Regular contributor Hana Clitherow has sent us the latest update in her year-long project to run thirteen half marathons in 2015. This time she reports from the capital of Hungary, where she took part in the Budapest Spring Half Marathon. Looks like a beautiful place to run a fast half!
I only started running back in 2010 and since that time I seemed to have completed most of the Cornish GP races several times over, so last year I decided it was time to try out some new ones to keep this old croc interested. This has taken me out of county to exotic places such as Droitwich Spa in the Midlands and Hatherleigh in Devon but I also became an international runner. Doesn’t that sound grand and important? What it really means is that I flew out of the GB and ran a race in another country so that I could justify a long weekend away or two. So you see running does have many advantages other than allowing you to eat what you want, reducing work related stress levels and enjoying the countryside.
So 2015 is the year that Julie (my great friend and the person responsible for my running addiction) and I decide to enter the Budapest Spring Half Marathon. Last year we ran the Prague Half and took our husbands with us, but this time we decide we have too much to talk about. There are weddings, holidays, children, and caring of elderly relatives to catch up on and the odd bit of gossip too. Our poor husbands would just get so bored which means the best thing for their health and sanity is to leave them at home with a supply of freezer meals.
Race entered, flights booked, hotel booked, airport parking and transfers booked all by the power of the internet and this gives us 5 nights in Budapest for just under £450 each. A bargain when compared to what it would cost to stay in London for the same amount of time.
Thursday 16th April, departure day arrives. My suitcase has been packed and re packed with various assortments of clothes, then weighed and re weighed at least a dozen times to make sure it is under the 15kg allowance I have paid for. We are flying with Ryanair so any excuse to inflict a financial penalty upon me for failing to comply with the weight restrictions would cost me dear. This always annoys me, as I often find myself stood next to someone twice my weight and they don’t get charged for being too heavy! ‘Husband who plays Golf’ is at work and unable to get away to bid me farewell, so there is no waving of bunting or wiping of tears as Julie and I leave a cool and grey Truro on our drive to the airport.
The drive to Bristol is uneventful, only broken by a coffee stop at Taunton Dean Services. There is no need for the radio to be on as I don’t think we have drawn breath since we first set off……..just so much to chat about! Parking is easy in the Silver Zone parking area and before we know it, we are stood in the departure area watching a succession of male groups arrive and head off to the departure lounge. Time to be concerned I think…
Large groups of males in matching T-Shirts with one of the party dressed as a baby in nappies can only mean one thing………………….A STAG weekend. Why do people do this? In Prague I saw one poor/stupid male walking around dressed as a penis and what a dick he looked, shuffling around in a nylon outfit with spherical objects jiggling at his feet. Julie and I can only sit and watch as several of these groups walk by wondering if we could end up surrounded by these males on our flight out to Budapest. Thankfully as Ryanair passengers aren’t able to check in yet they appear to be heading for a different destination, Malaga well that is what is printed on the rear of 8 red tops. Phew my sanity is safe for a while longer.
Our flight is on time, the luggage hasn’t disappeared off on a holiday of its own and as Ryanair is a ‘no frills’ airline they succeed in ticking the ‘no frills’ box scoring a massive 10 out of 10.
Budapest airport is easy to navigate and after the border guard studied my passport for a tad longer than is comfortable both Julie and I search the arrivals hall for George our hotel transfer driver. We were going to get the airline bus, but thought better of it at 11:30 at night and for 30 Euros the 30 minute taxi ride is a very good option. George is a typical Eastern European driver with Greek tendencies, lots of acceleration and hard braking. It’s when he takes his eyes off the road to check his emails that my heart beats faster. We drive through the outskirts of the city and it looks tired and covered in Graffiti then all of a sudden we cross the Danube, shoot down a slip road and hurtle at breakneck speed along the riverside with views across to the magnificent Parliament building. I have one hand on the door handle ready for a quick exit as if George makes a mistake, there isn’t much between us and the fast flowing river.
