Phoenix Year-End Marathon and Frozen Marathons 2018

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River Thames at sunset.

The Phoenix races have become convenient for racking up marathon medals. After the back to back marathons in December 2017, I signed up for a triple marathon this year. What was exciting this year was Richard’s participation in the shorter distances.

We were already on winter break so I had no problem booking us on a 14:56 Eurostar train to London on Thursday, December 2, 2018. The UK is an hour behind Belgium so when we arrived at Saint Pancras International Station, it was only a few minutes past 16:00. We caught the Victoria underground to Vauxhall where we switched to a train for Walton-on-Thames.

Our home for this weekend was The Weir Hotel and Pub along River Thames. We had a quick dinner and went to bed early in preparation for the first marathon the following day.

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We woke up early to this view from our hotel room. Cold, bright and sunny.

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After bib pickup and race briefing, we trooped to the starting line in front of The Weir. The race started at 9:00 AM in the direction of Hampton Court. This route and direction was my first and I must say I love it! No blue bridge and a wider tow path. Yes, the path was busy with walkers and their dogs but it was generally flat and the ground was solid.

Since it was my first time to run this way, I took some time to take some photos.

We had to complete four laps for the marathon distance. I completed mine in 5:58:03.

We were literally at the hotel at the finish line so all we had to do was enter the pub to get to our room on the next floor. One down, two to go. I immersed myself in a bath to soothe the niggles. Dinner was chicken burger.

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The second day was for Frozen Phoenix Marathon Day 1. I signed Richard up online and reminded him he can do as little as one lap and he would be considered a finisher and he gets a medal. Richard went on to complete two laps for a 10K distance!

We all started at the same time at 9:00 AM and we were headed in the direction of the blue bridge. Ah. . . not my favorite course but I can live with it. Richard took a photo of the favorite spot of the swans and the ducks and the Walton Running Club. The club is always busy in the morning for rowing practice but clears out by noon.

 

I completed this race in 6:13:18. It was again an early night and a bath soak for me. Two down, one more to go.

The final day was for Frozen Phoenix Marathon Day 2. I also signed Richard up for this race.

He felt good after his 10K distance and proceeded to complete four laps for a half marathon distance! I am so proud of my husband. He soldiers on. He did not have any music to distract him and did not take any refreshments. I need to remind him that drinking water and having a bite is part of the racing strategy.

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Took a photo of Richard in action.

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I was already tired when I toed the starting line but I surprised myself and finished just a teeny bit faster this time at 6:09:04.

Finishers’ photo with the race director Rik Vercoe.

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I was very pleased with our medal haul for this trip! I especially love the peek-a-boo design of the Frozen Phoenix medals.

We stayed one more night at the Weir and checked out the day after to spend New Year in London.

Breakfast at St. Pancras International Hotel made for a power day.

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We played tourists and had our photo taken in front of the Tower Bridge.

We headed back for Brussels on the 15:04 Eurostar train on January 1, 2019.

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Zurich Maraton de Sevilla 2019

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Hotel Alfonso XIII, our home for the weekend.

I have been enjoying British races of late. After completing several small, slow runner-friendly marathons during the last few weeks, I was looking forward to participating in a another high profile mega marathon in Spain.

This is my second time to run the Sevilla Marathon. I ran this race the first time in 2016, finishing in 5:21:52.  We loved our first visit so much that we knew we will be back before long.

Our flight to Spain was a little complicated this time. We flew out of Brussels South Charleroi Airport on Saturday, February 16, 2019 on the 6:30 AM Ryanair flight to Malaga. Airport Express Bus 75 to Maria Zembrano train station cost 3 euros each. From there, we took the train to Sevilla Santa Justa at 10:06 with an expected arrival of 13:28.

Unfortunately, train works disrupted our travel time. We had to get off three stops from Sevilla and were bused to the next station. From there, we continued to Sevilla and arrived later than expected.

Continuing on, we took the Line C4 train to Palacios de Congresos to pick up my bib and the goodie bag. I prepaid 90 euros for the registration fee online.

We proceeded to our hotel for this trip afterwards., Hotel Alfonso XIII, right outside the Puerta Jerez Metro station.

It was late in the afternoon by the time we arrived at the hotel. The stress of interrupted travel was compensated by the beauty of the hotel. This luxury hotel was commissioned by the former king of Spain for an expo and has since become the hotel of choice for royalty, diplomats and Hollywood stars. It was beautiful no matter what nook you laid eyes on.

Our room was designed with a Morrocan influence.

