With Andy coming back for the Warsaw 1/2 marathon, we thought we’d try to do something at the race to raise awareness about our project and the issue of waste. The Warsaw Half Marathon is one of the biggest half marathons in Europe and was, of course, in our home town. It was going to be my 5th time running it (I think) so it seemed the perfect event to do something at. Initially we were thinking of dressing up as pieces of rubbish (e.g. as a can or bottle), but then we had a much simpler idea – how about we collect rubbish during the race? It seemed to be a good way or raising awareness and the simplicity really spoke to me. So first of all I contacted the organisers to check if it was ok with them. I think they thought it was a strange idea but were ok with it as long as we didn’t get in the way of other runners … and then actually invited us to talk about Run Wisła on stage at the 1/2 marathon Expo! Wow 🙂
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t mad at Andy for disappearing like that … although I might have been a bit jealous 😉 He was gonna have the adventure of a lifetime, and also by taking this time off he was able to also have all of August free for the run without having to worry about holiday entitlement etc. But nevertheless, it did represent a big challenge.
So it’s already October, over a month since Run Wisła ended. It’s been an incredible journey and both me and Andy are trying to get our heads what exactly happened.
Or rather I strike back 😉
I first really got into running when I was at Uni. The fields and countryside in and around Bath were great for training. When I finished my degree there I’d had a few good years of running under my belt and had set some pretty good times (it wasn’t until about a year and a half ago that I set new 10km and 1/2 marathon pbs). So when I graduated and knew I was moving to Vienna, I checked to see when there was a marathon there: “it was time for me to try this distance”, I thought.
The marathon was in April 2004, and I started work there in September 2003. I was fresh out of Uni and in a new town, so running took on less of an important role as I was more interested in going out and meeting people. Plus I was working now and quite often got back home late. I just about managed to go for a long run on Sunday afternoons, and that was about it.
April came around pretty soon (I remember my grandparents were actually visiting that week) and having signed up for the marathon, I felt compelled to run it, despite knowing in the back of my mind that I hadn’t done nearly enough training.
Mistake no. 1 – Not enough training
Race day soon arrived. When the race started I got carried away by things and went off way too fast. For the first 10km I felt ok, the second 10km too, and from about 25km on things went from bad to worse. I remember stopping to use the toilet in Prater (around km 30) and really struggling to get going again. The last 10km I could hardly run, I basically hobbled from water station to water station (thankfully they were pretty often) before managing to run the last 100m or so.
Mistake no. 2: Starting too fast/bad pacing!
Also I had no idea how important nutrition is, and as I never used to eat or drink anything on 1/2 marathons, I thought I wouldn’t need to on a marathon either (I know, I was young and stupid). It was only on the last 10km, when it was already too late, that I started to eat some bananas and drink anything.
Mistake no. 3 – No/insufficient nutrition.
I’m sure there were other mistakes too but these were my main ones. I had such a painful experience that I pretty much stopped running until 5 years ago when I found WITC.
I only did my 2nd marathon in 2013, in Warsaw and thanks to a lot of advice and good pacing over the first 30km from a friend of mine Mark, I had a much more positive experience and since then have done 1 or 2 marathons a year.
This April, 12 years after my nightmare debut, I returned to Vienna for my 6th marathon, looking for revenge over a race that maybe didn’t haunt me, but had a big effect on me for a long time.
I’ve been training well this year, and with an ultra, an Ironman the bloody loop and everything else I’ve done I was confident I could do well. I haven’t done many races this year and this was my number one goal for the first half of the year.
The week before I’d done the 1/2 marathon in Warsaw with Andy, but we took it easy and collected rubbish along the way to raise awareness for Run Wisła, so I was feeling pretty fresh.
I travelled down on the Friday, to make sure I wouldn’t have to rush at all over the weekend, and stayed with a friend of mine, Christophe, who was also running the marathon.
I also had two friends from Warsaw in Vienna that weekend, Philippe (who was running his 66th marathon!!) and his wife Jo. It was cool to meet up with them the day before for some (run faster) pasta and a chat.
