RUNNING PRAGUE – with Rachel Frearson

So I’ve sat down with a coffee to write this and gather my thoughts…where do I begin?  I had had every intention of writing this on one of the many amazing train journeys across Europe and then on the flight home but it just never happened: I didn’t know where to start and I was still just so drained.  Then I finally got home and all at the same time my “babies” turned 4  and my little man had some sort of weird gastro agh!  Anyhow I am here now looking through my photos and reliving the memories and the many kilometres…

Getting on the plane to Melbourne here in the desert in the middle of Australia, it was still not really sinking in that not only was I heading to Europe but, I was soon to run in Prague.  The few days before, with hubby traveling for work, house renovation chaos and having to pack and sort out 3 small kids to take to their grandparents, had kept me too busy to really think about it too much.  First on my mind was the fact that I was leaving my kids for 2.5weeks on the other side of the world and I had never been away from them for that long…that was tugging at my heartstrings.

Just getting to the plane is always an effort in itself with this crazy family and to make it more stressful they held on to my little backpack at security without telling me why – the backpack had the most important items for my trip – my runners, my Garmin, stuff for my bung fingers and my race outfit for Prague!!!!!  We were running late and I was stressing…they were looking at me a little suspiciously and it turns out in the end somehow a butter knife from our picnic set was buried right inside the bottom of the hydration bladder pocket of my pack…why the hell was that there!?!  So our picnic set is down one knife but thankfully we were on our way.  After a couple of nights in Victoria settling the kids in at grandparents we were off.  The bonus of my hubby traveling for work so much is we got to go to the First Class Lounge at Melbourne airport and eat Neil Perry food while drinking Veuve Cliquot…or was it Moet hmmm…a nice way to start 🙂

The first few days we spent in Germany as hubby had some work meetings.  I wandered around Freiburg, a beautiful little city in the Black Forest region…yep think Black Forest cake.  I spent every day walking at least 20k checking everything out…man who woulda thought walking could be so sore and tiring?!  This was where I was going to be doing my last run before Prague so I ran from our hotel and down along the river – was a beautiful spot and it gave me time to think about my run and what my plan was going to be.  Thankfully we had a day of travel on trains and planes to get to Prague as I was still suffering from jetlag, the walking everywhere had worn me out, my brain was hurting from dealing with another language, and on top of all that and we were about to change to another.  But I gotta say I LOVE SwissAir!!  They greet you with little Swiss chocolates and before you get off they hand around more chocolate to say thanks for flying with them…no, THANKYOU Swiss Air (something to think about Qantas…just saying). Driving from the airport into the city in the taxi, it started to sink in a little more and I started to get little butterflies especially as we got to see the Palace and the river I was going to be running around – such a beautiful place.

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Prague is an amazing city – I had always wanted to see it…not really sure why but now not only was I here experiencing it I was going to run it at one of the largest half marathons in Europe with 12,500 people from 60 countries, including some very speedy Kenyans who have run the course in under 59mins!  My first half was in the desert in the middle of Australia with 150 people in the entire event!! “The race of Czech national records, one of the fastest courses in the world (I think that’s if you are at the front of the pack myself)…an epic race with gorgeous scenes of the historical city, as well as five bridge crossings over the Vlatva”. [photos 3-7]

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We had a day to check out some of the city, enjoy Czech food and work out where I was running and where my hubby could realistically reach to cheer me on, a tough task as my sole supporter and cheer squad.  We started the day by heading to the “expo” to pickup my race packet.  It was still all a little surreal but I was holding my race bib with my name on it and little Australian flag!  There were running buddies and groups getting photos together with their bibs and I admit I was a little sad not sharing this with mine.  I wasn’t paying attention walking past a big TV screen until my hubby said “hey your name is on there”.  Very cool – if you have your timing chip as you walked past it recognized who you were and put your name and country up on the screen.

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Birell was a sponsor of the event and were handing out bottles at the door, which I could have sworn was beer, as although they were different flavors they still smelt and tasted like beer to me.  It totally wouldn’t have surprised me either given where we were (Europe is a place where beer is cheaper than water and acceptable as a breakfast drink – something my hubby was very happy about).  Czechoslovakia takes pride in its beer, the country that drinks more beer per capita than any other country according to The Guinness Book of World Records.  I don’t like beer but I also thankfully discovered that this is an amazing non-alcoholic beer…Lime and berry flavored…I might have had two 🙂

The night before the big race hubby decided to take one for the team and carb load with me and found an underground Pizza/pasta joint.  It was really hard to get used to all the smoking everywhere and made meals less enjoyable and I really wasn’t coping with itchy eyes and the knowledge that I was breathing all that in with a big run in the morning.  Before bed I figured I should sort through my gear for the next day, as even though the race wasn’t until midday (still a weird concept for me) it was helpful in helping calm the nerves to attempt to sleep.  It wasn’t the best sleep ever but certainly better than expected and at least I didn’t have to wake up to an alarm.

