Crete Marathon 2019

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The Venetian Harbor of Chania, Crete.

The Greek island of Crete has a special fascination for Greek mythology lovers like me. It is the setting for two of the most popular stories: the one where Athenian prince Theseus killed the half-man half-bull Minotaur in his lair, the Labyrinth that is the Knossos Palace and the one that tells of the flight of the imprisoned palace architect Daedalus and his son Icarus whose waxed wings melted when he flew too close to the sun.

History records show an advanced Minoan culture that began in 9000 BC and thrived in 2000 BC. They were known for their construction techniques, anti-seismic protection, indoor latrines, and sophisticated water systems. No wonder then that Venetians came and settled in the island. What they learned here they probably applied to manage the canals in Venice, Italy.

Richard and I took the three-hour Ryanair flight at 13:35 from Brussels South Charleroi Airport on Saturday, April 20, 2019. We landed past 17:00; Greece is one hour ahead of Belgium. I booked our private transfer for 25 euros through Crete Lux Tavel; the female driver was waiting for us with our name on it at the arrivals area.

The driver led us to the pick-up area where her husband was waiting in the car. We made small talk throughout the 20-minute journey. We got out of the car at the parking area beside the Firka fortress. Cars are only allowed into the Old Town until 11:00 AM. The driver walked with us until we reached our hotel, Domus Renier Boutique Hotel. She also generously gave us a small bottle of Greek wine as a gift. Very nice!

Domus Renier Boutique Hotel is part of the Historic Hotels of the World and is located right on the harbor. The hotel used to be the home of the noble Renier family of Venice. Our room had an outdoor Jacuzzi area. We also used the free Handy, a cellular phone provided by the hotel. It offered free local and international phone calls and unlimited browsing.

We dropped off our luggage and walked to the Mosque of the Janissaries. Race expo and bib pickup was at the mosque, also called Yali Tzamisi, along the Venetian Harbor on Saturday from 10:00 to 20:00. Registration fee was 25 euros.

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I received my bib, a string bag, a nice towel, the race shirt, an olive soap, and Cretan honey samples.

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The walk back to the hotel was slower while we checked out the dinner options along the way. Restaurants lined the harbor, and the restaurants employed guys who were aggressive in chatting people up and promoting the menus. We finally decided on the restaurant at our hotel. Grilled chicken and chicken risotto satiated us nicely. I noticed immediately that restaurants here would offer dessert or drink on the house. We politely declined this time, took the stairs to our hotel and called it a night.

Hotel breakfast was from 08:30 – 11:30. I made arrangements for breakfast to go at 06:00. The start and finish line was in front of the municipal market, an easy 10-minute walk from the hotel.

I bumped into my British friend Martin again. This guy is running all the time and all over the place! He’s done 1,300+ marathons to date; I’ve seen him in British marathons and in Sevilla, Spain earlier in the year.

There were not that many marathon runners this year. The bulk of the runners were doing at 10K, 5K, and 2.5K later in the morning. The crowd quickly thinned out as everyone settled into their running paces. The day warmed up very quickly. The race was covered live on television.

The course was out and back, with the first few kilometers along the coastal road. I love running beside the sea; it provides not only serenity but a sense of movement with the waves gently lapping on the shore.

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Aid stations had plenty of water, energy drink, and bananas. There were spots of live and recorded music here and there. The course is not flat but not too steep either.

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I ran with my usual pace and slowed down towards midday when the sun was at its hottest. I was at the 4.7K mark in 32:56, the 21.1 mark in 2:41:45, the 40K mark in 5:27:34 and crossed the finish line in 5:44:51, just a few minutes shy of the six-hour time limit. I apologized to Richard for being slow again; I complained of the heat and the elevation. Richard assured me the conditions does not matter since I still finish the race in around the same time whatever the weather and elevation. So very true!

Richard took some pictures of the area while waiting for me. His face was already red from being out in the sun so long waiting for me.

They gave me a finisher’s bag to take back to the hotel with us.

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We also stopped for frozen yogurt.

I took a shower and rested while we waited for our couple’s massage at Al Hammam spa at 17:00.

The massage was nice; I loved the combination of oil and hot stone used to massage my back but I couldn’t stand the heat from the hot stones when they were placed along my spine.

The massage finished and there was still sun out. We walked along the harbor again, looking at what people were eating. The lighthouse provided the perfect backdrop for our post-race photo.

