Sunday, October 6, 2019

Race Report: 2019 Twin Cities Marathon


On October 6th, I ran the Twin Cities Marathon.  This was my first marathon, back in 1983, and it’s the one I’ve run the most times.  I’d probably run it every year, but there are a lot of good marathons in October, and you can’t do them all.  Last year, for example, The Twin Cities Marathon fell on the same weekend as the Chicago Marathon, and I opted to do Chicago.  This year, there wasn’t any conflict.

Even still, I wasn’t originally planning to do this race.  I originally planned a race schedule for September and October that had me racing every other weekend.  As I gradually got into better shape and got more confident in my health, I decided to add races on the weekends in between if they didn’t involve travel.  For this race, I can sleep in my own bed.  It’s hard to resist doing one of your favorite races when it’s in your home town and you’re going to be home that weekend anyway.

One of the nice things about a home town race is that you can go to the expo a day earlier, when it’s not as crowded.  I went Friday, right after lunch.  The expo has held at RiverCentre in St. Paul, as it has been for several years.  I had to pay for parking, but it gave me an excuse to have lunch at Cossetta.  This is an Italian restaurant and market that I always recommend to friends who are coming in town for the marathon.

Saturday felt weird.  It was the day before a race, but I didn’t need to travel, and I didn’t need to pick up my race packet.  I took a day off from training, so I could have fresh legs on race day.  I normally do that, but I’m usually busy traveling somewhere.  After getting up, I organized my clothes for the race.  Then I just sat around the house relaxing and listening to music.  I rarely have days when I’m not busy doing something.  The only part of the day that felt normal (for the day before a race) was going to Italian Pie Shoppe to have pre-race pizza.

The Twin Cities Marathon is a point-to-point race, starting in downtown Minneapolis, and finishing in front of the State Capitol in St. Paul.  I always park near the finish and take a bus to the start.  One of the places where you can catch a bus to the start is the Best Western Plus Capitol Ridge.  I’ve always found that convenient, since there’s a large parking lot nearby.  Besides buses to the start, runners also have the option of taking light rail.  It’s free on race day if you’re wearing your race bib.

Buses started loading at 5:00 AM, but I didn’t need to be there that early.  The earliest buses were for runners doing the 10 mile race, which started at 7:00.  The marathon didn’t start until 8:00.  I didn’t leave the house until 5:15.  That got me to Best Western by 5:45 despite a few adventures with road construction and streets that were already blocked off for the race.  As I got out of the car, I realized I forgot to label my gear bag.  There was a sticker for that, but it was still on the back of my race bib.  I went inside the Best Western to take off my race bib, so I could label my gear bag.  While I was there, I bumped into two friends.

I didn’t get in line to board a bus until 6:15.  By then, there was a long line.  I finally got onto a bus around 6:30.  That still gave me plenty of time.  The driving distance from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis is only about 10 miles.

We got dropped off in downtown Minneapolis around 6:45.  I immediately got in line for one of the port-o-potties.  While I was walking around in the start area, I bumped into five other friends.  About 20 minutes before the start, I checked my gear bag and found my way into the start corrals.

At the start of the race, it was 48 degrees.  I knew it would warm up during the race, but there was also a cold wind, so I opted for tights and short sleeves.  I also started the race wearing gloves.

The race starts right next to US Bank Stadium.  This is a relatively new football stadium, which is home to the Minnesota Vikings.  The Super Bowl was played here in 2018.  I think the stadium was still under construction the last time I did this race.


My goal for this race was a bit of a compromise.  On one hand, this is a beautiful course, and I wanted to carry a camera and take pictures along the route.  I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.  On the other hand, I wanted to see if I could qualify for Boston two weeks in a row.  Why not do both?  Last weekend, I was able to run a relatively flat course in 3:27:14.  The qualifying standard for my age group is 3:35.  This course is also relatively flat, so I figured I could break 3:35, if I didn’t stop too many times to take pictures.

I didn’t see a pace group for 3:35, but there was one for 3:30.  I didn’t think I would run that pace for the whole race, but it seemed reasonable to run with them until I started taking pictures.  Then I didn’t have to pay attention to my pace.

The first mile was through downtown Minneapolis.  We started on Sixth Avenue.  A few blocks into the race, we ran underneath the Hennepin County Government Center.  The building goes right over the street, so when you run under it, it feels like you’re going through a tunnel.

