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Waclaw

1. What do you like best in running and what is your pet peeve?

When I run, I don't think about any problems, I just observe the nature around, look at other runners, and just relax. I don't like when there's crowds of people on the path beside me, because usually there's this distinct odour of warming gels and creams hanging in the air, and it stinks! This is what I don't like.

2. What would ideal running/racing conditions look like to you?

It doesn't really matter, as long as there's no rain. However, if I go out for a run and it starts raining shortly after I start moving, there's no way back: I'll have to finish my run, I can't just cancel it! But, overall, there are no specific 'most effective' conditions I'd name, really. Of course, when there's nice weather outside, a bit of warm sun in the morning run, not too hot, it's more pleasant to train, but, as I said, it doesn't matter much.

3. What running dream do you have? If you had everything you needed, what would be the wildest, most impossible dream?

My dream is to run the London marathon. I don't think of the New York 42 km, as it's too far away and too expensive, and London is nearer. Unfortunately, I didn't win a slot the previous year, and I missed this year's lottery, so...

4. Tell about the toughest training you had. What was the outcome? And what was the most valuable takeaway?

The hardest type of training for me will be uphill runs. I always pull my hat over my eyes, so that I can't see the hill! The trick works: see no hill, so there's just some flat path ahead of me, and forward I go :) Also I'm not a fan of interval training. I'm too old for that, so I'm more comfortable with slower runs. That being said... I got varying results of such training. I need to mention, that I started running when I turned 63. And so a few years later, there I was, an 68-old man who ran his PR in marathon distance within 3 hours and 45 minutes. So... at the end of the day it's hard to say which type of run is the toughest. Now that I think of it, it's very challenging to run in heat: harder to breathe, and on top of that, during the race the water stations are 'first come, first serve', so that the fastest runners grab the water ant it often happens that there isn't any left when I reach the station. It's not always the case, but such things happen, when the race orgs miscalculate the water quantities needed. Such was the Krakow race in April: the slowest runners didn't get any water at all, there were only sweet isotonics available. And you can't really pour this sticky stuff over yourself, right? I looked and looked for water, and finally there was some left at the last station, so needless to say, this was one tough race for me. 

5. What body part would you name that would be the most important when it comes to running? What body part you're most thankful to?

Knees :) I have a knee problem now, and it is getting a bit better since I resumed running. This Sunday I completed the Opole half-marathon. I signed up for a full marathon, and all this time I couldn't make up my mind whether I should do the half or the full distance. I had an opportunity to choose there, you see. In the end, I opted in for the half, as my knee got worse prior to the race. I thought that there was a risk of further injury if I overdid it, so I decided it'd be better to finish earlier. So, the knees are a very important part of my body now. But, in general, I think that head is the most important body part when it comes to running. Because, especially in long distance races I often see this: some other runners, much younger than me (for example, 20-year olds) don't try to run the shorter distances faster, so I outrun them in marathons. This is because their mind doesn't work the way it should, it doesn't "let" them push harder, so they often say: " Oh, I won't be able to run this faster, I need to slow down". This is why I think that head is where it all begins. 

6. Did you do sports when you were a child? Was running among the activities you were fond of? If not, why did you eventually decide to start running and when did that happen?

No... I was born in those times when you didn't really do sports, as you didn't have as many opportunities as there are now. Of course, we played different active games, like "Paper Chase"or "Dodgeball". When we guys went out to play, we used to play football... Such were the games. When it comes to why and when I started running... I'll tell you this: before I was quite annoyed with runners, because their races were an obstacle to me moving about town. In those times I didn't even think of starting running, despite keeping fit in general: I played basketball once a week with the young folk, I also was a regular at the swimming pool. So, starting running wasn't much of a deal, as I was quite active. Actually, come to think of it, as a schoolkid I did kayaking, and besides that I attended the judo classes. My story with judo ended when I got a sparring partner who was much heavier than me. So, after our training fight he couldn't catch his breath for half an hour, and I couldn't walk for two weeks :) So, that was the end of judo and the start of kayaking. Then I went to the army and there I did some running as part of PT, and I liked it. I also became fond of ping-pong and wasn't bad at it! So, I was a sporty person afterwards! Fast forward to a few years ago: I was visiting my daughter who was studying in Köln at that time. I also happened to meet a former colleague there, and he suggested we went to see the marathon. It was quite a big event, with about 10000 participants. So, there I was, amongst the cheering crowds, looking at the runners... a lot of whom were about my age! And I thought: "I, too, need to run a marathon now!" :) Two years passed till I actually managed to achieve that goal. I remember the look of shock and surprise on the faces of my basketball teammates, when I told them what I was about to do. They replied: "You, an old man, run 42k?", and I said: 'Just you wait and see, I will reach the finish line in less than 4 hours". They all thought I lost my marbles. From then on, I trained with a fellow runner for 6 months, and I succeeded! My finish timing was indeed within 4 hours. Everybody was shocked, and I was shocked more than anyone else :) I was 63, and people kept telling me that it might be already too late to start training for such distances. To this I replied: " Better late, than never!"

