Monday, June 3, 2013

Plitvice Marathon (Croatia)

Well circumstances leading to the marathon on Sunday weren't exactly what I would have hoped for but not every race can be perfect and if we are never challenged then what's the point really?  Anyway the very next day after I wrote my last post, Una threw up on me...twice.  Oh and btw if you don't want to read about bodily functions just stop now otherwise, carry on.  Anyway she was a little cranky maybe a little fever but then the next day she was back to normal.  I was thinking, phew that's good.  Then Friday rolls around and Niko wasn't eating great and wasn't really himself.  I was getting ready to go out with my sister-in-law and bam Niko throws up then has diarrhea almost simultaneously :-(. Emir wasn't planning on going out anyway since it was his last day working remotely and he was working US hours.  Saturday Niko had a fever all day and diarrhea.  Unfortunately that when the diarrhea set in for me.  I took medicine for kids and it seemed to help.  So of course we went to a neighbors for a graduation party an I ate an drank like normal (like an idiot) but whatever!  This party was awesome.  It was just in the backyard but they had a band and every table was stock full of all my favorite Bosnian food and drinks.  I have to be dead to not partake ;-).
 I definitely paid for it during the night plusNiko  was up in the bathroom multiple times plus our drunk family coming home in the middle of the night = not much sleep for the race. 
Eventually we made it to Plitvice National Park in Croatia around 8 Sunday morning after trouble starting the car and a wait at the border.  
One nice thing is the race didn't start until 10 so we weren't too rushed.  We got our # and our goodies pretty quickly.  Plitvice has 3 races.  5k, 16k and 42k.  While its gaining popularity, it's still relatively small.  Maybe 2000-2500 people total between the 3 races, which I love.  There's no lines for things and everyone is so friendly and happy to be there.  Also for about the equivalent of $20 you get your entry to the race, t-shirt, free ticket to the National Park for the weekend, pasta dinner Saturday night, lunch after the race, a nice race bag and beer after the race.  Seriously, you can't beat it!  
One of the ladies working the race had emailed Emir and I during the week asking if we would do an interview for Japanese tv.  Kind of weird but of course we said yes, sounded like fun.  We weren't sure where we were meeting so we were just walking around, toileting (yes still diarrhea!  Ugh!) and shopping for socks since Emir forgot his race socks!  Emir made his purchase and that's when the crew found us.  It was definitely an interesting experience and I felt like a bobble head nodding along with the Japanese interviewer but it was fun.  We agreed to talk to them again after the race.
Eventually it was time for the race to start.  I was actually pretty nervous due to my stomach issues and lack of sleep.  I never really thought I could do an overall PR at Plitvice but I definitely was going to be disappointed if I didn't beat my 2011 time which was my first ever marathon.  The first 6-7k is mostly downhill so we just went with it.  I let my legs do their thing and I was feeling good.  The only negative so far was Emir had severely misjudged how much Tailwind to put in our handheld bottles.  It was extremely potent!!! kinda gross actually.  luckily the aid stations give out full bottles of water (kind of wasteful) so we poured out a good portion of our bottles and poured water in to dilute it.  much better!  i knew that this was how their stations are setup from last time which is why we didn't bother trying to cram our hydration packs into our suitcases.  Just like in 2011, i would refill my bottle each station.  Then we started upwards.  But still legs felt strong and I could tell it was a descent pace for uphill.  Basically 7k-19k is uphill.  7k- maybe 11k is pretty gradual and levels off here and there.  There's a brief leveling off from maybe 11-12k but then from there very steady climbing and winding.  It's not extremely steep but it gradually wears you down with its constant ascending.  This section is where I let Emir go.  He's definitely better on inclines than me and my legs just couldn't keep up with him.  At the time I thought I had "hit the wall" already and was feeling achy with heavy legs.  But looking back at my splits, it was probably just I was doing too fast a pace on the incline than I can handle.  None of my splits were slower than 10:50s even on the long incline which for me is fast.  After 19k, it's a good 3-4k of downhill.  I love downhills and am good at it so I definitely made up a few minutes in this part but downhill takes its toll on legs as well.  I was feeling pretty tired and a little down by halfway.  I really didn't feel good.  My legs were heavy and sore in fact most of my body was sore.  I thought a few times I might poop my pants and I was thinking "why is this so hard for me?!?!  I'm in much better shape than the first time I ran this?!?"  Can i also just mention that im really not a fan of kilometers?!?the numbers go way to high!  mentally i think it makes it harder, at least for someone who is used to miles.  Eventually though I pulled myself together and realized i was on a better pace than the first time and that I could do this.  This is not an easy race so feel good about what you are doing.  The rest of the race is full of rolling ups an downs. I mean really, it never stops.  One nice thing is the gorgeous scenery.  Most of the race takes place through the Plitvice National Park with tons of beautiful greenery and crystal clear lakes.  You can really lose yourself in all the beauty, I love it there.  I know many people in the US wouldn't like this race because really you are so isolated and there's really no one cheering you on until the finish line but that's one reason I do love this race.  It's an added challenge but at the same time an added bonus due to your surroundings. Kilometers 39-41 are steady downhill so I kicked it into my high downhill gear but knowing that there is an awful uphill at the end.  I didn't care though.  I wanted to try to take a minute or two off by going as fast as I could knowing I would be fairly slow my last kilometer.  And that last kilometer or more whatever it was, is hell!!  It's was longer than I remembered.  I also remembered when I saw the 42 kilometer mark that its 42 kilometers + something that almost seems unbearable coming up this hill to the finish.  But I made it and in 4:17 which I was pretty satisfied with. 
Emir was waiting for me at the finish.  He had just come in at 4:14.  I'm not going to lie, it made me feel better that he didn't beat me by that much ;-). The Japanese reporter was waiting for us and we did our little post race interview right away.  After that I found a spot on the grass and collapsed.  My legs hurt!!!!  My legs didn't hurt this bad after a marathon well since last time I ran Plitvice!  
It was really pure agony for about 30 minutes until I made myself walk around for a bit.  

