Surprise, Surprise – Prague Marathon Race Report

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I’d like to say that the morning of the Prague Marathon started with me rising from my bed, refreshed and ready to take on the day, but that’s not at all what happened. In reality, I spent the night desperately willing myself to fall asleep and trying everything in my power to make that happen sometime before our 6 am wake-up call. Despite my best efforts, I finally nodded off around 3:30 am and spent the next few hours waking up off and on. Not exactly the ideal start to the morning, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that I’ve run marathons on no sleep before. When I got up, my back was not in ideal condition, but I pushed it out of my mind and told myself to just see what happened.

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No sleep, but matching outfits.

Bobbi and I headed down to the hotel breakfast, which we had somehow missed on our first two mornings in Prague. We’re kicking ourselves for that now because the Hilton Prague has the best breakfast buffet I’ve ever seen, including a gluten free section. It was magic. We then boarded the 7:45 bus from our hotel – with tons of elite athletes, who were all staying there – and headed to the race. One of the RunCzech team members then took us to the area where we were to drop off our bags, and we hit the bathrooms for one last stop. Soon enough, it was time to head to our corrals for the 9 am start! We were in the last corral, which seemed to be where everyone with an estimated finish time of 4:30 or higher would be.

Our South Carolina state flag tank tops and American flag hats were a big hit, with lots of people commenting on them. One guy came up to me and asked “Are you from South Carolina?” in a European accent. I said yes, and he said that he used to live in Greenville and recently moved. I told him that I live in Greenville, he asked which part…and long story short, he literally LIVED ON MY STREET. We talked about our neighbors and it was honestly the most surreal thing ever. What a small world, right? I felt like that meant good things for the day ahead.

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Not my neighbor, but our friend Jen! She works for Marathon Tours and Travel and they’re hiring in Boston, y’all!

The race starts in the middle of Prague’s Old Town, and it is every bit as magical as you could possibly imagine. Bobbi and I just kept looking at each other and saying “Oh my gosh!” as we made our way to the line. Classical music was playing loudly as we moved through the corrals, and it just felt so very…European. As we crossed the cobblestone (about 10 percent of the course is on cobblestone) start line, tons of people were cheering and we just said “We’re running the PRAGUE MARATHON!” It was definitely a “pinch me” moment and I felt like no matter what the race brought, I was going to remember the experience forever.

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I mean, come on!

The early part of the race winds through Old Town before crossing the first of many bridges across the river. As we crossed the first bridge, we looked on both sides and saw runners crossing the bridges on either side of us, too! I think it was somewhere on this bridge that I tripped and nearly bit it on the cobblestone – yeah, like mile 2. Not a great sign because at that point, I still had my wits about me! On that note, the Prague Marathon is the fastest May marathon in the world, so extremely competitive athletes come here from all over the world (88 countries, in fact!) to run their best, despite the cobblestone hazard. We had studied the course map and generally had a pretty good idea of the locations of the water stops and the various turnaround points. The first few miles of the race flew by, since we high fived at every kilometer marker (which is about every 0.7 miles). The atmosphere was contagious and we were running among the most incredible buildings.

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Crossing one of the many bridges!

I had decided not to look at my watch at all during the race and trust that Bobbi would keep us on pace. Our plan was to walk through the water stops, which ended up being about every 2.5-k. We ran a long out and back along the river that we would also run at the end of the race and then headed back into Old Town Prague around mile 8 (13k). I was feeling good and in amazing spirits as we ran through the center of the city. By this time, the crowds were even bigger and we could hear the announcers say that the elite men were on pace for a 2:08 finish and the women were on pace for a 2:21, which would be a course record. Running back through Old Town, I once again could not believe I was running this race. It wasn’t very long ago that I thought I’d never run a marathon again, let alone in someplace as beautiful as Prague, and here it was, happening. I was doing it!

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Happy as a clam at 13k!

The second half of the course features a few out and back portions. Out and backs can be great or they can be kind of miserable. On the one hand, we knew where each turnaround was, and I think that really helped with the “is this ever going to end?” feeling. On the other, the sun was out in full force on these sections and there was no breeze. I was definitely hotter than I wanted to be and I felt like I was slowing down, although my Garmin later told me that wasn’t true. I told Bobbi I was feeling a little discouraged, but she told me I was doing amazing and not to worry about it. Fortunately, once we headed back towards the city, a nice cool breeze picked up and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

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The sun is out but we’re still smiling!