And so, I've been running since 2009, and have been loving it ever since. It became my guiding light and a major part of life that I plan the rest of stuff around. At first, my main goal was not to get injured and not to run too fast, and later on I became so involved in it and gained much skill. During my 8 years of running I participated in 75 marathons and 94 halves. And I'm not even counting shorter distances (5, 10, 15 km), there were about 200 of them. At one point I decided to run a marathon each week. How did I have time to recover, you ask? Well, I didn't feel it was a problem, because I felt good and because the race results got better and better.

7. What do you feel when you're at the start line and when you've just crossed the finish line? What is essential for you to have when you're about to run a race and what do you usually do after you've run it?

When I started running, I found out that my brother was a runner as well, and he lived in Warsaw. He trained in a club called "Just get to the finish" ("Byle dobiec"). I really liked that name, so I joined the club. And since then, each time I'm standing in the queue before the start line, I say to myself: "Just get to the finish!" The timing doesn't matter as long as I manage to finish the race. Of course, as I age, my perspectives and goals change. At one point I noticed that there weren't many elderly runners at the races, and it's not rare nowadays that I find myself standing on the podium, and then youngsters come to me and start asking questions like "How do you manage to do that?" What can I say, I just try to get a move on :) On the whole, nothing really bothers me, and as I have no ambitious big goals, I don't feel any pressure. Everything comes down to simple logic: if I'm about to take part in a half, I need to take water, if it's a 42k race, I'll have some gels with me. After the race I need to take some time to recover. Because now I run a bit slower (my average finishing time is longer than 4 hours), I need to keep safe.

8. Was there something that changed in your views on running since you started?

I guess, now I'm more fond of running than I was in the beginning. I used to joke, that all the neighbours heard me going out for a run, because I used to breathe very noisily. Of course, it was only during the first 2-3 km, then it always got easier. Also, I need to tell you, that when I just started, I found out had a huge problem with osteoporosis. It's usually women who have it this bad, but I was among the unlucky chaps. My doctor told me that I was at risk of breaking a bone by just stepping on my foot at an unusual angle. 36% less bone density, that was a lot of bone mass missing. But... I started running, and after 2-3 years my osteoporosis got much better, now being virtually nonexistent. I don't have any bone problems now, and my breathing improved very much as well. And this is one huge plus!

9. What goal that you set to achieve in the beginning of your running journey now seems to be something that's too ambitious or maybe even impossible to do?

My goal was to run a marathon within 3h 45min. My PR's were 3:47 and 3:46, but I just couldn't do the 3:45. I signed up for the Prorun running club here in Wroclaw to boost my pace. I trained with them for a whole year, did every type of training: intervals, sprints... I remember thinking that my heart was about to leap out each time I tried to keep pace with younger teammates, ones who were in their 30s and 40s. And there was me, a 65-year old man huffing and puffing among them. Those were hard training sessions! And no matter how much effort I input, I couldn't reach the goal I set for myself. So, I signed out of the Prorun club and continued on my own. It was then when I decided to run a marathon or a half each week, and so I basically was in and out of races all the time. I turned 68. I remember I flew to Rome and ran a marathon within 3:50 there. Not bad. A week later I ran 21.1k in Warsaw, finishing at 1:46. Then a week later I ran the Poznan half and made my PR there, which was 1:45. And then there was the Lipsk marathon. The race track consisted of two laps. 5 km into the race my watch battery died and I had no idea what pace I was at. I could only rely on the time shown at the public transport stations I passed by, so I could vaguely calculate my pace. I felt well and was enjoying the race. The first lap was a bit crowded, but the second lap I was all by myself. As I was nearing the finish line, I glanced at the clock, and -- surprise! I realized that I had a good chance to finish the race in less than 3 hours and 45 minutes! I sped up as much as I could, and I did it! I achieved my goal: my timing was 3: 44:35. I was speechless! It is possible, that despite the fact that I about a year passed since I trained in the club, I managed to accumulate enough strength and stamina to beat my goal. And I'm convinced that the key thing was me doing all those frequent races and constantly being active.

10. What goal do you have now?

Right now my biggest goal would be... Ah, maybe it's a bit too ambitious because of a recent knee injury... Last year I thought of this: to celebrate 10-year anniversary of me running I'd do a race in Wroclaw. Because it was here I ran my first 42k, I was born and raised in this city, and I feel a part of it. But not only would I run another race, it would be my 100-th marathon. As of now, I've done 75 marathons. The trouble is, the Wroclaw Marathon will take place in the middle of September. Were an end of the year race, I would be more likely to make it my 100th. So, now I need to hurry up! But because in the beginning of this year I got hit by a cyclist at the pedestrian crossing and badly injured my knee, things got complicated and I don't feel I can do long distance races now. I have already cancelled quite a few: one in Dębno, one in Łódz and one in Opole. That makes three marathons that were planned and now they aren't done. 24 to go, and the 25th will be the Wroclaw marathon next year, so that leaves me with less than two years to cover the remaining races. To make further calculations, this all means I'll ave to do 12 marathons within one year and 13 within the other, which isn't a big deal: last year I did 13 marathons and 18 halves, and the year before that I managed to run 13 marathons and 24 halves, so if not for the injury, my body would have no trouble finishing all those remaining races. So, long story short, I realize tat I might not succeed in making that beautiful number 100 on time, but I will try to. I definitely won't try to do it if I don't feel well enough, as it's all more of a crazy idea than a "must". But it'd be great to be able to celebrate my running anniversary this way. We'll see how it goes. 

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@2020 Anna Shilonosova