The time, as it always seems to do, flew, and it was soon Saturday night and time to get ready for the big day.
The race started at 9am so that meant an early alarm call.
I was lucky to have Christophe with me before the race as he was running the marathon in Vienna for the 6th time, so knew how much time to allow to get there, which way to go and everything, which meant I didn’t have to worry about a thing 🙂
Having dropped the bags off it was time for us to head to our start zones. There were 4-5 different zones depending on your expected finishing time, and me, Christophe, and Philippe were all in different ones. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to see Philippe before the start, there were just too many people. In addition to the marathon, there was also a 1/2 marathon and a relay marathon at the same time, so there were around 30,000 people in total.
With about 15 mins to go I joined the other runners in my zone (zone 2) and tried to soak up the atmosphere. I remember hearing the British national anthem (no idea why that was playing) and then just before the start the Blue Danube waltz, which made a bit more sense 😉 And soon enough it was time to start.
The conditions for running were perfect, it was dry (despite quite a lot of rain the previous two days), not too warm, not too cold – around 10 degrees I think – the only slight thing was a strong wind in a few places, but really the conditions were as good as it gets.
At this point I have to say that the organisation of the race was great, with the different zones, each one starting slightly after the next, the route was never too crowded, after the first kilometer or so there was enough space to run easily. The race started in the north of the city, next to the UN city, and then took us south over the river towards the amusement park Prater.
The first few kilometres I was trying to not run too fast, to run as smoothly as I can and keep good form. I was looking at my watch and seeing splits of around 4.30-4.45, so faster than I’d planned, but thought I would trust my instincts and just keep running at a nice easy pace. Running around Prater reminded me of the toilet break I had there 12 years ago, but that was a different race, a different me. The atmosphere here was good, there were lots of people watching and I managed to get a few good hi-fives in 🙂
I took a few sips of water at almost every possible point, and managed to keep up this good pace as I headed towards the city centre. Jo, Philippe’s wife, was waiting at km 10 and got a few photos of me (thanks Jo!) and soon the route took me down towards Schönbrunn palace. This section of the route was very nostalgic for me, I passed right next to the two places I used to live, the stop I used to get the bus to work from in the morning, the crossing where the police told me off for crossing on a red one night, and then Schönbrunn itself, the gardens of which are one of the best places to run in Vienna.
After Schönbrunn came the Mariahilfer Strasse, one of the main shopping streets in the city, here I passed the place I went to play pool and snooker, remembered some of the bars I used to go to, and lots of other little things like that. There was also a really pleasant downhill here and I still felt great as I approached the half-way point.
The route then took us around the centre, past Votivkirche and the Irish pub where I spent way too much time and money when I was younger, and then back to Prater.
By now it was nearly kilometer 30, I was checking my watch and could see I was on to smash my pb, and I was still feeling good 🙂
For some reason Kipling’s famous poem “If” came into my head around this point, in particular the line “If you can walk with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same”, which I found massively inspiring. Soon I passed the national football stadium and the 30km mark. There would be no walking or disasters today, by now I knew it was going to be a triumph 🙂 From kilometer 32 I was counting down the last 10, in my head I wanted to try and push from kilometre 35, but by then my legs were really starting to tire, although my mind was pushing them on. I kept telling myself I’m doing great, thought of all the people back in Warsaw, England and elsewhere sending me encouragement, and again about that line from Kipling.
35, 36, 37km passed but I didn’t mind the pain, I was in such a zone that nothing could disturb me. I’m not saying it wasn’t painful though, you always feel a marathon – as someone once told me, they don’t call it an easython you know 😉
Now I was down to the last 4 km, the last 3. There was no point taking on any more water now, just push on through to the finish line.
