The inaugural Ida-Virumaa Staadionimaraton was held this Tuesday in Iisaku.
The event was special because according to the organizers, this is the first time there’s ever a marathon event being held in a stadium in Estonia. So when I heard about the event and learned there’s also a half-marathon distance, I was intrigued to participate. Sure, my physical condition is not optimal at the moment, but with the contestant limit of 40 (there’s only so many people you can fit in a 400-metre track to run tens and tens of laps) for two distances combined there should be reasonable enough chances for a podium finish for me. In the running events in Estonia I usually finish among the first 10-20% of the contestants. These bigger events always have the elite participating, but in an inaugural event with limited number of competitors and event time during the work week it could be possible.
So I registered and a few days before the event took a look at the starting list to find out about the competition. The starting list had the competitor names and their results from their last and best half-marathon and the dates of those events. For the few that had their first official half-marathon I found out the reference numbers from spordiportaal.ee.
Unfortunately, the outlook was not that promising. There were two guys, named Andrei and Karol, that had run 1:30 and 1:34 half-marathon in June (and Andrei with very decent 1:23 personal best from last year). Even though my personal best from 2012 (the last time I ran a half-marathon) is 1:27, I am now 5 kilos heavier and my training volume has been perhaps 20% of that in 2012. So I figured that if I gave it everything the realistic time for me would be 10-15 minutes slower, between 1:37 and 1:42.
There was another guy named Deniss in the start list. I found that in 2012 he had done a 10k in 43:01, but a more recent result was a 3rd place in Kuremaa Triathlon amateurs classification in June, of course a great achievement. My only consolation was that his 2km run time for that event was 9:50 – rather lousy time for such a short run. With triathlons, you never know of course – the run time could include the time spent in T2 – transitioning from bike to run, also, maybe he saw that he would be 3rd no matter how he runs. Nevertheless, I figured that me and Deniss would be fighting for 3rd-4th place in Iisaku. The rest of the field looked weaker.
On Tuesday after lunch I started driving towards Iisaku. The weather was quite warm – 26 degrees – and sun was shining very brightly. When I got to the stadium I saw that it will be quite a tough race – there was no single shadow on the track, so the competitors would run all the time under direct sunshine (no clouds in the sky). I made sure I would drink a lot of water and stay in shadow until the very beginning of the race. I also made a very short warm-up run because in such a heat and rather long distance it is not that important to warm up too much before the race.
Fifteen minutes before the start all the competitors for both distances were introduced to the spectator crowd and a few minutes later the kids-race (of 425m began). I looked it from the shadow together with one marathon contestant named Aivar and we discussed running half-marathons, marathons and ultra-marathons. As it turned out, Aivar is a member of Estonian Ultrarunners team and in the middle of June ran 211km (5 marathons in a row) in Laulasmaa finishing in 29 hours. Not bad at all.
Then there was a time for the start. All of the half-marathon competitors (22 people) gathered to the starting line and the marathoners gathered to their starting line. I saw a competitor with #42 I had not seen in the starting list – he must have registered after I took a look at the list. So I had no intelligence of his capabilities, but he had compression socks and looked quite fit (I would later learn that his name was Raido and he had ran 1:32 half-marathon a month earlier).
So the gun goes, we start running and sure enough, the “new guy” Raido starts with a ridiculously high tempo and my other main competitors (mainly Andrei) follow his pace. Are these guys for real?! To start with this pace in such a hot weather does not make sense – I mean they are not that much better than me. Their first laps are all below 1:30. Do the guys realize that they are running half-marathon not a 5k?!
Surely somebody must be lying. No way this tempo would be sustainable for all of them.
This is where I make a very smart decision. Although I’m only at fifth place and I see my competitors just getting further and further from me, I run at my own pace and do not think of the podium for now. My first laps are around 1:41-1:45, later the tempo drops a bit, but all of my 53 laps are faster than 2-minutes even including the drinking-stops.
The drink-station is at the outer curve of the lap and this means that if you want to drink (and you should plenty with weather this hot) you have to run some 5-10 meters extra, plus slow down to get the water or sponge. All of the laps are longer than 400-meters anyway, for the need to pass slower runners of both distances (who obviously occupy the inner loop). In the drink station they offer both sports drink and water. From my previous experiences I know that on a hot day, one should mainly drink water and be very careful with the sports drink. I make frequent drink stops, but only once I take sports drink, in all other cases just water. They also offer gels and even though I feel the need for energy, I skip these and also food. I have the experience of getting stomach cramps when taking a gel on a hot day.
I run in fifth place and already around lap 5 Andrei passes me, soon followed by Deniss, the guy I was supposed to fight for the 3rd-4th place. A situation not too promising. I wait for Raido and Karol to lap me also, but I’m already in lap 10 and this is not happening – they have probably slowed down a bit.
