December 1st Half marathon

December 1st is Romanian National Day and a running competition is organized each year in Bucharest to celebrate this occasion. Last year on December 1st it was snowing and the temperature was -10 Celsius. I went to see people running that day and I thought I’ll never run outside at that temperature. This year the weather was much better, a +4 Celsius and I decided to run a half marathon.

This year’s edition of December 1st Marathon celebrated the memory of Alexandru Ioan Cuza. He was the first ruler of Romania from 1859 to 1866. He was born exactly 200 years ago and became ruler of Romania 160 years ago. Another coincidence, the competition happened in the “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” park in Bucharest.

The competition medal was engraved to honor Alexandru Ioan Cuza

As a side note, this April, I was visiting Heidelberg, the city where Alexandru Ioan Cuza died while in exile in 1873.

As for the race, the course map was a 4.2 km circle in the park which we ran five times by the half marathon runners and ten times by those running a marathon. It was not the ideal circuit, it had ups and downs, climbing and descending on stairs. With this in mind, I thought it was not a race for achieving a personal best time. Therefore having fun was more important on this special occasion.

At the start, there were 1200 people prepared for a run on a special day

During the race, I had a constant pace, except for the first km when it was very crowded with all the participants it was slower. I completed the half marathon in 1:53:38 and placed 147 from the 375 runners who finished the race. It was not my best time this season but not the worst either.

A runner in a park by the lake
Looking relaxed on the run
Happy after a good race on December 1st

Many thanks to Radu Neagu who took the pictures above and sent me quickly as always! He did run an 11 km race which started after we finished the half marathon and had time to take us pictures before his run.

The MC for this event was Bogdan Nitulescu, my colleague from “Trupa lui Fane”. Bogdan does this job every year for this competition. Last year he stayed for more than 7 hours outside at -10 Celsius. This year the weather was much better. Many thanks, Bogdan, for encouraging us through the race in a cold December morning!

Bogdan looking happier this year. Thanks for your support!

This race was the first half marathon for my friend and colleague Bobo. It was a great result for him finishing in 1:56 such a race as the course was difficult and it was cold outside.

With Bobo at the end of his first half-marathon. Congratulations on your first half marathon!

The December 1st half marathon was a nice way to end the competitional season outdoor by running on a special occasion.

Urban Athletics 2019

This year, I ended my outdoor running season at Urban Athletics in Bucharest. It was the second edition of this event. They had three races, 800m, 3km and one mile (1609m). I went for the 3km distance, which is still a short distance for me but it was the best option available. Those were the official races but it was also a family-run.

The event was very well organized and more important it was a lot of fun to be there. They provided water and sweets for the runners as well as diplomas and medals for all the finishers. Kiseleff Boulevard was a good choice for a fast run.

It was a misty day last Sunday when we took the start at 9 am for the 3km race. There were not many runners and this also helped us obtain a good result. The temperature was about 10 Celsius which was also ideal for cooling during the run.

The 3km race started in a misty morning

I have no experience with the 3km distance and carried out by the wave of runners I began running with a pace that I could not sustain for the whole race. When I looked at my watch the pace was 3:40/km, which was obviously too fast for me. I ran the first kilometer in 4:04 and then the last two kilometers in 4:24. I was not able to keep the same speed for the whole distance. But I am happy that I was able to run at a decent speed for the rest of the race.

As it can be seen here, I was obviously suffering for the last kilometer of the race. Yet I am happy I could finish with a good result.

My finish time was 12:53 placing me at 60 position in a list of 136 runners. It was, of course, a personal best for this distance and I am really happy about that.

After the race, I was looking more like a protestant in front of the Government building than happy about my performance.
Bobo also ran a 3km race and obtained a personal best time. He looked happy with his result.

Once the races finished we waited for the prize-giving ceremony to congratulate the winners. A funny moment was when Radu Neagu took us a picture, a very young competitor showed up in front of us.

