34th ASICS Firenze Marathon 2017

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Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Botticelli? Florence is home to many priceless Renaissance art and architecture, but Ponte Vecchio grabbed my attention because of its World War II history. Hitler allegedly loved the bridge so much that he specifically ordered the Germans not to bomb it. The bridge was one of the highlights along the route of the 34th Asics Firenze Marathon 2017.

Richard and I took the 7:05 AM Ryanair flight from Brussels Charleroi Airport to Pisa on Saturday, November 25, 2017. The flight was only an hour and a half. From the airport, we took the Pisa Mover train shuttle to Pisa Centrale Station before switching to the regional train bound for Firenze Santa Maria Novella (SMN). Train tickets can be purchased online in advance from the Trenitalia website. Visitors can also buy tickets at the Pisa airport for buses going straight to the Firenze railway station for 12 euros.

From Firenza SMN, we hopped on board another local train bound for Campo di Marte and walked the rest of the way to the marathon expo at the Florence Athletic Stadium.

The 55 euro registration fee provided me with the race bib, an Asics long sleeved race shirt, a plastic cover, two Enervit energy gel samples, an energy bar, Nuncas sports detergent, and a joint supplement. They were also giving out full-sized samples so I grabbed an Active yogurt drink and two Bavaria beers.

It was back to Campo di Marte station for the train back to the Firenze SMN station and to check in at Hotel Santa Maria Novella. Our room was not yet ready. We left our luggage and proceeded to walk around the area and eat lunch at the one of the sidewalk cafes.

We had to have our photo taken in front of Florence’s most iconic structure, the Duomo, the terracotta-tiled dome cathedral of the city.

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We also visited my favorite online retailer’s main store, Luisaviaroma, right by the Duomo. Florence is a dream location for haute couture shoppers. Many of the world-class design houses are headquartered here and thus have huge showrooms.

Florence, among other things, is known for its leather. I could not resist a beautiful leather jacket and cashmere-lined leather gloves! They were not from designer labels but the prices for the quality were unbeatable!

We finally went back to the hotel in time for the 2:00 PM check in. A bottle of prosecco wine, Italy’s answer to the French champagne, was waiting for us in the room. Nice! I love the classy design of our room. Our room had a beautiful view of the Basilica and Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

Breakfast was at the elegant breakfast room. Aha! I immediately spotted the prosecco wine at the center table. Bubbly always put guests in a happy mood first thing in the morning. I am glad the hotel goes out of its way to make guests feel special.

The race started at 8:30 AM at Piazza Duomo with a six-hour time limit. With almost 9,000 marathoners, it took my corral more than 10 minutes just to get to the start line.

It rained right before we started and continued more than three quarters into the race. I had my iPhone ready to take pictures along the route but decided against it because of the water and the wind.

The route provided a beautiful scenery for runners but it was tough going for me due to the weather. Ambulances kept going back and forth, and motorcycle riding race marshals frequently stopped to offer space blankets. I ran with a plastic cover and a wool running shirt but I was grateful for the added warmth of the blanket.

Aid stations provided water, tea, Enervit, bananas, and lemon. Music was provided at different points; most of them were inside buses and under tents.

Richard was fascinated with the door designs and snapped photos while waiting for me at the finish line.

We walked back to the hotel and rested for a few hours. We went out again to do some more sightseeing and have our post-race photo taken by Ponte Vecchio.

We didn’t have time to visit the Uffizi Gallery to see the original David sculpture so we had to settle for the replica outside the city hall, Palazzo Vecchio on Piazza della Signorina.

Our Florence getaway ended on Monday, November 27, 2017. We were up at 4:00 AM to catch the first train for Pisa Centrale Airport at 5:35 AM.  Our Ryanair flight back home took off at 9:15 AM and I was back at work by noon.

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Lausanne Marathon 2017

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The colorful flags at Place de la Navigation in Lausanne, Switzerland

The French-speaking city of Lausanne in Switzerland is the permanent headquarters of the International Olympic Committee and a city dedicated to various sports. It is also considered as the skateboarding capital of the world. It overlooks The French Alps and is a favorite starting point for adventure climbers and trekkers.

The city was hosting the 24th edition of the Lausanne Marathon 2017 on October 22, 2017. We took the 11:15 AM easyJet flight to Geneva from Brussels on Saturday, October 21, 2017. The flight was only an hour and 15 minutes. From intercity train from Geneva Airport to Lausanne gare at 1:20 PM was another 52 minutes, and another 11 minutes on the metro to Ouchy-Olympique.

