Friday, July 24, 2009

A Rhapsody of Running in Romania

A Rhapsody of Running in Romania

Four twelves and a twenty-two. That’s the plan – for each of my two weeks here in Romania. The first week would start on Monday morning and I would do my four consecutive early morning 12-mile runs, take Friday off, and then do my 22-miler on Saturday morning. The second week would have to start with the 22-miler on Sunday morning, followed by an off-day on Monday, followed by the four twelves on Tuesday through Friday. How else to keep up with the 70-mile weeks and also accommodate my travel schedule? Of course the more important question is this: will my body be able to accommodate this schedule?

But whilst we’re discussing goals and objectives here, we should mention that there is one overriding goal: to return home as a better runner. This almost never happens because it’s so tough to control eating and training in general. But this time will be different.

Into the Early Morning Darkness
On Day 1 I woke up much earlier than the planned 3:30am. Did I mention the early hours? I have to be at the office at 7am each day. Working backwards, it’s about a ½ hour taxi ride from the Marriott to the office. I need 20 minutes to eat breakfast. I need 20 minutes to shower and dress after the run. And I need ½ hour or more to wake up before I get out the door. So that’s how I came up with the 3:30am wake-up idea.

I was out the door by four, just as planned. I started running around the Palace of Parliament in the early morning darkness. The Palace of Parliament is one of the world’s largest buildings – second only to the Pentagon, according to the Romanians. Whatever it’s rank, it *is* big. I remembered from my previous trips here that this is an easy and safe loop, but I couldn’t remember how far it was (maybe 3 or 4 miles?). My loop times were 18:00, 16:40 and 16:05, so it evidently was not as far as id’ thought. At least I was moving fairly fast, and getting faster. But I was also getting bored, so I did some smaller loops wound the adjacent park (Izvor Park).

My first day of running – about 12 miles in 1:41) is deemed (by me) a success. Now to keep the trend going.

Second Verse, Just Like the First
Day 2 was very similar to day 1. Once again I didn’t sleep enough, waking up before 2am. Once again I started slowly, but ran some decent middle miles. This time I did one loop in 14:52 – way faster than yesterday. Only one problem/caveat: I measured the course on and learned that it’s only 1.85 miles. So 14:52 is something like 7:45 pace, while yesterday’s 16:05 was about 8:30. I also looked at my times for these loops in 2008 and 2006. They were faster still, with some of the fastest under 14 minutes. Still, my 14:52 felt pretty decently fast. Some of the other back and forth to Piata Unirii (trying to find the best way to walk there to catch the metro) and Eroiler were also at a decent pace. So I’m calling this another 12 miles in about the same time as for Day 1.

Mad Dogs and Englishmen
The saying about mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the mid-day sun almost applies. For one thing, there are plenty of wild dogs running around all over in Bucharest. It’s almost impossible to avoid them. And although I haven’t been running in the mid-day sun, it’s been getting hotter here in Bucharest. It was probably in the low 70s as I ventured out into the early morning darkness this day.

This time I ran on the bike path along the canal. I ran here last time – it’s an ok run, but it’s a bit scary in the dark, what with the dogs everywhere and the possibility of tripping over something unseen. It’s 3 miles to the place where the path splits just before the lake, and I did this in a slow due to the darkness 28 minutes. I got back much faster since it was getting just a bit light – 25. Then I did 3 laps around the Palace. The first was a minute faster than yesterday, which was a minute faster than the day before. The other two were a little slower, but still better than 8 minute pace. After a little more running I was able to call it 12 miles in 1:40. Still hanging in there.

Hot and Nasty
Each day in Bucharest has been hotter than the one before. That goes for the early mornings as well. It was probably well into the 70s when I started my Thursday morning run. At least it isn’t too humid. After sleeping well the night before, I had another night with only a couple good hours. That has nothing to do with the heat; it’s the “nasty” part.

I started with 3 slow but increasingly faster loops around Izvor Park. I like this the best for running whilst it’s still dark – there is some lighting, the footing is good, and there aren’t too many wild dogs. A few homeless people sleeping on benches, but they haven’t bitten or chased me yet. As it got lighter, I went back to the Palace Loop area across from the hotel to start my terrible tempo training run.

