13th Alexander the Great Marathon 2018


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Had a quick nap when we got to our room.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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Murcia Maratón 2018


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.


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.


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


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.


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!

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Frozen Phoenix Runs 2017


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??


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.


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.

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La Maraton delle Cattedrali 2017


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.


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.

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Marathon Reims en Champagne 2017


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.


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.


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.


And just like that, we were back in Belgium.

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Zurich Máraton Málaga 2017


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.


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.


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.

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Marathon Eindhoven 2017


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.


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.

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