Report by Vanessa Scanlon.
My name is Vanessa and I joined Sligo Triathlon Club after completing the women’s Try A Tri initiative in October 2019. I joined the triathlon club purely based on the positive experiences I had during the Try A Tri. People think when they hear I’m in the club that I must be a serious athlete and doing very athletic things. I sign up to some events and I complete them.
I’m all about the taking part and adding to my medal collection. I do not take this too seriously and I have made some wonderful friends along the way. I wanted to write the race report on Croatia to give a glimpse of the fun that the Tri club brings to my life on a weekly basis.
This race report will not give you a nutrition plan or go through the ins and outs of a rigorous training plan. It will hopefully tell you a story about how a group of friends went to Croatia and completed a long run.
My half marathon experience before 23rd of April 2022
On the 8th of March, 2020, I completed my first half marathon with the help of Spandau Ballet’s Gold to get me through the last 2 kilometres. I nearly cried on the second last kilometre, and swore I’d never do one again. I took off too fast (my definition of fast) and did not have a clue about pacing. I still don’t know a whole lot about said pacing. I do, however, know not to get caught up in the excitement at the start of a race and think that I can run with the athletes who have mantras like:- “winter miles make summer smiles”, actually go for regular runs and much to my amazement, appear to enjoy running in all conditions. I’ll never understand and to be honest I don’t think I ever want to understand.
Last week I was chatting to a fellow Sligo Tri Club member about swimming. I told him how much I love swimming: in the pool. Not a huge fan of the open water, then I proceeded to tell him I’m not the greatest lover of running either and I hate the bike. He looked baffled. It’s the social aspect. It’s, for want of a better phrase, a bit of craic and it’s wholesome.
How I got roped into going to Croatia
So, we had a pandemic there for the last two years in case you missed the memo and not a whole lot of fun stuff happened. Late last year sometime, at Tri club running class or should I call it training? What would an athlete call it? Anyway, some time last year on a Thursday evening, chatter started about a half marathon in a foreign land. I said no.
I was committed to the fact that I was never putting myself through that pain again. The social officer, Elizabeth was very encouraging and said that I should sign up. She’s one of those “winter miles” people I mentioned earlier and she’s a great motivator when it comes to the running. She is also excellent craic. So the rusty, squeaky, cobwebby half marathon cogs in my brain very slowly started to turn. Croatia was picked.
I was told I needed to book something to be added to the group message. Some of return to Tri crew had already signed up to the half. The half marathon cogs in my brain started moving slightly faster with the fear of missing out acting as an excellent lubricant. I googled Krka Half Marathon. I looked at the course. One hill it said, running through a stunning national park full of waterfalls. I envisaged stunning forests and lovely walk ways to run on and the park closed off to just the half marathon entrants. A combo of a few Glencars and a big Hazelwood ending on a downhill into an amphitheatre to a pasta party. I could not believe my luck, a pasta party in an amphitheatre, it was like all my dreams were coming true at once. But all joking aside, a half marathon in a park that seems like it’s a pretty big deal with only one hill and ending on a down hill in Croatia with some deadly people. Sign me up. Had to check one last thing, was there a medal. Yes there was. Hit payment and added to the group message instantly!
There was no turning back now! What have I done. This will be different, I’m going to train loads, shed a few pounds, really look after the nutrition side of things. Ah ya, bless my cotton socks, gained a good few pounds, did one long run and several short runs. Be grand, if I can do 16km for the long run to Rosses Point and back, I can do the extra 5 to get me to a pasta party and the medal presentation in an amphitheatre. I’ll buy new runners, what could possibly go wrong.
The build up and getting to Split
Accommodation was full of wonderful, romantic ideas, mostly of luxury villas with heated swimming pools i.e. notions. I booked cheap and cheerful with my roomie and nearly everyone followed. It was perfect. A wee pool that was heated, depending on where the sun was at the time of entry to the pool and most of us under the one roof in a central location in Split. 6 of the 11 of us are members of the Sligo Tri Club which was cool in itself. It was getting closer to the time. I was very aware that I really hadn’t put the work in. I was starting to regret this. If only it was a swimming event. I had done a bit of swimming during the winter. Not much but more swimming than running. Some triathlete I am. The poor bike hasn’t see the light of day since it’s big day out for the Hazelwood Triathlon! The hybrid bike might I add! I may as well just get stabilisers and indicators for it! Slow and steady wins the race is the motto when it comes to my two wheeled nemesis.
Colette picked me up for the airport and I said bye to my other half who was inquisitive and asked if we were going to do a full marathon would we have to make a two week holiday out of it. We had to inform him that this was strictly a sporting trip and not a girls trip away (plus Alan) with a half marathon thrown in to mix it up a bit. We collected some of the rest of the gang and we chatted on route about how if it wasn’t for the Tri Club we wouldn’t be going on this trip realistically. We discussed the Try A Tri, the Return To Tri, our upcoming sporting events and most importantly had some laughter on route. We had to have the obligatory airport drink. I’m sure Kipchoge does the same, right?
