24th Acea Maratona di Roma 2018

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The Trevi Fountain is the largest and most famous Baroque fountain in Italy. People love to toss coins into the fountain. 3,000 euros are recovered every night and given to the Catholic charity organization Caritas to support its many services for the poor.

All roads led to Rome on April 8, 2018 for the 24th Acea Maratona di Roma 2018. 11,395 runners registered for the race that worked its way around the eternal city past more than 500 historical structures and monuments. The highlight of the race was definitely running across St. Peter’s Square and pausing to listen to Pope Francis officiate the Sunday morning mass!

I first ran this race in 2015 when it rained the whole time and I didn’t get to enjoy the scenery much. This year’s race was blessed by a sunny 23 degrees Celsius weather. There were so many distractions that I was grateful for the seven hours and 30 minutes time limit.

We got up early to catch the 7:00 AM Ryanair flight to Rome Ciampino from Brussels South Charleroi Airport on Saturday, April 7, 2018. It was a 35-minute Terravision bus ride to Roma Termini Station where we took the Metro B line to Cavour. You can pay for your Terravision bus ticket online at 4€ per person one way or directly from the dispatcher. When you get to the Roma Termini Station, you can buy a 24-hour metro and bus pass for 7€ each. This is more cost effective especially if you plan to go around the city and see as many sights as you can in 24 hours. Otherwise, a single trip is 1,50€.

We stayed at The Inn at the Roman Forum near the Colosseo. The boutique hotel has a very discreet front. You won’t know it is a hotel unless you are actually booked here.

We planned to just drop off our luggage and go pick up my bib. We knew we made the right choice with the hotel when we were ushered into the receiving room to be served tiramisu and glasses of excellent wine as our welcome.

The hotel impressed us even further by letting us know that our room was ready before the 14:00 checkin time, and they upgraded us to a room with a jacuzzi! The hotel is part of the Roman Forum ruins but the interiors were extremely modern with all the luxury amenities.

Bib pick-up was at the Rome Convention Center The Cloud. We were back at the Cavour station to get on the metro and got off at the Eur Fermi nine stops away.

I lined up at the claims area only to be told that my registration was incomplete! I almost panicked at the possibility of traveling all the way here and not being able to run the race. I was transferred to the Pending Subscriptions desk where I found out that the French medical certificate I submitted online did not conform to the Italian template and my registration payment was therefore not processed. The line to this desk was long. The race organizers were probably used to people like me who assumed but did not check online that their registrations went through successfully. I assumed that my Italian Runcard membership ensured all requirements were met.

We had to race back to the hotel to get the proper Italian medical certificate and come back to the same desk to submit the document, hope it got approved, and allow me to pay the 90€ registration fee. Fortunately, the lady was very helpful and accepted my late papers. Whew! This was a lesson I will never forget. Always, always check online a few days before the race that you are officially registered for the event! You will normally get a confirmation letter by email if you are. I did not, but assumed I was confirmed.

Crisis averted! Check our relieved smiles here! I didn’t have my name printed on the bib but that did not matter now.

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The race kit included the race shirt, Vitamin E capsules, sports detergent, an Arts Card providing free entrance to 10 museums and galleries, and the highly coveted New Balance backpack.

The incident took the whole afternoon and wore us out emotionally. We trudged back to the hotel and decided to order takeaway dinner at one of the small pizza places near the hotel.

It was fortunately a good night’s sleep. We woke up early to have breakfast at the terrace restaurant.

The indoor and outdoor areas were extravagantly designed and the view was amazing.

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The start and finish was in front of the Colosseo, just a few meters away from the hotel. I went to my corral to wait for our turn to start at 8:52 AM. Elite runners started at 8:40 AM and the 5K runners were starting after us.

The race was epic! There were many pacers according to the runners’ targeted times from 2:50 to 7:30. The historic sights were simply awe-inspiring.

I could not help myself when I got to the 17K mark. I stopped and took a selfie with Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square. He was officiating the Sunday mass.

