Zywiec Half Marathon
One of my early memories as a child, was seeing the film The Italian Job and marvelling at the windy mountain roads in the opening scenes, with tree’s, lakes and chalets all around, wishing that one day I could drive along roads like that. Forget the driving part, the immense pleasure out of running a half marathon in such settings is far greater. Thus not in Italy, but in Poland, along with Christian Davies, Mark Gadie (Who didn’t compete in the half due to his careful rehab from injury) and our two Polish friends Grzegorz Simek and Wioleta Zurek, who are not East Hull Harriers (but I’m working on that ;-)) I made this childhood whim a reality.
Thanks to the enthusiasm to show off the beauty of his homeland, Grzegorz had mentioned last summer that this half marathon around Lake Zywiec in Southern Poland, would be a great race for us to do and once we put two and two together and realised that Zywiec was home to the Zywiec brewery the flights were booked.
We flew into Wroclaw late on Friday evening, after Grzegorz had very kindly insisted that he would make the three hour journey to collect us from the airport – this being just one of the many examples over the break that Grzeg and Wiola were the perfect hosts.
Of course an ideal half marathon warm up is a parkrun the day before, so in -7 temperatures and with a lush carpet of snow on the ground, we made our way to park Biskupinski, the parkrun here is a straight forward out and back route, alongside the Oder river, that is nice and flat and would be real PB material if the conditions were right, however with snow on the ground and thoughts of a half marathon next day, it was wiser to leave a little in the tank. Mark though, free from the restraints of half marathon prep. And testing himself on his recouperation, shot out of the blocks and completed at 21:49 in a very creditable 7th placed finish.
The cold of Wroclaw was an indication of what was ahead for us in the half marathon the next day as we attended the enthusiastic warm up (enthusiasm for me is vigorously rubbing my hands together, while Christian managed a few star jumps and Wiola went through the full dancersise routine).
As we set off to go in Zywiec town square it was again -7 and I’d elected to run in 5 different layers, including my EHH hoody and shed some clothing around the course as I warmed up, Christian was in a more manly 4 layers, but at least I was still in shorts. After a mile or so, we started to warm up and was contemplating layer removal, however as we reached the more open lakeside and possibly with the altitude playing a part, the temperatures reached as low as -11 with a wind chill of -15, so it was that I ran the full race with all 5 layers on and believe me, it was necessary. At one stage I took one of my two head coverings off (beanie and buff) as the sun was out and things did seem to warm up, only to have to replace it a couple of miles down the road, with the added complication of breaking the ice off it’s now solid form first.
The course itself was a very tough one where you always seemed to be in ascent or descent, but as tough as it was, it was equally picturesque, with winding roads, a great view over the semi-frozen lake with the mountains and ski slopes in the distance, you also run across the top of a reservoir, how cool is that? It was also well supported with enthusiastic throngs of people scattered around what is a sparsely populated area away from the towns. At mile 10 I was starting to tire, probably because it was at the back of my mind that I hadn’t run this far since the end of last year, however I managed to dig in and conquer the last two climbs that course designers always manage to make the toughest and indeed felt that I was running at my fastest pace as I approached the city boundary, a murderously long final straight was made easier by the enthusiastic cheering from Mark, who not only had frozen hands, but it was cold enough to shut down his camera too. Mark proved to be the ideal coach by providing us all with a beer at a local café/bar as we finished. The rest of the day was spent at our leisure, before Grzeg and Wiola took us out for some fantastic traditional Polish food at a favourite restaurant.
As we weren’t due to fly home until Tuesday, Monday presented us with the ideal time to rest and relax after our tough half marathon, so of course we went for a days ski/snowboarding at the nearby winter town resort Szczyrk (try saying that when you’re sober) joined by Grzeg and Wiola’s young son Rafoel , then on the night the muscles were further soothed by a session at the sauna/swimming pool in our accommodation. All in all it was a fantastic weekend in which we packed in an amazing amount of stuff and one which I thoroughly recommend and hope to do again next year.