Murcia Maratón 2018

E2D00EF8-FD6B-4D7F-8CDB-A28AFA5A3B15

La Sardina en el Agua Monument in Murcia, Spain

A colder winter this time around was my excuse for not running much in January. I waited to  do the first race in 2018 in Spain, knowing Spain will still be cold but not as much as Belgium.

I pre-registered for the Murcia Maratón 2018 scheduled on January 28, 2018. We took the late afternoon flight from Brussels Charleroi Airport to Alicante on Friday prior to the race, arriving just in time to catch the last bus going direct to Murcia. It was just a few meters’ walk from the Murcia Bus Station to our hotel, the NH Collection Amistad Murcia.

We rolled out of bed late on Saturday morning and checked out our view. Our window looked out to the El Cortes Inglés department store on the left, and the Arrabal de la Arrixaca on the right. The latter is a historical landmark, the ruins of an Islamic quarter in the 13th century.

73BBD216-E786-48C5-8D3E-668481A75378

We sat down to partake of the delectable offerings of the breakfast buffet. Can you see the champagne on the table? We’ve stayed in probably four NH Collection hotels by now and all of them have champagne for breakfast!

I used the hotel gym afterwards to do a quickie run to limber up for the marathon the next day. We then picked up my race bib across the street at the sports section of El Cortes Inglés, one of the race sponsors. Bib release was from 10:00 – 14:00, and 16:00 – 20:30.

The swag bag contained the race bib, shirt, a metal medal hanger, and the race magazine.

We decided to do a walkabout to see a bit of Murcia. We stopped first to admire the Catedral de Murcia with its Baroque design and Gothic interiors.

85948152-B7B1-47C0-83DF-A8843AC62778

The ornate 18th-century Episcopal Palace was beside the cathedral on the square.

B9603DC3-ED47-4F0F-BA55-1137F9A9F86D

We walked further to see the Ayuntamiento de Murcia or the city hall.

The city hall is in front of the Segura river with the old Puente Viejo bridge and a museum. A huge sardine monument was submerged in the river. We took a picture of the stone fish with a boat in the background to show the massive scale of the sculpture.

We did some shopping and napping before attending Mass at one of the chapels and an early dinner.

7FDD5F89-507A-4111-87A9-BFAE0DF9817C

The race was scheduled to start at 8:30 AM on Sunday but was delayed because the police have not cleared the race route yet. There were grumblings and some runners thought it would be cancelled because of the rain and probably some minor flooding on the streets. I was not happy at the thought of coming all the way from Belgium and not getting to run!

The starting gun finally went off at 9:15 AM. The race had a time limit of six hours. Both marathoners and half marathoners started at the same time, with marathoners doing two laps. It continued to drizzle throughout the race, although the sun peeked out at the second half.

I did not take pictures of the race route but it was generally flat and did have some puddles along the way. There were pacemakers to help runners make their target time. Refreshments were available every five kilometers with the usual race provisions.

I crossed the timing mat in my usual slow 5:21:27. We had a late checkout so a shower in the room was possible before we walked to the bus station to catch the 17:00 bus bound for Alicante Airport.

We had time to visit the Sala lounge before our flight at 20:15 PM. I replenished my energies quickly by eating their seafood paella and lots of soft-serve ice cream!

Posted in Marathons, Places to See, Race Reports, Things to Do | Leave a comment

Frozen Phoenix Runs 2017

IMG_0700

The Weir Hotel and Pub along Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England

What better way could I think of ending 2017 than with back-to-back marathons? Nope, no better way! Off we went to do The Frozen Phoenix Runs two day marathons at Walton-on-Thames in Surrey, England on December 29-30, 2017. The race with the accompanying  wind, damp, cold, rain, and mud all conspired to make the experience character forming but extremely satisfying!

Richard and I hopped on the afternoon train from Jurbise to Brussels Midi Station to catch the 14:56 Eurostar train to London in the afternoon of December 28, 2017. Upon arrival at 16:05, we walked from Saint Pancras Train Station to King’s Cross Station to catch the Victoria Line to Vauxhall, switching again for the train bound for Shepperton. A taxi from Shepperton station took us to The Weir Hotel and Pub on Waterside Drive by early evening.