We arrived in Split around 12 that night. All 11 of us were in Split now. We were very tired and hungry. We dropped our bags and went scavenging for food in the town, unfortunately everything was closed. We got Pringles and raided the snacks in the mini fridge in the room. Nutrition and rest absolutely on point less than 36 hours before the big race.
The Day Before
On the Friday we wandered, kept hydrated in between coffees, people watched and carefully organised our transport for the big day! We went for dinner that night. I was getting pretty petrified at this stage, but I couldn’t back out now. I couldn’t justify going all the way to Croatia without completing the beautifully depicted half marathon.
Dinner the night before the race
We had a relatively early night and I was lying in my bed and my roomie, Aine was pottering about getting ready for bed. All of a sudden my bed started to shake. It all happened very fast. Aine was standing in the room and couldn’t feel anything. My first thought was some comedian is under the bed shaking it to freak me out. My next thought, no, no one would have been that committed to wait that long to freak me out. So then I checked off everything, I wasn’t hungover, I wasn’t dehydrated and I hadn’t been drinking, well I’ll be honest, I had two glasses of wine. But it wasn’t any of these reasons that I was feeling my bed properly shake.
I was freaked, how come I was holding onto the sides of my bed and Aine felt nothing. Did this actually just happen? Thankfully the group message started beeping. Everyone else had felt the earthquake tremors also. Someone googled it and there had been an earthquake close by and we were getting the tremors from it. My first earthquake experience, adorable. At this stage I was thinking:- I hope that earthquake does not affect this half marathon, I was actually hoping it would still be going ahead.
I could not really sleep that night. I’d love to say it was excitement. But I think I have firmly established for you at this stage that I’m not one of those winter miles athletes. Sheer nerves.
The Big Day
7am came round fast enough and we met Dado, our taxi man. The pride beaming from Dado introducing us to his son, Frankie who would also help to chauffeur us athletes to our destination. Thankfully we changed our time to a bit earlier for collection because we were brought on quite the detour to get to the destination. I sat in the front of the van with Dado due to my long legs. I had not had coffee so I was not fired up just yet. A small amount of chat and then I thought about what we were actually travelling to. I was now officially pretty petrified. I thought we would pass by somewhere to pick up a coffee but this was not the case.
We just kept on driving. Not a coffee place to be seen. Then the roads started to get more rural. Dust tracks at points. We were cutting it fine for time. The tension began to rise in the van. Dado was on the phone to Frankie who seemed to find his way with ease and was trying to explain the way to his dad. Dado turned right at one point and brought us onto a dirt road more narrow than the one we had just come off. There was a sign at that right hand turn that said Krka was left, indicated by the arrow, which I did say to Dado but he ignored me.
We drove by a man holding a knife and his wife sitting on a stool beside him outside their small rural home and it appeared they were killing chickens. I was annoyed with myself for not having upgraded my phone as it would have been a wonderful image to capture.
This was definitely not the way and I reminded Dado again about the sign I saw. He looked at me like we were one of those married couples who argue on road trips over directions. So I kept quiet. Hopefully Frankie will ring back soon I thought. I was lucky I was in the front but the air conditioning did not seem to be working in the back and Dado was not as happy with life as he had been when he picked us up earlier. Dado turned back and we went back up the narrow rural road and past the man and woman but this time we witnessed a huge chicken hanging upside down fighting for its life. I nearly got sick. And that was when I decided I definitely wasn’t ordering chicken for dinner that night.
Dado made it back to the sign and turned left and I said “told you so”, I couldn’t help myself. There was another point where we had to navigate around a fallen tree on the road and when we drove by a statue of Jesus on the crucifix I had to say “Jesus Christ” just to lighten the mood. It got a slight chuckle to be fair. Two athletes had google maps on their phones at this stage. Google maps said turn right and Dado would turn left. Finally he gave in, stuck to the main roads and said his google maps was not working. We made it. Frankie’s passengers were already at registration and assured us that we would make it now that we had reached the buses to bring us to the start.
To be honest at this stage I was just relieved to have made it on time. I had completely forgotten about the half marathon and I was just happy to be getting out of that van. There was a communication breakdown and it was understood we had to go somewhere else to register. We rushed back to Dado who was relieving himself in the privacy of some bushes. We slowed down and looked at each other awkwardly and when Dado re-emerged we asked him to bring us to where we had understood we needed to register. There was no haste on Dado and he brought us to a place, it was the finish line. There was no registration there but I did notice beer taps under a gazebo. I noted that for later.
Dado and Frankie
Dado saved the day and spoke his native tongue with the people there and it was determined that registration was not where he had brought us and we had to go back to the bus and the bus would bring us to registration. Someone had the ground breaking idea to get Frankie’s passengers to sort our registration for us. Genius. So then we went and sat on the bus. Absolutely no rush on them whatsoever, sitting around chatting and no bus moving.
