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2012-10-07 09:00:00 GMT+01:00


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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

RunningDutch Review: Cracovia Maraton

Last week I participated in de the 11th Cracovia Maraton. Besides offering me a nice experience for my 15th marathon it also gives me the opportunity to write a review on this event.

The City
Krakow, or Cracow, is without any doubt one of the pearls of central Europe. Rich in history it survived the havoc of the Second World War which destroyed so many other cities in Poland. The Nazis did destroy the Jewish population, first in the ghetto and than in nearby Auschwitz.
The inner city within the Planty (a green park/zone around the centre) still has its medieval street plan. To the south east of the city centre snuggled in a bend of the Wisła river is Kazimierz; The former Jewish quarter. Renovated after the film ‘Schindlers List’ created a renewed interest in this part of history.
The hordes of tourist no longer returned to the city centre after visiting the Royal Castle and Cathedral at Wavel. More and more the tourist visit Kazimierz as well. It houses some fine restaurants and the Synagogue. The National Museum in the city centre houses some famous paintings such as the da Vinci painting ‘Lady with an Ermine’.
From the city one can take trips to the famous salt mines of Wieliczka and of course Auschwitz. This link will help for more ideas.

Al this means that visiting Krakow is worth wile even without taking part in the marathon. The airport is close by and a train takes you in 20 minutes or so from the gate to the city center. Various airlines fly to and from the airport named after one of the most well known Poles: Pope John Paul the 2nd. So you should have no problem getting there from abroad. Being so popular with tourist means that the city has a large number of hotels from hostels up to 5 star quality (look here for some ideas).
Chocolate pankcake at Wedel
Besides the pasta party on the evening before the marathon there is plenty of choice as the city has a wide range of restaurants to offer. Not in the least all the restaurants on the Rynek, as the picture testifies with this delicious chocolate pancake with banana. It is served in the restaurant from the Wedel Chocolate brand, on the north side of the Rynek.

The course
The start and finish is near Błonia and the football stadium of Wisła Krakow. Not as attractive as a start in the city centre but it offers enough space for a well organised start and finish area. The start is divided in into zones regarding you expected finish time but it is managed by ‘self regulation’. So if you want to start at the front of the pack (this year 4000+ runners) just make sure you are at the right spot.

The first few K is a loop around the big field of Błonia (where Pope John Paul 2nd held masses in 1979, 1983, 1987, 1997 and 2002 of which the first 3 were still under communist rule). So your supporters have the chance to see you twice. Once during the start and second after this first loop.

Then you head for the city centre which is by far the most attractive part of the course. Besides the first 2 or 3 k around Błonia the route is over wide roads so no risks of congestion. The part of the course through the city centre is one of the finest I have run so far. After approximately 6K you turn into the Rynek (or Market Square) with Sukiennice (the Reniassance Cloth Hall, Drapers' Hall, more on Wikipedia).
You cross the square on the western side and head towards the north site of the old town and run a short stretch through the green park around the centre (Planty) before your turn back into the city centre going through ‘Brama Florianska’ into ‘Ulica Florianska’, the famous Florianska Gate and Street, running towards Kosciol Mariacki back onto the Rynek. This time you cross the Rynek in on the eastern side before turning into Grodzka, towards Wavel, the Royal Castle on the banks of the Wisła , or Vistula river.

I realy enjoyed this part of the run even though I was already feeling the effect of the rather warm spring sun. In spite of the early start at 9:30 temperatures were close to 20 degrees Celsius which, in this city environment is warm to say the least. After a short loop back into the old town just outside the Planty you cross the river to the south bank. You run up and down on of the major roads and then along the river for a small stretch offering superb views of Wavel. Next you cross the river again for the long loop into the residential area ‘Nowa Huta’.

This stretch of the track is wide asphalt road which reflects the sun and was very warm. Secondly, although the roads look rather straight and flat it is all the time slightly up or down hill making it not the easiest part of the track. After a short loop through the green suburbs you head back along the same road. A stretch of the course clearly designed to achieve the distance required for a full marathon although as residential areas go; Nowa Huta is interesting due to its history and architecture (read more on Wikipedia).

Around 34K you take a small back road and enter a cyclepath along the river for a 6K stretch along the river, around Wavelhill. Again this was a warm stretch with the spring sun reflecting of the asphalt and, although the river is on your left hand, on your right hand side is Wavel hill or trees or buildings that reflect the warmth. You leave the river at app. 40K to head back to Błonia . You can see the football stadium and it feels like you almost there but still have to loop half of the Błonia field before you can finish.

In summary: The first 10K around Błonia and into the city centre are great. From 10K to 34K offer great wide roads but most of the time with some incline. I probably would have enjoyed the stretch along the river back but by that time the warmth got the best of me.

The organisation 
The organisation is good. The expo and administration where you can pick up your number and T-shirt are small but well organised. I did not take part in the pasta party but this looked also well arranged inside the stadium. With your BIB, which contains the chip for the time registration, you’ll get also a sponge that you can use during the race. They do not hand out sponges but offer the possibility to dimple you sponge in water to refresh (more environmental friendly than handing out all these sponges at all refreshing points.

Speaking of which; There is room for improvement at the refreshing points. There was enough water and isotonic drinks but the volunteers where filling the cups using bottled water in 1,5litre or 500ml bottles. This did not allow them to fill the cups fast enough so they ended up by handing bottles to the runners that ware craving for water due to the temperatures that hit 20 degrees or more for the first time after colder weather so no one was really used to run in this temperature. I have to say that in spite of this there were more than enough refreshing points. One hotel along the route set up an extra point served by neatly dressed waitresses. Nice marketing.

Runners were allowed to park their cars in front of the stadium on showing their BIB but if the number of participant will increase the coming years (as with most popular city marathons) there won’t be enough space. However when you come from abroad I suggest you take a hotel close to the city centre. You can either walk to the start or take a cab (they are not that expensive. Near the start is a good organised baggage drop of using plastic bags and a sticker with your BIB number you get with your BIB. Afterwards one can take a shower close to the finish line. Albeit when I used it the warm water had run out in my shower block. Quite refreshing after the heat during the run;p

The verdict
Cracovia Marathon is a well organised event which sees far too little international runners taking part than it deserves. If you want to run for a fast time pick a flat course such as Rotterdam, Amsterdam or Berlin. But if you want to run 'trough history', as they claim on the medal, you can in Krakow. Maybe not a ‘must do’ as the big ones but I can definitely recommend it. It think it is even part of its charm that is not such a mass event as the big ones. So if you look for a bit smaller venue in a very nice surrounding; think Cracovia Marathon for next spring.

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