It had been a while since I’d done a tempo. At 1.85 miles, I’d have to break 13 minutes in order to call it sub-7 minute pace. This would be yet another minute faster than yesterday, which was a minute faster than the previous one, and so on. I think my PR on this course was 12 fifty-something from 2006 when I was in shape. Would I be able to do it now? The answer turns out to be yes, barely – I did loops of 12:58 and 12:53. Not bad.

I did yet another Izvor park loop and finished up, getting my 12 miles in at 96 minutes, and so far fulfilling my goals. Tomorrow I get a day off before Saturday’s long run.

Not According to Plan
Although those first four runs were exactly as I’d planned, Friday turned out differently. I really wanted to catch up on sleep, and to just rest my bones before running long for two consecutive days on Saturday and Sunday. Didn’t happen. I woke up at 2am as usual. Out of bed at 3:30. I have no idea how I’m surviving on 3 to 4 hours sleep per night, but I don’t nod off too much during the day. So since I was up, why not go for a little run? It would actually be helpful to not have to do a long run on a day when I also wanted to do something touristy, like riding a train to Transylvania.

Thought I’d saunter around town and explore a bit. I’ve seen nice-looking bike paths through parks at the north end of town (I’m on the south side), but the problem is always getting up there: I’d have to run straight through the city center. So north I went. And I didn’t get there. I was just too tired of fighting the busy city sidewalks, traffic, dogs, etc., etc. I turned back after Piata Romana, did some dipsy doodles on old cobblestone and brick streets, and wound up in the Botanical Garden. So running in the northern parks also didn’t go according to plan.

Once in the Botanical Garden, I started to really enjoy the run. That’s got to be the prettiest running in Bucharest. Too bad it’s such a small park. Despite its size, I still managed to get lost. This, when it was getting late. Once I found my way to the exit, I had to hoof it to get back. And this, of course, was not according to plan.

I’m calling it 14 miles in a little over 2 hours. Probably being generous with myself this time because it was really slow going.

I got out of work at a decent time on Friday, so I hopped onto the mill for more. Running outside when temps are in the mid-nineties was not an option. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a bad mill run. I got 8 in, to get up to 70 for the week, and I was even able to get my weekly 800s in as well. It was 8 x 800 in 3:11 (15Kph). Not bad.

A Long Hot Long Run
My Facebook entry for today: ran in the heat for 3 hours, 10 minutes and then walked for several more hours, mostly through many of the fine, but too small for much running mileage, Bucharest parks. Among them: Parcul Izvor (where Madonna will perform on her Sticky and Sweet tour a day after I leave), Gradina Cismigiu (the botanical gardens), Parcul Herastrau, Parcul Kiselef, and Parcul Carol (pictured).

Yes, it was hot. But I ran ok for the first half as I stayed close to home. I did about 5+ loops of Izvor park, along with a few other nearby dipsy doodles, then did one loop around the palace to get up to 10 miles. Now it was getting lighter (and hotter), and it was time to explore a bit more. That’s when I slowed down. Mostly because I didn’t know where I was going. I did make it to Parcul Carol, and then I ran around there for a half hour or so before heading back through Izvor park one more time. I did the whole thing in 3 hours, 9 minutes. Calling it 22 miles. That accounts for a couple slow miles at the beginning, some sub-8s as I got moving, and then some other slow ones finding my way to, and around, Parcul Carol. Not too bad for such a hot day. I would’ve preferred to finish at top speed though.

Side note that you may have noticed above: Madonna will perform on her Sticky and Sweet tour on the 26th of July – just after I leave. I’m actually happy that I won’t be around.

