26 April 2014

Brasov Marathon 2014

Today I participated in my first trail running race of this year: the 38 km Brasov Marathon mountain trail race. It was the third edition of Brasov Marathon, one of the mountain running competitions organised by the CPNT club from my hometown Brasov.

In 2012, the first edition had only cross and half-marathon races; I ran the half-marathon race then - It was my second half marathon ever. In 2013, at the second edition, a long and difficult marathon race was added to the event. but I competed again in the half-marathon race, because the event was just two weeks before  Ecomarathon, where I was already registered for a full marathon race. This year I decided to skip Ecomarathon and to attend the full marathon race of the Brasov Marathon event. I had to! It takes place on the trails that I know so well, practically on my "backyard playground".

Brasov Marathon is one of the most difficult trail marathon races in the area. After the last year race, many experienced runners said that it is probably the most difficult mountain marathon in the area. This year however, the course was shortened from about 42km to a more manageable 38km and to "just" 1880m of elevation gain. A difficult climb of 300m elevation gain, on Gabony Steps up to Tampa Mountain top was removed from the route. The climb on the Gabony Stairs is still part of the half-marathon route, making it also one of the most difficult half-marathon routes in the area.

As I already mentioned in older posts, I am reducing the number of competitions. Brasov Marathon is one of the very few races where I plan to participate this year. I want concentrate more on quality than quantity. By quality I do not necessarily mean better race results, but races that I can prepare better and enjoy more.

The almost snow-less winter meant that instead skiing I ran a lot during the last months, so I felt quite prepared for this race. On Monday, 5 days before the race, I did a reconnaissance run to Postavarul Peak. It was one of the hardest runs I ever did! Above 1400m there was a lot of fresh, wet, almost knee deep spring time snow. Running through this snow felt like being in a juice squeezer! Totally Exhausting! Moreover, after the hard running session I got a stiff and painful back. So I had to rest for the next four days before the race. The rest was welcomed, not to mention that it rained most of the time. To my relief, on Friday the back pain was almost gone and I started to feel again energetic, ready for trail running! The mountains were calling me again!

The race was very well organised. On Friday evening I attended the technical briefing so I could clarify all the details of the route. For safety reasons the organizers did some last minute route changes so even though I know the area so well, attending the briefing was still very useful. During the race, everything on the route was as described at the briefing. The route was very well marked and volunteers were placed at the critical cross-roads.

I was surprised to see how much snow had melted in the five days since my reconnaissance run. Most of the fresh snow was gone. The snow still on the route was mostly old frozen snow. In some places the snow was replaced by sticky mud, but mud is much less problematic for running than deep and wet snow.

Again, I ran the race without carrying any electronic gadget with me, except my small dumb-phone that I had for emergencies - I did not touch it during the race. I did not have even a watch with me! I find any gadget to be distracting during a race.

The start was quite early, at 8 AM, so I had to chose a breakfast that would be easy to digest. At 6:30 AM I had my traditional big bowl of integral oats with home made yogurt. Then I added a caloric bomb: 250g of organic vanilla mouse... The evening before I had a good but quite light meal: pasta with sardines and lots and lots of spring garlic. It looks like my choice of food was well inspired. I felt very comfortable and energetic during the race. I did not feel any hunger until well after the race. I only had two small banana pieces from the hydration stations along the route. I did not carry any gel or energy bar with me, just a 600ml bottle filled with fresh lemonade that I prepared in the morning. I drank quite a lot of water and isotonic at the refreshing points and used my lemonade on the longer stretches between hydration stations points.
Reaching Postavarul Peak - 1799m. The highest point of the route
The profile of the course was not the most optimum for my running style. Most of the up-hill sections were in the first half of the race. I am good on uphills, but quite slow and cautious on downhills. I managed a very good climb to Postavarul Mountain Peak, the highest point of the route at 1799m. However, the route back from there consisted of mostly long downhills, giving a good chance to other competitors that are better than me on downhill to catch and overtake me. And this is exactly what happened. At least, to my surprise it happened much later than I anticipated and just a couple of runners overtook me... but they included the third finisher in my age category. Well, he deserves his place. He is a much better and experienced downhill runner than me and at the finishing line he was 5 minutes ahead of me! So once more, I finished in the fourth place in my age category. The previous year I was the fourth of my age group in the half-marathon race. I checked the half-marathon results of this year... with my last year time I would have also been the fourth in my age category...

The weather during the race was perfect for running; quite cool and pleasant. The rain that fell almost uninterrupted for four days stopped during the night before the race. During the morning the weather became sunny. As most of the route was through woods, the air kept cool and pleasant for most of the race duration.

As a conclusion, it was again a very well organised race by bighearted volunteers. I have also noticed that the organizers have listened to the feedback they got from the participants of the previous editions and implemented most of the suggested changes and improvements.
I also noticed the great fair-play spirit of all competitors - we all enjoyed a lot this race!

Will I do it again in 2015? Definitely yes! Depending on the races calendar I will decide then if I will do the full or the half marathon, but nevertheless, I plan to participate again! See you then!

Some of the photographers were very quick to post their photos on the web. Here I am just before the finishing line, running together with a runner with whom I "shared" the last kilometer.
photo by Gabi Varzari

22 April 2014

April in Brasov

After two weeks of cold weather with rain and snow, finally a warm sunny day in Brasov! It is Easter Sunday, a perfect time for a walk with the family. Walking at a slow pace gives me time for taking photos along the ways where I so often enjoy running but never stop to take photos...

Schei District

An old and picturesque district of Brasov, nestled between wooded hills. It is so close to the city center and yet, sometimes it feels like a village! Many old traditions are kept alive here!

The old road to Poiana Brasov (Drumul Vechi)

One of Brasov's favorite walking routes, linking Brasov, from the southern tip of Schei District to Poiana Brasov Mountain and ski resort. 

