Boom. Mmm. My heart was pounding. Boom. Boom. Actually, it might have been leaping out of my chest. BOOM. More worryingly, I was yet to run (or stretch). Boom. Bloody boom. Yep, my heart sure as hell was bouncing around. Was this IT? The end of the famous ‘Around the world in 49 runs’ adventure?
Not quite. Thankfully, the cause wasn’t cardiovascular: it was just the pre-race ‘mood setting entertainment’. Gone are the days when hearing Vangelis’ Conquest of Paradise on loop would be enough. These days, to get pumped up, you seemingly need “mesmerising, mechanically tribal, trance-inducing, spellbinding” compositions from a band “distinguished for making their own instruments out of tin, plastic, iron and other waste materials”. Mmm.
In terms of entertainment, I’d probably classify this one as ‘Marmite’. Sure, it got your blood going. Really going. However, not being able to tell which of your chest beats resulted from your heart palpitating or from a grungy man’s wrist action wasn’t ideal ( 😉 ).
Anecdotally, StrojMachine were apparently removed from the 2016 roll call after loads of elite runners complained about how stressful it was in 2015. That said, Pippa was further back in the starting pens and further away from them and enjoyed it. Anyway, they were allowed back this year and, shivering away in the wind in our vaguely insulating bin bags and vests, 10,000 other runners and I were finally good to go!
On that note actually, the race overall was very well organised. However, the starting process could be much improved: we had to enter the pens at a minimum 25 minutes before the race started and the fastest pen was only for sub 1h35 (HM)/ 3h10 (M) runners which is a pretty low requirement for an IAAF race.
As a result, the first few hundred meters were a bit of a shoving and pushing job. On the plus side, it stopped you from going too fast. On the down side, it stopped you from going too fast. Anyway, years of shoving in France had sharpened my elbows and, soon enough, I had wriggled my way past the slower runners and was averaging 3.45min/km which was in line with what I had planned (or hoped).
The course is fast; it’s probably not THE fastest out there but it’s certainly the straightest: the first five kilometres were a straight line, followed by another shorter straight line and so forth, you get the picture. They’d painted the traditional green line to follow the fastest route around corners but, quite frankly, there were so few turns in this race that you’d at worse only lose fifty metres or so over the course of the race if you really tried hard.
After 5km, I was still cruising along and past the marker in 18:50 bang on target. Unusually for me, I wasn’t particularly accelerating but I was slowly picking other runners off rather than being picked off myself, which was a nice boost to my ego at that point.
After 8km, you had the first big drop and incline of the race as you went under a bridge: a whooping 4 metres drop and rise over a length of 100m. Joking aside, it was a tiddly – though very brief, pain but nothing that a gritted tooth or two couldn’t overcome.
Having said that, Pippa who was running further back in the pack, saw quite a few runners skip this bit altogether and take a (flat) shortcut on a route which avoided the extra effort. Cheeky sh*ts.
I’d like to say that the rest of the race continued offering us the best of Ljubljana’s sights but, unfortunately, it didn’t.
Ljubljana itself is a lovely, charming, little capital city: from the castle to the Preseren Square to Trivoli Park: lovely, and definitely one to consider for a weekend break.
This course: Zzzzzzzzzzz. Residential suburbs, train lines and some empty space. Yawn. Especially the bit from 8km to 11km along the train track.
However, it was essentially pancake flat (though I would, as is traditional, point out that there were quite a few ‘false flat’ inclines and it gets undulating when you go through the forest) and, were it not for how exposed the course is and how ridiculously strong the wind was in places, it’s definitely a PB course.
Talking of the wind, around the 11km mark, they had to have volunteers use their full strength to cartoonishly hold one of those inflatable sponsored gates down as the wind was so bad. At that point, the wind was a right effing ball ache to say the least. By now, my pace was slowing down a little which, clearly, was all down to the wind and not inadequate training. I went through 10km in 38:09 but lost a few seconds/km afterwards. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a lot but it all adds up when you’re chasing a specific target.
At least the local folk and bands were out to keep you going – it really did feel like this event was a big thing in the city’s calendar (other than the fact all the central roads were closed). They had good race supplies too: water at 5km, 10km then every two kilometres and all sorts of energy thingies throughout, be it chocolate or fruit. No struklji mind you, which may have tempted me!
By the 15km mark which I reached in 58:12 – just 70odd seconds short of ‘target’, my feet were starting to hurt more and more. I was racing in Adidas Adizero shoes which were super light, wafer thin shoes. My only race experience with them was massively positive: I knocked over a minute off my 10km PB in September. It was a bit of a gamble mind you using a shoe with so little support for a much longer race and, as I’d realise post-race, the gamble didn’t really pay off. Not only didn’t I meet my arbitrary target, I also made my feet scream in pain from bruises and blisters for the next week and gained some sort of short-lived inflammation in my left knee.
Anyway. By now, we were actually at the more scenic bit of the race when we spent a kilometre or so in a forest: to me, this was the worst bit of the course because it had the only proper 400m or so long incline. Pippa, however, really enjoyed the scenery. The fact that I was grumbling in my head knowing that I wouldn’t meet my target while she was elated knowing she was well on way to smashing hers (she did, by a full 7 minutes in 1h50!) probably had some bearing on our appreciation of the local flora.
Around then, I was (and still am) really questioning what I wanted to do with my running going forward. I know you all care deeply about this. But running long distance races at full pelt is rarely pleasurable throughout the actual race: rather, it’s the knowledge of an upcoming PB that keeps you fighting when you feel like easing off the gas. When you know from halfway that PBs are out of the question and that you’re only keeping going to avoid a PW, it’s not much of a motivation to keep doing 80+ kilometres/week all year round when you could be doing other stuff which would have just as little impact on your plateau-ed performances. So, with that in mind, I think I’ll probably focus on shorter distances next year and try to massively improve my 10km time, which I should be able to and haven’t particularly focused on in the past: it’ll require different training and should give me some motivation. I’ll still do halves (and I’d already signed up to London Marathon) but maybe more as side races than main ones.
Back to the race, the 18th kilometre was mostly a downwards slope which was appreciated. After that, there was a bit of zig-zagging in the town centre’s streets before finishing on Congress Square, just under the shadow of the Castle.
As I grimaced my way towards the finish line, two ladies suddenly appeared with a finisher’s ribbon in front of me. Maybe I’d misread the whole race and I had actually won. Yes, that was definitely it! Success! Tadaa! Or…not, as I found out as I got discreetly ushered to one side of the road to make way for the first female finisher who was a few seconds behind me. D’oh. One day…
Time: 1h22.31 (60th/7,331)