Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Kaunas Marathon: A Lithuanian Win

Late 2014

Scott and our friend Ally have been running in the Pentlands. I have been at work. Now they are at the pub. I get a call from Scott saying that they are having another pint and is currently being talked into running a marathon in Cowness next June with Ally and Norm. Cowness? I've seen quite a bit of Scotland but haven't heard of it. Turns out it's Kaunas; a city in Lithuania. Cheap hotels, cheap beer and sunshine. I text asking if I can come. They don't really want a girl crashing their lad's weekend but I make a persuasive argument (mostly about my awesomeness) and am accepted.
Since returning, I look at people smugly when they ask where Kaunas is. Err, Lithuania. No, not the capital. That's Vilnius. Yes, I went there too. Yeah, I've always been really into geography.

June 2015


Scotland's representatives at the Kaunas marathon are announced;
- Ally Always Abroad Macleod
- Norman Never Fit But Always With An Excuse Duncan
- Tony First Timer Bonnar
- Scott A Gorgeous Wife Wesley
- Me The Magnificent
It's a strong beer drinking team. I will definitely be the weakest. Although with four weeks training under my belt I am definitely the most prepared. Ally has been running different marathons in different countries every second week because he is probably having a mid-life crisis (and has an extremely understanding wife). Norm has given up on running completely due to... Tony is a first timer and has trained the distance. Scott never really got going after The Fling. If any of them beat me at the running part I will be devastated.

Sussing out the competition at registration


Race Day

Sleep was short. We had a late night skyping my younger sister to receive news of her engagement and then I spent the rest of the wee hours planning her wedding in my head.
It's a leisurely stroll to the start from the hotel. We see few runners enroute but spot a local jakey pinching a bicycle. We choose not to participate in a ridiculous looking warm up exercise and get the shite scared out of us when some army dudes start firing their guns. Although the half marathon starts at the same time, it is still not a massive field so I move towards the front. I can see a piece of tape further up and debate whether I should go in the front pen. I'm not that fast in marathons but know I will still be several rows back so take the plunge. Lithuanians sing their national anthem proubly and then we scoot off on the cobblestones.
I really should have started even further up. I spend the first 5km jumping on and off kerbs passing people who have very quickly realised that they are more Bolt than they are Gabreselasi. I feel awful. Right from the beginning I just can't create any pace. I keep passing people constantly but the photos taken early on show my distress. I miss the very first water station as the helpers can't pour the water into the cups quick enough for all the runners. It is warmer than expected so most runners are taking cups. A runner from behind me notices there was no water for me so chases me to give me his. Very kind.
The course is quiet, running alongside a big road which is not busy with traffic. We then run alongside a large river for a long time. Lithuania is very green and the course has many pretty parts. There are also cobbles and some pavement slabs that my plantar fasciitis hates. I am still winding through the runners a touch before 10km when I see an official on a bicycle ahead. She keeps looking back at me and then two other girls start looking back at me too. When I pass them, the official bicycle girl comes with me.

