Copenhagen Half Marathon 2022

As mentioned previously, I wanted to participate in Copenhagen Half Marathon. It was my third race for this distance in 2022. It was also the race with the most participants I ever ran. The maximum number of participants was 25000, and the race was sold-out more than a week before the run.

This time I ran with Bobo and Cristi, my colleagues from “Trupa lui Fane”. That Sunday, it was perfect weather for a run. The temperature was about 12-13 Celsius, but not windy nor raining.

Obviously, at the start of the race, it was an immense crowd of people and it wasn’t easy to move. I did not like that friends or relatives of runners who were not running themselves stayed in the runners’ area despite officials asking them to leave. In all the other half marathons, only people who had bib numbers were allowed at the start zone. It was so crowded that it took us more than 12 minutes to pass the start line from when the officials gave the start. By the time we passed the start line, the first runners had already run more than 4km! This is not a problem because you are evaluated by the times you cross the start and finish line.

With my colleagues after the race

The race was excellent, with many people on the streets encouraging the runners. The race is flat and is suitable for speed. In 2019 a runner beat the world record in the half marathon on this route. There is no pollution in the city as people travel primarily by bike in Copenhagen.

I started with a pace of 5’30” for the first 10km, then went a little faster. I was tired after km 18 but recovered at the last km. In the final straight line, I started to run fast, but many people ahead were running slowly. There were so many people that it was impossible to run around them. For example, Bobo finished less than one minute ahead of me. Yet, in that minute, more than 500 people crossed the finish line. My time was 1:54:45. It was my 3rd half marathon this year, and every time I finished in one hour and 54 minutes.

However, I am happy with my time, as I was targeting 1:56. The reason is that I was not prepared well for the race, and I had no long runs over 13km in the last two months. In this situation, starting at a slower pace and increasing the speed in the second part of the race was expected.

Happy after the race

The event was well organized and transmitted live on Eurosport 2. There was a mobile app that gave you all the needed info, and I received an SMS with my time once I passed the finish line. There were discounts on urban transport that day for runners and Hydration points at every 3 km during the race.

It happened by a rare coincidence that my sister’s family was visiting Copenhagen at the same time as we did. The day before the race, I had the chance to see her and my niece after more than one year.
I liked Copenhagen, and this half marathon is a race I recommend.

Poland Business Run

Every year in Krakow, on the first Sunday of September it is organized a major running competition for companies, Poland Business Run. This event aims to help people with muscle and bone disabilities using money from sponsors and registration fees.

Each participating company could enlist one or more teams of 5 people who run a 4 km course in relay format. For example, we had five such teams. The limit was for 2000 teams meaning 10000 runners. Besides the on-site teams, there was the possibility of registering teams of people that would run remotely. We also had one such group.

My experience with relay running was minimal, with only one race in 4x400m at an indoor championship in 2020. The context was that one team from “Trupa lui Fane” was short of a team member. They insisted on not letting them down, and eventually, I accepted, although I had no idea how to run a 400m race.

The experience was painful because to run 400m, you need to train a different set of muscles than for a long run. During that race, the competing teams consisted of people who ran 400m in 50 seconds. I still remember the speed they had when passing next to me. I have never before and since seen something similar. Although I was running as fast as I could, the feeling was that I wasn’t moving when they sped next to me.

On the other hand, the Business Run was not a typical relay race. Standard relays in athletics are 4X100m or 4x400m. There is also the Bacanic relay with 4 distances progressive 100m, 200m, 400m, and 800m. You can see this relay at the Balcanic athletics championships.

Last year I was in Bucharest running a half marathon during the Business Run. They allowed runners remote, and I wrote about my experience participating in two competitions simultaneously in a previous post.

At the start of the race

This year I was starting in a team of five with four other colleagues. Each team member was waiting for their turn in a designated area. Then we took the baton from the previous colleague, ran 4 km, and passed it to the next colleague. My average time was 4’49” per km, which is ok. I am slowly improving my running times each week.

My only complaint to organizers would be on how the exchange of the baton happened. Although we stayed in a specific area, too many people were waiting there, and it was very crowded. You did not know when your team member was going to show up. I’ve seen people who reached the area and shout for his following exchange to pick the baton.