The last time I did this race, we followed Sixth Avenue all the way to Hennepin.  This year, we turned left on Marquette Avenue.  As soon as I made that turn, I felt a cold headwind.  Next we turned right on 12th Avenue and followed that to Hennepin.  When we turned onto Hennepin, I again felt the wind.

After that it was the same route as usual.  When we passed St. Mary’s Basilica, all the bells were ringing.  That was a nice sound.  We turned onto Lyndale Avenue, and I stopped to take a picture as we ran past the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.


My camera can’t focus when I’m moving.  I have to make a full stop and wait for it to focus.  I thought my first picture was too distant, so I took the time to zoom in for a better photo.  By the time I started running again, I had lost sight of the 3:30 group.

I really wanted to catch up, so I wouldn’t have to pay attention to my pace.  Lyndale is slightly uphill, which made it difficult to pick up my pace that much.  I was getting tired just trying, so I had to give up until later.

Then we turned onto Douglas Avenue, which brought us into the Kenwood neighborhood.  As we got to Kenwood Park, it was downhill, so I tried again to catch up.  I got closer, but then the street got too congested.  The 3:30 pace group was huge.  It filled the width of the street for about half a block.  I could get close enough to see the pace leader, but that’s it.

At the three mile mark, I checked my watch for the first time.  I was 11 seconds behind a 3:30 pace, but well under a 3:35 pace.

This race is billed as “The most beautiful urban marathon in America.”  I agree with that assessment.  Most races through large urban areas have to run through a few unsightly industrial areas in order to get to the more attractive areas.  This course doesn’t have any of that.  From here on out, the entire course was tree-lined parkways, mostly along lakes and rivers.

Shortly after leaving Kenwood Park, we arrived at the “chain of lakes.”  The first lake was Lake of the Isles.


After Lake of the Isles, we crossed Lake Street and reached Bde Maka Ska (formerly known as Lake Calhoun).  This is a popular spot for spectators.  I always enjoy the energy of the crowd here.  Near the south end of the lake, you get a great view of downtown Minneapolis from across the lake.  This view has been featured in movies that are set in Minneapolis.


I found some room on the side of the road, and got ahead of the 3:30 group.  Instead of stopping to take a picture and trying to catch up, I ran a little ahead of them.  Now, after stopping to take a picture, I would resume running just as they were catching up to me.  I questioned the wisdom of pacing myself like this.  It felt much too tiring for this early in the race.

Next, we followed a short parkway to the north end of Lake Harriet.  Along here, I heard someone in the crowd yell, “raise your hand if you want a doughnut hole.”  A runner near me raised her hand, and the spectator tossed a doughnut hole to her.

Lake Harriet is a popular site for 5K and 10K races.  The first 10K race I ever did was two laps around this lake.


At about seven miles, I got caught off guard, when I was all the way to the right hand side of the street, and I realized we were passing an aid station that was on the left side.  I tried to cross the street to get to the aid station, but three different runners collided with me.  Each time, I got knocked forward a little bit.  By the time I got to the left side of the road, I was past the Gatorade tables.  I had to run backwards to reach them.  That cost me some time, and I once again trailed the 3:30 group.  I tried to catch up, but then we turned onto a section of the parkway that was only one lane.  For the time being, I didn’t have room to move forward in the pack.

We only ran about halfway around Lake Harriet.  Then we ran through the Lynnhurst neighborhood for a few blocks to reach Minnehaha Parkway, which follows Minnehaha Creek.  The streets here were wider, and I was finally able to catch up to the group again.

Several local names include the prefix, “minne,” which is the Dakota word for water.  Minnehaha is often interpreted as “laughing water,” but a more literal translation is waterfall or rapids.  Minnesota means land of lakes.  Minneapolis means city of lakes.

The next three miles were along Minnehaha Parkway.  This part of the course has a few small hills, but none of them are long enough to make you adjust your pace.  I think of it as an opportunity to use a few different muscles.  I once again got ahead of the group.  Running uphill, I eased up enough that they would catch me.  Running downhill, I would pull away again.

We ran under two bridges.  The first went under Nicollet Avenue.  The first time I did this race, there was a small brass band under the bridge playing the theme from “The Muppets.”  This year, there was a drum group under the bridge.

