Balance in Bucharest

It’s challenging to describe how dilapidated Dinamo stadium is. Like many buildings in Bucharest, its days of glory are clearly behind it. Every metal surface is rusted. The concrete is covered in peeling paint. Faded plastic chairs surround the oval that is scattered with cinderblocks and covered in prolific weeds. 

The blog has been quiet. Not by lack of time to write or content, but because I am sulking.

After I left Vienna, I traveled to Bucharest to man our IT support center.  My running was going remarkably well after doing 80 km in 7 days in Austria. I hit the ground running in the capital of Romania by doing a track workout as my first run in the city. Locals highly recommended Dinamo, so within 20 hours of arrival, I jogged the 800 m between my hotel and the track.

After finding the entrance between layers of rusted fences and crumbling steps, I did my session on the deteriorating track.

The stadium might be unmaintained, but it is not underutilized. I was joined by runners of all sorts; my favourite was a girl with a Hello Kitty toy firmly grasped in one hand which she shook up and down rhythmically as she dribbled around. A speedy elderly lady and a guy on a petrol-engine-fitted-bicycle repeatedly lapped me.

I tried 12 intervals of 400 m, but distracted by all the commotion, I started out flying and then fading around halfway. I also miscounted the laps, giving my all for round 11, before realizing I was still 800m short of the total distance.

This strange workout launched me into a week of epic running. For the first time, I was traveling with two pairs of running shoes to cope with the mileage.

I could not have asked for a better city to be getting out so much. Bucharest is wonderful to go for a jog. While I mostly headed to the well-trodden path around Herăstrău lake for my tempos and long runs, the city is covered in other parks and grand lanes with foliage colonnades. On Saturday I thought I had stumbled upon a race, but it seems there are just a lot of people training for the city’s marathon in October.

My regular route around Herăstrău park

While it might sound like a runner’s paradise, I must point out a few caveats. A green pedestrian light in Bucharest does not mean that oncoming traffic will stop or even slow down. Instead, when the little-man-light turns green, pedestrians glance at each other to figure out who will be the brave one to step off the curb to force the constant flow of crazy light-jumping automobiles to skid to a halt and allow everyone to cross. This can make running a bit stop and go at intersections.

Another restriction in Bucharest is its worn-down appearance. If you are not a fan of rust, low-hanging broken electricity wires and potholes, this city will not far from a utopia. Bucharest has fallen on hard times in the last decades with revolutions and political woes, and the maintenance of the city (or lack thereof) shows it.

The current lack of upkeep doesn’t stop the government from shooting for the stars and planning for better times. They are currently funding the largest church in the world, right in the center of Bucharest. When completed, the Romanian People’s Salvation Cathedral will be the biggest Orthodox place of worship by area, volume, weight, and height. It will also boast the world’s largest free-swinging church bell.

The Romanians are upset (as customary) with the administration’s choice of spending money on something so ludicrous when money is undoubtedly needed for existing infrastructure.

Bucarest is nicknamed ‘Little Paris’. The city not only has a similar style and layout, but it also boasts with its own Arc de Triomf.

Speaking of being upset, let me elaborate on the sulking mindset that kept me from writing. I ran 57 km during my first 6 days in Bucharest back in July. I ran every day and did speed sessions and tempo runs.

Then on the 7th day, I felt a niggle in my left Achilles. I ran 2 km before calling it quits and walking to the hotel. The next day I went for a walk instead of a run.

In retrospect it seems almost too predictable: My too epic running week turned into two months of little running, sulking, and general unhappiness.

While I will spare you all the details, I would like to share a lesson from my predicament. I aimed at the stars and set my sights on regularly running 80 km per week. I was spending all the time I had on hitting the pavement and almost no time on stretching, foam rolling or cross-training. That is not very balanced. My calves were tight and full of knots long before I felt pain in my heels. Like the city of Bucharest, I had my sight set on building a massive cathedral while my roads were crumbling and my electrical wiring dangling in the streets (so to speak).

Forced to stop building up my millage, I am focusing on doing strength work and eccentric heel drops. Involuntarily,  I am revaluating my attachment to running and the way it helps me to feel in control. Experience has taught me to be cautious with optimism, but my hope is that this unfortunate situation will help me take a step back, nurture my love for other adventures, and most of all, help me to find balance.

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