Six of Grantham Running Club’s finest heroes have just returned from a legendary quest in Krakow, Poland. Not for them the easy option from the local legend of poisoning a dragon using cow carcasses stuffed full of sulphur (especially since half the team were vegetarian and would have sided with the dragon!). No, they had a more important quest in mind, the legendary completion of a parkrun beginning with Z for the famous alphabet challenge! Oh, and there was a bit of running on the Sunday as well.
Most of the team flew out on the Wednesday, which meant they warmed up for the event by touring the city and by descending the 400, or was it 600, or 800 by the end, or what felt like many, many more steps down into the fabulous salt mines. The artistry and skill of those mines was one of the highlights of the trip.
By the Friday evening everyone had arrived and were planning the assault on the letter Z over traditional Polish food and very nice beer at Café Smak. The plan was hatched, the taxi was requested from the hotel receptionist and timings were all agreed, parkrun Zielony Jar was our target!
After a great continental breakfast with a few hot sausages and eggs at the Hotel Maksymilian, the taxi was boarded and the driver was convinced that yes we really did want to drive 20 minutes to the outskirts of the city to run round a park in a small green valley (hence the name Zielony Jar, although that seems to translate as Green Ravine).
On arrival we were greeted enthusiastically and felt very welcomed by the Run Director and all the volunteer team, who work hard to put on a really special event in a park that they consider is somewhat neglected by the local government, so much so that the team spend time each Saturday sweeping the amphitheatre and preparing the route.
The start was extraordinary, with an amusing welcome talk in Polish, admirably translated into English by a teenage boy who does this regularly, followed by a Zumba warmup to bring the Z theme to a crescendo.
The actual parkrun is four anticlockwise laps around the valley, with a turnaround point on a tarmac path which means that the keep right instruction at the start was needed, but the route was well signed and obvious throughout. I was a little surprised by passing directly in front of the beauty and fashion kiosks, but the proprietors were friendly and treated this as a normal part of their weekend. The route was a mixture of tarmac and trail, with tree roots, steps and slopes, plus a reasonable amount of ascent.
The organisers bill this as the hardest parkrun in Poland, with 80m of ascent, and it’s unlikely to be chosen as a pb course, but it was very accessible and enjoyable. At the end we had a chance to play with various signs for photographs, along with partaking of some supplied refreshments, and the three GRC ladies made themselves useful by also volunteering at the event. For the record, the finish times and positions are shown below, but the running was in many ways the least important part of this enjoyable parkrun. Pleasingly, although 35 of the 80 finishers are from British running clubs, that suggests that the majority were local, although there were many debutants at the event, including people doing their very first or difficult second parkruns. All six GRC runners succeeded in their quest to earn the Z parkrun, with Peter completing the Alphabet Challenge on his 450th parkrun.
After running we enquired about directions to the local tram stop, only to be told that it was closed to build an extension! In a manner that epitomised the friendliness of the event, another runner walked us to a local bus stop to get the direct route into town, trailed in their car by his wife and son.
After the delight of the friendly parkrun, the Saturday afternoon was spent at the Tauron Arena collecting race numbers for the following day and the doing tourist things in the Old Town, including touring the castle beneath which the Wawel Dragon once lived.
Sunday saw the main running event of the weekend, with four of the GRC heroes taking part in the 9th Royal Krakow half marathon (9. Cracovia Półmaraton Królewski) with one choosing the 5k race which started at the same time but set off in the opposite direction.
The HM was a scenic run into the Old Town, including a run through the main square and past the castle and Dragon’s Den. There was then a long stretch alongside the Vistula River, before passing the start area for an out and back along the dual carriageway followed by a final sprint into the stadium.
The course was flat, fast, and well marshalled. A particular highlight was the long lines of teenagers at the four refreshment points, with orchestrated calls of “Woda” for cups of water and “Iso” for cups of the sponsoring isotonic drink. Compared to UK races, large numbers of runners were wearing the event t-shirt or previous event t-shirts, with relatively few club vests on show. This led to some slight feelings that the etiquette was different, possibly exaggerated by cultural differences from people used to overtaking on the left rather than the right. However, the race went well for all runners, although the start process was long for those in the later pens, leading to some concern about whether the three-hour cut-off would be enforced based on gun time rather than chip time (and in the event, none of the GRC runners saw anyone attempting to impose any cut-offs).
Both races finished with a final 50m sprint into the light and music show within the Tauron Arena, a transition which was almost blinding when coming out of the bright sunshine and where the announcer was determined that everything should be celebrated at high volume, including switching to English for identified British runners. This was shown as Yvonne finished in a manner that won her a spot prize of a box of SiS sports gels, very generous but rather difficult to get home via aeroplane, so the team shared some out and the rest were given to other athletes at the event.
At the end, everyone was happy with their result, however hard they found it. Brendon achieved a PB for 5k, though he has run faster at parkrun and given he measured the 3 mile point at 33 minutes something he thinks that, unlike the HM, the 5k has only given gun time results. Yvonne struggled but was glad to have finished successfully and Vicky was amazed she’d done so well despite her lack of training. Paul had been aiming for under 2 hours so was pleased with the strength of his result and Peter found it hard in the middle but kept going and is pleased to have been the second of the 67 British runners who finished. The overall event saw 7,590 runners finish the HM.
The trip finished with celebratory meal on the Sunday then a sobering trip around the Auschwitz concentration camp on the Monday before flying home after a tiring but enjoyable quest for a Z parkrun and a foreign race. The discussion on the journey home turned to what location should be chosen for the next trip, and what new heroic quest should be undertaken.