Run & Click – Communist Warsaw


Sometimes we take for granted the wonders that surround us. Passing by them, day by day, they become part of the background scenery like so many grey cubicle walls or maybe the framed motivational poster of a mountain with a quote about “Inspiration” at the bottom. I wanted to create a social running group that could explore local treasures, running at an easy pace so that participants could both share their views of these iconic landmarks and gain new perspectives from the other runners. Along the way, we take breaks to capture to moment and catch our breath for more running and conversation. Local, Tourist, Transplant, Expat – all bring something new to the experience.


On Wednesday, August 7th, we held our first Run and Click with a local, a transplant, and an expat. The run was completed. Conversation was had. Photos were taken. Laughter and sweat were doled out in equal amounts. We had many great suggestions and lessons learned for the next event. I had already changed the name from Run & “Shoot” – Communist Warsaw, which may have scared some people into thinking we were going to be hunting Communists. Run & Click has the double meaning of a camera and when the runners “click” with the things they have in common. We’ll move the next run to a more amiable time and be more specific and consistant with out photo breaks. Also we can invite some photographers who might want to capture runners in the city, but not necessarily run themselves. Hopefully we can partner with a bar for beverages afterwards.


For our run, I used the Communist Trail map from Warsaw In Your Pocket, however we ran the trail in reverse and started at a classic piece of Communist era architechture – Warsaw Centralna. Hailed as a masterpiece of Polish modernism, the building was rushed through construction to be a showpiece for a 1975 visit from Leonid Brezhnev. We circled around the building, ran along the backside of Zloty Terasy, and ran directly into a great view of the Palace of Culture (PoC) highlighted by the setting sun. Our first stop was by the fountain on the northside of the PoC where we tried some running photos, but the runners were too fast and my camera was too slow!


After our break, we ran along the East Wall and down into the area of the Centrum Metro they call “The Frying Pan”. Construction in the parking lot area and around the Rotunda prohibited clear photography but it’s still interesting to see how the older buildings have been adapted to modern businesses.


After navigating the underground passages and coming back up into the light, we continued to run along Marzalkowska St. with its wide variety of architecture until we got to the grand square of Plac Konstytucji. Custom designed for state parades, there was no tickertape descending from the windows as we paused to capture the worker reliefs, the dramatic columns and corridors and giant trident street lamps.


At Plac Zwbawiciela we took a sharp left on Mokowtowska headed to monolithic government buildings on Krucza, passing by classic “milk bars” and newer restaurants occupied by hipsters. The streets and the sidewalks were tighter forcing more communication among the runners while dealing with pedestrians.


A final turn on Nowogrodzka allowed us to run by The Free Speech Monument in front of the former Department of Censorship, a very dramatic sculpture that takes up most of the plaza.  The end of that street empties out onto a view of the Central Committee  of the Polish United Workers and it’s imposing architecture, now decorated by branding signs and chic glass encased bars and eateries, some nice venues to sit back and have a cold drink after the run.


Stopping short of Nowy Swiat, we discussed the next run being either a Royal Run visiting some of the old royalty landmarks or a Warsaw Uprising Run. We will repeat the Communist Run on one of the weekends this fall. Let us know which run you would be most interested in!



Parkrun for Fun and Friends in Warsaw and Worldwide


(Edited Version originally published on

Looking for a 5K in Warsaw? Do you want to run, jog, walk, or crawl one this weekend in a park close to you? Maybe you don’t want to run, but you want to go cheer or help support a great sporting event? Parkrun Warsaw has got you covered!

Parkrun is an international organization with the goal of a healthier, happier planet. They run FREE, volunteer, timed events in over 20 countries around the world. Poland in particular loves Parkrun with over 60 locations, 5 of which are right here in Warsaw. North, south, east, west, and the newest location smack dab in the center of Park Pole Mokotowskie, there is an event near you. I originally thought of these events as races, because they do time you, but the event is so much more than that. You can use these events as a race or a speed training, your weekly run or even as a literal walk in the park. Although recent events had some runners clocking in under 16 minutes, local races have also stayed and supported members who took over 70 minutes to finish the course.

More than just a run, these events are a community. There are awards and celebrations the more events you attend. Many participants stay and chat after the race in informal coffee clatches or around pots of hot, sweet tea. Recently two runner’s got engaged at the Pole Mokotowski Parkrun.  At a Parkrun in Kalisz, The entire runner’s group dropped back and let a departing and much loved event director cross the finish line first as she ran her last event at that location. These groups are definitely about more than just the run.

In an area like Poland where volunteerism is still a little suspect at times, this is a place you can go and volunteer and be sure of a grateful reception. Although the race is organized in Polish, let some of the volunteers know that you are an English speaker and someone will be found to interpret or at least get the pertinent information to you (for example, that the finish line has changed from the officially marked position).  If you are there to volunteer, they’ll find a place for you, taking photos, helping with timing, or guiding runners at sharp curves.

