Prague Half Marathon 2014 – report

Back in 2011 Julie and I travelled out to Prague along with some of the girls from Hayle runners to run the Prague Half Marathon. Unfortunately for Julie, she came down with a horrendous chest infection on route to the event and was unable to run. Over the past couple of years we have discussed returning to Prague to give it another go and at the end of 2013 we went ahead and booked our trip, this time taking our husbands who don’t run along as well.

Prague in April can be very chilly, but back in 2011 I ended up running in temperatures somewhere about 80 degrees with no shade, watching runners collapsing all along the route due to the heat. I believe that last year all the runners were in warm tops, hats and gloves, so packing for this trip was going to be a nightmare, especially as I had only paid for one bag to go in the hold of the plane.

Checking the weather forecast on the computer didn’t help us much either, as all the days running up to our departure showed sunshine and then from the day we were due to arrive, cloud, sun and rain. Layers was the only option and with suitcase full to the brim I managed to squeeze it closed without sitting on it and kept fingers crossed that it wouldn’t set off the “Your bag is overweight alarm” and then being charged my weight in gold to get it on the plane. It’s a shame they don’t weigh some of the other passengers you see in airport queues, as if they put them on the scales, both me and my crammed suitcase would still be lighter.

Thursday April 3rd arrives with “Husband who plays golf” and myself meeting up with Julie and her husband at Bristol airport in the BAR. Start as you mean to carry on was the motto, so with large glass of red wine in hand and pint of beer for the husband we waited for our flight to start boarding (it was an evening flight just in case you thought I was hitting the bottle early).

Now I’m not a great fan of flying and I do suffer from pre flight jitters whilst waiting for the off, a bit like when I’m waiting to start a race. I’ve gone into “Isobel before a race” mode and have to check out all the toilet facilities several times over. Today though I may have just found a cure for this affliction? That huge glass of red wine Julie bought me rendered me practically nerve free. I was so laid back I almost fell over and NO I wasn’t drunk, just nicely sedated. If it works for flying could it work for running??????

The flight to Prague was smooth and on time. My pre booked taxi was waiting to take us to our hotel and the hotel I had booked (Best Western Premier Royal Palace) provided us with a wonderful room with a stunning view out over the floodlit castle, fantastic. By the way should you ever decide to travel to Prague I would highly recommend this hotel for its great rooms, friendly staff and brilliant location.

Spectacular view of Prague from Hana's hotel room window
Spectacular view of Prague from Hana’s hotel room window

Friday we awoke to bright blue skies and glorious sunshine, so after a quick breakfast it was time to shake the legs out and hit the streets on a whirlwind site-seeing tour with my husband. Prague is a very beautiful city and with glorious blue skies it is even more picturesque and photogenic than ever. The air temperature was warm and there was no need for coats hats or gloves, shorts and T shirt would be better. By lunch time we had worked up a thirst having walked the steep climb up into Petrin Park where all the Cherry trees were awash with white blossom. It almost looked like a snow scene. There just happens to be a café at this location and as Beer O’clock in Prague is any O’clock during the day or night it only seemed right to join in with the locals. I choose the local Pilsner lager and Husband goes for the Dark Beer (Large beer costs well under £2) The view out over the roof tops of Prague is magical, I could have stayed here all day, but no, we must now walk even more miles to collect my race number…….number 2105 (Julie is 2106).

Pre race carbo load, otherwise known as going out to dinner and having the excuse to eat as much as you like, takes us to a Old Town Square for a quick glass of Rose whilst sat people watching. My glass is so large that the measure of wine in it could easily evaporate before even reaching my lips; sadly the wine measure does not meet the size of the glass. OK, so the glass is that size to allow the drinker to get the full effect of the wines bouquet……..but if I inhale the sweet aroma too much the wine as I said before, will evaporate……. better drink it quickly then. It’s then onto a restaurant where a huge 4 course meal in devoured accompanied by a duet, playing Jazz. Julie and I thought it very civilised even if the husbands do mock the band. (We may have to do the next away trip on our own Julie, if they don’t behave?)

Saturday 5th April and race day arrives. I don’t have to get up too early as the race start time is at the very civilised hour of 12 noon. Cereal, banana and toast are my breakfast choice today. I’m not a fan of ham, cheese, olives and salad, or spinach soup come to that, for breakfast, all these items being available at the breakfast buffet. There is also a huge chef in the courtyard waiting to cook anyone an omelette. He looks like the Hungarian chef from the Muppets and Julie decides to test his culinary skills. She had a little battle trying to get him to cook a plain omelette, but came away with something similar.

