This past Sunday I took part in the 35th Annual Wizz Air Sofia Marathon. Before I begin talking about the race I want to say I wanted to do my best to try to look at this race from a neutral perspective even though I know many of my friends have very strong opinions about the race and organisers. I have organise this post and three sections in an effort to separate things adequately.
Sofia Marathon’s course is in the heart of the city and it is a designed loop. The loop distance is 10.550 km allowing a full marathon is 4 laps. The course starts in front of Vasil Levski Stadium it makes nearly a complete loop around NDK then continues onto Bulgaria bulevard. After 4.5 km the route doubles back and heads toward south park for a short climb. From there there is a gradual downhill section as you pass Park City Center turn back towards Vasil Levski Stadium. Shortly before the stadium there is a short up hill and down hill added by the metro station obviously in order to reach the require distance. Over all the course has about 60m of vertical per lap which does put a strain on the legs. One other note of interest about the course, is that not the whole thing is closed to traffic about 2.2 km are separated from traffic by a few barriers and plastic tape.
Sofia Marathon runs 3 races simultaneously on the same course. They have a single lap race, a two lap race (half marathon) and 4 lap race (classic marathon). The start time were staggered with the marathon starting first followed by the half 10 minutes later and finishing with the single lap race. This set up adds interesting challenges throughout the race. The most obvious is that you have runners of different speeds constantly interacting. It requires a much more focused approach compared to courses that are single loop or point to point. This issue shows itself particularly at aid stations as often it was hard to get water without significantly slowing down. I found that I had similar problems when I ran Plovdiv Marathon back in 2017. Although it is only single loop course they simultaneously run a half marathon on a similar course with start at the same time. I spent about 10km weaving through people in that race but more on that race and the new course in a future post.
I came away from Sofia Marathon very happy with my performance. I was on zero rest and was using it as a testing ground for my fitness level. I finished with a time of 1:28:28 which is a PR by around 5 minutes. I was aiming to run a negative split but to be honest the third 5k was bit of a killer on my legs and I ended up running 43:55 the first lap and 44:33 the second lap. Outside of my performance I was bit disappointed with the race organizers. It seems they did the bare minimum effort to organise this race. In addition there were definitely aspects to the race that were not handled in a very professional manner. Will I be back? Probably its a local race and the most competitive of the road races in Bulgaria. However I definitely don’t recommend this race to foreigners, there are many other races to choose from in Bulgaria that would be worth the trip.