Sofia Marathon - Another Race Report

Start/Finish Line

Start/Finish Line

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.

The Course

2018 Sofia Marathon Course

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.

The Race

The author(right) passing marathoners  Photo Credit:  Skisharki

The author(right) passing marathoners
Photo Credit: Skisharki

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.

Overall Thoughts

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.

Results: A weekend at the Seaside

This past weekend I spent in the Bulgarian Black Sea resort of Golden Sands for a wedding. While I was there of course I had to take the opportunity to get a run or two in.

Descending to sea level in Varna

Descending to sea level in Varna

The first of two runs I planned was in Varna itself. I knew that my main focus area was going to be Sea Garden as it is the site for the weekly. This was the perfect opportunity to work on some pace work as I continue to build my base back after my knee injury. I decided to make a loop out of the course and continue the run further until i reached the road down to the sea. I then followed the road all the way back to the Port of Varna and continued on to my hotel. The sea garden was filled with other runners and offered the perfect terrain to pick up the pace a bit. Running along the sea was very pleasant and empty although as I saw later in the day it would not be the ideal place for running as there is alot of pedestrian traffic especially on the southern half.

The next two nights we would be staying in Golden Sands, and as you saw last week i planned on doing some exploration the Golden Sands Nature Park. The park runs the length of the resort and covers some very rugged terrain reaching inland around 3 kilometers. Leaving our hotel at the northend of the resort I immediately hit a snag having to find my way past roads blocked with construction materials. With that solved the and the correct road I climbed quickly to reach the main road some 50+ meters above sea level. Crossing the road and following the indications on my GPS route I find myself in a sand pit that was being excavated, after a quick back track I followed the broken road that passed the northern edge of the Panorama section of Golden Sands. My plan was to take the M4 trail as marked on the map to the left, the section near the town was the hardest there were few markings and trail was faint at best.

As the road ended I continued into the forest following the faint trail for a few hundred meters. As the trail appeared to end cut through the few streets that remained and found the trail off a dirt road heading in the correct direction. I continued following this trail as it rapidly began to climb. I soon reached the intersection with the M1 trail where I was met with good trail markings and some foreboding animal skulls.  Here I turned south and continued along the wide trail, after a few hundred meters the trail joined a road for a few minutes before returning to dirt. This next section of trail had been heavily traveled by 4 wheel vehicles and made running difficult.  

M4 trail

M4 trail

Five kilometers into the run I reached the outskirts of a residential area that lies on a plateau about 200m above the sea. Here the M1 and M4 trails split and I decided to take the M4 that continued to the south. This ended up being a great choice as the terrain in this section was gorgeous. The trail was just over single track width with rolling hills and dense Lord of the Rings type forest surrounding either side. Shortly before reaching the next intersection I came across a small view point from and outcropping unfortunately the trees have overgrown and no view was available.

At the next intersection I turned left and descended via the M2 trail. The trail quickly descended about vertical meters in about half of a kilometer. This section of the trail is paved with limestone and has many stairs so I imagine in wet conditions its like ice. After the trail flattened out a bit I got back to running. The trail wound through the forest and was mostly flat until I reached the first road crossing. There I headed across the parking lot and found the trail that descended quickly again. I then crossed the main road and entered back into the resort area.  

Modeling my new hair style

Modeling my new hair style

Overall I was very happy with the quality of the trails and the weather. While I was lucky to be running in a mild 15-20C, I still felt the seaside humidity. In the summer I would imagine that this trail would be much more difficult. In fact I would be surprised if many tourists explored these areas as the summer sun would turn the forest into a sauna. However if you are in the area you should definitely check out some of the trails they are worth the time. Plus after running there is nothing better than taking a dip in the sea to cool off.