BUCHAREST (ROMANIA, 13.10.19)
2 weeks after Budapest, I touched down in Romania for Bucharest Marathon, my penultimate race of the year. Cat and Lucy stayed at home for this one and I was happy to have my mate Ben along as he was aiming to run his 19th marathon for Invest In ME. We landed within minutes of each other and caught the bus to the centre of Bucharest and after a bit of getting lost on the walk to the expo to pick up race numbers, we hopped in a cab (£0.27!). After experiencing the horror of 5 flights of stairs at the hotel (the lift was broken), we had a quiet night of pizza, M & M's, women's handball and more weird TV. The next morning we had a quick breakfast and short walk to the start line where it was already a cloudless sky and a warm 17C or so.
A brass band belting out 'Eye Of The Tiger' welcomed us at the start. It was actually a really impressive village with a stage and enthusiastic warm up with a few hundred people all jumping about, all a bit much for us! I was in the third wave and Ben was in the sixth as the countdown began outside of the world's second largest building, the imposing Palatul Parlamentului or Palace Of Parliament. It was a crowded first mile full of half marathon, relay and marathon runners, all pretty tightly packed so it took a short while to get into a good stride. The course took a loop and ran pretty close to the start/finish line along the stunning Bulevard Unirii with it's wide avenue, manicured lawns, ivy growing along the telegraph lines and the magnificent fountains at Union Square. We took the first of many switch-backs/out-and-backs and I saw Ben running in the opposite direction a mile or so behind me looking steady. It was very warm and I'd once again praised my slightly ungainly 'headband under hat' combo as it kept the sweat off my face well. I got plenty of 'Hagi' shouts from the local runners in the race as I was running in a replica Romania football shirt with the legendary creative maestro's name on the back.
Up to 3 miles and I first felt the pain coming from my hip flexor once again. It was very tight and started to restrict my movement a bit, I quickly dropped some ibuprofen and carried on with a steady 9-9.30 minute mile pace. Taking a right from the fountains, the route tracked the Dâmbovița river, not the most picturesque I've ever seen but the bridges over it were pleasant enough. The water stations were well stocked and pretty well managed. I was a bit sneaky and picked up a bottle of water behind all of the plastic cups, bending down to grab a lid from near another table. That proved invaluable as I could run with water for the next hour or so without dehydrating as the temperature climbed. I saw Ben again, we had an epic high-five that made my hand sting but looked really cool on video later. An hour gone and 6.5 miles done which felt sensible given the heat and proximity of my last marathon. I was going along OK and enjoying the support of the locals through the urban course and the fleeting contrasts between the shaded and unshaded bits along the way.
I kept up with the 4 hr 15 pacers for a while but there were too many following them and they were a bit noisy, shouting and singing little songs so I dropped back a little to keep my concentration. Running through Kiseleff Park was pretty cool and some of the massive statues including Monumentul Infanteriei române were stunning. There was a very talented singer fronting a band along the river belting out 4 Non Blondes 'What's Going On?' and she got a clap. Lots of kids were handing out high-fives and there were groups of cheerleaders dancing as we headed back to the centre and a fun little loop in Cișmigiu Park where lots of people were having a picnic and lounging in the sun. 2 hours in and I was pretty close to the halfway point, some of the runners around me started to quicken as we turned the corner towards the palace and half marathon finish line. I headed right to go round again and noticed immediately that there weren't that many runners heading my way. Turning left, the road climbed as I sorted out my ipod and stopped for a quick break, I often do this at halfway, just to re-focus and catch my breath. It was quite an incline and most of the other runners were walking up it but I carried on trundling up it running a little bit faster than they could walk it.
I passed a guy running with 2 flags including a European Union and a Greece one, he was also carrying what appeared to be a chimney sweep brush and he was cheering and chatting to all the runners. To his disappointment I wasn't Romanian but we had a laugh as we weaved through some walkers. From 14-19 miles I was enjoying myself a lot and despite the hip pain I was keeping things pretty steady. There was more switch-backs coming and along Tudor Vladimirescu Boulevard it felt like there were lots of tight corners and familiar faces running down the opposing side. I decided to use one of Dean Karnazes' tricks to pass the time in races and celebrate each person I passed, reeling them in slowly and on to the next one. I had some good tunes on, had learnt to deal with the heat and had a good supply of water on me. There was a slight breeze on the course and I spent a lot of the time moving from shade to shade, head down and following the white road markings when things got elevated.
Running back down the hill by the start-line, I decided to run it hard, just for a laugh really, the thought of everyone wondering what I was doing spurred me on a bit and I was probably a bit delirious. We ran around the back of the finish line and I could see a few speedy 2hr 30 runners coming in. Back down the Unirii Boulevard and some runners were sticking their heads in front of sprinklers that were watering the flowers. I grabbed some banana chunks at the water station as I was feeling a bit light-headed and probably out of glycogen and it gave me a small boost. Past the big fountains yet again I'd noticed my pace had started to slow down again, my watch was telling me it was 24C and climbing still. The road tracking the river (Splaiul Unirii) seemed to go on forever and was very quiet of people, both crowds and runners. I saw Ben around 4-5 miles behind me coming back the other way. We were both down to a bit of a walk (him at 19m, me at just over 23m) and we had a quick chat. I told him I had 3 miles left and about 45 mins to do it in to beat Budapest 2 weeks a go, his reply contained expletives and told me to get on with it.
The next 40 minutes or so were pretty hard as I was struggling a fair bit with the occasional lift of a good song or energy gel. Passing the fountains for the last time, with one mile to go I stopped to work on my left quad which was cramping and got going again. Some of the armed police were clapping the runners up to the final bend and as my watched ticked over to 26 miles I couldn't really see where the finish would be from where I was. It came up eventually and I got over the line to the sound of 'Stoned Love' by the Supremes. I grabbed a drink and the medal and collapsed in the shade behind a tent and admired how much salt I had generated. I cheered home the other runners and saw Ben in, we had a beer and climbed the podium for a flag photo. Ben spotted a runner he'd met in Malta, Ferdinando Gambelli from Italy who told us he was 70 years old and just ran his 580th marathon and we had a chat with the aid of Google Translate. It was great to get the race done and sit in the sun with a beer, just one more to go for the year (Porto 03.11.19).
Race dedicated to Andreea from Iasi, Romania and the other estimated 80,000 people suffering with M.E in the country.
Trip pics here.
Quick service on official photos.
Started at 17c rising to 26c in the last 2 hours of the race, cloudless skies and a slight breeze.