Bib pick-up and race briefing the morning of the race was just a few meters away at the sports complex called The Elmbridge XCel Leisure Centre. The Phoenix runs brought together old friends and recognized major accomplishments of the year. Awards were handed out to people who completed 52 marathons in 52 weeks, 100 marathons in 100 weeks, and 12 marathons in 12 months. It looked like the bigger the accomplishment, the bigger the medal! I can tell you that the 100 marathon/100 weeks medal was almost the width of a man’s chest!

These events were small and family friendly. Most of the runners seem to be repeat offenders of the Phoenix running events. The camaraderie and the accomplishments of these people were inspiring!

One of the race volunteers was wearing this long coat. It looked cozy and warm. I took a photo of the coat so I can check it out online later.

Both races started in front of our hotel at 9:30 AM with no early starts. They are six-hour timed events that actually cater to all sorts of running abilities. You can run a lap of 3.28 miles, a 10K, a half marathon, eight laps for a marathon, or an ultra marathon, all within six hours and you are considered a finisher and a winner in the organizer’s eyes! You are then entitled to the heavy and massive Phoenix finisher’s medal. The marathon distance is recognized by the 100 Marathon Club for those seeking to become members of this hallowed club.

The race headquarters, or the “tuck shop”, was a tent in front of The Weir. It was a well-stocked aid station with water, candy, chocolates, sweets, and crisps to fuel the runners. You could also leave your own electrolyte drinks here. The Weir and the sports complex allowed us to use their toilets for bathroom breaks.

We ran our laps on the tow path along the River Thames. The river was also busy with several rowing clubs diligently practicing every morning. A race marshal was present at the turnaround point past the Walton Bridge and Cafe Gino. The race organizers depended on the integrity of the runners to make the turn at the turnaround point from the second hour on.

There was no elevation on this course except for the ramp up and down the small blue bridge, but why did it still feel like the route was difficult??

IMG_0736

I finished the first day in 5:50:45. While the seasoned runners literally ran laps around me, I struggled with the wind, and the cold and gratefully rang the old 1920’s antique school bell. All runners had to ring the bell to signify they finished their target distance, otherwise the clock will continue to run.

My running shoes were caked in mud when we returned to the room. The Weir only had six rooms and ours had a balcony and faced the river. I did not bring extras so I left them as they were for the next day. The radiator was not working so we had to use the space heater.

I enjoyed our dinner at the pub that night. My Thai chicken curry was delicious and Richard loved his chicken burger in an authentic British pub setting. The Weir has been serving customers for the last hundred years or so!

We toed the line again the following morning. It was not as rainy and windy as yesterday, thankfully! I was still tired from yesterday; I anticipated a slower finish time. There were more people on the second day too. The race briefing again recognized some extraordinary achievements.

A different set of lead runners ran laps around me again, while I completed eight laps for the marathon distance in 6:09:23 with just a few more runners behind me.

Although the races were six-hour timed events, the race director Rik Vercoe was nice enough to ensure that all runners achieved their target goals of finishing a marathon distance even if it meant more than the time limit.

7715476B-B03E-4ABA-AAB1-488F19017E81

Finishers could shower at the centre for £1 if race numbers are presented, otherwise they are charged £5. Lockers were available as long as you had a padlock to secure your things.

The race route was west of The Weir. Richard walked eastward and took some photos of the Sunbury Lock and the river.

I paid £36.75 for the registration fee for each event on the Phoenix Running website. Knowing how they look after the runners, I can’t wait to run another Phoenix race in the near future. I just love the interlocking design of the medals, as well as the peek-a-boo Phoenix!

We stayed one more night at The Weir. We left the following morning to spend New Year’s Eve with my sister and her family in Kent.

Posted in Marathons, Places to See, Race Reports, Things to Do | Leave a comment

La Maraton delle Cattedrali 2017

665FEB08-13C7-4858-BE2D-B8F0D2187810

The Adriatic Sea with the historical landmark Mura di Traiano on the left in Giovinazzo, Italy

The Italian town of Giovinazzo is exactly as we remembered it from our last visit in 2015. Most, if not all, shops in the town closed at 1:00 PM on Saturdays and reopened for business at 5:30 PM. The people are extremely helpful, but it can be quite difficult to get around without a car. This town is out of the tourist belt of Italy. Taxis are rare but buses run every few minutes.