Time Constraint
I got out the door later than I wanted on Monday morning. The weekend, the running, walking and general traveling, had taken its toll. I’d have to do today’s twelve in a relatively fast 95 to 100 minutes in order to get to the office in time. Naturally this didn’t happen. After a slow start, I did get moving fairly fast for a few of the laps around Izvor park. But then I slowed again for the final four miles – two laps around the palace. So it was 1:41 and change – still not so bad. And I still made it to work on time. Barely. I may standardize this 12-mile course: “over to Izvor, around the outside, 5 inside laps, over to the palace course, and 2 times around the palace before going back across the street”

Tempo Training Attempt
I figured it’s something like just over .9 miles around Parcul Izvor. I figured that to get to tempo pace, I’d have to do 3-4 consecutive laps under 6:30. If it was going to be 4, I’d do a tiny bit more and call it a 4-mile tempo run. So after a warmup of a few miles, I started. 1st lap: 6:36. Hmmm – could I still call this a tempo? 2nd lap: 6:32. Still slow by 2 seconds. Then 6:26 and 6:16. So – is this tempo training? After figuring it out on mapmyrun, I now know sure that it’s .91 miles around. And now the math: I really had to do 6:22 per lap for sub-seven minute miles. I only did one lap as fast as I needed… and this means I can’t call it tempo. The last few miles, including a last loop around the palace were pretty slow. Altogether I did the 12 in 96 minutes. Not too bad, but I want to be faster!

The name says it all. It is actually a place fairly nearby, according to my client, Dan, that is a decent sized park and a good place to run. He was right, but I have a tough time saying it and remembering how it’s spelled, so I just like to call it, “Tiramisu park.”

To get there, I ran through Parcul Carol, past the meanest of the wild dogs (got to go around the right side next time), out the back entrance, turn left on the busy street, and half a mile down a hill. By this time I was over 2 ½ miles into an extremely slow run. The entrance way was huge, and there were some booths and stands in the process of waking up. I went to the paths on the right and wound up on a bike trail. Although there were many other paths going all sorts of directions, I stayed with that bike path so I wouldn’t get lost here in the dark. And it was very dark.

I felt like I was running around the perimeter, since there was a wall to my right. I was also up fairly high, as I could see down a bit in the just-barely getting light morning. There was a lake down there, and I could also make out some buildings in the distance, which may have been the city center. About 45 minutes into the run I came to a guarded gate that I ran through and came to something that looked like an opera house or something similar. I turned back, running out towards a different exit, but then back around on the bike path once again, and back through Carol and over to Izvor park where I did a bit more before calling it a day. My slowest 12-miler yet –I’m tired and my thighs feel like hamburger.

Tempo Training Attempt Two
Out the door and over to Izvor park. The plan was to try again for a tempo run now that I’m more sure of the distances and the times I need to do them in. This would be the last run I’d have to do to make reach my stated Bucharest running goal. Might as well make it a good one.

After one dog in the Marriott driveway scared the bejeebers out of me, I reached the start of my Izvor park course intact. Like usual, I did one big loop around the perimeter followed by one fairly easy inside loop, after which I’d start my tempo attempt. I was feeling fairly decent and confident. The tempo attempt was stopped dead in its tracks by the vicious dog attack yet. The dogs in Izvor are usually not so bad, but this morning they scared me more than any had yet in Bucharest, and that’s saying something.

That had shaken me up some. After only one Izvor lap, I ran back to the start of my palace loop, figuring I would do the tempo attempt there. I’ve noted before that this course is interesting and familiar, but the footing isn’t so good, especially the 25 to 30 percent that is uneven bricks instead of asphalt sidewalk. There are also several curbs around the driveways to negotiate. But I was in no way about to do any more running in Izvor today.

First loop: 12:54. Second loop: 12:48 (a PR!). Third loop: 12:58 (!!) That was 5.55 miles at tempo pace – much more than expected. I did some more at a fast pace, so I’m calling it six.

Turned out that my last planned run here was by far the best. Goals– including the one to return a better runner – met!

Who’d’ve Thunk It?
I thought I was done for the week. Had my 70 in, and everything was fine. Didn’t get any speedwork in, other than the tempo and near tempo runs, but that was ok. Then I got out of work a bit early on Friday, my last day. You guessed it: I hit the dreadmill and did 800s. Six of them – a couple less than last week, but I didn’t want to over do it. Now I’m really done.

For more on my travel adventures, check out the travel blog.

For more on running in Romania, along with other daily activities, check out a day in the life.

1 comment:

Mr. P said...

I'm tired just reading about all your mileage! Nice job. I'm very interested in this Tiramisu Park of which you spoke so highly!

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