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.

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!

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

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.

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.

Running 5555 km in 5 years

Since we’re all staying at home and I achieved the title mentioned milestone by running while we were still allowed to run outdoor, I thought to share here about how running changed my life.

On May 17th, 2015, almost five years ago, I left home with the goal to run for as long as I could at a low pace. My weight was over 90 kilograms and there were almost 20 years since my last one-kilometer run. That day, I was able to run one mile at a 7:30 min/km pace before I lost my breath. The next days the muscular pain was hard, I could barely walk and I was able to run again only one week later for two kilometers.

In 2015 just before I started running

From that moment, for every run, my goal was to stop running only when something in my body couldn’t continue. I was either losing breath, or my feet couldn’t keep the pace, or my liver or other internal organ told me to stop. In two months I reached the 5-kilometer mark. One month later I could run 10 kilometers. And in September, four months since I began to run I was able to run 18 kilometers. Very happy with my achievements, I registered for a half marathon (21.1 km) race in October 2015.

I was reading about other people’s experiences running a half marathon, how difficult it was for them during the race and how well they felt after they finished it. For me, it was a great experience only the first five minutes after the start. Until then I was running alone for five months and suddenly around me, there were ten thousand other runners. Because I was very excited I began to run too fast for my abilities and soon the energy left me. That race was a very painful experience and I felt no satisfaction once I finished the race after two hours and fifteen minutes of run.

I’ve learned from that painful experience and kept training. Next year, in May 2016 I finished the half marathon in two hours and four minutes, a considerable improvement. I was finally happy after a race. In the same year, in October, I finished it in 1:54, reducing the time by another 10 minutes.

In 2017 at Bucharest Marathon

In 2018 I joined “Trupa lui Fane” and achieved my current personal best time in October same year 1:46:46 based on the guidance I got from Stefan Oprina, our coach.

In October 2018, I achieved my best result so far. The photo was taken when I just crossed the finish line.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned during these five years of running.

It’s better to run in a group than only by yourself. I’ve been running three years alone and two years in a group. While I was running alone, my posture was incorrect and it took my coach a lot of time trying to adjust my running posture, which is better now but far from perfect.

While running alone I did no warm-up and as a result, I had many injuries which kept me from running for long period of times, even for one or two months.

Let’s say you can buy a book and start reading about how to properly train, but the experience of a coach weights a lot. He can see what is not ok with your running and can make recommendations based on his experience.

Running in a team is a really fun experience. In a team, people will encourage you because they all know how hard it is to run a half marathon or longer distances. They will also congratulate you on achieving your results or on finishing your races.

Running improved my health very much. Before running, I used to get tired easily. I also got cold easily. Since I go to the dentist every year I noticed a big improvement in my teeth’ condition due to running.

When you are running long distances you learn not to give up. As a chess player before I started running once I lost a game I used to lose other games as well. I couldn’t focus well. Running taught me to keep fighting and after a lost game to be able to come back. I would say that running long distances is a boost for self-trust.

If you run for, let’s say, 20 kilometers in the morning, you will feel great for the rest of the day.

I did lose weight, about 20 kilograms, you can see it from the pictures above. The best part of it is that I could still eat anything I wanted without any diet.

I met many people and learned about interesting life experiences and this enriched my horizon.

If you are a middle age person with no experience in running and you want to run there are many books and posts on social media about how to create good behavior.

But, more important, you need motivation. In this aspect, the trigger is very important and it will differ from person to person. Some run for fun, this is the smallest percentage, but they do exist. Obviously not the case of someone who starts running in the 30s, 40s or even later. For others it’s the competition, they like to compete and to win. For some it’s because they want to stay healthy, many runners are in this category. There are people who run to brag about it: “I do run marathons”. For some, it’s about their dreams, for others their demons. Some run to deal with grief and some to avoid life. Some people run because they want to learn how to fly, others are put in motion by the last verse from “Divina Commedia”.

Running it’s a fight with yourself, it’s about how you can control your emotions and a way to know yourself better.

Dear reader, find your inner motivation and running will help you deal better with life. Running it’s not an easy journey but it’s a beautiful one and it worth trying it.

This was my story and it still continues. If everything goes well, I will reach the 10000 km run milestone in less than three years from now. Since this post was a personal story about running, I thought it’s appropriate to end it with the soundtrack of the movie “Running“.

Michael Douglas – “Running”

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.

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.