20 May 2013

Ecomarathon Moieciu 2013

About two years ago, soon after I started to take running more seriously, I have discovered on the web that there are quite a few trail running races taking place around my home city Brasov.  A race that caught my attention was Ecomarathon in Moieciu de Sus. I looked at the photos and I immediately became enthusiastic. I had to register! The cross race of Ecomarathon Moieciu 2012 was my first ever trail running race I have registered to participate. At that point I felt that I am enough prepared for a 14km race but not for a full marathon. Looking back I can see that I did the right decision.
During 2012, with my beginner enthusiasm,  I have participated in quite a few more trail races held around Brasov. Mostly half-marathons. In October I was prepared to run my first full marathon, the famous and equally well organised Piatra Craiului Marathon. After that I knew that I had to return to Moieciu and do the 'whole thing'.
Moieciu "downtown"
One reason to return was that of all the races I participated in 2012, Ecomarathon had the most extraordinary atmosphere. And there are a few reasons for it:
  • It is very well organised and attracts good runners from all over Romania and also from abroad
  • The route has 3 loops; all of them start and finish in the center of Moieciu de Sus. This means that during the race there is lots of animation in the Start/Arrival area: many supporters, runners starting a new loop or finishing, good music, live comments and news.
  • The scenery is simply stunning and the route gives some of the best views of the mountains from all possible angles.
  • The route is not very technical and it is never very far from the village, giving the participants a sense of safety. Yet with 6 long climbs totaling 2400m in altitude this is a challenging race.
More about the route on the event website.

So in 2013 I returned to Moieciu to finish the job I started last year. I had to run the complete marathon course! Since the demand is high and number of participants is limited I registered early.
It was my second full marathon and I felt quite well prepared for it. I counted 130 running sessions in the previous year, mostly 10 to 15 kilometers of trail running on the hills around Brasov, sometimes longer until Postavarul Peak. The weeks before the marathon I did a few long runs of 25-30km, keeping a low pace. In this way I prepared my body for the long run without wearing it out.
Bangaleasa Valley with Bucegi Mountains in the background
This year I have booked a room for me and my family in a nice and quiet bed and breakfast: Dragoslovean House. Being close to the start line in the race day helped me to keep all the energy for the race. I did my warming-up just running the few hundred meters from the house to the start area.

I got my start kit the evening before the race. It contained a technical t-shirt with nice colors and the race logo on it. The kit also contained the latest issue of the Romanian runners magazine alerg.ro, an energy gel and a few other goodies. Of course the number and the timing chip were included. Everything was well prepared in numbered bags so the registration was very quick. I also registered my daughter for the children's race - This was free and she also received a nice start kit including a t-shirt with the race logo. After the race she also got a finisher medal; it made her very happy!

Before the race I have applied my "personalised" meal plan that I have discovered it works best for me. Some simple pasta with tomato sauce and a bit of cheese in the evening. Then a very consistent breakfast in the morning before the race. Quite a regular one, but the bulk of it consisted of integral cereals (muesli). I also had some cheese and quite a few slices of bread with delicious plums marmalade - home made by the host. The host must have believed that I didn't eat for days before the race as the breakfast table was meticulously emptied.

The big breakfast and especially the cereals were slowly digested giving me energy for the whole race. I did not feel hungry during the race and also a couple of hours after. The inflated belly forced me to run slower at the beginning of the race and this is a good thing in a long race. I only had a few bits of fruit (banana and apple) during the race. I carried an energy gel in the pocket, but this was just for emergency use. I did not touch it as I didn't feel the need.

The day was unusually warm for the first half of May. The air was however very dry so I did not feel the heat too badly. High on the hills there was a gentle breeze so it was quite pleasant to run.

Before the race I have studied the location of the hydration points and have decided that I am not going to carry a bottle with me. I knew that this is a well organised race and that they will not run out of water  The plan worked well. At each hydration point I knew what follows on the route so I drank accordingly. I drank both half plain water and isotonic drinks. Isotonic drinks are important when running hard on a hot day. I could see how much salt I have collected during the race on my t-shirt so obviously that salts had to be replaced.