We walked straight to the marathon expo on Place de la Navigation.

Registration fee for the race was 80 Swiss francs or 78.30 euros and included the race shirt. I bought two neck buffs at the expo for summer and winter use.

Our home for the race was Movenpick Hotel Lausanne, a beautiful hotel overlooking Lac Leman or Lake Geneva and the French Alps on the opposite bank.

We walked around Le Port d’Ouchy, posing for few souvenir shots.

Breakfast the following morning was a delight with lots of fruits, pastries, and eggs cooked to order.

The race started at promptly 10:10 AM at Parc de Milan in Avenue de Cour. Time limit was six hours.

The course paralleled Lac Leman or Lake Geneva, providing us a spectacular scenery where the water met the land and the sky. We ran by the vineyard terraces in Lavaux, the UNESCO world heritage site.

Richard took a lot of photos while waiting for me to finish.

The finish line was in front of Musee Olympique, a short walking distance to our hotel. We were given a late checkout so I was able to take a shower before getting on the plane.

We returned to Brussels from Geneva the same Sunday evening on the same airline, flying at 7:40 PM and landing at 8:55 PM.

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36th Mainova Frankfurt Marathon 2017

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The Römer is a series of three interconnected gabled houses that has been serving as Frankfurt’s city hall for more than 600 years now.

The Mainova Frankfurt Marathon has the distinction of being the second fastest German marathon course after Berlin, and the eighth fastest marathon course in the world. There must be something about Frankfurt because even my normally slow self ran my fastest in five years!

We took the train from Jurbise to Brussels-Midi station early in the morning of Saturday, October 28, 2017. We switched to the regional train to Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof for the travel which took about four hours in total. From the train station, we walked to the Steigenberger Hotel Metropolitan across the street to drop off our luggage. We knew the hotel chain from our stay in Berlin and the quiet luxury did not disappoint us.

The marathon mall was at Messe Frankfurt, a convoluted ten-minute walk. On hindsight, it was better to just take the metro and get off at the Festhalle/Messe stop. The mall was already in full swing by the time we picked up my bib.

Several coupons were attached to my race bib, and entitled me to a goodie bag, the Pasta Party, Krombacher Alkoholfrei, and the Rosbacher softdrink. The Pasta Party was held all day at the adjoining hall with blue mood lights and various entertainment. This hall also served as our finish area.

The goodie bag itself contained a neck buff, pH strips, shower gels, shampoos, water, sponge, candies, and a nice long-sleeved Asics running shirt.

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After enjoying a plate of pasta, we left Messe Frankfurt for the Aldstadt via subway. We visited the Domturm and walked around the Römerberg square enjoying the atmosphere of the Old Town.

We ordered Vietnamese takeout and headed back to the hotel for the night.

Just like its sister hotel in Berlin, the Frankfurt hotel had excellent breakfast choices, and champagne to start the day right.

The starting line at 10:10 AM the next day was at the Messe Frankfurt too, in front of the Hammering Man. This time, we took the subway from the central station and went out via the Festhalle/Messe exit.

I was bundled up for the cool weather. The aid stations had the usual water and energy drinks, as well as bananas and oranges. I didn’t have photos along the race course because my iPhone died before we even started. It was for the best because I did not have to stop often to take photos. I did have several potty and walking breaks, but I still came in under five hours (4:53:36), my best time in five years! The race had a six-hour time limit.

They gave us a very late checkout option at the Steigenberger hotel because of the marathon. I was able to take a hot shower and change before catching the train to our next destination, Garmisch-Partenkirschen, five hours away.

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Marathon International du Beaujolais 2017

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Wine lovers, this marathon is for you! With approximately 20 Beaujolais brands offered at aid stations located inside castles and chateaus, runners in outlandish costumes, and a forgiving seven-hour time limit, what is there not to love about the Marathon International du Beaujolais 2017?

Granted, it was still 42.195 kilometers long and the route had us running on trails and asphalt, but it was awesome to run through wine cellars and vineyards, and finish together with the shorter distance runners to a boisterous and supportive crowd at Boulevard Jean Jaurès in the city center.

Our hour-long Brussels Airlines flight from Brussels Zaventem landed at Lyon-Saint-Exupéry Airport at 6:00 PM on Friday, November 17, 2017. We took the complimentary bus to pick up our car rental from Thrifty so Richard can drive us directly to the ParcExpo in Villefranche-sur-Saône. The marathon village was closing in two hours to make way for the pasta party at 8:00 PM. The drive was about 40 minutes on the freeway with a 2.40€ toll fee. We were able to pick up my bib with 30 minutes to spare.

