Recommendations for half-marathon runners

Statistics say that in 2018 there were 2.1 million finishers in half marathons. This distance is becoming more popular because of its benefit for people’s health. The tips provided here are for people who aim at finishing a half marathon in the range of 1:40-2:10, which is a time that covers the majority of runners. Some recommendations apply to any runner, regardless of speed or distance.

I’ve run around 20 official half-marathons, with 5 races in 2022. My times range from 1:46 to 2:10. Here, I want to share my experiences; maybe some people will find them helpful. Of course, I made mistakes during my races and learned from them, but I made good progress in preparing for the race.

Many thanks to my coach, Stefan Oprina, who reviewed the initial form of this article and made valuable suggestions added to the text below. He has a lot of experience in running marathons and half-marathons.

This post will cover three moments: before, during, and after the race.

  1. Before the race
    • Equipment
      • Shoes
        • Try the shoes before buying them. Don’t buy them online just because you read excellent reviews or because they look nice.
        • Buy shoes with 1/2 or 1 number in size more than what you usually wear. During the race, your feet will swallow. Having more oversized shoes will help with that.
        • Don’t lace your shoes tight for the same reason as above.
        • Buy good shoes even if they are more expensive. Otherwise, you risk injuries and pay the doctors the money. I have an upper weight limit of 210-215 g per shoe. If you get injuries or black nails because of the shoe, you should stop using them. For example, I have Adidas Adizero Takumi Sen 8 and Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next 2%. Both are under 200 g. A light shoe has a good impact on your running time.
        • Make sure your laces will stay intact during the race. Lace your shoes with a double knot and slide the tip of the laces under the lace. If, during the race, your shoes untie when you bend to lace them back, you’ll become instantly dizzy because of the blood pumping through your body. You don’t want that to happen.
      • Shorts/pants
        • Use synthetic shorts. I’ve tried many types, and so far, Nike shorts are the best for me.
        • Buy shorts that have pockets and zippers. If you have to carry a key with you, don’t risk losing it. Also, if you take a phone, gels, etc., it’s good to have more pockets to avoid your pants sliding down.
        • In the case of winter running, I prefer leggings from Salomon.
      • T-Shirts
        • Use synthetic T-Shirts. You get T-Shirts from any competition organizer.
        • Wear the T-Shirt over the shorts. When running, the shorts slide easier on the T-shirt than on the skin.
        • I put a blouse over the T-shirt if the weather is under 10 Celsius for the whole race. If you start at 8 Celsius but finish at 15 Celsius, I wouldn’t add clothes over the T-Shirt. It is better to endure cold at the start than to sweat hard during the race.
      • Other
        • Lately, I am running with a belt around the waist where I carry gels or a phone protected with a zipper.
        • You can use a cardio belt to accurately measure the pulse during the run. That is good if you follow and set your pace according to your heart rate.
        • You can add a foot pod or other devices.
    • Nutrition
      • Everyone knows about the party pasta before the race. Pasta is good because it contains carbohydrates, and the energy is released over an extended period.
      • In the morning before the race, you can get proteins.
      • Don’t drink too much coffee, especially on a sunny day.
    • Warm-up
      • Come to the start 45-60 minutes before the beginning of the race.
      • Begin with a 2 km slow run in 13-14 minutes
      • Do a stretching session for 5-10 minutes.
      • Do special runs to warm the body and prepare it for the race.
      • Run at full speed for 50-60 meters, then walk back to the starting point. Repeat this 6-8 times.
  2. During the race
    • Nutrition
      • It is possible to run a half-marathon without drinking any liquid; I have done that in the past. Now I am drinking once or twice but not more.
      • In all the races, you’ll see volunteers providing the runners’ with water and isotonic drinks every 4-5 kilometers. Drink isotonic and don’t drink water. I’ve tried both options water only made things harder for me. You are already low on minerals, and water only dilutes them.
      • It is possible to run 21.1 km without taking a gel. Before 2022 I didn’t use any gel during races. However, if you take gels, you will suffer much less during the run. Lately, I took one gel at km 9 and one at km 16. I’ve read that most people recommend one single gel after 45 minutes in the race. You need to read the contents of the gel carefully, as you are taking that at your own risk. I have limited experience with gels and can’t make a strong recommendation on this topic.
      • Don’t try any gel or something else during the race you did not experience before. I tried GU gel and Maurten jelly, and both were ok. Maurten and GU have different options with caffeine or without. You can choose whatever works for you. Keep in mind that one cup of coffee has 100mg of caffeine.
    • Strategy
      • Before each race, I make a table with intended times at 5, 10, 15, 20, and 21.1 km. I do this to ensure I run smoothly during the first part of the race. This exercise reduces the pressure on me and ensures I start slowly.
      • Human nature is to run fast for the first part of the race (you feel strong, adrenaline is high, many people around) and slow for the second part. My advice above helps you avoid this.
      • Ideally, you should start slowly and increase the pace as you go. Otherwise, for every minute you run faster in the first part of the race, you lose 2 minutes in the second part. Running fast at the beginning is a bad strategy. However, if you feel you are well-trained for a certain pace, you can start with that pace throughout the race.
      • In the most favorable scenario, you should run as fast as possible during the last few kilometers. If you have a muscular fever after the race, it means you had a good race.
      • If you feel you can’t keep up that pace, slow down. If you continue, you’ll end up in an ambulance in an optimistic scenario. In every race with more than 1000 runners, I’ve seen people lying down under medical assistance or taken to the ambulance. Some competitive people find it hard to know they are running out of steam.
      • You can follow some pacers aiming your desired time. Most races have pacemakers for 1:30, 1:40, 1:45, 1:50, 1:55, 2:00, 2:10, etc. I only used pacers to see where I was, compared to a targeted time but did not run with them.
    • Control
      • You can control your pace based on your watch. Most runners do that.
      • You can set a limit for your heart rate, and if you pass over that heart rate, you slow down.
      • You can set the desired time to finish on your watch, and the clock will tell you how you’re doing. I don’t recommend it as it adds more pressure on you to see that you are lagging N minutes.
  3. After the race
    • It is good to run 2 km at a slow pace to recover after the race, but in reality, it is less likely to be able to do that because of the crowded finishing lines.
    • If it’s your first race, you need to get some rest.
    • Otherwise, you need to drink some water and don’t stay under the sun’s heat. If it’s cold, change your clothes.
    • Celebrate, take pictures!

The purpose of this article is not to cover training for half marathons. That is a much more complex topic, and I should have covered other topics like cadence, posture, nutrition, etc.

Remember Emil Zatopek, the great runner, if all the things written here seem complicated and you lack motivation. He said: “If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.” We’re talking only about half of that here.

Malaga half-marathon 2022

We did not plan to participate in another marathon this year, but the experience of running in Copenhagen was fun, and we decided to repeat it sooner. Malaga was a good option as the weather is good for running there, even in winter.

It was the 31st edition of the Malaga half-marathon. There are many things I liked about this event. They have an official 4* hotel, and the price to stay there is 90 Eur/night alone in a room with breakfast included. This is an excellent discount of about 40 Eur/night on booking.com for the same hotel. On the day of the race, you have late check-out until 4PM to allow runners to take a shower and recover after the race before leaving for home. The organizers take pictures of the participants during the race, and you can buy all the photos later for 19 Eur if you want. Finishing inside a stadium is lovely, with people cheering from the tribune. The course is flat, with just 6 meters difference between the race’s lowest and highest points.

“to run where the braves dare not go” – Man of La Mancha

I did not like that you turn 90 degrees left immediately after the start, and people had to stop there because of a bottleneck. You start running and immediately stop because of that. As a result, I ran my first km in 6 minutes, compared with an average of 5’20″/km for the whole race. It was also hot weather that day, November 13th.

Although the pictures show something else, I did not run with my thumbs up for the whole race 🙂

The race was perfect for me despite the first kilometer and the need to recover that lost time. I was hoping for my best time this year, below 1:54, but I knew that I couldn’t do much better because of the injury that limited my training. I did not put pressure on myself, just enjoyed the run. This race went according to my plan, with a slower start and constantly increasing speed throughout the distance.

Palm trees are on both sides of the street for the whole distance.

The start and finish are close to the airport. The participants run on the street next to the beach towards the city center for 10-11 km and then return. It is a race on asphalt but near the beach. You enjoy the sea breeze and see the waves. Because it’s a flat race, the elite runners finish it in 1 hour or even less. Also, 50% of the finishers had a time better than 1:52:30, which makes it a speedy race.

Unfortunately, a 58-year-old runner died after finishing the race, as I read later that day the news. It was the first time since I ran half marathons that such a tragic event happened in a race where I ran. Statistics say that in marathon races, 1 runner dies for every 150000 finishers, while for half-marathon, the death rate is 40% lower. The advantages that running brings to one’s health are worth taking this minimal risk.

Inside the stadium at the finish line

This was my 5th half-marathon in 2022 and the one where I got my best result in 1:53:10. The rest were in 1:54 except for Krakow, where being injured, I had to stay with 2:00. I learned my lesson after the mistake I made when preparing for Krakow half-marathon. I took a break for a week before preparing for Malaga, which was a good idea. This time, the Voltaren and Nurofen were enough for a race without pain before the start. My focus was not on time but on reducing the pain and enjoying the race.

In long-distance running, you must learn from your mistakes to avoid suffering.

With Bobo after finishing the race

As always, many thanks to my coach Stefan Oprina who provided me training programs remotely and discussed the plans and strategy for each run! He has done that for the past 5 years. A coach is vital for people who intend to run many long-distance races.

I am happy that I could finish five half-marathon races this year, and I hope that by the end of 2023 to run at least one half-marathon in less than 1:50. I know what training needs to be done to reach that level as I had run 3 times half marathons in less than 1:50 in 2018 and 2019.

Krakow half-marathon 2022

For people interested in running, the Krakow half marathon offers great city center views and an excellent organization. The city hall organizes the event. During this race, you will run next to the world’s oldest mall, from the XIII century that is still open, churches 1000 years old, the Wawel castle, and finish inside the biggest arena in Poland, the Tauron Arena.

I like that they offer the best pictures for runners, the race course is very well-guarded, and the pedestrians don’t get in front of runners like in other races. The transport in the city is free for runners that day. You also get an SMS with your time once you finish the race.

The race course is not flat as Copenhagen, and this can be seen in finishing times. One useful metric is the time of the runners at the middle of the ranking. For example, that average was 1:55 in Copenhagen and 1:58 in Krakow. The number of runners is also lower, with a limit of 7000 runners this year. Last year the maximum allowed number of participants was 5000. They could increase this limit to at least 10000 runners. There are pacemakers for all types of people from 1:25 to 2:30. Although only a few runners can keep up with 1:25 or even 1:30; for example, in Bucharest this year, precisely one person was running with the 1:30 pacemakers. As I mentioned in Bucharest, the week before this race was MIB with 1700 runners in the half marathon race with an average time of 2:04. MIB’s average time was slow as the route is flatter than in Krakow.

Usually, I don’t run with the official T-Shirt, but this one I liked

The weather was perfect on October 16, in the range of 15-19 Celsius. Many people encouraged the runners along the way, which was a positive attitude during the race. However, what surprised me was the considerable number of people injured that needed medical assistance during the running. In every half marathon I have run until now, I saw 2-3 people fall injured during the race. I saw maybe seven people lying down on the last kilometers of this run, and I don’t know why.

After 8 km, everything was ok.

Another thing that impressed me was a blind runner tied up to another runner. The other runner was also guiding him. Blind runners for long distances are rare (or I haven’t seen them). I am used to blind chess players, which is quite common in tournaments. Blind chess players can rely on their opponents to make the moves, and it’s easy. Blind runners need someone to be able or willing to run a half marathon at their speed. Training for a long-distance race might be difficult, too.

Smile though your back is aching

The October half marathon has a special meaning for me. In October 2015, I ran my first half-marathon race in Bucharest. Since then, I ran every year a half marathon distance in October. Even when injured (like this year) and even in 2020 when there was no official race because of Covid. Since 2015 I have run more than 8500 km and around 20 half marathons. It is never too late to make a change in life.

Smile even though it’s breaking

I was under an injury after Copenhagen when I started preparing for the Krakow half marathon. When you run only 12 km long runs and then you participate in a half marathon, there is a risk that you will get injured during or after the race. The reason is that the difference between 12 to 21 km run is hard to be absorbed by the body. That is why when increasing the running volume, you should do that by 10-20% every week, but not more. You run 12 km, then 14, 16, and 18, and only then are you ready for the half marathon. I knew that, but I hoped that I would be fine. It wasn’t the case. I got a muscle injury in the back area of the left kidney. After three half marathons in 1:54 this year, I wanted to finish one at a better time and pushed the limits. I made a mistake and learned from it. On a positive note, since Copenhagen, I have lost three kilograms by reducing sweets. They say that if you drop five kilograms, you could improve the half-marathon result by 10 minutes. That works until you reach the ideal weight, then the time to finish increases if you continue to lose weight.

When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by.

On the morning of the race, I took Nurofen, used Voltaren, and hoped for the best. Things were ok until the 16th kilometer. At that time, the race predictor estimated I would finish in 1:56. Unfortunately, the pain in my back started to grow. I decreased the pace directly proportional to the increasing pain. Around 18km, I thought to walk instead of running. From a speed of 5’20” -5’30” per km up to that point, I had to drop to 6’30″/km. At km 20, somehow, the pain was gone, but I chose not to push my luck. There was not much to do anyway. The official time was 2:00:16. Ranked 3377 from 6605 people who finished the race.

Fun section. My running club is called in Romanian “Trupa lui Fane”. In English, that translates to Fane’s group or Fane’s team. But in Polish, this reads as “Lui Fane’s corpse”. In Romanian, “trup” means body, but in Polish means dead body. The word has Slavic origin in both languages, but the meaning evolved differently. The word “trupa” is a genitive form of “trup”. All the other runners could see my club on the registrations page. In Polish, “Trupa lui Fane” sounds more like a club for pirates than for runners.

I want to thank Stefan Oprina for training me remotely this year!

Notes on Romanian language history

This is a different post from the ones I wrote until now. If you are interested in the history of languages, please continue reading.
I will try to explain how the Romanian language and culture could survive for centuries. Although it wasn’t the official language in any country that is now part of Romania, no schools or documents were written in this language before the XVI century.

My country, Romania, has a historical particularity that makes it different from other countries in the region. Two thousand years ago, that land was inhabited by the Dacians. We don’t know their language because no written texts are left from them except the short “Decebalus per Scorilo” (Decebalus the son of Scorilo). We know that Ovid, the famous roman poet exiled by the emperor Augustus at Tomis (Constanta in present days), wrote poems in the local language. Unfortunately, those poems are lost. Later the Dacians were conquered by Romans in 106 AD, who stayed in the country until 271 AD. Then, many nomadic populations went through that space, and the Romanian language appeared in time. It is a Latin language with minor Slavonic and other external influences. More precisely, 70% of the language has Latin origins, and about 15% is of Slavic roots. Even if this language was formed around the X century, as most historians accept nowadays, the first written document in Romanian that we know about dates from mid-1521 (Neacsu’s letter). Now let’s compare the first documents in neighbors’ languages (from the same geographical area). The first manuscripts in Bulgarian are from the X century, in Serbian from the XI century, in Hungarian from 1192, in Russian XIth century, in Polish from 1270, and in Czech since the early XIII century. In my opinion, this is evidence that writing was not much valued within the Romanian population for a long time.

For some context, the official language used by the rulers and the Orthodox Church was old Slavonian Bulgarian in both Walachia and Moldova from the X century. But that was not the language spoken by the people. It was similar to the situation in the central and West of Europe. The church used Latin as an official language there, but the people did not understand it.

The corpus of official and religious documents in the old Slavonian language left from Moldova and Valachia is much less than those in Serbia or Bulgaria. The main reason is that in those regions, people spoke a Slavic language, while in Moldova and Valachia, that was not the case. Besides, as mentioned before, writing was not a priority among Romanians.

What has changed and made people start writing in Romanian? There are different theories on this topic among historians. The one that seems more accurate is that the Lutheran influence in Transylvania from the XVI century made people start writing in their native language. In support of that, we have the first documents printed in the Romanian language in Brasov from 1550s. The deacon Coresi moved from Targoviste to Brasov (at the time in a different country, Transylvania) and started publishing religious books translated into Romanian. In “Psaltirea romaneasca” printed in 1570 Coresi explains his reasons to publish in Romanian language: “Eu, diaconul Coresi, daca vazui ca mai toate limbile au cuvintul lu dumnezeu in limba lor, numai noi, rumanii, n-avam…” (I, Coresi the deacon, if I saw that all the languages have the word of god in their language, only us, romanians, don’t…)

The first school in Romanian was also founded in Brasov in the same century. Lutherans were strong supporters of using people’s language in the church. For example, Martin Luther translated the Bible into German in 1534.

We know how writing in Romanian began. Now let’s see how this language was still alive after centuries in which it was not used in official documents, church, or school.

Things written next are my personal opinion. My grandfather was a child in the 1930s in the countryside of the Dobrogea region. He told me that during that time (and probably many years before), people from the village gathered on Saturday nights at some inhabitants’ houses, where older people told stories, legends, myths, and poems from the past. There were things from ancient times and more recent times that those people experienced: for example, working on the bridge built over the Danube river in 1895 by Anghel Saligny or memories from the First World War. This form of transmitting information to the next generations made this population’s traditions, language, and culture survive over centuries despite no written documents. Children would listen to those stories, and some would transmit them later to the next generations. That is why there were many poems and songs because those are easy to remember. Also, those people developed their memory to keep those stories, poetry, and themes in their minds for a long time and transmit them to the next generations.

This is how people transmitted their culture from past generations over thousands of years. Of course, it was a living culture: some poems, stories, and songs were changed in time or space. There were different variants of the lyrics or the stories, and some stories changed or disappeared in time. There were actual historical facts and fictional stories transmitted to young generations.

Interestingly, those people in the 1930s lived the same way humans lived for thousands of years. They did not use any modern technologies available at the time, like electricity, cars, radio, etc. It is incredible how the world has changed in the last hundred years. We lost that connection with the past, and there is no way back. 

In the 1920s, Dimitrie Gusti, a sociology professor, and his team went to many places in Romanian villages and wrote down or recorded the folklore and traditions of those places. He conducted ethnographic research on the country’s regions. I don’t know the state of those books and recordings, but someone should digitalize them before being lost forever.

Although the things mentioned here are not as exciting as battles and politics in Romanian history, this is an integral part of the country’s development.

Note: For information in this article I used a book written in Romanian by Petre P. Panaitescu “Inceputurile si biruinta scrisului in limba romana“. Panaitescu was a great Romanian historian. Yet this book was published in 1965 during communist times in Romania and had some theories aligned with the political views of the communist regime on history (nationalism, fight between poor and rich, no external influences in our country, etc.), so it needs to be read carefully. Nevertheless, the facts described here are accurate, but he could not publish the book without achieving compromises with the rulers in those times.

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.