There were many hills too. Rome, after all, was built on seven hills. Aid stations every five kilometers provided water, Powerade, blood oranges, apple slices, and crackers. Sponge stations were 2.5 kilometers away from aid stations and helped cool us down. Various groups entertained us along the way.

Richard took pictures of various scenes around the hotel while waiting for me.

I finished in 5:51:03, a minute slower than 2015. Finishers received a bottle of Powerade, mineral water, blood oranges, and apples.

A quick rest and a shower and we were off again to be tourists. The Trevi Fountain was a 10 minute walk from our hotel.

From the fountain we got on the Barberini metro to Ottaviano to see the St. Peter’s Square again after the race.

We took the metro back to our hotel, stopping to have Japanese cuisine for dinner. We were in bed early to rest, recover and wake up at 5:45 AM to make our way back to the airport for our 9:30 AM Ryanair flight on Monday, April 9, 2018.

 

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Utrecht Science Park Marathon 2018

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The city of Utrecht in The Netherlands was declared by CNN as “the new Amsterdam” and by BBC as “one of the happiest places to live”. There are lots of things to do in the city that appeals to its student population too, the largest in the country. We were here for the Utrecht Science Park Marathon 2018 on March 18, 2018.

Richard and I took the intercity train from Jurbise to Brussels to Rotterdam to Utrecht in the afternoon of Saturday, March 17, 2018. It was rainy and cold when we left Belgium. It was this and more when we arrived in Utrecht; it was very windy! I knew then this would be a challenging race, but I’m up for it.

We went straight to Hotel NH Utrecht Jaarbeursplein in front of the train station upon arrival. It was too late in the afternoon to pick up the bib at Sportscentrum Olympos; we decided to just pick it up before the race started on Sunday.

We met up with an old friend and her daughter at the train station before we strolled around the new mall. Dinner was excellent at Wagamama! We fell in love with the food the first time my sister took us to this restaurant chain in England last year.

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An early night is a must before the race.

There were lots of choices to be had for breakfast. Lots of excited runners too, coming from all parts of Europe.

We took the U-OV bus 28 to the Sportscentrum to pick up the bib and walked to the start line in Cambridgelaan. The 5K started at 9:45 AM and the 10K at 10:45 AM. We hung around the area before the marathon started at 12:30 PM.

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The Dutch runners must have the genetic and homecourt advantage with this race. Look!

The race required two loops, with the second loop starting no less than two hours and 45 minutes after the gun start. I finished the first loop in 2:25:40 and completed the race in 5:24:18. Richard took a photo of the frozen river and the buildings by the start line.

There were only 353 runners in this category, probably due to the cold and wind. The race had a 5:30 time limit which made it more challenging. Finishers who did not make the cutoff time were not included in the official ranking. I took the bus to the train station afterwards; it was free for runners on Sunday. Richard waited for me at the train station with our luggage and we hopped on the next available train to start our journey home.

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Maratón Vías Verdes 2018

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We were back in Spain again the following weekend after the Murcia Marathon. The Maratón Vías Verdes 2018 was held in Arganda del Rey, one of the cities surrounding the country’s capital, Madrid.

We flew out of Brussels Zaventem Airport on board the 20:55 PM Brussels Airlines flight to Madrid on Friday, February 2, 2018. I decided on a rental car since  we can get to Arganda del Rey in about 20 minutes. Otherwise, it will take us an hour and a half by train. We arrived at our hotel well before midnight.

Bib pick-up was at our hotel the next day but did not start until 18:00 to 20:00. We had the whole day to ourselves so we decided to investigate my family’s connection to a namesake town 30 minutes away.

The town of Mondéjar is known for its wines and vineyard tours. I wanted to know more about its people’s history. It was an easy drive to the town’s center.

It was a Saturday and the city hall was closed. We parked the car at the city hall and walked around a little bit.

Richard drove us around the town.

There are no Mondejar memorabilia to buy but they had the town’s history book available for purchase. Now I have to get it translated from Spanish.

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We picked up my bib as soon as the race table opened. Pre-registration for this event was the US$60 equivalent in euros with no freebies.