We’ve chosen a hotel that appears to be a short walk from the race start line on Margaret Island (or so Google Maps says) which comes with breakfast included and doesn’t appear to have bad reviews on Trip Advisor. Hotel Regnum Residence also falls within a reasonable budget and is on the “Buda” side of the city where the Castle is situated on top of the hill. We booked a twin room and find ourselves with a small suite, one large double for Julie and a double bed settee in the lounge dining room for me. We have a separate bathroom and toilet and complimentary tea (fruit or Earl Grey) and coffee plus mineral water in the fridge. We are well sorted seeing as it’s about £35 each per night.
We spend the next two days walking miles around the city in glorious weather averaging about 13 miles each day, sampling local cuisine and of course the local wine. Wine O’Clock arrives early in this country but we manage to make it just past 4pm before we moved off the coffee and onto the pink stuff. If you are the sort of runner than needs to Carbo load before a race you will have your needs met here. In fact there is so much good inexpensive food and drink you could never ever starve or dehydrate. A small glass of local wine is about £1 a glass, 500ml bottle of water 25p and coffee about £1. Small portions don’t appear to be an option on the food front and again a large bowl of pasta was somewhere between £3.50 and £5.00. The main problem is that their currency, the Hungarian Forint or HUF as it is known comes in the thousands so when you first see the prices you do that involuntary gulp then once the fingers and toes are activated and rough calculations are made you realise you’ve had a bargain.
Saturday is race number pick up day so after a leisurely breakfast we make the 30 minute walk out onto Margaret Island which sits in the middle of the Danube and does not involve the need to take a boat or swimming costume to get onto it. One of the many bridges crossing the river ‘Margaret Bridge’ has an arm that comes off it and goes straight onto this green parkland island with cycle paths, running tracks and a hotel with a health spa. The collection point is by the large water tower and we are given our race numbers 6633 and 6632 and a Technical T. I’m a bit concerned as my race number is 6633 almost the sign of the devil. 66 then if you add 3+3 you get the third 6 ……is this a sign? Should I be worried?
Julie and I check out the location of the toilets and find that the ladies have use of the toilets within the water tower building and they are of a good standard. As they are open for use we try them out, as if you use public toilets in this city there is usually a male or female attendant at the door and you are charged anything from 100 or 200 HUF (25/50p) for their use. Outside there are plenty of portable toilets of the standard green colour, so I think we should be OK on race day.
We spend the rest of Saturday sightseeing then find a Traditional Hungarian Restaurant close to the Castle in which to Carbo Load. I opt for the Hungarian Beef in red wine with dumplings and Julie has Chicken in Paprika with spaghetti. Our digestion is assisted with a large glass of red for me and pink for Julie, and then we indulge in some comforting calorie laden puddings all in the name of race fuelling. Sour cherry strudel with cream, oh and it’s absolutely marvellous and just what this old croc needs to keep her going, especially as I have been lacking my usual daily chocolate fix.
Race day arrives with my Alarm clock sounding at 6:30 am. I look out the window and the sky is bright blue, the sun is shining and there are no clouds to be seen. I’d packed two pots of instant porridge in my suitcase for my breakfast as I know this will get me around the Half Marathon and the hotel doesn’t serve breakfast till 7:30 which is far too late for my digestive system when the race starts at 9am.
With breakfast consumed, race kit put on (shorts, long sleeved T and TRC racing vest) Julie and I take the 30 minute walk out onto Margaret Island. We use the facilities straight away as there is no queue, but there is also NO TOILET PAPER. Thankfully I usually have some emergency paper tissues in my race bag and today they save the day.
Now it’s time to shed the long sleeve T and wear a short sleeve one under my TRC vest instead as the air temperature is warming up. I’m not quite ready this early in the year to have loose tops flapping about with the chance that bare flesh may be exposed to the world and cold blasts of air might sneak up and under the top. In August maybe, but April in Budapest……definitely NO.
With bags dropped off at the baggage tent we head off to the starting area. Julie and I are in the Yellow zone, the zone for runners with finishing times of between 1:45 and 1:55. I think there are 3 Zones ahead of us and 2 behind us and they are all full. Many of the runners have the race memento Technical T on and there are some Club shirts as well in the crowd but I can only spy one other Brit in the runners around us and he is too far away to speak to. Behind me I have a group of what sounds like Italians in blue team shirts and one is sporting a curly wig but the predominant language to be heard is Hungarian. Sadly there will be no race ‘Tarting’ for me today as I don’t speak the lingo plus I’m not sure they would tolerate this Old Croc and her usual antics.