We settled for dinner at Faro’s restaurant at the corner. We ordered a huge fish mezze. They also gave us complimentary raki to go with our seafood order.

We slept in the following morning and came down for breakfast at 09:30. Richard found a creative solution in my desire to upgrade my engagement ring. He placed the napkin ring on my finger!

I planned us to go to Heraklion that day to see the Knossos Palace. We took the Ktel bus at the bus station. Fare was 15 euros per person and the travel took three hours; the bus made several stops along the way to pick up passengers. We took a taxi (10 euros) when we arrived at the Heraklion bus station by the port.

Knossos Palace entrance fee was 15 euros per person or 8 euros for senior EU citizens and residents.

The palace was not that big but I could easily imagine the minotaur roaming the halls, devouring virgins sent from Athens until it was killed by Theseus.

We took another taxi back to the bus station where we caught the 14:30 trip to Chania.

Dinner was at another Venetian harbor restaurant, again with complimentary vanilla ice cream and local Greek wine.

Tuesday was another leisure day. I went for a short run after a late breakfast. I went all the way to the lighthouse to take photos and  run further to complete a short three-mile run.

We had a 13:00 late checkout. We left our bags and browsed through the municipal market and various souvenir shops to kill the time.

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By 17:00, we were on a taxi to take us back to the airport for our 17:55 flight back to Brussels.

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The trip was refreshing. We did not have to rush to catch a flight immediately after the race, and we got to see a lot. I hope we come back to do this race again. Next time, I would like us to take the 2.5 hour ferry ride from Heraklion to Santorini and spend a day or two there. I also need to remember to pack us some warmer jackets next time. It got cold in the evenings!

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Enigma Week at the Knees Days 6 and 7 Marathons 2019

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Running along the Caldecotte Lake in the UK.

We were back in Milton Keynes after a taste of the Enigma kind of racing in January. This time I signed up for a double marathon weekend, part of the Week at the Knees Marathon series. Hardcore runners were running their 6th and 7th consecutive marathons already. I could not take off work; I had to content myself with taking part in the tail end of the series.

Richard and I took the Jurbise train to Brussels Midi station after work on Friday, March 15, 2019. Our Eurostar train left at 18:56 and arrived at London St. Pancras International Station after two hours at 19:57. We walked over to the Euston train station to catch the Virgin train to Milton Keynes central station at 20:43. Depending on the time, the train to Milton Keynes can take either 30 minutes or an hour. It was a short cab ride to the Premier Inn Caldecotte, our accommodation for the weekend.

We woke up bright and early to the hotel’s breakfast buffet and be ready for the first of two races.

It was cold! I wore a merino base layer and a winter vest, a merino beanie over my racing cap, and gloves.

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A pre-race brief was held outside the pub ten minutes before starting time.

Racers set off at 9:00 AM, with a small lap followed by seven laps around Caldecotte Lake. It was also windy that the race tent was moved to under the bridge.

Multi-lap courses test one’s tenacity. Thankfully it was flat, dry, and the path wide enough for runners and promenaders alike. I finished the first race of the weekend in 6:13:51.

We made our way back to the hotel to rest and have dinner.

The second race was basically a repeat of the first day. Race brief first before the race proper.

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I kept my race bib so I had the same number. As expected, I was slower and came in at 6:17:39.

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Richard already checked us out of the hotel by the time I finished. I changed clothes in the hotel restaurant while Richard waited for our cab to arrive. We made our train to Euston at Milton Keynes central station with plenty of time to walk to St. Pancras International station to grab a bite to go and wait in the pre-departure lounge.

The medals interlock with each other. Cool!

 

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Leeds to Liverpool Canal Canter Marathons 2019

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The start line by Kirkstall Bridge in Leed, United Kingdom.

I signed up for another double marathon weekend right after the Enigma Running Week at the Knees marathon series in the UK. This was my first time to run with the It’s Grim Up North (IGUN) running group and was keen to get to know the people and the place.

We flew to Manchester on the late night Ryanair flight out of Brussels South Charleroi Airport on Friday evening, March 22, 2019. The train station at the airport had a direct trip to Leeds where we caught a cab to bring us to Benley City Stays near the Kirkstall bridge. The young owner waited for us to arrive after midnight to show us the serviced apartment.

