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Features Pila International Half Marathon

15 September 2014, 9am

The PHILIPS Piła Half Marathon is one of the oldest races in Poland with a history that goes back to 1991 when the first race was started by Henryk Paskal, who is still the race director. He gathered local running enthusiasts together and suggested staging a 15km race called the “Pilska Fifteen”.

Practice makes perfect

by Marcin Dulnik

Pila International Half Marathon
Sun 7 September 2014

From the start the idea was to make it a top international race on a level comparable to some of the best races in Europe. Joining AIMS in 1992 was part of that plan, with the course internationally certified from the outset.

From the first edition runners achieved good results in Piła. In 1995 the Belarus runner Natalia Galuszko ran 49:36 which was one of the fastest times in the world at that time. The fastest edition when the race was held over 15km was in 1996 when Jan Białk recorded 43:49 and Elena Mazovka from Belarus set a new course record of 49:21. These results showed Pila’s potential as a fast course, and soon runners were coming from all over the world to join the leading Polish runners on the startline. In 1998 all Polish national champions from 5000m, 10000m, half marathon, marathon and cross country stood next to each other on the starting line.

But the ”Pilska Fifteen” was not just an elite race. From the beginning it quickly became a favourite event for many mass runners. While the first edition had only 162 runners, one year later there were 478 finishers. In 2000 the “Pilska Fifteen” was transformed into a half marathon and incorporated the Polish Championships. In that first race held over 21.1km 23 runners ran faster than 70 minutes.

Jan Białk became the first Polish Half Marathon Champion. In 2002 future European champion and World Championships medalist Viktor Rothlin finished second in Piła.

Since then more than 20 000 runners have participated in the Piła race. Most of them come from Poland, but the half marathon attracts runners from countries like Germany, Belarus, France, the Czech Republic and Scandinavia. The race has helped to foster something of a running boom in Poland where not only do existing events find their numbers rapidly increasing but there are also many new events starting up. Piła remains at the forefront of 21km events in Poland: only some races in much bigger Polish cities like Warsaw, Poznan and Wrocław draw more entries. One thing that attracts the runners is the flat and fast course– if you want to run a new half marathon personal best then Piła is definitely a good place to try to do it. With all the leading Polish runners coming to compete in the Polish Half Marathon Championships the race is always run at a fast pace.

This year’s 24th edition was the biggest yet. Almost 3000 runners came, including many foreign runners, especially from Germany. Women’s participation is also growing, with 512 finishing this year, up almost 100 on 2013 and double the number of those in 2012.

Long practice has led to almost perfect organization in Piła. The only one thing that caused any difficulty for runners this year was the weather, which was definitely too sunny and hot for fast running. But the organizers were prepared for such weather and provided water and isotonic drinks and placed several “mist stations” along the route. The race is held on the main streets of Piła and there are many spectators who not only cheer the runners on but also organise their own “hydration areas”. It shows how locals are living the race, which has become a part of Piła; everyone in the city is very proud of the event.

Some people have participated in every single edition of the race, including those when it was the “Pilska Fifteen”. Likewise, those who visit Piła for the first time will certainly be coming back very soon. The date of the race makes it the perfect warm-up event for the BMW Berlin Marathon held three weeks later and the PZU Warsaw Marathon.

“We are pleased to see how our race has developed over the years” said Henryk Paskal. ”We have grown from 162 runners in 1991 to become one the biggest 21km races in Poland. We are doing our best to ensure perfect organization and good conditions for fast running. I invite anyone who wants to improve their half marathon personal best to come to Piła on Sunday 6 September 2015”.

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