02 June 2013

Tusnad Marathon 2013

This Saturday, on 1st of June 2013, I ran the Tusnad Marathon race. A 23km road race in the mountains, just a bit longer than a regular half marathon. This year the event celebrated its 5th edition and one could tell this; it was very well organised!

I was not planning to participate in this race as I tend to avoid running on paved roads and I also avoid races during the heat of the summer. However, less than a week before the race, Andrei, a work colleague, an enthusiastic runner, reminded me of the race. I quickly checked the route on the race website. It looked good to me. More than half of it in the forest, on a winding road up a mountain! The the first 4km are on a main road but the traffic is restricted during the race. I then checked the weather forecast and the weather for the whole week was going to be cool. Indeed, the weather on the race day was cool, just perfect for running. 
After checking the route and the weather forecast and I decided that I have to participate and I have immediately register.

The race starts in the center of Baile Tusnad (Tusnádfürdő in Hungarian), a small spa town and follows the windy road  round and up the Ciomatu volcano which is towering above the city. The finish line is on the shore of the beautiful Sfanta Ana Lake. This lake lies in the middle of the volcano crater! No worries, it is an extinct volcano! The main signs of the past volcanic activity are the famous and tasty mineral waters of the region and a few rock cracks and caves where bad smelling sulfurous gas reaches the  surface.
Just after the start, in the center of Baile Tusnad (Photo from the race organizers http://www.tusnadmarathon.ro/)
The start of the race, in Baile Tusnad is at about 650m altitude. The highest point of the route, on the crater rim reaches about 1100m, and the finish line by the lake is located at about 950m altitude. So the route is mainly uphill, something that I like in a competition as I am better at uphills than downhills or flat terrain.

The race was very well and efficiently organised. I got my start kit in the morning before the race. It contained a nice t-shirt, the number and the timing chip. I leaved my luggage in the registration office and it was transported by the organizers to the finish line. When I arrived at the finish, my back-pack was waiting for me, carefully placed in a shaded luggage area. There were well stocked hydration points every 5 kilometers along the route with both water and isotonic drinks. They also had fruit bits and other energy snacks, but I did not pay attention to them as I had my large cereals portion in the morning.

There were about 150 participants at the starting line. Most of them in the individual race. There were also a few teams registered in the relay race. First part of the race follows the main road to the South until Bixad village. It then turns to the East and starts with an ascent through the village. From here to the end, the route follows a local road with very little traffic. After the village the road goes for a few kilometers across pastures. As the sun was shining, this was the hardest part of the race. It felt a bit too warm, but soon the road reached the forest. The rest of the route is mainly under the thick canopy of the forest. It rained the day before, so it was wonderful to run through the cool and fresh forest! Here, on the uphills in the forest I overtook several runners. I was overtaken by just one runner and I had to admit that he was a much better runner than me.

The ascent through Bixad village (Photo from the race organizers http://www.tusnadmarathon.ro/)
 After reaching the rim of the crater, the road descents for the last 3km until the lake shore. I ran as fast as I could, as I wanted to keep my place in the race, knowing that downhills are not my specialty. I managed to keep my place, being overtaken at some point by two guys that were in the relay race so I did not care.
I reached the Finish line in just a bit under 1h49. I was very pleased with my performance as my target was to finish the race in under two hours.

The finish line, just by the Sf. Ana Lake
As I crossed the line, the speaker announced my name and my place... 4th in my age category (out of 22) and 12th overall. It happened again! It looks like the 4th place is reserved for me! This is my third half marathon race that I have finished on the fourth place at my age category. Anyway, with an average pace of 4:44 minutes per kilometer this is the fastest race I have ever run! I may never run a faster race as I run mostly on trails.

 The famous Sfanta Ana Lake, inside  volcanic crater of Ciomatu
The overall winners in the male category
The overall winners in the female category
The overall winners in the relay category
I relaxed and enjoyed the lake views until the awards ceremony. Then together with Andrei we hiked back the 8km path to Tusnad. We could have taken the special bus that brought the runners back to town, but I wanted to enjoy a bit more the scenery and explore the surroundings.



Back in town I visited one of the mineral water springs and tasted the water!  Wonderful water; tasty with minerals and fizzy as it also contains CO2. Tusnad mineral water, rich in minerals is just perfect to replace the salts lost by sweating during the race! Isotonic drink from  Mother Nature!

Table with the mineral content of the water
The house of  the mineral water spring in Baile Tusnad
Overall, I found this race to be harder than a trail running one. I guess it is just because I am not  used to run a complete race on paved roads. It is not the road surface, but the speed of running. This was a fast race, faster than what I am used when running on trails and on steeper terrain.
In any case, I enjoyed much the race and the beautiful landscapes along the route. Both Baile Tusnad and Sfanta Ana Lake are special and beautiful places with nice people. I am always happy to return here.
Will I do this race again? Maybe. If the weather next year is nice and cool like it was this year, I may register again for this race! But it will be much tougher as I will aim for a better place than 4th... ;-)