It always seems pretty tough and almost impossible for me to put all my thoughts in one place when it comes to describing a marathon experience. Each one of them is very different and very unique; so far there are 6 marathons in my life (and 2 ultras, but let’s not talk about it now) and it is amazing just to think about how special are they in comparison to another. And this one was a straightforward perfect day: here is a story of my Łódź Maraton 2014.
So how it all started? More than a year ago, in March of 2013, I found out the results of Erasmus exchange program and I knew that in spring of 2014 I will be living in Łódź in Poland. So at the moment when I know where will I be during any fall or spring, one of the first things I try to find out is… Are there any marathons? So I found out about the one in Łódź, but it was still too far away to think about it much so I didn’t give it much thought.
But then, at some point I realized that, if I will be running that, I will have to do it – alone. There won’t be my family, Mario, my coach, my friends from my running team… I will do it alone. Who will wait for me at the finish line? Who will be with me before I start to run? It was strange to realize that. Then I just thought, okay, I will probably have one or two persons who will be my closest friends during my Erasmus and they will come to cheer for me and that will be it. I have never been so wrong! 🙂
I was sharing my thoughts with Milena and Matt, who are among the few ESN people that I’m closest to. Then we started to make some kind of plans, but it was all basics, like they will come to the start line to wish me good luck and take my stuff and then wait for me in Atlas Arena, which was the finishing point. But then we started to talk with other people about it, I was basically sharing my pre-marathon happiness with everyone that I was hanging out with so the word was spreading fast. More people wanted to be there, bigger plans were being created… But I’ll tell you the results of it very soon 🙂
So fast-forward to the marathon weekend. On Friday, Patryk and me went to Atlas Arena to pick up start numbers and goodie bags, as he was running the 10K race. The whole pre-marathon week was already exciting for me, because carboloading period makes me realize that the big day is very soon, but the moment when I entered Atlas Arena and saw every runner’s name on a huge wall was the moment when my heart started to pound very fast and made me realize that everything is getting real now – in a day and a half, I will hopefully be finishing my sixth marathon at this place. On Saturday, the day before the marathon, I was just trying to keep my heart from jumping out and preparing everything for the next day; food, sports gear, iPod and so on. It was hard for me to fall asleep in the evening, but somehow I did and the marathon morning arrived!
I was awake at 6, did everything I was supposed to and a bit after 7 I was already on my way. I met with Milena and Matt and we drove to the start line. I was still calm, but when I saw the runners, the huge stage next to the start line, people gathering… Then I figured out how soon everything will happen. Minute after minute, it started to be more and more crowded, I was just thinking about how I have to find my start block and how I should be there in time. Around 10 minutes to 9, I decided to get to the start, I said bye to Matt (and to Milena a bit earlier) and wished good luck to Patryk and I was on my own. Soon, everyone was counting from 10 do 1, in polish of course… And a group of a few thousand people started a new journey.
It is wonderful just to think about how every phase of my marathon is different. At the beginning, it’s just looking at runners around me, seeing how amazing they are, admiring them, smiling and getting the smiles from others. I wasn’t thinking much about my current running pace – even though I was supposed to – I was enjoying these moments so much that I just wanted to soak this happiness that was around me. The whole first half was over very quick, or at least that was my impression. Around 10th kilometer, Milena was already there with a group of people who were there for me. I was still in this mood from the start of the race and seeing them made it even better.
I usually split marathon in my head in three parts, most often it’s 16+16+10. It’s easier to deal with one part at a time. So the first part was almost over, but the road was getting harder. In Las Łagiewnicki forest the track was going uphill and downhill for several times and even though I was feeling great and keeping the same pace, I knew it will be harder later because of this. Around 24th kilometer this part was over, I was feeling good, but I felt some blisters on my feet. It was painful and I still had almost 20 kilometers in front of me. But then I figured that soon I will be at 32nd kilometer, where my friends will be, and it will be easier again…
I was enjoying just watching the parts of city I have never seen before. And step by step, I was again at the place of start line, more than 30 kilometers were already behind me, but the hardest part was still in front of me. But then… Somewhere in front of me, I saw them. Milena, Matt, Max, Andor… They were screaming my name, and Milena shouted very loudly „Marijana is coming!“. So as I was approaching, all of them started to run next to me, cheering, screaming, waving the ESN flag… My legs were so light again, I was laughing to tears, and maybe 100 meters later there was everyone else waiting for me. FOR ME! First thing I saw was Julia’s sign on Russian. I recognized my name and had tears in my eyes again (later, she told me the sign says „Marijana, you are the best“). Familiar faces in front of me. Sergio with a sign that said „Run faster, I just farted“ 😀 Cathie with a smile sign, Paulina with my favorite comfort zone phrase, Patryk with a sign with my name… I was really flying.