At mile 15.5, I was no longer breathing a sigh of relief. I was starting to lose feeling in my right leg – the same thing that happened at the Flying Pig Marathon five years ago almost to the day. My foot and leg were going numb, and I couldn’t feel where I was putting my foot down. This was an absolute worst case scenario for me, and I immediately started to panic. Literally – I started having a panic attack. I couldn’t breathe, my throat was closing, my heart was beating out of my chest, and I felt like the world was closing in around me. I tried to collect myself and run until my leg loosened up, but eventually, I calmed myself as best I could and said to Bobbi while choking back tears, “I need to walk for a second.” She asked if everything was ok and I said no, but asked her to give me a second. I finally was able to tell her what was going on while trying not to hyperventilate. Not dramatic at all.

I told her that this was the worst case scenario. I had not prepared for this outcome at all. In every scenario I had envisioned for the race – the good, the bad, and the ugly – I had prepared to push through pain. I was willing and able to do that. But there is a difference between pushing through pain and losing feeling in your leg and therefore not knowing where you are putting your foot, making falling (especially on cobblestone) a real danger. While this does occasionally happen to me, it has happened very rarely since my back surgery, and it didn’t happen at all during any of my training. For it to happen so early in the race (I ran more than 15.5 miles in training multiple times) was very concerning to me because at that point, I still had nearly 11 miles to go. It was hard not to think about how miserable that last 11 miles was going to be, and that is what had me so panicked.

Bobbi was great and encouraged me to take a long walk break to collect myself, try and stretch, and then start running again if I felt like I could. The pinching on my nerves relented a bit while I walked and stretched, so I decided to try running again, making it my goal to run 1 kilometer. After I made it to the kilometer sign, I made it my goal to make it to the next water station. By the time I reached the water station, the numbness and tingling was back, so we walked and stretched through the station. That’s basically how the entire rest of the race went – running between water stations and taking decent walking and stretch breaks while getting water.

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There was also the occasional selfie break, of course

I experienced a huge moment of clarity during those tough miles. I realized why it has been so difficult for me to talk about my goals for the race. Setting a time goal didn’t feel right, but saying I was running for fun also didn’t describe what I was doing. At that moment, knowing my time goals were probably out the window, I realized what my goal really was – I just didn’t want to give up on myself. I wanted to put forth my best effort, whatever that looked like. While I knew I was probably in shape to run under 4:30, I realized that I didn’t care if that actually happened, as long as I didn’t mentally quit. That’s not really the same thing as running for fun, but it’s not exactly setting a time goal, either. This whole training cycle, I’ve been working on building my mental toughness. What I most wanted to prove to myself during this race was that I really had gotten better.

As is the case in any marathon, my mood went through highs and lows. I had given Bobbi advice on what works to motivate me and what doesn’t, and I told her that sometimes, I do better if someone just runs a few steps right in front of me and I can just zone out and follow their legs. She did everything I had suggested without even mentioning it, and it really worked. My legs seemed to have a little over a mile in them before I would lose feeling again in my right leg, so I would fight for that last quarter mile to make it to the water stop. I never, ever quit, but boy, was I happy to have those walk and stretch breaks when they arrived! Some miles they were a little longer than others, but I always forced myself to pick it right back up. I didn’t care what my pace was, but I was not about to walk the rest of this race until I was absolutely forced to. That’s when I realized how much tougher I am this cycle than previously.

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If only there were no other people in races and then there would only be photos of me

We repeated part of the course over the last 5 or 6 miles, which I found helped immensely. Even though it wasn’t the most exciting part of the course, it was a relief to know exactly what was coming and about where each water station was. I was fighting like hell to make it all the way to the stop because normally, I lost feeling in my leg about a mile before they appeared. I let out a few choice curse words from time to time and once considered telling Bobbi to tell me AS SOON as she saw even a hint of the next stop, but the signs always appeared just when I was about to give up.

On the topic of water stops, let’s talk about water. Remember how I told you that one of my favorite  parts of running international races is tasting the different electrolyte drinks they have in other countries? Well, the Prague Marathon used Gatorade, so that was not very exciting. However, they use Mattoni mineral water as the water on the course. If you’ve traveled to countries outside the US and Canada, you probably know that you need to specify whether you want “still water” or “water with gas” when you go to a restaurant. I abhor “water with gas”’ and find nothing in the world more disgusting and less refreshing. The water on the course tasted (to me) like it was carbonated, and it wasn’t refreshing at all. That was fine early on in the race, but as the day wore on, Bobbi and I were so thirsty. At around mile 18, I literally found a mostly full “still water” bottle on the side of the road and literally grabbed it out of the street. Bobbi and I rationed that water for the next 8 miles and we have no apologies for how gross that is. It could have given me dysentery and I would still tell you it is the best water I have ever tasted. Like I always say, there is no dignity in marathoning.  On a related note, we later talked to the race directors at the press dinner that evening and they assured us that Mattoni is still water, it’s just mineral water, so it tastes different. They looked at us like we were nuts when we suggested that it was carbonated, but we stand by it. Either way, if you don’t like mineral water, bring your own.

