THE PRAGUE INTERNATIONAL MARATHON, MAY 13, 20073>
My Prague International Marathon story starts at the finish line where heat and exhaustion mixed with sheer joy at the end of what was, for me, an extraordinarily difficult marathon. Jan, who is pictured below, talked with me about how marathons require a combination of mind, body, and soul. My mind was out of this race early on, my body was unprepared for the heat and European Marathon conditions, and my soul was left to make-up the difference. I hope this story may be helpful to runners who are considering an overseas marathon.
Let's back up five days to the International Terminal of the Houston Intercontinental Airport.
British Airways pampered us on the flight to London.
What would a marathon story be without a picture from the plane window? This time a picture of the night sky at 38,000 feet.
Fast forward 6 hours to our landing at Gatwick Airport in London.
The layover in London was just long enough for a quick train ride to the City.
As we left Victoria Station, we noticed the Union Jack was flying over Buckingham Palace, which meant the Queen was not in residence. We decided to get a closer look at the Palace anyway.
Just two (rather than four) of the Queen's Guards were in front of the Palace, another sign that the Queen was not home.
Time for one more stop at the Westminster Cathedral . . .
to gaze at the beauty.
Did I say ONE more stop?
It was a big mistake to step inside a London Phone Booth . . .
. . . but I understood once we were back in Victoria Station. Public restrooms throughout Europe cost, on average, the equivalent of $1.00 U.S. In Prague, that price included torn newspaper.
Back on the plane for the quick flight to Prague.
Dobry den (hello), Praha. Jak se mas? (How are you?)
Minutes into the bus ride to our hotel we started to feel right at home.
Now that I think about it, this picture may help to explain my poor marathon performance. Pilsner Urquell is brewed in Plzen, just 60 miles west of Prague. The most delicious beer I ever tasted.
May 11th, and we started figuring out the metro and tram system to make our way to the Marathon Expo. It didn't occur to me at the time that Prague's cobblestone streets extended farther out than just the Old Town (Downtown) area.
The Marathon Expo was held in The Industrial Palace, the centerpiece of the Exhibition Ground built for the Jubilee of 1891. The sightseeing begins.
Many of the Expo volunteers and exhibitors spoke fluent English (as did many of the people we encountered in Prague), which made the Expo less difficult than anticipated.
What do you say, Geraldine?
Jana kindly walked me through the start number pick-up.
I was thankful for the English Translations. Not sure I would have stood in line for a "Cipy."
The timing chips were on velcro straps that runners wore around their ankles. I wore mine too low on my ankle for the first several kilometers, and ended up with a cut across the back of my ankle.
We decided to sign-up for the 4K Fun Run held the day before the Marathon, and Petra and Michaela helped us register.
Unlike other expos, cosmetic companies had a large presence at the Expo and served as primary sponsors of the PIM.
This separate focus on women was also present with our start numbers which were divided into two distinct series - one for men and one for women. Each of the genders had start numbers beginning with 1, while the womens' numbers were preceded by a pink "F."
The Expo provided our first chance to gaze at beautiful stained glass, which we saw throughout Europe.
Sky Europe would be flying us to Rome a couple days after the marathon, where we would start the second half of my Heritage Tour of Europe.
After leaving the Expo we hopped a tram to Prague's Little Quarter and climbed the 299 steps of the 100-year-old Observation Tower in Petrin Park. The Observation Tower is a one-quarter scale replica of The Eiffel Tower, and was also built for the Jubilee of 1891.
The view from the top of the Observation Tower gave us a great look at Prague's Charles Bridge (Karluv Most), the first of several bridges to be crossed during the marathon.
The spires in the center of this photo are those of St. Vitus's Cathedral, which houses the tomb of "Good King" Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia. The Cathedral is within Prague Castle which became the seat of the Czechoslovak president in 1918. The current president of the Czech Republic has an office in the Castle. We climbed the nearly 300 stairs of the Cathedral the day after the marathon. The ascent was much easier than the descent.
May 12th. The 4K Fun Run started in Wenceslas Square, so we arrived in the square early to sightsee and tour the National Museum. The temperature was 68 degrees and it was a slightly overcast and cool day.
An Italian Restaurant just off Wenceslas Square.
The National Museum featured an exhibit of prehistoric artifacts collected from the area. A few of my ancestors?
The view from the National Museum toward the Fun Run start at the other end of Wenceslas Square.
Walking to the start of the 4K Fun Run. The 8K Fun Run started from the blue inflated gate on the left.
Good King Wenceslas waved us to the start.
The Fun Runs brought out large crowds.
It was amazing to stand in a crowd of runners and be surrounded by historic buildings. These three women and crown adorn the top of the Koruna Palace on Wenceslas Square.
This should have been my first indication that the Czech people take their running seriously. I ended up beating the dog to the finish line - just barely.
This man ran the entire 2.5 miles with his baby on his back.