The next bridge went under I-35W.  These two bridges were the only places in Minneapolis where cars could get across the course.

I was amazed how quickly the miles were flying by.  Shortly after eight, I reached nine, then ten.  Objectively, I knew each one took eight minutes, but it seemed like four or five minutes.

I was still running ahead of the 3:30 group, but I knew they were right behind me.  I continually heard the crowd cheering for them.  Over the years, I’ve learned there are three good ways to get strangers to cheer for you.  The first way is to have your name written on your shirt.  The second is to wear a costume or colorful outfit.  The third way is to lead a pace group.

At the 11 mile mark, I was almost a minute ahead of a 3:30 pace, but I could still hear the group right behind me.  Evidently, they were also ahead of schedule.

Just after 11 miles, we left Minnehaha Parkway to run a lap around Lake Nokomis.  This used to be the venue for the FANS 24-hour race, which I’ve done several times.  I’ve logged hundreds of miles around this lake, so I feel at home here.


On the east side of Lake Nokomis, we reached the halfway mark.  I got there in 1:43:57, which was about a minute ahead of a 3:30 pace.  At this point, I was right behind the 3:30 group.

Each of the aid stations was staffed by a corporate sponsor.  The one just past the halfway mark was staffed by Park Nicollet Clinics.  In addition to water and Gatorade, they had small glasses of pickle juice.  Instead of Gatorade, I drank the pickle juice.  That actually saved me some time.  Instead of slowing down to avoid bumping into other runners who were going for the water or Gatorade, I was able to get in and out quickly.  That caused me to get ahead of the 3:30 group again.

After Lake Nokomis, we followed Minnehaha Parkway for about two more miles.  After running through Minnehaha Park, we turned onto West River Parkway.  The next several miles were along the Mississippi River, although we seldom could see the river through the trees.



Here, I started to get farther ahead of the 3:30 group.  I could no longer hear people cheering for them.  I was still about a minute ahead of schedule, so I wasn’t speeding up.  They must have slowed down a bit.

At 18 miles, I saw some spectators who had set up a beer stop.  On other occasions I would probably partake, but not today.  I wanted to see if I could hold on and finish in 3:30.  I didn’t feel like I had much margin for error.  The pace was getting tiring, and I still had several photos planned.

Just past 19 miles, we crossed the Franklin Avenue Bridge over the Mississippi.  Here, we got our first unobstructed view of the river.


After crossing the river, we followed East River Parkway.  The first mile after crossing the river was slightly downhill.  At the 20 mile mark, I saw the ALARC “wall.”  ALARC is a local running club.  They’ve staffed the 20 mile aid station for as long as I can remember.


Shortly after the 20 mile mark, we started a three mile uphill section.  The total rise over this section is only about 150 feet, but if you’ve been running too fast for the first 20 miles, this is where you’ll feel it.  The beginning of this section corresponds roughly to where we left Minneapolis and entered St. Paul.  I never know exactly when the city limits are.  I don’t recall ever seeing a sign.

The only part this of uphill section that actually looks uphill is where you turn away from the river and run up a hill to reach the University of St. Thomas.  That was just past the 21 mile mark.

My goal going up this hill was to stay ahead of the 3:30 pace group.  First the first time, I saw someone walking.  Before long, I saw a dozen people walking.  I kept running.  I may have slowed a little, but I was still ahead of the 3:30 group.

After St. Thomas, we turned onto Summit Avenue.  This is a divided parkway that goes through an upscale neighborhood with several large homes and churches.  I reached the 22 mile mark and checked my watch.  That mile took 8:10, which may have been my slowest so far.  Overall, I was still ahead of schedule, and the toughest mile was now behind me.

Often during the race, I heard music from the crowd.  It always seemed to be a song that mentioned running.  Here, I heard Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty.”  That’s how I was starting to feel, but I pressed on.

It was slightly uphill for one more mile, but it didn’t seem uphill.  I seemed relative flat, and I picked up my effort.  Mile 23 took 8:04.  I still had a cushion.

When I passed Cities Church, I knew I was reaching the highest elevation along Summit Avenue.  The last three miles are net downhill, although most of the descent comes at the very end.