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Richard drove me early the next morning to the local sports stadium Ciudad Deportive Prince Felipe to catch the 7:30 AM bus to the start line in Carabaña.

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The race started at 9:00 AM with a time limit of five and a half hours. Uhmm. . . this was probably a marathon for hardcore runners. I just realized that when I saw there were probably less than a hundred of us at the start line.

I was right. The other runners took off immediately. I started with my usual pace. The weather was terrible! It was raining when we started which was okay, but it got worse later on. We started at the the top, running on the red walking path that hugged and wrapped around a mountain. It would have been beautiful on a sunny day. Parts of the race path was the road to Santiago de Compostela. Also called the Camino de Santiago, the legendary pilgrimage route spans about 700 kilometers from various starting points in Europe and all ending at Santiago de Compostela. Catholic pilgrims can do the whole or part of the route in several days and will receive a plenary indulgence at the end. Hmmm. . . a good idea for the bucket list.

I did not take photos along the way. We had cold rain, wind, and snow from the halfway point until the end of the race. I was very under dressed. I only wore my merino wool base layer, a thin vest, and a plastic cover; I had to ask for an additional garbage bag to wear at one of the aid stations because it got too cold. My hands were frozen two thirds of the time and I was not about to try and take out my iPhone to take some photos in my state.

I was grateful for the volunteers at the aid stations who waited for everyone to pass by. The aid stations had water and energy drinks, bananas, oranges, crackers, and mixed nuts. I could tell they were as cold as I was, yet they patiently supported us. I thought about quitting but I decided to brave it at the halfway point and run one kilometer at a time.

I staggered to the finish line at Ciudad Deportive Prince Felipe in 5:36. I was past the time limit but the organizers still kept the race open since there were a few more people behind me. The weather made it even slower for slow runners like me.

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I took a very long hot shower at the hotel before we checked out and transferred to TRYP Alameda Hotel, a hotel close to the airport. We were up early  at 4:30 AM to catch the hotel shuttle to Madrid airport for our Ryanair flight back to Brussels.

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VIII Marató BP Castelló 2018

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The Concatedral de Santa Maria and the El Fadri are the major landmarks in Castellon de la Plana, Spain.

Castellón de la Plana was part of the Moorish Kingdom of Valencia before it was officially established as a town in 1251. Today, it is the capital city of the Valencian province of Castellón in eastern Spain. We traveled to the city by taking the 21:15 PM Vueling Airlines flight into Valencia from Brussels on Friday, February 16, 2018.

It was almost midnight when we arrived in Valencia. A 12 euro cab ride took us to the TRYP Alafata Manises Hotel nearby where we spent the night. We had breakfast first before the free hotel shuttle took us back to the airport where we got on Metro 5 and got off at Xàtiva, next door to the Estacion del Nord Station. The station was a throwback to the past with its architecture and mosaic walls.

The Renfe train to Castellón de la Plana took an hour and a half. We arrived before noon and walked to the Eurohotel in front of the train station. The Eurohotel was one of the official hotels of the race; they gave us a special rate of 77€ for one night with buffet breakfast for two and a late checkout.

As usual, we were too early for the universal 2:00 PM European hotel check-in time so we left our luggage and walked to the La Pergola inside Parque Ribalta for the bib pick-up. General registration fee was 40€ with an additional 5€ for the ChampionChip rental.

I could not resist having our photo taken with the Star Wars cosplayers at the race expo.

We walked around the area before heading back to the hotel.

The upscale El Cortes Ingles department store was next door to the race expo. We left with three new neck buffs we purchased on sale. They were end of season wool neck buffs for cool and cold weather that I can use for future races.

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The goody bag.

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The VIII Maratón BP Castellón 2018 started at 9:00 AM with five and a half hour time limit. There were 958 marathoners with 107 female runners. Security was tight.

The weather was cool at 9 degrees Celsius, climbing up to 17 degrees in the afternoon. We started at Avenida Vila Real, finishing at the now familiar Parque Ribalta.