I have run at all the Parkruns in Warsaw.  I have included some quick notes about the courses and links to the location websites (in Polish so best viewed in Chrome where I have it set to automatically translate Polish Websites) and their Facebook pages below.  I do recommend you go to the main Parkrun website which is in English and sign up and print out a free membership barcode – you must have a printed version in order for your run to be counted (I strapped mine to an old Biedronka Gift Card with clear package tape). If you have any questions, shoot them a Facebook Messenger request.

Parkrun Park Pole Mokotowski:

The newest of the Parkrun locations (they just started December 15th), the run begins and ends at the big lake in the center of the park. There is a very enthusiastic group of volunteers at this location and chances are you will see me there on weekends I’m in town since the park is in my backyard. The course is completely flat and volunteers helped direct at tricky curves.


Parkrun Brodno:

Centered in Park Brodnowski, look for the big reflective cube in the center of the park. Some of the friendliest runners in Warsaw, we all had a good laugh after I missed the turn off for the finish line and everybody was yelling at me to come back and finish!


Parkrun Praga:

Based in Park Skaryszewski, this was the first Parkrun in Warsaw and the attendance shows it. Within a short walk from the National Stadium, it seems to be the most accessible for out of towners – there were running tourists each time I went. A very pretty park with lots of gardens and water views, you get a strong whiff of the Wedel Chocolate Factory on days where the wind blows towards the river.


Parkrun Ursynow:

This was the first Parkrun event I attended in Warsaw and by far I had the most help here as an English speaker. Runners went out of their way to make sure that I understood the route and what the Event Director was saying. However, this is my least favorite course, as most of it is run on the sidewalks outside Park Przy Bazantarni, whereas most of the other courses run through the park they are based in. There is a very pretty church in the center of the park and an amazing children’s playground in the trees.


Parkrun Zoliborz:

Park Kepa Potocka is notable for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is the only Parkrun in Warsaw that is a single loop course – all the others include a second loop or more. There is also a very pretty river running through it that was particularly picture worthy frozen over this past Saturday. Although they didn’t have volunteers at every turn, the course is very well marked out with official looking sign posts along the trail.


5 Things I Learned During My First 30 Day Keto Diet



So last month, I did the Keto diet for 30 days, planning on potentially having 4 cheat days to get me through. In the end I lost 7.3 kilos (about 16 lbs.) with only two cheat days and a  few concessions along the way. I’m not saying this is the best diet in the world. I am not saying that this will be a sustainable dietary choice for me.  I chose this diet because I knew that it had the highest chance of helping me to overcome my sugar addiction and reduce my cravings.  The weight loss was truly a bonus compared to taming the raging white sugar stallion bucking and kicking at the cheap wood pallet stall of my will power.

  1. Fill the fridge with good foods, get rid of all the bad foods.  I knew that I needed to have plenty of options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner so my refrigerator was stocked with the vegetables and meats that were on my list so that I could access them at all times. It’s always easier to add more veggies to a meal if they look like they are starting to go bad and the extra meat I threw in the freezer as a back up for the following weeks. My flatmate was gone so I didn’t need to worry about any of her cooking to tempt me (she doesn’t keep secret stashes of chocolate or sugar so that really isn’t a problem most of the time).
  2. Support is key. I posted on Facebook everyday the first couple of days because it was tough and my people came through. When people questioned the efficacy of the diet and if it really was right for me I told them bluntly, I don’t need your opinions, I just need your support.  If you can give that, great. If not STFU. (Ok, those of you who know me, know I would never say it that way, but I sure did express myself clearly albeit more tactfully).  When things got really tough on a physical and emotional level, I said as much and asked for specific things to make me happy and to distract me. Once again, my people came through. People also took the time to let me know that they love me and are always glad that I express myself honestly. Do that.
  3. Cheating on this specific diet really sucks. Really, really SUCKS! There’s always some excuse for not doing a diet – special occasions or holidays, friends or family visiting, mandatory business functions, Taco Tuesday. Knowing this before I started the diet, I planned  four “cheat days” so that I could focus on the diet and not feel guilty for breaking from the path. I also had to deal with emotional triggers because three days after I started the diet I went through a break up. This ended up being a good thing because 2 of the “cheat days” were specifically built in to handle a holiday birthday weekend. With those crossed off, it was just 2 cheat days to reward myself for staying focused. DO NOT DO THIS! I was mentally prepared for the setbacks on the scale and the cravings. I knew that it would force my body to restart the process of switching to Ketosis. I was not prepared for what they call the “Ketosis Flu” that hit the day after my cheat days. I had an abrupt drain of all energy and headaches that imitated migraines that have been described to me. Joints and ligaments were sore and felt over-stretched. There was also a slight depression. The next time I do this I will be shooting for 60 days with no cheat days.
  4. Overeaters Anonymous (OA) doesn’t use the Keto Diet. I have a correction to make. I have been saying that Overeaters Anonymous uses the Keto Diet. Wrong. Sorry about that. OA doesn’t recommend one specific diet because they are very aware that they have people coming to them with a variety of problems and a variety of body issues. They recommend working with your doctor and a dietitian and they offer 6 samples of different dietitian approved plans. The three ladies I know from Maine who are in recovery with OA  lost over 300 lbs combined using Keto dietary plans.
  5. Plan your Exit Strategy as well as your Initial Strategy. My intial plan was to do the 30 days, take off the weekend and then hop back on for another 30 days. Life plans changed and I ended the 30 days in another country, with somebody who has different food needs. Then I had a crazy week of work and travel where other people were in control of my menu.  I then came home late in the day to an empty refrigerator where it was easier to go out and eat comfort food and a lot of it. I should have had a 4 day break which turned into a 10 day break, losing some of the gains I made in the past month. Spend as much time planning your menu for the week after your diet as your very first week so that you are arble to maintain a consistency of good choices.