Crowded relay exchange areas

I wrote this post because such an event could be organized in many cities worldwide. Companies pay for registration, and relay running is a team-building activity. People run and improve their health. In the end, everybody wins.

…and the race starts!
Small video with the event organized today

8400 km running in 7 years

Why is this a milestone? Because it’s around 1000 miles away from 10k km. It is not a performance; it was an average of 1300 km per year (because of 6 months of pause) or 3.6 km (2.25 miles) of running per day.

In my case, it is not running for performance but for maintaining good health. I am not going to say that running is fun. If running were fun, people would run instead of walk because you would go faster. However, this effort has advantages. For example, the endorphins are generated after a long run, and the general health improvements that come with regular running training.

Let’s face it; your health will start degrading if you don’t exercise somehow after a certain age. Running is an option to prolong good health. I am far from an expert in running, but I can talk about some things I’ve noticed from this 7-year experience. Here are my tips for people who want to start running.

  • If you want to lose weight, run at a slow pace, this will burn the fat. If you run fast, this will work with your muscles instead of burning fat. Besides, you risk damaging your knees by running fast if you are overweight.
  • You should run at least 8-10 km once to get endorphins. If you run 4-5 km, don’t expect to get much satisfaction after the run.
  • If you run at least 18km at once, you’ll feel your belly muscles exercising and lose some fat in that area.
  • Warming up before a fast run is very important. If you plan to train running fast, you should start with a 2 km warm-up at a slow pace, also gymnastics and stretching.
  • Cooldown is also essential, like running 2km at a slow pace. This way, you’ll decrease the lactic acid after training, and you’ll be able to sleep at night.
  • Measure every run detail with whatever is relevant for you (distance, pace, date, pulse, etc.)

For example, here are some statistics from my activity. On average, my runs are 10km with a pace of 5’50″/km. What is more interesting is that it took me 34 full days to run 8400 km. These 34 days were the best investment of time I ever did, and it was only 1.3% of the total time spent in 7 years. If we look on a map, 8400 km is like running from San Francisco to New York and back. I mentioned that as one famous movie character was running from one coast of the US to another.

Having a race planned gives some more motivation to train. There are some half marathon races I registered for some months: Copenhagen on September 18th, 2022, Krakow on October 16th, 2022, Paris on March 5th, 2023, and Gothenburg on May 13th, 2023. This year the Krakow half marathon is only one week after the Bucharest half marathon in October. Since I can’t run half marathon two weekends in a row, I had to choose. It was a hard decision as my first half marathon was Bucharest 2015 and is a race I recommend. But I don’t plan to go to Romania this autumn.

These were some facts about my experience with running. If you want to write to me, you can always do that.

Trail of the Eagle’s Nests

This post will cover some spectacular tourist attractions close to Krakow. This is also a page of Poland’s history that resembles, in certain ways, what happens during the last months in Ukraine. The castles on the Trail of the Eagle’s Nests are located in the Polish Jura mountains, North of Krakow, and they can be reached by car in one or two hours of driving. The Polish Jura are old mountains with maximum heights under 500m, similar to the Dobrogea Mountains in Romania. The hills are not high, but the views are beautiful.

map of the castles on the trail of eagle’s nests. The ones colored red no longer exist, and the black ones can be visited. Some are renovated while others are not.

In the XIV century, the Polish King Casimir the Great (1333-1370) built about 25 castles in these mountains between Krakow, his capital, and Czestochowa. These castles attract many tourists for the spectacular sightseeing in the present days. The area was the border between Poland and Silesia, a province of the Bohemian kingdom.

Rabsztyn Castle
View from Rabsztyn Castle
Another view from Rabsztyn Castle

Casimir the Great did more than build castles. In 1367 he founded the University of Krakow. This University is vital for the city even in the present day. Krakow owes its current growth mainly to the University. The increasing IT sector is a good example. An investment in education pays a lot in the long term.

Garden of the Scala castle

Let’s return to our topic. There is a good site with helpful information regarding castles in Poland. You can learn about the history of every building, and you can also see that many are entirely destroyed. This is because of an event that deeply impacted Polish history.

