Run it. Just RUN IT !!!
So this right here is about my first marathon/race experience as a grown up. I did do speed and marathon competitions for a short while when I was a kid. Meaning a teenager after finishing with ballet. But boy! Is that a long time ago or what? Haha!
So I wanted to try this to see how it feels, because so many of my friends and colleagues do it and I was like, how bad can it be, you know? Running outside is really not my favorite thing to do. I am perfectly fine with running on the treadmill, because my goal is to do cardio and sweat it off and then do toning. So running marathons is not a priority for me. But they said, Mela, the virus might be so catchy you’re going to be on it before you know it. Just give it a shot. Still, because of a three–time broken ankle and a random-run-away meniscus, even when I do run outside things are not very pleasant or easy for me. Plus, this year I think I ran outside only twice or so. Two trips around the park, meaning about 6.20km/ 3.15 miles in about 42/44 minutes and my ankle was numb already. While at the gym I do 30 minutes, 5 something km with a constant speed of 11km/h (6.11 miles/hr) and I’m very happy that way. My ankle and knee are not that upset because the treadmill does the job to push my body weight ahead so that takes the burden off my joints and I don’t have to handle the heat, the wind and the variations in the ground, jumping off sidewalks and whatnot. So it’s much more comfortable and suitable for my goal.
But fuck it! Let’s try this running thing. I was thinking, even though I virtually have no experience running outside, all the running I do at the gym and sports in general has to count for something! I can’t be all that lame even though it’s not the same thing. So I decided to register for the smallest race, the Popular (fun) Race which is 3.5km/2.30 miles. Of course people bitched at me for not going for the 10km/6.37 miles. Yeah, well I don’t want to try and eat more than I can chew. I am not trained for this people! Plus I am here to try the “product”, see if I like it and then next time maybe I’ll do better.
|Geeting my kit on Saturday afternoon|
So here I am all excited, fluctuating between complete trust in actually making something out of this experience and utter disappointment thinking how I am probably going to fail miserably because of my lack of proper training haha. I know that for most people, running, after all, is just fun and they do it to stay fit. But once you place me in a competition, my mind automatically takes on the challenge and wants the experience to be more than fun. I need to do my best, not necessarily win, but really do my best and show what I am capable of, especially to myself. After all, I have been for many years a professional ballerina. Competition and discipline have run through my blood. So, I am sleepless pretty much the night before. Plus, I don’t know how things are done once I get there. I also naturally mess things up haha, like being late. I know something will go wrong; it’s in my nature for things to go down that way haha. I went and picked up my kit the day before and I was so thrilled with things I forget to ask if there was a place for me to leave my stuff before the race starts. So I called two of my friends and colleagues – veteran marathon runners – and asked them. They were very cool with it, they didn’t understand why I was so friggin’ agitated. And they started asking me about all these things in my kit that I should use for the locker and I don’t even know what they’re talking about because I didn’t have that kind of stuff in my kit. It turned out that marathon runners have a different kit than the race runners so eventually we sort of figured things out midway.
I went to bed at like 1:00AM ready to wake up at 6:00AM. Let’s remember I was born to be late so I was not taking any chances haha. The race started at 8:30AM so by 8AM I had to be there. I suit up, check for phone, keys, anti-inflammatory medicine, my playlist is all there. I’m ready. It’s Sunday morning so there is literally no one in the streets at 7:15AM. I spot a girl with a marathon bag walking ahead of me. Oh crap. I know there are many people attending this but I somehow imagine I’m not even close to realizing just how many.
As we descend at the subway, more people show up there and I find a few more in the sub. I grow excited by the minute. I recognized a girl that I saw coming at my gym once or twice. And I remember that woman ran for more than an hour at a speed of 14km/hr / 8.20/hr. I look at her in admiration. She is probably going for the semi-marathon, 21km/13.85 miles. Yeah… Her husband is just as fit. They are both perfectly suited with equipment tied around their ankles and professional watches and hats and shoes and whatnot. I look like I’m out to jog for donuts next to these two. As I am watching them the subway halts at Unirii. They all go out and without even realizing I get off too. Then I realize I actually wanted to get off at the following station at Izvor. For a second I think maybe their marathon starts from a different point than my race and I am following them like an idiot. Then again, I think they are just taking a different route than mine to get to the same point. But, as I am a pure bread genius of the Lost World, I panic and rush back into the sub to catch the next train to Izvor. You know what they say: fastest way to get somewhere, is the way you already know. So I get off at Izvor. Well, that’s a lot of people right there! Walk confidently woman! “I’m good, I’m good!” In fact I was as good as a child going to school on her first day, I had grown to be that excited.