I’m starting a new dietary plan, going 60 days on the Keto plan without any breaks. Along the way I have a marathon and a bunch of small trips, so I am planning like crazy. I hope these hard won lessons help if you are starting a challenge of your own.  Already done your 30 day challenge? Leave a note with your best tips!

I did not take pictures at the beginning of the process but here are my photos from the end.  We will see how they compare after the next 30 days.

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I’m a Polish Resident!

Hooray! Hooray! Big Brass bands are playing! I had a ticker tape parade on ulica Marszalkowska last week. It finally happened! It finally came through! I am officially a Polish resident!!!

What does that mean? Why is that important, you ask? Firstly, it gives me freedom to roam around Europe, specifically the area designated as the Schengen Area. As an American citizen, we get 90 days in the Schengen Area and then we are supposed to leave for 90 days.  For the most part, many traveling American expatriates ignore this because there was reduced border security between the countries of the zone, but new EU regulations combined with growing concerns in certain countries with immigrants and refugees make spot checks a higher probability. Last year, I was pulled off a train going from Copenhagen, Denmark to Malmo, Sweden by Swedish authorities because one Border Patrol officer couldn’t read all the stamps in my passport.  I had spent time outside of the Schengen Zone but he wasn’t doing the math properly.  No more issues like that. Secondly, this helps me solidify some choices I needed to make about my English teaching business here in Poland. Thirdly, I’ll feel a lot more comfortable signing a long term lease for my living arrangements. Hopefully more room for friends and family to visit in the near future.

I am currently planning to run four marathons here in Europe before the end of the year, starting with the PZU Warsaw Marathon on September 30th. I should have a marathon schedule mapped out by the end of this month.  I also have some opportunities to teach English abroad at some business seminars and immersion programs. Finally, I will start making plans to visit my friends around Europe for weekend jaunts and reunions. I still need to find the time to fly back to the States to visit family and loved ones. Expect to see a lot more photos and hear a lot more stories coming your way very soon.


A Long Shot Around The Globe

Last month, blogger, author, budget travel expert, and online sales guru Nomadic Matt had an amazing contest. He released the third edition of his best selling book “How To Travel The World On $50 A Day” and offered an opportunity to anyone who bought the new book – the chance to travel for a year, receive $50 a day and guidance from him, and have your Round The World Trip come true.  You just needed to write an 500 word essay (and some other minor legalities). Amazing marketing!

I did not win.  I started to get my hopes up when we heard he was reviewing the final top twenty essays.  The idea behind my essay is actually part of my 3-5 year plan, but winning this contest would have sped up the process. I knew this was a long shot. I just felt my chances were a little better than most. I’m sure when I see the essay from a theoretical cancer survivor traveling around the world taking amazing pictures and sending them back to kids dying in the hospital that I will be really impressed and not bitter about losing. At all.

This was actually a great exercise for me. As if I don’t get enough introspection, after I wrote this, I started to question my current trajectory.  If I am so passionate about this idea, what am I doing in Poland wasting time? I really felt lost for a week or so (this happened to coincide with some issues I’ve had here in Warsaw) and not a little discouraged. In the end,  I can be passionate about this project, and still work on other things that enrich my life in many ways. I have gotten a lot accomplished in two months and sometimes I don’t give myself enough credit for that. The new friends and community I find forming around me here in this city at this time makes me feel like I am on the right path and I will explore the larger plan when I am ready to fly.

Here is the essay in full.  Enjoy.

50 Marathons Routes

50 States

50 Weeks

Wait a second. I already did that in 2016. It was an amazing journey filled with deep personal insights. It removed many of the boundaries I had placed around my world – mentally, physically, geographically, economically. I could do it again, but this time better. With the help of Nomadic Matt I could go bigger!

Putting together my original plan I was a lone wolf. At the time, I didn’t even believe in myself, so I didn’t share my plans with anybody and if I did, I certainly didn’t share any details, because people would have locked me up. Now I would have the vast knowledge and resources of the foremost budget expert in the travel community. I have a proven track record so I could garner more sponsors. I am associated with amazing friends, runners, and organizations and they could open doors for me world wide.

50 Marathons

50 Countries

50 Weeks

Wait a second. That seems exceptionally self indulgent, punishingly repetitive, and particularly derivative. No offense to the Star Wars franchise, but there is a lack of creativity in blowing up successively larger and more powerful Death Stars. It’s not enough to just go bigger. I need to go deeper. If there is one thing that I’ve learned is that I am happiest when I am making an impact. My strongest friends and supporters are people who love what I am doing and are incorporating a piece of that into their lives.

