Prague has got to be one of the most beautiful European cities …… The entire country has a population of approximately 10 million (fast receding); Prague itself with about 1.5m of those. River Vltava frames the city perfectly between Old Prague and New which seats the Castle – largest in the world at approximately 16,000 sqm (counting grounds within the walls ).
This country is absolutely geared for tourism. Wonderful hotels, big by European standards, great beer (so much for no alcohol in the run up to the marathon) and a complete absence of traffic.
Everything is literally within 15 minutes and convenient.
The temperature for this week has been perfect; no cold, no rain, only sun and hovering temperatures at between 18 degrees and 25 or so. I am told that in the previous week there were cold winds and low 5-6 degrees on some days. So a small weather lottery was won here.
The organisers had taken care to leave nothing to chance, from where to collect bags and race numbers, to the pre marathon exhibition. All information was perfectly clear. Let me paint the picture for you; In these events, pre marathon exhibitions are serious affairs. Apparel manufacturers of all kinds make a presence, hawking all kind of wares with special discounts aplenty and independent companies making their presence felt. More importantly, a whole hall of marathon exhibitionists were jostling for position to alert you to a yet to be run event later in the future – from ultras to ironman events to half marathons in all corners of the world. Quite an experience in itself.
So I had literally no excuses coming into the race. I had my wife here with me, and a couple of friends as we had decided to make a holiday of it, so even moral support was here in plenty.
With a 9am start, which I thought a bit odd and late, on the morning of the race I ambled up to my corral H, predicated on my expected completion time. The corrals are actually alphabetic, so Elites before A, and so on till you get to H. So with my self stated expected time of completion as 4 hrs I was a whole 8 corrals behind the start. I amused and encouraged myself nevertheless, checking out all the marathon runners in the area with me; but he is too old, too big, etc. Surely I can beat him LOL, but also remembering to tell myself, don’t judge a book by its cover.
Once the MC stopped the Europop entertainment and the Czech National anthem boomed through the loudspeakers, I knew this is it, showtime.
I put my headphones back on and …… Nothing.
Oh hell …. Come on bloody sound, don’t let me down now !!!.
Ok we are going to have to do this the hard way, I say to myself as I pass the start line and set my running watch.
The first 5 km essentially took us across the bridge and back into town close to where we started, before leaving the town centre in earnest on a first loop of what we would later come back and do later in the run. You can imagine it is a bit disconcerting reading 7km at some point, and then 500m down the road a sign with 34km ….. You realise that by the time you get back here, you will have to have fought for it indeed.
Our country, our club and our altitude prepares us significantly for the marathons in lower altitudes, and I felt great; breathing was easy and I settled into a comfortable 5.10 or so pace.
Music? Still nothing.
Ok try to focus on something else, the gameplan of some easy lingala is now out the window for sure.
By km 13 we were back in the city where we started off and the cheering crowds including my people were awesome to see; a real motivator indeed.
I powered with purpose through the supporters and as I turned right into Wenceslas Square, I allowed myself a glance at the GPS to check my time.
The second disaster had long since struck – the gadget was keeping accurate mileage but not reflecting my pace. CRAP.
Double trouble – no music and no time.
This is really going to be done the hard way.
At this point however, I reminded myself that the 3.45 pacer was behind me and as long as I kept it that way I would be fine.
By now, two gentlemen struck up a conversation with me because apparently other than the Kenyan elite up front, the brothers of African extraction were in short supply in the field, and whenever we came across children or old women or organised cheering groups, I got quite a cheer. “Oh you seem to be quite popular – where are you from ?”
Oh-Oh the question I feared the most – “Kenya” I state in a matter of fact sort of way.
“What ? You should be in front. What are you doing here ?” I have to have a selfie to show my friends I ran with an elite ” they say. And so I thought to myself, well I might as well make an effort and have a chat after all, Franco and Tabu Ley went missing on me. I make light of the matter and tell them they will be able to tell their said friends they beat a Kenyan !
By Km 22 one of the gentlemen, from Italy, took off and left me with Mario from Poland who, bless him, decided to take me under his wing.
Mario proved to be the reason in hindsight why all my gadgets appeared to have failed thus far. You see, Mario had just done the Warsaw marathon two weeks earlier in 3.37 and he was using that and the Prague marathon for training for an 80km ultra in the mountains in one month. And we thought Swaras are crazy!!
Mario enquired from me what my goal was, to which I responded 3.45.
He looked at his watch and said to me in the most effusive manner–”no problem, we have all the time in the world; you will make that easy !”
The sound of our feet against the tarmac, and the cobble was the soundtrack for our run, and occasionally as I laboured along, Mario took the time to hi 5 all comers, punctuating his run with shout outs to fellow Polish runners who were in force. His energy was clearly contagious because even patently silly statements like “You must me missing running with Elephants” which would ordinarily draw a geopolitical lesson 101 from me only elicited a smile.
However despite this support, at km 33 I began to feel a niggling problem coming to haunt me once more; CRAMP. This despite taking enough gels, salt and sugar washed down with some energy drinks at each station. As I slowed down to a halt, Mario says to me, “Bryan, I have no problem. We are going to finish this race together.” “Take long steps and don’t stop. The 3.45 marker is still at least a km behind us- we have all the time”
And so on we went beginning a pattern which would see us to the end; start a little, slow down and walk it off whenever it caused a problem.
By this time of course, casualties of the race were beginning to fall aside as the heat began to take its toll.
Gladiators were buckling under the pressure.
At km 38 or so, the pacers for the 3.45 came by with their considerable group and whizzed passed us, with me thinking oh crap, there goes the intended timing. But Mario stated matter of factly – ” let them go – they are not our problem. We will be fine.”
And soon enough an interesting turn had now also taken place with effusive Mario now professing flagging energy.
But by this time we were both in a symbiotic relationship, our successes were now joint. And we reassured each other we would rather end up smiling than cross the finish line literally dead.
And so at 500m to go, we stopped for a moment, took stock and gathered our last energy and sprinted to the finish line.
As I crossed the finish line, the time read 3.58,and I knew I had done my under 4 hrs. I was mighty proud and excited.
I couldn’t be sure exactly what time I had done, as I still had to get my official time from the RunCzech team. So when I confirmed that it was 3:54:11 I was ecstatic.
I had done an average of 5:33 pace over 42 km.
The relaxing could begin in earnest.
What an experience it was. I encourage those who can to venture out and run a race away from home. Wherever it may be, do so. It will teach you something new. The bonds and experiences awaiting you are far too numerous for you to ignore.
And as usual, it was an honour and a privilege to don the Swaras shirt in Prague – the expectations it confers upon you pushes you to no end.
Asanteni all for your support !