As the route took us back towards the centre there were more spectators and the atmosphere was really good. Approaching the Ring, with just 2km to go, I saw Jo again and was smiling like a crazy idiot as I passed her, albeit a very happy one 🙂
I looked at my watch, 3.10! I’m gonna break 3.20 🙂 Some crazy Austrian chap next to me got the crowd going and thanks to him a big cheer went up as we passed by the parliament (I thanked him just afterwards). And that was it, 600 metres to go, I could see the finish line! 500m, I speeded up a bit, 400m … a bit more, 300m now I was sprinting! As I pass the grandstand I’m waving my arms around like a mentalist, people are cheering, music is playing, this is it, I’m there – remember to jump at the line – aaaand I’ve done it!!!
I stop my watch and look down at it …
3.19. 3.19!!! Incredible… That’s 8 mins faster than last September and over an hour faster than 2004!
I’m still in shock though, those other numbers don’t matter for now. A girl puts a medal around my neck, I’m still smiling like a lunatic 🙂
I need to stop, I can’t take it, this is beyond anything I expected – wait, am I gonna cry? I didn’t even do this after the Ironman! Seriously? Yep it looks like it … oh man this feels great 🙂 Just let it go…
I try to stretch a bit but my mind is I don’t know where… I grab my finisher pack and get a photo with the medal. I stumble on through the area, pick up some water, and a beer, alcohol-free for now, the real stuff would have to wait a little. This race really meant a lot to me, maybe more than I even realised. I’m still emotional. I need to find somewhere quiet. I grab my bag from the deposit truck and sit down. I look at my watch again, shake my head a few times in disbelief, write a few texts. After a few minutes I put some more clothes on and hobble on over to the point I’d agreed to meet Christophe.
Eventually I calmed down a bit, I managed to stretch a little more, and I think for the first time in my life I actually enjoyed drinking alcohol-free beer! I called Jo who was still waiting for Philippe to come around, and then finished all the food in the (fairly modest) finisher’s pack.
At this point I was starting to get a bit cold so went off to find a hot drink, but the queue was too long so I headed back to the meeting point. And there I saw Christophe! He’d finished already – wow! His best time before this race was 4.02, so I wasn’t expecting him for a while, but like me he also smashed his pb and ran 3.46!! Amazing 🙂
I then chatted to Jo again and she still hasn’t seen Philippe (who was probably too busy taking selfies or something ;-)) so we went off to find some much deserved food.
The afternoon then flew by: food, beer, a visit to the thermal baths, sauna, more food and more beer. It took me a while to fall asleep because of all the adrenaline, but as my eyes finally closed I knew that the marathon in 2004 was now well and truly out of my system 🙂
Goodnight Vienna, now bring on the Wisła!
Run January aka running every day in January
As you may have gathered from the title, I started off 2016 by doing a 31 day running challenge, where I ran every day in January. First of all, where did the idea for this come from? As usual I lay the blame fully at the feet of Andy 😉 Last year I remember he did a challenge in winter (January I think) where he ran 1km every day for the whole month (you can read about it here). I remember even running with him on a few of them, including a short run to the bar where he had his leaving party before going to San Francisco.
First and foremost, well! I managed to run every day, and did a total of 223km in January according to Endomondo 🙂
Once I got used to it, it wasn’t hard to find time for a run. By running, say to the pool or the gym, I found a way of getting in a run without really losing any time (and sometimes it was even quicker to run!).
Generally this wasn’t a big problem. It just required some planning. Using running as a form of commuting was a great way of fitting a run into my schedule. I found it a bit more difficult when travelling, and one day had to stop at a service station in England and run in the muddy fields around there.
Running the day after a long training run (20+km) was tough on the legs, I felt the lack of freshness and my legs were still slightly sore most of the time. Luckily I felt no major discomfort, although my right hip was sore at times and I felt some pain in my right shin on longer runs. I have a hunch this is due to my running style and this is something I want to look at over the next few months.
What advice do I have for anyone thinking of trying a challenge of this kind?
Remember it’s not about how fast or how far you run! It’s good, and important, to just do some short, easy runs from time to time. Sometimes I just popped out for a gentle 10 min run, especially after some tough training the day before.