We were booked at Ibis Hotel, one of the race sponsors, located a few minutes’ drive away from the ParcExpo. The goodie bag contained a long-sleeved race shirt, a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau wine, and a sachet of Tiger Balm. Dinner was at the Courtpaille restaurant of the hotel. Ours was a handicap-accessible room, so it was spacious.

The start line was at Fleurie, one of the wine-producing communes 30 kilometers away from Villefranche-sur-Saône. Buses were available from 6:30 to 7:15 AM at the ParcExpo to ferry marathoners for the 9:00 AM start time on a Saturday. We were greeted by a wonderful drum line and a flag line where I found the Philippine flag.

The local wine was also being served to runners even before the race start! Aside from the wine, they served coffee, tea, and finger foods while we kept warm inside the gym. The day started at 2 degrees Celsius and reached a high of 9 degrees Celsius in the afternoon. Wine must have kept the less-clothed runners warm because I was cold the whole time and I did not have a drop of wine.

The scenery was beautiful, and the atmosphere very friendly. I found the American flag at one of the aid stations.

Of course, all sorts of wines were available for tasting. They were also cooking steaks at one of the aid stations, how fancy!

The runners were the visual entertainment but audio entertainment was also provided by various local bands.

We shared the last few kilometers of the race with the half marathoners who met us at the 35K mark, and the 10K runners at approximately the 37K mark. I took way too many photos, so my finish time was not my best. Still, the experience was incredible!

The finisher’s medal was a tastevin replica, the ancient wine-tasting tool that sommeliers in today’s fancy restaurants wear around their necks. Cool!

Richard and I stayed one more night at Villefranche-sur-Saône. We had a leisurely breakfast before driving to Lyon to do some sightseeing.

We returned to Brussels on Sunday, November 19, 2017 on the Brussels Airlines flight at 6:45 PM.

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Metro Marathon Düsseldorf 2017

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The Rheinturm of Dusseldorf, Germany

The German city Düsseldorf has an Aldstadt or Old Town that is known as the longest bar in the world because of the sheer number of bars (over 300!) located in a small section. The area is perfect for people into pub crawling. If this is not your cup of tea – er – beer, you can saunter over to the adjacent  Königsallee to lose yourself and your money in over a kilometer long of high-end shops.

These were not the reasons why we were in town for, though. I signed up for the Metro Marathon Düsseldorf 2017, just my fourth major German marathon after Berlin, Munich and Hamburg. Düsseldorf is only less than three hours away by car from our house in Belgium. We drove during a beautiful spring Saturday morning of April 29, 2017.

We parked the car at the Q-Park in Friedrichstraβe to avoid being caught inside the race route and walked the few meters to Leonardo Royal Hotel in Königsallee. It was too early to check in; we dropped off our bags and walked 10 minutes to the Stadtsparkasse Düsseldorf to pick up my bib.

Registration cost varies from 54 to 84 euros depending on the day you signed up. You can also sign up at the expo for 95 euros.

We walked back to the hotel to deposit our luggage in the room.

We got all chores done early! We hopped on the U-Bahn to go to the Heinrich-Heine-Allee stop to check out the scene at Alstadt and play tourist at the Rheinuferpromenade.

We even got our photo taken with the Rheinturm in the background. The Dusseldorf communications tower is featured prominently in the marathon publicity and race medals.

Thai was our choice for dinner in Alstadt before calling it a night.

Breakfast at the hotel was luxurious, with champagne served as you please.

Properly nourished, we took the U-Bahn to the Tonhalle stop for the race start at 9:00 AM.

The race had a time limit of six hours.

There were many animation points or entertainment spots.

The aid stations had the usual, plus SiS gels. The race had a special Diabetic Point along the course to monitor runners with medical conditions.

I made a new friend who was dressed as Super Michel.

The course took us all over the city.

We finished the course at the same promenade we visited the previous night.

After cleaning up back at the hotel, we took off for Belgium. Only then did we notice an exit for an interesting name for a German town. Oh.

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Alpro Leiemarathon 2017

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The scene along parts of the course.

After a few marathons all over Europe recently, I felt I needed to run one close to home again. The Alpro Leiemarathon 2017 was very conveniently located in Wevelgem, Belgium. I could not resist running this race on Sunday, September 24, 2017.

The race was sponsored by Alpro, the giant Belgian company specializing in plant-based food alternative to dairy. All their products are made from the Flemish soya bean. I must say they are good! I could not even tell the difference when I tried the the different yogurt flavors and yogurt drinks that were included in the finisher’s loot bag.

