I don’t know if it was just me, the inadequate shoes, lack of a trail specific training, a bad day, not enough sleep, or maybe just a horror track, but this Saturday I ran my 8th marathon, the toughest so far and, perhaps, the best landscape ever to see in a marathon.
Aiud, a small city, but the second largest in the Alba county, located at 8-hour Romanian train distance system, (but if the train takes about 9h+ to get there, it’s not bad luck, it’s just one regular day for the Romanian railway system).
I got there the day before the race but in the evening and not in time to listen what the organizers had to share in the technical meeting, nor to pick up the race number.
The race number issue was solved in the morning, as plenty of runners were in the same situation and others were last minute registering for the race, and it was just one hour from the start.
Also, in the morning, I found out from a fellow runner, doing his first marathon, some valuable piece of information about the track. Along the way, there will be 2 big hills to climb, one around the 28th km and another one shortly after that. That was good to know, I thought. I looked at the map but I didn’t spend any time to visualize the track. After all, it was a marathon, and I had my share of experience with marathons so far.
I was so clueless that just a couple of days before I figured out that the track is 2 km street and all the rest of it trail.
Still without any idea about what was coming, I began warming up in the start area. More than 300+ runners aligned at the start line, half-marathon and marathon, cheered by the locals, dear ones, and loud music.
The first km was street, slightly uphill, then we passed the City Park, turned a left and continued our climbing on a trail. I was already having second thoughts about this. I mean, on every marathon I have a certain point this battle of contradictory thoughts in my head, where I am asking why I did it again and entered a marathon, then I am trying to convince myself that this too shall pass, then that I should just enjoy the race, then I enter “the zone” and I feel awesome, etc. But today, just at the 2nd km, I was already asking myself if this was a good idea. I figured out that if this trail marathon is 42km (after I finished I found out that in fact it was about 45km), I should take it slow(er) so I started to shift from running on flat surfaces to fast walking on the uphills.
Not so bad…yet
By the time we entered the forest I managed to find a comfortable pace, don’t know how fast or slow that was, since I don’t have any running apps anymore, and I forgot my initial “flee home in bed and cry” thoughts. I entered the zone. Now it was time to enjoy the race. It will last just a couple of hours, and I had plenty of time to complain after the race anyways.
In, out and around a forest
After 4 km in of uphill in the forest, the track made a left and it continued around the forest. While writing this post I’m using google maps to measure the distances. In real life, those 4 km felt like much more than that. Along the way, I had to take a “pit stop”. On our right, we had a nice forest, on the left hills, distant villages, and the dry ground under our feet, which felt quite comfortable.
The distances between the runners already stretched significantly, but where I was the runners were still quite grouped. At the first water point, I realized that in that group where I was most of them were half marathoners. They had to continue on the green marked path, while the red signs marking the marathon track were turning right, around the forest.
Red marks = Marathon
Now the track was not so crowded anymore. In fact, I saw nobody in front, and now it was time to pay more attention to the surroundings and be careful to I follow the red marks.
Before seeing the following mark I just walked for a couple of seconds and looked behind to see if anybody is coming.
What a joy!
Sangeorzan Lazar was running this marathon also. The runner with whom I shared a couple of km in my first half-marathon. I reminded him of that race while we continued running. This meeting was so refreshing and I felt that I should keep up the pace to prove something, which I managed to do for a while.
The track was going downhill, uphill, and, on a short part, the track was ruined. After the rain, when the ground was muddy, a herd of cows left their footprints all over the place. I got worried for my ankles because, even without a watch or a distance measuring device, I knew that the marathon just started and there was still a long way ahead of us.
Just before the forest corner, our path turned left. I stop paying attention to the terrain and the red marks to look at the horizon and where the path was taking us. Closing in there was our first challenge, a steep hill. I mean, that hill look frightening, and I lowered my pace since I wasn’t that eager to climb it. There were two other runners climbing, which meant that undoubtedly we all had to do that.
I don’t know what the technical specifications are for my shoes, Asics Kayano 22, but I’m pretty sure that they were not designed for this kind of things. But I had to suck it up. From running to crawling on hills, I wanted to keep a decent pace and to hold my position. We were 4 runners now on a spread of 50m.
