40th EDT ASICS Stockholm Marathon 2018

 

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Gamla Stan, the Old Town of Stockholm, Sweden.

Stockholm weather the second time around was still not ideal for marathons. I ran this race the first time in 2015 when it was raining and windy the whole time. It was so cold that I ran with a space blanket in the second half of the race! This time though, it was blisteringly hot that race organizer emailed an advisory to the 20,000 runners to give up any specific time goals for the 40th EDT ASICS Stockholm Marathon 2018. The Scandinavian part of Europe was in the middle on an unseasonably hot streak during the last few days of spring. The forecast predicted lots of sun between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius. Officials wanted us to enjoy Saturday and take it easy in the heat that the marathon’s time limit was extended by half an hour to six hours and 30 minutes. Fine by me. I won’t have the pressure to run fast at all this time.

We flew out of Brussels South Charleroi Airport on the 14:55 Ryanair flight to Stockholm, Skavsta Airport on Friday, June 1, 2018. Our flight was delayed by more than an hour. Upon arrival, we took the Flygbussarna bus bound for the city’s main train station. The bus ride took 80 minutes; fare was 556 SEK . It was already past 8:00 PM when we arrived, too late for picking up the bib at the race expo which closed at 8:00 PM.

We decided to proceed directly to our hotel a few meters away from the bus stop. Radisson Blu Royal Viking Hotel is one of eight Radisson Blu hotels in the city.

We had our own carbo loading dinner a time the restaurant chain Vapiano nearby.

We tucked in early and woke up for a leisurely breakfast.

The subway brought us to the Gärdet station. It was an easy walk to  get the bib at the Expo at Kungliga Tennishallen (Royal Tennis Hall).

From there, we walked down the street to the starting line by the Olympic Stadium. The marathoners took off in two waves: 12:00 and 12:10.

The elite runners were running in fine form but the back of the pack runners like me took their time by alternately running and walking, and staying under the shade where possible.it looked like there were a lot more cooling stations this year, areas where a fireman hosed us with cool water, or stations with tubs of water you can dunk your sponge in.

Richard found me at the 16K mark.

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The finish line was inside the Stockholm Olympic Stadium. I was slower than my 2015 Stockholm race, clocking in at 5:57:42.

Richard was waiting for me at the finish line. We took the subway back to the hotel to shower and get a proper post-race photo.

We decided to do a bit of sightseeing after the race.

The sun finally set around 10:00 PM that night, our cue to head back to the hotel.

We flew back to Brussels on the Ryanair flight on Sunday afternoon at 12:35 PM, arriving in plenty of time to do some weekend chores.

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Marathon de la Baie du Mont Saint-Michel 2018

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Le Mont Saint-Michel at low tide, one of France’s most distinctive landmarks and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Le Mont Saint-Michel takes your breath away the first time you glimpse it from afar. It is an intriguing and popular tourist attraction in France, its spire seeming to pierce the sky. The rocky tidal commune is off the shores of Normandy surrounded by water and only accessible by a kilometer-long bridge. The feudal structure represents God (monastery and abbey) above, and man (the great halls and the stores, farmers and fishermen) below.

It took us five hours and 15 minutes to drive 536 kilometers from Belgium to our hotel’s parking lot in Le Bays Pays in the mainland on May 26, 2018. But before we checked into our hotel, we took  a detour to stop by the race registration site in 2 Place de l’Hotel de Ville in Pontorson. Only bibs for the Marathon de la Baie du Mont Saint-Michel 2018 were sent by post and I wanted to be sure that I am in the official list of the runners taking the 12€ bus ride to the starting line in Quai Duguay Trovin in Cancale.

No cars are allowed in Saint-Michel. We parked our car at P3, the reserved parking lot for guests staying in hotels in the island. We got on the free bus shuttle that ferries passengers to and from the island. There is a bus that runs every four minutes; we hopped on the bus full of Japanese tourists just as they were about to leave. Visitors can also pay to take the more leisurely horse drawn carriage to the island.

The narrow streets on the island were packed with people walking about, similar to the hustle and bustle of the streets of Cannaregio in Venice. Thankfully, Hôtel Restaurant La Croix La Blanche was only a few meters away from the island gates. It is advisable for tourists to bring only hand luggage because of the amount of walking involved in the trip.

Our hotel was on the fourth level, above the restaurant and accessible only by five flights of stairs. The hotel was small, but the view from our window could not get any better than this! Richard took photos of our view at various times of the day.

We unpacked our luggage and left the hotel to attend mass nearby.

We walked about after the mass, taking in the sights from the island and the bay.

It was cloudy when we arrived. Fortunately, it cleared up enough to get some good souvenir photos.

We found a new friend in Jim, a Filipino-American who flew in from New York to run the race.

We had an early dinner of pizza margherita and seafood pasta  at the sister restaurant of our hotel before calling it a night.

We took some photos of the streets with the crowd gone.

Sunday morning came too fast. We woke up early to catch the 6:15 AM bus shuttle to P7 parking area where the buses were waiting to take us to the start line. We arrived in Cancale after an our. I met up with Jim and his other new friend and waited for the 8:30 AM start time.

Richard took more photos of the views around the island at sunrise.

The course was beautiful. We ran along the coast for a few kilometers before venturing inland and passing through several communes. We could see Saint-Michel at the 37K mark.

Entertainment was provided along the way.

We finished at the dam, right before the start of the bridge to the island. It was hot, and I staggered to the finish line in 5:37:22, a few minutes shy of the six-hour time limit.

Of course, the highlight of this race was posing in front of Mont Saint-Michel with the finisher’s medal.

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I changed into clean clothing at the Visitors’ Center of the parking lot while Richard paid the 11,70€ parking fee. We were on the road back to Belgium in less than an hour.

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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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