We took a quick nap before rising to do some sightseeing. We visited the Sevilla Cathedral nearby and had our photo taken in front of the Giralda, the cathedral’s bell tower. The Giralda was built in 1171 as a minaret tower when the cathedral was still a mosque. It was inspired by the minaret tower of the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech which was built earlier in 1121.

We opted to have an early dinner at one of the restaurants along the street in front of the cathedral.

Satiated, we walked a bit more to catch a flamenco show at Casa de Flamenco. Loved the show!

Photos and videos were forbidden during most of the one-hour performance. They did allow us to take photos and videos during the last five minutes of the show.

We walked back to the hotel, stopping for a rose shaped pistachio gelato.

We were up early for breakfast at 7:30 AM. Yes, they served the bubbly for the power meal of the day!

The start and finish line was at nearby Paseo de las Delicias. Richard waited patiently to capture me in action a few meters past the starting line.

Sevilla is a beautiful city with its UNESCO-protected buildings and areas. Runners were entertained every step of the way either by the visuals or by the music provided along the route. The route was flat. The weather was cool in the beginning and warmed up later in the morning.

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The major roads were lined with trees heavy with ripe oranges. Yum!

Richard walked around and took some photos.

He also found me somewhere along the route.

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Aid stations had plenty of water, Aquarius sports drinks, and bananas.

I was slower this time. My official finish time was 5:28:15, with a real time of 5:23:35.

We were already checked out by the time I finished the race but I got to take a shower at the sauna room and have our finisher’s photo taken in the beautiful lobby.

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We made our way to the Sevilla airport for our 20:00 Ryanair flight, arriving at Charleroi airport at 22:45.

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Vikings Challenge and Normans Challenge Marathons 2019

 

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Going out on one of the five laps we had to complete for the Vikings Challenge Marathon 2019.

This was my first back to back marathon weekend for 2019 and my first experience with the running group behind www.saxon-shore.com. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience that I am now looking forward to coming back for more.

Friday, February 2, 2019 was our travel day back to the UK. We took the train after work to Brussels Midi station for the Eurostar train leaving at 18:56 and arriving at 19:57. We picked up our prepaid Southeastern Train tickets at a collection point before boarding the train on Platform 2. Trip was 22 minutes. We took the taxi from Gravesend station to our hotel for the weekend, Travelodge.

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The bib pickup and race headquarters was across the street in Cyclopark. We woke up early to eat an early breakfast and be at the race tent 45 minutes before the 9:30 AM start time. We went to the Cyclopark building first and realized that the race headquarters was at the car park area.

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I picked up my bib and stretched while waiting for the race start. I used the same bib for both races.

The Vikings Challenge Marathon on February 2nd is actually day two of the three-day Saxons, Vikings, and Normans Challenge 2019. As much as I was tempted to, I did not take leave from work to do the Friday Saxons challenge.

There was still lots of snow and sludge for the Vikings challenge on Saturday. The race director provided the briefing before we set off at 9:30 AM.

We had to do five loops to make the marathon distance within a six-hour time limit. Each loop was 5.25 miles.

I completed the race in 6:12:41.

Loved the goodie bag provided to all finishers! Altruistic runners can also waive the goodie bag and the race director will donate five pounds to charity. I did not feel generous after the race and wanted my chocolates and crisps!

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The sun was out long enough to melt the snow the next day.

The race headquarters had liquids and all sorts of nibbles.

A marshal would punch a hole on my lap card every time I finished a lap.

I completed the next race in 6:13:05. The goodie bag contained different chocolates and crisps this time.

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We walked back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and get on a taxi for Gravesend station. The train took us directly back to London Saint Pancras International Station where we waited for our 17:55 train back to Brussels.

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We were served dinner on board the train.

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I played a bit with the finisher medals. The cool thing about these medals is that they interlock with each other.

Now I have to do the Saxons Challenge Marathon soon to complete my medal trio.

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One Run to Rule Them All Marathon 2019 and Doughnut Dash Marathon 2019

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A cold and overcast day on the Walton-on-Thames tow path.

This was the second weekend in a row that I was doing a back-to-back marathon. Hmmm. . . I can do it! I was intimate with the race route and knew I just have to take it slow and easy to complete the challenge with no injuries.

We took the train after work to Brussels Midi station and boarded our 18:56 Eurostar train for London Saint Pancras International Station on Friday, February 8, 2019.

By 20:00, we were waiting for the Victoria line underground to Vauxhall in the direction of Brixton. It helps to have a re-loadable and reusable Oyster card in hand. You won’t have to line up and get a ticket every time. From Vauxhall, we switched trains to catch a train bound for Woking and got off at Walton-on-Thames.

A cab took us to our usual accommodation, The Weir Pub and Hotel, where we quickly settled in for the night.

