I didn’t plan on doing the Brasov International Marathon in Transylvania. In fact I only signed up a week before after a few too many beers on a Sunday evening and noticing an ad on Facebook. I hadn’t been sitting on a couch up until this point and I’m in training for Ironman Wales in September, but I’d never done a stand alone marathon before. The Brasov Marathon seemed like the perfect opportunity to have a go and judge my current fitness level. So I signed up and opened another beer.
Brasov International Marathon, My Experiences
Sign Up, Registration and Logistics
Marathons such as London, Berlin and New York normally sell out straight away or use a lottery system for competitors to gain entry. The Brasov race didn’t and I was pleasantly surprised to be able to sign up and pay my last minute $40 US entry fee online quickly and easily.
I received an email and confirmation straight away including race number and race day registration details. Looking at the start list later, it would seem at least 30 more people signed up late including some of the podium places.
The race categories were either 18-34 or 35 and above for both males and females and the total number of runners was under 200 for the full distance.
There were a few other distances to race if you didn’t want to do the full.
They started at 2.5 km, 5 km, 10 km and the half marathon at 21.1 km.
These races were even cheaper to sign up for and free if you were a Brasov resident.
As a bonus there was prize money up for grabs for the top 3 in each group for both the half and full marathon. It wasn’t just restricted to the elites either, anyone could grab the money if they made the podium.
Leaving it late meant that accommodation was expensive near the race start and finish but we splurged and found a beautiful apartment within walking distance. The apartment was exactly what we needed with two bedrooms and two living areas so everyone had enough space. Check it out here, I think you’ll agree it is worth the splurge.
From our base in northern Romania it was a longish drive of 7 hours to get down there which wasn’t ideal as it was the day before the race.
Brasov has great connections will all of Romania and is under 2 hours from Bucharest international airport for visitors flying in. There are regular trains and buses to all the major tourist destinations in Romania. Driving in the old historic Brasov city centre isn’t easy and the traffic and parking is hard to deal with on busy days.
Brasov International Marathon Location
The start and finish of the race was centred around the old square, Piata Sfatului, in the middle of the historic district of Brasov, Transylavannia. The course also went through the square once during the race. The expo was located along the north and south sides of the square and finish/start line.
This was where you picked up your number, timer chip and goodie bag. Like all races you needed photographic ID such as a passport or national ID card or driving license. It was quick and easy to pick up my number and bag taking no more than 5 minutes.
The Expo was basic and fairly small. All the sponsors had stalls along with a few others, but it wasn’t extensive and if you needed anything pre race it was unlikely you’d find it here. The goodie bag was what you’d expect and added yet another fluro yellow t shirt to my wardrobe. A free sim card and USB stick were the highlights with the rest just brochures and discount vouchers from sponsors.
Big boards with maps of the running courses were out so that everyone could have a look and familiarise themselves with their chosen course. The course did double back on itself before the marathon headed up to Poiana Brasov, the ski resort overlooking Brasov. Knowing the course route is critical, as I found out after we were sent up a hill the wrong way adding a half mile to the race distance. Unlike Ironman races there was no athlete briefing.
All the restaurants around the square were full and busy with Saturday night customers and the extra marathon crowds. I think in all, 2000 people were racing over the course of all the distances.
I opted for a home made dinner back at our apartment and found a supermarket the end of the street to stock up with food. Having our own kitchen and rather nice apartment allowed me to rest and relax and make sure I had enough fuel for the race. I skipped on the beers till after the finish line.
Ironman races start early. Normally stupidly early, meaning a rather harsh 4:30 am wake up alarm. Thankfully this marathon had a cut off of 6 hours not 17 hours so the relative late start of 8 am was welcomed by me.
The later start meant I had a great night’s sleep and time to get my breakfast and coffee in without rushing. The walk was only 4 minutes to the start so I didn’t even need to leave until 20 minutes before the countdown. This was brilliant and something I really don’t like about the ironman races is the long early morning drive and total lack of nearby accommodation.
Not trying to get running gear on after a long swim/bike was great too and meant I could take my time getting dressed, making sure everything was exactly how I wanted it.
The atmosphere at the start line was great and a few presenters were up on the stage getting everyone in the mood and limbered up. The square was of competitors and their families making it a bit of a squash if you wanted to stretch. I went off and did some light workouts away from the square.