The long term plan I designed while on the road is an international race series of Marathons and Half Marathons. I have seen the impact that distance races have on people’s psyche. People who currently have problems walking around the block strengthen their will and resilience when training for marathons and the completion of these Herculean tasks gives them the knowledge they can do anything. During the run, the people they meet from all walks of life inspire, support, and maintain focus on their larger goal. When you add the element of travel, people get fresh perspectives and new ideas. Also to make this ultimately successful, I want the races to be free. After experiencing the success of the free marathon in Millinocket, Maine and seeing the impact that race has on the town as well as the runners, I think the model has merit. When I combine that with the concept behind ParkRun, a nonprofit that organizes free timed 5Ks in 16 different countries, I think there is blueprint for success, not just for a year, but for a lifetime and beyond.

So finally, what a round the world trip would provide is

50 International Marathons and Half Marathons

50,000 + People Impacted

50 Weeks To Begin A Worldwide Phenomenon

I look forward to working with you and bringing this dream to fruition faster than I originally imagined.

Derek Zardus


The Big Move – Warsaw, Poland

What has Derek done now?!?! I did release a video on this and wrote a long heartfelt message on Facebook, but I may have convoluted too much information and confused people. The big news is that I’ve moved to Poland, not just for a couple weeks or months, but for possibly up to three years. Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions.

Why Poland?

Poland is a beautiful country with wonderful people and traditions.  The cost of living here is very low for Europe, so my dollar goes farther. It’s not too hot here, so I shouldn’t melt as I would in many other countries. Poland gives me easy access to European countries in the East and the West. As a member of the EU, living here while starting a business may make other opportunities available in the future. Warsaw, in particular has some additional benefits. A great airport with many low cost carriers to get me all around Europe affordably.  It has lots of green space, parks, forest, trails, and paths for running.  There are a number of communities that I look forward to joining in this city.  There are many helpful expatriates here.  I have a supportive group of friends and acquaintances here as well as one of my best friends who I have known for 27 years. In the uncomfortable position of moving to another country where I don’t know the language, this may be as comfortable as I can get.

What are you going to do in Warsaw?

Two years ago, with a little bit of savings, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to afford traveling around the US.  With some penny pinching and more than a little help from my friends, I saw all fifty states, survived the worst months of a New England winter and traveled to 12 European countries.  Some bills need to be paid.  I will be teaching English to make ends meet and to start saving for future endeavors.  I will finish the book I’ve been writing about my 50/50/50 journey.  I will continue to work on my International Race Series concept but I am now working on another running opportunity as well.

Are you still running Marathons?

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I injured myself in the first European marathon I did in Milan.  I then ran seven more races on that injury.  Even as I was resting and recovering,  it could be argued that I was still running too much. I took some time off from running this summer and have been slowly rebuilding my body. I’m hoping that being in one place will help me get my training regiment back on par. Expect to see an aggressive European Marathon plan in place for 2018.

What’s with settling down in one place?  I thought a rolling stone gathers no moss?!?!

I will still be traveling a lot.  The aforementioned airport here in Warsaw was one of the big draws for me and bus prices are still low around Europe. Considering how much of my heart still lies in the Kennebec Valley, I think of there as home and my Polish move as part of my larger travels.  Expect to see frequent travel updates in the months to come with both personal excursions as well as potential business trips.


I hope this answers the majority of questions.  Something I didn’t cover? Feel free to ask in the comments down below!

The Pope John Paul II Birthday Memorial 13K – Krakow, Poland

“That’s an odd distance -13K,” one of the common comments. “That’s not your normal distance,” people usually say this with a bit of hesitation. I’m not sure if they are referrencing my usual penchant for marathons and half marathons or if they imagine a volunteer running behind the crowd with a machette and hockey mask. The biggest question I get asked is “Why?”. Why this race? Why this distance? Why in Krakow? Trust me, as I walked into registration to the sideway glances and initial hesiation on the part of volunteers to help, I was asking myself the same question.

One of my best friends, my adopted little sister from University, Jen Nagy has been living in Poland for almost 10 years.  As I was planning to spend a significant amount of time in Europe, there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to visit her in a country that has completely engulfed her for a decade. Lets face it – Poland is rarely a place that people put on their Grand European Tour.  What has pulled her focus here? I know she came over to spread her ministry in music, but she has the opportunity to do that in so many parts of the world.  What has been able to hold her attention and fascination for so long? Her first answer is usually the people. That is difficult to understand when we arrive. 

Another oddity to the day was the lateness of the race. We showed up at 2pm for a 3pm race start. I was wearing my usual frippery, colorful sugarskull spandex shorts, bright red and Kennebec Valley Coaching tank, Cerulean Blue knee high compression socks. That along with my weight and larger than life personality set me apart. It’s clear I am an outsider and we seem to be treated as such. Even though Jen speaks a good amount of Polish, answers are short and clipped and lacking in helpfulness as we tried to find registration. Eventually we get to the room and get passed around volunteers even though Jen speaks Polish. When I went to their website it would let me register, however I wasn’t able to pay for my entry online. Fortunately they’re willing to take cash.

