Good news: I can now officially say I run faster than Oprah Winfrey!
After two very wet touristy days, my first international run looked to be a severely sodden one. My nipples were very worried at the prospect but, thankfully, the clouds dissipated overnight and the sun turned out for the whole race (and, as I type, I’m starting to turn distinctly pink). This gave me the ideal opportunity to use the running sunglasses I’d just bought at the running expo the previous day which make me look distinctly like one of the aliens from Independence Day (this blog was never meant to talk so frequently about aliens – I’ll try to restrain myself in future!).
This was also the first IAAF Gold Label race I would run (the next one is the Great North Run in September). I didn’t think it was that much different to any other race but the bananas, oranges and refreshments were certainly plentiful and there were volunteers everywhere you turned. There was a distinct party atmosphere at the start with lots of music and drumming. When the Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis song came on, you could almost picture the middle-aged Czech women weeping and waving their white napkins as they watched us run by. I was also welcomed to the starting line by a giant ‘MESSENGER’ sign which was nice of them. Fame eh.
The whole event seemed very well organised (i.e. it started on time, no cars appeared in the middle of the race, the drinks were always ready and I got a medal at the end) and the only ‘bad’ point was that the refreshments were all served in plastic cups rather than bottles. This meant you had to slow down to a virtual stop every time you wanted a drink which was a bit of a pain in the bum.
The course itself is fairly flat as it runs in zigzags around the town and up and down the river in various loops. These long stretches out of town along the river towards the east (twice) and the south (twice) were probably the hardest bits of the whole race as they were in full sunshine with very little shade or wind. The cobbled streets of inner-Prague weren’t great but they were at least shaded!
You start in Old Town Square, go past the Czech parliament (which we found out the previous day has an albino peacock which, I guess, is quite an interesting fact!) and go over the famous Charles Bridge in the first few kilometres. It was just as busy as the previous day when we were tourists (think jumbo sale at Primark during school holidays) but slightly less frustrating. Some superstitious runners zigzagged through the other runners to touch a (seemingly) random combination of the statues which line it including the St John of Nepomuk statue (which is apparently a Prague ritual).
The 7km mark saw my first achievement of the day: I overtook the man dressed as Batman (and sweating like, well, someone running a marathon in full sunshine in a fancy dress costume). This was in the middle of the 4km-12km slog out of town to the east which was (along with the 34km-42km section which goes along the same road) probably the toughest of sections: this was because there was pretty much no shade during it, very few supporters and, in particular, very few refreshments.
As you come back into town, you run through Old Town Square for the second time, past Powder Tower and the Dancing House. It was around there that I overtook a Forrest Gump (the long-haired, long-bearded version) doppelganger which was slightly disconcerting.
It was around the 20km mark that people started flailing – I tried to encourage some to keep going and the response was mixed: some were very grateful for the camaraderie, the others seemed to be thinking ‘sod off and let me die in peace’. One in particular was swaying so much that I stopped to check he was ok but he really wanted to have none of it so I guess it might have just been an unorthodox running technique.
Like the (actual) elite athletes running the race, I had my personal little helper handing me out drinks during the run (coconut milk – supposedly good for you but decidedly gross). Whist she was smiling at me as I ran past, I think she was secretly just smiling because her reptilian cravings for sun were finally being satisfied.
I was happy that I never ‘hit the wall’ this time: I slowed down a bit during the race (1h36 for the first half, 1h43 for the second) and I, in hindsight, certainly feel that I could have pushed a bit faster with more confidence but I did as well as I could with my experience at the time. The first 5km were my third slowest time split (probably due to the crowd and trying to avoid rushing off) and my ranking went up by 200 places in the last 7km so I clearly must have kept more of my reserves to the end than others.
Overall, it was a ‘safe’ first proper marathon (with no major injuries – just sore joints and slightly stiff muscles) and I now know that I’m faster than Oprah which, by itself, is enough of a life-changing experience!
Final time: 3h19 (524th/5,769 – Real Time) – 1h11 short of the winners but 1h54 ahead of my previous PB!