Dani is a Senior Program Manager at Microsoft Development Center Serbia who’s been with us for the past five years. Dani started running just a few years ago and, in the course of time, has empowered many people to join him. We at Microsoft Development Center Serbia (MDCS) are proud of his achievements. Our corporate culture is not only about engineering and innovation but also about true leadership and inspiration. Dani was fortunate to attend very few races during the Covid-19 pandemic and even more fortunate to have won some medals.
Meet Dani through this article, learn more about what running means to him, and how he has made 100 of our colleagues participate in a marathon.
What was your motivation to start running?
This is a great question, the one I revisit myself now and again because motivation evolves and changes over time. When I think about running, the most important thing about it is to enjoy it. Some people do, some don’t – this is different for everyone. My primary motivation for running is to stay healthy, but more importantly, running for me helps me achieve clarity of mind, a sort of a meditation state, and it consequently helps my work and personal relationships. Running has also helped me leave my comfort zone and reconsider the limitations I have imposed on myself and my work. These are typically self-imposed or society-imposed limitations set upon ourselves and how far we can go. However, the good thing is that each of us can achieve much, much more, indeed.
I’ve run a half-marathon in just two years, and a full marathon in just three
The interesting thing is that I started running without actually planning to do so – it was on a treadmill at a gym, and it just felt like something I could continuously do without even thinking about it. As the time went by, I started enjoying it and wondering what it would be like to run outside, on the ground. Without giving too much thought to it, in 2016, I ran my first 10 km road race, which was the point of no return for me. Running in a large crowd of people creates this amazing energy that carries you forward to the finish line. I remember clearly running across Branko’s bridge in Belgrade with thousands of other runners with pure amazement thinking to myself that this was one of those rare life moments that gave you goosebumps.
Motivation for running changes over time
Following my first 10K race, I wondered if I could do more, if I could run a half–marathon (21 km) – it seemed a very long distance at the time. I first sought advice from friends and other runners before starting training. This helped me a lot, as people shared not only some fantastic tips on how to prepare for the race but also about their life philosophy and what running meant for them, and how it affected their lives. In 2017, I ran my first half-marathon – I remember clearly, it was the 30th Belgrade Marathon, sometime in the spring of that year. It felt beyond amazing! Being able to run continuously for 21K with my own body was life-transforming. My motivation started changing as I realized more and more that pushing ourselves to grow beyond our supposed limits also affected real life, as it helped me push past the limits of my work and personal relationships. The more I ran, the more I started noticing that I could achieve a meditation-like state in which I didn’t think about running at all, and my mind just started wandering. In that state, more often than not, solutions to various personal and work challenges just appeared in my mind. Eventually, I learned that this state is known as a runner’s high, experienced by many runners, which has perhaps best been described in Murakami’s book “What I Think About When I Think About Running.”
How 100 people from MDCS started running with me
I was so excited about what I achieved (especially because I was a bookish and unathletic type in my youth), that I wanted to share my passion with others, and that’s where my motivation started to evolve. I learned that the Belgrade marathon had an option for relay teams, in which it allowed 4 participants to run as a team, effectively splitting the half-marathon (21K) distance between the four runners (about 5.25K each). I thought what a great team-building experience this might be. With the support of Dragan Tomic, our director and VP of Engineering, along with my colleagues at MDCS, for four years in a row, I was able to motivate and engage a whole lot of people to participate in running the Belgrade marathon. Getting other people interested in running felt amazing. It gives me great pleasure that in the past four years, I’ve seen people at MDCS try running 5K for the first time in a relay team, and more than a dozen of MDCS folks ran a half-marathon (21 km) for the first time, upgrading from their previous 5K experience. What an amazing feeling it is to see people evolve their goals and motivation over time.