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We were up early the next morning. The owner forgot that we had breakfast that morning so we had to wait until somebody arrived to cook for us. Consequently, we barely had time to pick our bibs up before the crowd started en masse to the starting point in front of the pub.

 

The One Run to Rule Them All Marathon was a new themed Phoenix race. It drew probably more than 200 Lord of the Rings fans and runners with its promise of the Precious.

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We started off at 09:30 in the direction of the blue bridge. Some people cheekily started calling it the blue bridge of doom for its narrow width and slope.

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The aid station setup at the start of the race.

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Richard completed four laps to make a half marathon distance while I did eight laps to finish the marathon distance in 6:17:55.

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The race director Rik Vercoe presented me with the 12 Marathons in 12 Months medal and certificate at the end of the race.

We made our short way back to our hotel room to recuperate and have an early dinner of my favorite Thai Chicken Curry and crab cakes for Richard.

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The following morning, the owner himself woke up early and cooked us a delicious breakfast of chicken and cheese omelet to energize us for the day. Richard saw me off at the start line for the Doughnut Dash Marathon.

Same distance but not quite the same route. The runners were divided into the chocolate and strawberry groups. The chocolate group got to run in the direction of the Hampton Court while the strawberry group had to take on the blue bridge of doom again. As you can see, I had a strawberry bib so I had to run the same route as yesterday.

I finished the Doughnut Dash Marathon in almost the exact same time as yesterday’s marathon: 6:17:20.

The owner very kindly allowed us to do a late checkout so I can take a shower before we made our way back to London.

Once on board the 19:34 Eurostar train back to Brussels, we ate the cold light meal they served and relaxed. We also ate the fresh mango cups we bought at the M&S convenience store beside the departure area.

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Jaw Dropper Marathon 2019 and Dirty Running Marathon 2019

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A regular scene along the tow path.

We’ve become regulars at Phoenix Running events. The next back to back race for 2019 was on February 23-24, 2019 at the now very familiar Walton-on-Thames tow path.

Jaw Dropper Marathon 2019 was on Saturday, February 23, 2019. Bib pick-up followed by a briefing at the XCel Leisure Complex preceded the race at 9:30 AM.

One pleasant surprise that day was the Lidl pop up booth outside the building. The mega discount chain was opening another store in the next few days. The booth was giving away as much fruits and bars as one could have. Of course we took advantage of the freebie stuff and grabbed some bananas and oranges as well as some energy bars and juice drinks! We now have better refreshments in between laps!

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We set off in front of The Weir Pub going westward to the blue bridge. Runners can make as many laps as they want within the six hour time limit. One lap is 3.26 miles.

Richard did four laps to complete a half marathon distance.

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The tow path on Saturdays are always crowded with families of walkers or walkers with dogs of all sizes. There are a couple of rowing clubs on the race path too. The areas in front of their club houses are always busy with rowers getting their boats out on the water or just milling about.

The weather was beautiful, starting at around 5 degrees Celsius at the beginning of the race to around 14 degrees by the time I finished in 6:27:21. There is a section in the towpath part the Walton bridge that serves as a feeding area for swans, ducks, and other two-winged beautiful creatures. They were just beautiful to look at!

We took the cab back to our hotel. Travelodge was our accommodation for this weekend. It was cheaper than our last hotel, right in front of the Walton-on-Thames train station, and very close to the high street shops. I cleaned up quickly and hopped back into the cab to have an early dinner at Nando’s at The Heart Shopping Complex. We popped into Sainsbury’s for some snacks then walked to Supha Thai Massage for our couple’s massage appointment at 6:30 PM. The massage was painfully good; it kneaded our sore muscles and made us sleep well that night. The price was reasonable too: 45 pounds for one hour.

The following morning, Richard walked with me to the train station to take a cab to the XCel Leisure Complex. Fare was 8 pounds with a one pound tip.

The Dirty Running Marathon also started at 9:00 AM. Thankfully, we were going eastward this time, towards Hampton Court. Yay! no blue bridge to contend with. I like this route better because there are less people, have a wider towpath, and do not have slopes to deal with. Not that it made any difference to my time. I completed the same eight laps of 3.26 miles to make a marathon distance. I was still slower on the second day, coming in at 6:33:49.

It was sunnier on Sunday. I got hot at times but also got cold on the tow path areas where it was shaded.

Richard picked me up after the race in a cab. We returned to Travelodge to retrieve our luggage, changed at the Ashley Park Pub next door, and crossed the street to the train station.

We took the Southwestern Railway train to Waterloo, changed to the Northern Line to Euston, then to the Victoria Line to St. Pancras International Train Station. We arrived in plenty of time for our 19:34 train back to Brussels.

