vilnius marathon 2018: impressions, insights and experience

yesterday (2018-09-09) a running event took place in vilnius (capital city of lithuania, located in europe by the eastern coast of baltic sea) for the fifteenth time in a row. there were 15 thousand participants. approximately 1 and 3 thousand people decided to run the full and half marathon distances respectively. there also were shorter distances of 10, 4.2, 3.0 and 0.2 kilometers the latter dedicated to the youngest participants.

i have been preparing for this event since the beginning of the summer (a post about the preparation period can be found here) and back then i had already known that i want to do the full marathon distance. the last time i took part in such event was back in 2016. it was 42.195 kilometers as well. for the first time, by the way.

therefore in this article i will describe the experience and thoughts occured during that special sunday.

sunday morning

my marathon gear: energy, water, participant number and the heart rate monitor

i woke up at 6am. every action was planned to deviate as little as possible from the usual sunday morning routine: early morning, a full bowl of breakfast, a long sunday run. the same pair of socks, the same pair of shoes, the same set of clothes. everything was just the way my body had been used to.

one thing being completely different was the attitude and my emotional state: the whole saturday and especially the sunday morning were spent worrying. extremely. from the one sight it is nice to feel the thrill and impatience towards some big event. however it was not only this. there was also a fraction (quite significant i would say) of doubt and insecurity as if my goal would have been too hard to be completed that day. and the goal was 3 hours and 30 minutes.

i have been trying to perform some self-talk and convince myself that there is nothing to worry about the whole sunday morning. it is only running, i have done this many times for hundreds of kilometers and i am completely fine and ready i thought. however all these thoughts dissolved in the boiling pot of emotion as easily as a gram of salt dissolves in hot water.

on the way to the start line

empty & almost car-free streets on the way to the city centre

finally i got ready, attached the participant number on the front side of my t-shirt and left. it was a great morning: cool weather, cloudy with a little bit of sun. i have seen a light fog at some places as well. this was the exact type of weather i had been dreaming of during the whole preparation period. i really enjoy running when it is cool and fresh outside. of course it is obvious since such conditions are ideal for running.

on my way to the city centre where the start line was located i saw a lot of people coming towards the same direction from many different places. the majority of them were wearing bright coloured clothes or running shoes – it was obvious what their aim is and what is the final destination of their walks.

even then i could already feel the good atmosphere in the city. it made me think about how beautiful the marathon event indeed is: everyone is approaching the start line in order to begin their sunday adventure. for the majority it is a big day to which they had been preparing, planning and putting tons of effort. and they all were walking towards the start line in order to fulfil their ambitions and dreams. this was amazing to observe.

fifteen minutes to 9am i went to a corresponding position at the start zone. it was just a fraction of a street which started at the start line and continued backwards in order for everyone to fit in. since there were a lot of people (of course not that many compared to the biggest and most popular marathon events in the world) the start zone was divided into several different sectors depending on planned finish time. the faster you expect to be, the closer to the start line you stay.

that is a great apporach. a nice example of healthy conscious and common sense of people that are surrounding you. slower participants do not disturb the faster ones. and since the personal time starts counting since the start line is crossed nobody loses is affected by this lag at the beginning.

start moment

three minutes before the start the national anthem was performed. the moment was full of emotion and satisfying feeling – it motivated and made me feel as a cell of a huge crowd which is moving towards the same goal.

right after the anthem ended the 10 second countdown was started. finally, the huge event began. the thrill was gone in a second – it was replaced by hard work and concentration. the very first steps were done by walking since the amount of people around me was too high to start running. however right after the start/finish line the street became broader and the concentration of people decreased – it become possible to run. a kind of diffusion process.

i was happy to sustain my own slow starting pace. it was hard not to lose control and get together with the whole crowd moving faster. and this used to be the exact problem that had appeared during my workouts many times. i used to start too fast and as a result  i used to got tired too quickly. on the contrary the better approach for me was to start slowly and then after a few kilometers step by step increase the pace gradually.

the first half

after the slow beginning i started to apply the aforementioned approach. what an amazing idea is to include pace keepers into the race. a pace keeper is basically just a person or a group of them who run with a balloon attached and the finish time written on them. for example if there is a participant who wants to finish in 4 hours he or she just has to follow the group carrying a balloon with a “4:00” note on its surface.

this 4 hour pace keepers group was the one i started running with. after increasing the pace i caught up the 3h45min group. it was easy to run at that moment. kilometers passed by quickly, there were a lot of people. i was trying to sustain the form and keep breathing.

before finishing the first lap (there were two laps to go: each 21.098km length) i had caught up with the group 3h30min as well. they crossed the start line approximately 1.5 minute earlier. therefore by catching them i had already created a time reserve of 90 seconds. i was happy and fully confident that my goal is achievable.

the second half

as soon as the first half came to and end i overtook the 3:30 group. it felt like i had a lot of energy and it was still more than possible to maintain the pace. with such mindset more than a half of the second lap was covered – approximately 30km were left behind my back. at that moment the 3:30 group was around 1 minute behind me. however things became a little bit more difficult then but i kept saying to myself that there is not much left and i should not give up.

at kilometer 32 it was still quite ok. but a few signs of things getting harder could be felt. suddenly there was a short yet steep path to get over and this kicked me out of control. at approximately kilometer 34 i collapsed: legs became as heavy and hard as boulders and it seemed like continuing at the target pace is actually impossible. i remembered a very similar moment from year 2016 when i collapsed at the very same place as well. the marathon destroyed me once again. at the same street.