With colleagues and our coach Stefan Oprina who won his age category in the one-mile race. In front of Stefan is a young athlete, looking forward to future races. The future is his.
Many thanks to Radu Neagu for the pictures he sent me! Here you can see him running a one-mile race at Urban Athletics

Since it’s already November we’ll start training indoor until March. Maybe I will compete in some indoor activities during this time.

My conclusion is that I liked very much the Urban Athletics competition because it was very well organized and good for speed running on short distances. I recommend the next edition of this race for all interested in running either short or long distances.

MIB 2019-Running a half marathon

This year’s edition of the Bucharest International Marathon happened on a beautiful and sunny day in October. This was my fifth participation at MIB. Like every year I ran a half marathon.

MIB is the most important running event in Romania by the number of participants. What makes special this event is that you meet many friends, colleagues and people you would not see in a while.

With my former colleagues before the start of the half marathon. They just finished the 10 km race and got their medals. Behind us is the Palace of the Parliament, the biggest building in Europe.

For this race, I aimed to finish it in 1 hour and 45 minutes. In order to achieve this,I planned to follow the 1:45 pacers. One advantage of this plan is that you don’t have to look at your watch and calculate how fast you should go during the race. You just follow the pacers and if you are up to that task you’ll finish in 1:45.

Everything went according to the plan until at km 17, when I was not able to continue keeping up with the pacers. For the first 17km, my pace was at about 5 min per km then I dropped at 5:15 and finally for the last two kilometers at 5:35. Eventually, I finished in 1:47:32 which is not a bad time, after all, it is my second best time. This result placed me in the first 20% of the 2166 people who finished the half marathon.

Full energy at the start of the 12th edition of Bucharest International Marathon. Near me, you can see a 1:50 pacer helping those who wanted to finish the half marathon in one hour and fifty minutes.
After 4km into the race. Far behind us, you can see the Palace of the Parliament. I am the one with the blue cap.

Once the half marathon was finished we waited to greet our colleagues, from the group “Trupa lui Fane”, who were running the marathon race. On that heat, at above 25 degrees Celsius, it was very hard to run for many hours. Especially for those who finished in 4 or 5 hours, the race was really difficult. Because of that many people abandoned during the marathon. A suggestion for the organizers for the next editions would be to start the marathon earlier.

A small group from “Trupa lui Fane” after the half marathon race.

My thanks and gratitude to my coach Stefan Oprina for the training and the constant encouragement he gave me in many situations. One example, before joining his team I often had injuries because I did no warm up before the training sessions.

Also, warm thanks to Radu Neagu, who after running a half marathon took us pictures, including the photo above.

This was my tenth official half marathon. In 2015 I finished it in 2:15 and now I can run the same distance almost 30 minutes shorter, which is quite ok in my opinion.

Leaving aside these technical details, more important is that running changed my life. I would like to end this story with a quote that has been on my mind since I start running four years ago:

An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets. He must run with hope in his heart and dreams in his head.” – Emil Zatopek

Running a half marathon at Balkan Masters Athletics

This year edition of the Balkan Masters Athletics was organized in Bucharest. It was a competition open to all athletes from Balkan countries aged over 35. It had all the races you can see in the athletics section of Olympic games with some small differences, one being that instead of a marathon the participants run only a half marathon because it deals with people over a certain age.

It was a nice edition with many spectacular races. I liked watching the relays but also the spectacular 3000m obstacles or the 1500m race. Except for the half marathon, all the other events happened on “Iolanda Balas” stadium.

It was a good opportunity for me to see how prepared I am for the traditional half marathon I run every year in October.

Together with my colleagues Bogdan and Ioan from “Trupa lui Fane” before the start of the half marathon. They both got bronze medals in their age category.

There were around 80 participants that started the race on a beautiful Sunday morning of September. We had to run 3 times around the Herastrau lake as shown in the map below where a lap is around 7 km long.

The map of the half marathon race

Constantina Dita, the Olympic champion, was invited to give the start signal for the race and she not only did that but she also watched the whole race and gave water to the thirsty runners after each lap. In the end, she congratulated the finishers. It was very nice of her to go the extra mile and I am sure that as myself all the runners really appreciated this. A warm thank you to all the arbiters and officials who were aligned on the route to make sure everything is ok. They stayed there for more than three hours until the race finished.

