Runners' StoriesOver 80 000 runners. Those all were running with us in 2017. They toe the starting line with a different kind of motivation and reasons to run. One runs to lose weight, another for a good cause and the third just simply loves it. Each of them has a unique story. You can read them here, get inspired and write your own. Share your story with us at [email protected]
It’s almost Christmas, A time of tranquillity, peace, comfort and sweet Christmas goodies. With the merry-making done and dusted at least for another year, the new year frequently signals a desire for change – and for those brave enough to get on the scales, this often comes with resolutions to get out running. Motivations inspired by dreams of weight loss are the most common of them all. And thirty-six year old Milan Langr from Vlašim is living proof of this. He came to the conclusion that he could do with shedding some pounds three years ago. He went for a run and got hooked right away.
“It all started in October 2014 in the changing room of a shopping mall where I was trying to fit my 78 kilo sofa-hugging and food-loving frame into a pair of jeans. When I eventually managed to do up the button, I stared gleefully into the mirror and instead of myself, saw Homer Simpson staring back at me. That same day I got out my old pair of adidas trainers and headed out on my first run”, Milan recalls. He ran exactly 4.19 kilometres and during the 27 minutes that it took, decided it was time to lose weight!
Running has since become an integral part of Milan’s day-to-day life. “ Just looking at my weight on the scales was a source of inspiration for me as was the beer-fuelled bet declared in the pub. I was going to finish the half marathon in under 1 hour and 50 minutes! All that was left to do the following day was select the right race. Even though I’d yet to hear of RunCzech at that stage, I chose the Prague half marathon.”
And then I just had to start running. “I was still in the throes of training and there I was, suddenly standing at the start line and gulping up each second…. The Vltava playing, Prague is yours to savour at that point in time. With tears in my eyes (nobody has to know I found that first race totally overwhelming) I head to the 21st kilometre, totally euphoric and filled with inspiration as I spot the elite runners dashing by, who have no problem finishing it in under an hour. It turns out I’m a natural runner too! “ In spring 2015, following a mere four months of training Milan Langr managed to complete the Sportisimo Prague Half Marathon in a time of 1:40:05, 41 minutes after the winner and 1884th place overall. “Tired but delighted to get my first ever medal.”
Milan’s promising running start was set to continue. He received a fair bit of admiration for it at work, but then a colleague (and experienced marathon runner) planted a new seed when he said “the half’s nothing, what you want to do is the marathon…” It was just one month before the Volkswagen Prague Marathon got under way, but Milan managed to get himself a ticket through the Light for the World charity. “ I made it across the finish in 3:59:00 exactly. Here I am reunited with that feeling of utter delight and satisfaction.”
After that he’s unstoppable, running race after race and breaking personal bests from the 10K all the way to the marathon. This year Milan managed to complete all the RunCzech races rewarding him with the RunCzech Star title and seven beautifully framed medals presented to him at a gala evening held at the Hilton hotel. Meanwhile he’s also come to the realisation that he won’t be able to keep it up forever. And this is the focus of his work with legendary trainer Róbert Štefko. “I’m working towards the one hour limit and am delighted. I enjoy running in a group and find it fascinating to be able to run alongside someone capable of completing the marathon distance in under 2:10 hours.”
Milan’s first training plan landed in his inbox at the end of January this year. Preparations focus on the two races which played host to his very first competitive running experiences – the half marathon in April and the marathon in May. And he’s doing great in terms of both! Milan hopes to shave a few seconds off his half marathon best, and a whopping 18 minutes off his marathon time with a time of 2:52:59 seeing him finish 105th overall.
Milan Langr has also become the face of the marathon captured by our photographer and featuring on posters for 2018. This will be a year dominated by running. “I’m still hugely motivated and keen to see further improvements. Running is no longer just a tool to slim down, but a drug and way of life.
Twenty-seven year old Ondřej Zmeškal didn’t have an easy start to life. He was blind in one eye from an early age, though he always loved sport. And he didn’t stop even when he went completely blind at just twenty. These days he competes in triathlons (he’s the proud owner of the Iron Man title), runs marathons (twice at the Prague one and twice in China too).