|My first view of the "playground"|
Oh, but wait until I actually reached Casa Poporului. The mass of people there, the loud music, the finish line. Oh shit. O H S H I T !!! Hmm. And I registered to this willingly. I breathe in and I walk among the tents to find the lockers. I stop by the info booth to make my life easier and there is this lady ahead of me who asks the same thing. The girl draws a drawing from which I swear I did not understand crap, but this lady seems like she has had her coffee already so I just follow her. At some point she hesitates and I’m like “Ok. Maybe she didn’t have her coffee either!” But she did!!! She goes to the tent and I am happy, I park my little backpack around one of those bars and stick my race number on it, then off I go. It’s 8:10AM. I don’t see any familiar faces. Of course. All the people I know are running with the big boys in the individual race and the semi-marathon which were to start half an hour later than I was. Oh well. They weren’t all born marathon runners. Gotta start somewhere!
I eventually find my aisle and take position close to the start line. Little by little the aisle at my left also starts filling up. It’s the “big boys” league there. The first to go are the wheel chair competitors. Five brave souls ready to prove their strength to the two legged nation present there to support them. I watch them and somehow I feel I should not even feel discouraged about not being prepared, because look at these guys. They are missing the essential part for running and still they don’t complain! They take off followed by our cheering and applauses.
And then the drums sound in the deep. Not quite, but I like how that sounds, I first heard it in the Lord of the Rings haha. But seriously. There was this team of boys in the stands, up above the running aisles holding these huge drums, putting on a tribal show of some sort that rose your spirits to higher grounds. More and more people amassed behind me on both aisles. The MC of the event sat next to Mrs. Valeria van Groningen up on a platform at the start line. She was holding “the gun” to “shoot” the beginning of the race. 2 more minutes to go. I exhale. I stretch my legs some more. It doesn’t even matter. Behind me, an elderly woman, somewhat my mom’s age, smiling and looking rather fascinated by all the hustle and bustle. Suddenly a girl erupts from the back, pushes her away to shove a path behind her and up front. The lady stops her and says “Why are pushing me? It’s not like you can go any further than this?” But she says it rather calmly. A girl sitting up front, grabs the other girl to her and snaps at the woman saying “she’s coming to stay with me. It’s normal for her to be up front, because this is where the people that are running for performance have to sit.” I was half a second away from back slapping her. Well, if you are so “performant” for a popular race where you have people participating between the ages of 10 to 80, why don’t you move back a bit and prove your worth by catching up with the likes of non-performant such as myself?! Yes, yes, I know that it’s important to have a good start but this is the kind of race where a tone and an attitude like that don’t fit. This is not the semi-marathon or some really show off kind of race in the first place and secondly, saying I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to shove you, I just need to get with my friend, is a much better approach than being “important”. To top it all off, this girl, as I saw at the end, won the race her second or third consecutive year. After winning this, she went to the individual 10km race. Now, this is just me thinking this through, as I am not familiar with this kind of events. But if you are obviously too good for a small race, move on to a greater challenge and leave room for real beginners to accept the challenge of becoming award winners so they boost up their courage and also move ahead. I don’t want to be nasty and hopefully I am poorly judging here – but if you’re doing it because you know you’re better which will bring you first place for sure and lead you to cash in the prize, which is quite substantial for this race - then you are misinterpreting the purpose of this sport all together. And it’s selfish too. But anyway.
This is right when the race started. There were so many people it took a while to actually run if you were in the back.
The ladies settle down. I brush away the event because I need to focus a bit. I don’t even know what to expect. From myself, the run and the crowd all together. Finally, the countdown is here. 10 9 8 7 6 - the crowd starts counting - 5 4 3 2 1 !!! First people in row literally take off as if they had been shot from a riffle. My heart races faster than my legs ever will and because I am not used to running outside and pace myself, I literally go at it with all I have. I need to avoid one or two people in the beginning but 50m further I make my way through the runners and take the first corner to Casa Poporului. I am so overly excited and half discouraged seeing those few people having taken off so fast and already being so far from me, that I am already feeling the defeat. By the time I start going up the slope, my lungs have burnt out to the point of collapsing. It’s 8:30AM and it’s so hot already and I just spent half of the fuel on making room among the others the first 100m. I peak at the sidewalk and see a lady walking slowly in the shade of the trees and I am literally a step away from deserting this race. I feel exhausted already. I feel I am letting myself down, that my expectations of what I could do were actually too high and that I should have known better. Now that I look back at it, I realize, it was not my body giving up. It was my mind and lack of proper training for this kind of race. But you don’t look at it that way when you’re hiking speedily up a slope with people coming from all directions, including kids who were winning me over. GRANDMA!!!!