The fact of the matter is this is a community event and we are not part of that community. Families are here. There’s a bake sale. There’s a kid area with a bouncy house. Lots of hugs as friends and family connect around the field. Different small clicks of teenagers mesh and separate in an intricate dance. In the hour that we wait there is a kids race and the 5K. There’s lots of cheering and celebration as people cross the finish line.

15 minutes before the start, I start stretching. It’s the middle of the afternoon and we are all gearing up for a race. If I haven’t mentioned this before Europeans for the most part take their races very seriously. Even people who run my speed lineup at the start line like today is THE day. This is the day that they will win. As we get closer to the start line you can feel the tension in the air. However before we know it, it is three minutes past the start time. Confusion appears on everybody’s face. Another three minutes go by and the poor volunteer at the start line is gesticulating the international signal for “Don’t ask me, I just do what they tell me!” Someone runs up and lets everybody know that Start will be delayed another ten minutes. One of the guys who was in my Start Line selfie is kind enough to translate for me. 

I start whistling and singing some of of my warm up tunes. The Hey Sing, Jackson 5’s I Want You Back. People seem to be shifting back in forth to the tunes. All of a sudden, a very official guy in a tie comes up, makes a comment or two and boom we’re off!

We’re only about 60 runners or so, and immediately 50 runners make it clear they came to win. I start off a little faster than normal even though we are on a nice gentle incline until we pass the water tower. Looking out from the apex, I get a little nervous. I am looking at a very steep plunge and some rollicking hills on the road ahead – not rolling hills, but short and steep, forested hills that are much more challenging than I anticipated. It turns me a little sour. As we are all running down this kilometer drop, runners around me are laughing and enjoying themselves. To no one in particular I say, “It’s all fun and games now, but who will be laughing in the 11th kilometer?!?” They must have understood more English than they let on earlier, because everybody got silent. Whoops. Not as funny as I thought, so instead I let off a mad laugh and used the gravity of the hill to push me faster. 

A lot of the neighbors came out to watch the race. They were all ages and most of them gathered around the water stations that were kindly placed every 2 km. For the most part everybody there was pretty quiet and helpful until I started singing. I started singing some old Rock and Motown, and people started clapping along and cheering. After climbing a pretty big hill through some tall trees just after the fourth kilometer, the front runners started to return. The course was mostly an out and back so I was going to see every single one of those 50 people who took off at the start line. So I started cheering for them. Anybody who has run with me knows I like to give each person an individual motivational phrase or complement. Even from the front runners I got smiles and in some cases as we got further back, people were trying to return the favor even if we couldn’t understand a word each other was saying. Certainly, the intent was clear.

The turnaround was up this final hill to an old monastery where three Christian Brothers waited for us in their cassocks and did the wave. I started singing Dona Nobis Pachem and some people started doing the round (like Row Row Row You Boat in Latin) to much laughter and cheering. As I started to head back, I was happy to see I wasn’t last, but there were only a handful of people behind me and we still had to run up all the hills we had coasted down. 

Enter Katarzyna Burdek. Actually, by this point we had run most of the race together, just a little out of sync. She is a mother and a wife. She also has her own business where she crochets the cutest animals. She lives right on the road where we are racing. She definitely saved me the second half of this race. On the way back, we start leap purposefully leap frogging and waiting for each other, pushing each other a little further than we wanted to go, and pulling each other up those long tedious hills. Katarzyna was an absolut delight and as we were running she shared as much as she could could with the English she had. Her kids cheered for us as we went through singing water stations on our way back. water station volunteers remembembered me and although I started off singing to them, some people at the stations started singing Polish songs back to me (Probably Disco Polo, but we won’t hold that against them). This was a big turn around from the way the race day had begun!

As we approached the Finish Line, there was a group of faster runners waiting before the final lap, cheering me on just as I was running out of energy. “Go, Go, Go”! Later the guy who came in third found me to thank me. He was in fourth place when I saw him on the course and cheered him on and whatever I said to him spurred him on to overtake the guy in third, so he got some of his friends to wait and return the favor! 

Crossing the finish line didn’t feel so lonely now. Not only was my friend Jen all smiles and hooting and hollering, but I also had my new running wife to take pictures with (courtesy of her nice husband) and other fellow runners offering thanks and congratulations.  I truly love my running community and the more that I run and interact with runners all over the world, the more I think maybe we should have our world leaders attempt diplomacy over the occasional 5 or 10k. Of course I got my 13k PR of 1:29:51, but I was much more excited by all my new Polish running friends. 

Bucharest Half Marathon – Bucharest, Romania. 

I may have found my people. From the very beginning of the Bucharest Half Marathon 2017 there was an incredible amount of hooting, hollering, laughter, rebel yelling, shenanigans, and cat calling, it was difficult not to be in a good mood. Same as in Skopje, I had a two mile walk to the start line from my host family.  It was a glorious morning though it promised to be a hot day. 