“I was born prematurely and basically got too much oxygen when I was incubated. I don’t have great hearing and they only managed to save one eye, but then the retina on that one was also weaker,” the athlete from Nový Telečkov in Třebíčsko reveals. The weakened retina worked fine for a number of years but got torn during puberty while Ondřej was moving schools. He had to have an operation, cataracts, a prolonged stay in hospital followed by another retinal tear. “When they removed the bandage I could still see a bit, but it got worse every day.”
Ondřej’s sight was suddenly taken away from him just as he was about to hit adulthood. All of a sudden he was 100% dependent on those around him, for almost a year not once leaving the house. And then something inside him started to shift. “I think I just wanted to start to function again. Now when I think about the things I get up to these days, I wonder if I’d be doing them if I were healthy. I’d go to work, sell trees and it wouldn’t even cross my mind to take on the Great Wall of China marathon”, he says with a smile.
Ondřej always had a close relationship with sport – he loved football, riding his bike and even played hockey with his friends. “I never thought that one day I might run marathons or compete in a triathlon. “At primary school I loved sprinting, I always found anything longer to be a struggle. I certainly never imagined I’d take on such distances one day.” Paradoxically in the end, long-distance running is what helped him come to terms with the unfavourable card he was dealt by the hand of fate. What’s his recipe for dealing with everything? “You can come to terms with going blind but you will never reconcile with it. I try to create joy in my life, but things are always happening that set you back and you have to get back up again. I try not to take notice of these states, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. Running was a great help to me with this. I go out for a run, clear my head and start thinking a bit differently. If I were to just sit at home, I’d get caught up in a cycle of pointless thoughts.”
Ondřej needed something to inspire him to start running again. This turned out to be his sister’s boyfriend Lukáš who happened to meet another blind runner at a race. “It planted the first seed so to speak,” Ondřej recalls. It just grew and grew after that. His first big race was the Birell Prague Grand Prix, followed by the half marathon in Jihlava, and the whole marathon half a year later. A guide mostly accompanies him at races, though he also runs on the oval with Athletic Třebíč and occasionally trains with his pacemaker dog Black. “I realised I was a decent runner and that I enjoy it so it never crossed my mind to consider giving it up. It was an opportunity to fill my life with something new and to prove myself in some way.”
It has to be said that he’s done pretty well. These days Ondřej can manage the 10K in 43:31, the marathon in three and a half hours, and the long triathlon (involving almost four kilometres of swimming, 180 kilometres on a bike followed by a marathon) in just over 11 hours. Four out of six of Ondřej’s marathons have been in China and the journey has even taken him to the Great Wall of China. “You get a sense of the actual wall and loads of steps, different smells, sounds and different people than you’re used to all around. While you can’t understand them, it’s something new. You can touch the actual wall, even though my eyes were closed at the time, I can remember what it looked like,” says the experienced runner, who’s clearly not averse to a touch of black humour.
On parting with Ondřej, I found myself say “Hope we see each other soon”. It was only when I got home that I realised what I’d done… “I’m totally ok with that,” he says, immediately putting my fears to rest, “but it depends on whether the person has made their peace with being blind. If he hasn’t, he’ll likely tell you where to go, but if he has, he won’t pay any attention to it. I also often ask people when we’ll see each other,” he admits. So when then? Perhaps at our races, sporting the Light for the World shirt. “I don’t know for sure at this stage, but I will definitely run something. A half marathon, marathon, maybe both… The atmosphere at the big races is amazing. Even though I can’t see the other runners and fans, I get to hear and feel things better. And it’s well worth it.”
Helena HavlíkováIt’s all in the mind, according to this first-time marathon runner at the age of sixty
The start line of RunCzech races boasts dozens, hundreds and thousands of interesting faces. Each has their own story to tell - some are funny, some may make you well up while others… The others are truly inspiring! This is the story of Helena Havlíková, a lawyer at Czech Radio. Aged sixty, the year before last she decided to take on the Volkswagen Prague Marathon. And she stuck to her word.