It was very weird to be waking up race morning and having so many hours to kill before I had to run (races in Alice normally start around 7), which meant having to plan my food a little more, and also more time for the butterflies to set in.  But to make matters worse I got my period that morning which usually means no running for me where possible.  It suddenly became clear why I had been feeling a little off the previous few days and those butterflies in my belly were growing rapidly.  So far I was feeling ok, but this had been one of my fears for the event and I knew what that could mean. My goal this year was for under 2 hours, which I knew had been possible but now was not so sure.  Speaking with my running buddy online she told me to imagine the worst things that could possibly happen and come up with plans, deal with those situations mentally and emotionally, then let it go.  She said that the worst was unlikely to happen but if it or something lesser does you will cope with it better – gosh I love her! I just wish she was there running with me.  But I had ibuprofen and I had Salted Caramel GUs – they would have to do 🙂

Following the physios advice/direction my lovely hubby taped my glute/leg in some brand new bright blue German Kinesio tape (to match the outfit of course). So after yet another European buffet breakfast – man they are good, and oh so bad, I checked and rechecked my kit, took a deep breath and we headed out onto the streets of beautiful Prague towards the start line…brrrrrrrrr it was a top of 13 degrees and no sign of the sun!!  We decided to walk to the start area as it was only a couple of kilometres and it was a good chance to stretch my legs and hopefully warm up.  It was sooo cold and my hubby wanted to take heaps of photos of me in my gear as he was going to head about a kilometer down the course before the start as was going to be way too crowded at the start line to really see me.  Once I had my jumper off it was quite obvious where I was from with my lovely Oz shirt from Love2Run and there were a few others taking photos of it too – hope I didn’t look as nervous and cold as I felt in their photos.  It was getting very real now and didn’t want my hubby to leave but I had to head into the technical area that was only for competitors.  Thankfully there were rows and rows of green and pink portaloos, or “Johnny” and “Jenny” loos (very cute) as they are known here – cause whether it was the cold or nerves I think I visited them 2 or 3 times, but I wasn’t the only one.

Once I had to hand over my jumper and bag and find my group start it was all very real and very daunting standing there in the crowd without a running buddy.  The majority of people around me couldn’t speak English very well, if at also it was a bit lonely and no pre-run banter.  I never actually heard the start gun which was way down the front with the speedy Kenyans, but some very Czech sounding classical/operatic music started up and all the Czech started getting right into it (must have been either the National Anthem or something akin to our “Waltzing Matilda) and we started shuffling forward…this was it, a very slow start with the 2hr pacers only going under the start banner 6.5mins after the gun. Into the first kilometre I suddenly realized I was getting really painful girly cramps and lower back pain.  I had been so focused at the start on trying not to trip over and get into some sort of rhythm I hadn’t really noticed.  This was less than ideal and me trying to adapt to that was also giving me a stitch…so I breathed my way through it and hoped the rest would go away.  Cobbled narrow streets are not the best running surface and the odd surprise concrete “Island” made for more challenges with plenty of forced walking moments so I had to take those opportunities to enjoy the views and the atmosphere rather than get stressed. But it was really hard going not being able to get into a steady rhythm, which normally would have helped me push through all the other issues.   In the back of my mind I kept hearing “but this is one of the flattest and fastest courses in Europe it shouldn’t be this hard!”

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I saw my hubby round the 6k mark – running crazily along the side with an SLR and his phone, dodging other spectators trying to take photos and yelling “Go Rachel”.  At least I had one other crazy Aussie out there.  He was doing an amazing job getting around the course to spur me on without dropping the camera. There were bands/DJs set up nearly every kilometer of the course – think Eurovision, think heavy rock Czech style…glad I still decided to wear my own headphones.   Around the 7.5km mark one of the main radio stations were setup and they were getting the runners to do different things as they ran past from what I could see but it was all in Czech.  I did hear at one point them mention Australia so I can only assume they saw my shirt but I had no idea what they were saying so I waved anyway.  Then in true Czech style I saw what looked like a water station outside a pub but in fact it was little takeaway espresso cups full of champagne and beer…and even more amazing runners had obviously been taking them as crushed cups were all over the road…it was funny but I couldn’t think of anything worse.

I stuck with the 2hr pacers until the 10k mark and then my body just crashed and I realise now that it was probably also a lot to do with very low iron levels that I had neglected to compensate for.  I soooo could have given up then and there as my body pretty much had, with the heaviest leaden legs and exhaustion which was so unlike me at that point. I was so disappointed as I knew I could do a 2hr run, or even quicker and had wanted it to be here but it obviously was not to be.  I wanted to cry and curl up in a ball with a hot water bottle but I hadn’t come this far, and left my kids behind for the first time, to give up now. I had to come up with a new strategy and so I decided to walk through every water stop and listen to my body and walk the hills if need be. My glute had been surprisingly ok up until that point but then that started to twinge too. Agh! But it was quite a fun course regardless with the amazing palace in the background about five bridge crossings over the beautiful river, the bands and just the Czech way.  My hubby appeared somewhere again around the 19k mark and I was really struggling to smile for the camera…or move.  But I was “nearly there”.  I also realized I still hadn’t seen the 2:10 pacers yet but they must been somewhere behind me chasing me down.  I had to keep telling myself its only 2k more, a couple of laps around the block at home – you can do that.

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The last 500m of the race, coming to the last bridge, the 2:10 pacers finally caught me.  I had been holding on to the fact that I could least stick with them and although I could pretty much see the finish line my body said ‘if you just walk this last little hill and corner I will give you one last burst of energy to “sprint” to the finish’.  It was a very crowded corner which made it tricky getting around, I wasn’t the only one walking and there were a few people yelling at me “keep going Aussie you are nearly there”, and I knew it but my body was screaming back at me too.   Despite my “burst of energy” I was stopped abruptly just on the line by the crowd of runners who had decided not to move on…grrrr but I finished in 2:10:42 which was certainly not my goal or as good as I know I can do…but on that day I had put in 120% and I truly had nothing left to give. I had run in PRAGUE!!  The odds may have been against me but we live and grow by our experiences, and in the words of Kelly Clarkson, “what doesn’t kill us makes a stronger!”  It was an amazing experience that I wouldn’t have given up for the anything, but I think I prefer running that distance event with a smaller field of people and the wide open spaces, with a friend to share the experience with. So after a week or so more of walking Prague, Switzerland, and Paris eating too many croissants, chocolate and champagne, and now back home to reality it is time to think about getting back into it and chasing down that 2hr goal…without pain and injury.

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