Bucharest was a great town for me. I started off the week staying at the Podstel Hostel and giving a talk about my travels around the US last year running marathons. The three owners of Podstel are young entrepreneurs who have decided to build a hostel empire after discovering all the best practices from places they’ve stayed while traveling all over the world for 4 years. They had culled together a great group who were incredibly attentive, asking terrific questions and being wonderfully supportive. At the hostel, I met the world’s most interesting man David Stokes (suck it Dos Equis) who was traveling from Britain to wherever via motor bike. We hit it off and I may have committed to a cross country tour of India on motorbike. 

This was all a great appetizer to the main course of the half marathon. The expo was small but easily navigatable, with free Radler to cool you off on an oppressively hot day. At packet pick up and during the beginning of the race, I was joined by a lovely young lady who I had met for coffee early in the week. When I had told her I was running the half, she immediatly said she was going to sign up with me the next day, even though she hadn’t been training. Impressive. We ended up running much of the race together. 

The route was a pretty good course. I heard many participants talk about how glad they were that they took the hill out by the university. Unfortunately, this made the course a little more boring with a second loop around the intial 6K towards the end. I am against the over homogenization of race courses. I may complain about hills, but it was really only one hill and I’m disappointed at a scenic net loss and a boring repetition. It was also a little dangerous when we were running on the unpaved black top of unfinshish road repair around miles 6 and 7. This was counter balanced by starting at the Parliment building, running up the Grand boulevards, along the beautiful river, and around the great big stadium.  There were many pretty buildings and scenic landmarks along the route. 

What really made the race amazing were the people. Romanians in general were more boisterous in the race corrals than any previous race in Europe. In many of the cities I’ve run, there was a focus and determination to run the best race, even if they were lining up towards the back or with a slower corral. In the starting gate in front of the Romanian Parliment, friends made fun of other friends, yelled full conversations across the breadth of the crowd, sang songs of joy and vigor. They were singing in Romanian, so the words might have been a dirge, but the intent was clearly a battle cry.  Throughout the first few miles after the gun went off, people continued to jovially harangue neighbors, greet friends on the route as they were passed or ran by, and generally made a racket of joyous proportions. The city also has many English speakers, so although I was surrounded by conversations in Romanian, when I would start speaking in English (in general, random comments to no one in particular, as I often do) I was answered in my own language and it seemed the group would then continue in English as a way of inviting me to participate! My favorite moment came when the 2:15 pacers caught up aroun Mile 8 singing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Road”, all three verses, in Romanian! Of course I joined in singing in English but I can tell you this was one of my favorite moments of any Half Marathon I ever ran. I will also say that volunteers and the crowds who gathered to support the race were very energetic and vocal when cheering us on. 

I loved my experience at the Bucharest Half Marathon and I am looking forward to returning so I can run a full marathon around this beautiful and supportive city. 

Marathon Missteps – Recalculating…

“Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.” – Vince Lombardi 

“All I do is win, win, win, no matter what” – D-J Khalid

“What do you do when things go sideways?” I remember being asked this question last year, around this time, by a lovely young lady running her first marathon and gritting her teeth from the pain of a twisted ankle. I was shuffling along beside her with somewhat muted pain from the beginning pangs of a kidney stone. My answer at the time, was suck it up, readjust, do what you need to do to move forward without doing damage.  I had hoped for a PR that day. Instead, I struggled just to make a mediocre performance.  I found myself asking this same question last week during the Skopje Marathon when things were not going my way.   I realized, the answer was not so simple and some days it takes a roundabout route to get where we need to go. This year, I have not been having as much success with the marathon and I need to do some real reassessment. 

Quite frankly, I hate talking about failure. Part of me believes we don’t truly fail until we’re dead, but the fact of the matter is that I have a ton of failures on my resume and talking about one seems to dredge up whiffs of former crapfests. Most of the time I am able to muddle through and keep moving forward and friends always seem amazed at how I do that. I thought I would try to break this down as best I could. To synopsize, I will utilize my recent experience in Macedonia with the 5 Stages of Dealing with Death as laid out by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. I have found that those 5 stages seem to cover the gambit of emotions and recovery. 

Stage 1 – Denial 

The day started much nicer than expected. The forecast had said rain but the sun was bright and powerful as I headed out the door for the start line. I decided to walk the 3 kilometers to the start line to limber up and stretch the legs. I could have taken a taxi, they were dirt cheap in Skopj (I would have gotten change back from a Euro on that fare). Even then things weren’t quite right. Although it was mostly downhill to the start line, there were some occasional hills and stairs when my knees took turns aching. It was also then I noticed that despite the lack of clouds, it was extremely humid even though it was still early in the morning. I’d dismissed these early warning signs. The whole reason I’d walked was to iron out such little kinks. The race would be better.  
At the start line, I couldn’t find running friends from Serbia or Macedonia I had made while running the previous week in Dubrovnik, but I made some new acquaintances at the start line, a Norwegian and a young man teaching English in Macedonia from Beloit, Wisconsin. He couldn’t believe I had been to his home town. I lined up at the start and expected to take off. Except I didn’t. 