First hill…too soon
We climbed this first hill. Now I remembered my morning conversation, when the fellow who was running his first marathon, told me that there are two hills, and one was at 28th km. But something was not adding up. It was way too soon for km 28.
Soon we reached the next water point. On the left, we had another small forest, on the right a flock of sheep and distant villages again, and everywhere around us hills. I asked the volunteers where we are, what km, and I try to keep myself away from panicking when I hear km 14. What was in my head to ask such a question?
Thankfully I had something to anchor myself from, the other runners. I tried to stay close, I started eating one of the energy gels I had, and tried to enjoy the scenery while I left my legs do all the hard work. And quite a scenery. The sky was cloudy. This was not necessarily a good thing because it was windy and sometimes the wind was blowing straight in our face making running even more difficult, but it added a lot to the aesthetics of the surroundings. Hills, forest, distant villages, running on a path, through the middle of nowhere.
Why would you stop running? What can you do even if you stop running? You still had to walk all the way back.
And it was just km 14. Damn.
Km after km, it got harder and harder to keep up the pace with this small group. I wasn’t willing to give up, but the goal was to finish the race in one piece and I needed to catch my breath since I was starting to feel some pain somewhere in the right area. Now I was all alone, somewhere on the border between Cluj and Alba counties. From time to time I was seeing one or two runners far away on some hills.
Another water point was in a small village. Here I got some refreshing news from one of the volunteers who encouraged me. “Congrats! You are ranked 15th”. The effect on my state of mind of that news was better than anything. I had some water, my pain was muted, and continued shifting from running on flat and downhills and tried to walk fast on uphills. Here the track got even more interesting. There were a bunch of small rivers crossing the path, and I had to jump over or walk on some stones. Who had time for that? So I got my feet soaking wet whenever I couldn’t find a good way to jump over.
Favorite part of this marathon
Now the part I loved about the track. The path went into a young forest. A forest packed with trees. It was so dense that it felt like running through a short narrow tunnel. From time to time I thought about bears and other forest animals, but again, who had any time to look after that? I felt bad for those who ran the half-marathon. I guess they didn’t run here since there were only red marks on all the trees.
Time to feel hopeless
Out of the forest, the scenery didn’t change as much. I covered some distance in the meantime and soon after the next water point I had a feeling hopeless moment. Somewhere on the left, some people were having a Saturday picnic, and on the right a steep discouraging hill. Well…I guess that just now I was at km 28. Now two other runners were catching up. What to do now? Try to push it or save resources? Second option, of course.
We crawled on this hill. Then there was a downhill, a steep downhill, through trees, branches, on dirt and stones. On the downhill, I was gaining speed, but my knees were not happy at all with what they were facing.
All the way to the end of the marathon it felt like a rollercoaster. Crawling slowly on another 2 steep hills and going fast on the downhills. Apparently, the guys giving the technical details about the track considered that only two hills worthed being mentioned. For me, every hill felt like a challenge and wondered if I can go all the way to the finish line.
The organizers did a great job marking the track. I’m still trying to figure out how they do it and how long it took to put all those marks. And …who found this track? It must be incredible to just train around these parts.
Another thought that popped into my head several times, how difficult this track felt for the guy I met this morning? After all, this was his first marathon.
By the time I got to the last two water points I think my running pace was equal to a fast walking pace. The pain I had earlier came back again so, from time to time, I had to resume to just walking because of that. The marathoners passing by, cool guys, asked me if I’m alright, and offered me some energy gel or chocolate. I took only a small piece of chocolate, and all I wanted now was some water.
Finally, I got to the last water point. 4 km left, and the last downhill. This was it. I managed to get my shit together and pushed it for one last sprint. When I entered the city a group of small kids was playing around, cheering for the runners passing by. They started running along and they joked that they shouldn’t run in front of me. Surely I looked as if I was about to pass out at any given moment.
I crossed the finish line after 5:08:29 and ranked 19th out of 70 marathoners.
Great marathon this was. Everybody crossed the finish line, cheered by a warm group of locals, runners, and friends. One of the best landscapes, the toughest track I ran so far, outstanding work from the organizers and the volunteers.
To be continued…