Ok, so back to the race. I basically had assumed that there was no way I was going to hit any of my time goals. I thought we would probably come in somewhere around 5:15, but I truly had no idea. Sometimes, like with 10k left to go, finishing the race felt possible. At mile 22 or so, I felt another panic attack coming on because another 4-plus miles just seemed totally out of the question. I steeled myself and kept putting one put in front of the other. At 38k (a little before mile 24, I think) my leg was losing feeling faster and faster after each walk and stretch break, and I felt so discouraged. I was still pushing myself to run between each water stop but was rapidly losing the will to do so. I had not looked at my watch to that point, so I had no idea what our pace was. I decided to sneak a peek and, if a time goal or finishing within 5 hours was remotely within reach, then I would keep going. If not, I wanted to slow down. I looked down at my watch and saw 4:13 and I think my eyes almost bulged out of my head. I could not believe it! I was both happy that we were doing so well (a post surgery PR was definitely in the bag) and also kind of mad that I had to keep pushing, haha!

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Must. Keep. Running.

At that point, I knew finishing under 4:40 was within reach if I gave it absolutely everything I had. While that’s a totally arbitrary number that doesn’t mean anything, it gave me something to aim for. I did not tell Bobbi that I had looked at my watch, but I knew she was thinking exactly what I was. I decided to trust her pacing and just follow and not let up if I could help it. We passed through a long, dark, quiet tunnel, and Bobbi said, “While I have your full attention, I just want you to know how proud I am of you. You should be so proud of yourself. You never quit today and you are so much stronger than you give yourself credit for.” I just gasped out a quiet “thank you” and said “I’m proud of myself, too.” I meant it.

We had one more very quick water stop and I told her I would run it in from there (a little over 2k to go). That seemed like a good idea at the time, but with 1k to go (about 7 minutes at a 10 minute per mile pace), I felt like I could not possibly continue at that pace. “If there is any way we can go even a little bit slower and still hit whatever goal you’re aiming for, that would be great,” I grunted. We backed off just enough that I was able to breathe again and eventually rounded the final stretch.

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This perfectly captures the essence of the last 4 miles of the race

With 500 meters left, I started to pick up the pace. As long as my leg connected with the ground, I had energy, and we ended up running 8:45 pace during the last part of the race. The crowds were roaring and we crossed the line in 4:39:28. I could barely believe my eyes. I would have been thrilled with that time even without back problems, but with them? It seemed like an actual miracle. Embarrassing though it may be, that’s my 5th fastest marathon ever!

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Eye on the prize! Let’s finish this!

Of course, as is my finish line tradition, I immediately sat down about 5 feet from the finish. I didn’t even go get my medal at first. When I regained feeling in my leg, we got up and walked to get our medals and some more mineral water (hoorayyyy), then eventually to pick up our bags.

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Once I could stand again, we got our medals and took a photo. Also – salty sweater much? Geez.

We had a long walk back to our hotel since we had missed the media bus (the majority of the press team was not running the marathon), but although it took quite a while, it was probably a good thing and helped us loosen our legs. I wish I could tell you anything about the post-race finisher’s area, but I really can’t. We pretty much made a beeline for the hotel and never got any food or anything. It looked pretty cool, though – the finisher’s area is the entire main square in Old Town Prague.

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View of the finisher’s area, featuring a giant inflatable bottle of the water that nearly ruined me.

Overall, the Prague Marathon vastly exceeded my expectations – both in terms of the race itself and my own personal experience and result! While I’m proud of my time, I’m even more proud of my mindset. I never gave up. That’s not something I’ve been able to say very often when it comes to running. I know this training cycle paid off, and I can’t wait to see what the next one will bring!

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Yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty good day, all in all.

LEAVE A COMMENT: What surprises have you encountered during a race?

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39 thoughts on “Surprise, Surprise – Prague Marathon Race Report

  1. Mineral water. Hmm. That is a new one. But I guess when I think about it, it makes sense?
    I so understand your hesitancy to talk about goals, particularly as you explained it–it is almost EXACTLY how I felt going into my first marathon. I, like you, had had a KICK ASS training all the way up to the last month and a half, and then everything fell apart. So, I 10000% understand your mindset.
    You should be so proud of this race. Of each and every part of it–the training that led up to it, the race itself, how far you have come physically, and without a doubt, gurl, that mind of yours.
    Can I borrow it for a little bit??
    You rock. Congratulations!