We hit the sack soon after we arrived. The race the following morning was scheduled to start at 10:00 AM. We walked to the Leeds Postal Sports Association Club to pick up my bib.

The actual start line was at the towpath on the river paralleling River Aire.

Marathoners and ultra marathoners started at the same time. We headed to the left first for three miles and back to the race start area to complete six miles before continuing on to do 20 miles out and back.

It was cold for me and I was suitably bundled up. I must have been the only one thinking it was cold because I saw a lot of runners running in shorts and singlets! Oh well, to each her own.

The towpath was dry dirt and wide, enough space for runners, walkers, and strollers alike.

I took my time in the first race, coming in at 5:57:17. Richard met me at the finish line and walked me back to the apartment. Finishers each received two chocolate bars and a beer aside from the finisher’s medal.

I took a few minutes of rest after shower before venturing out again so that we could make our couples’ massage appointment at Rosa Thai which was a 10-minute walk away.

Our train back to Charleroi from Manchester was at 18:30. The organizers allowed me and a few other runners to do an early start so that we could finish before 15:00 PM. I knew I was going to be slower for my second marathon this weekend.

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There were three aid stations in this race. One at the three mile turnaround point, another at the six mile marker, and the last at the ten mile marker.

Sure enough, I completed the race in 6:28.41.

We were already checked out of the apartment. I changed into traveling clothes at the pub next door.

I pre-arranged a cab to take us directly to Manchester Airport before I knew that I was allowed to do an early start. I decided to keep the booking to save the hassle. We flew home without a problem.

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16a Treviso Marathon 2019

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The view along the river foot path in Treviso, Italy.

A quick jaunt to Italy was in order to participate in the 16a Treviso Marathon 2019 on March 31, 2019.

The Ryanair flight to Venice Treviso on Saturday, March 30, 2019 only took an hour and a half. We opted to take a taxi to the hotel to gauge how long it would take us to get back to the airport the following day. The cab ride was less than 10 minutes and cost less than 10 euros.

Billeting was at the three-star Hotel Aurora right in the compound of the government hospital of Treviso. Not our usual level of accommodation but it was walking distance to the start and finish lines and also close to the airport. The cost was 60 euros per night including breakfast. The hotel was run by a friendly couple and the room was clean. Plus, plus all around!

We dropped off our bags at the hotel and took the shortcut at the back of the hospital to get to the race expo on Prato Fiera. The shortcut led into Villa Ninni Carisi, a local tourist attraction.

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Italian goody bags are always generously filled. I got the race shirt, two drinks, one pack of pasta, a proprietary string bag, a sponge, and muscle scream.

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On our way back, we looked for restaurants that were open so we can have an early dinner. No such luck. Restaurants on this side of Italy open for business at 6:00 PM.

We walked around to kill time and bought gelato at this shop. It looked like a popular hangout since there were lots of people young and old enjoying their gelato while seated outside.

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Race day was crisp and clear. Breakfast was continental style. We walked to the race Prato Fiera to line up for the race.

The race started at 9:30 AM with a six hour time limit. They also had specific time limits for kilometer markers:

  • 10 km by 11.00 – 1h 30 ‘
  • 21.097 km by 12.30 – 3h 00 ‘
  • 30 km by 1.40 pm – 4.30 hours
  • 40 km by 3.00 pm – 5.30 hours
  • arrival by 3.30 pm – 6.00 hours

The course was flat, traversing roads, trails, and river foot paths. The weather was fine at the start but it warmed up a lot by mid-race. I took the sponge in the goody bag to ensure I can wet my clothes to cool me down.

Aid stations had plenty of water, isotonic drinks, and bananas.

It became so hot that it slowed me down further. I was grateful to finish at 5:49:12.15.

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Richard waited for me at the hotel, concerned that we would not make our flight. I ran all the way to the hotel where I changed shirts while he called for a taxi. The taxi promptly arrived to whisk us off to the airport with enough time to navigate the long security area and line up for boarding.

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Zurich Marató Barcelona 2019

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The immense Sagrada Familia is impressive from any angle.

Barcelona is one of my favorite marathon cities. There is just so much to do in the city, and so many runners to run with during the race that it is always a unique festive experience.