The start of the race was preceded by traditional music and costumed dancers. Several of the dancers moved to the start line to cheer us on.
It was interesting to run behind kids carrying backpacks and shopping bags.
The run took us past several beautiful buildings and gave a peak into the challenge of running on cobblestones.
Under the Powder Tower on our way to Old Town Square, the heart of the City of Prague.
This narrow street leading into Old Town Square was next to the street on which we would line-up for the marathon.
I made a mental note to remember this street.
Each Fun Run Finisher was awarded a medal, though water was difficult to find. Even water "with gas" (carbonated), the water of choice in Prague, was hard to come by at the finish area.
Old Town Hall
Kinsky Palace is to the right of the Volkswagen inflated gate. The blue mural to the left is wrapping the Jan Hus Monument, which was undergoing repairs. Jan Hus, a religious reformer and Czech hero, was burnt at the stake after being pronounced a heretic by the Council of Constance in 1415. Hus is a symbol of integrity for the Czech people because he gave up life rather than his beliefs.
The Marathon Start Gate awaited our return to Old Town Square tomorrow.
The Czechs acquire a love for beer at an early age. Staropramen (non-alcoholic) Beer was a sponsor of the marathon, and they had Beer Stops along the Fun Run and Marathon courses.
It seemed strange to watch a rock climber in front of Kinsky Palace.
The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn.
It's marathon morning! What would a marathon start be without black plastic bags? The temperature was in the low 60s, but it would soon heat-up to a sweltering 80 degrees, sunny and humid.
Mattoni was a sponsor of the marathon. The carbonated mineral water, along with another carbonated flavored water, was all that was offered at the water stops that were located at least 3 miles apart along the marathon course. By the time I reached the water stops during the last 10 kilometers of the marathon, the carbonated water was hot - not too refreshing. During previous Prague Marathons, a sports drink had been offered, but no such luck this year.
Posing for pictures before the start.
I began walking toward the start corrals down a narrow street off of Old Town Square. The corrals were divided according to start numbers, which had been assigned based on a runner's fastest marathon time.
Men numbers to 1250, women to 200. I kept walking.
Men to 2100, women to 350. I kept walking.
Men to 3200, women to 600. I was getting close.
Men to 4500, women to 999. My corral. But wait - there was only one person in my corral, and he was walking toward the lower numbers. My fastest marathon was just over 4:30. I couldn't believe that a time of 4:30 had me lining up last.
The view from the back of the pack. About ten of us lined-up honestly, according to our start numbers. I'm not sure I would do that again. Being the next-to last person to run through the start gate was a discomforting feeling. The promised pace teams were nowhere to be found.
Waiting for the race to start, I took this picture which exemplifies my PIM experience. Hot sun and cobblestones. I spent a lot of time during the marathon searching out the little paths in the roads and sidewalks where the paving bricks and stones were somewhat flat or placed close together. I had never expended so much energy while running just thinking about the placement of my feet.
I turned around after the start of the marathon and took a photo of the two people who started behind me.
Soon after the start, we passed through the Old Town Bridge Tower leading onto the Charles Bridge.
Running along the Charles Bridge.
We crossed the Vlatva River five times during the marathon. Fortunately, the bridges were all relatively flat.
The PIM promoters touted the course as flat and fast, with a very small percentage of cobblestones. I agree the course was flat.
Approaching 5K and the first water stop.
5K and the first water stop. Wait! Where's the water?
Nearly 3.5 miles and no water in sight. I wish I had brought some Czech crowns.
Elizabeth was the first of many friends I made during the PIM. She was stationed at the first water stop, right before the 6K point, and she yelled "Go Florida!" as I approached her table. "How did you know I was from Florida?," I asked. "Your shirt says 'Palm Beach.'" Duh! I never expected to find an American who knew Palm Beach was in Florida at the first water stop of the Prague Marathon. Thanks, Elizabeth, for making me feel at home in a foreign country. I recalled your cheer of support many times during the run.
Approaching 7K, crossing the Vlatva river for the second time.
Clay tennis courts in a public park.
Much of the Marathon was run on the outskirts of Prague, to the North and South of the historic areas. Though the views were more mundane, many of the roads were paved. As you can see, there were virtually no spectators in these long stretches.
I met Carol running through the Tesnovsky Tunel approaching 11K. Carol is a member of the New York Roadrunners, and she was running her first marathon in Prague. She woke up on marathon morning with a swollen toe and was really struggling to run through her pain.
I give you every credit for running your first marathon in a foreign country, Carol. Even my toughest marathon in the U.S. was nowhere as difficult as this marathon. If you get a chance, I would love to hear what you thought of the experience.
The first of a couple beer stops along the run.
Approaching 12K, the marathon course went through the finish area. Fortunately I made it to this point before the first full marathon finishers!
