by Kieu Dung
When my wife proposed that we take our vacation in Eastern Europe, I immediately started researching races. There were no races in Prague in September 2017 but I found one in Usti Nad Labem, a two-hour train ride from Prague. According to the information on the RunCzech website, the course was flat and it was a road circuit; the race took place in afternoon. This last detail gave me the motivation I needed to register since I would have plenty of time to make the trip to Usti Nad Labem and prepare myself for the race.
We arrived in Prague after a rather tumultuous trip. Our flight from Montreal to Paris was late, we missed the connecting flight between Paris and Prague, and finally, we arrived in Prague… without our luggage. Of course, my running clothes and accessories were in my suitcase, now somewhere between Paris and Prague. I managed to come up with a “Plan B”: run in my Bermuda shorts (which were in my carry-on) and the shirt that would be provided by the race organization. I was lucky to have left Montreal with my running shoes shoes on my feet.
The next morning, the hotel reception desk informed me that the suitcase has arrived; I was in heaven. I had enough time to unpack and take what is necessary for my race. At Prague Central Station, I met a Czech woman who was running the same race and an Argentinian who joined us. The solidarity of the runners is omnipresent, even abroad. We arrived at the expo and had plenty of time to pick up my bib. Surprisingly, the expo was tiny with only a few exhibitors, nothing like the ones in North America.
As we arrived quite early, we took the time to eat and walk a around the city.Usti Nad Labem is the seventh-most populous city of the Czech Republic, situated in a mountainous district at the confluence of the Bílina and Elbe rivers. It is a major industrial centre, an active river port and an important railway junction.
All the festivities around the race were in the central square. There were stands offering energy drinks, nutrition bars, ice cream and bottles of water. There were also different type of vendors of selling sports apparel, shoes and other accessories. All this was accompanied by lively background music. The family race was the first event of the day, followed by the 5K and 10K. My event was the half marathon, which started at 3:00 p.m.
The race course was nice and flat, and the neighbourhoods were crowded with people coming out to cheer for us. The water and food stations were located every 3 kilometres, and rock music was omnipresent throughout the race. We had the chance to pass through the chemical factory Spolchemie, the emblem of Usti Nad Labem. Aside from the chemical plant, the course leads runners along the Elbe Trail all the way to Střekov Castle and the city centre.
A few observations about racing in Czech Republic: I did not see any runners carrying a water bottle. One of them even questioned why I dragged one along. When the weather is cool, runners (both male and female) wear pants to run, which is less common in Canada. I also noticed that most runners do not wear hats during the race. Food and drinks are distributed during the race, with nothing at the end of the race.
My race went as planned, for the most part. It took me just 27 minutes for the first 5K and I reached the 10K mark around 58 minutes. I was in excellent shape at 15K. I began to feel intense pain in my thigh towards kilometre 18 and decided to make a stop at the first aid station. I was grateful when a nurse asked me to sit down and gave me a massage, although I was disappointed to have lost a few minutes. Leaving the tent, I knew that my target time would not be met and decided to simply finish the race. I was surprised to receive an e-mail from the organization few days later confirming that I had finished 36th in my age group. All in all, it was a great experience.