The race start was at 11:30 AM with a time limit of five hours and 30 minutes. The start area in Porseleinhallen was only an hour away from our house. Registration is from 25 – 35 euros, depending on the day you register. Race day was also possible for 45 euros. I picked up my pre-registered race bib just a few minutes before the race start.

Full and half marathoners started at the same time.

We had to do two flat loops along the Leie river. We passed the Alpro plant twice. It was a small race with just 328 marathoners and 618 marathoners. The aid stations had the usual water, sports drink, banana, and oranges. They also provided Isogel Extreme which I didn’t know had 100 milligrams of caffeine in it per packet! I had two before I realized each packet was more than my usual 35mg caffeine of GU Roctane Gel. I was worried with heart palpitations from too much caffeine but thankfully I was okay. Word of advice to you runners: check the caffeine content of the gels they provide at the aid stations!

The day started cool but heated up quickly. Aid stations also had sponge areas, and the local fire department had its hose running for help people cool down.

The finisher’s kit included a backpack, three soya drinks, three yogurts, and two Isogel Extremes that I took from the aid stations but did not use. The finisher’s medal was a colored metal cut-out highlighting the Leie river and the Alpro brand. It was a productive Sunday overall!

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BMW Oslo Marathon 2017

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The Royal Palace of Oslo

The next stop on our 2017 marathon itinerary was Oslo in the land of the Vikings. A third of Norway’s land is in the Arctic Circle, giving the country the nickname The Land of the Midnight Sun. Norway itself translates to “path to the North”.

I had the BMW Oslo Marathon on my sights ever since we arrived in Europe in 2014 but it was only this year when I finally decided to go ahead and run it.

The Brussels Airlines afternoon flight on Friday, September 15, 2017 landed at Oslo Airport Gardermoen after two and a half hours. Flytoget Airport Express Train goes direct to our stop, the National Theater station. The pleasant 26-minute train ride costs for 180 Norwegian kroner (NOK) per person. Exchange rate for the day was 8 NOK for 1 USD or 9.38 NOK for 1 Euro.

The station exit provided an easy way to Radhuskeie in Radhusplassen where I picked up my bib. We took the opportunity to have our photo taken in front of the Nobel Peace Center along the way to the race expo. The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded at the Oslo City Hall while the other Nobel prizes are given in Stockholm, Sweden. A couple of girls were giving out detergent samples to the walking public; I got two!

The sports expo was a beehive of activity with major brand exhibitors and marathon promoters.

Online pre-registration for the race was 885 NOK, including the race shirt. Since BMW was the major sponsor, it was only fitting that they had the latest BMW i8 sports car on display.

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Race bib in hand, we made our way to First Hotel Grims Grenka, our home for the weekend. The hotel was in the city center and near the start and finish lines.

After dropping off our luggage, we decided to walk around and find a good place for dinner. We finally settled on pasta at Proseccheria Restaurant and Vinbar just around the corner. The restaurant was in front of the Christiania Torv, a big hand sculpture in the middle of a small plaza.

The race started at 9:15 AM on Saturday, September 16, 2017, with a six hour time limit. I found a group of Filipino expat runners based in the UK.

The weather at the start was cold, at least for me. I wore a vest that I took off midway as the day heated up. The marathon was a two-loop course starting and finishing at Radhuset. The aid stations provided water, sports drink, Cola, oranges, and bananas. Coffee was also provided at one sponsored aid station.

Entertainment dotted the course along the way.

The views were beautiful!

Richard took photos of the various boats docked nearby. People with extra time to spend in Oslo can visit the Viking ship museum where thousand-year-old preserved Viking ships are on display.

My finisher swag included the race medal, bread, Ritz chocolate crackers, banana, yogurt, and water. Sweet!

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Food from the room service menu was our dinner that night. I was hoping to see the Northern Lights at night but it was too early in the season. Anyway, we woke up early to have a big breakfast.

We meandered around the city center to take photos and have ours taken in front of various important buildings: The Parliament Hall, Oslo Cathedral, the Royal Palace, Universitetsplassen. They were all close to each other along the main street, Karl Johans gate.

Oslo is a beautiful city but expensive! Nationwide, taxes are high but people are well paid and knew the benefits of their taxes. Education is completely free from elementary to college, for one thing. The high quality of life makes the country a great place to live in.

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the airport. We took the same Flytoget Airport Express Train at Oslo Central Station, and flew back to Belgium on the same carrier at 5:45 PM, September 17, 2017.

 

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