I’m never a huge fan of the first three miles of a marathon, but I do usually have a lot of energy. Most days I need to hold myself back. Not this day. From the start line by the Alexander the Great statue, over the first beautiful bridge, buy all the fancy new government buildings, over the budge of lions, I was straining to move my legs. There was a part of me that began questioning if I was above a certain altitude (I wasn’t). I just convinced myself it was a little boredom at the beginning of the race and that my legs would continue to warm to the task. I was definitely in denial. 

Stage 2 – Anger

In the stages of death, anger usually manifests outwardly. For me and failure, it seems to attack internally. I get angry at myself. Why did I sign up for the marathon? I only ran twice this week. I should have trained a little more, done a little more speed work. Why must I push myself to do these races one after another? To a certain extent, I hope that the anger might carry me a little further along. I’ve run on anger before and it feels powerful and strong and vicious and comes with its own spikes in adrenaline and pheromones. Unfortunately anger is like a white sugar spike, good for a quick hit but poor for sustaining a continued power source. By its nature, anger at oneself is self defeating. At a certain point you are going to hear what you are saying to yourself and feel resentful (like anger but not nearly as powerful) or depressed, another stage that really isn’t helpful at this point. Unfortunately, I am still only around mile 5 or 6. For me, the anger quite naturally leads to…

Stage 3 – Bargaining

Quite frankly, sometimes this works. A good bargain, a little slight of hand, some smoke and mirrors, all of a sudden, you’re distracted long enough they somehow sneak an elephant on the stage. It worked for me in Milan. Unfortunately, this starts way too early in Skopje. I feel a little bit better on the first out and back in the city. I always get a little inspiration from the people in front of me and it picks up my spirits to cheer for those who are behind me. So with this infusion of energy, I start investing in some heavy duty bargaining. Another mile and I get my runners high and I’ll feel alright, I just need to find and angel and run with them for a little while, get back in stride, if I fall back on my training, start nailing my intervals, my body will just fall in line with old habits. It could have worked. But unfortunately, each little ploy had it’s tell. I couldn’t seem to consistently run with anybody. The runner’s high really never came (it did, but too little, too late).  Even intervals failed me, as even my shortest interval seemed to last forever. As each of these games came to an end, I would get little hits of frustration and anger, but when I felt the tip of my injured toe rip again and start feeling the sticky slick feel of blood in my shoe, I moved it the next category. 

Stage 4 – Fear
What if I’m doing real damage to my foot? What if it keeps me from running? What kind of example am I setting to my friends?  There are guys out here who are running without a foot and I can’t handle a cut on my toe?!? I’m such a loser! Ok, fear seems to lead to a little depression and I’m usually well protected from wallowing in this too much mentally, but my body has a mind of its own. I start to slow down. My feet lose their bounce. It seems like forever to make that slightest forward movement. Between, miles 7-9, I start running for a little while with a young American who is over in Macedonia with the Peace Corp. it’s his first long distance race. He is carrying his broken race bag on his back, because there was no bag drop off at this marathon. He looks a little ragged around the edges but he’s got that awesome look of someone who just now is realizing he is even stronger than he thought. He perked me up a little bit and I dodged a little bit back into bargaining territory (I can keep up with this kid. I can finish the race) but of course his major was psychology and so my defeatist attitude was leaking out of my cautiously constructed Trojan Horse, and he called me on my shit. Yeah, well, back into the depression, because of course, he’s twenty two so he gets his second wind, and I start bouncing through these three middle stages like a pinball at the top of the machine. 

Stage 5 – Acceptance

At a certain point, time passing make the acceptance a little easier. The race has a 5:30 time limit and no matter how you slice the minutes, there comes a time to recognize that if you are not hitting specific time marks, you are not finishing in that time frame. A constant training phase that I have heard from the best of the best is that of you are not winning, you are learning. In its own way, that’s is a win, right? It still sucks, but mentally you are a little stronger and a little more wise. I could have finished the marathon, but I had nothing to prove that day to myself or anyone else. I have races to run in the next couple weeks and beating myself up mentally or physically will not help me meet my goals in those races. The goal is lifetime beautiful running and there were a few beautiful moments on the course that day. I did get a couple weak runner highs late in the game.  I spent the last three miles singing through the pain and not only did I get cheers from the local spectators,  I had a young gentleman slow down just to tell me how much he appreciated my positive energy and my singing, that it had helped him get over his hump and finish strong (he then took off). This is really how I love to run, so of course that’s a win. I had the pleasure of talking to another member of the Peace Corp who was dealing with a bad knee and watching her give her all in that last mile was pretty inspiring. As I came down the final stretch of the race towards the finish line through the little Macedonian L’Arch De Triumph, I saw some of my Serbian friends from the race in Dubrovnik cheering me on. As the sky opened up and started to rain, I had no problem making the choice to finish the race at the half marathon point. I got to see the city of Skopje on my feet, I had made some new friends, and I had kept moving forward towards that goal of lifetime running. Onward and upward. 

What are your thoughts? Is this just training plan for failure or healthy acceptance of the cards as dealt that day? I want to know your real thoughts. 

Du Motion Runners’ Days – Dubrovnik, Croatia

What do you look for in a running vacation? Great weather to run an optimal race? A beatiful course full of inspiring scenery and potentially epic photos? Great tour opportunities when you aren’t running or training? Helpful staff and volunteers trying to make this your best race of the year? The Dubrovnik Half Marathon, one of the races of the Du Motion Runners’ Days has all this and more.  

