Saturday, May 16, 2009

Welcome to Beograd

I was right to be concerned about the impact of international travel on running performance. Only, I don't think I could have predicted the specific challenges I would face.  For that, I would have needed a conversion chart for the military factor.  I believe someone has designed an Excel spreadsheet for the military factor and the constant starts with the letter F.             

I did everything I could to prepare for the things I predicted I would face.  I packed a butt load of extra food, specifically what I might want race morning.  I had my special blueberry pomegranate Roctane Gu to fuel my marathon race.  I brought my compression socks and the full-on compression tights to wear for the plane flight.

I met up with my team in DC and we flew to Munich together, all wearing our "uniform" of khakis and polo shirt with military embroidery.  This surprised me a little, that we would wear such a conspicuous outfit.  As part of my prep for this military marathon event I was required to undergo anti-terrorist training.  Just so you know, the very first rule to follow in order to avoid becoming a terrorist target is to dress inconspicuously.  Well, I guess the threat was pretty low in Munich and Serbia.  As expected, the travel was long and tiring.  I'm actually a nervous flier, but a well-timed dose of Ativan did wonders.  

We arrived in Belgrade and were greeted by our Serbian hosts.  They transported us to our accommodations at the Serbian Military Academy.  I should have foreseen that my accommodations in Belgrade would be subpar when I was ordered to bring a lock, my own towel and shower shoes.  The building was located quite a distance from the city center which would become a huge factor later as I was trying to find an alternative to the boiled meat and cheese served in the dining hall.  The building was probably built in the 40s or 50s and was on par with some of the worst army barracks I've stayed in.  

We had squat toilets and had to constantly search for TP.  Need I say more?  I guess I should mention the gang showers too.  At first, we thought we were dealing with a coed situation, when my teammate Jenny came running out of the bathroom into our room exclaiming that there was a man in the shower room!  A little investigation revealed that this was just one of our female German teammates with a shaved head.  The whole German Women's team had shaved heads.  I didn't ask Jenny about the traits she saw that we usually use to sex humans because I really didn't want to know.  

We went for a short, escorted run and were getting pretty hungry.  We were ordered to eat in the dining facility in our barracks.  One whiff of the grub they were serving left me nearly heaving on the linoleum.  So, I ate some bars instead.  I ate lots of bars on this trip.  We went foraging for food for dinner in the city that night escorted by our new Serbian friend, Radivan. He was very helpful and showed us how to use the busses to get around.  However, we must have walked 4 miles before we finally settled on a place to eat and I was hungry!!!!  I did find the Cafe Grand Pleasure where I got a cappuccino and was in heaven.

Understand that I was supposed to be eating 70% of my food for the 3 days leading up to the race in carbohydrates.
That's hard enough to do when you have access to grocery stores.  I'm here to tell you that it is impossible to do in Belgrade restaurants.  Our dinner choices were almost solely meat and cheese at the traditional restaurant selected by our escort.  I found potatoes on the menu and ordered two helpings.  The waiter brought one.  I tried to explain that I needed a heap of potatoes the size of the Matterhorn if I was going to have a chance of completing this marathon in two days.  I got another spoon full.

Breakfast and lunch the next day (the day before the marathon) were no better and I felt hungry the entire day.  I ate bars for breakfast (and a banana I managed to score at the mini mart the night before!).  I did get some broth and risotto for lunch (yeah, carbs!).  

We were then required to get into our service dress uniforms for the opening ceremonies at Kalemegdan (  We would end up standing around in the hot sun for hours in our wool uniforms and walking several miles (in heels no less!) to get back to the busses.  The ceremony was actually pretty cool with everyone in their uniforms and all of the pomp and circumstance.  The main speaker, however, decided to focus his remarks on the tale of the inaugural marathon run of Phedippides.  He said at least a half a dozen times that we were soldiers too, running into battle and would
experience the extreme pain that Phedippides experienced around 32 kilometers.  We would feel like death was rushing to greet us, but we would continue on in hopes of glory for our country.  I was waiting for him to say that some of us might die like Phedippides and this would be a great sacrifice.  He stopped short, but I bet he was thinking that.

So, less than 12 hours before the race, I'm hot, dehydrated, sunburned, my legs are swollen and I'm hungry!!!!  I was becoming seriously cranky at this point and proclaimed to our team that we were going to find pasta for dinner.  I needed carbs and I knew everyone else would benefit from them too.  Somehow, we didn't make it out until after 8 p.m. that night and ended up being led astray by a 2009 guide to Belgrade that lured us into believing there was actually an Italian restaurant in the city.  To my complete chagrin, the Italian restaurant we had just paid a taxi 400 dinar to get to had apparently closed up months before.  I raised my arms in the air and cursed Phedippides.  I was now convinced we would be walking for miles to find yet another traditional Serbian restaurant.  As luck would have it, we found a pub (because the boys only wanted beer) that also served pasta.  I got my gnocchi and was happy.         

Our next adventure was trying to find boiling water to make instant oatmeal for breakfast race morning.  The kitchen didn't have any.  Boiling water!  Come on.  I was desperate and asked one of our cadet helpers if he could help us locate some boiling water in the morning.  He told us to wait as he scampered off up the stairs.  He came back about 15 minutes later with an electric hot pot!  Brilliant.  He said they had confiscated it from students last quarter because they were using too much electricity, but it was okay for us to use.  At least I was going to to get a good pre-race breakfast.

With gnocchi in my belly and a hot pot next to my bed I was starting to feel a little better about the race the next day.  Well, except for the fact that I knew then that it was going to be hitting the mid-70s at the end of the race and that there was a two-mile uphill finish to battle.  Would Phedippides and I share the same fate?


  1. I cant believe your hosts didn't know where to take you for food you needed.. It just doesn't make sense, like you were in Belgrade in a parallel universe, I swear.

    Find better hosts next time, it's not that bad ;)


    Belgrade Lady

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