One thing that I notice whilst up close and personal to so many males is that they all smell very clean. Clean as in no body odour of the unpleasant kind. When I have been huddled up so close, to so many runners at larger races at previous events, there has always been an underlying aroma of sweaty armpits. Now I would expect this at the end of a race, but not at the start. 10 out of 10 Budapest.
Announcements are made over the tannoy, a camera on one of those remote controlled spy helicopter thingies buzzes overhead as does a huge advertising ball which the runners around me are having to fend off. The race begins, Julie and I bid each other good luck and 7 minutes later we cross the start line. This isn’t a problem time wise as we have chip timing but the road ahead is congested and I’m going to have to activate my specialised weaving, dodging and hopefully not diving skills.
The route takes us slowly along a path off Margaret Island and up a slight slope onto Arpad Bridge where we turn right and head for the Pest side of the city, which is the flat side. In fact when stood high on the hill on the Buda side of the city, Pest is flat for as far as the eye can see. I’m in a sea of runners and progress is slow. I’m weaving in and out, left and right, dodging elbows when one very tall gent raises his arms out straight either side of him in a scarecrow pose and just misses giving me a black eye. This is one holiday souvenir I really don’t want to take home with me. He then wiggles his hands around in small circles and returns to normal running arms putting them back down by his side. Somehow I managed to sneak under his left arm and avoided any injuries….phew!
Once off the Arpad Bridge we turn right again, keeping the river to our right and run along Nepfurdo then Carl Lutz. We’ve passed one live band playing for our entertainment and the first water station arrives at 4.5km just after Margaret Bridge. The surface is tarmac and it feels very unforgiving. The air temperature is perfect, cool but not cold, but warm enough to feel sweat already pooling at the bottom of my neck. I check my Garmin and although I’m still stuck in a crowd of runners I’ve picked up some speed. To be honest I’m not expecting any great results today but my legs, even after all the walking Julie and I have done the last couple of days, feel remarkably good.
I run through the middle of the first water station, where cups are strewn all over the ground. I perform a ballet style tippy toe running style and manage to not slip or trip over anything or anyone.
Soon we bear left then right which takes us behind the magnificent Parliament building which is the second largest in Europe. We go left again and start a there and back loop, where for anyone wanting to cheat this was their golden opportunity. All that divided the faster runners from the slower ones was a piece of thin plastic tape. Let’s hope honesty prevailed. As I start my loop back I try to spot Julie in the runners heading towards me on the opposite side of the tape but I’m having difficulty as everyone on the opposite side appears to be wearing blue tops. Then suddenly amongst the throng I spot her and call out her name. Julie spots me and onward we both go.
After a few lefts and rights we pass drink station No 2 where this time they have water, Isotonic drinks, bananas (already peeled for you) and some white tablets which on the race program are described as Glucose. I decline all and follow the race route back to the water’s edge and across the famous Chain Bridge, the bridge that features on all the post cards of Budapest.
We now have the river on our left and we are on the Buda side of the city. This is the side with the beautiful old town on the top of the hill where the Presidents Palace is situated and St Matthias Church which has a most colourful roof and demands to be photographed in all lights. We run below Gellert Hill which we climbed on our first day in the city and took in the great vistas over the Danube and beyond. At the base of this hill and next to road we are running along is the Gellert Spa, one of many of the hot baths available to the public to use. I try to soak up all the views and not trip over any kerbs or tram lines.
The route now bears left across Szabadsag Bridge turning right along another short out and back section close to the fabulous indoor market where yesterday Julie and I indulged in some late lunch and prerace hydration of the pink kind. I mean wine is cheaper in Budapest than mineral water in the UK, so it was a no brainer!
From the 12k point it is a straight route along the river’s edge all the way back to Arpad Bridge and Margaret Island. We pass by bands and sound systems playing music which I keep wanting to sing along to, but I’m actually running too fast to do this…..yes really! I flail my left hand around in the nearest thing I can do to dancing to the great uplifting sounds that are blasting out. I must look as if I have an involuntary Tic, but hey who cares, there is no one in the supporting crowds who knows me and I’m actually having fun. I even try a half smile at someone who appears to be taking official photographs. As I am clenching my security hanky in my right hand as normal and my grey hair is scrapped back off my “Old Croc’s” face, the resulting photo is usually not a very good one. Maybe I should race in a sports balaclava?