We took off for Barcelona after work on Friday. We caught the train from Jurbise to Brussels Zaventem Airport for our Vueling flight at 21:35. Upon arrival at 23:35, we followed the signs to the buses at the arrivals area. Aerobus 1 took us directly to the Plaza Espana stop in 25 minutes. The Aerobus ticket can be purchased in advance online. It is also cheaper at 10,20€ per person.

It was an easy walk to our hotel from the bus stop. Even at the late hour, the show at Font Magicà de Montjuic was still on.

Our home for the weekend was the Crowne Plaza Barcelona – Fira Center, the official marathon hotel.

Saturday was a leisure morning. We woke up late and got dressed to sit down to a beautiful champagne buffet breakfast.

The Expo Sports at Pavilian 8 in Fira de Barcelona is open from 10:00 AM – 20:00 PM. We walked from the hotel to the expo to pick up my bib and browse at the latest product offerings for runners.

There were lots to see and do at the expo. We took advantage of the free photos at the ayuntamiento booth.

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The goody bag contained the race shirt, running magazines, a pack of peanuts, and a rubber bracelet.

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I booked us a tour of the Sagrada Familia Basilica in the afternoon as suggested. The low sun made all the colors in the stained windows pop even more. The brilliance of the architect was impressive.

We then made our way to Las Ramblas street to visit their famous market.

We were famished after seeing all the fruits and foods at the market and ordered paella at one of the restaurants.

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It just so happened that the street was holding its own carnivale.

The carnivale lasted well into the early evening. We caught a subway back to our hotel and called it a night.

The race started on Sunday, March 10, 2019 at 8:30 AM with a six hour time limit. Start and finish line was at the same area in Avinguda Maria Cristina. The area was already crowded when we arrived. Our pre-race photo was taken in front of the Magic Fountain.

As always, Barcelona lived up to expectations. We passed several of Gaudi’s buildings including the Casa Mila and the Sagrada Familia, the beach front roads and the Arc de Triomf, before making our way back to Plaza Espanya and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. I saw a friend in the crowd. He is British and has completed 1,300 marathons and counting!

Food and fluids were plentiful at the aid stations. Music was everywhere.

I crossed the finish line and made my way back to the hotel to take a shower and get our luggage.

Our flight back to Brussels took off as scheduled at 18:40 and landed at 20:55.

Schlueter - 2019 Zurich Marato Barcelona Finisher Pic

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HAJ Hannover Marathon 2019

 

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The Rathaus or the Town Hall of Hannover, Germany.

The HAJ Hannover Marathon 2019 was a race that lived up to the organization and precision that Germans are known for. It was very well organized, fast, full of spectators, and with lots of entertainment along the way.

It was the journey to and from the race that was a headache to deal with. Our Jurbise station was undergoing some train work but we anticipated that. We took the bus from Jurbise to Braine-le-Comte where the train took us to the Brussels Midi station. We were early so we had a waffle breakfast at one of the restaurants outside the station. When we went back, we saw that our train to Cologne was not running that day. We did not panic but did have to seek out assistance at the customer service center. They told us to take the local train to Verviers Central, transfer to another train to Aachen, take the connecting train to Dusseldorf, then finally to Hannover. Argh! The trip took more than seven hours!

We arrived in Hannover and checked in immediately at the Crowne Plaza, a short walking distance from the train station, to drop off our luggage.

The bib pick-up was at the Rathaus or the Town Hall. We took the subway and picked up the bib with just a few minutes left till closing time.

The goody bag contained the bib, the race shirt, a sponge, two energy gels, and a rubber bracelet.

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Relieved, we made our way back to the hotel. Dinner was at one of the restaurants at the train station. I ordered a yummy banana shake together with my salmon curry.

We woke up early to have a leisurely breakfast. Lots of good choices and they had sparkling wine!

The marathon started at 9:00 AM with a time limit of six hours. The start and finish line was also at the Rathaus.

Richard went inside the Rathaus and took some photos.

The area was an activity hub with lots of food choices and activities for spectators.

He also took photos of the surrounding areas.

I crossed the 10K timer at 1:12:42, the half at 2:37:58, and the finish line at 5:37:08. The finishers got alcohol-free beer and another goody bag.

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We were already checked out of the hotel by then. I took a shower at the hotel’s fitness center and posed for a post-race photo at the hotel lobby before we made our way to the train station.

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We had time to spare so we picked up freshly made sushi at one of the restaurants.