The training effort from a half to a full marathon is not 2 times but probably 4-5 times more
I really wanted to understand if I could run the full 42 km distance marathon. One of my friends suggested I should try running the Berlin marathon, as this race is very flat and very well organized. However, it is not easy for anyone to get into this race because you either need to have an amazing previous marathon time or you need to be drawn in a lottery. I entered the Berlin marathon lottery online, and to my surprise, a few weeks later, I was drawn to run in 2018. There was no giving up now! Like before, I consulted with runners who ran full marathons before first to get an idea of the training effort and challenges involved. Because of this, I decided to start training with a personal trainer, as preparing for the full marathon race is not a 2 times but a 4-5 times more strenuous effort. This is because our body, without proper training, can easily collapse beyond 30 km, the metabolism can simply go haywire. I started training hard for the next 6 months – running 3 times a week and going to the gym 2 times a week.
To be clear, I was a nerd and an unathletic type in my youth, but…
Just the sheer thought of being able to run the full marathon distance was mind-boggling. I was driving on the highway from Novi Sad to Belgrade and looking at the mileage passing by to understand how long 42 km actually is – I got so scared of the road passing by that I told myself that I would never do this again. The lesson learned is not to look at this challenge in terms of the actual distance. Instead, sometimes we need to look at our challenges from a different perspective to overcome them – I’ve learned to observe the marathon race through time – it’s only “a few hours” of physical activity.
World Marathon Majors
I ran my first full marathon (42 km) in Berlin in 2018 continuously for 5:02hrs and almost didn’t feel a thing. The feeling of accomplishing this feat was terrific as I did it all by myself, with nothing else but my own body. I loved it!
In Berlin, I found out there is a competition called World Marathon Majors with the challenge to run the World’s top 6 races. I immediately knew this was the next challenge I’d like to take; this was one of those challenges that simply drew me in. In 2019, I ran London, Chicago, and New York marathons – three full-length marathons in a single year! In 2020, I was supposed to complete all six by running Tokyo and Boston marathons; however, these races were canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Boston marathon medal – virtual race during Covid-19 in Belgrade!
In 2020, the Boston marathon offered a virtual full-marathon race which I ran in my hometown, and I received the medal in the mail, but this did not count as an official race. It was extremely hard to prepare for this and to start the race on September 14th, 2020, at 5 am at Ada park in Belgrade when the outdoor temperature was the coolest. I ran alone for the first 30 km, and for the last 12 km, I was joined by two friends Milica and Pedja who ran beside me until the end of the race. I was really proud to be able to motivate myself in the Covid-era and still accomplish something that pushed me beyond my limits! I’ve learned an important lesson – that you can turn things around even in the most challenging of times.
Boston marathon medal – in person
As soon as the pandemic eased down a bit, in October of 2021, I was finally able to complete my race in Boston in person. What an amazing experience this was! I was the only Serbian that ran in Boston that year. Now, I’m only 1 star away from my goal to complete all 6 World Marathon Majors, with the Tokyo marathon remaining. The race was canceled in 2020, 2021, and 2022 for all foreign participants due to Covid-19. However, I hope that I will be able to complete the Tokyo marathon in March of 2023 and win my 6-star World Marathon Majors medal.
Be brave to make your first steps into the unknown
There are many lessons I’ve learned on my journey. Perhaps the main one is that nothing is impossible and that we can all overcome our personal limitations and the greatest challenges. Embracing the unknown makes us grow, develop, and push beyond our limits. I’m very proud of my race accomplishments as training for and completing all these races, believe it or not, was harder for me than getting my Ph.D.
What are you most proud of?
Organizing and running the Belgrade half-marathon with over 100 runners, consisting of 16 relay teams (4 people each) and 20 individual runners going for the 21K half-marathon is perhaps something that I’m most proud of. It was amazing to see how much all that had a positive effect on the lives of many people. I’m very proud of all the runners at MDCS, showing the true team spirit of relentless people who are not afraid to take on new challenges and expand their boundaries. I’m especially proud of the people who wondered if they could run any of the races but still tried and came out as winners in the end, going over their own edge.
Support from leadership is important
Organizing such a large crowd to run in a marathon couldn’t be possible without the support of Dragan Tomic, our director and VP of Engineering, also a passionate marathoner. I’m also thankful for the logistics help from our Proactive team – kudos to my colleague Jadranka for all the help along the way.
In the end, when I think about what MDCS runners are all about, I believe we are continuously striving to grow, to be better, to achieve more, and to do it together, as a team, to help each other along the way, and to prevail in any and all challenges.