I met Jay and Peggy several kilometers before the half marathon point at 21K. They were from Boston and had run several marathons, including the Alaska Marathon, before their trip to Prague. Jay explained their race strategy of running 3K and walking 1K. At the time, that seemed like too much walking to me. Little did I know! Wish I had followed your strategy, Jay and Peggy. It was great seeing you two at the finish. Thanks for your great advice and warm smiles.
I wonder if you ever get used to running on cobblestones?
19K. The beautiful Vysehradsky Tunnel.
20K. PIM powercubes. Why hadn't I thought to include sugar cubes in my training regimen?
Approaching 23K. Sponges soaked in cold water were available between the too infrequent (for me) water (with gas) stops. By the time I reached the last 10K, the only sponges available were those that had been picked-up from the street and were soaking in hot water. Again, not too refreshing.
I met Jan a little before the 21K halfway point. She seemed awfully tan for a woman sporting Canadian Flags, and Jan confessed to having tanned a bit in Florida before traveling to Prague.
Jan and I ran/walked together for several kilometers, sharing our impressions of the marathon, stories of our families and past marathons, and our plans for sight seeing in Prague.
It was great sharing a very difficult part of the marathon with you, Jan. Your enthusiasm and outlook were so uplifting. And thanks for keeping guard outside the fence while I changed out of my black, sleeved shirt. You made an instant friend!
Around the 22K point.
Approaching 25K. I caught many of the musical bands along the course as they were putting away their instruments.
I believe I took this picture somewhere around the 30K point. I was thirsty, there was no drinkable water on the course, and I happened upon these four young, marathon volunteers, huddled together, slurping on their ice-cold McDonald's drinks, and laughing. I pointed to my camera and asked if I could take their picture. What I really wanted to do was mug them and steal their drinks. Glad I had the power to resist that urge.
This little car caught my eye as looking very much like the pea-green Fiat my father bought for me and my brother and sister to learn how to drive. A fun memory.
Approaching 32K, crossing the Narodni Bridge with the National Theatre in the background.
The view off the Narodni Bridge. My mind flashed back to mile 18 of the A1A Marathon in Fort Lauderdale as I was hot and tired and ran past the sunbathers enjoying the ocean, wishing I could trade places with them.
Meeting this tourist on the Narodni Bridge was wonderful. She was part of a tour group of about 30 people that was walking in our direction on the Bridge, hooting and hollering for us end-of-the-marathon stragglers as the group snapped our pictures. I saw this woman take my picture, and I stopped and pointed to my camera as I looked at her, indicating that I wanted to take her picture. She waved her arm to indicate I should be running, and yelled words that I took to mean "Go, go! You're supposed to be running, you fool!" I quickly snapped this photo before following her directions.
Somewhere around 34K. This was the second time we ran this 8K track, and again I had to stop and marvel at the surface on which we were running.
I ran/walked for much of the final quarter of the marathon behind this man and his support crew. The man on the bicycle was handing him water (Mattoni) every couple kilometers.
By the time I reached 36K, the volunteers were packing-up and leaving.
Meet Gerry and Brigit, two of the greatest people I have ever had the pleasure to meet during a marathon. If you look carefully at the pictures above, you will see the back of Gerry and Brigit in many of them. They were speed walking the Prague Marathon, and they were in front of me for most of the race. This is the side of Gerry and Brigit I became accustomed to. On the rare occasions when I was close enough to speak with them, Gerry and Brigit were saying things like: "You're doing great. You look great. We'll see you at the finish." The whole time they were smiling. What a phenomenal attitude! Thank you Gerry and Brigit, for your fantastic support during the Prague Marathon. I only hope that I am fortunate enough to run into you again in a future marathon. You two are great!
Approaching the bridge to 37K, I encountered this wonderful woman in traditional Czech costume, who although I was virtually the only one on the street, was waving her colorful baton and yelling something I took to mean: "Run, go, run," though it just as easily could have meant: "You're last, speed up you slow pokeski." Whatever she was saying, the fellow behind her thought it was funny.
A side of Gerry and Brigit I had to speed-up to see. As we approached the last couple of miles of the race, I asked Gerry and Brigit whether the 6 hour time limit for the marathon referred to the official clock time, or our net times. None of us were sure, so we picked-up the pace.
The finish lanes were empty as I passed through, a hair under 6 hours. My support crew later confessed to thoughts along the line of: "She's always late! I can't believe she's going to miss the 6 hour limit!" Glad I could make it an exciting finish for both of us, Bill.
And so my Prague Marathon story has come full circle.
Finishing is everything. Sheer Joy.
End Note: The second half of my Heritage Tour and the artistic treasures of Italy readily erased from my mind any difficulties encountered during the Prague Marathon. Overall, my Heritage Tour was the experience of a lifetime, providing clarity and joy.
Thank you again to everyone who contributed to this wonderful experience. See you at the Marine Corps Marathon!