My first two marathons this year were in well recognised political hotspots where violence had been and is still being experienced, with official warmings about travel to the cities of Jerusalem and Kharkiv. Podgorica is not one of the better known European capital cities, Montenegro eventually becoming a totally independent country in 2006, following the breakup of Yugoslavia and its then association with Serbia. Milo Đukanović has been prime minister or president since 1991 and the weekend before the marathon the opposition organised demonstrations, which were eventually broken up, and demanded that he resign within 7 days. The next protests were planned for the day before the marathon. Thousands congregated noisily, in the square outside my apartment, and where the marathon was to start and finish, in the early evening before marching off the the parliament building and things became quiet; hours later I heard very loud explosions, saw smoke and flashes, and went to my balcony.
As soon as I opened the door my eyes and nose was stinging, clearly from the effects of tear gas. Fortunately all of the doors and windows were double glazed so I just retreated and watched from the windows. Police were clearly breaking up the demonstrations, and the nearby area was cleared over the next half an hour or so. The events then clearly moved on to other areas of the city, with bangs, flashes and smoke being observable in the skies for a number of hours.
I went to bed, earplugs blocking out all sounds, wondering what I would find in the square at 7.00am when my alarm was set for. I was greeted with clear blue skies, no signs on the night before in the square and the preparation for the marathon almost complete.
The expo on the Saturday wasn’t one, it was just a registration and t-shirt collection. But it was chaotic. It was supposed to start at 10.00, but when I arrived, after 13.00 there was a notice on the door telling us that it wouldn’t open until 14.00. I had met a local on the walk down who went in via a side door to investigate and returned telling us to come in this way. Whilst most people were waiting outside the main door we did successfully complete the registration. However, despite the fact that I insisted I had paid the €10 when I registered on-line, I was told this had not been an option so couldn’t have done! Not really being able to argue in the language and that fact that It was only €10 I did pay up, again. Everyone I subsequently spoke to said exactly the same thing had happened to them!
It’s difficult imagine staying closer to the start of a race, I could have been in my room when the gun fired and still not been last over the start line! I did wonder down with 10 minutes to go and met a couple of serial marathon offenders. I had made contact with Donald Bierer before travelling over, and bumped into him when registering, he was running his 78th marathon in his 28th country. He was with Peter Bennett who was on country 92 (or was it 93?). I was still chatting when the starting gun fired, without any preliminaries. In the total brain freeze that hits when something you’re not expecting happens, I started my gps watch ,then realised I was well behind the start so stopped it and started it 10 seconds later, I’m sure we are all pedantic like that!
As in my last marathon I started being totally unsure if I would complete it. The injury I suffered in late July had resurfaced, with avengeance; just over a week after Ostravsky. I had done a particularly hard. long. hilly training run (why I have asked myself constantly since!) and ended up with the whole of my chest hurting in places that hadn’t hurts before, and the muscles beneath the chest rigid. A very slow recovery followed, again with almost no running except for 2 gentle parkruns on the last two weekends. So I had again decided to do what was necessary to get round, and that involved pain killers, as a precaution, before the start.
It was a runner friendly course, in effect flat (my gps came up with a less than 50m change over 15k not even noticeable.
Of course the first and final few k were through the city, including crossing the Millennium Bridge twice (does every city have a Millennium Bridge?) which amazingly must have been closed to traffic for almost the whole day. Then it was a big rather unexciting loop with a lot of long straight asphalt being plodded over.
My plan had been to repeat what had worked in Ostravka, steady running for as long as possible then revert to walk/run when it became necessary, around 30k I suspected. But that didn’t happen. At the start my legs didn’t feel as heavy as they were 7 weeks earlier and they didn’t object at 30k or 35k or 40k. Maybe I was just taking it even easier. The only walking was as I was using the water, supplied every 5k, to either drink or more often pour over my head, it was warm, bordering on hot, still 25 degrees C at 16.00 as the Sun was notable on the way dow, (sponges were also supplied almost every 2.5k between the water). But the pouring had to be performed carefully because our bibs were only thin card which disintegrated too easily. They started to appear on the road after just a few k, fortunately timing chips were attached to our shoes.
I’m not sure what went wrong with the measurements made by my new, replacement gps watch. I showed 41.8k but I certainly did cover every inch of the 42.195k course. It was a DNF for me – Did Not Fail.
Although not a time I would have felt satisfied with earlier in the year, the 4:16:12 gave me third place in my age category, with a reward of an extra medal and an envelope with a prize of €22.75 (€25 less 9%tax). The ‘awarding ceremony’ was as unusual as the expo. All winners we ushered, one at a time, into a room where passports were checked, we then had to sign that we had received the envelope with the cash.
There wasn’t too much left inext day after a meal, a few ‘pints’ and a couple of enjoyable hours listening to heavy metal in The Montenegro Cafe/Pub.
So marathon number 16 has been done, in country number 16. Next up will involve the longest trip in my alphabetic quest to a different continent and one of the southerly marathons in the world, and the opportunity to parkrun in 2 different countries.