The race starting in mere minutes and I hadn’t had the luxury of relieving myself in a toilet or a bush like Dado, since I got up. The bus left. We navigated an incline that I can only compare to something I have seen when watching the Tour De France on television and I think it was 18km was the marker at the bottom of it. You know when you watch cartoons and the character does one of those over exaggerated gulps of fear, that was me! How horrendous to put it at the end of the race, and the decline to get to the incline was very similar just the opposite way. My poor knees were already screaming at me. We made it to the start of the race with about 7 minutes to spare.
Dervilla had our race numbers. I expected to see tens of thousands of people. After all this was an international half marathon right? There were maybe 200 people there in total including volunteers and bus drivers. 56 people finished the 5.5km fun run and 64 people finished the half. All of a sudden it was time to start this daft notion I had way back at the start of the year to do a 21.1km in Croatia.
The Run Itself
We took off. The first three kilometres all I was thinking was what have I done, what am I doing, how am I going to get through this. The police car was right behind us. I had to have a good talk with myself. Stick to the plan. Pace. And don’t burn out at the start. And I had that lovely decline and incline waiting for me at the end.
At the 3km mark a young woman in front stopped and all I thought was oh my goodness, she’s never going to complete this. The police car was now behind her and not us. That was a bit of pressure off, we paced and we ran the dusty narrow roads past the rural dwellings. We had travelled the course in the bus. We were not running through a stunning national park. There were glimpses of the waterfalls in the distance. It is what it is now I thought to myself.
A group of people standing outside a house cheered us on in Croatian. Ah that’s lovely I thought to myself. We thanked the next person to cheer us along. Everyone is so friendly I thought to myself. A Croatian girl running ahead of us translated for us that the man actually said he was going to set his dog on us to make us run faster. What did the group before him say to us? The next group of people also shouted something at us. I asked our new friend to translate so they told us to hurry up. I thought of the people behind us at this stage. I hope they don’t set the dogs on them.
My new Croatian friend was great though, she told us about the landscape and different plants and then told me about other running endeavours she had under her belt. She was out of practice though and didn’t see herself completing the run. We ran together for a few kilometres. I asked her what I could say to the people running by that would be an easy way to say well done and she told me to say Bravo. Well I was like the cat that got the cream saying bravo to my fellow competitors. Her husband was also taking part. Bravo to him too. She was baffled that I knew so many people taking part in the half marathon. Now I realise that we actually made up 20% of the numbers on the day. So I was saying Bravo to my Irish friends also.
At around the 13km mark I just got into some sort of rhythm and just got going in my own wee zone. At one point I remember thinking this must be what Forrest Gump felt like. I was running for an hour and 40 minutes and I thought to myself Elizabeth should be finished now. I still had a good bit to go. But I just kept trotting along and then the maddest thing happened. I started thinking about my NEXT half marathon. I decided before I had even finished this one that I was going to sign up to my next one. I wasn’t even anywhere near the Tour De France hills.
I got to the decline, for me it was worse than the incline. My poor knees were screaming at me. I’m not a small woman and it’s a lot of impact for those knees even with the new runners. I took it very slow. And then the surface levelled out. Now I was onto the incline. 2 wonderful kilometres of an incline. This is what was in the back of my mind the whole time and I started the ascent. My motivation was once I get over this I only have a kilometre or so to go. It was the only thing that got me through. I had to walk for about 5 steps and I screamed a bad word just before I walked the few steps and then I started to jog very slowly again. I made it to the top. I was on top of the world. I turned the corner.
I could hear the festivities at the finish line. I’m nearly there! I’m going to make it. What a feeling. It was the longest kilometre or so of my life. I could hear it but I couldn’t see it. Where on earth was that stupid pasta party in the amphitheater. I finally made it. Dado was standing and clapping for me as I came in like a proud Dad! I made my way down the hill into the amphitheater and finished the race and reunited with my friends. What a feeling.
There was no pasta party. I had to walk back up the hill to get my ham roll! I didn’t sign up for a ham roll! And yes I did get a pint of beer after also purely for the novelty factor. The Croatians might be onto something there. I sat on the grass even with the fear of seizing up and not being able to get back off the ground again. I gobbled up the most delicious ham roll I’ve ever eaten and sat there and took in my surroundings.
What an achievement. Doing half marathons on holiday. Who is this imposter and what have you done with the real Vanessa? My new Croatian friend found me when she finished and thanked me sincerely for helping her finish the race. I don’t even know what mark it was at that I lost her but what a good soul. The organisers started to pack things away. The girl who had stopped at 3km that I had actually forgotten about at that time crossed over the finish line. I never even talked to the girl but for her to achieve what she achieved with a police car following her for 18 kilometres was the greatest achievement of the day in my opinion. I clapped for her like I never clapped for anyone before. Proud Dada insisted he wanted to be the one to bring Elizabeth back to Split with her two awards, one for her podium finish and the second for being the third fastest person up the incline.
I beat my time from March 2020, I didn’t come last and I got my medal, this was all I wanted from the event. Two days later I signed up for my next half marathon happening on the 21st of May happening in the balmy town of Ballina and yes, there will be a medal.
A well deserved post-race feast!
Relaxing boat ride two days later