We run pass the Parliament building at 16k with the 4th water, banana, glucose and Isotonic drink station also at this point. I run through the middle and as usual I decline any sustenance. I’m now getting really good at the tippy toes, dodge the plastic cup routine and head off towards the 18k point and our first downhill. We run down the slope we ran up when exiting Margaret Island at the start of the race. I can hear cheering crowds at the finish line, but the race is cruel, we still have 3k to run taking us parallel to the finish line and beyond.
[pullquote-right]I start to wonder if I can match my PB at Exeter earlier this year then to my shock I realise that if I just push a little harder I could even beat it.[/pullquote-right]Dare I look at my Garmin? I’ve glanced at my pace from time to time and noticed that it has read a pace of under 8 min miles quite a lot of the time. I start to wonder if I can match my PB at Exeter earlier this year then to my shock I realise that if I just push a little harder I could even beat it. So with teeth clenched (this habit of mine makes my gold crowns fall out and one did just that the day before this race) I dig deep and try to pick up some speed. The finishing area is within my sights, my watch is still showing a time under 1:44 and with huge satisfaction I cross the line with my Garmin showing 1:43:32. I’m elated, over the moon as when I cracked 1:46 two years ago I thought anything quicker was beyond my wildest dreams, I am well chuffed!
So race completed time to collect my bag from the baggage drop off tent and wait for Julie at our designated meeting point. OMG thank god it’s a sunny day and not raining or freezing cold, because I join a crush of runners all trying to collect their bags and chaos rules. I remain in this crush for 45 minutes 5 people deep away from my bag. Everyone takes their race numbers off and holds them in the air above their heads so I decide to do the same. I thought I was tall until I joined this mass; everyone around me is statuesque apart from Alfonso, a very irritating short Italian guy of about 55-60yrs who is pushing his way under everyone’s arms. I give him one of my “don’t mess with me stares” he just shrugs this off and keep squirming and squeezing through. Patience amongst the waiting crowd is wearing thin and a few runners decide to breach the wall of tables and raid the baggage area. I’ve moved all of one person’s depth closer to the front of this crowd and I can even see my bag hanging on a peg. At least being so up close and personal to so many people, I’m not actually getting cold. A male ahead of me breaches the tables and grabs what must be his bag, I decide to be assertive and shout at him that he’s next to my bag. He points to it, I confirm my race number and hallelujah my bag is finally in my hands. Time to adopt Alfonso’s adept moves and barge through the crowd to escape the crush. God knows how the other 4 or 5 thousand runners still crossing the line are going to fare?
How will I ever find Julie? As if by magic I look to my right and I can see a TRC race vest in the crowd. I screech at the top of my voice and she recognises my dulcet tones. Time to find a space somewhere pile some layer on top of my sweat soaked body and find somewhere for a hot mug of coffee. My face is salt encrusted, my hair is still scraped back in an Essex face lift look and I must look a mess, but do I care?
A small café near to our hotel is located and two large mugs of coffee each later at a modest cost of under £4 in total we are ready for almost anything……..well a shower would be good.
So all in all:
The race HQ: It was adequate for race number pick up day but the baggage drop/pickup on race day was a disaster zone where anarchy broke out.
The toilets: They were fine as runners started to arrive but any last minute visitations to them involved long slow moving queues.
Goodie bag: White Technical T given to you before the race then after completion you were presented with a medal and a bag containing a bottle of lemon tea, a bottle of water, a couple cereal bars an apple and a chocolate rum truffle type bar.
The route: It was scenic with us being able to take in views across the Danube to both sides of Budapest. You weren’t herded out into dull industrial areas but ran pass historic buildings.
Water stations: they were well manned and provided you with all you really required.
Would I run this race again? I don’t think so but only because I have done most of the sightseeing in Budapest. I would though recommend others go and try it, as it makes a good value long weekend with a run included.
If you would like to read Hana’s earlier Half Marathon posts, you can find them here:
5/13 Tavy 13
4/13 Falmouth Half
3/13 Bideford Half
1/13 Exeter Trails Half