The two-hour flight to Bari from Brussels Charleroi was at 7:05 AM on Saturday, December 17, 2017. The train to Giovinazzo was only an hour long. We had to take the airport train to Bari Centrale Station and make the switch to the train going to Molfetta. We walked from the station to the S. Martin Hotel overlooking the Adriatic coast.

The family-owned and operated hotel is a historical landmark as a 13th-century Benedictine nuns’ abbey. Our room was in period-style furnishings and modern facilities. I thought about it but did not feel brave enough to use the stove and cook something in the room.

The town prides itself in close ties with its people. It seemed like everyone knew everybody! We entered a local restaurant to ask for directions in getting to Puglia Outlet Village for the bib pick-up. A young lady eating her lunch heard us and paused to call her uncle who brought us to the shopping area which was at least ten kilometers away and not on the bus route.

The bib came with a goodie bag, and who does not love goodies?! My bag contained the race shirt, a rubber bracelet, pasta, and local cookies. They also had a booklet full of coupons to redeem at any of the shops in the shopping village.

We were back at the hotel shortly but the restaurants were still closed. We spent a few minutes looking at at the hotel’s limestone displays, bronze sculptures, and Caravaggio-style paintings before succumbing to a nap.

We were up again by early evening. I went outside to take some photos of the religious procession going to the Parrocchia San Domenico from Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.

Dinner was fresh seafood pasta.

D20B3005-4E8A-44D8-8D0F-03F94C66DF1B

The breakfast option the next day was continental with limited offering but enough to fuel me for the race. We walked to the Area Mercatale. The buses were already waiting to transport runners to the start line in Barletta.

The race is also called the marathon of the five cathedrals because the route passes through five major cathedrals. The start line was in front of the first of the five, the Basilica Cattedrale Santa Maria de Maggiore. The cathedral, in turn, was in front of the Svevo Castle.

We received a special benediction from the cathedral priest prior to the start of the race.

I aimed to get a selfie in front of each of the cathedrals, but I missed two. I was only able to have my photo taken in front of the Bisceglie Cathedral and the Trani Cathedral, and missed the Molfetta Cathedral and the last Cathedral Santa Maria Assunta.

The weather was colder and windier than I remembered it. I wore merino everything. I was in a merino wool baselayer and a vest but I was still cold. I usually wear a plastic layer to keep warm and discard it midway. This time, I decided to keep the race plastic from the Copenhagen Marathon the whole way. I also wore a merino beanie over my racing cap and a merino buff.

We ran with the breathtaking view of the Adriatic Sea on the left, cutting through several marinas. The aid stations were spaced five kilometers apart, with the usual water, sports drink, and bananas.

Richard took some photos of Giovinazzo from different areas.

I crossed the timing mat in a slow 5:30:11; the race had a six-hour time limit. We walked back to the hotel for a quick shower and started our journey home.

Posted in Marathons, Places, Places to See, Race Reports | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Marathon Reims en Champagne 2017

DSC_0072.JPG

The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims

It is a treat to stay in hotels where champagne as a breakfast buffet choice is de rigueur. Interestingly enough, it is apparently the only alcohol people can drink in the morning and not be considered as alcoholics!

Champagne is a sparkling wine that can only be called champagne following strict vineyard and fermentation practices from grapes grown in the French wine-growing region. Other European countries have their own famous proprietary bubblies such as Italy’s prosecco and Spain’s cava, using their own winemaking processes.

Reims is the unofficial capital of France’s Champagne wine-growing region, and they have an annual marathon, Run in Reims Marathon, to help promote their most famous product. I thought this race was like the Marathon de Beaujolais where wine was free flowing and served at each aid station. Ah, it was not! This was a serious race that did take us to the touristic vineyard route of Reims.

It took us about two hours to drive from our home in Belgium to Reims on Saturday, Octobre 14, 2017. We drove straight to the Stade Auguste Delaune to pick up my bib first.

Security was tight. Everyone had to submit to a pat down and bag search. Because this is a French race, runners had to submit medical certificates dated within the last year.