She made it to the start line of the king of running races in May 2016. By that point she’d clocked up an impressive number of kilometres, unlike at her race debut as part of a marathon relay team a few years early when her colleagues were looking for a teammate. “Somewhat cockily, but also happily, I decided to join the youngsters – I thought 10 kilometres would be a doddle since I have no trouble covering fifty K on skis, plus ride my bike and swim,” she recalls. “I didn’t run at all back then, and only started thinking about shoes just before the race. I opted for some worn-in socialist style trainers which had served me a treat for digging in the garden.” She paid the price for this somewhat unconventional choice of running footwear with unbearable pain in her feet. “When I turned up to the radio after the weekend with crutches, I brushed off my colleagues’ pitiful comments by just laughing, but inside I was really annoyed with myself. I told myself I wouldn’t leave things like this,” Helena continues. And she didn’t. She kitted herself out with proper running shoes, started running and had a great time at the marathon relay the following year.
Helena then started to build up her distances. She relied on her instinct about her inner limits during training sessions – sometimes stopping after five kilometres, other times managing twenty no trouble at all. “Running is about understanding your own body,” and in the end aged sixty she ran the whole marathon. “I wanted to achieve it to mark the occasion and to show that it can be done and to test the power of motivation. I have to say that running a marathon has a lot to do with the mind.”
These days in her job at Czech Radio the avid runner deals with media legislation, while also writes pieces about the opera scene, travelling around the country as part of the Thálie award opera jury and contributing articles to the Czech newspaper Lidové noviny and music magazine Hudební rozhledy. But she always makes sure there’s time left for running. She knows it pays off during the race and she’ll have more memories to cherish afterwards. What particularly sticks in Helena’s mind? Right away she considers a few seemingly unimportant, but powerful moments. “There are segments of total silence on Strakonická. All you can hear is the soft tapping of feet and people breathing. I was fascinated by this strange, intensive sound blended with a great many rhythms and colours,” she admits. Isn’t it true that after completing a marathon you can barely walk a metre? Certainly not in her case: “I thought I’d collapse with exhaustion and then only gradually build up my strength. But it couldn’t have been more different. I had energy to spare the whole of the following week and the euphoria has stayed with me till now!”
Helena finished fourth place in the women’s category for over sixties (she refers to them as the oldies). And she’s already hatching a plan to make it to the marathon start line for the third time, because (as she well knows), marathons are healthily addictive!
Soňa Kotulkova and Michal Hrabec from the popular running blog Running2 will be heading to the start line of the Sportisimo Prague Half Marathon in just a few days time and you’re sure to spot them in the crowd. Soňa will be running in white trainers, leggings and a dress while Michal will be sporting a special running suit and tie. The Prague half marathon marks a very special day for the couple – they met here three years ago and now plan to get married half way through the race!
Confessions of love, kisses and marriage proposals – we’ve witnessed all of this to varying degrees at the finish line of RunCzech races, but a running wedding? This is a first for us, and quite possibly even for the world… Soňa and Michal will head out side by side in their running wedding outfits, and at the twelfth kilometre, right beneath Letná steps, plan to hold a real wedding. And then? Afterwards, once again side-by-side, they will run to the finish line. As newly weds.
Soňa and Michal share a passion for running. They train and race together and write all about it on their shared blog. When did their story together begin to unfold? “It will be three years now. We met at the Prague half marathon,” Soňa recalls but at this point Michal jumps in: “Actually it was slightly different. Three weeks prior to that, adidas was holding a press conference. I initially really didn’t want to attend, but since nobody else was available, I had no choice. On top of that it was all about cosmetics… And that’s where Soňa first caught my eye.”
Nothing happened at first, the three weeks running up to the half marathon flew by, both Michal and Soňa finished the 21-kilometre course (with Soňa absolutely elated doing it for the first time ever). After the race they bumped into one another while changing at the Law Faculty. “Soňa had her back to me, she had the bag from the press conference with her, I called her name, she turned around and I was tongue-tied,” reveals Michal laughing.
