Sun Challenge Vacaresti 2019 race report – my first half marathon

Race Information

Name Sun Challenge 2019
Date 29th of September 2019
Distance 21.5 Km
Location Bucharest, Romania
Time 2:12:23


Don’t stop during runingYes
Sub 2:30Yes
Sub 2:15 (set during race)Yes


Not necessarily training, but this I’m considering my turning point, my starting line towards slaying my second giant. I started more as an experiment doing keto in February of 2018 and all-together, after a year and a half lost around 40kg, which is huge for me. I was always the fat kit, the chubby-wubbly guy and such. Seems keto worked for me, but alas, in August of 2018 I tried once going running outside and loved it. Things spiraled from there, got myself my first running shoes (Mizuno Synchro MD), participated in my first 10K with no formal training, just running and getting my 5k-6k-7k better and better (i.e. not stopping during running, not gasping for air and such). Finished my first 10K (basically, my first competition race) on 28th of September 2018 and the first edition of this post’s competition in a place.

I knew that I had to go further and further, because I’m eyeing ultras, but I want to take it step by step, baby-steps method. So I enrolled in my first planned half-marathon at which I did not get to participate due to a patellar tendinitis made with 3 weeks before. Tons of depressive thoughts, really had a bad couple of months in February-March. Still, I got out of enlisting a really neat running t-shirt which I still use to this day as my main.

When I saw that the guys at Sun Challenge are doing a second edition and they had a half marathon and they’re gonna get the course through Văcărești Natural Park, I just registered and that’s that. Knew I had to pick out a training regime to be able to run it without puking my insides out at the end (this is a really important thing about me at this point: finish a competition with a comfortably hard feeling).

So I went on to the Internets and looked and looked and settled for Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 Half Marathon training, because it looked as if it’s manageable with my day to day chores and I was able to introduce swimming and some leg strength training here and there. I modified it to have it on my terms and I began the training.

In the meantime, a friend of mine which has always kept my spirits up in terms of running, beside many other things she helped me with, told me about some running group she’s enjoying for 4-5 years now and I should try it out. Until that point I was always running alone, me and my headphones. Things changed dramatically when I went for my first run with 321sport of Bucharest. I ACTUALLY ENJOYED RUNNING WITH A GROUP. I kind of dreaded the idea at first, but man, the energy these guys have… So, things were set. On Tuesday at 19:30 I’m having my long run, two more days of running in the week, and Monday/Friday is for swimming/sauna. Finally, Sunday usually was when I would try either some leg strengthening exercises or went to different group classes to the gym. This didn’t go as planned, as I had around 50% or less attendance to this. Shame on me!

Regarding the running side of things, I was around 80% strict about it, as I had quite a few hiking and camping trips during the weekends and sometimes I just didn’t have the mood on Thursday for running. It was recurrent and still have to figure out why that happened (anybody thoughts?)

The worst part of the training period was that the Sunday before the run I went for a long run (15k planned), but at around 8k I felt a pain on the top of the foot and couldn’t continue more than 11k. I had, practically, a breakdown, because it seemed to me at the time that things were repeating like the aforementioned patellar tendonitis. Went to the med, she gave me a no-go to run, RICE’d, tried a traditional method for alleviating pain and recovering that week (dipping me feet in hot water with salt – more exactly, tons of salt) and I almost cried one night before sleep.

Lastly, I decided on Friday that things were looking sufficiently good and runners are known for being dumbasses when it comes to injuries and went for it. Set my mind to it: if the pain arises again and it’s 50% bad, stop and try again at another HM. Also, used a NSAID gel the evening before to see how it feels and things were promising.


I’ve started 4 months ago a morning routine which enabled me to kickstart my day. Wake up, toilet, brush teeth, daily practice (based on what Josh from Strength Side youtube channel has created), smoke half a cigarette, poo and I’m all set for the day. Nothing new on race day until now.

I’ve been experimenting in the weeks before the race with a banana 30-45 minutes before a long run and it seemed to agree with me pretty well. The only difference on this day is that I ate a bowl of cereal around 90-120 minutes before the race, which goes against the rule to not experiment recently or on the day of the race, but damn, I wanted something more consistent to eat and the cereals were so good on other occasions so I just went with it. Everything went smooth, even with the whole experimenting.

Arrived with 30-45 minutes before the start of the race, stayed and laughed with a friend, overall felt awesome!


The race was set up in a 7k loop through the natural park, in this loop having two drinking and eating stations. Thus, I will breakdown the race section in the loops.

Start – 7K

Stayed in the last third of the participants just to be sure that I don’t go too fast from the start, as I was at first interested in finishing before everything safely and also be able to run with a really good friend I gave as a birthday gift the participation at this HM. Also, he said he’d stay with me the first loop just to warm up and eventually he’d go ahead (he’s run multiple HM’s before and this was a training run for his first half marathon). Planned to go at my comfortable 6:30 min/km pace and eventually go faster if I felt so. Didn’t happen. My friend didn’t enjoy the tight spot at the start with lots of people and went on to leave me behind and somehow the vibe of the competition got to me and went the first 3 km at around 5:55-5:58 min/km, but felt so great I didn’t slow down. At the 3 km mark there were some steps which slows everyone down and I have a general rule to go chill on uphills and go faster on downhills. Went downhill as fast as I felt was safe for me not to trip and passed a few more. At the 4 km mark there’s this real fun guy who was practically dancing showing us the way and he gave me such good energy and also running through the vegetation got me so pumped up I continued at my initial ~6:00 min/km pace.

