This was a very low cost marathon organized by a team of amateur running enthusiast from Zagreb. The total field for the full marathon was around 15 and was set on the beautiful Peljesac peninsula off the Adriatic coast in Dubrovnik region. A day before the race, we drove from Mostar in Hercgovina to the coastal town of Neum which is only 15 minutes drive from Ston. Neum is the only coastal town in Bosnia & Hercegovina and bisects Croatia from North to South. On race day, we drove to Ston by crossing the Croatian border. I picked up my race kit from the organizers and had enough time to take some pictures with the kids and assess the 800 ft Ston Wall which we were supposed to climb twice during the marathon. Just the mere sight of the wall overlooking the starting line sent shivers through my spine and Nadia thought that there is no way I would be able to finish the race (considering I had absolutely done no training, whatsoever.).
I knew the challenge ahead, so had already planned the way to tackle the wall. The race started at 9am and around 10 minutes into the race, we hit the wall. It was tough to say the least… some of the steps were at least 3 feet high with big drops on either side. After a painstaking effort I reached the top and realized that the descent was even harder with slippery rocks and narrow stairways leading us 800 feet down and then going up again the narrow path for the second time. By the time I hiked up and down the dreaded wall twice, an hour had passed by but my GPS watch confirmed that I had only done 4K. I had never felt so tired and winded after 4K in my life. I really hoped the rest of the race would be on a pancake flat course. This was not to be. Since the island was primarily hilly, the race course was continuously rolling with no respite for the remaining 38K. I just ran and walked at my own pace and met some runners along the course.
The race organizers were constantly driving along the course handing out water and bananas. Just before the first turn around, we have to go through a small narrow street with houses on either side. There were 3 big dogs sleeping in the middle of the road and would not move as I approached them. This was my worst nightmare. I knew for a fact that had one of them attacked me, I would not be in any position to defend myself. Luckily one of the residents spotted me and knew I was scared. He came and stood beside the dogs until I passed by. On the way back 2 of the dogs were still sitting on the road. This time I just continued running past them with my heart in my mouth. Later on in the race at the 2nd turn around, we got lost as there were no signs. One of the marshals didn’t even know where the course was. We had to wait for 15 minutes as she phoned the organizer to inquire about the course but to no avail. Finally, we decided to head back again for the 2nd round of the course. By that time, I was in a lot of pain but still had another 15K left. However, I continued running and walking along the hilly course on my own and met some supporters along the way. After reaching the same turnaround where I got lost the first time, I decided to follow the long curved road. For the next 2K’s there were no signs or marshalls. I still continued running and in the hope that I was on the right track. Luckily, I was as I saw the last water stop. From there on the course was through a tiny dirt way through the jungle and a few miles before the finish line one of the race organizers was waiting for me. That was a big relief as he and I chatted towards the finish line. However, the biggest surprise was waiting for me a kilometer before the finish line. I saw Nadia and kids on the main road cheering me on. From then on I walked / ran along with them towards the finish line and as I approached the finish line dragging the double stroller, all the supports stared clapping and cheering me on. Being last in the race, I got a bigger cheer than the winner. It was truly a great feeling. The race medal was nice and so was the post race meal. In the end we thanked the race organizers and headed back to Neum. The race was tough, but it was worth it!
Ziyad Rahim is an adventure-runner from Pakistan. He currently holds 10 Guinness World Records in long-distance running, ranging from marathons to ultra-marathons.