The course was flat and the aid stations well stocked with the usual provisions of water, bananas, and oranges. Ohhhh. . .the Valencian oranges! They have the best tasting oranges and I took the time to savor them at the aid stations! They must be the reason why I ran just a teeny bit faster! I clocked in at 5:11:10 real time and an official time of 5:11:58. Finishers received the medal and a large marathon towel.

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A quick shower and we caught the 15:07 Renfe train back to Valencia, arriving at Estacion del Nord at 16:10. With the race over, I was able to enjoy the view from the train and noticed the miles and miles of orange groves along the way.

We dropped off our luggage at Hotel Zenit around the corner.

Bus 35 took us to Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias. Bus fare was 1,50€ each way. The science complex was huge and very modern looking.

The night view from the hotel was beautiful.

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We had dinner at Hard Rock Cafe near the hotel before calling it a night. We were up early for our flight back to Brussels at 7:30 AM on Monday, February 19, 2018. I was back at work in the afternoon.

 

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Brescia Art Marathon 2018

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The Capitolium of Brixia is one of the main tourist attractions of Brescia, Italy.

Brescia can be a little difficult to get to from Brussels. We got there by car, plane, bus, train, metro, and on foot though. We were up before the crack of dawn to drive to Brussels South Charleroi Airport for our 6:35 AM flight on Saturday, March 10, 2018. The flight was only an hour and a half to Milan Bergamo. From the airport, we took the 8:28 AM ATB bus to the Bergamo train station; fare was 2.30€ each. From the station, we waited for the Trenitalia train bound for Brescia; fare was 9.60€ each and took an hour and 24 mins. Once we arrived in Brescia, we transferred to the Prealpino bound metro for our final stop, Vittoria.

The Vittoria metro exited to the Vittoria Piazza where a Saturday market was in full swing.

Hotel Vittoria Brescia was only a few meters away. We were too early for our 2:00 PM check-in time.

We left our luggage and made our way to Piazza Mercato to pick up my race bib at the open air sport expo. The expo was open from 10:00 AM to 20:00 PM.

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Bib in hand, we walked around in search of a good restaurant for lunch. We lucked out with this restaurant in front of Piazza della Loggia. The restaurant offered free welcome glass of prosecco and fried potatoes. We ordered our food and the restaurant gave us each a free bottle of meloncello and lemoncello! We could get used to these freebie stuff!

Lunch over, we decided to see some sights in the city. Brescia is a university town and an art hub. It is also the site of six UNESCO World Heritage sites. We visited five of them in one afternoon since they were all within walking distance.

We started with Piazza della Loggia since we were already there. Pockets of Saturday markets were being held all over the city and they are usually just in the morning. The Piazza della Loggia market was closing down as we started out walking tour. The piazza faced the Torre dell ‘Orologio on the opposite end.

Teatro Grande is an operational arts house on a major shopping street.

The Castello de Brescia was a major trek up a hill. We paused to take some photos of the city below.

The Duomo or the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta was also near our hotel.

The Capitolium of Brixia is probably its most famous tourist attraction.

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The city has lots of small art museums or archaeological sites. We went inside one and passed another.

We came back to the hotel for the 2:00 PM check in time.

Our room had a view of the Duomo and the buildings along the street.

Our goody bag had lots of goodies!

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We wore ourselves out from all the walking earlier so a nap was next in the itinerary. We woke up in time for an early dinner and decided to come back to the same restaurant. Nope, no free meloncello or lemoncello this time. Maybe it was a lunchtime thing? Men were working on constructing the finishing arch of the race.

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A quick and early breakfast was in order the next morning. I loved the hotel’s chandelier!

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The starting line was at Mompiano so we took the metro with plenty of time to be ready for the 9:15 AM. The race had a time limit of six hours.

I crossed the finish line in five hours and 32 minutes. It was cold out there! We were not able to get a late checkout at the hotel but they graciously set aside a room for guests to take a shower. I cleaned up quickly before we started our journey back to the airport for the 21:05 PM flight to Brussels.

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1ere Marathon International du Golfe de Saint-Tropez

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Colorful historical buildings line the seafront of the Vieux Port in Saint-Tropez.

