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I ran to Cluj for the Wizz Marathon

I never thought I would end up having a road marathon, the Wizz Marathon, as a training session for an ultramarathon.

Today is a sunny September Sunday. I’m walking to the start of my second marathon road race and the fifth marathon I’ve run on this surface. I set out to run in training mode, long run, medium to fast tempo, considering that in just six days I will be starting my first +100km Ultra. Until today, before any race, my nerves would get the better of me a few days beforehand and I’d be anxious especially during the night.

This time knowing that it was going to be a simple training run I was able to be more relaxed and get enough sleep in the last few days. Somehow I’m intrigued by the peace of mind I have, will I mobilize myself to be able to handle such a race?

 

I haven’t done much running on asphalt lately, I’ve done most of my volume on the trail and I’m a little skeptical about my ability to sustain the pace the asphalt and flat surface demands of you. I’ve had a few tempo runs in the last few weeks though that have run roughly within parameters so I figure it’s important to enjoy the race, the runners on the trail, the beauty of Cluj-Napoca and the spectators in Cluj who are always there for the runners and support them warmly. 

 I already arrive on the course and see two volunteers scrambling for a “U” loop. They greet me and I answer them and ask if they are cold. They tell me they are waiting for the sun to come up because it’s cold. 

Other runners are also heading to Cluj Arena, where the start is at 8:30. The energy is good and the enthusiasm is present in everyone. I grab a water from a stall and head to my warm-up area. Twenty minutes later I’m warmed up and fitted for the start. The announcer invites us to the start area and from the back of the column I set off full of good energy on the course.

It starts off slower than last year, which I am happy about. I’m not a speed runner, I’m a steady and stubborn turtle, but a “speed runner” I never was and I don’t know if I ever will be again. I aim to run at a heart rate around 140bpm and I want to keep that as steady as possible. This marathon is also being run by my friend from Baia Mare, who turned 62 this year. He has been running 14km in the park every morning since he was 50. Day after day, year after year. He has also run a half marathon and thought until last week that he would also run a half marathon at Wizz AIR. But whoever signed him up seems to have mistakenly signed him up for the marathon. Before the race we talked and he was excited for his first marathon. 

It’s a big thing to do at his age. I admire him for his discipline but also for his courage. The marathon is a worthwhile experience at any age.

  The course is 21km and is run twice. It’s a slow and challenging route. It has 14 “U” turns and is done twice; so every mile you have to slow down, take the turn safely, and then push to get back into tempo. For me, who treats the race as a workout, it’s the ideal route, for those who run the race with full dedication it’s super exhausting. No matter how good a marathoner you are I think it’s impossible to run in a time under two hours and fifteen minutes. And here I’m talking about the best marathoners in the world. 

  The world is good, runners are enjoying the race, people are chatting, cheering each other on, volunteers and spectators are vocal and supporting us with South American warmth. I see Sorin constantly because he allows me the route and I cheer him on every time. So does he and he gives me energy. 

There are other runners I know; I do the same with them. I like to encourage during a race because I love their positive reaction and that gives me strength too.

The run goes smoothly until mile thirty. I’m steady and my heart rate stays within parameters. I hydrate at every point and fuel on schedule. From here the sun starts to burn. I don’t know how many degrees it is but suddenly it seems like everyone is looking for shade. More and more people are running bare-chested, a sign that it’s a general feeling. And the half marathoners, who started two hours later but also the cross country runners who started recently, are looking for shade. 

  My watch shows a pulse of 156 so I slow down and wait for the pulse to drop. I’m feeling very hot. I do a few miles much slower and barely get my pulse down to 140bpm. It’s like at low speed everything is harder. I don’t know what to do! Should I try to up the tempo to make it easier or go for the pulse? I think that in six days I have an ultra waiting for me and decide to stick around. On a U-turn a runner in front of me, past fifty slips and falls. He hasn’t slowed down enough and this happens when fatigue is already taking its toll. He gets up and signals that he’s okay and starts walking. I reach him and ask if I can help him somehow. He tells me he’s relatively fine and that there’s nothing I can do to help him. I thought I’d stay by his side and support him until he gets back into rhythm. He tells me he’s fine so I walk away. 

The miles go by more slowly at a leisurely pace. Nea Sorin asks me if we have much further and I tell him there’s only five kilometres to go. 

  It’s getting hotter and harder to run at low heart rate because I’m slowing down more and more. I decide to pick up the pace but my body doesn’t seem to be listening. Somehow it refuses the commands. I wonder what I’ll do next week at +100k if it’s hard right now. “Niculai, get your head in the game, pull yourself together and let’s go!”. It’s the voice that’s berating me from the back of my mind. I grab another gel and two more glasses of isotonic and remember my training runs. I tell myself to give it a go, and I seem to manage to climb. But after five hundred metres I sink back into the easy run. And, stubborn as I am, I give it another go. This time it works. 

 I do the last kilometres at almost the same pace as at the beginning. I don’t look at my heart rate anymore because it doesn’t matter. I’ll soon finish and enjoy the feeling of the finish. I increase the pace more and more and get closer to the stadium. I pass more marathon runners but also more half marathon runners. The stadium feels better. I almost finish in the sprint and am happy to get the finisher’s medal.

  I keep moving and running very slowly to get my heart rate down and get my recovery right. I’m happy! I have finished a marathon again. I look at the result and see that I was six minutes faster than last year. Then I fought with myself and gave it my maximum. Today I enjoyed the course, I also suffered but I did better. Nea Sorin also finished the race with an honourable time.

  I am grateful and fulfilled. I never thought I would end up having a road marathon as a training session. I can’t wait for the Crazy Wolf Ultramarathon to see what it has in store for me. Every race has its own story and lesson to offer. Endurance running is an amalgam of joy, suffering, meditation, agony and ecstasy! 

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