Ogrodzienec castle

The 30 Years War finished in 1648. At the end of that war, Sweden remained with a powerful army and not enough money to pay its soldiers. As often happened in history, countries with mighty armies looked for opportunities to attack their neighbors. In 1655 Sweden decided to attack Poland, which was not affected after the 30 Years’ War. Poland offered plenty of things to loot for the invaders. The Swedish troops occupied almost the entire country as Poland had problems preparing its army to defend it.

View of Ojcow park from Ojcow castle

The turning point of the events was the unexpected resistance of the Jasna Gora monastery. This monastery was and still is the most important religious site in Poland. In 1655 Polish people became highly emotional hearing about the fights for the sanctuary, and they gathered an army to start fighting the Swedes. The unsuccessful siege of the fortified monastery was lifted after more than one month. The Swedish forces eventually retreated with all the goods they could carry. One-third of the civil population of Poland died in that war.

Jasna Gora monastery

These events remained in history as “The Deluge”. Henry Sienkiewicz wrote a novel on this topic. A well-known movie, “Potop”, was made based on the book in 1974.

Tenczyn Castle
View next to the Tenczyin castle

The Swedish army destroyed all the castles part of the Trial of the Eagle’s Nest during the deluge. They tried to steal everything they found. The ruins remained in some cases since those events until recently. Because unfortunately, for every war, the impact and destructions last for generations after it ends.

Korzkiew castle

Last decade, as Poland joined the European Union, they got funds from the union or other countries. They were able to renovate or rebuild some of these castles.

Bobolice castle

Many of the castles on the Trail of the Eagle’s Nest are open for tourists for small fees. In my opinion, the best time to visit them is in autumn when the trees from the surrounding hills are beautifully colored.

Maybe you wonder why these attractions were called Trail of the Eagle’s Nest? All of them are situated on high limestone cliffs or huge rocks, which suggests a resemblance to the eagle’s nests.

View near the Bobolice castle

Besides castles in the same Jura mountains, you can see many gates created by nature by carving big stones. Examples are the Krakow gate and Twardowski gate.
These attractions combine history and nature. Maybe you’ll also find them interesting to visit someday.

Run around the house and chess in Bucharest

During WWII, while working in Bletchley Park to break the Enigma code, Alan Turing invented a game that combined chess and running. The contest rules: You sit with your opponent in front of a chess table. You make your move and run around the house. The other player has to move before you return. Once you sit down at the table, the other player runs around the house. Then you have to move, etc. You lose if you are checkmated or fail to move before your opponent returns to his chair.

The above mentioned is a rare example of a game that exercises both mind and muscles hard. But what made Turing invent such a strange game? At Bletchley Park, there were excellent chess players ( e.g., C. H. O’D. Alexander was the British chess champion and became International Chess Master). They were playing a lot of chess. Turing was a modest chess player despite all his tries. But he was a very competitive person. And a great runner with a personal best of 2:46 per marathon. That would be a fantastic time, even by today’s standards. The game mentioned above helps the fast runners as it gives them more time to think.

Romanian Parliament House

During my stay in Bucharest, I played in a chess tournament and ran a half marathon in May. The chess event happened inside the giant House of Parliament, the most prominent building in Europe. The start and finish of the race were in front of the same house. That made me think about the game proposed by Turing, although in my case, the two events (chess and run) happened within one week, not on the same day.

Side view of the Parliament House

It is funny to imagine Turing’s game inside the House of Parliament in Bucharest. One run around this house is longer than 3 km, and after just 14 moves, you run more than the equivalent of a marathon. This game would require players with great physical shape. This is an amusing edge case for the proposed game.

Playing venue inside the Parliament House.

First, it was the chess event. About 200 players from 15 countries gathered in a massive hall from Parliament House. There were 10 rounds of rapid chess (15′ +5″ format). My result was 4.5 points from 10. Because 9 out of 10 opponents were ranked higher than me, I gained 38 ELO points. My opponent had a considerable advantage from the opening in one of the games. I continued playing as I still had pieces on the table. He relaxed, and his advantage started to decrease. I kept calm and played the best I could. The position was drawn, and then I had the advantage and won. The win was not because of a blunder but because of the constant improvement of the situation. Later, I saw that my opponent was above 2200 ELO in classical chess while I was 1800. The lesson is to continue the game as long as the position still could give some hope. Playing in this tournament was a fun experience!

