28 June 2015

DHL Marathon

Last week, on the 20th of June 2015, I participated in the DHL mararthon race. My first participation in this event and my second marathon of the year. I may ran another marathon in the autumn and this would be it for 2015.

At 10 years old (but with less than 10 editions), DHL Marathon is a quite mature event, older than many other popular running races in Romania. It is a mountain race, but 80% of it is on paved roads, Just about 8 km of the route, at the end of the race around Poiana Brasov is on trails. In any case, the route is varied and beautiful, appealing to both mountain and road runners.

The event has three races: Marathon, Half-marathon, and 6x7 km relay, which is also the most popular race. I was thinking of participating, but I was undecided - road running is not my first choice. A few weeks before the race I was asked by a good friend if I want to join a relay team. I quickly found out that I can run the first leg of the relay and also continue to do the full marathon. I sounded good to me so I quickly made my mind that I should participate!
1'st relay change. in Paraul Rece (Photo by Dragos Dragomir)
My only fear was the weather; it can be quite warm in June;. Actually, this year, the month of June started with very warm weather. In 2014 the weather was quite cold, good for running; this year, in my opinion, it was even closer to perfect! The day started with  a sunny morning, just good to keep us warm at the start line in Predeal without the need of extra clothing layers. Soon it got rather cloudy and the temperature was cool and pleasant for running. After midday the clouds thickened, it started to rain quite abundantly and the weather got quite cold!

I was OK with the rain, as this was towards the end of my race and it kept my tired muscles cool. Knowing the weather forecast I was equipped with a rain jacket that was useful on the last few kilometers when it got cold. However, I think that the rain was quite a challenge for the slower and less experienced runners, especially for those unprepared for the cold rain.

The rather unusual altitude profile of the race was in my advantage. First half of the race is mostly downhill, while the second part consists of mostly rather steep uphills. As I almost never run of flat terrain and my specialty is running uphill, in the second half of the race I kept overtaking runners, slowly advancing upwards on the ranking table. Most of the participants in this race were road and flat-land runners - I could see that some of them were having a hard time on the uphill.

I must mention that most serious trail and mountain runners in Romania were participating during the same day in another event: Retezat Sky Race. So most of the competitors in the DHL race were road runners.

The organizers did a very good job. I was very pleased with the hydration points that were evenly spread along the route every 3-4km. There was plenty of water and also isotonic drinks, so although I did not carry any water with me I was well hydrated during the race. As the rules of the race did not mention any food along the route, I took two gels with me. I normally do not take any gels even in races, but they were very hand during this race as they are compact and easy to carry and provide a bit of extra energy, more useful in fast paced road races than in the slower trail races I am used to.

My goal was to finish the race in under 4 hours. However the cool weather helped a lot and I managed to finish about 25 minutes earlier than my target! Not bad for a route with about 800m of elevation gain. I was afraid that I ran too fast in the first half of the race as around km 20 I started to feel my legs tired. I was eagerly waiting the uphill and I was right; the change in the muscle use made me feel fresher...

The last 5km were the hardest of the race. Tired, after running at full speed, mostly on paved roads, it was not so easy to change to trail running. In any case this was the part of the route that I enjoyed the most; beautiful route! I arrived at a deserted finishing line! It was raining hard and everybody was sheltering in the big tents erected by the organizers for this event.

All in all it was a great experience! A fast race, much faster than what I am used to when running on trails. I enjoyed a lot running on  the mountain roads, as the organizers did a good job stopping all motorized traffic during the race! It was great to have the road just for ourselves!
The last kilometer - on the trail through the rain. (Phot by Corina Onciou)
I think that I also did a decent job as part of my relay team. I did not run with my highest speed as I had to conserve energy for the rest of my race. The second leg of the relay race I ran together with my change team mate, my old friend Nic, chatting all the way on a variety of subjects.

After the main event, my daughter participated in the kids race. Unfortunately, due to the rain and the freshly formed mud, the kids race course was shortened. Nevertheless, the kids had fun and enjoyed running in the mud!

Will I participate next year? I am not sure I would be so lucky with cool weather again... I tend to avoid summer races as I am afraid of hot weather. I also tend not to repeat the same races every year. We are spoiled in this part of the country with a wide variety of mountain running races, plenty to chose from. It was a great race, but fast one, faster than I am used to. It took me a whole week to recover after the race, more than it takes after a trail mountain marathon. I am not a road runner and I could feel it!

For those curious, here is the GPS track that I recorded with my mobile phone during the race. The first few hundred meters are missing, as I forgot to start the GPS recording at the start.

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