I saw another beer stop.  There’s always one along Summit Avenue.  I wasn’t going to stop now.  I picked up my effort as much as I could.  I crossed the bridge over Ayd Mill Road.  Excluding I-94, which we would cross just before the finish line, this was the only place in St. Paul where cars could cross the course.  After a few more blocks, I passed St. Thomas More Catholic Church.  As I passed this church, I heard bells, but they seemed to be playing a melody.  It took me a moment to recognize it.  It was the theme from “Chariots of Fire.”


At 24 miles, I checked my watch.  I sped up to 7:34 in that mile.  There was no longer any doubt in my mind I would break 3:30.

I was stopping much more often than I planned, but I kept passing photogenic churches.  This is the House of Hope Presbyterian Church.


With a mile to go, I always start looking over the trees on my left.  When I could see the steeple of St. Paul’s Cathedral, I knew I was getting close to the finish.  By the time I stopped to take a picture, it had moved behind the trees again.

The next song I heard was “Up Around the Bend” by CCR.  The road was bending to the left.  Around this bend, I finally pass St. Paul’s Cathedral.


Now, looking ahead, you can begin to see the Minnesota State Capitol.


From here’s it’s sharply downhill to the finish.  Normally, I would sprint to the finish, but I had time, so I paused two more times to take pictures of the finish line, with the Minnesota State Capitol in the background.



I finished in 3:28:29.  During the race, I stopped 18 times to take pictures.  That was twice as many as I planned.  Each stop probably took at least 10 seconds.  That’s more than three minutes that I gave up, and I still ran almost as fast as my last race.  To say I was pleased would be an understatement.

This was the second consecutive weekend that I qualified for Boston.  The last time I did that was more than five years ago.

As usual, the finisher medal featured a leaf.  Autumn leaves used to be a signature of this course.  I recent years, the leaves haven’t been turning color until later in the month.  With the leaves in color, this course is even more beautiful.


After finishing, I had to remind myself that the finish area was organized differently this year.  I’m used to gear bag retrieval being to the right of the finish line.  This year, it was farther ahead.  I also had to remember to get my finisher shirt.  Those were on our left as we left the finisher chute.

Most races give you a shirt at packet pickup.  This one still does it the old-fashioned way.  The shirt says, “finisher,” and you don’t get it until you finish.

I used to be able to get out of the finish area quickly and walk directly to where my car was parked.  This year, they had fencing everywhere.  I had to walk a serpentine route through the finish area before I could exit.  It took much long than I expected to get to my car.

The drive home was frustrating.  I knew exactly what route I needed to take to avoid road closures, but other drivers apparently didn’t.  There were lots of traffic jams as drivers found out they couldn’t go the way they usually do, and tried to improvise.  I’ve never seen so many Minnesota drivers making U-turns.

When I got home, I got cleaned up and changed clothes.  Then I drove back into downtown St. Paul for a post-race party.  The party was for my friend Tom, who was celebrating his recent completion of both his 500th marathon and his 5th circuit of marathons in all 50 states.


Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  3:28:29
Average Pace:  7:57 
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  387
Minnesota Marathons:  56
Boston qualifiers:  127

Monday, September 30, 2019

Race Report: 2019 Budapest Marathon


On September 29, I ran the Budapest Marathon.  I’ve wanted to travel to Budapest for about five years, but it always conflicted with another race.  This year, I was finally able to fit it into my schedule.

Buda and Pest were originally two different cities.  Buda was located on the west side of the Danube River, and Pest was on the east side.  There wasn’t a permanent bridge connecting the cities until 1849, when the Széchenyi Chain Bridge was completed.  The two cities merged to form Budapest in 1873.  The names Buda and Pest are still used when describing different neighborhoods.

Thursday, September 26

I arrived at the Budapest airport in the early afternoon and took a train into the city.  I stayed at the Hilton Budapest City, which is in northern Pest.  After checking in, I went for a run.

I started by running toward the river, where I crossed a bridge onto Margaret Island.  Margaret Island is a 2.5 kilometer long island in the middle of the Danube.  An interesting feature of this island is a running track that goes around the perimeter of the island.  The surface is just like your average 400 meter track, except a lap around this track is 5.5 kilometers, and you have river views.  After one lap around the island, I ran back to the hotel.

I had dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant.  You guessed it.  My first meal in Hungary was pizza.

After dinner, I walked down to the river to board an evening cruise on the Danube.  I got there early, so I could be among the first to board.  There are a limited number of tables around the deck.  Those seats have the best views.