Europe has a well-developed marathon scene. Košice Peace Marathon in Slovakia holds the record as the oldest marathon in Europe since 1924 and every major European city boasts of a spectacular marathon or two every year. It is rare to find a brand new race nowadays so I jumped at the chance to take part in the premiere edition of the Marathon International du Golfe de Saint-Tropez at a favorite vacation spot of the rich and famous.

We took the 9:40 AM EasyJet flight to Nice out of Brussels International Airport on Saturday, March 24, 2018. We landed at 11:30 AM on Terminal 2 and proceeded to pick up our rental car at the Sixt counter. Richard drove while I helped navigate the hour long trip to Saint-Maxime. There were two tolls along the way, one for 5€ and another for 3€.

We found parking at one of the side streets and hotfooted it to the Saint Maxime Tourism Office on 1 Promenade Simon Loriere to pick up my bib and the goody bag. Registration for the race was 60€ with an additional 9€ for those taking the bus to the start line or from the finish line. Saw my name on the photo wall!

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Hotel Les Santolines was our accommodation for the weekend. The three-star hotel had breathtaking views of the Croisette beach and the azure waters. Good thing they had free private parking because everything in Saint Maxime, just like with all the cities on the Gulf, was expensive! We had a huge room with a separate sitting area and a balcony overlooking the pool and the sea.

Loved the goody bag! It included the race shirt, a welcome box containing crackers and candies, and rosé wine especially bottled for the race participants.

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We had lunch at a cafe near the race expo.

We leisurely walked back to the hotel, pausing to take some souvenir photos.

We got into the car and drove to Saint-Tropez to check out the area.

We toed the starting line at the Pont le Préconil (Preconil Bridge) with the race kicking off at 8:00 AM on Sunday, March 25, 2018.

The first few kilometers were along the beautiful seafront before we headed inland. The weather was nippy at around 7 degrees Celsius. We were at Saint-Tropez at the halfway point and then we started the uphill part of the race from 22K to 33K. The aid stations had water and wine! They also had some wonderful solid food: raisins, oranges, and other fruits.

The race had everything: road, trails, forest, sand, uphill and downhill. Good thing the race had a six-hour time limit!

Timing starts when the starting gun goes off, not when you cross the timing mat. I started two minutes after the gun start; I barely squeaked in under the limit, finishing in 5:56:44 at Maison de la Mer in Cavaliere. I walked 400 meters more to catch the bus back to Saint Maxime. I waited 30 minutes more for the bus to get full before we started the trip back.57A20310-D18D-421B-9C59-1B0FFC0AA225

Richard walked around in Saint-Maxime and took some photos while waiting for me.

He was patiently waiting for me at the bus stop. We were already checked out so I had no chance to take a shower. I changed in the car before we headed back to the airport. We returned the car at Terminal 2 and took the airport shuttle to Terminal 1 for our flight. We were able to relax, get something to eat and drink at the Priority Pass lounge. I washed up in the bathroom so I can be a little more decent. Our Brussels Airlines flight was scheduled to leave at 21:50 but the flight was delayed for more than an hour. We were home at 2:00 AM to catch some zzs before going to work the next day.82823440-0CD0-43B3-8E06-4B3FCD8F286D

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13th Alexander the Great Marathon 2018

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The status of Alexander the Great greets visitors along the seafront promenade in Thessaloniki.

Thessaloniki is a city that united three civilizations – Greek, Roman and Byzantine. She was named after the Macedonian queen, Thessaloniki, who was also the half-sister of the conqueror Alexander the Great. Legend also has it that Thessaloniki was a mermaid who ruled the Aegean waters. She would always ask, “is my brother Alexander still living?” whenever she met a ship at sea. If the answer is “yes, he is alive and rules”, the ship safely sailed. If the answer was no, she turned into a Gorgon and destroyed the ship.

Today, it is the second capital of Greece after Athens as well as the capital of Northern Greece and Macedonia. We took the 7:10 AM Ryanair flight from Brussels Charleroi to the city on Saturday, March 31, 2018 to take part in the 13th Alexander the Great Marathon the next day.