The hospitality began at the expo, where tons of volunteers made themselves available to answer questions, pour you a welcome espresso or beer, take your photograph for social media or show you some of the cool race swag you could buy, like specially designed local running flats with an outline of the old city. The Expo was small but thospitality was large, with each of the 3 or 4 vendors eager to not only sell you their wares, but also share their city with you with local tips and favorite places.

The best race swag I have ever received at any race is the Du Motion Runner’s Badge. This gives you 

  • Free entrance to the City Walls ($20 Value)
  • Free Access to Public Transportation
  • Free Entrance to Dubrovnik Museums
  • Partner Discounts

Essentially, if you are coming to run their race, Dubrovnik rolls out the red carpet and gives you the essentials to explore and enjoy their city. All for the same price you would pay to run the race. Other race directors take note – this is the new gold standard in Race/Tourism. Throw the Gauntlet down to your local tourist board. 

Of course, as soon as I got the badge I went and walked the walls. The walls are just shy of 2 kilometers of stairs, uneven stones, steep stair cases and epically medevial views of one of the most romantic cities in the world. One of the Highlights of the weekend is the Race The Wall event. The race is capped at 100 runners and the wall and main street become a 2.5 kilometer crazy race track. I volunteered at the race and it was pouring rain. I struggled on the wall just walking it, I can’t imagine running it, in the rain, trying to place a competitive time, but it certainly was thrilling. 

If you arrive early, there are plenty of things to do. The museums are amazing with phenomenal history pieces and artwork through the centuries. You can do some hill training on any street in the city, but challenge yourself to run to the top of the mountain Srđ. There is a great zig zag trail to get the top and it’s one of the best views of the city. Lokrum Island is also another must. There is a monastery and a small salt lake where you are as buoyant as the Dead Sea. With terrific trails for hiking or running and beautiful views of the Adriatic. 

Race morning felt cool for such a sunshiny day. Tons of participants and specatators flooded the Stradun, the main street old town Dubrovnik. It was a little confusing which direction the race was starting, with 5Kers and Half Marathoners muddling the start, but there was a contingent of international Race Directors volunteering at the event, so everybody was corralled pretty quickly after some initial confusion. Something I realized at this race was that I had not heard any marathon start the race with their national anthem since I had been in Europe. After the starting gun, we were off to a slightly slower start than normal for a couple reasons. 1. Tight quarters and the start of the race leads us into a narrower alley and arch, 2. Slight uphill canter 3. Slippery marble cobblestones underfoot. However, it is magical running that street and over the eastern gate and drawbridge to start the race. 

After that you turn the corner and the real work begins. The challenge of this out and back race course is the hill you climb and race down at the beginning will be waiting for you when you are good and tired at mile 11.5.  At the beginning, you have an extra half mile as you climb along the side of the city wall heading to the tower that is used as the Red Keep in the HBO “Game of Thrones” series. A small reprieve as you turn the corner and pass the local bus hub, but then you have 3/4 of mile to finish climbing up that hill. There are spectacular views of the ocean when you get to the top! You have about two hundred meters of flattop before you plunge down the other side to the main port of Dubrovnik. It’s very steep and fortunately my training for last year’s downhill races helped me pick up the pace without going crazy or hurting myself picking up and extra minute or two. The next four miles runs you under the modern and striking Franjo Tudjman Bridge along the harbor and to the other side of the ACI Marina Dubrovnik. I was a little concerned about the sun exposure during this part of the run, but the cliffs provided a nice bit of shade for all but the mile and a half approaching and leaving the turn around. One way back the sun hit hard once we entered the port area leading up to the final big hill. I spent some time trading on that hill earlier in the week so I knew it’s angle and where the rest spots were, but it is so much tougher after 11 miles! However once you get to the top, it all downhill to the finish line, with a triumphant return to the city through the eastern gate and right up the Stradun with runners and spectators roaring as you enter the final stretch (echoed and magnified by the great stone buildings). 

This was a great race for me. Beautiful and challenging, this was the first race I had run in Europe where all the volunteers at fueling stations were enthusiastic and energetic, young and old alike. There was also a good amount of cheering from runner towards runners on the out and back. The was a large group of 200 from the Belgrade Urban Running Team from Serbia, who were supportive both of their own team and other runners on the course – I know a bunch of them kept me strong and focused from mile 4 to mile 8, just in time for me to be inspired by some gals from the Southern United States who played a little leap frog with me. We started talking about that final hill and I said “You’re looking strong! Stick to your plan and I’m sure you kick some hill!” They all laughed because I thought they had a plan, and the sped off to conquer the hill and cheer me at the finish. This race also had two of my favorite things – free photos and a Race Director who takes the time to shake hands, high five, or hug every runner who crossed the finish line. I had met Alen Boskovik earlier in the week end as I was volunteering at expo and his enthusiasm and dedication shine through with every interaction between him and the runners and his staff. This is an amazing race that I would recommend to any runner headed to Europe.