This month I want to look into my running technique and work out a rough training plan for Run Wisla. I also want to investigate nutrition to find out what I should be eating before and during the runs.
It’s been a good start to the year, now I need to keep it up 🙂
2015 really has been an incredible year… When I look back on it, it’s hard to believe that managed to fit so much in! My personal highlights would have to be Malbork, the Bloody Loop and the Gdynia 1/2 IM.
Over the last few months, maybe half a year in fact, I’ve been thinking about what to do next. I think it’s very easy to lose motivation after the kind of year I had, so I wanted to set a different kind of challenge. At one point I had this crazy idea of running all the way from Warsaw to Bournemouth, but after a few inebriated chats with Andy, who was also interested in doing a running challenge, we came across an even better idea that just feels right.
As we both live in Poland, we thought, why not run the length of the Vistula river (the Wisła in Polish), which is the iconic river in our adopted country. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Following the river will allow us to see some beautiful parts of the country and get to know Poland better.
After sobering up it turned out that the river is 1047km long (or 650 miles), which to be honest is a bit further than I thought 😉
BUT WHY, I hear you screaming!??
Reason no 1 is because it’s going to be a huge challenge and adventure 🙂
The river is one of the best places to run in Warsaw, and with WITC we often go running there. There’s this great trail that runs along the river, right in the middle of the city, which means you can be stood in this small woods and look across the river to the old town and the city centre. It’s also quite a wild river and from what I’ve seen is very natural and beautiful. We’re both excited about getting to see this up close and sharing it with others, and that’s reason no. 2 🙂
Then, the more we started researching things, the more we realised that there’s a problem with pollution in the river. On the one hand this is evident from the rubbish you see often on the banks, but by investigating the state of the water we found out that contamination is also a big issue here (I recommend checking out this Greenpeace report from 2008: ).
So our third aim is to raise awareness about the state of the river, the contamination in the river and the rubbish on banks.
In a nutshell, that’s our plan. Yes it’s insane, yes it’s ambitious, but sometimes in life you have to do something crazy – if I’ve learnt anything from the last few years it’s that 🙂
The name we came up with for this challenge is – Run Wisla.
Now the challenge is to work out how to actually complete this mad plan. Can we physically run over 1000km in 26 days (that’s our plan at the moment). Then there are the logistics issues, where will we stay and what will we eat and drink? We also want to take water samples to measure the quality of the water along the way. How will we organise that? And so on…
One thing that has been amazing has been the reaction of people to our plan. It’s been received so positively and so many people have offered to help that it’s really given us hope that we can do this.
I’ll be writing more over the coming months but for now please check out our promo video and fan page.
Thanks for reading, have a great Xmas break and all the best for 2016 🙂
I can remember the moment (fairly) clearly. It was December last year, about a week after the end of season party. Mark and Julia were throwing a party (I forget what the occasion was, although maybe there wasn’t one?) and I was in the kitchen trying some of Mark’s punch. Igors had just won the WITC Athlete of the Year award the week before and announced that he would be doing an Ironman race the following year (when I heard that I remember thinking – what a mentalist!) As I turned around I saw Olga and Igors talking and then Olga said to me that she’s also going to do an ironman next year! I started to get this sinking feeling, I remember telling Olga “no, no, don’t do it…” but there was no way she was backing down. A few months before she’d joined me in my first (and her first) 1/2 IM in Mragowo, despite being even less prepared than I was, and I really appreciated that show of solidarity (even though I fell asleep and missed her crossing the line ;-)). I began to realise I had to join these guys in this Ironman too, even tho part of me didn’t want to. Why? I’m not sure I can put into words what was going through my head back then… Because doing this kind of challenge together would be a great journey? Peer pressure? Solidarity? The effects of the punch? Whatever the reason(s) a few seconds later I had just agreed to sign up for a full ironman distance race…
The last hour before the race I was so glad to have this awesome group there with me, I can’t imagine what it would have been like had I done the race all alone. The camaraderie and goofing around helped the time fly, and us to relax, and before we knew it we were getting into the water. It was a strange feeling if I’m honest, I just tried not to think about how much there was ahead of me and kept telling myself that I’d done a lot of training and was ready for this. The water was relatively calm, certainly much better than some of the other triathlons I’d done this year (Olsztyn, Gdynia), and the fact that it was 4 laps would actually help break it down into manageable chunks. And all of a sudden, we were off!