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Of course, our train trip home was no less complicated than the travel to Hannover. Our 4:10 PM train was delayed in arriving at the Hannover Hauptbahnhof so we did not make our connecting train at Cologne. There were several of us going all the way to Brussels Midi. The train conductor told us to get off at Dusseldorf. It was in reverse but the exact same route the day before.

We finally arrived home closer to midnight. Quite a trek, but getting the Hannover finisher’s medal made up for it.

 

 

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32nd Belgrade Marathon 2019

At the Temple of St. Sava, one of the largest church buildings in the world.

Our next race took us to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Belgrade is one of the oldest cities; it produced 17 Roman emperors and was fought over in 115 wars. My impression of Belgrade before visiting was that of a war-torn city; indeed it was bombed in the two world wars and also by NATO in 1999. Check out more interesting facts on the website ibikebelgrade.com.

The Belgrade that we saw on our visit was thriving. Building construction is booming, especially along the Danube river. The city also ranks as one of the safest cities in the world. The people were very nice and friendly, food was cheap, and the weather just perfect for running.

Richard and I took the train after work from Jurbise to Brussels International Airport on Friday, April 12, 2019. Our Air Baltic flight was at 20:20 at the B gates which meant we had to go through passport control. We took our time at the lounge; the Diamond lounge on this side of the airport had better food choices. We had had chicken teriyaki and chicken curry for dinner.

We boarded 10 minutes behind schedule but then we sat on the tarmac for an hour before we finally took off. The flight was uneventful and the plane landed at Nikola Tesla International Airport in the Serbian capital. Passengers have a choice of taking the cab for a fixed price of 1,800 Serbian dinar (or approximately US$18) or the A1 airport bus for 300 SB (US$3) per person. We opted for the bus option and disembarked at the main bus station.

We walked about 10 minutes uphill to get to Hotel Moskva. Hotel Moscow in English, it is a protected building by the city government due to its historical status. Leonid Breshnev, Brad Pitt, Luciano Pavarotti have all stayed here and their rooms especially marked.

Our hotel was strategically located right in the middle of the action. The Belgrade Youth Center was only two blocks away, the start line was a block away, and the finish line was right in front of the hotel.

It felt decadent to sleep in in a new city, but sleep in we did. We woke up leisurely, had coffee in the room, and got dressed. We skipped breakfast and opted to go to the Belgrade Youth Center to pick up my bib.

I pre-registered a few months ago and paid 3,000 SB (about US$30) for the race. The goody bag included the bib, a big can of Heineken, and the race shirt.

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We walked around a little bit after getting the bib and had breakfast at one of the nearby restaurants. We both had the Serbian traditional chicken and creme brûlée for dessert.

We meandered along the main street, posing for a photo in front of the Republic square and took a photo of the National Theater.

My friend Kathi arrived from Brussels via Paris in the afternoon. We walked with her to get her bib and had an early dinner at the hotel.

The race started on Sunday morning at the junction of Bulevar Karihja Aleksandra and Resavska Street, a few meters away from the hotel.

We toed the line together with the marathon relay runners and the half marathoners and took off en masse at 10:00 AM.

The first two kilometers of the route was downhill. We crossed some bridges and made several U-turns and got to see a lot of the city. We were inspired by some of the placards held up by spectators.

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We stayed with the half marathoners and separated at the 18K mark. They turned right to finish the race and we went left to continue on. The time limit was six hours from the gun time. They also warned marathoners to cross the halfway point no later than 2:45. Whew! I passed the 20K mark at 2:29:49. I was doing well running with my friend Kathi beforehand. We passed the 10K mark together at 1:11 but I slowly faded out when we separated at the 18K. I cruised to the finish line in 5:41:56.

There was plenty of entertainment along the way. Richard took videos of three of the performing groups.

The aid stations offered plenty of water, isotonic drink, lemons, bananas, and sugar. The weather hovered at 15 degrees Celsius.

Richard met me at the finish line and we walked back to the hotel. I also received a goody bag after completing the race. It had a banana, two apples, the isotonic drink, and water.

I booked us for a couples massage at 17:00, finishing after an hour. We were so relaxed and sleepy that we just ordered room service for dinner.

Our flight home was early in the morning the following day. I set our alarm for 2:30 AM and was checking us out of the hotel an hour later. We took a cab back to the airport, stopping at the Temple of St. Sava for a quick souvenir shot before leaving.

 

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