The organisation of the event is awesome – every participant even has their own “lap-shouter”, who tells them at the end of each lap how many laps there are still to go. Mine is a guy with very loud voice and I have no trouble hearing him. At the later stages of the run he also shouts me the distance between me and the guy in front. This helps a lot. I do not raise the tempo as a result, but knowing that I’m getting closer, even if slowly, enables me to hold the pace. Thanks!
Around lap 10 I start seeing Karol in front of me in the 4th place. Couple of laps later I’m behind him, but do not overtake – his tempo is quite alright and I would want to get a bit of a rest on the headwind section of the track (there’s some wind which is good, because it helps to cool down a bit). On the section where my shadow overtakes him, Karol realises that I’m running behind him and he raises his pace. Again I do not change mine so he starts sliding away from me once more. Couple of laps later I’m again at his tail and even better, Raido at 3rd place is just in front of us. This time Karol does not raise the tempo even though he realises I’m behind him again. We run together for a few laps and then, as they both go to get water I skip it and surge forward. I make a conscious decision not to look back to see if they dropped or are right behind me. Only later would I find from the lap times that they stayed behind me for full two laps before they let me go.
So now we approach the midway of the run (23/53 laps done), and I’m in third place. The first two are way ahead – Deniss has passed me once again, so he is now in effect almost a kilometre ahead – and Andrei is more than 1,5 laps in front of me – a huge gap. My task now is to protect my third place so I run close to limit and hope that the gap between myself and Karol/Raido widens. It’s getting harder – hot day is taking it’s toll and I go for a drink or wet sponges every 4-5 laps now.
Then around lap 37 two interesting thing happen. First I catch Andrei – sure enough, I’m still a lap behind, but the fact shows that he is having some hard times, most probably paying interest to the fast start he had. Soon after that I see Karol and Raido in front of me – they are still running together and now I’ve almost lapped them. Unless something happens with me or one of them finds some untapped energy sources, the podium finish would be quite likely. Just when I get to them, both of the guys go for a drink and I choose to be clever and lap them to build same additional gap between us. Things are looking good indeed.
The next lap I go to get some water and Karol passes me and I go to his tail to hold on with all the grit and not leave him with the chance to work back this lap he is still behind. Raido is nowhere near and I know he is out of the podium-contest for this time.
A few laps later “my lap guy” shouts me that it is 300m between myself and 2nd place (Andrei). There still only around 13 laps (5,2km) to go so I really do not think much about getting the second place but rather to be sure to hold on to third. Then a few laps later the gap of 200m is announced and this is the first time I start to realistically think about getting a second place. Sure, we have only 10 laps to go, but that guy certainly is struggling there in front.
On lap 46 I see him in front of us and I know unless something really odd happens, I’m going to get a second place. Just as the lap 47 finishes with 6 laps (2,4km) to go we overtake Andrei and I’m in the second place! Karol in front of me is still in fourth, of course, because he is still a lap (400m) behind Andrei, but I guess he might have a chance, depending on how “finished” Andrei is. He looks pretty tired, he drops from our back pretty soon and pretty bad.
With 4 laps to go, Karol accelerates, and for the third time in this competition, I do not follow. I know he will not be able to catch me with just 4 laps to go and there’s no reason to push it over the limit. Just before he goes I encourage him that he could still get to third place (even though in reality I do not think the chances are too good). In fact, running the final 5 laps with times between 1:37 – 1:45 he actually does.
I run my final laps with the same tempo as before, maybe slow down only a small notch. The very final lap my lap-announcer actually runs with me and I thank him for giving me all the information he did. I finish happily in 2nd place, my first podium after 4 years. The final time is 1:36:47 that’s far from my personal best, but really optimum considering the circumstances.
A minute later Karol finishes in 3rd, then Andrei in 4th place (having led the race for the first 5-6 km) and soon Raido finishes in 5th place. Then there is a bit of a longer break before the others finish. The event is won by Deniss, the guy I thought would be my challenge for 3rd place. At the end he led my by 4 laps (or more than 1,6km) so it was a convincing win indeed. The first woman comes to finish in 7th place.
Then there is the price ceremony. First three all get prizes and goodie bags. After the ceremony I talk a bit with Deniss and Karol, wash, eat and go back to Tartu.
In retrospect, it was really a result that came thanks to being smart and making the right decisions. A lot of help was of course Andrei, who started with blistering tempo and made other contestants (mainly Raido and Karol) also start with pace much quicker than they could afford. If considering the recent results and current form I should have finished 5th instead of 2nd. The 2nd place was achieved purely by correct judgements and decisions. The right decisions I made during and before the race were:
1) Running on my own speed and letting the others go when they pushed with clearly unsustainable pace. Apart from the winner, I was the only participant not to have any laps slower than two minutes.
2) Drinking a lot of water and (almost) only water, skipping the gels and food.
3) Being in a shadow before the race to save energy, having a minimal warm-up.
Next race is already this Sunday, a 17,5km run around Saadjärve lake.
Links to the event:
Video of the event (My finish and interview 38:45, prize ceremony 44:30)