I was happy to see that chess is becoming more popular in Romania.

At the start of the Bucharest Half Marathon

The second event was the Bucharest Half Marathon. I’ve participated in the last five editions of this competition. This year the weather was ideal for running. I tried to improve my time from the Warsaw half marathon in March but failed to do that for 3 seconds! The official time was 1:54:30.

Close to km 10.

One statistical aspect is that the average time for finishing this half-marathon was 1:58, while in Warsaw was 1:54, and in Krakow, 1:52. Although I failed to improve my time, I was happy to see many people I knew. It is good to say hi! and exchange a few words.

With colleagues from “Trupa lui Fane” after the race

Let’s get back to the story about Turing. The run-around-the-house chess had no success. Nobody was willing to play it (for some reason, runners are not interested in chess, and chess players do not run). Turing did not give up. He came up with the idea to create a program to play chess and defeat his colleagues. At the time, the computer was at its beginnings. Turing created the first chess program called Turochamp in 1948. His idea was that if I couldn’t beat you, I would make a program that would do that. This second plan was much better. It led to a challenge between man and machine. These days a chess program on any smartphone can defeat the best human chess player.

Warsaw half-marathon for peace

This years’ edition of the Warsaw half-marathon was a run for peace. Given the current situation in Ukraine, it is vital to show solidarity with those suffering. Since the beginning of the war, millions of people had to leave their homes.

Together with my friend Bobo, we planned to run in Warsaw. He came by plane from Bucharest, while I took the train from Krakow.

That morning, March 27, there was only 3 degrees Celsius at the start of the race. Since we were well equipped, that did not influence the experience during the event. Around 7500 participants ran in the Warsaw half marathon.

Being a symbolical run for peace, we chose to wear shirts with our country’s name on them. We had badges with Ukrainian flag colors to support this country facing invasion.

The route was exciting and full of symbols. The start was on Muranowska street near a monument commemorating the Russian invasion of Poland in 1939.

With Bobo after the race in front of the monument at the start of the Warsaw Half Marathon

Also, on the same street was located Umschlagplatz. During WWII, the trains took around 300000 Jews from the Ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp at this railway station.

Near the Warsow ramparts

The route continued to place Wilson. He was the US president that sustained Polish independence after WWI. For continuity in the relations with the United States, the night before the race, we witness a powerful speech of the current US president in the courtyard of the Warsaw Royal Castle. Then we crossed the bridge over the Vistula river.

On the other side of Vistula is the Prague district of the capital. It is here that during the Polish Uprising in 1944, the Russian troops waited for the Germans to annihilate the Polish resistance before crossing the river. The route continued near the National Stadium. These days the stadium is the headquarters for Ukraine refugees. Then we crossed the Vistula river again. This time on the left, we could admire the Siren statue, the symbol of Warsaw. The last 4 km were in a straight line with the finish near the Multimedia Park Fountain, a modern city symbol.

At the race finish. Happy and tired.

As I was expected to finish later than Bobo, we set the meeting point, after the race, upstairs from the fountains in front of Marie Curie’s statue.

Bobo finished 6’30” before me and waited for me at the statue. We did not race together as he was faster and better trained. Our estimations before the race were accurate. Bobo finished at 1:47:59, while my time was 1:54:27.

Bobo is very close to the finish line

I was happy because the result improved by 2’30” my time at the previous half marathon. Besides, I trained on the treadmill during winter, and running on a treadmill is not as good as running outdoors. I am very grateful to my coach Stefan Oprina who did his best to train me from a distance for this run with special programs for treadmill running.

One funny story is that, before the race, when I got off the elevator in the hotel lobby, I saw Bobo talking to 2 girls volunteers from the organization team. They were looking for the elite runners to take them to the photo session and technical meeting. The girls knew only that the runners were foreigners. I went back up to the room to leave my phone. In the meantime, Bobo clarified things with the girls. We were, by no means, elite runners. The fun part is that it is elementary to spot the difference between the elite runners and us.