And there is Mela right after taking off. Burning it all at once like an idiot!
I turn the music on and that always does the trick for me. But not now. I’d rather listen to the silence, listen to my steps, to my dying breath. It’s incredible the things that can cross your mind at that point. I finally reach the top and go straight for a while. I can’t tell where I am at anymore. How many people are ahead of me. How many people were left behind. I don’t even look behind. A few meters down and I feel my right shoe kind of soft and I’m like, please don’t tell me my shoe laces are going loose now! NOW out of all times! How could I be so careless and forget about that!?! I never forget when I get on the treadmill! But I was worrying so much about other stuff that I forgot. I give it the benefit of hope and continue running paying attention to my right foot. But the bitch unlaces. It just does! I had just managed to take over a guy and now I have to stop and do my shoe laces! OH FOR FUCK SAKE! I get up stupidly fast with no preparation and of course the sprint kills me after a short while but luckily I am almost done with the second side of Casa Poporului and now the descent towards the park is laying ahead of me. Well, I cannot count my speed anyway so why not let the sprinter loose. I try to hold on to my breaks for a little while and counter balance the steep slope down but it’s in vain. This is my one chance to gain back terrain with what I’ve lost over the laces. There are not many people around me. But in my mind I figure there are at least 50 ahead of me. I start focusing on a strategy to run, more than on my fear of being among the last to arrive. Oh running down hill feels great. I was a friggin’ gazelle! Watch out lions and lionesses I am throwing hooves your way baby!!! I reach the bottom in no time and take a close turn towards the park. A few curves and some passers-by to avoid. On the sidewalk, off the sidewalk, across the street, take another small corner and I’m now running the stretch of land siding the park.
Some peace and quiet there. So much green. Some supporters cheering. I manage to pull myself together somewhat and turn the music back on. You can do this woman! It’s not that hard! Stop wondering where you are, who and what is behind you or ahead of you. It’s just you and this damn road. RUN IT! Run it the best way you know how. One corner more to go and I’d be on my way towards the finish line. Some of the runners stop and walk for a while then start running again. I want to run this damn thing no matter what it takes. Like they said: run today, walk funny tomorrow! haha
As I cross the length of the park I see multiple photographers including one that I know. Mihai. I manage to wave at him. I probably looked just a tiny weird haha ‘cause we had just met at social events so I was not sure whether he recognized me in this outfit. I take the corner to the park and I am on the last stretch of this journey now. Again off the sidewalk and onto the street. Somehow the lines are not properly defined as to which aisle we need to take and those ahead of me run a bit unorganized. There are some of those paper rolls marking the limits of aisles and I realize I have to jump one to get inside. But I honestly did not trust my feet with that. Plus jumping fences was never a successful thing for me. But I have to do it. As I got closer to it I already saw myself biting off the asphalt. Pfff. Not that I don’t have a chipped bunny tooth already from biting off a cement window frame when I was a kid. Bucharest cement’s gotta taste better haha. I increase the pace and take the leap. I know I touched the damn thing with the tip of my shoe! Hurray Mela!!! Keep running.
Literally before the finish line. I was D Y I NG !!! Better believe it! haha
Thank you Radu Cristi who takes the credit for this picture!
That stretch right there was the longest and hardest for me. Because I could see the finish line and I was so exhausted from having burnt my energy in bursts and not on a continuous stream like I should have, that I can’t almost feel my legs. And that finish line kept moving further and further away from me. The crowds grew bigger on the sides of the aisle as I moved on. I took on another girl and distanced myself from her. In my eyes, I was moving very slowly. I swear I was moving very slowly and it felt as if I weighed a tone. Air air air! Give me something other than hot air! The road clears ahead of me. It’s just me and the aisle and the traffic strip painted on the cement. I run on it using it as guidance just to have something to focus on and hold on till the end. I am literally meters away from the damn finish line when a guy passes me by then suddenly turns to face me and runs backwards towards the finish. Makes me laugh! YOU CAN DO THIS! I push one last time and get through the damn thing. Someone else comes in right behind me. Or so I think, I don’t know anything for sure anymore. My lungs are on fire!!! One of the volunteers comes to me very agitated with a bunch of small papers in her hand and handles me one. I can’t hear anything but my breathing. I pull the headphones out of my ears and take a few hesitant steps away from the finish line to look at the paper. “Locul 7”. What? 7th place? Me? There were only 6 women ahead of me? Impossible! I am a little struck. I take a quick look around. Seriously? Hmmm. I mean I know half of the people running this race are older or too young, but half of them are trained and fit enough to do this race properly. I took another look at the note and smiled. Hell. Not that bad after all. But I am still exhausted.