Outside it is overcast, there is no wind, no rain and the air temperature feels almost cool, Fantastic, let’s just hope it lasts for the race. I opt for shorts, TRC running vest sunglasses for the glare and my good old security hanky. Hair tied back in my attempt to look like a Teletubby and Julie and I head for the start area. I’ve sent husband off with his camera for the morning and suggested he may like to be at the finish line at 13:50hrs to see me run the last 200m, I don’t think I’ll be getting in any earlier than that and especially when there are 12500 runners in this sold out event.

Prague 2014
Hmmm, what have we here?!

Time to check out the toilets, the portable variety were in abundance, none of which had the infamous words “Porta Loo” printed on them. We had a choice of pretty yellow ones with “Johnny” written on the doors, a few green ones, and best of all Pink ones with “Jenny ladies choice” on the door. Ladies choice it may have been, but we had men in the queue as well. Anyway all were clean and in no way as fearsome as three years ago. Last time the internals of the portable loo’s were the equivalent of a very open long drop toilet and should you have lost balance you would have disappeared into a black hole of SH-T! This year it was good old toilet with seat and foot pedal to activate the flush. Outside there were pillars dotted about with hand gel dispensers for us to use but best of all the queues were very short. Very impressive indeed for such a large event. I even saw a portable shower block, but wasn’t brave enough to look inside, anyway I had a great hotel bathroom to use post race.

Prague 2014
Hana’s Choice!

Julie and I make our way to the starting pens; we are in pen “H” the one for runners expecting a 1:50 finishing time. If it is anything like 2011, your finish time makes diddly squat difference when it came to what box you were in, as I spent the first 3 miles squeezing passed runners who had been in pens ahead of me, who wouldn’t make the finish in 2:30 let alone 1:50.

I nibble on my new pre race favourite food, two squares of good old fashioned “Kendal Mint Cake” the white variety. No gels or power aids for this “Old Croc” just good wholesome sugar flavoured with mint. There are constant announcements over the PA system in an assortment of languages with an occasional English translation. I cannot hear anyone around us speaking English or see any vests with British club names on. We are alone in a sea of Eastern European BO (that’s body odour if you were wondering what I meant) and two males are even scent marking the wall of the building we are corralled next to.

Time for the off, the elite runners are somewhere ahead of us, Ma Vlast by the Czech composer Smetana is being broadcast over the sound system and as the gun goes off we are slowly shuffling pen by pen towards the start like lambs in the slaughter house. It takes 4.5 minutes from the gun until we cross the actual start line then it’s out over some blue carpet and onto the cobbles interspersed with tram lines and kerbs in the middle of the road. I’m having to look down to avoid tripping over feet, stones, tram lines etc… then contort myself into some weird shapes to slip between runners ahead of me. This is a hazardous job, as I have males with protruding elbows pumping to and fro like pistons on a steam engine just at my nose height. Then there are males already performing nose rockets and avoiding the snot stream is a game in itself. I say “Thank you” in my most British indignant voice to the male whose bodily fluids have sailed by my right leg, but to no avail he is oblivious, caught up in the excitement of the day. Grrrrrr!

The course takes us along Krizovnicka passing the famous Charles Bridge, but as we are in a sort of tunnel you cannot actually see the bridge. We then continue along Smetanovo nabrezi with the river to our right and the National Theatre on our left. The crowds are large with lots of cheering and bands dotted along the route playing rock music to motivate us. My legs feel good. I’m still upright and haven’t tripped over the cobbles etc but I’m still having to weave in and out of the slower runners.

At 2km we head left away from the river passing “Tesco’s” then do a loop before heading back towards the river. I pass a drinks station where paper and plastic cups have been dropped onto the road and I find myself having to adopt smaller steps to avoid standing on these items. On offer at the drinks station is water, energy drinks and tea. There are also sponges to go with this but not the jam and cream variety, just the grubby looking ones soaked in water for you to use to cool yourself down with. I decline all 4 items and carry on my way. What I do note though, is in various places on the road are tubes of toothpaste. Why would runners discard toothpaste, is this a Czech fetish?

At 6km we cross Palacky Bridge and turn left heading into a more industrial area and the air is filled with the scent of fresh lager. Surely the male runners around me haven’t been hydrating on lager? No, we are running alongside a brewery and there stood on the pavement to my right are people handing out samples of lager. My brain and thought processor pauses for a moment…..I’m in Prague, its beer o’clock maybe I should have a swig……..common sense kicks in, and I pass the offer by. I don’t drink water in a Half Marathon, so why would I drink Lager? Stupid woman!

At 7.5km we turn back on ourselves but just prior to this amongst the runners ahead of me but running towards me, if you get my gist, was a pace setter carrying the flag with 1.40 on it. I check my Garmin and I’m running really well at about 7.40 minute miles. When I set my PB last year my pace was 8.04, I now have a quick panic and wonder what to do? I don’t do negative splits, I never have a race strategy, all I do is run and let my legs dictate the pace. Today it’s going really well and I’m actually enjoying myself. Last weekend’s half marathon doesn’t seem to have affected me too much.