    1. Yeah, maybe mineral water is a European thing? Or maybe it is also an American thing and I’m just really cheap and drink tap water? Hard to say. Thanks so much for all of your support and encouragement throughout this training cycle. It is so powerful (as you know) to have people cheering you on and rooting for you along the way!

  2. I’ve loved following your training and am so proud of you. Congratulations and thank you for sharing the experience.

    1. Thank you so much for following along, Jen! It means so much to know that I have people cheering me on!

  3. Never give up!!!! It’s a lot easier to say when you have total feeling in your legs and feet. Holy crap woman!!! I loved reading every word of this and you should be enormously proud of yourself for finishing the way you did.
    I also love how you picked up a random bottle of water!!! I would have done the same. I can’t tolerate “water with gas” when I’m NOT running so I cannot imagine.
    Great story, gorgeous pictures and amazing YOU!!!! Another one in the books. Love it!!

    1. Thanks, Allie! It’s a little embarrassing that it took me…oh…3000 words to write it all out, but oh well! I am absolutely not ashamed of picking up that bottle of water. My only regret is not finding one sooner!

  4. What an incredible story! It’s impossible that this race has come and gone; it seems like it was years ago that you announced your trip to Prague. This internet stranger is incredibly proud of you!!

    1. Hahaha! In some ways, yes – it does seem like years ago! At the same time, the training cycle kind of flew by and it was here faster than I expected. Thank you for following along the entire time!

  5. As tears are streaming down my face reading about how your leg kept going numb, I am eternally grateful that
    Bobbi was there for you every step of the way. She not only is an amazing trainer, she is a true friend. Bless you Bobbi for being there for my baby girl! I am proud of your perseverance honey, but it might be time to go back to doing just half marathons. I love you!

  6. Hoooooly moly, I just had to choke back some tears at your convo with Bobbi in the tunnel. You should be proud! *I’m* proud of you! Excellent, excellent job, and congratulations! It might not have been your goal, but you definitely have been damn inspiring this whole training cycle/race, and I for one am (selfishly) incredibly appreciative of that.

    1. Thank you so much, Ann! That means a lot and I really AM proud of myself. Even though I didn’t make my “A” goal, I actually think I proved more to myself in this race than I would have if everything had gone perfectly and I had finished in a faster time. It might not have been the race I wanted, but it was the race I needed! Thanks for following along.

  7. Congrats on your mental toughness! I can tell that you enjoyed this race in spite of your physical challenges. It’s on my list to run one day.

    1. Thanks, Sandy! You definitely need to do it. It could not be better organized or more beautiful. You’ll love it!

  8. Congratulations on your marathon and a GREAT race! Bobbi sounds like an amazing coach and person and it looks like you both had a wonderful time. Even though it’s a marathon you’re smiling in every picture and just look so happy to be out there. I’ve been reading your blog for a long time and seen the ups and downs, so it’s really nice to see this “up” and that things are going well for you. You trained super hard for this and earned that time!

    I hope your post-race recovery is going well, and that the rest of your time in Prague was wonderful!

    1. Thank you!! She is incredible (and also superhuman, because she was injured half our training cycle and only got in like 6 weeks of workouts and still ran that race like it was nothing). I really tried so hard to embrace the experience, remember where I was, and be grateful no matter how bad I felt because I mean – I was in Prague! I definitely accomplished my goal of soaking it all in and having fun while still pushing myself 🙂

  9. I thought mineral water was dangerous in big quantities… interesting.
    That big inflatable bottle just taunting you at the end.
    I had a panic attack in the end of my half marathon 2 weeks ago & it was HORRIBLE. I totally just stopped in the road – good for you pushing through it.
    That ‘tunnel talk’ would have had me choked up. Hearing someone say they are proud of you is THE BEST.
    I applaud you for defeating this race. You are amazing. I hope your leg & the feeling is better. That has to be so mentally exhausting as it is physical.
    Onward & upward!!!

    1. Honestly, I have no idea! I didn’t even know mineral water tasted different…apparently I’ve never tried it until now. Won’t be making that mistake again!

      I definitely did get a little choked up in the tunnel 🙂 Fortunately, I’m not much of a crier, so it didn’t go any further than that! It was a tough day in some ways, but really an incredible one over all. I feel so lucky to have had the experience – all of it!

