Lisbon. Gone with the wind

Why roar at rivals, how fast can my mother run, is it worth picking an iPhone up off the pavement, who rides the yellow trams, and why a mate needs a back?

More than anything I wanted to run my half marathon in under one hour and a half. I just wanted it as much as that railroad train play made in GDR, for my birthday when I was a child.
Though I’m not sure which of the two I wanted most, but no doubt I very much wanted both. And of course I tried hard to run faster but in no way could run in under 1:32.

This year again I decided to take chances and run the Lisbon half marathon in at least one second under 1:30:00. All the more so as the race track is considered the speediest in Europe.

Some facts about the race:

  • The Lisbon half marathon is held in March every year;
  • Amateurs take off on the bridge, and elite runners take off on the continent;
  • This is one of the most popular half marathons in the world;
  • It’s a Gold Label race, according to  IAAF Road Race Label Events;
  • In 2010, Zersenay Tadese broke the half marathon’s world record by crossing the finish line in — 58.23 ;
  • The half marathon was attended by the most famous runners in the world.


Lisbon is a hilly city at the edge of Europe with pleasant people riding yellow trams, by countless pastry shops with pastel de nata and restaurants with fresh fish and Port wine.

But, by and large, Lisbon is a quiet, unhurried city that didn’t get into my top 10 cities, but still it’s worth visiting.

Having admired, on March 10, the 25th April Bridge, trying to figure in my head an epic start, I suddenly felt a vibration in my pocket. That was an email.

Due to weather conditions, the Security Council responsible for managing the 25th April Bridge decided to not have the start of the half marathon on  the bridge.

Therefore it was determined that the start should take place on Eixo Norte Sul in Sete Rios (in front of Lisbon Zoo).

It’s for the first time in 17 years that the start is being moved into the city because of the strong wind over 40 km per hour. What a “surprise”… Such a pity, as I’m sure that, except for a beautiful start, most likely I will miss my main goal – an hour and a half. It seems unreal to run for your personal record in such a headwind. But I very much hope the gods will have mercy and will send us quiet and cloudless weather in the morning.


But alas! It wasn’t peaceful in the morning. The wind was howling with might and main. I switched  to weather forecast  and was sad:

48 km/hour or 1:25/km. No miracle happened. Well then let’s fight with the wind but we promise to get upset. Even if the result is 2 hours. Right, Vica? Today I’m not running on my own but with my better half. You can safely take your relatives to Lisbon – almost any member of the family will be able to run a mini-marathon of 7 km.

We wake up early and the taxi takes us to the start. Rippling rain adds to the strong gusty wind. temperature is 12 Celsius. Cool enough but perfect for a quick race. If you don’t believe my words, you can read here about  the influence of wind and temperature on the results.

We approach the start point – it’s a huge two-level transport junction. Thousands of people are already here, walking towards the wind bent in unimaginable angles. Volunteers around distribute buffs. Small stuff but very featly…

As the organizer of Chisinau Marathon, I’m completely mind-boggled that the start was moved into a new place in only one day. Incredible: timing system, starting arch, fences, banners, pit stops, doctors, police, arbiters, urban authorities, closing the roads, notifying all athletes, organization of buses and transportation of luggage, redistribution of volunteers and point managers, and another million small tasks.

And all in one day. Worthy of respect. Very cool, Portuguese colleagues, bravo!

Here we came across Liviu. He was planning to run in under 1:10 but he understood it was unreal. Does it mean you shouldn’t run then?

We leave Viculia in the starting area of ​​the half-marathon, and we make our way through the crowd to the first line. The closer we are, the harder people react. After all, they do not know that we have VIP numbers. By the way, this is an interesting practice – you pay 50 euros extra participation tax and get for it:

  • Free transfer to the start;
  • Taking off before all the rest;
  • Checking in your stuff before the start;
  • Breakfast and massage in the VIP zone after the finish.

It gets harder to walk, density and aggression grow up, but when they start sticking two fingers up at you it means you are in the right place. As we showed our green bibs, they let us go nearer to the first line and get into the VIP zone. Here about two hundred people are warming up, and they do it in relative comfort — you can run instead of standing balls to the walls.

Before the warm-up I tried to get rid of my backpack and jacket, but the buses had already left. Fortunately, one of the organizers, Patricia, agreed to take my stuff. Thank you, kindhearted woman!
We run around the 50-meter circle like donkeys – warming up and waiting to take off. The sun pierced the clouds and it got a little warmer. We were finally arranged in a line and…


We’re running downwards. Great, I’ll have some time in store for the future. Heart Rate is 150, pace 4:00. Side wind. Of course, there’s no music next to the start, neither fans nor animation-they were short of time.

On the 2nd kilometer we run out onto the plateau, on the 4th we run downhill. And here it goes a sticky situation, which I’ll regret at the finish line – my phone slips out of my pocket and falls with a crash on the asphalt. Damn, why did I take it with me, we could have met without calling each other…

And here I am, running at 14 km per hour, slowing down, turning around, running 10 meters, grabbing it and accelerating. Not sure how much time I lost, maybe 10 seconds. I’m swearing to myself as I run.

On the 7th kilometer my average pace was 4:08/km, and Heart Rate 164, so I started to think that even the wind won’t get in my way and I’ll be able to run in average pace 4:16/km (faster than 1:30:00).
And here comes the turnaround (the blue spot):

My friendly mood changed to despair as quickly as the wind direction – 180 degrees! I came across an air wall, as if a jet plane was about to take off, and I happened behind the engine. I can’t remember such a wind on any other race before. Oh yeah, now I see why I took off so fast – with such favourable wind even my mom can run in under an hour and a half.

