Dubrovnik International Half-Marathon

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.

IMG_7092

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.

IMG_7070

The old town of Dubrovnik surrounded by ancient fortification walls.

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.

20150509-10_34_43-IMG_3807

Trying not to fall down the uneven stairs – I think going down was harder than going up.

20150509-10_29_00-DSC_5021

Couldn’t beat the view from atop the wall.

20150509-10_33_20-IMG_3798

20150509-10_35_03-20150509-103503_M4V0043

As to be expected, the ancient walls were very precarious to run on. Slippery polished marble stones, uneven stairs, rutted cobblestones and falls to your death on the sea cliffs below, etc. There were a bunch of volunteers (in the form of somewhat bored teenagers) with these helpful signs all along the route.

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.

IMG_7111

No tourists to be seen!

IMG_7105

Enjoying one of the few flat sections of the wall.

IMG_7123

The map of our running (walking, staggering, huffing and puffing) route atop the wall surrounding the old town.

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!

20150510-12_49_33-IMG_5996

Glenn and I coming in toward the finish line of the half-marathon. I had to buy those ugly sunglasses just before the race because the glare from the well worn and polished marble streets was so blinding and hot.

20150510-12_29_07-20150510-122907_M4V1569

In an effort to save luggage space we left our hydration belts at home. At the last minute (e.g. standing in the blazing sun at the starting line) we thought better of running without water. We popped into a little store and bought some disposable water bottles to carry on our run – they totally saved us!

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.”

20150510-10_00_24-DSC_5711

Running through one of the arched gates onto the road route for the half-marathon. This is the start of the race and we were already far behind most everyone else. But that meant we got to enjoy the scenery without being in the crush of runners jockeying for position, right?!

20150510-12_31_53-20150510-123153_M4V1575

This was the view just behind us for much of the race…the police and medics following behind the last runner. We made some great friends in the back of the pack. We came in 312/13 out of 322 runners…with 10 minutes to spare before they closed the course. Not our best showing…but who cares. We got to run an amazing race in a breathtakingly beautiful city half way around the world!

20150509-10_22_20-20150509-102220_M4V9983

I don’t know why that guy from Manchester thought Glenn might be fun to run with?

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.

IMG_7148

An after race picture – I look about as exhausted as I felt!

5. Finishing a hard race by running over the drawbridge and through the arched gates of a medieval city is wicked cool.

20150510-12_49_46-IMG_9164

About to cross the finish line!

However, conquering huge hills at the very start and end of a half-marathon might just kill you before you get there.

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 9.19.27 AM

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!

Walking in my first 5k event.

Walking in my first 5k event.

We stayed in Croatia for another ~10 days exploring much of the countryside hiking, biking and kayaking…and eating and lounging on the beach!

4 comments on “Dubrovnik International Half-Marathon

  1. Another fantastic adventure Michelle. You and Glen are an inspiration and I’m so glad to see you are not just running, you are doing it in all sorts of interesting places. I never had a read desire to visit Croatia, but after reading your posts and seeing your photos, it’s on our list of places to visit. Thank you for keeping us posted on your adventures.

  2. I was so glad to get your email and hear about your Dubrovnik Half Marathon experience. Amazing… And I thought running across the Golden Gate Bridge at dawn was great …. Obviously I didn’t set my challenges high enough. You two are fantastic!

Share your thoughts!