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Wednesday 15 July 2015

Riga Half Marathon Report: And the English Shall Triumph Over the Queue Jumpers

About 6 inches from my nose was a sign showing what appeared to be a man wearing a kite. And another picture of what looked like a deformed ear. I was sitting in cattle class on a budget flight and my face was pressed against headrest of seat in front. I tend to enjoy flying but I was in a seat so close to the one in front I couldn’t even cross my legs properly. And I’m only 5’4 . Well Almost 5’4. I wasn’t sure how people with extra leg inches – or nose inches - were coping.

Seriously ... what strange signs!! But NO donkeys 

I was also pondering the crash question. I’d read somewhere that you’re more likely to be killed by a donkey than in an aeroplane crash. I couldn’t help wondering how much this changed if, for example you were a donkey farmer you could fly with total impunity knowing you were far more likely to pass away under the hooves of everyone’s favourite seaside animal. However I on the other hand know no donkeys. But I do fly fairly regularly. This didn’t bode well for my chances of a safe landing. But I bet I’d have had more 30,000ft snacks than the donkey farmer. My life might end in flames and screaming, but I’d be winning at very small portions of jelly and strange pink sauces in bags. 

However, despite my concerns and plans to get to know some donkeys, there was a distinct lack of flames, screaming, oxygen masks and emergency slides. And I had collected my bag traversed security and was seated in a red taxi to the hotel all within about 45 minutes. Perfect.

Found a MASSIVE duck. It wouldn't fit in my hand luggage. 
I’d flown to Riga in Latvia to run their half marathon. I’d been assured it was flat, beautiful and friendly. Flights, accommodation and entry had all also cost me less than £200. Mini break with a nice run in the middle? I was in. 

The Powder Tower NOT Rapunzel's
Riga is beautiful. Historical and full of ancient buildings and cobbled streets, you can see the Freedom Monument from almost anywhere in the centre of the city and every corner you turn you come upon another beautiful building with an elaborate design and a colourful garden of tulips. 

A Chai Latte in a very special teahouse!
Did you know Riga is ‘Capital of the Decorated Christmas Tree’? That there was a disagreement between a merchant and a guild and his revenge was to erect a statue on his building roof of a cat defecating on the guild?That the Laima clock is the favourite place for young couples to meet and it is a common sight to see anxious young men there checking their watches and hoping they haven’t been stood up for their evening dates? 

The Laima Clock
That St Maurice is the patron saint of the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a historical military order of unmarried merchants in Latvia and whose image can be seen on the guild doors opposite the Madonna? That there is a medieval restaurant there whose doors are guarded by an armed knight and whose rooms stretch under the city in intricate linked cellars lighted only by candles? And where I was looked on scornfully when I asked for a Coca Cola (not medieval enough apparently) but where they serve cappuccinos. That the building that looks like Rapunzel’s Tower is an old building with 3 metre thick walls where the city used to store explosives but which now houses the War Museum which is free entry? And that there is a special geocache hidden in the park?

The cat on the roof ...

The beauty and interest of the city certainly made up for the cold temperatures and almost constant drizzle. In fact, the weather made me feel quite at home. 

Ready for the off!

Our hotel was so close to the start that I could have a leisurely breakfast, leave the hotel at 7:30, drop my bag, queue for the loos and be ready at the start of the race at 8:30am. Or this was the plan. It all worked like clockwork until the portaloo queue.

Don't forget your bin bag!
It looked so civilised. A line of 10 or so blue portaloos lined up like little Poo TARDISs. All with neat little queues in front of them. I’d even remembered extra loo roll. Things were going to PLAN. I queued up in front of the nearest at the back of the neat little queue and this is where things went wrong. Apparently only English people queue from the back. The rest of the continent queue from the middle. In other words, I stay at the back while the entire population of Latvia join the queue in front of me. Right. The rest of the world doesn’t GET queuing. I understand that. I don’t have to like it but I understand it. So at what point do we start the ‘“There’s a queue here” ... “Sorry I don’t speak English”/insert incomprehensible expression here’ conversation? I’d made the huffing noises and done the ‘I’m-Not-Happy-About-This’ face and it was almost time to break out the ‘Speak-Slowly-To-Foreigners-Who-Don’t-Understand-Queuing’ voice in my best Queen’s English. While completely ignoring the fact that *I* was the foreigner who didn’t understand the Latvian queuing system e.g. check for a non-Latvian then queuing in FRONT of them. I’d joined the queue 10 minutes ago and there were now more people in front of me than when I’d started. I held my ground – and crossed my legs – and slowly made my way forwards. Only 1 person from the front. And then the man in front of me who’d pushed in 8 minutes earlier waved at someone and invited HIS ENTIRE FAMILY to join the queue too. 3 of whom weren’t even running. 

I took a deep breath. Enough was enough. Time to break out the sharp elbows. The man - whose extended family appeared to be encouraging small children and ancient grannies to also join the queue in front of me – went into a vacant portaloo and as he did the one next door opened up.

I took another deep breath – ignoring the pine-fresh-and-shit fragrance – and strode forward pushing the queue jumpers and who appeared to be Mr Pushy’s mother-In-Law out of the way and grabbed the door. MINE. I took one quick look back before I went in. She was giving me a look as though I’d murdered one of the grandchildren in front of her and was muttering in Latvian about rude foreigners who jump the queues. 

Relieved to have sorted out the problem of queues and getting stuck behind pushy people, I made my way to my starting pen. Which is when I realised I had been put in the 2:30 – 3 hour pen behind the 4:30 marathoners. Sigh. 

Yes that IS a bottle of beer that holds about 3 litres ...  MINE!
But maybe today wasn’t a day for a PB or for rushing around. I was getting the chance to run 13 miles around a city I hadn’t visited before, to run on the cobbles and cross the river and the massive suspension bridge on foot. So I did. I high fived my friends over the barriers at the cross over points, I waved at all the supporters, gurned at the cameras and did a jumping high-five for the couples dressed in national dress in the lines up to the Freedom Monument. My pacing was all over the place, but it’s hard to keep even pacing when you have so much high-fiving and gurning to do. It was TOTALLY worth it. 

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