But now the wind is blowing in my face, and there are still 10 km to run without breaking in pace. The strategy is simple, like playing hide and seek. We’re going to hide from the wind behind the back of the running mates. The wider the mate and his back, the more he is a mate and more “friends” he has.

The fight

And here starts the fight. Everyone in our group runs for the result, and so nobody waves to photographers, nobody makes nice with volunteers or views the city. Everyone wants to hide behind a men’s wide back so as to save energy. But the “horses”, as they are called, are not so many to be picked from, and here starts the fight for each back.

I was nearly pushed out into the open wind just because someone thought that I had drifted too long behind a gulliver’s back. But no such luck – you won’t push me out just like that. As I often run at the outskirts of the city, I’m used to running across tramp dogs. So I wanted to pick up a stone and make a stab as I’m used to, but came round and just roared into the guy’s face. It worked, and he just tucked in behind.

Poor photo: I was outrun by a woman, an oldster and a gnome.

The pace lowered to 4:30/km, my Heart Rate rose to 170, and the chances of running in under 1:30 nearly disappeared.
It was pouring like someone was regularly turning the shower on and off. I got a feeling that the one up there in the sky gathered some ants in a pound, turned on the fan and constantly pours a glass of water on them to see what happens.

Here I recalled the New York Marathon  in 2014. Then I also ran for my record, and it was also cold outside, and the face wind nearly knocked out the runners. I even did some search in the archives and found what the  weather was like then:

Very similar. Очень похоже. 8 Celsius, 40 km per hour. But I did my best to set my personal record. But then I stopped running for three months – so bad I felt.

Now I have more brains and experience, so I understand that health counts much more than the result. But still I work to the fullest, hoping that I won’t hurt myself in an hour and a half. My watch shows the average rate 4:15/km. There is a small chance, since the turnaround is near, and after that we’ll be running the last 4 km gone with the wind.

But the 1:30 pacemaker with an army of followers ran past me and broke my thoughts. I tried to hold on to the group, but they slowly, but truly got farther.


And here it is, the long-awaited turnaround on the 17th km. I’m expecting a kick in the back, but the wind doesn’t kick me at all. Strange. How does it happen that it hinders when you’re running towards it, and doesn’t blow your back to help? Well, maybe it’s my self-perception. I’m running to the full, watching as people on the oncoming stripe wight with the wind and downpour.

Heart Rate 175, terrible breath, my watch is showing 4:14/km — excellent, I’m about to make it. Slowing down a bit as not to get hurt, you know, 1:29:52 or 1:28:43, there’s no big difference.

A smile appeared on my face – I’m gonna make it, no matter what, and I got a whole minute in store! And so I reached the 20-km mark. Glancing at the watch, I saw 20.3 and was horrified.
300 meters difference, and my spare minute will be used to cover the distance. No spare time left at all. Absolutely.

Despite my lactate-clogged legs and tunnel field of vision, I threw the last wood in the firebox and, like the steam locomotive in “Back to the Future”, falling apart in motion, rushed to the finish line.

Here is the arch, but why my watch shows zero? It doesn’t matter, I’m rushing headlong and diving under it, flying over the chronometer. I immediately push the stop button on my watch.

Oh no…

It takes a minute to come to myself, driving away the volunteers’ attempts to hang the medal on my neck. Finally I take a look at the watch and make a long face. 1:30:03. And what’s the official time of the organizers?

On the starting line, I was in the first line, and I remember pushing the button as soon as the gun went “boom”! And on the finish line I didn’t hesitate to push it. Minus a couple of seconds, and still not under one and a half… Here I recalled my phone that crushed on the asphalt, the fight behind the mate’s back, the water bottle that I took. The couple of seconds, which I came short of, could have been saved anywhere. But I blew them off.

Head bent, staggered to the VIP zone. There I got a backpack and a towel, food and souvenirs, and they covered me with a cellophane poncho. They also offered me a massage.
Liviu came rushing up and joyfully announced that his time was 1:09:59. I looked at him, as if asking:

Liviu, did you decide  to kill me?

Liviu went on chattering, trying to comfort me by telling that elite runners got worse results than usual, 2-minute difference, and my result should be 1:28… “Should be”—should buzz!

Hey, what’s the matter with me? Stop it! I came to my senses and took a breath: dammit, we’ll run once again! Now then, Liviu, fetch some pasta – we’re gonna celebrate our scores! So we ate our fill and went to look for Vica. And here she is – happy, wet, with a medal! Full delight in her eyes, a bit of lactate in her legs, and a storm of endorphins in her blood!

It’s raining pitchforks, rude wind, and the three of us together with a hundred other runners got into McDonald’s, and stayed there chewing burgers.

And a final YES!

A vibration in my pocket got me out of the chips-and-coke extasy. It was an email with official results:

I read it again. And again. 1:29:59? Can’t believe it. Are you joking? One second? Are you shooting a movie or making a reality show with me? It’s only in the movies that just one second can decide everything.
I’m happy anyway – the universe, for some reason, decided to pat me on the head. That’s the way I’ll remember this race – staying at McDonald’s in Lisbon, my mouth full of chips, a silly smile on my face, staring at the phone.

One second – is it a lot or a little? It’s just an instant but it means a lot… Now I’m not talking about myself, my life hasn’t changed. I’m talking about some professional athletes, whose lives were often destroyed by just one second, or other sportsmen, who became heroes and went down in history.

Mentioned projects:
Chisinau Marathon
The 7 Secrets of a Personal Record

The 7 Secrets of a Personal Record

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