Along with some other friends they then went for lunch, sat beside one another, got talking and have been together ever since. They also go hiking, surfing, playing golf …and above all running. “Running has influenced us throughout our lives, we both love it. You could probably say we’re a bit crazy, a normal person wouldn’t stick with us, we’re too active for other people, but we have the same outlook on life. I think we were meant to find one another,” Soňa suggests.
As they both spent so much time running, it dawned on them that they could also write about their passion. Back then Michal wrote for Rungo.cz and Soňa for Marianne, but they both wanted to create something of their own. Which is how the Running2 blog came into being. “We can spend far more time running and writing about it. We tell people that they don’t need to necessarily try and improve, but just to get out running. People now associate us with running which is how we came up with the idea of a half marathon wedding. We both adore this race and also have quite a few connections and fans here,” Soňa explains.
Right from the start, the running duo knew they wanted an unconventional wedding but it took them a while to get to a final version. “At first we thought about getting married just the two of us in India, then we toyed with the idea of doing it at the finish line of the half marathon, but in the end we decided half way through the race was the best option,” Michal reveals with a smile, while Soňa adds: “we didn’t get a running engagement party, so we’re going to have a running wedding. Running plays such a key role in our lives, it just couldn’t work any other way.”
When you meet Michal and Soňa on the half marathon course, don’t be shy about wishing them all the best on their big day. Or maybe it will inspire you – meeting the love of your life at a running race doesn’t sound bad at all!
His life story sounds like a heavy drama starring a 34-year old waiter from Prague, alongside alcohol, running and hope. “I’m Honza, an abstaining alcoholic who has decided to fight it through sport,” reveals the man who has since managed to get back on track.
Speaking about himself, Honza Roubíček reveals that when he does something, he likes to do it to the max. Unfortunately that also applied to his relationship with alcohol. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone to experience the feeling of getting up in the morning and needing to reach out for a bottle of rum because it’s the only thing that can get you moving, shaking so badly that you’re unable to have a cup of coffee without half of it ending up on the floor. I became a hostage to my own body, a hostage to something indescribable using words,” he says recalling the particularly hard times.
Honza’s job also helped his dark demons come to the fore. He works as a waiter, each day able to drink his fill of whatever was to hand. “I was disgusted by myself. I didn’t know what to do with myself, everything was falling apart in front of my eyes. Confronting reality was incredibly hard, but also important for his subsequent treatment.” Honza’s battle with his dependency on alcohol began at Bohnice psychiatric hospital and he is now an abstinent alcoholic.
Despite this, he is well aware that the battle will continue for the rest of his life. “I’ve been fighting this nightmare for many years now. So far successfully. Will I ever drink again? Hopefully not, but I can’t say for sure, that would make me a hypocrite. But I’d definitely like to thank all of my family, a few true friends who have helped me and everyone at Bohnice. You really make a difference to people’s lives!”
In the end Honza chose to take on his battle with alcohol using sport. As tends to be the case, before starting out, he had no idea whether it would work for him, let alone if he would enjoy it. “I divide my life into two important stages: life with booze and life without it. My friend Martin got me into running after I’d completed the alcohol recovery programme. We took time to look for a sport that wouldn’t financially cripple me and which I’d also enjoy. It all pointed to running. All I had to do was buy a pair of trainers and get out there,” he shares speaking of his early days as a runner.
It was tough for Honza for the first few weeks, involving doubts about his commitment to running. And then things started to work. He trained, started enjoying the exercise and chose his first race. It was the Mattoni Ústí nad Labem Half Marathon back in 2016. Why Ústí? “It was a simple decision. I was afraid of the really hot weather in the summer, plus was pulled in by the chance to run through the chemical plant.” Honza hadn’t ever run a race before and genuinely didn’t know what to expect from such an event. The race atmosphere more than won him over. “I can remember it as if it were yesterday, I must have been the first one to arrive at the start line. My nerves started to ebb away with the gunshot and first few notes of the Vltava. That has to affect everyone. At that moment, I felt proud of being part of such a big family of runners,” he explains.