So now I've had time to mull things over and discuss with Emir.  I think it was hard for me to compare Plitvice to our other marathons because it was a year and a half from when I ran it in 2011 until my next marathon due to being pregnant.  Also being that it was my very first marathon, my opinion might be somewhat skewed.  I might have thought it was harder than it really was since I never did one before.  I remembered it had a lot of elevations but I think going into it I really thought it wasn't as hard as Blue Ridge.  Blue Ridge is "America's Toughest Road Marathon" so there's no way Plitvice is harder.  I mean how could I have done 4:30 in my very first marathon if it is such a hard race.  So I really think in my head I thought I could run closer to 4:05-4:10.  Which is why I was feeling disappointed during the race when I knew it wasn't going to happen.  Now I really think Plitvice may indeed be harder than blue Ridge.  Yes Blue Ridge had a couple inclines that are steeper but Plitvice's are way longer with long descents.  And even the "level" sections are just constant rolling hills.  I'm not taking anything away from Blue Ridge because that is a freaking hard race but definitely Plitvice is up there in difficulty.  But as always I'm so happy I did it.  I just love getting out there and challenging myself.  Despite at times getting disappointed, I had a great day and a lot of fun.
So what now???  Well time for a little break from racing until fall.  A year ago from today I was cleared by the doctor to start running post c-section.  My goal was to run and finish 1 full marathon within a year.  Instead I ran 1500 miles including 5k, 10k, 2 half marathons, 4 marathons and a 50k.  And I improved my marathon time by over 30 minutes.  I guess I accomplished my goal ;-). I think my legs need and deserve a bit of a break.  We have 3 more weeks here in Bosnia and Croatia so lots of rest.  I will gradually start building up again when we get home in preparation for the fall.