I go to pick up my backpack and I run into Catalin getting ready for his race. We make some small conversation then he grabs my ticket and starts laughing. “Holy crap, Mela this is great!” It is? Haha I laugh. I am still recovering. 7 place is good but this was a popular race after all. Had I run with the professionals, the outcome would have been different. So I am downplaying myself a bit. Then I am thinking, after all, this is my first race and it’s pretty good for a start. I grab my backpack and with all these thoughts in mind, I call mom to tell her the news. She used to run marathons when she was young so she is very proud of me trying this out. I hang up with her and see Mrs.Valeria at the finish line witnessing the half marathon runners take off. Such a huuuugggeee line of them. It seems endless. I mean they did say that about 10,000 people attended the event this year. That’s a lot of people! Eventually when they are all gone, she comes down from the platform and gives me a strong hug. “I saw on Facebook that you were coming! How did you do? How was it?” I simply show her the ticket. “Oh my God Mela, this is great!” I get another bear hug. She is like a source of pure positive energy! I ask her to take a picture. A gentleman offers to take one with my phone but he keeps taking selfies of himself haha. Eventually I do it. Just out of curiosity I ask her how many people had registered for my race. I told mom there must’ve been about 400. She says, over 2,000 and there were more women than men. Enlightenment! Well. Maybe I am not that lame as I initially thought. Let’s say 1,000 were the untrained-there-for-fun racers, but 1,000 of them must’ve been at least as prepared as I was. Hold! Gotta call mom back!
All throughout this I am sneezing like a donkey and my right nostril hurts so badly I feel it will probably bleed. I am thinking it’s maybe my low blood pressure having gone to heights it hardly reaches normally. Haha And then my nose decides to also run together with my right eye which begins to cry. Just my right side. What the hell is going on? I am thinking maybe with warming up so much I triggered my sinusitis and it’s messing with me. I get a funny picture with a Panda. Very cute and cuddly, sitting with its hands on the round fat belly. As I hug it I am asking the person inside if they’re dying by suffocation. Unexpectedly, there was a girl in there haha. She says, not yet! I’m like fine then. Take those paws off your belly when you’re taking pictures with people who have wasted their fat on running haha. You look so lazy next to my exhausted self, it’s so unfair! Hahaha.
I get a text message from Mary. She asks where I am. I am on my way to find her. The semi-marathon and individual racers are coming back and she can’t cross the street to come to me. As I am trying to find my way around the runners’ aisle I see the Kenyan participants at the semi-marathon coming in fast towards the finish line. Let me tell you this. When I first arrived in the morning, I saw them warming up and knowing that they had also won the previous year, I was thinking: we stand no friggin’ chance! These people are lightening fast! And sure enough it was just the three of them, totally separate from the rest and competing among the three of them to get in first. I am in awe. These people just ran 21km and they are speeding this way?! What kind of nytro blood DNA they have in those bodies?!?
Mary texts me back. She says she is not feeling well and she will try to find a way to come meet me. She finally does. Her hands are cold and she surely looks like she needs a blood pressure check up. FYI – Mary is 23 weeks pregnant with future baby boy marathon runner!!! It runs in the family (love!). We don’t know where the SMURD (ambulance people) are located and so we cross the tent yard in search of some official to lead us. As we walk and I question her on her state I remotely hear my name from the stage up ahead. I mean, Valeria did tell me that I should go because the award ceremony for my race will begin soon, but I didn’t think it was necessary for me to attend as I came out on 7 and usually they just award people up to 5 place tops. But – alas – there I was, walking with Mary when the MC says again “Place no 7, Melania, please join us on stage. She works at Raiffeisen. Can her friends and colleagues let Melania know she is expected?” Mary looks at me. I look at her. “Damn Mary, I think they’re calling me!” haha We are quite far from the tent so I just lift my arm and Valeria sees me from the stage and signals the MC. “There she is!” Yeah. Here I am. Why the hell am I here for?! Haha I go up the stage and Valeria says laughing “I told you to come, didn’t I!” I get a diploma, a backpack and a shopping cupon. I salute the people already there, number 10, 9, 8 and 6. Number 6 is an 11 year old girl. Well done baby girl!!! Her first participation also! Valeria takes some pictures of me. I swear, she is so enthusiastic about me being there she literally makes me shy. This is so unexpected anyway, her thrill just makes it “worse” haha. She shoves the phone in my face and says “Did they come out right? I don’t have the right glasses on!” haha She is an amazing woman! I say yes, they’re perfect! I spot Mary in the crowd in front of the stage taking pictures. I point at her and yell “Come in the shade! Don’t you move a muscle, I’ll be right there!” She laughs, she doesn’t care. I see who the winner is. Za girl. I brush it off. I don’t care at this point. My eyes are on Mary. I need to give my ID details to a volunteer. I don’t know them. Valeria laughs. I say, “I can give you Jim’s. I know his by heart. Not mine though!” She goes “Pfff. Don’t let him cash in the prize!” haha. I texted her my details yesterday.