We took a picture with Constantina Dita before the race. She is the most famous Romanian athlete for long-distance running, besides winning the gold medal at Olympic Games in 2008 she still holds all the national records for women ranging from 10km to marathon.

As for the race itself, I started with a comfortable pace of 5 minutes and 10 seconds per kilometer and continued at that speed for 14 kilometers when a runner from Greece reached me from behind. In all the races before I focused on my run, but this time I made the mistake to compete with this guy. For the next 3 km, I had a pace of 4:50 which was too fast for me. As a result for the last 3 km of the race, I had an average of 5:24 and finished in 1:48:05 official time ranked 8th from 12 participants. While this is not my best time for a half marathon (1:46:46), I am happy with my performance, an average of 5:08 per kilometer for 21 kilometers. In the end, I congratulated the runner from Greece who finished two minutes ahead of me. Running and sport, in general, is about fair-play.

I would like to thank my coach, Stefan Oprina, the driving force at “Trupa lui Fane”, who is helping me for over a year to improve my running with great advice in cool training sessions together with many other runners.

With Stefan after he finished the 5000m race which he won. This is why he is inside the stadium while I am outside. Stefan got three gold medals in this edition of the Balkan Masters Athletics. His motto is: “Together we are stronger!”

Many thanks to Radu Neagu who made the photos above and sent them to me late in the night so I can write this article!

I liked this edition of the Balkan Masters and I would like to participate next year as well when will be hosted in Albania.

My next race will be at the traditional Bucharest Marathon on October 13th when my objective is to finish the half marathon in one hour and forty-five minutes.

Playing chess in Arad

Arad chess open is the most important chess tournament in Romania. This year it was it’s twelfth edition. The tournament was very well organized with players coming from all over the world. The venue for the tournament was the Continental Forum Hotel.

International chess festival – July 24-31- Arad

I took a few pictures from the organizer’s site to illustrate my experience within the tournament. I started the tournament with two loses then I was able to focus better and bounced back with four wins in five games.

At the chessboard during the 4th round

An interesting moment happened in round 7 when my opponent sacrificed two pawns in the opening in order to develop his pieces and tried to capture my queen.

The critical moment in round 7. I took two white pawns which can be seen above this text, but I realized that it was a trap. I spent 30 minutes in that position to understand all the complications and found a good move. I won the game in the end.

The most important game came in round 8th. I played a junior girl rated 150 points above me who had a great tournament. It was a very sharp game with chances on both sides.

I played a sharp English attack against Najdorf defense in round 8th.

The position below was the decisive moment of the game.

She played the black queen to h2 threatening both to checkmate the white king by playing queen takes c2 or to capture the bishop on h3. At first glance in the above diagram, it looks like white is lost. But in reality in this position, it is black who is lost and that is the beauty of chess. White responds with rook from d4 to d2 and stops the checkmate threat. Then the black queen captures the white bishop on h3 and white plays rook to h1 and the black queen is lost as it has nowhere safe to go. White would win the game. Also, instead of playing rook to h1 white has an even more powerful response, he can move the queen to e3, but that move is hard to see by humans. Stockfish 10, a powerful chess engine found that move in a few seconds.

I failed in finding this good defense and took the black knight on a3 instead, then she took my knight on c3 with the rook from c8 and resulted in a position lost for white. I resigned the game a few moves later.

After that game, I lost my focus and did a draw in the last round and ended the tournament with 4.5 points from 9 games.

I have played more than 400 moves in all the games in Arad but the move in the position above made the difference between a good and a bad tournament. This was a perfect example for the quote from Keres mentioned in a previous post: “in every position, there is a move to be found – but you have to search for it!“ Also my opponent deserves congratulations for courage to play a risky move that won the game. As they said: “Audaces fortuna juvat” ( “Fortune favors the bold”).

