19 February 2020
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

Event review: PZU Warsaw Half Marathon

April 10, 2015
Warmup

It seems everyone got the ‘Wear your funkiest tights’ memo except me. Fortunately I just happened to have a very fetching rainbow-coloured tulle skirt to slip into, else I would’ve felt rather under-dressed at this year’s Warsaw Half Marathon.

Polmaraton-Warszawski-Mass-

Running tights decorated with psychedelic flowers, tights emblazoned with bananas, even rather gruesome-looking ones depicting leg muscles – I saw them all during this wonderfully exuberant race.

And to think, despite it being the event’s tenth birthday, it almost didn’t happen at all. Just six weeks before, a fire destroyed most of the city’s main bridge after wooden boards stored under it caught fire. The traffic disruption this caused almost resulted in the race being called off – it probably would’ve been anywhere else in the world, but not in Warsaw.

Visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum and you’ll soon find out what strong stuff Poles are made of. The city was decimated by German bombing during the Second World War and yet the Polish nation rebuilt Warsaw into the charming city it is now – abounding in stunning parks and ultramodern architecture.

Warmup

And so, after much deliberation, a new course was drawn up. The revised route started on Pilsudski Square, a huge plaza that’s home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and cut through the city centre which is punctuated by skyscrapers so modern they look as if they belong in Blade Runner.

We also passed some Brutalist apartment blocks, a reminder of how bleak Warsaw must have looked during its Communist years. Despite being held on Palm Sunday, there were many supporters enthusiastically clacking little hand-shaped clackers. My favourite spectator was a tiny beret-wearing granny who delightedly high-fived runners as they went by.

Cheer-station

Flat, fast and festive

The course was mostly flat, along roads several lanes wide, so there was enough room to accommodate all 13,000 of us. At one point I was joined by Julie, a 17 year old who was running her first half and aiming to up that to a full in Warsaw when she turned 18.

‘It’ll be my birthday gift from me to me,’ she told me.

I also spent some time with some of the 25 super-cheery Redway Runners who’re based in Milton Keynes and had come to Warsaw for a spring break. The race has entries from 25 countries and us Brits make up the biggest contingent of foreign runners with 109 entrants.

Redway-Runners

A definite course highlight for me was, rather surprisingly, the stretch inside a traffic tunnel between 15K and 16K. This could have been deadly dull but instead we were treated to massive screens showing some of Warsaw’s prettiest sights, accompanied by the most incredibly soul-stirring sound of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries played at full blast.

Moving moment

The final stretch was along the Vistula River where we could see the pastel-coloured houses of the Old Town that was rebuilt from the rubble after WWII using photographs as there were no architectural plans to guide the builders.

At 18K we were in for a sneaky little shock – a short but steep hill that forced most of us back-of-the-packers to walk. And then we found ourselves on the road that passes the monument to the Warsaw Uprising, an ill-fated attempt by the Polish resistance to liberate the city from German occupation. The course runs right over one of the manhole covers that many resistance fighters and residents used to access the sewers and escape the Old Town. A truly sobering but moving race moment.

Manhole-cover-used-to-escap

Despite my slow time I was greeted with rapturous applause as I crossed the finish line. Just then another runner came over with his girlfriend to shake my hand. ‘Do you remember me?’ he asked. I had to confess I didn’t. ‘I’m the guy who turned round to tell you how much I loved your outfit,’ he said proudly, asking me to pose for a photo. Little did he know how many other friendly Warsawites had done the very same thing.

Polmaraton-Warszawski-Party-afterwards

Bad points

  • This is a big city race, so if you don’t like running with the pack this isn’t the race for you.
  • The in-race snacks are very old school – water, isotonic sports drink and bananas. If you want anything more fancy you’ll have to provide your own.
  • Water is served in paper cups so if you prefer not to inhale yours while running, bring your own water bottle and refill it.

Good points

  • The slick organisation. There are plenty of toilets (and they’re kept stocked with loo roll until the bitter end!), refreshment tables every 5K and a really solid, well-designed medal to reward you for your efforts
  • A dozen bands and drumming outfits on the course played on until the last runner plodded by
  • There was a party atmosphere at the finish, which the organisers encouraged by laying on seating with tables and free portions of hot soup, hot tea and apples. There were also showers and massage stations for the ultimate post-race wind-down.

More info: The next Warsaw Half Marathon will take place on 3 April 2016
To enter, visit:  www.pzupolmaratonwarszawski.com/en

Lisa Jackson, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

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