Sub Tampa

The favorite promenade of Brasov. The one kilometer long alley runs along the old city walls, at the bottom of Tampa Mountain.

12 April 2014

Snow at last!

It is almost mid April and at last we got some serious snow on the mountains! In the 2013-2014 winter season we had almost no real winter in Brasov! It was the weirdest winter I remember. It felt more like  a long autumn followed by a very early spring, with just a couple of weeks in between that felt like real winter. Moreover, not only that the winter was unusually warm, but it was also very dry, with little snow on the mountains.

So this winter, instead skiing I did a lot of trail running. I almost declared the ski season closed, when surprise! Three days ago, suddenly, the weather got cold and wet. Down in the city it rained almost continuously for more than 3 days. Higher than 1000m it snowed. This morning I had my first and last real powder ski day of the season in Postavarul Mountain. 9 downhills through powder snow from the top of the ski slopes (1770m) down to Poiana Brasov ski resort (1050m). The upper half of the mountain was covered in 70cm of fresh dense powder snow, perfect for skiing. The lower part had about 40cm of wet and heavy snow, a bit more demanding for skiing.

It was a great skiing day! Here the few photos I took... the rest of the time I was busy skiing...
Waiting for the cable-car. It looks promising!
Through the wet window of the cable car
Big Powder, here I come!
On the top ridge of Postavarul Mountain
I wish I could see my trace, but the whole day was wet and foggy
Back home. The snow came down the mountain very close to the city
In the evening, a look back at the webcam on Postavarul... The weather seem to get better!

05 April 2014

Semimaraton Intersport, Brasov, April 5, 2014

In 2012, the first edition of Intersport half-marathon, was my first ever trail running competition. Back then I was into trail running for less than a year. Better trained and with more experience, I returned in 2013 and did it 20 minutes faster than the previous year, almost reaching the top 15% of the finishers! 

This year I decided to have a look at this competition from a different angle and I did not register. I am trying to reduce the number of competitions. Lately I tend to prefer slightly longer trail races in the 30-45km range and also with more elevation gain. I am not a very fast runner , definitely not a flatland runner, and this race is a rather fast one with only around 600m of positive elevation gain. This time I preferred to relax and enjoy the atmosphere, so I went on the route to take photos of the competitors in the half-marathon race. I know how much I enjoy finding photos with me on the Net after a race and I know that others do!

The competition takes place on the beautiful wooded hills around my home city Brasov, along the paths that I love and where I usually run. First 8.5km are a long uphill to Poiana Brasov mountain resort, along a winding unpaved forest road giving enough room for overtaking. From Poiana the trail returns to Brasov along  a beautiful single trail that follows the top of the hills until Tampa Mountain saddle. The start/finish area is just a couple of minutes from my house in Unirii Square (Piata Unirii, more traditionally called Prund). I could even see the finishing gate from my home and I listen "live" to the speaker announcements!

I did the race route twice earlier in the week and noticed that the trails were in a very good condition. The route was already well marked a few days before the race. Two huge fallen trees that were blocking the trail were cut and taken out of the way. In the previous years there were some serious mud problems. In 2013 part of the route had to be diverted to avoid a 500m stretch with knee deep mud. Following a very dry and warm winter, this time there was not a trace of mud on the way! Perfect conditions for a new best time of the race. The second time winner, Vitalie Gheorghita, finished in an unbelievable time for a 20km trail race with 640 meters of elevation gain: just 1:15:30! Actually it was 25 seconds slower than his own time of the the previous year. I would guess that the slightly longer time was due to some wet and slippery trail sections.
Vitalie Gheorghita, the second time winner of the race
The weather forecast this year was not good at all. In 2013 the weather was just perfect. In in 2012 the rain stopped just before the start of the race, but this year it was the other way round... the rain started just before the start. For the race day, the National Meteorological Authority issued a warning saying that the weather will get cold, wet and windy during the day. Although overcast, the morning was nice, quite warm and dry. Knowing that the weather can turn bad at any time I rushed out and did a 19km trail run session on the hills to Poiana Brasov and back. I ran partly along the race route, but my route had a bit more altitude gain, also reaching Tampa mountain top. From there I rushed home, in time to get some rest. I then grabbed an umbrella, some warm clothes and a camera and then I rushed up the hill to Stechil meadow, somewhere in the middle of the race route, the place where I took the photos.
With 700 registered participants, there was quite some traffic along the route!
The start countdown started a couple of minutes earlier than 12PM, the official start time. I guess that the rain that was just starting made everybody inpatient. I arrived in the square just as the last runners were disappearing in the distance. I knew that I only have 40 minutes to climb the 400m to Stechil Meadow. I arrived in time to prepare for taking the photos. As it was raining I did not take my best camera. Instead I took my little compact waterproof camera... So at least I have an excuse for the bad shots... I am really sorry that I missed a few runners! A few shots are also out of focus and some are not so well framed, but overall I am quite pleased with the results! Most jpeg files came out just fine out of the camera!

You are free to use any photo, as long as you give credit to the author. You can also contact me for a larger resolution version of the photo.

The umbrella was very useful as it rained almost all the time. I also noticed that while I stood taking photos for 1.5 hours, the weather got colder and colder. After an hour I had to put on my gloves as my hands started to freeze. In the morning before the race, the temperature in Brasov was almost 15C. By the end of the prize ceremony the temperature went down to 2C... Actually the weather was not too bad for running. The rain was quite light, most runners finished before it got too cold and there was almost no wind.
The start/finish area in Prund (Piata Unirii). The race route follows the hill tops in the distance
Overall, from what I could see, the 2014 edition of this race was again very well organized! Congratulations to the organizers and to all volunteers!

See you again in 2015!