My participation in the Arad open was a great experience overall. I learned many things and I had the chance to visit Arad and Timisoara for the first time.

Running in Potsdam

During the first weekend of June, I was in Potsdam with Bobo, a friend, running at the 16th edition of ProPotsdam Schloesserlauf. It was a perfect time for a short visit to Berlin and Potsdam before the race.

In front of Brandenburg Gate
With Marx and Engels
Television tower in Alexanderplatz
View of Berlin from the television tower
Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam
Charlottenhof Palace in Potsdam
View of Charlottenhof garden on a summer evening

As for the race itself, there were two options, either 10km or half-marathon (21.1 km). Usually, I run half-marathons but this time we had two busy days in Berlin before the race and a returning flight soon after the course so I chose to run 10 km. It was a wise decision as June 2nd was a hot day in Potsdam and the race included a somehow steep climb near the Sanssouci Palace.

My objective was to finish the 10 kilometers race in less than 50 minutes. Unfortunately, I missed this goal by 30 seconds as my official time was 50 minutes and 29 seconds. Nevertheless, the whole trip was a cool experience and I am very happy I ran there.

With Bobo after the race

The race itself was very well organized. The sightseeing was beautiful as we ran around the Potsdam castles. My only suggestion for the organizer would be to group the participants at the start according to their expected finish time. For me, it was very hard to advance during the first kilometer because it was very crowded in front of me. Because of that, I ran the first kilometer in 5 minutes and 30 seconds. I kept my energy and accelerated during the last kilometer in 4:39. I had a chance to finish under 50 minutes if I would start sprinting one kilometer earlier.

There were 1477 runners who finished the 10-kilometer race. Of these, 772 were women and 705 men. It was the first time I run a race of such size where the majority of runners are women. It is great to see so many women running long distance races as this has a positive impact on health. My rank was 182 from 1477 finishers in the general standings and 21 in my age category.

I noticed in both 10 km and 21.1 km competitions almost all the participants finished their race. I think it is a cultural thing in Germany to achieve your commitment.

It’s a race…not a riot

Those castles had been built a few hundred years ago by the rulers of Prussia. At that time the only reason for thousands of common people running around the castles would be a riot. Fortunately, society evolved and continues to do so. These days so many people choose to exercise as it improves their health and life.

GRENKE chess festival

I thought to write down some of my impressions as a participant in Europe’s biggest chess festival. It was indeed a great tournament and a special experience for me being in the same place with other 2000 chess players, including the best players in the world.

The venue, as in the previous years, was the Schwarzwaldhalle in the big Congress Center in Karlsruhe. There were two big conference halls where we played grouped in four tournaments.

Karlsruhe Congress Center

The tournaments were scheduled around catholic Easter between 18th and 22nd of April. It is the same each year, many people can play as they have free days during Easter. This was a nine-round tournament in five days with four days with double rounds and one day a single round. Most of the chess tournaments in present have a single round each day because it can take up to five hours of intense effort for a game to finish. Another difference from most of the tournaments is that it’s played in classical time format. This means each player has two hours to make forty moves and then receives other thirty minutes to finish the game. Hence a game can last for a maximum of five hours. This is how the chess tournaments were played before digital clocks were invented.

The main conference hall

In the conference hall above you can see a stage where the world best players including the world champion, Magnus Carlsen, had a closed tournament with only ten competitors. While the rest of the tournaments started on Thursday they started their tournament on Saturday. The reason behind this decision is that on the Friday before the Easter they don’t broadcast chess games. I guess it is a strange local policy in Karlsruhe.

A section of the second conference hall

Most of the chess players were assigned to play in the bigger conference hall seen above. I played all my nine games in this conference hall. The playing conditions were great, nice wooden boards and pieces on all of the tables. I would say that the tournament was very well organized in all details. It is not easy to handle 2000 people.