In the end, I must say that I am impressed with how the citizens of Poland mobilized themselves to help the millions of refugees from Ukraine. The Ukrainians leaving their own country are people that need help and support. When walking next to the huge tents with refugees in the center of Krakow, I think about those people who left everything behind and how hard it must be for them. The only way to fight this absurd war is to continue everyday life and help the refugees however we can.

In front of the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, it is written дети. Same as in front of the bombarded Mariupol theatre. A powerful reminder of innocent people that were killed during the war.

Don’t look up

Early in January, during a road trip, I visited the charming medieval city of Torun. Among the attractions of the old city center is the house where the scientist Nicolaus Copernicus was born. The house is a museum dedicated to the memory of the astronomer for many years.

Torun – birth house of Nicolaus Copernicus

While visiting the museum, one thing got my attention. Copernicus published his main work, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, in 1543, just before his death. The scientist waited for that long because he could not explain all the consequences of his theory. For example, if the Earth revolves around the Sun, why don’t people fall out during this rotation? Scientists did not discover the laws of gravity at that time. Eventually, he published his lifetime research and conclusions and let others continue his work and answer the questions that remained open. His book’s second and third editions appeared in 1566 and 1617. Yet, the fourth edition was published only in 1853, almost 240 years later. That was a long time!

I knew that the inquisition condemned Galileo Galilei for endorsing the theory that the Earth moved around the Sun. He had to recant his theory to avoid the death penalty. But I did not know that the persecution and denial of the Heliocentric idea lasted that long. Galileo, Kepler, and Newton (Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, 1687) clarified things on this matter. By the end of the XVII century, scientists proved that Copernicus was right and that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Yet, the church continued to ignore the logic and the scientific realities for another 150 years.

Earth and sky mockup inside the museum

Let’s see what happened during this time.

Copernicus’s theory was attacked by both Protestants and Catholics with theological arguments rather than scientific ones. The rejection happened from the mid-XVI century, immediately after the theory was published. There was not a dispute as Copernicus was already dead, and no one was defending his ideas at the time.

The church leaders in Rome considered that Copernicus was a crazy scientist who wasn’t right. Interestingly, in Poland, at that time, the church was more tolerant than all the other Catholic countries. Quite different than in present days.

Later, Galileo made discoveries aligned with the Heliocentric theory by looking at the sky. A trial followed, and the catholic church placed De revolutionibus on the index of Forbidden Books in 1616. Descartes initially sustained the Heliocentric idea but then changed his mind based on Galileo’s trial.

Two centuries later, after another trial, the church recognized that the Heliocentric theory was correct. Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus and Galileo’s Dialogue were omitted from the edition of the Index of Forbidden Books only from 1835.

Arnolfini Portrait – created with mannequins inside the museum as a depiction of life in the XV century. One can notice some differences compared to the painting.

The church used its power to silence the astronomers and scientists for a long time. It was better not to look up at the sky if they wanted to live. Or, at least, tell the church what they would like to hear. The church pretended to own the truth, but the wrong part at that time was imposing their truth on everyone.
Copernicus’s theory brought a significant change to the world. People were not ready for it in the XVI century. At that time, the tradition was more important than reason. Humans were more inclined to look in the Bible for truth than nature. It took a very long time to change that.

The statue of Copernicus is in the center of Torun. The text says: “Nicolaus Copernicus Thorunensis, terrae motor, solis caelique stator”(“Nicolaus Copernicus of Thorun, mover of the Earth, stopper of the Sun and heavens”)

Almost 500 years after his death, we still talk of the significant impact Copernicus, a man working by himself, had on the scientific revolution and human history. The most important lesson was not to accept things as they are given but use logic and observation instead. One can say that Copernicus started the renascent of science in Europe.

European Rapid and Blitz Chess Tournament 2021

The European Rapid and Blitz Chess Tournament venue, Katowice, is a Polish city with modern urban architecture. It looks more like an American city, and it has tall buildings in the center and wide streets and boulevards. It also has a vast sports arena called Spodek, which translates to “saucer”.

The Spodek Arena was the venue for the 2021 edition of the European Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship. The championship was organized really well in such circumstances. One should keep in mind that there were strict sanitary rules in Poland in December 2021.

