When: May 9, 2011
Where: Prague, Czech Republic
First man Eliud Kiptanui 2:05:39
First woman Helena Loshanyang Kirop 2:25:29
Last finisher 6:51:23
No. of finishers 4854
After months of preparation it arrives - race day. Those seemingly endless runs come rain or shine all felt worthwhile as I stood in a sun-soaked Old Town Square at the start of the Prague Marathon.
Having already been on holiday to Prague, I had a fair idea of what to expect in terms of route - or so I thought. Friends had warned me that the course would take in the biggest hill in Prague (at the top of which sits Prague Castle). The thought filled me with dread. Although hill training had been a part of my regime, this monster beat the competition (the streets of Highgate in London) hands down.
Thankfully, the route guide included in my race pack showed a reassuringly flat course, which still took in some of Prague's most stunning views.
The layout of the start area in Old Town Square was easy to follow and as a reasonably-sized race it was easy to find my start zone in plenty of time before the official warm up began.
The race attracts thousands of runners from all over the world, particularly Europe, the US, China and Japan. In my starting pen, one thing I noticed right away was the distinct lack of charity runners. Unlike many British races, there were no hordes of charity vest-attired or costumed runners - running for charity just didn't seem to be a regular part of the running culture here in the Czech Republic.
With the start drawing ever closer, it's was easy to be swept up in the electric atmosphere as an array of colourful parachutists dropped into the starting area. At the sound of the gun, elite athletes sprang into action while dozens of balloons were released - the battle for a podium finish had begun.
The weather was clear and sunny - perhaps too sunny - as the race started for us non-elites. The first six miles saw us take in the majority of Old Town before crossing the first of eight bridges to arrive in New Town territory. With every foot strike we find ourselves in the presence of stunning architecture, both modern and historic, as we traverse the cobbled streets.
With the sun beating down and the temperature hitting 30 degrees, the second half of the course was certainly the hardest. As we headed out into suburban Prague the crowd dropped off, so self-motivation became a priority. With most runners completing the race in under four hours, as a first-time marathon runner I found the sparser parts of the course disconcerting. It didn't help that the course wasn't always clearly marked, so relying on fellow runners for a directions was a must.
As I approached the last six miles, most of the water and snacks had been cleared away. Supplies at the remaining couple of stations were limited and I clung on to the bottles I could get.
In the home stretch heading back towards Old Town Square, the street was lined with noisy spectators calling out runners' names as you sprint towards the finish line. After five hours and fifty-nine minutes, my race is over - crossing the finish line with the Union flag in sight, I was presented with a shiny bronze medal and goody bag before being escorted over to the finishing area for an official photograph.
Taking into account a few niggles along the way, this race delivered everything I was expecting as a first time marathon runner. From its beautiful location to the flat, spacious course, the Volkswagen Prague Marathon presents novice and seasoned runners with a first-rate race experience combined with a tour of everything this magical city has to offer.