"I have arrived. I am home. In the here. In the now. I am solid. I am free. In the ultimate I dwell." --Thich Nhat Hanh

Friday, June 21, 2013

Plitvice Marathon (Plitvicki Maraton) - Croatia

Is there a better way to kick off the summer vacation than to run a marathon in a foreign country? For us it was a must. It was an opportunity that we did not want to miss. This marathon would mark the end of our spring races and lead us into a much needed break, before ramping up for a pretty busy fall racing season.

This was the 28th annual running of the Plitvice Marathon. And while it draws several thousand runners for the day, only about 200 or so run the actual marathon. The others run the 16km and 5km runs. That makes it a very intimate affair, that I would imagine many people used to the big city marathons would not like. For the most part you are running alone through the national park with not much support other than the aid stations. However, since it does take place in the national park, you are running through some amazing scenery which makes the race go by fast. Scenery also makes up for 2 brutal climbs that are several miles long. Besides the 2 climbs and 2 very long downhills the race never flattens out. It is a constant cycle of rolling hills, ups and downs. As a cherry on the top, the last mile to the finish line is all up hill. Perfect.
We are ready to race
This spring I already did some hilly/mountainous races that I felt prepared me well for this race. Amy and I did not really have any major time goals in mind due to the elevation profile of this race, but we were definitely hoping to beat 4:30. Amy did this race in 2011, which was her very first marathon, and did 4:30. We agreed that we would run together for as long as possible.

That morning, June 2nd, we drove from my home town of Bihac, Bosnia to Plitvice National Park, which is about 40km away in the neighboring Croatia. Race did not start until 10am so we had plenty of time to get there and get settled. More than a half way there I realized that I have forgotten my running socks. I was wearing these low cut cotton socks at the time, and a horror scenario was playing in my head. Thoughts of terrible blisters and chaffed Achilles were running through my mind. I knew that this marathon didn't really have an expo so chances of getting some new socks were slim. However, as we were picking up our race bibs I saw a boot for Compressport compression gear. Score. I went over and got myself a pair of trail running socks that were on sale that day. Crisis averted. PS: the socks worked out great and I am looking forward to wearing them again.

Few days prior to the race, I also got contacted by a reporter wanting to do a pre and post race interviews with Amy and myself. She was working with the Japanese film crew and they wanted to talk to runners from around the world to see why they came to Croatia and Plitvice. The interview was rather interesting with the guy talking in Japanese and his translator interpreting in English. They also wanted to have a short follow up after the race which was fine with us.

...and they're off
The race started promptly at 10am, with both marathon and 16km runners starting together. The course is the same for the first 15km. After a very short (quarter of a mile) flat section, the course starts going downhill and it stays downhill for about 4 miles. At that point it makes a sharp left turn to head uphill for the first of the 2 climbs. I overheard someone say that from 5-19km is all uphill, so I had that 19km mark in mind the whole time. I was feeling pretty good and strong on the climbs and I just pushing up. I already knew that I would be taking some time off after this race so I was giving it all I had. I didn't care if I was hurting the next few days. Amy ran with me, but she wasn't feeling the greatest. At some point on the second climb she fell behind.

The finish is near. Only few miles to go
The course is a one big loop. There is only one short section of about mile or two where you have to go out and back. This is where I saw Amy again and she was about 3-4 minute behind me. On the first big climb we passed the Japanese female runner, that the film crew was there to film. However, she passed me again on this out and back part. She was not running that much faster than me, and I got a goal in mind to catch her and beat her. Mile after mile I kept getting closer and closer. I was waiting for the final mile to make my surge. My fueling and hydration were going well and I was feeling confident that I can run the last mile strong. And than the terrible cramp happened. First it felt like a little twinge in my left calf that would work itself out, and than BOOM. A very painful sharp pain my calf. Damn it. I was so pissed at my stupid leg. Dream of catching the Japanese runner was over. My last mile was a combination of running, walking and stretching the stupid thing. I was able to suck it up and run the last quarter of a mile through the finish line to make it in 4:14. Goal accomplished! I was very happy with my time, but at the same time pissed that my calf cramped up so close to the finish line. I kept thinking what went wrong and why this happened. Most likely it was the combination of long uphills and really brutal downhills that went of forever. Even though, we trained on the hills, there is nothing that sustaining where we live. At the end of the day I still had a good race.
All done!
Amy crossed the finish line few minutes behind me. She was happy with her time considering she wasn't feeling the greatest. We did our post race follow up with the Japanese guys and than moved on to a well deserved beer!

Our experience at Plitvice Marathon was wonderful. The course and the people were great. It is impossible to mention that the whole thing costs 140 kunas ($25), which included the race, pre and post race meals in the restaurant, beer, a medal, t-shirt and tickets to the national park for the whole weekend.
Pretty nice medal
Since I didn't want to wear the hydration pack, I only carried a handheld bottle. This worked out well as I was able to refill it through out the race since the they give out whole water bottles. Honestly, it is really wasteful since people only take few sips and discard the rest. Anyway, I fueled with Tailwind for about half of the race before switching to gels since Tailwind ran out. Tailwind is a great fuel, but I am not sure how to effectively used it in marathons without carrying the hydration pack.

I am back in the States now. Vacation is over. I took off about 2 weeks from running completely. Just in the last week I started to do some short runs. We have a pretty busy racing season in the fall, including the NYC Marathon, so the training will pick up soon enough.

Now back to work...


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