Announcements were in Romanian and English but they were a little unclear so I asked a volunteer how the start was going to work. Romanians generally speak very good English. Don’t expect a language barrier outside of the remote villages.
The 2.5 km race went off first but unfortunately all the remaining races were then told to head to the start line together. This wasn’t ideal as people that had no intention of running fast were at the front. This meant that as the gun sounded at 8 am the crowd crush wasn’t pleasant and could have been avoided by starting each group separately. It was a little fast and furious as nearly 2000 people tried to fit through the start line and head straight into a sharp right hand turn onto the street.
All of the roads for the race were closed to traffic which was a pleasant surprise. Ironman Malaysia and Ironman Thailand didn’t close all the roads for the bike course which was dangerous to both road users and competitors.
Race Day Weather
Romania gets incredibly cold in winter and incredibly hot in summer. This marathon was in mid May when temperatures could potentially swing either way. We’d had some rain and cool weather in the proceeding week so I wasn’t worried about the temperature being hot but with a climb up to the ski resort, would it be cold? Being sweaty and then not pushing as much running downhill could be a disaster waiting to happen.
As it was the temperature on race day started out at about 15 c and maybe dropped to 12 c at the top of the hill. By the finish I think it was roughly 20 c. Perfect marathon running weather which made the day that much better. The afternoon brought glorious sunshine and the temperature picked up towards the high 20s c.
Most road marathons are fairly flat with moderate undulation over the whole course. Brasov International Marathon was similar for the first 22 km but then things change dramatically. I’d looked at the course and knew what was coming but heading 10 km straight up to the ski resort of Poiana Brasov and down again on very tired legs was going to tough.
Hills like this are great training and an experience to take into Wales with its smaller but more regular hills. The top of the run course was over 1 km in elevation which was half a kilometre higher than the start and finish in Brasov. For reference that is the total undulation for the London marathon but in only 1/4 of the distance.
The course took runners through and past some of the oldest parts of Brasov which, while you may not appreciate at the time, were great to see and had me going back for another look later.
One issue with the course, as I mentioned before, was that it goes back over itself. Unfortunately the signage suggested, for both the half and full marathon, that we had to turn right and head up towards Poiana Brasov on the first lap which was incorrect. This was actually for lap two around Brasov and not the first lap. Many of us took this wrong turn in lap 1.
The lead group were taken up there and the rest of us followed. Luckily the leaders started turning back and I realised the mistake. I don’t think I ran more than 800 metres further than I should have. Still, it was quite a steep extra hill to throw into the mix. By the time I’d come back down from the wrong turn the marshalls had blocked off the street for those following.
Road surfaces were super smooth and very easy to run on. All of the course was on closed sealed roads so you could pick your spot and take the racing line. This was of huge benefit going up the hill to Poiana Brsaov.
The last part of the marathon course took us behind the old town and into the woods. After all the up and down it made for a little challenge to negotiate the old cobble stones towards the finish line. Running along one of the narrowest streets in Europe was brilliant and as it was at the end of the race everyone was spread out meaning no bottle neck.
The Aid Stations
This was my main concern. Would I be able to get a decent nutrition top up at the aid stations or not. Powerbar were the sponsors and I’ve used them before and had good results. They were the European Ironman nutrition sponsor but have pulled the plug being replaced by an unheard of (for me) Italian brand.
Another good test before Wales.
All the stations were perfectly spread out and well manned by enthusiastic volunteers who I think did a brilliant job. Hats off to them as without them it wouldn’t be possible to hold the race. Drinks were already pre poured and ready to go meaning you could grab some and continue or walk and drink then resume running. The amount of plastic used at these events is always a concern and just about every race could do more to cut their plastic use.
Some aid stations did provide flat coke as well, this is always great to see in the later stages. Food wise there weren’t any gels and it was more things like Milka chocolate (never seen that before) and mini pretzels and fruit. Everything was cut and ready to eat. Being a marathon I didn’t think I’d need to tuck into a buffet in the same way as an Ironman but I carried a gel of my own just in case I needed to. I didn’t need it.
The Finish Line
Just before the finish line the volunteers and officials lined up to encourage us on. The crowds were good and finishing in the heart of the old square was perfect. The attention at the end with refreshments, massages and medical if needed, was spot on .
I’ve only ever run marathons as part of an Ironman race so had no real concept of what to expect doing a stand alone race. I was even using my race belt from ironman in the race instead of safety pinning on the bib to my running shirt.
