Budapest Half Marathon

The Budapest Half Marathon is the first, of six half marathons that I am running in the four months leading up to Christmas, which I then round off with my entry into the Barcelona San Silvestre 10K on New Year’s Eve. As with all my weekend-ish European running trips I had booked through the Running Crazy organisation ( ) and as usual flew courtesy of Easyjet as a walk on, walk off, passenger from Gatwick.

It has been written that Budapest, the ‘daughter of the Danube’, is reminiscent of the quays of Paris, the old cobblestone streets of Prague, the multi-coloured houses of Vienna’s imperial and art nouveau architecture, the alleys in Barcelona, London’s Houses of Parliament and the hills, small winding roads and yellow tramways of Lisbon. Since I have not yet been to Paris, Prague or Lisbon I cannot draw the same conclusion and make such a bold statement but I will go back again to take it all in.

My previous visit to Budapest was 34 years ago, way back in 1978 at the time of the Cold War, when my late father-in-law was working at the British Embassy and I was introduced to the Harvey Wallbanger cocktail in the US Embassy Marines Bar on a number of social occasions. The fact that I was in the British Army stationed in Germany and had been involved in a little incident at the Hungarian border on my way to Budapest all helped to keep those cocktails flowing.

The first Budapest Half Marathon itself was organised a few years later in 1984 and has now grown up into a major event in with some 12,000 runners. Of these, 9,500 took on the individual 21 km distance, whilst others ran in pairs or took part in a shorter fun run. Approximately one-fifth of the runners came from more than 50 different countries making it a popular international event. For those interested the full marathon itself is held, in October, a month after the half marathon.

The 9:00 a.m. start was at the impressive Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square), which apparently is the main meeting venue for skaters and skateboarders, but for a few days at the end of summer thousands of us two-legged enthusiasts reclaim the square and admire the 24 sculptures representing important moments from Hungarian history. It’s not a coincidence that Fred Lebow – NYC marathon founder and a Hungarian by origin – also wanted the Budapest Marathon to start from here.

The half marathon course is mainly flat, the only difference being in levels on the roads leading up and down from the two bridges that we crossed going over the Danube. The route took us along main roads such as the Andrássy Avenue and those on either side of the Danube. There were several music points and we passed many of the city’s sites such as the famous Chain Bridge, Buda Castle, the idyllic Margaret Island, and the impressive Parliament building, all playing their part in distracting from the aches and pains of running 21km in scorching sunshine which hit 30 degrees by time I finished and topped 34 degrees in the early afternoon. After just 4km I had decided to treat the race as another Sunday morning run, with like-minded people, and slowed down instead of worry about my time. Fortunately there were nine refreshment stations on route which were a blessing for us slower runners, providing water, iso-drinks, glucose, banana and lemon, with a couple of shower gates thrown in for good measure.

To my mind the event was very well organised and ran very smoothly on the day. Sponges were provided, there were pacemakers for those wanting to achieve a certain time, medical cover all along the course, and as usual with many half marathon events in Europe there was a time limit of 2 hours 30 minutes. Even the fact that we had to pay a deposit for our timing chip with a 1000 HUF note (approx £2.80) and no other notes/coins or currencies being accepted seemed to work well with the deposit being returned immediately after the race when you handed your chip back in.

My time of 2:14:35 was fine by me and when not running I enjoyed my tourist bus guided trips alongside three nights of eating and social drinking! So roll-on the Maidenhead Half this Sunday and let’s see what the day brings in terms of grand prix points.