I tried to keep everything minimalistic during the race. As the weather was warm and very stable I did not have to carry any extra clothes. So I just ran in shorts and a t-shirt without any bag. I had a cap and sun glasses. The sun glasses kept getting soiled with sweat, but they proved very useful. During the race I would take them off when entering in the forest so my eyes could adapt in an instant to the darkness.

Another decision along the minimalistic lines was to run without a watch! My mobile phone could tell me the time if I needed, but I never touched it during the race - I had the phone for emergencies only. Running without a watch was a joy! Instead of looking all the time at the watch and being stressed about the time and other parameters, as I often do when running, I looked at the amazing scenery and this was relaxing!

At the start line I positioned myself in the first quarter of runners. I did not want to be too in front to avoid a fast start, but I also did not want to be too behind and lose time overtaking.

I was familiar with the first loop from the previous year cross. The cross route is the same as the first loop of the marathon. The start time is also the same for both the marathon and the cross races . First kilometers are on the paved road and I ran at a comfortable pace, but not too slow. I was thinking that I should not be too late at that narrow bridge... At the bridge surprise! It is much wider than last year. 

On the first uphill I tried not to get too enthusiastic as I always overtake on the climbs. This time I had to keep calm as I had a long race ahead of me.
On downhills it is the other way round; I am mostly overtaken. On the last steep descent of the first loop I slowed down a lot. I was overtaken by at least a couple dozen runners. I did not care. I knew that half of them are running just the cross and that I will overtake again marathoners on the uphills. It was more important to me not to twist an ankle and also not to stress my muscles too much. After the first loop I felt quite fresh. I ran it quite slowly; it took me two more minutes than the previous year so my plan to stay slower at the beginning of the race worked.
On the last leg of the first loop, before the steep descent
The second and the third loops were a total surprise for me as I was for the first time on most of the route. The first half of the second loop has a long stretch of beautiful landscapes as the route rolls on the top of gentle hills through pastures. I enjoyed very much this part. It ended with another quite steep descent, followed by the longest climb of the race. I enjoyed this climb as it was through the cool forest and I overtook quite a few runners. After the second loop I started to fell a bit tired, especially that down in the village it started to be quite hot. Before starting the third loop I drank quite a few glasses of water and isotonic (reusing a single glass) and ate a few fruit bits.

The third loop was amazing! The route offered the best panoramas of the day and also reached the highest point of the race. By now runners were scattered along the trail. I ran alone the most of the third loop. I overtook a  few runners and I was overtaken by one or two towards the end of the race. Other than this it was mainly a solitary run, but being in a race I did not feel alone. I enjoyed every bit of it: the amazing views of Bucegi Mountains, the cool scented breeze, the parfumes of the alpine pastures and of the forest, the gentle sounds of the nature.
On the third loop. Photo by Laurentiu Pavel 
On the last kilometers I felt quite tired but I could still run as it was mainly downhill. There was a runner behind me and even though I invited him to overtake me, he didn't. I soon realised that he is outside the competition. He was very nice and told me that he will run with me to the finish line. We were chatting a bit and this helped me to forget about my tired legs. By now it felt as my legs were made of led.
I was overtaken by one or two runners on the last kilometer. I did not care. I did not want to stumble and fall on the last leg of the race so I ran carefully. The finish line was close and I was happy to finish the race in one piece and fresher than I imagined I will be at the finish.
Supporters encouraging a marathoner before the finishing line
I crossed the finish line, got my finisher medal and then looked at the official clock. Close to, but still under 5 hours! I could not believe! My target was around 5 and a half hours. You can imagine that I was very happy with my result!

So, this was my race. For the rest of the time I enjoyed the surroundings and the atmosphere: socializing with other runners, pasta party, walks on the hills with my family, kids race, awards ceremony...

Next year? Most likely I will participate again! It is a great race. The organizers and the volunteers were so enthusiastic and tried to do everything as best as they could! And they succeeded! The race was almost perfectly organised... And I only say so because there is no such thing as absolute perfect...

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