And after I left them behind, there was Andor next to me. „I will run with you a bit“. I told him he doesn’t have to, but he says he wants to. I knew that after 2 kilometers the road is going back the same way so it was good to have someone to make it easier. So he was telling me that I look great after 32 kilometers and that my pace is great. That I’m faster than many people and that I’m passing many of them. Then there was music next to the road, and I started to run and dance at the same time. His reaction was „Really? You can run and party at once!“. It was perfect. I started to feel heaviness in my legs, the crises was about to happen. But I didn’t care. All I wanted is to remember these moments and feelings. So around kilometer 36 or 37 we were again at the place where everyone was waiting for me. I knew that after this I will be alone for 5 kilometers and it will be hard, but then…
I saw it. So it’s 37th kilometer, I feel like I’m out of my own body, the feeling is something that’s impossible to describe to someone who never felt it. But still, at this moment, I felt something additional that I think I never felt earlier – I saw Matt holding my Croatian flag. Then he ran next to me for maybe a minute and said, you will get it before finish line! So I carry on by myself, laughing and crying at the same time. It got really hard, but I was flying. Runners around me were fighting their own fights, the same way I did. Then I put my iPod on, but after two songs I turned it off. I needed silence for a minute. It even started to rain a bit. After I saw the 40th kilometer sign, I knew that I will soon feel one of the best things a runner can feel. One kilometer before finish, there was a stage with music and dancers. I waved to them and smiled and the guy with the microphone said that he’s amazed with my energy, which made me rise even a bit more…
And then, the amazing Atlas Arena was in front of me. I knew what’s next. I was just searching for it with my eyes. And I found it. Matt and Max waiting for me a few hundred meters before the finish line with my flag. I was almost jumping when I saw it. I took it from Matt and all I could think about is that I have to turn it the proper way 😀 And I did it perfectly. As I was approaching the entrance to Atlas Arena, I saw one thing that will always be a frame in my memory… There were children holding flags of different countries and there was Croatian flag. It took me only a half of a second to realize that the flag is here only because of me, because I’m the only runner from Croatia there… So now I was really crying, holding my flag high above my head, and the entrance, along with the finish line, was in front of me. I crossed it. I did it.
In the first minute after finishing, it was hard for me to manage to get out and find my friends. It was dark there and my mind was turned off hours ago… As I had Croatian flag around me, one runner approached me and talked to me in Croatian. He was Polish, but he told me that he traveled there a lot and that he likes it very much. When I finished talking to him and when I got my medal and drink, I went to join my friends who were waiting for me there. I had huge pain in my feet, but I was so happy and my heart was so full, I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing. My phone was full of messages, people from Croatia were tracing my run online. After some time of chilling and cooling down, we had to decide if we will have a barbecue in the park or are we going somewhere else. It was getting kind of cold, so we ended up in a Bulgarian restaurant on Piotrkowska.
Marathon will always be a definition of a perfect day. It doesn’t matter how fast or how slow. Feelings you go through and challenges you have to cope with, it’s something that makes you so much stronger. It will always be something I will go back to. It is something so individual, so personal and private, but at the same time, something so amazing to share with people you love. It is a perfect way to travel, to see the world, to see the strength of people, to see how amazing human race is, to find out what is there deep inside of you that you would usually never feel…
So this is something for the end of this story. One thing I need to say is that this city is so beautiful. Łódź is very untypical in comparison to Warsaw, Gdansk, Kraków and other Polish cities full of colorful landscapes… But it still has something that makes it so perfect. I saw it earlier, but I saw it on marathon even more. It has wonderful people who made this event so successful, so emotional and beautiful, who cheered along the way, who tried to make it easier for the runners.
And the other thing, the most important one: huge THANK YOU. Milena, Matt, Patryk (who ran 10K race with a result of 48:23!), Kati, Paulina, Sergio, Andor, Julia, Daniel, Georg, Barbara, Saira, Henning, Cathie, Max… I hope I didn’t forget to mention someone, because everyone who was there will always have a special place in my heart! You made this day huge for me. If you hadn’t been there, it would have been so different. Also, I think that for the first time in my life I had a chance to say a toast that was so important to me and I had the opportunity to tell you how much you mean to me. You are amazing!
And last but not least, biggest thanks to Mario and to my parents and brother as they are the most supporting and most understanding people in my life, and to my dear AK Sljeme and my coaches for helping me getting where I am right now!
Greetings from beautiful Poland!