By the time the cruise started, it was already dark.  At night, the bridges and buildings are lit up.  On the east bank of the Danube, we saw the Hungarian Parliament Building, which is best viewed from the water.


On the west bank, we could see Fisherman’s Bastian and Buda Castle.


We passed under several bridges, including Margaret Bridge, the chain bridge, and Liberty Bridge.




I got back to the hotel around 9:00.  I didn’t sleep on my overnight flight, so I was ready to crash.

Friday, September 27

I got up early and went for another run on Margaret Island.  This time, I ran two laps.  There are markings on the track indicating when you’re passing drinking fountains or bathrooms.  There are also markings for every 500  meters.

After eating breakfast at the hotel, I walked to Elizabeth Square to meet the tour guide for a free walking tour.  I’ve done tours like this in other cities.  The tour guides work for tips.  There are usually multiple guides who speak different languages.  I had one of the English-speaking tour guides.

Our first stop was St. Stephan’s Basilica.


On the Pest side of the river, our guide showed us examples of different architectural styles.  Along the way, she taught us some of the history of Budapest and Hungary.  Then we crossed the chain bridge to reach the Buda side.

We gradually worked our way up castle hill to reach Fisherman’s Bastian.


From Fisherman’s Bastian, you get a great view of the Hungarian Parliament Building from across the river.


Our last stop was Matthias Church.  This was originally a Catholic church.  During 150 years of Ottoman occupation, it was converted to a mosque, and a minaret tower was added.  Later, it was converted back to a church, and the minaret tower was converted to a bell tower.


After the walking tour, I went to a nearby restaurant, where I had a simple Hungarian lunch of goulash and bread.


After lunch, I toured the Buda Labyrinth, which is a maze of tunnels under castle hill.  The tunnels are very dark.  In most, there’s just enough light to find your way.  On one section, it’s completely dark.  It’s spooky.  From time to time, I encountered plaques on the walls that talked about important people in Budapest’s history.  One of them was Vlad the Impaler, who was the inspiration for the character of Count Dracula in
Bram Stoker’s novel, “Dracula.”

After the labyrinth, I continued to explore castle hill on my own.  Then I gradually worked my way south until I reached Eötvös Loránd University, where I picked up my race packet.

By now, I had walked more than eight miles, and I needed to get off my feet.  For the rest of the day, I used public transit.  I went back to the Hilton and rested my feet for about 30 minutes, while I recharged my electronics.  Then I went to dinner at a ruin bar.

Ruin bars are bars which are built inside abandoned buildings.  There are dozens of them in Budapest.  Some are working-class pubs.  Others are trendy night-life spots.  This one had a restaurant, a craft beer bar, and a spirit bar.

Saturday, September 28

After breakfast, I did another free walking tour.  This one followed Andrássy Avenue from Elizabeth Square to City Park.  Andrássy Avenue has three distinct sections.  The first part is a shopping and theatre district.  Here, we saw Budapest’s first department store and the opera house.  The next section is mostly residential, but is also home to a museum called the House of Terror.  During the communist period, this was a government building where people were detained, tortured, and killed.


The last section of Andrássy Avenue is the business district.  At the end is Heroes’ Square.  The front of Heroes’ Square was blocked by a huge stage, because the city was getting ready for a free concert in the evening.  In the center of Heroes’ Square is the Millennium Monument.  Like many of the city’s prominent buildings, it was built in 1886, when the Hungarian people were celebrating the 1,000 year anniversary of their arrival in Europe.


Beyond Heroes’ Square is City Park, which is Budapest’s largest green space.  It includes a zoo, a lake, and a castle.


The Széchenyi Thermal Bath is also in City Park.  This is one of numerous thermal mineral baths in Budapest.  This is where the walking tour ended.  It was a beautiful day, and I wanted to stay in the park a little longer, so I had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the lake.


After lunch, I went back into the city center to see St. Stephen’s Basilica.  On the walking tour I did Friday, I only saw the outside.  I went back on my own, so I could see the inside of the basilica.


St. Stephan’s Basilica is the tallest building in Budapest, equal in height to the Hungarian Parliament Building.  There’s an observation deck at the top, where you can get panoramic views of the city.




Next, I went to the Great Synagogue.  This is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world.  I could only see the outside, however.  Because of the observance of Rosh Hashanah, the synagogue was closed to tourists.


