I ran my first ever marathon here last year after my Forfar mate and long time running accomplice Steve Connor moved to Warsaw and suggested I combine a social visit with the race. Despite having managed to avoid the distance for the best part of 20 years I’d found I’d actually quite enjoyed it, in a strange sort of way, and although I’d intended it to be a one off, decided to come back for another go. Warsaw’s a great city and the convoluted course takes in just about every aspect of it, from the ‘medieval’ old town, rebuilt almost from scratch after the war, down grand tree-lined boulevards of the city centre with its modern office blocks and glitzy shopping malls, to endless rows of shabby concrete communist-era apartment blocks. It’s also a ridiculously flat course with only one small rise near the end, and with around four thousand runners is, for me at least, about the ideal size for a city marathon. Pre-race I’d been bit worried about the weather which had warmed up in the last few days, but in the event cloud cover and even a spot of cooling drizzle kept the temperature below 20 degrees for most of the race.
After a slightly surreal group warm up, with the usual up-tempo dance music replaced by a gentle Chopin concerto (in honour of his 200th birthday), and a somewhat frantic negotiation with a security guard to let me back into my starting zone following a last minute trip to the loos, we were off. As I’d had to start at the back of the race last year with the other first-timers, I hoped to make the most of being nearer the front by finding some similarly paced runners to run with. Everything went to plan during the first half, passing through half way in just under 1:25, and a few miles later I latched onto the back of a group of six good humoured and, in the circumstances, rather chatty Poles who were working well together and seemed to be going at about my pace. I was still feeling pretty good when the two guys at the front began to push the pace at about twenty miles and so went with them as they began to pull away. With just two miles to go and thinking I was home and dry, I put in a bit of an effort up the only hill of the race, only to find my legs suddenly giving in at the top and for the next half-mile or so seemed to be running on empty. One of the guys I’d just caught on the hill breezed past me and I just managed to hang in behind him for an excruciatingly long mile until we reached the finishing straight where the sight of the clock spurred me on to a final scramble to the line. Despite the rather desperate finish I was well pleased with my run, finishing five minutes quicker than last year in 2:49:42 and 34th place. Steve was also chuffed with a PB of just under 3:15 (not bad for someone who only runs twice a week) and has promised to try to find me a hill race for next year’s visit.