I’m back with Mary, we find a cop who takes us to the fire department, who guide us to the SMURD tents across the aisles. A few people there with minor blood pressure problems or fever bursts from overheating. Most of them are on oxygen, but they are ok. Only this young guy is really bad. And I mean scary bad. He is hooked up to a heart machine. His pulse is wild, I can still hear that machine in my head beeping like crazy. He’s on IV and oxygen. He is semi-conscientious, hallucinating half the time, pulling off the wires, the mask, the IV. Doctors and nurses can’t make him settle down. They make a call for the ambulance. They hold his hands and talk to him continuously to stop him from puling the IVs out and destroy his veins. There are no beds, just stretchers and Mary finds them uncomfortable to sit on with her baby bump. I sit back to back with her so she can use me for an armchair. They load the young boy on the ambulance stretcher. He can’t even keep his legs inside, he just throws them incoherently on all sides. He is finally on his way to the hospital.
Mary is giving her details to the nurse as she is waiting for a blood pressure check up. The other races are drawing to a finish and more people come in exhausted, sweating and dizzy. A guy steps in with the medal around his neck. Meanwhile Alex, Mary’s husband who also participated, steps in to check on her. As they’re busy with her, I observe the guy who had just come in. He is a bit exhausted and with trembling knees. One of the male nurses comes in anc chats with him. He makes funny remarks and keeps him focused to relax. Eventually they give him some water and take his blood pressure. As the guy leaves, he goes after the nurse and puts his medal around the guys neck. The nurse smiles. I – what can I say. I had tears in my eyes. My mom has been a nurse all her life. I know this job better than most people. The runner pats the nurse on the shoulder and tells him something. The nurse looks at the medal with an indescribable smile. I could not properly witness the entire scene till the end as Mary was getting her check up and I had to turn around, but I believe the guy left the medal with the nurse. If that is the case, respect!
And his gesture brings me back to another event during this marathon that I found out later on. The day before during the kids race Cristi Radu, a photographer, snapped this picture. Eventually with the help of the media they found out who these two boys were and they were publicly appraised for working together, for being such an extraordinary example. They said there were more examples of this kind of behavior throughout the race. As long as we raise beautiful humans such as these, we still have a chance to humanity!
|Credit: Radu Cristi again! Amazing job!|
And last but not least, I found my Light into Europe people there. Stefan Ilioaca and a few more ran the 10km race together with their guide dogs and another guiding runner. I remind you, Stefan has no sight whatsoever and his safety lies with his dog Klint. He took this challenge with more than 2,000 people. I saw them take off and as I said, it took them at least 5 minutes to leave the start line, that’s how many they were. And yet this dog found his way around all these confusing people and managed to help Stefan accomplish a new record in his sports career.
Yes, I still think running outside is not my thing. And even if it were, I do not have the time to properly train nor to make incredible investments in this sport. BUT. I do believe and know this will not be my last race. I plan on attending the Marathon in October and go for the individual race of 10km. An event like this happens because of a bucket full of reasons. If you want to compete, you can. If you want to just run in your sweet time, you can. If you want to have fun, you can. If you want to support a humanitarian cause, you can. If you want to take your family and walk this through and cross the finish line hand in hand, you can. If you want to break a personal record, you can. If you want to get out of the office and move your stationary ass off, you can. If you want to motivate others that even though weighing a lot you can do this, well, YOU CAN. The marathon is what you make of it. And I believe we should all give it a chance. I know I will.
Thank you to Valeria and her entire team of volunteers for doing a great job. I can only imagine how long it took and the amount of hard work and sleepless hours they must’ve put into this. Well done!
|Great team! Great work! Great event! Congrats!|