Spodek Arena in Katowice

Katowice is only about 80 kilometers west of Krakow. Therefore, driving there for this tournament was a good option for me.

The blitz championship took place on Friday and was won by the local chess star Jan Krzysztof Duda. The rapid chess tournament followed on Saturday and Sunday (17-18.12.2021). The playing rate was 15 minutes for the game, with 10 seconds added after each move. Six rounds were played on Saturday and five on Sunday.

I played only in the rapid section of the championship among other 570 players. The tournament was open for any chess player in Europe. There were registered players from 23 countries, and I was the only player from Romania. The Covid pandemic was at its peak in Poland, and many players chose not to risk traveling to play in an event with so many people.

Spodek prepared for the chess tournament

I was pleased with my game from the first round. I met a Polish International Master. The game was exciting and intense, but I made a mistake in mutual time trouble and lost. This is my only game recorded from the 11 played in the tournament. A couple of days later, a colleague told me that my opponent is a famous chess player and streamer in Poland. He finished fifth at the end of the tournament.

The next rounds also came with some hard-fought games, which I am happy for. I wanted to have fun, and it was a great experience. My opponents ranged from 12 to 65 years old, mainly from Poland, and five of them were children.

My result was 4.5 points out of 11 games, but I should have made at least 5 points based on the initial rating and ranking. As a consequence, I lost 40 ELO rapid chess points. The ratings for blitz, rapid and standard (classical) chess are differently measured.

Chess tables are connected with wires for transmitting the games online


The majority of participants were young. This is very good for the chess future. After the “Queen Gambit” series, there is a lot of interest in this game worldwide. Some youtube channels with chess content have more than one million subscribers.

It is good that the parents understood the benefits of chess for the development of children. It is good that the parents understood the benefits of chess for the development of children. Chess offers the possibility of learning things not covered in schools, such as decision-making and assuming consequences.

One of the videoclips from the rapid chess championship. These days chess is very popular on Youtube and Twitch.

The organizers did an excellent job of transmitting live the tournament on youtube, with interviewers and professional players commenting on the games. Lately, chess has been a lot about content streaming.

Games in progress

Chess is very popular in Poland. Besides the European Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship, the World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship was hosted in Warsaw at the end of December.

Spectators watching the drama closely during the last game of one round

Spodeck was the largest indoor venue of its kind in Poland until it was surpassed by Tauron Arena in 2014. A fun fact is that I participated in sports competitions in both arenas in two months. The Krakow half marathon ended inside Tauron Arena.

Auschwitz

In August, before going to Bucharest, I went to visit Auschwitz. The former extermination camp is located around 70 kilometers west of Krakow. From Krakow, you have many options to visit Auschwitz. You can go by train, bus or car.

Although I have read many things about this extermination camp, it’s entirely different from being there. It is one thing to get info about the life in the death factory and a different experience to be in a chamber where hundreds of thousands of people were killed.

Entry to Auschwitz extermination camp. In front of the well-known iron gate with the message “Arbeit Macht Frei.”

The Auschwitz camp was first used as a labor camp and then, from 1942 to 1945, was an extermination camp. In January 1942, the Nazis decided to kill all the Jews from the German-occupied territories. Therefore they start moving more than one million Jews from Ghettoes to the exterminations camps by trains. Those who were not able to work were sent directly to the gas chamber. That included old people and children. It is estimated that more than 1.1 million people were killed in this camp. During the war from the six extermination camps, this was the camp with the most victims.

An electrified barbed-wire fence separates areas in the extermination camp.

The Nazis tried hard to hide the atrocities they did everywhere and the massacres against innocent people. Their actions to conceal facts failed. For example, in Auschwitz, they blew up the gas chambers before leaving the camp in January 1945. The Auschwitz museum was open soon after the war in 1947. Since 2016, more than 2 million people have visited the Auschwitz museum in the concentration camp each year. Having many visitors is a good sign that we learn from history not to repeat the same horrors.

Gas chamber II was blown up by Nazis before departing the camp. There were four gas chambers in Birkenau and one in Auschwitz. The gas chamber in Auschwitz is the only one that tourists can visit.
Aerial view of Auschwitz II Birkenau extermination camp from 1944. Gas chamber II marked on this image was shown in the previous picture.