We stayed at Grand Hotel Continental, a small 3.5-star hotel located along the main shopping street and on the corner of the Reims train station.

DSC_0090

The hotel offered a vineyard tour but we did not have time to visit. Check out the prices of their champagnes! Too bad the hotel room did not come with champagne.

We spent the rest of the Saturday afternoon walking the shopping street.

What do you know? A pop-up champagne festival was on-going right in the middle of the walking street!

We visited the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims, a 13th century city landmark and the start area of the race, and had our picture taken in front of La fontaine Subé.

It was time for dinner before we knew it. Pizza was our choice for the evening.

786969A0-97D4-49C6-93D5-7536415214ED

Early breakfast the following morning gave me time to enjoy the offerings. No champagne bottle was in sight.

Security was also tight at the start area. We all had to be patted down before entering our corrals.

We were off! The race started at 8:30 AM with a time limit of six hours.

A major part of the race route was the vineyard roads that took us to various big name wineries.

Crossed the finish line safe and sound in 5:05:38. Flutes of the bubbly were available for all finishers.

I took a couple of flutes for Richard.

He took some photos of the nearby areas while waiting for me.

We had a late check-out so I took a shower before we hit the road.

DADC15F3-A92A-4F04-85BF-67EBF2242D29

And just like that, we were back in Belgium.

Posted in Marathons, Places to See, Race Reports | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Zurich Máraton Málaga 2017

3

The beautiful coastal city of Malaga from the hilltop medieval Moorish castle Alcazaba.

Everyone likes Màlaga. This southern city of Spain is a favorite getaway of people in Spain and Europe wanting to escape the winter blues and bask in the Mediterranean beaches. The city is also a haven of arts and culture, having produced Pablo Picasso and Antonio Banderas, among others. Its main shopping street, Calle Larios, was built in 1891 and had the distinction of being the most elegant street in Spain. Today, the street still commands one of the most eye-wateringly expensive rents in the country. The facades of the buildings have retained its elegant and distinctive architectural designs. The street is off-limits to cars.

Yes, we like the city too. So much so that we were back for the second time; We were here in 2015 for the city’s marathon.

We took the 6:30 AM Ryanair flight from Brussels Charleroi Airport on Saturday, December 9, 2017. By 9:20 AM, we were getting off the plane and walking out of the terminal. We took an expensive 20€ five-kilometer taxi ride to pick up my bib at Palacio de Deportes Jose Maria Martin Carpena. We had to wait for half an hour since we were there a tad too early. The Zurich Màlaga Marathon 2017 expo did not open until 10:00 AM. We should have taken the local Bus A, gotten off at Avenida de Velàsquez, walked the kilometer to the stadium, and still make it in time for the opening of the expo.

The 60€ registration included the finisher shirt, a box of soup, a collapsible water bottle, a sachet of massage cream, reusable shopping bag, and the Distance Running magazine.

We took Bus 16 to Paseo del Parque to take us to our hotel. After 36 minutes, we got off the Alameda Principal stop, right in front of Calle Larios.

We stayed at Hotel Petit Palace Plaza Malaga, a boutique hotel located on a side street parallel to Calle Larios. The hotel provided us with a complimentary bottle of wine.

We had a view of the Malaga Cathedral from our balcony to the left, and Calle Larios to the right.

We rested a bit and went out to have a late lunch of grilled octopus, soup, and salad.

Energized by the meal, we set off to see some sights in the city. We first paid a visit to the Catedral de la Encarnación de Màlaga.

We walked a bit further to hike up the Alcazaba where Richard took photos of the beautiful coastal view.

25188731_2213131995379329_2168942816641289163_o

All the walking soon made us hungry again. We found a cafe right in front of the cathedral and had paella negro for dinner.

We returned to Calle Larios to find the place packed. The pedestrian lights to come alive every evening to loud music and cheers.

IMG_0404

We were up early the next morning to have breakfast and walk to the start line at Paseo del Parque. The race started at 9:00 AM with a six-hour time limit.

The course was not totally flat, although running with the view of the Mediterranean sea for the most part was breathtaking, literally and figuratively. The aid stations had water, sports drink, oranges, and bananas. They also had tons of race marshals on bicycles, cycling back and forth to check on runners, especially those like us at the back of the pack.