The weather in Ústí in the week running up to the race was pretty atrocious, with rain all day before it got under way. Just before the start gun was fired for Honza’s racing debut, as if by magic the skies cleared up. And apart from his running family, Honza’s actual family also turned up. “My dad came to cheer me on and was a huge support at the race. I’m really pleased we got to share such an important day together.”
Honza thoroughly enjoyed the entire race thanks to the amazing fans as well as the bands dotted around the course. His memory of the end of the race is a bit foggy however. “I don’t’ really remember the last kilometre. Apart from the moment when I crossed the finish line and got to show off my first medal. I’m really proud of it.”
“I never thought I could run 21 km. But it is possible, in fact anyone can do it if they really put their mind to it. It’s all about willpower,” Tereza Koňaříková reveals. She has completed the half marathon twice now in her home-town and is currently getting ready to take on her third Mattoni Olomouc Half Marathon. You’ll not only have the chance to catch a glimpse of Tereza at the race scheduled for the end of June, but literally everywhere you go. Her face can be seen on all the posters, announcing to the world that All Runners Are Beautiful. So what’s the twenty-six year old runner’s story? We thought we’d let her tell you first hand…
“I’d sometimes go for a run, either alone or with my dog. I couldn’t believe it when I first ran four kilometres. It never occurred to me to run a half marathon. My brother bought me my first start number for the Olomouc race. My brother has always been in good shape so I told myself I had to do it and took it as a challenge. I started running more plus did a bit of training including some interval work. I ran 16 kilometres, ouch! Followed by 20! By which point it seemed realistic. And it was…
The first half marathon was amazing and I really enjoyed it. Despite the fact that it was scorching weather and I’d only just been reading articles about how to compete, keep my head covered and ideally not go out at all. In the end, though the heat didn’t bother me at all. There was plenty of water everywhere and I found I could run fine after a splash of water. The atmosphere was out of this world, I couldn’t believe the huge number of people who came to support us in the heat. When I finished I treated myself to a beer and a banana and was pleased that both me and my brother managed it.
Then I started reading books such as Born to Run and Scott Jurek’s Eat & Run. As someone who’s been vegetarian for the past ten years, I’ve never had any doubts about the benefits of a plant-based diet (even when under greater physical strain), but it was still great to read about how a man can run ultra marathons on a vegan diet. If you fancy trying a life without meat, you can have a go for yourself on the Vegan Challenge.
Personally I don’t’ make a huge fuss about food. Before big races I like to make myself some porridge with fruit or peanut butter and then take along some dried fruit. Carbs are best to give you energy. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to eat something light and keep your intake to a minimum around two hours before a race. When I’m really hungry, I prefer to eat a dried fruit bar which doesn’t take up much space in your tummy. I like to drink Vincentka to top up on minerals before or after a long race. When it’s hot you could try a Tarahumara drink – chia seeds and water with a few drops of lemon. It’s also good to get a magnesium boost every now and then even if it’s just a bottle of Mattoni. It varies a fair bit from person to person of course.
Personally, I love how running enables you to get to places you’d otherwise never go, and quickly too. When I arrive in Olomouc, I like to have a run around and check out what’s changed. And it’s great to discover new places through running. Right now I do most of my running in Prague and I would never have believed how many beautiful forests and parks there are just a few minutes from the centre by metro.
Running allows me to see, think, experience and work out loads, not to mention discuss things with my brother or a friend. Run whichever way makes it fun and you will enjoy it. You might want to run through the early morning city and soak up the aroma of freshly baked cakes, vegetables and herbs on the market. If you head into the forest early in the morning, the sunrise warms you up and you get to see the landscape bathed in light. And in the summer you can smell the pine needles, cool off your feet in a stream, eat fresh forest strawberries and maybe even bump into some dear. Winter on the other hand offers up a white landscape without you feeling cold. That moment stays with you forever.
Running has allowed me to see some amazing places, make some incredible friendships, attend interesting events and have fantastic experiences – such as with SK Babice. It has been tough at times with some blood, sweat and blisters involved along the way but as Scott Jurek says “not all pain means something” so I’ll see you at the half marathon in Olomouc!”