The benefit of doing one this far out from my A race of 2018 was too good to resist. It went according to plan for the first 39km where my lack of long runs caught up with me. At the start I was aiming for a sub 3 hour 30 minute race. My Wales race 2 years ago saw a 4 hour 4 minute marathon after the swim and bike so 3:30 should be achievable even without any race specific training and planning.
Starting off with the front of the pack group was messy and I was going too fast. Clocking under 4 minute km’s which felt easy at the time, came back to haunt me later.
The crowd thinned as we passed the 1 km mark and then a few of the 5 km and 10 km racers surged to the front and disappeared.
I was content with the 4.30 minute pace that I’d thought I could hold until the climb to Poiana Brasov and found this an easy pace to hold without too much trouble. For the first 4 km it was plain sailing.
At about km 5 we were directed up the hill and while I thought it was too early for the climb, the elite female runners were just ahead and had the lead bikes with them so it seemed it must be the right direction. That illusion continued until they all came running back down shouting in Romanian and gesturing wildly at the lead bikes and marshals.
Back down we all went and joined the slower athletes who had now been sent the right way. This part of the run was alongside the old city walls so was a bit of a bottle neck but I weaved my way through and found my rhythm again as we crossed the start line one last time 35Km before the end.
The next lap took us off to the outskirts of Brasov along the highway. A slight incline up and decline back to town saw me holding a steady average pace of 4:40 minute per km as we started to get to the real part of the race.
Heading up to the top of Poiana Brasov I wanted to crest with an average of between 4:45-4:55 km per hour, this would allow me to do the sub 3 hours 30 minutes I was aiming for. I started the hill and felt comfortable and had felt my pace was good. There was a runner on my heels for most of the climb, he kept pushing me which was great for my pace. He did eventually overtake me as I didn’t want to burn out.
By this stage I had no idea where I was in relation to other people on the course, but near the top of the hill we caught a group of 3 more people making us a group of 5. At this point we actually had a downhill and then starting the last uphill stretch 2 males went past which were the only ones to pass us. The two female elites were next to pass us going back down the hill. So I was 7th at this point in the men’s race and 9th overall. Not bad at all considering the last minute entry.
Finally getting to the top of the last very steep hill it was time to descend and it wasn’t easy. I’d stuck to my target and was at the top with a 4:54 km per hour average for 29 km. The remaining 13 km was 10 straight back down and then 3 km of slight up and down across the historic district. I knew those last 3 would be tough as I’d not run further than 27 km in training this year.
At about 38 km I really started to struggle and got a few slight twinges in my calves. Nothing to worry about but it was slowing me down. I’d planned on keeping a sub 4:50 km pace down the hill which normally is pretty easy. After 30+ km it was proving slightly harder. At this point I got overtaken by quite a lot of the runners behind which I wasn’t able to do much about.
At the final aid station on the hill I stocked up and had a few flat cokes which work wonders with the cramps. I just hoped that the next aid station was serving coke as well. You can’t stop drinking coke once you start or you’ll crash and burn.
Hitting the flat and then uphill my legs went to jelly and my sub 5 minute km pace went up to nearly 7 minute pace. I pushed on and made sure I grabbed some fluids at the next aid station. The remaining distance passed with some stop start and it was here that with nearly a km to go to the finish, Garmin let me know I’d done the full 42.2 km marathon distance. I was tempted to stop the watch on 3:35 but let it run and pushed on to the finish line.
A word of warning that running on gravel at the end of a marathon isn’t easy and I dare say I looked like I’d had a few too many beverages of the alcoholic variety. I finished in 3 hours and 40 minutes for 43 km which I was happy with. The big plus to only running a marathon was that I wasn’t particularly sore afterwards and certainly not wiped out as I am after an Ironman race.
It was a PB of 3 hours 35 minutes and 30 seconds for the marathon which I was delighted with. I’d wanted to go under 4 hours which I was certain I could achieve, but also push a little and gain some mental experience and confidence boosting before Ironman Wales.
If you’re looking for a marathon early in the year and don’t get into London then I recommend the Brasov International Marathon. I had a great time and enjoyed myself. Just remember that huge hill and get some hill training in first.
The 2019 edition of the Brasov International Marathon weekend will take place on the 25th and 26th of May. There will again be a variety of distances to race from a kids race right up to the full 42.2km marathon.