Glenn and I recently found ourselves in Croatia.
“I got us all signed up” Glenn said when I got home from work one day. “For what?” I asked. “For that half-marathon in Dubrovnik! You said you wanted to do it. Right?” Ahh, yet another miscommunication that results in an adventure!
Last October we ran in the Portland Half-Marathon. The Portland event staff were helping folks in Croatia plan the first ever Dubrovnik International Half-Marathon and were offering reduced entry fees if you did both events. In jest I made a comment to Glenn that we should do it. Apparently, he took me seriously.
We had no other big trips planned…so off to Croatia we went.
Dubrovnik is an ancient Croatian city on the Dalmatian Coast, right across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. Tourists from all over the world go there to see the one of the best-preserved medieval walled cities in the world. The “old town” of Dubrovnik is nestled inside ancient protective walls and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a side note, it also serves as the backdrop to many of the King’s Landing scenes in Game of Thrones.
It was a magical place, and since this was our first international racing event we learned several important things.
1. Beware the pre-race events and activities.
We arrived two days before the race. We spent the first day touring around the old town – walking over 12 miles on cobblestones streets and up steep stairs and alleyways.
We spent the second day participating in a 2k fun run atop the city’s walls. This “fun run” turned out to be more of a hellacious ancient stair-master event that finished off the fatigue in our legs from the previous day’s sightseeing. By the end of the event we were absolutely exhausted.
It was hot and exhausting, but I would totally do it again! Normally the top of the city’s walls are crawling with tourists. They closed the walls down for this event so we were able to experience the walls by ourselves which made for a once in a lifetime experience.
2. Croatia is very sunny and hot, especially compared to the Pacific Northwest.
This is further intensified by the blinding glare from the polished marble streets and buildings. The race didn’t start until 10 in the morning, which meant we ended up finishing the race in the searing noonday heat. Fearing heat exhaustion we focused on slowing our pace, listening to our bodies (walking when we began to feel overheated) and drinking tons of water throughout the race (stopping at all of the aid stations, refilling our water bottles regularly). It wasn’t pretty (I was red faced and pouring sweat), but we crossed the finish line without succumbing to heat exhaustion!
3. Destination races attract really, really, really athletic and competitive people from all over the world.
We met people from many different countries – Australia, Germany, Britain and several other Portlanders as well. One of our favorite characters was a Russian man that encouraged us to keep running by screaming “No retreat, no surrender” at the top of his lungs as he passed us. Hobby runners, such as Glenn and myself, were definitely in the minority. As such, there was great camaraderie at the back of the pack among all of the stragglers. We spent several miles chatting with a nice fellow from Manchester who was recovering from an injury and wanted to run with Glenn and I because we “looked like we were having bloody fun.”
4. Destination races are hard, especially when you are suffering from jet lag.
We were half-way around the world in a drastically different time zone where day was night and night was day. My body kept saying, “Umm, hello. Why, exactly, are we running at one in the morning?” Many of the competitive runners arrived in Dubrovnik much earlier than we did to give their bodies time to acclimate. It was amazing how much the disruption in my circadian rhythm impacted my running experience.
5. Finishing a hard race by running over the drawbridge and through the arched gates of a medieval city is wicked cool.
However, conquering huge hills at the very start and end of a half-marathon might just kill you before you get there.
Although it was a really hot and difficult run, and we were nearly the last ones across the finish line, I would absolutely try an international half-marathon again! It was so much fun to meet people from all over the world and to explore a new place as something more than just another tourist.
I couldn’t help thinking back to that very first 5k event I ever walked…I certainly never would have imagined I’d one day be running in a half-marathon in another country!
We stayed in Croatia for another ~10 days exploring much of the countryside hiking, biking and kayaking…and eating and lounging on the beach!