We were exiting the airport by 11:00 AM after the two and a half hour flight. Thessaloniki is an hour ahead of Brussels. People can take the airport taxi to the city center or the hotel for 27€ or take Bus 78 for 2€ per person. We opted to take the cheaper transportation. The bus stop was right in front of the arrivals hall. It took us about 40 minutes before we got off at the 12th stop, Platia Aristotelous or the Aristotelous Square.

We were booked at the Electra Palace Thessaloniki Hotel for the weekend. The hotel is strategically placed at the corner of the square overlooking a cove of the Aegean Sea.

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The Electra Palace Hotel is the second building on the left overlooking the Aristotelous Square.

Our room was not ready yet so we left our luggage at reception and walked to the 19th-century Ladadika district to have lunch. The neighborhood is a party place in the evening with its trendy bars and restaurants but it was nice and quiet at noon.

Satiated, we walked along the seafront promenade to Helexpo to pick up my bib.

The expo promoted various sports-related products and sports federations. There were drills and exhibitions going on in every corner.

I availed of the Advanced Package of the marathon. The package included the waterproof jacket, string bag, neck buff, and the race shirt.

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On the way back, we stopped to have our photo taken in front of the bust of the Greek Admiral Votsis and the 15th-century White Tower, the symbol of modern Thessaloniki. Richard also took photos of the tower at night.

We detoured on the way back to visit the 8th-century Agia Sofia, a UNESCO World Heritage Byzantine church, and took some photos of the Saturday afternoon scene.

The promenade had bars packed to the brim that Saturday afternoon. We stopped at the Nuts Factory along the way to buy some nuts. I was amazed at the many variations of the nut products and the creative way they were displayed. The storefront had three giant circular conveyors that rotated and cooked the nuts. Inside, they had two other cleverly designed flat conveyors that served as both as cooking and display stations.

Had a quick nap when we got to our room.

We were out again in the early evening to find the perfect spot for dinner. We walked around and ended up at one of the restaurants in front of the Aristotelous Square.

Starting line was in front of the Alexander the Great statue in Pellas. We woke up at 4:15 AM to get ready and be at the bus pickup at 5:30 AM on Manoli Andronikou Street in front of the Archaeological Museum. It was an 18-minute walk from our hotel so we splurged on a 5€ cab ride. The buses were leaving as they became full with the last bus leaving at 6:00 AM.

I dozed off on the hour long bus ride to Pellas. It was cool at 5 degrees Celsius when we arrived; I sought warmth and shelter at one of the restaurants while waiting for the start time. The race kicked off promptly at 8:00 AM. The point to point race is called Alexander the Great because we started by the Greek statue in front of Pellas and finished in front of the bigger statue in Thessaloniki.

The race was all on roads with very little shade. The day quickly warmed up to 21 degrees. I took off my jacket one kilometer into the race.

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The organizers did a great job with the safety and security of the runners. The roads were blocked off with policemen guarding every crossroad. The aid stations were well stocked with bottled water, Powerade, bananas, and oranges. Roving ambulances, car marshalls, and EMTs on bicycles paced back and forth to ensure everyone was running according to pace to beat the six-hour time limit.

Richard took some photos of the views while he had breakfast at the penthouse restaurant.

We merged with the 5K power walkers and runners halfway past the 39th kilometer mark. The heat was beating me by then. Seeing the huge crowd of runners bouyed up my spirits. Richard saw me first about a hundred meters away from the finish line.

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I crossed the finish line in 5 hours and 33 minutes. I got my finisher’s medal and received the finisher’s goodies: banana, apple juice, protein bar, bottled water, and two alcohol-free beer. The goodies didn’t last long enough for the finisher’s medal photo.

Richard and I made our way back to the hotel, stopping to get soft-serve chocolate ice cream from one of the vendors at the promenade. Our Ryanair flight was leaving at 8:50 PM so I booked us massages at the hotel. Richard had the traditional Swedish while I tried the athlete’s massage with cupping. The experience soothed my tired legs and energized us for the flight back home to Brussels. We walked to the Venizelou stop near the hotel and took the 5:20 PM bus back to the airport.

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