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LPM Ultra Marathon 45K 2019

 

We watched horses and their riders go through drills while having dinner.

The next scheduled race for 2019 was the Louis Persoons Memorial (LPM) Ultra Marathon on January 27th in nearby Genk, Belgium. I ran the LPM Marathon twice before: in 2015 which I finished in 5:37:00 and in 2016 where I ran slightly faster and completed the race in 5:24:24. Although I don’t like trail courses, I was familiar with this one enough to sign up for the third time.

Let me be honest though: I actually thought I was signing up for the marathon and realized later they only had the 44.8K distance, followed by the 22.4K, the 11.2K and the 7.2K distances. Oh well, I already paid the 75 euros marathon package and convinced myself to stick to it.

Richard drove us an hour and a half to the race location in Kattevennen 15, 3600 in Genk late Saturday afternoon. Kattevennen is the gateway to the huge Hoge Kempen National Park. Our accommodation was at the Bloso Sporthotel in the middle of the park. An additional 35 euros for Richard was collected by the race organizer. Bed linens were provided but we had to bring our own towels, soap, and shampoo. The hotel was as basic as it could get, but we had wifi access.

We arrived in time for dinner at the Ruiter Club Cafe across the hotel.

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The cafe was connected to the indoor horseback riding area.

We walked back to the hotel after dinner.

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Breakfast was served at the dining hall. Nothing fancy but it served its purpose. There was cereal, boiled eggs, sliced ham, fruits, bread, and yogurt. Coffee and tea were also available.

We made our way to the back of the cafe across the street to pick up my bib and wait for the race to start at 10:00 AM.

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We took off promptly at the top of the hour.

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The ultra distance required four laps on 90% trail surface.

Richard patiently waited and took some photos of the surrounding area.

This time the race was tough! It rained and the sky was overcast the whole time. I finally crossed the finish line in 6:39:19.3. The soup and sandwich for all finishers were long gone by the time I crossed the finish line.

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I took a shower in the gym before Richard drove us back home.

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Winter Enigma Marathon 2019

 

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The view of the hotel and the pub by the lake from the race route.

January in Europe is always cold and dreary. In theory, it is the perfect time for me to just cuddle with my husband in bed in the mornings and throw thoughts of running out the window. In reality, I really still need to go for a run as I do not run enough during the week.

The compromise I made with myself is to try and continue to do marathons in January, starting with the Winter Enigma Marathon in Milton Keynes in the UK.

The train to Brussels Midi Station left at 8:29 AM on Saturday, January 5, 2019 where we boarded our 10:56 AM Eurostar train to London Saint Pancras International Station.

Upon arrival at noon, we decided to walk to the nearby Euston station. The 12:54 PM train to Milton Keynes central station took less than an hour. A 14-pound taxi ride took us to the Premier Inn Caldecotte. The return trip on Sunday afternoon was only 10 pounds. Hmmm. . . how was it more expensive to go out than back?

Day 1 of the Winter Enigma Marathon  series was wrapping up by the time we got into our room. The hotel was in front of the Caldecotte Lake and isolated from other houses and buildings. An afternoon nap and relaxation time followed the rest of the day.

Dinner was next door at the Caldecotte Pub and Grill. The pub was a popular local hangout. It filled up rather quickly with families and groups of friends. They had a good menu selection for all diet preferences.

A wall installation at the pub honored Alan Turing’s work with Enigma at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, a place close to Milton Keynes. Ah. . . this must be why the running organization is called Enigma Running!

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Breakfast was included in our reservation for the next morning.

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We took our fill and hustled over to a corner of the pub where they were handing out the bibs for the race. I pre-registered and paid for the 39 pounds registration fee online. I saw familiar faces in the running crowd who also run the Phoenix races regularly.

Day 2 of the Enigma Winter Marathon series started at 9:00 AM with a published six hour time limit. The organizer decided to extend the day’s limit to a generous six and a half hours. The marathon was also capped at 60 participants.

The scenic route bordered the Caldecotte Lake. We had to do seven and a half laps to make the marathon distance. The path was either on concrete or on trail with no elevation at all.

The race tent had water and nibbles. It was cold out so I was bundled up.

I took my time and finished at 5:59:36. Yay!

Posed with the race director Travis and volunteer Jenny with my finisher’s medal.

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Richard already checked us out of our room. I changed in the pub’s bathroom before we took a cab back to the train station. Our Virgin train to Euston was delayed by almost 30 minutes. The 19:34 Eurostar train back to Brussels left promptly and arrived at 22:38 with enough time for us to catch the last train back to Jurbise.

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