A standard chess set and clock used during the tournament

As for my experiences, in the first round, I lost because I made the move forty with one second too late. This was because I haven’t played a classic game in the last twenty years and I was not prepared for time to pass so quickly. I had fifteen seconds to make the last three moves. I thought I made the last move just in time because the clock displayed a confusing message. My opponent also thought that I made the move on time. He spent the next ten minutes thinking on his move when an arbiter came to our table and asked if I did forty moves. I did, but it turned out the last move was done out of the assigned time. The arbiter said that I lost the game for failing to make forty moves in two hours. His decision was right. I congratulated my opponent and went to the hotel as it was almost midnight and the next day I had other two games to play. I learned from that mistake to better organize my time. I did not lose another game on time.

Another interesting situation happened a few rounds later. After ten moves were played my opponent complained to the arbiter that I wrote down the moves I intended to make and then perform the move on the table and press the clock. I must say I did not know about this rule. In the books I used to learn chess from, written in the 1950s, they say that you should write down your move, think about it some more and only then perform the move. The arbiter asked me to make the move first and only then write it down. I thought this was a trick by my opponent to distract my attention and lose my focus. I thought I will not let myself fooled like this, I will fight hard and win the game. I was ranked higher than my opponent, I got a better position with a strong attack. At some point, I thought I had a winning combination if I sacrificed an exchange and I did that. It turned out my sacrifice was a mistake, one that I would see immediately in a normal context. The problem was that I wanted too much to win, to punish my opponent for the cheap trick he tried. This wish was stronger than my objective reason who would have seen the error if I thought a little more. As a result, I lost that game too. Psychology plays an important role in chess and in life. The good part is that chess helps you understand and maybe correct the behavioral problems you have at the cost of one game. After the game,my opponent apologized for calling the arbiter but he said he couldn’t concentrate on the game because I did not respect the procedure.

Those were the only games I lost in Karlsruhe. I also had pleasant experiences. In the position below I played black, and for the last five moves I chased the white king trying to checkmate it or gain a material advantage.

In chess it is important to defocus before focusing again

My focus was once again on finding moves to attack the white king, but despite my effort, I saw no way to make progress. I was looking only on the left side of the board where all the action was happening. Time was passing quickly and my calculus led to nothing. Then I stopped and I looked at the entire board and immediately noticed that if I would push the a6 pawn to a5 my opponent would move the bishop and then the pawn on c3 would remain unprotected and could be captured by the rook on d3. I won that pawn and then the pawn on a3. My opponent resigned the game seven moves later.

The lesson here is that sometimes it’s better to take a break from your plans and look for opportunities on other sides.

The next morning I had an even more pleasant game. We reached the position below, myself playing white after I sacrificed a knight for two pawns to obtain an attack against the black king.

Before I sacrificed the knight on move 12, I calculated the position above and evaluated it as much better for white who could take the pawn on b7 and then the one on c6 because the knight on b8 would move on d7. This way I had four pawns as compensation for a knight. A knight is generally considered equal to three pawns so I was better from the material point of view. But more important the black king was under attack from the white pieces, for example, the white rook could move to e1 and check the king.

Everything looked great for white, but before continuing with my long term winning plan I defocused and asked myself if I could do better than that. Soon, I noticed that if I moved the white bishop from c4 to f7 the black king could take the white bishop but the black queen was lost as it would be captured by the white queen. The option to play the king to e7 instead of capturing the bishop did not help as white would reply with rook to e1 and black would lose the queen in worse circumstances. My opponent took the bishop with the king, I took the black queen as mentioned above and he resigned the game.

In chess, the tactical sequence described above is called deflection.

I was very enthusiastic about the aesthetic beauty of that bishop sacrifice. Players that I did not know smiled at me after I moved the bishop to f7. It was the most beautiful move I played this year. It reminded me of a poem by Romanian poet Adrian Paunescu -“Nebun de alb” (Bishop of white). In this case, the white bishop did not take the white queen but sacrificed itself for the capture of the queen, which sounds like a different poetic image.

I would like to end this post with a quote from Paul Keres, a top chess grandmaster from the XX century: “in every position there is a move to be found – but you have to search for it!“ Hopefully, everyone reading this article will spend time looking for good moves in life as well.