Soul destroying

I don't panic. It is a small marathon so I may have just run myself into third place. It's a bit early for that but I am finally feeling settled so jog on. At about 17km there is a hairpin meaning that you can see runners coming in the opposite direction. The road leading to the hairpin is a few km's long. I clap when the half marathon and then marathon winners come towards me. I also notice something a little disturbing. There is one bicycle per gender per race type. It says Leaders (or something very similar in Lithuanian that I very cleverly translated). This means I am leading the women's marathon. Not good news. If I am going to win something, I want to come from behind, not spend the whole race being chased down.
When I turn at the hairpin, I start scanning for the boys. I see the second lady and estimate that she is about three minutes behind me. She looks good. I eat some HoneyStinger chews and ponder my fate. Next I see Scott. He looks fine and I ask how he's feeling. Unfortunately, the heat is getting to him. It's becoming El scorchio and he's on the boardwalk of broken dreams.
At 20km we turn off the straight to come back into the town square where the half marathon runners will finish and the marathon runners will do a second lap. There are loads of cheers as I come through the start / finish straight. I am not sure if it is because the crowd think I am finishing (our race numbers are similar to the half marathon) or because I have a bicycle with me. As I emerge through the arch I hear 'Johnson' over the announcement. My Lithuanian is a little patchy so I don't make out the rest.
With the half marathon runners gone, there really is no one left on the course. I do have two bicycle girls with me though. They must be together to keep each other company. Or maybe they just thought I looked a little unruly and that they needed two bicycle girls to handle me.
The cobblestones are worse without the distraction of other runners. Stretched out on the road ahead I can see two runners. Green man is in the distance running a similar pace to me. I wind in the other runner, pushing the next few kilometres hard. I came through the half way mark on about 3:13 pace. I am disappointed so am going to push it a little. By 25km the push is over. I don't check my watch until the finish. I just grind out the miles.
I start catching a runner who then stops in a shower up ahead. He better move out of the way before I get to the shower; it is hot and I want to go under. Thankfully he does and gives me a hand shake and 'bravo' as I pass. Then, rather annoyingly, he spends the next few kilometres running right up my backside. Pal, I was gaining on you before you stopped. It's so frustrating and I do not even know why. He had just been kind to me. I am just in a foul mood. Eventually I burn him off.
Green man is still picking off the runners ahead and I am following suit. The race t-shirts are yellow and most people have chosen to wear them today. It is easy to spot my prey up ahead and make myself silly goals like 'I will catch him in the next 3km.' It doesn't matter whether I do or not but I am very lonely and bored. When I pass the occasional runner I get a clap and cheer because they see the bicycles and have a chat with them. The second lady hasn't come past yet but I am expecting her.
Make it stop
There is a shirtless man who cycles past and then comes back, only to do the same thing again. I wonder if it is a repeat of Gran Canaria and he is a friend of the second lady. Turns out he just wanted to flirt with the good looking bicycle ladies. Sadly, up ahead I see that green man has started to walk. I tell him that he was doing do well and coax him on. He has no idea what I am saying and looks at me like I am a crazy woman. At least I am a crazy lady currently winning.
With 10km to go I decide not to put in a burst. Mostly because I can't be bothered. And also because the boardwalk of broken dreams is ripping mine to shred. I will try at 5km to go. Earlier on I saw a thermometre measuring 32 degrees. Jeezo. I now have the luxury of grabbing two cups of water at water stations and throw one on myself and gracefully drink from the other. I know the boys will not be handling the heat. Army people and the general public are handing out extra cups of water. At one water station there is music and I hear my name again. The few supporters out are giving me a good cheer. There are not many runners so we must be a novelty.
I hear a holler from the path above me as I run by the river. It's Norm, shaking his pom poms and cheering. He is still on his first lap. I wonder if he's last. He looks suspiciously fresh... Like he has not been running. I wonder if he will get timed out before the second lap. The shame.
I am relieved to hit the road; not just because it signalled less than 5km to go but also because the smooth service didn't hurt my foot so much. If I could get to the hairpin and then to the 39km marker before seeing the second lady coming towards me then I think I can hold it for the win. The people coming towards me are you see by the heat. People who are going to walk it in for a sub 3:30 as they have nothing left. Straggling. I give a little cheer to my bicycle ladies as we reach 40km. A runner in front knows I am catching him. Just as I do, he stops and clutches his knee. Rather amusing.
Finally we are off the long straight and back into the town. I do my best at a decent finish on the last straight but there are cobbles so it wasn't that glamorous. I was pretty excited to see that I was going to get to break the finishing tape although my visor flew off so there was a wee panic to get my arms up for the finishing photo. I should say photos; there were cameras everywhere. A friend translated the announcer's comments as I crossed the finish line. Apparently my legs looked fresh for the distance, although a little tense (that would have been when I grabbed my legs and puffed my cheeks out to the camera). I was also a surprise winner because I was foreign! Johnson is a crazy name to them.
Yep; that's your Kaunas marathon winner
I apologise to my bicycle ladies for my lack of fluency with the Lithuanian language and thank them for their presence. My hair is a riot (because of the water throwing) so I fix that and then wait to cheer in the boys. There is a guy across the straight taking my photo. I am a Lithuanian celebrity.
Scott comes in just after the four hour mark; disappointed and defeated. Only one balloon man came in at his specified time; the rest couldn’t keep their pace in the heat. Then it is the prizegiving ceremony where they are kind and throw in a few English words for my benefit. My jaw opens a little too wide when I see winners being presented with giant comedy cheques and massive trophies. I win three hundred euros, some vitamins, body butter and a trophy that I will need to use as a weapon to get past RyanAir. I’d recommend running the half marathon as they are sponsored by beer.
Professional Baltic marathon runner

We wait for the rest of the boys for a while but then the pre-race Immodium starts to wear off so we head back to the hotel, going against the traffic of a one mile race. Occasionally people sitting outside the cafes and bars give me a cheer when they see my trophy.  I feel a bit embarrassed; no personal best and not what I wanted to achieve. ‘Wanted to achieve’? That makes me sound like a runner taking things too seriously! The one positive is that I have beaten Norm and Ally’s 3:16 times (from their much younger days obviously).
Ally ran with Tony as it was his first marathon and they came in a bit over five hours. I was relieved during the race that they ran together as it was a bit of a cruel marathon with the heat and lack of supporters for Tony’s first one. Norm came in as second slowest plodder in the entire field.
Kaunas and Vilnius are really nice places. When you visit, just tell them that you know me and you’ll be treated like royalty. On our final evening while we were sitting outside in a cafĂ©, some girls asked a guy near us for his picture. Turns out he is a Lithuanian basketball player who plays in the NBA. I lifted my giant trophy up and sat it on the table. I’ll show him what a winner looks like. There was actually a youth NBA talent camp staying at the hotel and I could tell that they were looking to poach me. So if you don’t see me running on the trails for a while, I’ve gone to establish myself in the US as a basketball extraordinaire.
Anyone want my autograph?
Tony and Ally on tour

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant write up and a winning run! Superstar! X


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