despite decreasing the pace at kilometer 34 i did not stop running. i really wanted to. or to be more correct my mind wanted to stop it and go home. however i kept moving forward at some slow pace. it was a really hard moment. i do not know what i lacked and still lack. maybe it was the amount of training, maybe i was too soft mentally and refused to keep it up and suffer for a little bit longer period of time.

it is easy to think of such things when i am sitting still on an armchair and writing this post by touching a keyboard with my fingers. now i think that i should not have decreased, i should not have given up the target pace. the only thing i had to do was to suffer a little bit longer, for 8 more kilometers and finish happily.

however back then at the very moment when it was actually necessary to do it seemed to be impossible. the group of 3:30 pace keepers now not only caught up me but also overtook. last 6 kilometers were really slow. but again, i did not stop. and the last two kilometers was like pure hell. i experienced a cramp in both of my legs, the right knee was hurting and a huge blister on my right foot started letting me know about it really significantly. it felt like the distance was endless and i was not supposed to finish at all: it felt really bad.

the most interesting thing is that during my training period i had not felt anything even similar to all this package of trouble. i used the same socks and shoes for each long run. i could not even consider a cramp during running session since i have never experienced this in my entire life at all. once i have done the full marathon, 40km, 30km races, 8 half marathons during the preparation phase. i had not experienced anything even close to what the marathon insisted on its last fraction.

the finish

a medal for participation. time: 3h38min17s

after crossing the finish line i felt relieved. it was done. that was it. i do not remember feeling such level of exhaustion during any training session. it was similar to the one i felt after the first marathon in 2016.

it was a little bit hard to walk. i drank much water and a bottle of cold sprite. i also ate a few portions of ice cream. all this sugar replenished my depleted glycogen stores quickly. at that moment i ignored all my goods that were forbidden to eat or drink due to a 100 days fitness challenge. after 10-15 minutes of rest and sitting on the ground i was able to stand up and go slowly towards the vehicle to go back home.

there were my family and close people at the finish line. it was amazing to see all of them there and feel the support. therefore i would like to thank them once more for showing up and taking care.

after a few hours a delicious pizza was provided for me.

things to maintain, things to improve

1. fluids

during training i used to bring a bottle of water almost every time i went for a run. it used to be a 0.5, 1.0 or even 1.5 litre bottle. of course it is not that convenient to carry such thing while running. however for me it appeared to be much more comfortable compared to drinking from wide plastic cups given at water stops.

first of all i did not want to waste my time by stopping there and secondly the fact that it is really hard to sip water from a wide open cup while running without spilling at least half of it on myself made me feel really nervous. therefore i decided to bring my own 1.0 litre bottle of water and drink a few gulps every 15 minutes.

it was not hard to carry and it provided me with water without any stops for first 3 hours. another advantage is that the water had been available for me at any minute. i had not had to wait for the next water stop in case i really needed it.

also it is much more convenient to drink while running from a bottle. i never spill the water that way.

2. energy supplies

not for the first time but definitely for the last i bought an energy bar in order to eat it during a run. before the marathon i had bought two of a kind – for testing purposes and for the race event. the testing was fine. that bar was tasty. chocolate and banana flavour. however the only suitable time to eat it is the time when you drink coffee or tea: it was really dry and hard to chew and swallow during the race. even drinking water on the top did not help.

also for the first time but most likely not for the last i brought an energy gel with me. i had never tried it before the event. i had found it in the participant package and decided to give it a chance – a few additional grams of sugar would not make any harm i thought. i was not wrong because its consistency was liquid enough to consume with a dry mouth. the taste and feeling while eating it was quite strange. i would never eat it casually. however for the run it was just fine.

3. strategy of the pace and distance

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 06.41.31.png
a comparison: paces at each distance kilometer during 2016 and 2018 year runs

the figure above shows pace of each kilometer during two marathon runs: the first one from 2016 and the one from this year. two dashed lines represent target speed in order to reach my goals. in 2016 the target finish time was 4h0min0s (successfully achieved) while in 2018 i raised the bar up to 3h30min0s (failed to achieve).

it is interesting to observe that both times the wall or the crash appeared at approximately the same point. maybe there was a problem with my training, maybe i had to be stronger mentally. most likely it is a combination of both.

also on the sunday morning i weighted 84kg. that is even more than during the first time in 2016. i do consider that weight to be a little bit too high in order to try achieving some significant improvement at running a marathon. therefore when i try to do it again i will definitely lose some more fat tissue in order to reduce the unnecessary weight. it slows me down significantly.

the conclusion

all in all i am happy with that day, event and result. it was not an usual day and i had been looking forward for it to happen. i have been happy ever since i crossed the finish line. despite being late by 8 minutes and 18 seconds i was not disappointed. on the contrary i reacted positively and consider this as an opportunity to improve in the future.

generally it is a great experience. sometimes it is hard. sometimes it seems like you are going to leave and quit. sometimes it also feels pointless. questions such as “why am i doing this” sometimes appear. however by performing such activities one can experience things that would have never been experienced by staying in the comfortable armchair.

one gets an ability to observe his or hers true face. the face which is not covered by filters and lies. the face which is as pure as nature itself. and that happens only during the critically hard moments. moments when all social statuses disappear, when there is no necessity of acting, no fake smiles and fake emotions. everything just loses its value and the only thing which is left is you and the concrete. you either stop or continue. that is it.

i wish everyone a good and productive week.

go after your goals and dreams.


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