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.
For most of the week before this race I was seriously expecting DNS to be appearing on the results list. On the day when I did actually decide to give it a go, I though it only 10% likely that it wouldn’t be DNF.
Training runs on the previous 2 weekends had resulted in a foot ‘problem’, a sharp pain through the phalanx-metacarpal region which made even walking very difficult. Although it gradually subsided during the week it was still there on Saturday so I was pleased I had opted for parkrun volunteering to give it more rest; I enjoyed giving out the finish tokens with some bingo descriptions, but had to look carefully to see who was approaching for 88. It was on the drive down to Margate/Cliftonville that I finally decided I would run, not really wanting to waste the entry fee and miss out on the medal!
Collecting bibs and then chips was a slow process. I had registered on line via Runners World, and it was causing registration problems, not just for me. I wasn’t the only one who was given a hand written bib when names couldn’t be located on the lists. It did lead to a slightly late start.
It was/is an excellent course, mainly along coastal paths with a few excursions along pavements/roads. Friendly and very helpful marshals everywhere and enthusiastic public support especially outside the pubs and cafes we ran past.
In the first km the discomfort was noticeable, and expecting it to only develop further, and it did, I was wondering how far away I would be before having to stop. As I ran past Bleak House, at 9k, a sharp pain made me fear the worst, however maybe I slightly changed how I placed my foot because it didn’t persist.
So I did complete the whole race, running very conservatively and enjoying it much more than last year when I took off much too quickly and paid for it by having to walk up the hills during the 2nd half. This time they were easy and I was overtaking other runners on them plus quite a number during the final 2k. I did not look at my Kalenji at all during the race, so was very pleased and somewhat surprised to see that I was considerably faster than last year and very close to a PB which I hadn’t considered at all possible.
I was able to cheer daughter & son-in-law, Cat and Jon, in the full marathon, and maybe it helped Cat who came home as 2nd lady finishing strongly over the last couple of miles; and another one ticked off by Jon, marathon number 81 on his quest for 100. We ended up drinking cider and watching Arsenal (Jon’s team) v Spurs.
As so a week to recover before all 3 of us repeat it at The Bacchus next Sunday.