That day in August, I heard about many atrocities and impressive stories told by our guide. I won’t mention those things here as this is not the purpose of this post.

In one of the buildings, there were two long opposite walls with pictures of former inmates. On one wall, there were pictures of men while on the other of women. Under each image was written the date when they entered the concentration camp and the day they died. They were all prisoners selected for work. They had better physical condition when they arrived. The guide told us that, on average, men resisted more prolonged than women. That was not because of physical strength but because of mental differences. During that time, women were expected to marry, have children and grow them. For many being there meant the end of life, that they were prepared to live. In many cases, the death happened within weeks after the arrival in the camp. It was not dying because of hunger or physical extermination but because of giving up hope.

Auschwitz-Birkenau: a memorial plaque written in Romanian

I wanted to understand more of what was causing that. I read Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Searching for Meaning”. Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist imprisoned in Auschwitz and wrote about this experience.

He said that those who had a purpose in the life lived longer. His advice for humans was not to ask “what life offered me?” but rather “what can I do for this life?”. The answer would help us find meaning in life.

Another idea from the book is that the things that happen to us are not under our control. What matters is how we respond to the things that happen to us. Seneca said this in a format of heroism: “The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man struggling against adversity.”

There was one more insight. Viktor Frankl quoted Goethe, who said: “If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.” I have resonated for a long time with this statement.

On my departure from Auschwitz, I looked back over the camp and saw the light coming down through the clouds over Birkenau. That light was over the place on earth where some human beings killed so many innocent humans. The ashes of so many people rose to the sky there, and human beings suffered a lot. We should not forget this.

Birkenau – a place that we should never forget

Krakow Half Marathon 2021

The 7th edition of the Krakow Half Marathon took place on October 17th. The Krakow Municipality organized this event. Due to Covid restrictions, this year, organizers allowed a maximum of 5000 runners at the start. They did a great job. The highlights were: running on both sides of river Vistula, in Krakow city center, and impressive finishing on Tauron Arena, the biggest arena in Poland.

We were crossing the bridge over the Vistula.

The weather was cold that morning, around 10 Celsius, but great for running. It was the 7th year in a row when I ran a half marathon in October (starting from the MIB edition in 2015). For this race, my goal was to finish in under two hours. Since I was familiar with the half marathon distance, I started slowly. According to the statistics, after 10 km, more than 3000 runners were ahead of me. From 15th km, I increased the pace to faster than 5′ 30″ per km.

On the other side of the Vistula river

For the last 2 km, my speed was above 12km/h, which means running less than 5 minutes per kilometer. Indeed the finish on Tauron Arena was spectacular. There were lights and excellent visual effects in the vast hall. During the last 5 km, I went from place 3007 to 2478. The reason was not necessarily my increased speed. It was because many people ran too fast in the beginning and got tired. That happens every time. This race made no exception.

The official time was 1:56:53. This is 10 minutes below the personal best. However, this time is much better than the result at Bucharest Half Marathon. Given the current situation and my training, I am happy.

Only 2 km to the finish. All good!

One important aspect is that one week before the race, my coach, Stefan Oprina, suggested running 15 km in less than 1 hour and 25 minutes. I told him that I couldn’t do that as this year I am not in great shape. In 2021 I could run 15 km only in 1:27 or longer. Stefan said: “That is fine. Run whatever you can and let me know how it went”. That day I ran 15 km in 1:24. That made me believe that I could run this half marathon in less than two hours.

A gift from Stefan Oprina and the finisher medal from Krakow Half Marathon. The message is the motto of his running team: “Together, we are stronger!”

Stefan’s recommendation relied on the fact that I trained with him and the team for six weeks in Bucharest. During the first training, I was not able to run a kilometer in 5 minutes. Before leaving Bucharest, I managed to run 3 km in less than 5 minutes each.

I’ve learned one lesson from the Krakow Half Marathon experience. Often your brain sets the limits for you. In my case, it was 1:27 for 15km. Once you overpass that limit, you will feel free and boost your self-confidence. For example, last weekend, I ran 15 km in 1:21.