  10. Congrats on your awesome race and mental toughness!! I’m so happy that you did so well, and got to enjoy most of the race, while dealing with your leg and anxiety!
    I thought a lot about you on Sunday when I was having a tough time. I was glad you were running Prague because I didn’t want you to have to deal with me struggling. I tried to remember what we did at Prairie Fire and Casper to keep going. I didn’t have anyone to high five, but I kept using the mantra of: Steady forward progress. It definitely helped. Fortunately people didn’t keep saying I was almost there. 😉
    Congrats again!! So exciting!

    1. I really did enjoy the race, even when I was struggling with my leg. I tried very hard to constantly remind myself of what an amazing experience I was having, regardless of whether it felt like it or not at the time. Of course, that’s an easy thing to do when you’re in such a beautiful place!!

      I thought about you during my race, too! I wish we had been running together – we make a great team!

  11. “I’m proud of me too”
    THANKS FOR MAKING ME CRY, DANIELLE.
    And I’m glad you were able to verbalize that. Because you know what? We so often don’t give ourselves enough credit for being the badasses we are!

    The struggle bus, make it to the next mile marker, is exactly how Ann and I ran our marathon 2 years ago, and I can relate to so much of this. Right in the feels (did Ann already comment and say that? Probably….).

    1. I’m very rarely, if ever, proud of myself when it comes to a lot of things, but especially running. I’m glad I was able to not quit on myself in this race and finally be able to say it out loud!

  12. Love everything about this recap, Danielle!!! Congrats!!! You seem to have made huge strides this year, mentally and physically. This was a payoff that was well deserved!! Way to ROCK!!

    1. It is so gross!! Although they claim this was still mineral water and not water with gas, but I remain unconvinced.

  13. I’m so happy for you and not giving up is the most important aspect. You can finish sure, but if you finish in a positive mindset, the race itself just feels so much better.

    1. Thanks, Hollie! I was definitely ready to be done at the end, but I was proud of my effort for sure!

  14. What a terrific race report, so glad you had such a great experience. Where did you guys find those awesome SC tank tops?

  15. A marathon is easy (well, “easy”) when it’s going well, but it’s a million times harder when it isn’t. And it’s way harder to push through when things aren’t going your way, and I admire people more for pushing through the hard times. I’m sorry that your back was acting up (and leg going numb, I can’t imagine!), but congrats on pushing through and still hitting a great time.

    Prague looks beautiful and now that you’ve said it’s a fast course….

    1. Thanks, Susan! That means a lot to me, especially coming from a runner as accomplished and fast as you are 🙂 Prague is amazing and I cannot recommend it enough! I’ll be doing another post soon with more details about the race itself (rather than focusing on just my experience), but I would definitely say you should add it to your list!

  16. Hi Danielle,

    Congratulations on your race and time, very impressibilité.I am happy to see that you enjoyed your stay in my home country and that your race was a good one, despite the setbacks and challenges and mineral water (that I actuelly miss here in France, funny how that works)
    I gave birth to my third on Sunday during your race, quite the marathon also one might say 😉
    Are you planning on running more marathons?

    1. Thank you so much, Eva! I wish I had been able to see more of your country – the small part I did see was so beautiful! I think your marathon is FAR more impressive than mine! Congratulations on your new baby! I am not sure if I am planning on running more marathons. I am definitely open to the idea, but I want to make sure I am really excited about it first. I do not have any concrete plans to do so right now.

  17. WHEW – amazing read and glad I waited until I had time! Although I knew the outcome, it is always the JOURNEY that makes these posts so wonderful.

    And as others have said, what an amazing, incredible mental victory! It really isn’t easy when things are not feeling great to sustain the focus and drive and discipline – we work for months on the physical and try to gird our mental defenses, but in the heat of the moment it is really tough!

    So I am proud of you – and thrilled that you are proud of yourself.

    And I absolutely LOVE the picture where Bobbi is giving a cute wave and you look you’re riding the struggle bus big time!

    Congratulations again and look forward to your continuing adventures in marathoning, half-marathoning and whatever else your body will let you do!

    1. Thanks, Mike! It was a huge mental victory, even if it wasn’t a physical one. And this training cycle has been all about the mental side of things, so that makes sense! I’m not sure where future races will take me, but I’m excited to find out.

  18. Hey Danielle! Great job!! I lived in Germany for two years, and at lunch all they had was the bubble water. Oh man, I hated it. Sometimes there was also bubbly water mixed with different juices, which was something I could stomach haha.

    Thanks for the recap, very inspirational! 🙂

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