The toughest part of the bike was around the 3rd-4th loop, when I was already tired but the end was still a long way off. But stopping wasn’t an option (apart from 2 more water breaks). Mark’s wife Julia and her family were also there supporting, and I have to say how much respect I have for them standing around all day in the cold, wind and rain. At the end of some of the laps Julia even tried to give me some food, first she held out a kabanos, which I dropped… Then the next lap is was a snickers, which I also dropped, and finally, at the third attempt, I slowed down enough to grab a snickers! 🙂
On the final lap of the bike it started to rain even harder, and with the strong wind I was starting to get pretty cold! But thankfully the bike leg was nearly over and I could look forward to the best part – the run 🙂
Because of the rain and wind I was really cold when I finally finished the bike, so kept my jacket on for warmth. Once my legs had got over the shock of transitioning from the bike to the run, I started to notice that they were actually feeling ok! Yes, it “felt like running”, my legs were doing what I was asking them to and I felt like I had strength – that was a huge relief. Like the bike, there were also 6 laps on the run, each 7km long. The route was really nice, it went around and through Malbork castle itself, across the river and back again, which also gave us a chance to see any spectators and supporters out there. It was great to see the other WITC’ers that were supporting and taking great photos as well as hi-fiving/nodding/saying hi/grunting to the others. Andy was great, running with me for sections of the route (while also running with Olga in-between) and bit by bit I was ticking off the kilometres and the laps. There were food/water stations ever few kilometres so I was just making sure I took on enough food (every second station I’d eat something) and drink (a few sips at each station).
And soon (well, actually actually several hours after starting the run) I was on to the final lap … By now, although my legs were sore, I had got into a good rhythm and despite being on the move for well over 11 hours I was near the end. As I completed each kilometre I screamed out the number of ks left, and after saying thanks to Andy and heading over the bridge, I managed to stretch those tired legs to finish strongly. Then came the piece de resistance (excuse my French!). I’d been thinking about how to finish this monumental race and to cap off this unforgettable season, and as I was going round and round the course I realised there was only one thing to do. On the Tuesday night training I usually lead, we do some plyometric exercises at the start, or as I prefer to call them, silly walks 😉 So as I reached the final turn I took a quick look back to make sure there was no-one behind me and then proceeded to do 3/4 silly walks, crossing the line in my best John Cleese impersonation!
And that was it – over!! I have to admit I don’t even really remember my time, except that is was 12 something (12.49), and after crossing the line remember getting given a finisher’s t-shirt, a space blanket, some food and of course the medal 🙂 10 months of hard work and training had gone into this and I’d finally done it – it was over! I spent the rest of the evening taking in the atmosphere and talking to the competitors and supporters from our club. Every single one of us did amazingly well, especially in those weather conditions, heros one and all 🙂 Because of all the excitement and the supporters, I didn’t really have time to take it all in and the size of the achievement actually took a few days to really sink in. Now, as I write this 2 months later, it all seems a bit surreal, like it was a dream.
I’m delighted that I managed to complete something that I thought was insane and I would never be able to do just a couple of years ago. It just goes to show that we are capable of much more than we realise. But more than anything, I’m glad of the companions I had on this journey. Being able to train together with friends like Igors (with whom I did well over 1/2 of my training) and Olga, as well as Juan, Andy and many more people from WITC, made the training much more enjoyable and gave me extra motivation. And the fact that we got to do this race, the first Ironman for every single one of us, in Malbork together made it all the more special 🙂