first marathon that I didn’t know I was going to run with at least 6 months in advance. Despite this, and the fact that I didn’t have any expectations at all, and the fact that it was minus 2 degrees Celsius, and it was snowing, I finished it with 3 minutes faster than the last two. 4 hours and 30 minutes. But more on the time and the race later.

If you read my blog, you already know that less than 3 weeks ago I finished my first ultra-marathon, a 60 km race between the cities Giurgiu and Bucharest. As a matter of fact, the decision to run this marathon was taken during that ultra. One of the runners told me about it and described it in such a way that it looked like fun. So, I said, why not?

The Specific

This race was part of the celebrations for the national Romanian Day, which takes place every December 1st. It had quite a strong national touch. For instance, we didn’t have any pasta party, but we did have a voucher for a “sarmale” after-party. If you don’t know, “sarmale” is a traditional Romanian dish, basically some wraps made of chopped meat (mostly pork), rice and cabbage. The music at the start / finish point was also Romanian traditional. Many runners were wearing Romanian traditional costumes or blouses on top of their running outfit, and many of them were carrying national flags.

The Weather

As I said, the temperature was below freezing and that was obvious especially on the running surface. The marathon took place in a park, 13 laps around a small lake. One lap had around 3.5 kilometers. Being so close to the lake, the running surface was very humid, hence, once the temperature dropped below zero, it was instantly frozen. “Slippery” is an understatement. You could barely walk on it, let aside to run.

In the morning there was also a small drizzle which turned into a full fledged snow later on. Not the nicest weather, so to speak.

The Race

Before we started, we sang the Romanian national anthem (there were volunteers spreading papers with the verses, in case we didn’t know them). We started very slow. It would have been difficult to run faster, under those circumstances.

The first 3 laps (10 km) were very easy. As more and more runners were stepping on the alleys, the running surface was melting. I think around the lap number 4 it was way easier to run than in the beginning, still humid, but not frozen.

There were 3 races taking place at the same time (quite common for these type of events): a cross (10 km), a semi-marathon (21 km) and a full marathon (42 km). The marathoners had to run an extra 50 meters each lap, in order to cover the entire 42 kilometers. There were volunteers marking that spot and they stayed there the entire the race (more than 5 hours).

One of them was especially funny. He was shouting at us, trying to be motivational, but at the same time he managed to be quite “aggressive”: “Do you call this running? Get yourself together and run! I said run!” After the first few laps I was kinda waiting to meet the guy and see what else was he going to shout at us. And I remember that before finishing the last lap, he saw me walking and he shout from a distance: “Do you walk on my shift? Nobody walks on my shift!  Get yourself together and run!” I smiled but I started to run. 🙂

After the kilometer 20, the drizzle became snow, and the running surface became a small lake. It was just cold water mixed with snow. My outfit was already wet and it felt uncomfortable. Especially when there was also a bit of wind. Luckily, the wind was gentle.

On top of this, my heart rate monitor had a hickup and started to count my heart rate wrong. I know it was wrong because it was reporting a pulse of 80 beats per minute (while I knew I had to be somewhere between 130  and 140). If my real pulse was 80 minute after 20 kilometers, I think they would have taken me in the national running team on the spot.

But there were also some good news too. The hydration part (rehearsed during the ultra) was going very well. I drank a total of 1 liter of isotonic over the entire marathon. I also ate two protein bars, one at the 15th and the other at the 25th kilometer. Chewing was challenging, given the fact that the bars were practically frozen, but, given the other small troubles we had, this seemed almost funny. I had also an energizing gel around kilometer 30. And that was all.

I didn’t have any expectations and I didn’t set up any goals for this race, other than finishing it and feeling well and observing my body and learning. So, I was a bit surprised when I realized, around kilometer 34-35, that I can actually finish it faster than the last one.

Without forcing and without the slightest sensation of physical stress (other than whatever the cold and snow were creating, and some minor muscle pain) I finished in 4 hours and 30 minutes. 3 minutes faster than the last two. I could have forced and finish even below 4 hours, but that wasn’t the point. After I crossed the finish line I was really happy that I wasn’t numbed, like I was at the last marathon, in October.

As a matter of fact, I think I wanted to use this race to test my hydration strategy, and not to improve my time. And it was a very good approach. My strategy proved right and I learned a lot about how my body reacts under certain circumstances. The pressure added by the cold and the snow was an added bonus, so to speak.

The After Math

In less than two months I ran 2 full marathons and a 60 km ultra-marathon, not to mention the smaller, usual races I ran during training, the longest one being 30 kilometers. I feel good. Nothing wrong with my articulations or toes nails (after my first marathon, in 2012 I had 4 black toes nails and 3 of them dropped completely, I recovered in about 6 months). There’s also nothing wrong with the overall energy level, on the contrary, I don’t feel tired at all. I also observed I recover faster.

What once seemed like an impossible thing – running an ultra-marathon, for instance – today seems achievable and, even more, improvable.

In a couple of weeks I have planned to run another 60 km ultra-marathon, this time in a park. I plan to run 10 laps, 6 km each. I already let know a few of my friends about this and I suggested them they could pick one or more of the 10 laps. There are already 5-6 people ready to do this and, hopefully, until December 20th, when I planned the event, there will be more. And when I say event, yes, it’s actually a Facebook event, feel free to join, if you want.

Regardless of the time and of the actual pace, I expect this to be a fun run. Ending the year with an ultra-marathon sounds like fun. 🙂

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