It was windier than the last time I ran it, and finished a so-so 18 minutes slower (5:30). Richard, my inspiration and support, patiently waited for me at the finish line. Finishers received bottled water and non-alcoholic San Miguel beer.

We walked back to the hotel where Richard ran me a Jacuzzi bath to relax and soothe away the aches. Even though we’ve stayed in jacuzzi rooms before, this was my first time to actually use one in a hotel. Hmmm. . . I could get used to this, especially when I don’t have time to get a massage afterwards.

We stayed one more night in Malaga before getting on the Aeroporto bus at the Alameda Principal stop to catch our flight back to Brussels early Monday morning.

Posted in Marathons, Places, Places to See, Race Reports, Things to Do | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Marathon Eindhoven 2017

Picture2

The city of Eindhoven may not be as famous as the tourist magnet Amsterdam, but it is the fifth-largest city in The Netherlands, home to multinational lightbulb company Philips and the capital of Dutch industrial design.

I did not consider running in Eindhoven until my colleagues at work talked about it while we were in Ljublajana in May, 2017. We encouraged each other to register for the race and run as a team. In the end, only the principals from the British and Canadian Schools ran the Eindhoven Marathon 2017 with me on October 8, 2017. We  started at the same time but finished at different times.

IMG_3397

We took off for Eindhoven in the afternoon of Saturday, October 7th. The drive was two hours and fifteen minutes along the motorway, quick and easy. Richard parked our car by the Stationsweg parking lot at the train station and walked the few meters to our hotel, the Hotel NH Collection Einhoven Centre.  The parking lot is right outside of the restricted area for the marathon and would allow us to leave as soon as I finished the race. My colleagues left for Eindhoven the night before, opting to do some sightseeing and relaxing before the big day.

The hotel is part of the NH Collection chain, beautiful and strategically located in the heart of the city.

We dropped our luggage and made our way to the expo to pick up my bib at Beursgebouw 500 meters away on foot. The race registration fee was 70 euros when I registered online a few months back, and included the race shirt.

Bib in hand, we walked around the city center and had an early pasta dinner at Zoet a Zout.

Richard and I actually registered for the 5K4ALL that evening but we missed the start time. We thought the start time was 8:30 PM as published on this page, but it was actually 7:50 PM on this page. We showed up at 8:15 PM at Mathildelaan, only to find out the event started earlier. Arrghh! The organizers should check for these inaccuracies. We still wanted to do the walk, but the marshalls would not let us start that late. Oh well, lesson learned. Check, double check, and triple check the start times. Good thing it was just the 5K and not the actual marathon that we were late for! We dejectedly walked back to the hotel and called it a night.

We woke up early the next day, and the breakfast spread sort of made up for the frustration from last night. They had the bubbly available for breakfast!

The breakfast room was at a high floor, and offered a great view of the city.

I readied for the race and walked to the start line at Mathildelaan. My colleagues found us and we posed for very important photos to document the three of us actually at the race, and make our other colleagues envious! This was the first marathon for both my colleagues; we were all so excited to just be there together to do this epic event!

The marathon started at 10:00 AM with a six-hour time limit. Yup, I checked several times and made sure it was indeed a 10:00 AM start, not earlier or later.

The course was flat and fast, though that does not make a difference in my finish time. I run according to what I feel. I did finisher a bit faster this time (5:07). Maybe it was because I was running with friends? What was different with the race was the kilometer markers. They counted down, instead of up. The half marathoners started in waves between and 2:00 PM and met us halfway into the course, serving as our pacers to the finish line.

One finished way ahead of me, and I finished ahead of my other colleague. The important thing was we all finished within the cut-off time of six hours without any injuries.

Richard spent the time waiting for me and taking photos of the interesting places nearby.

He was at the finish line at Vestdijk which was literally in front of our hotel.

We had a late checkout so I showered quickly and we were on our way home to Belgium.

Posted in Marathons, Places, Places to See, Race Reports | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

34th ASICS Firenze Marathon 2017

IMG_0133

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.

IMG_0066

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.

Posted in Marathons, Places, Places to See, Race Reports, Things to Do | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment