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.

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.

Bucharest Half Marathon 2021

Being in Bucharest, with some administrative issues since August I had the chance to participate in Bucharest Half Marathon 2021 on September 5th. This was the tenth edition of this competition and my fourth participation.

Since it was an event during It was an event during the pandemic. The organizers required participants to be vaccinated or taking a Covid test that should have a negative result. I don’t know how many people were at the start. Only that about 1100 finished the 21.1 km race, including those participating in relays.

II was also registered at Poland Business Run. This was a virtual and remote team race of 4 km, taking place on the same day, September 5th. I do not have enough energy to run 4 km fast after a half marathon. The only option was to run both races at the same time. My choice was to run fast the first 4 km stop the watch and record the result. Then continue for the next 17 km to finish the half marathon. Obviously, I did not care about the finishing time of the half marathon.

At the start of the half marathon. I am at the bottom of the image with a blue cap

The weather was good for running at 8:30 AM when the race started. The organizers asked us to run with masks for the first 100m of the race. As you can see, many runners ignored that ask. I ran the first 4 km in 23 minutes. The time was not good. I made another try. I ran the next 4 km 40 seconds faster and used this time for the Poland Business Run race.

During the race, after 8 km

The picture above is taken at 8 km into the half marathon race. I had only one race to focus on at that time. The remaining 13 km of the half marathon. After 14 km I was tired, but that was not a surprise. The 8 km of faster speed at the beginning were taken their toll. I did not force myself at all. I was just having fun for the rest of the race.

At the finish line, in the center of the image

At 10 AM, it was already sunny and not that easy to run. I crossed the finish line after two hours and ten minutes. It was not a good time. Usually, I should finish in under two hours. But given the circumstances, I was happy with finishing both races. A fun fact is that at this competition, they had the heaviest medal I have ever seen. After running 21 km, they put the medal around my neck. My head went in front, carried by the heavy metal. The joke was that the medal was twice as heavy this time. Because last year there was no competition and they doubled the metal quantity this time.

After the race with some of my colleagues and our coach Stefan Oprina. In this picture, next to Stefan is Valeria Racila van Groningen, the organizer of this competition and of the most important running event in Romania (Bucharest International Marathon)

Despite the pandemic, the event was very well organized. Many thanks to the organizers for the opportunity to run again with such a great community. Everything was well prepared. There were hydration points, many bands singing on the way, and an army of volunteers checking that everything was ok.

During my stay in Bucharest, I trained with my colleagues at “Trupa Lui Fane”. It was great seeing them again after more than one year. I was happy that I could run with them. Many thanks to Stefan for giving me the chance to continue training with the rest of the team!

Another thing worth mentioning is that, among others, I am allergic to ragweed (in Romanian “ambrosia”). I did not know because the previous year, I was not in Bucharest during this time. Two years ago, it wasn’t that bad. It is estimated that around 10% of people in Romania are affected by this allergy. The recommendation is to stay at home during the morning when ragweed is more active. Not only that I did not stay at home that day. But I also ran for more than 2 hours. The result was that during that night, I could not breathe and therefore sleep. If people allergic to ragweed are taking Claritine, xyzal, or both, the symptoms will disappear.

If you are allergic to ragweed and plan to travel to Bucharest between mid-August and the end of September, please take care of this.

Ending on a positive note running a half marathon is always an experience to remember. As Emil Zatopek, the greatest runner once said:” If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life run a marathon”…or at least a half marathon, if I may add.

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.

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.

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.