By mid-afternoon, I felt the need to take a break and get off my feet.  I went back to the hotel to rest, which also gave me a chance to recharge my electronics and get my running clothes organized for the race.  I was tempted to go to one of the thermal baths, but I saved that for after the race.

When I went back out for dinner, it was raining, so I went to an Italian restaurant that was only a short walk from the hotel.

Sunday, September 29

Sunday was race day.  The race didn’t start until 9:00 AM, so I had time to eat a light breakfast at the hotel before leaving.  The start/finish area was on the campus of Eötvös Loránd University.  The university was on the opposite side of the city from my hotel, but they were both along the same tram line, which made it easy to get there.

The start area was sprawling.  It was like a carnival, with several small tents offering food samples.  Some, like chocolate mile and yogurt seemed like reasonable pre-race foods.  Others, like small salads, struck me as the last thing I would put into my digestive system right before a race.

I made a bathroom stop and located the tent for gear check.  Then I found a place to sit down and relax.  About 10 minutes before the gear check was scheduled to close, I took off my warm-ups and checked my gear bag.  Then I made a final bathroom stop and found my way into my start corral.

This is a large race, but it was divided into waves.  Each wave had five start corrals.  I was in the third corral of the first wave, which was for runners who were going to average 5:00 to 5:30 per kilometer.

Most of my recent races have been trail marathons.  The last two that I ran for time both had downhill courses.  This course is relatively flat, so I wasn’t completely sure how fast I could run it.  My best times this year on similar courses were around 3:27, but I wasn’t confident I could run that fast.  My last race took a lot out of me, and I didn’t know if I was fully recovered.

I was reasonably confident I could finish in 3:35, which would be a Boston qualifying time for my age group.  I already have a qualifying time for the 2021 Boston Marathon, so I wasn’t under any pressure to run fast.  Still, I’ve always considered a BQ to be a standard of excellence, so I set that as my goal.

I needed to average 5:06 per kilometer, which was near the fast end for the corral I was in.  I lined up near the front of the corral.

When the race started, I was expecting a lot of congestion.  We were packed pretty tightly into the corrals, but the start was surprisingly smooth.  Almost from the start, I was able to run my own pace.

I always have trouble gauging my pace in the first kilometer.  I felt like I was running too fast, but I decided to wait and see what my time was at the one kilometer mark.

We started out running south, but quickly made a U-turn and started heading north on a road that was right next to the Danube River.  Most of the course was close to the river.  For the next five kilometers, we were right at the water’s edge.

My time for the first kilometer was 5:03.  I had mixed feelings about that.  On one hand I had started pretty close to the right pace.  What was unsettling is that it felt much faster.  It seemed like it took more effort than it should.

In the second kilometer, I sped up to 4:53, but it felt the same.  That was too fast, so I tried to relax a bit.  For the next several kilometers, I settled into a pace that was just under 5:00.

At two kilometers, we passed underneath the Liberty Statue, which was high on a hilltop, in front of the Citadel.  We were on the Buda side of the river.  We ran past many of the same sights I had walked to on Friday, but my gaze was focused on the river.

The next landmark was the Elizabeth Bridge.  By watching for the bridges, I had a good feeling for where I was.  Next, we ran under the Széchenyi Chain Bridge.

The aid stations had water and Gatorade.  Some had other drinks as well.  The first time I reached an aid station, I ran past all the volunteers handing out water and looked for the Gatorade table.  There were volunteers standing in front of the Gatorade tables, but they weren’t handing out any cups.  Maybe they weren’t expected the faster runners to drink Gatorade this early, but I always try to take in as many calories as I can.  I momentarily stopped to grab a cup from the table.  Then I resumed running as I drank.

At five kilometers, I was directly across the river from the Hungarian Parliament Building.  Looking farther ahead, I could see Margaret Bridge, and just beyond it was Margaret Island.

Shortly after running underneath Margaret Bridge, we made a U-turn onto a ramp that took us onto a wider street that was higher above the river.  Now we were running south.

In international races, I always wear my Marathon Globetrotters gear.   Somewhere around eight kilometers, another Globetrotter recognized me.  He looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place where we met before.

Next, we turned away from the river and ran through a long tunnel.  Pest is fairly flat, but Buda was built on large hills overlooking the river.  Most of the marathon route was in Buda, but we avoided all the hills.  Most of the course was flat.  Where there was a slope, it was gentle.  The only hills were ramps and bridges.