At 9.5km we turn right across The Legion Bridge and have the river to our left. The crowds are large and cheering us all on and music is being played by different bands. I see even more toothpaste tubes discarded on the road ahead of me, then I see one which has the label on view and it’s a type of energy gel. Thank goodness for that, Kendal Mint cake is one thing but eating Toothpaste is a bit weird.

We pass through the tunnel near to Charles Bridge once again and as we reach the start/ half way point at Manes Bridge, a motorcycle outrider approaches from the opposite direction. A TV helicopter hovers above us. The crowds are cheering louder than ever and then all the runners around me including myself start clapping and cheering as the leading Male races at speed over the last 200m to the finishing line. He completes the race in under an hour and I have still got 10km to go.

After crossing the bridge we turn right keeping the river on our right and run a further 4km before turning right again crossing Libertisky Bridge. The route turns right again and we are now heading back towards the start/finish area. My legs are tired now and although the temperature is favourable and the sky is still overcast I’m sweating like a pig. Security hanky and I make a brief pause at the water station at 18km and I have to make sure I take the correct liquid as I don’t want to drink any, just soak my hanky in water not tea. I wipe my face with my soggy hanky, a face that feels like it’s made of candle wax and placed next to a fire.

My pace has slowed. The 1.40 pace setter is nowhere to be seen and I settle into the mindset that if all goes well I should make the finish in 1.50ish. At 20km we turn right across Cech Bridge and ahead of us are steps climbing up to a very large red metronome which replaced a statue of Stalin that once stood there. I prayed that they hadn’t rerouted the race up these steps as I might just have cried if they had. Thankfully we turned left instead and with 1km to go I checked my Garmin and realised I was actually ahead of schedule. Blast that could mean “Husband who plays golf” who is always right on time might not be there to see me finish.

With my head down, sweat pouring, crowds cheering I race to the finish line and cross the line in 1.47.52. It isn’t a PB but it’s my best Half Marathon time since March last year. I’m a very happy “Old Croc” with a big smile on my face.

I unclip my timing chip and hand it over to a race marshal. I’m presented with a Space Blanket which I quickly wrap around me. We are given a nice medal and a plastic bag with a bottle of water in and Sports Bar. I shuffle towards a table with cups of isotonic drinks laid out for us to take and I linger in this zone. I down one cup very quickly, grab a second, third and fourth. Then in one of the empty cups I gather up 3 halves of banana and wander slowly to where I had arranged to meet my husband. He’s there waiting, trying to catch Julie crossing the finish line but an ambulance has arrived and is dealing with one pour soul who has collapsed 100m from the finish line.

Prague Half Marathon 2014
Hana and Julie

 

There are still runners crossing the Bridge who have only made it to the half way point at 2hrs plus, to which my husband announces that he could have walked the route quicker. He may be right. This was a race though with a multitude of different abilities from the elite runners, club runners, charity runners and walk run groups. There were relay teams and I have to say that many of the relay runners looked and sounded like they were dying. Maybe it was a team building exercise for them, but they didn’t sound as if they were having much fun. Maybe they should try paint ball next time. There were also charity runners pushing disabled children in amazing looking running wheelchairs. This must have been resistance training at a different level for the runners but the children looked as if they had had a marvellous time.

Post race recovery included a long hot shower, followed by copious cups of hot tea whilst luxuriating in a deep bubble filled bath eating a “Snickers Bar”. God doesn’t this woman know how to live. Then it was a walk up into Petrin Park, and at 6:30pm husband and I sat in now glorious sunshine on the terrace sipping chilled white wine (Beer for the old man) looking out over the roof tops of Prague. Julie and her husband soon arrived via the Funicular railway. We then enjoyed a beautiful meal in the Nebozizek Restaurant at the same location where as daylight faded; the view over the city of Prague and its castle became even more magical. If I wasn’t already married it would have been the perfect place for a marriage proposal………..take note any boys out there thinking about popping the question……………not to me though!

So all in all:

  1. Race organization…..very good.
  2. Location………………magical, but the route does not take you through the Historic part of Prague. The course though has PB potential as it’s practically flat.
  3. Marshals……………..faultless. No road crossings, as the roads or parts of roads were closed to traffic.
  4. Toilets………………..Portable, clean, and very short queues.
  5. Showers……………..Portable ones provided, but I had the luxury of my hotel room to return to.
  6. Race Memento…….disappointing for the cost of the race. A small back pack, a medal, a couple bottles of a fizzy ginger/fruit drink, bottle of water and a Sports Bar. I would have liked a T-Shirt but you had to pay extra for them. Hey, I have loads anyway.

So if you want a good excuse to visit Prague in the spring time, then this is a great race to enter. Would I run it again? If money and time was no object, then yes, but I think I should try another location on my Half Marathon quest, don’t you?

Hana