Spring time in Prague sounds delightful, provided you forget you're there to run the marathon.
Our trio of Desert Road Runners, Tom Sindall, Matt Reed and myself flew into Prague from Dubai on a Friday, ready for the marathon on Sunday, 7 May. Matt on Emirates (Oh how the other half live!) arriving mid afternoon in time to pick up his number and a good night's sleep, while Tom and I, on budget airline Smartwings, landed just after midnight, suiting our budget but maybe not our sleep pattern.
For Tom and me, Saturday started with a short easy run to stretch our legs, just 4km around the Old Town and by the river. Then off to the Expo to collect our numbers - Matt had told us which tram to take, but we decided to walk, something that we did rather a lot of that day. We checked out the local area, some cafés, and the location of the marathon start which was just five minutes walk from our Air BnB apartment. Mid afternoon, we met up with Matt, who told us that the bag drop was not by the start line - thank goodness we weren't finding that out for the first time on race day! A bit more walking, and then the customary carb loading pasta dinner, joined by another Dubai runner, Felipe Hernandez. The end of the day, time to get the kit ready for the race in the morning, and then to sleep. Did we really do 24,000 steps - perhaps not the ideal pre-race preparation!
Sunday morning, race day. Some cereal, a cup of hot water (we forgot to buy tea bags) and off to the bag drop. We're all in start pen E, nice that we're together, and only 150 meters from the start line. What are our targets? Matt has his eye on a qualifying time for Boston, Tom did 3:40 in Dubai but doesn't feel that he has the same training, so is hoping for sub 3:45, and I have a wide range in my head, I'll be disappointed if I don't go under 3:30, really happy at 3:20, and I read in the race booklet that there is a 3:15 pacer...tempting but risky, which anyway becomes a moot point given that the 3:15 pacer is starting ahead of us in a more advanced pen.
And then we're off, against a backdrop of stirring music and cheering crowds. I'm through the start line 90 seconds after the gun, pace definitely slowed by the number of runners for the first few kilometers, but it's a good atmosphere and the steady start is probably no bad thing. After the first few kilometers I'm into my pace, and it feels good. The talked of rain hasn't materialised, and the start temperature at 10°C feels great for us who are more used to the heat of Dubai. The cobbles are a bit of a nuisance, more of them than I had expected, but I'm still rocking along at 4:30 min/km pace, sometimes a fraction faster, and I'm pretty comfortable.
If I can keep that pace going, it will give me a 3 hour 10 minute marathon. And that's where marathon's become complicated! The sensible choice is to realise that there is still a long way to go, I'm running faster than any of my target paces, it's time to back off the gas and revert to plan. But it's exciting, and it's nice to dream. I keep the 4:30 min/km pace going, and at 14km I catch the 3:15 pace group. Common sense prevails, I adjust my pace and join in with the 3:15 pace group. And then, within a kilometer, common sense has been thrown in the trash, I'm at the front of the 3:15 pace group and then I've left them, it still feels good, for now.
Approaching the half way point, the course doubles back on itself and I see Matt and, shortly after, Tom. I greet them with a shout, a wave, and a big smile - everything's going well. I pass the half way point still close to pace for a 3 hour 10 minute finish, and keep going, if anything I'm picking up the pace a touch. Further on, kilometer 28, the first indication that this is getting more difficult. My pace drops just a fraction, and I'm working harder to keep it there. I see Matt again as the course once more doubles back, but this time I don't shout and smile, barely managing the smallest of hand movements to acknowledge that I've seen him. The cobbles are the same as they were earlier, but they're now more difficult to run on, taking more energy and messing with whatever running form I have. I target the 35km drinks station and push on, pace dropping by a few seconds each kilometer, and it hurts, it's a battle, and it's one that I don't feel like I'm winning.
Unsurprisingly, the last 7km are tougher still. I take a 20 second walk at the 35km drinks station, have my last gel, get some fluid in and try to get my heart rate and emotions under control. I'm not in a happy place. I've prepared my mantras to get me through this part, but I don't have the presence of mind to even think of them, instead I just tell myself that I can take water and another quick walk at the next drink stations at around 38km and 40km. It's far from ideal, my pace is now around 5:00 min/km and getting slower, but it's all I can seem to muster. My legs are hurting, but it is my mind that is the biggest problem.
I glance behind me, instead of looking ahead and focusing on finishing, and see the 3:15 pacers with their flags bearing down on me. This is it, my mind has to sort itself out right now. I have a choice either to watch them go by and feel sorry for myself, or to fight to finish this thing off. The pacers catch me at 40km, and I fight. It hurts, but I'm hanging in there, I know that if I let a gap of even a few meters develop then I'll be gone, and so I stick to the pacer like glue. They're speeding up, we're below 4:40 min/km, then 4:30 min/km and then I see a sign that says 700 meters to go. It's still a seriously hard effort, but I know I'll make it and I'll beat 3 hours 15 minutes. In my mind, I power through the line, but I suspect it looks nothing like I imagine. I've collected my thoughts enough to clench my fist and punch the air as I cross the finish line, again I picture it looking great, unfortunately I have the photo that shows it doesn't! But I don't care, I'm overjoyed, I have a new marathon PB of 3:14:30!
I have my medal, a space blanket to keep me warm, a big smile, and emotions that are torn to shreds. I find a space by the finish line to watch Matt come through in 3:26:48 to get his Boston qualifying time, and Tom works hard across the line in 3:44:47 to also meet his target. Later, we catch up with our new friend, Felipe, who is pleased with his 4:02:09.
Time to relax. The balcony of Matt's apartment just a few steps from the finish was an ideal first staging point to start swapping our stories from the race, before heading off to freshen up ready for some well earned Czech hospitality.
It was a great trip, a good flat marathon, albeit the cobbles make it harder (we guess 4 or 5km of cobbles), a beautiful city and, of course, great company.
Just a couple of things to finish:
This race report is written for my blog www.iretiredyoung.net. I'm happy for anyone to use this race report, but please tell people where it came from as I need all the visitors and subscribers to my blog that I can get!
My blog is about my decision to retire early, how much it costs and what I do. In terms of cost:
- We flew from Dubai to Prague on Smartwings which worked well and cost £244 ($300) per person (www.smartwings.com).
- Our accommodation was booked through Air BnB. A well located apartment cost £160 ($197) each for 4 nights.
- Meals, drinks, taxis, entry to a couple of tourist attractions plus sundry other costs in Prague came to about £200 ($247).
- Marathon entry is €63, €90 or €110 depending on how early you book. I entered via an Alzheimer charity place which cost €149.