After going through the tunnel, we gradually looped around back toward the river.  At 10K, we turned onto the chain bridge for our first of four river crossings.

After crossing the river to the Pest side, we starting running south along the east bank.  I saw a sign that said, “11” and briefly mistook it for a kilometer marker.  Then I looked at my watch and realized it couldn’t be.  In fact, I had missed the 11 kilometer marker.  I was already almost to 12K.

After going under a bridge, we came up a ramp and turned around onto another street.  As I reached an aid station, there was a section of cobblestones.  Other runners were spilling water and Gatorade, so the street was wet in spots.  I know how slippery wet cobblestones can be, so I ran cautiously through this section.

We crossed the river again on the Liberty Bridge.  Then we turned left in front of Hotel Gellért and started running south toward the start/finish area.

As I reached the 14K mark, I checked my time.  I was roughly one third done, and I was on pace to finish in 3:30.  I asked myself how I felt.  For now, I was fine, but I questioned whether my pace was sustainable for the whole race.  It seemed like I was working harder than I should be.

At 15K, we ran through the start area again.  I thought we would repeat the first few kilometers of the race, but this time we went about a kilometer farther south before turning around.  Somewhere between 17 and 18K, we began retracing the early kilometers.

It was here that I started to speed up.  Now my kilometer times were between 4:50 and 4:55.  I was worried about going too fast, so I finally forced myself to ease up a bit.  In the 20th kilometer, I slowed to 5:05.  That was much more reasonable.  Then in the 21st, I slowed to 5:11.  That was too slow.

I reached the halfway mark in 1:44:46.  I was still on pace for 3:30.  I again asked myself how I felt.  I felt about the same as I did at 14K, except now I was getting hot, and sweat was dripping into my eyes.

At the start of the race, it was 55 degrees, but it was a sunny day, and it was getting warmer.  By the end of the race, it would be close to 70.  I worried if that would make my pace feel more tiring.

The next time I ran under a bridge, I noticed how much cooler it felt in the shade.  When we were next to the river, the only shade was under the bridges.

I sped up significantly as I started the second half of the race.  I think I did that subconsciously as a reaction to slowing down so much in the previous kilometer.  I started consistently running kilometer times between 4:50 and 4:55.

Lately, I’ve been running almost every day.  Most of my training runs are between 11 and 13 miles.  At 24K, I told myself the remaining distance was less than my average training run.  That made it seem manageable, even though I was getting hot.

We retraced our previous route as far as Margaret Bridge.  Then instead of turning around, we continued past Margaret Island.  Just north of Margaret Island, there’s another island.  We continued north alongside a narrow channel before eventually making a loop through a residential neighborhood.

At 28K, I was roughly two thirds done, so I again took inventory of how I felt.  My pace felt manageable, even though I was going a little faster now.  My biggest concern was overheating.

In the next kilometer, we reached the northernmost part of the route and start running south again.  I immediately felt a cool breeze.  It wasn’t strong enough to feel tiring, but it was enough to cool me off.  This breeze was going to keep me from getting too hot.  It also helped psychologically to know I was now running toward where we would eventually finish.

We were far enough north that I wasn’t familiar with the neighborhoods.  At 30K, we ran through an area with uneven cobblestones.  It was tiring and uncomfortable.  I was glad when we got through that section.

A short time later, we turned onto Árpád Bridge.  This is the bridge that crosses over the northern tip of Margaret Island.  On the bridge, another runner recognized me.  I passed him too quickly to get a good look at him, but I think it was a runner I met at breakfast that morning.  He was doing the 30K race, which started in a different place, but finished with the marathon.

We only went halfway across the river.  Then we took a ramp that led us onto Margaret Island.  In two training runs, I had already logged 17 kilometers on this island, so I felt at home there.  We were running on a road, but it was right next to the track where I had run before.

The road swerved to the left.  Now we were running up the center of the island.  I never saw the 31K sign.  When I got to 32K, I was pleasantly surprised to realize I only had 10K to go.

We left the south end of the island on a short bridge that makes a T with Margaret Bridge.  This bridge was part of my running route, so I knew it was uphill in the direction we were going.  I challenged myself not to slow down here.  For the first time in the race, I started to get out of breath.

