Each September, the tiny resort of Cheia, Prahova, located within the Ciucas Mountains, hosts the Ciucas X3 Mountain Running event. This year I signed up for the half-marathon, a gruelling but picturesque route measuring 21km and totalling over 2000 meters in elevation gain and loss.
On race day, I came to the start more nervous than ever and with a huge knot in my stomach. As the countdown reached “1,” we slowly began rolling over the first hills and things started to settle. I truly started breathing in the race. The scenery was astonishing, the Romanian mountains are spectacular, and the Ciucas Mountains are no exception. Just to get a real feel for the race, I must say that the first 8 kilometres are basically an ascent to the highest peak, so from 800 meters elevation, the race participants ascend all the way up to 1800 meters. This ascent went perfectly for me, the weather was wonderful, sunny, with great temperatures; my legs were as strong as ever. I could really enjoy this part because it’s not a terribly technical trail, although there wasn’t much running going on during this part of the race.
The following 7 kilometres are mostly on the ridge of the mountains and then some rolling hills, all done running. At this point, the paths are quite crowded with volunteers and well-wishers, who make the atmosphere of this race unequalled in my experience. I was fast and feisty. Alas, the nerves at the start did return for me. It happened in a split second. That’s all it takes on these wicked trails; after all, one moment you’re running full speed and the next moment my foot catches an outgrown root, and I launch face first on to the trail. Since there was nothing broken, dislocated or—at that point—too painful, I decided to finish the race, but slowly. I was five kilometres away from the finish, but those were the longest five kilometres in my life.
I knew I would miss my time goal. I knew I would not finish among the top ten females (which was my objective, considering the fierce competition at this race). But I finished, stronger than ever. I took the time to plan the race for next year, rehearsing in my mind the flow of the race and the mistakes I made with a relentless intent to never repeat those mistakes and to come back stronger and faster to run the races I know I have in me.
This was not the finish that I wanted, not the story I’d hoped to tell, but it is a story of immense importance to me about my resilience. It was no coincidence that when I got home in the evening, I put on the new Wonder Woman movie. It felt an appropriate ending to a day that I will surely remember for a lifetime.
Author: Cristina Man, Senior Associate within
the Real Estate and Corporate Practice Areas
and frequent racer at marathons