Focus on a race

Week-end in Budapest

03 Oct 2010 16:06
Jean-Loup Fenaux

I spent the last week-end of September in Budapest (Hungary) with my wife and kids to take part in the 25th Anniversary Spar Budapest International Marathon.

The city

View from Gellért hill
The capital of Hungary is split in two by the Danube. On the West side, Buda and its hills, on the East side Pest and its longs avenues and shops. We were staying at a hotel near the Opera. The location was quite convenient because the neighbourhood is lively and it is quite central and well deserved by metro and bus.

Budapest is the kind of city where it’s a pleasure to wander along the streets and parks. The Architecture is rich and diversified. When you’re tired to walk there’s always a bus or a tram to catch.

As the weather was sunny on Saturday, we walked to the Gellért hill. The view from the top of the hill is gorgeous. This dominant point of view lets you embrace the whole city. The Danube and Pest are at your feet.

The nearby castle hill and its numerous museums is also worth a visit (Royal palace, National Gallery, Historical Museum of Budapest, Music Museum, Military Museum…).

Seven bridges cross the Danube in the center of the city and the most famous and beautiful one is the chain bridge, the oldest of the city. We’ll have the opportunity to run over it during the race.

The River offers long and pleasant pedestrian and bicycle pathways, but as it is where the race will mostly be run, it may not be the best location to spend all your time.

Széchenyi Baths
Credit : Geoff Wong
The must-see places when in Budapest are the Thermal baths. As we were leaving shortly after the race on Sunday, we couldn’t benefit from the free entry to the Széchenyi baths the Marathon provides. So we decided to go there on Saturday afternoon. After a day wandering in the city, plunging in the various baths was a pure delight. The kilometers walked vanished and my legs were up and ready for the marathon. The baths are a vestige of the Turkish Culture in Budapest. They are build around hot springs and offer several thermal pools whose temperature vary from 25 to 38°C. If you have time, you can also get massaged in the baths.

The race

The city woke up sunday morning under a heavy cover of clouds, drizzle alternating with rain. But the temperature was fine with 15°C. I took the metro the reach the Heros Square where the start of the race was located. The train was full of runners from all countries. It was as if the train had been booked for the marathon runners only.

The race starts in the City Park, near the Heros Square. So it was great to wander in its alleys, warming up before the start. The crowd was very joyful and it was a pleasure to be part of it.

2010 - Parliament in background
Credit : Budapest International Marathon
There were 3150 runners taking part in the marathon. The first part of the marathons follows the Andrássy with its trees and beautiful classical buildings, including the Opera house. After a few zigzags on Pest’s Boulevards, we end up on the river banks where most of the race will be run.

Some may find that kind of route boring, but I didn’t. Going back and forth on the car less banks gives you the opportunity to appreciate the architecture of the surrounding buildings from multiple point of views. We passed in front of the Parliament at least six times, viewing the front and the back of the building, from the river banks or from the other side of the river. Each time I would discover something new on the building and like it all the more.

Running on the banks also provides a very flat route. And what I like the most is that when you run, you cross a lot of runners. You share the race with more runners than you would have if the route had been point to point. And if at one point you feel the wind slowing you down, cheer up because on your way back, it will push you.

There are a few ups and downs at the end of the race to get back to the City park, but they are quickly ran and don’t take too much energy.

I think it is a race you could select to establish a new personal best. This wasn’t my case. I finished the race in 4:08, but for the first time, I didn’t hit the wall and had a great time the whole race through ! Maybe a side effect of the Széchenyi baths.

The organization

The race was particularly well organized. I particularly enjoyed the friendliness and the encouragements of the volunteers at each support station.

This year, unfortunately, the rain discouraged the public to be present on the side of the route, but volunteers made their best to make us forget the rain.

Organizing a relay at the same time as the marathon is a great idea. It fills the streets with different kind of runners and you are assured that you won’t run on your own at any time during the race.

I particularly liked the poster given to the first time marathoners. It’s a great way for them to get encouragements.

The only point of improvement concerns the badge reclaim. We had to get back to the village to give the badge and get our deposit back. It was a walk my tired legs would have avoided.

Thank you Judith for having invited me to take part in the marathon. It was a real pleasure for me despite the rain. I think Budapest is a great week-end destination where you can mix sight-seeing and marathoning.

If you want to take part in the race next year, the 26th edition will be held on October 2nd.