The new part for me was between the 5 and 6 km portion of the loop, as that’s a new trail made in the park. Very technical in my opinion: tons of grass and some rocks and holes which if you weren’t attentive, you’re pretty sure to get yourself injured. Going by a big ass hole in that portion 3 times right after a 90 degree turn I was each time almost to get my foot in that hole. Looked like it had a 30-40 cm depth. Yikes!

At the 6.5 km mark there’s a 30 m steep uphill on which I drastically reduced the pace and god, putting my foot on the first step of a stair really blocked me. Had to pull myself together to be able to get up on the trail again. Another 500 meter and I finish the first loop. Here I get myself some water – seems I have to learn to drink water while running, as I’ve read there are some techniques to become more efficient at this – and I’m off on the second loop.

7K – 14K

This loop was when I passed many people with the continued ~6:00 min/km pace. It was really interesting for me to see people with tons of expensive equipment – at least looking from my perspective as most of my equipment is Decathlon – like Uglow, some real fancy Nike shorts and so on and me just minding my own business and passing them easily.

In this section I got another fill of water and a dried date from the hydration and food station in the middle of the park just to be sure I’m not getting dehydrated and just being mindful of not bonking further down the road, if I passed the 14k mark.

Was a bit fearful at the 14k mark, because my longest run was actually 14k, so after finishing the first loop, I was on uncharted territory.

Overall, this section felt great and just went by the classical “one foot in front of the other” method.

14k – Finish line

This is, in my experience, the fun part. As I said I was quite fearful of that 14k mark, but getting the notice from my Polar watch that I passed the 15k mark, I was 90% sure I would finish. Still passing a ton of people, some I even raced just applying a method I read in David Goggins’ book – breaking them. Stayed behind them in my comfortable pace, but close enough to make them feel my breath on their necks. God, it was exhilarating to do that. Really toughens you up if manage to stay in front of them – happened to me too in this race at around the 16k or 17k mark. Around this time I looked at the time on my watch, see I’m around 1hr45min and think to myself “Dude, you’re too fine not to try and push it a bit and go for 2:15:00!” And so I set a new goal: go even lower and don’t take it easy just because I was on a great time. Be my best self possible!

Getting around the 18k mark I’m coming close to the hydration station in the park and decided I’d take a full stop, get a proper gulp of Gatorade (I think that’s what it was, as they were sponsors of the race) and some fruit. Chose banana. Probably should’ve went for glucose tablets, as I think they are assimilated faster by the body than the banana in such a short period of time until the end. Will know better next race! Off I am on the final pull to the finish.

Third time I almost put my foot in the hole I mentioned in the first loop section, laughed at myself for almost falling for it the third time and I’m seeing again the dancing guy from the middle of the park, gave him a high five, thanked him and said I’m waiting for him at the finish line. This last kilometer was a little scary as I started to feel my legs a bit heavier, but didn’t slow down too much, just enough to keep on rolling and still have a good time. When I hit the 21k mark I almost started getting some tears, but then saw the last damned uphill and concentrated to be able to get up it safely. As before, when I set my foot on the first step of the stair, I basically froze. Another mental push, and another and I’m up on the trail towards the finish.

I have around 150-200m until the finish, I’m pretty beat up, but man, when I saw a good friend with which I always do my long runs at the running group I mentioned earlier, she’s cheering and I just get a new wave of energy. Picked up the pace and saw after the race that I went with around 4:00-4:15 min/km on the last 100 meter. I just flew by the guys with the finisher medals and came back pretty quick to shake hands with them and thank them for everything.


After getting my medal I went straight to the food station and filled my face with bananas, glucose and dates, drank around 3-4 glasses of water, then went and met up with the cheering friend and just relaxed a bit. Saw in around 15-20 mins from the distance a woman I stayed behind and that I tried to break – which I think I did – cheered her on and after she finished and chilled a bit and went to apologize if I was annoying and we just had a laugh afterwards, made acquaintance and found out we’re going to see each other in another race I’m having on the 3rd of November. The thing that really gave me courage and a new wave of energy is that she said that if the course was flat, I would’ve probably scored sub 2h. Mind. Blown. From what she talked to her husband – at least that’s my guess – she seems to have completed some ultras and that meant a great deal to me.

At the raffle after the winner announcements I even won a phone armband, but gifted it to the friend which left me in the dust at the start of the race, stayed quite a bit afterwards and after showering I saw I got a real nice trucker’s tan.

That day I had my knees locked a bit, but the pain in the top of the foot wasn’t any worse when walking than before the half-marathon. Went on to sleep 4 hours that evening, ate, then slept again. The next day I was fresh, no locked knees and full of endorphins. The endorphins went on for another two days, having a great mood at work.

Learned from this experience that I’m a dumb runner – even though I took full responsibility that something bad can happen and was fully aware that I’d stop at that point and not risk it – that I need even more strength training and finally that I have quite the potential to go longer and faster after more training. Oh, the human body is magnificent!

Thank you for reading!

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