We turned left onto Margaret Bridge to finish crossing the river.  This bridge was also part of my running route, but this time I got to run in the street, instead of on a narrow sidewalk.

As we came off the bridge, we started running north again, but this time we were on the east bank of the river.  I missed the 34K sign.  At 35K, I computed my pace for the previous two kilometers.  They averaged 4:49, making them my fastest so far.  That surprised me, since it included the hill coming off of Margaret Island.

We were on an out-and-back section.  As I got close to the turnaround, I saw a pace group going the other way.  I realized it must be the 3:30 group.  They started in corral 2, so they crossed the starting line about two minutes before I did.  By the time I made the turn, I could no longer see them, but I knew they weren’t too far ahead of me.

After turning around, I felt the wind again.  Next to the river, it was stronger.  Now I had mixed feelings about it.  It helped keep me cool, but now the headwind was tiring.

Despite the tiring wind, I kept up my pace.  We were running right next to the river, underneath the bridges.  After passing the chain bridge, we started to repeat a section that we ran earlier in the race.  I didn’t realize it until I saw the same “11” sign that confused me earlier.

Between 38 and 39K, I heard a yell from the crowd.  I turned my head in time to recognize a woman from Germany whom I met on one of my walking tours.  She and her husband both run marathons.  They knew I was doing this one, and she said she would watch for me.  I waved to her.

The 39th kilometer was my fastest of the race.  I ran it in 4:40.  Now I knew I would break 3:30, even if I began to fade.  With only 3K to go, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t fade.  Just ahead of me I saw the 3:30 group.  I did my best to catch up to them.

At 40K, we made a sharp turn and reached the aid station with the cobblestones.  After the aid station, we crossed Liberty Bridge again.  I was right behind the 3:30 group, but I couldn’t catch them on the uphill side of the bridge.  When I reached the downhill side, I raced past them.

After coming off the bridge and turning left, I was running straight toward the finish.  Ahead of me, I saw the Petőfi Bridge.  That’s the same bridge the tram crossed.  After that, I would be close to the finish area.  I remember checking my watch at 42K, but I have no recollection of my time.  I could see a banner saying, “100 meters to go.” Beyond it, I could see the finish line.

I finished in 3:27:14.  That exceeded my wildest expectations.  Only the headwind in the last 14K kept me from overheating.

Usually, when you cross a finish line, the first thing you receive is either a medal or a bottle of water.  Instead, I was handed a chocolate candy with a marshmallow center.  I walked a long way before finally reaching the volunteers with the finisher medals.


At the end of the chute, volunteers were wrapping runners in plastic heat shields.  I didn’t need one.  It was 70 degrees and sunny.  It was scary how comfortable I was walking through the finish area with bare arms and legs.

They had a food tent where I received a large bag of snacks, plus a banana and a can of non-alcoholic beer.  A volunteer also handed me a huge bottle of water, but I knew it was more than I could drink, so I gave it back.  After retrieving my gear bag, I sat down to eat the banana and drink the beer.  I saved the rest of the snacks for later.

I felt no need to put on my warm-up clothes.  Instead, I made a bathroom stop and started walking toward the tram stop near the bridge.  On my way, I saw the woman from Germany again.  I don’t know how she got to the finish area so quickly. I last saw her on the other side of the river.  It’s even more amazing that we bumped into each other in the finish area, where there hundreds of people going in different directions.

I went back to the hotel to get cleaned up and change clothes.  Then I ate more of my snacks.  There was a bottle of tea, a granola bar, at least two candy bars, a bag of potato chips, and a larger bag of crackers.  I ate as much as I could, but I still had some leftover.

I spent the rest of the afternoon at Széchenyi Thermal Bath in City Park.  They have several pools of varying temperatures.  I spent most of my time in the warmest pool, which was just warm enough to feel warm, but not so hot that I would perspire.  Even before going there, my legs felt OK, but I felt even better when I left.

After a race, I usually celebrate with pizza.  Instead, I ate the rest of my post-race snacks and supplemented them with appetizers from the hotel lounge.  I had a little Hungarian cash leftover, so I used that to buy some celebratory beers at the taproom of a local brewery.


Race Statistics
Distance:  42.2 kilometers
Time:  3:27:14
Average Pace:  4:55 per kilometer (7:54 per mile) 
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  386
Countries:  37
Boston Qualifiers:  126