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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1ere Marathon International du Golfe de Saint-Tropez

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Colorful historical buildings line the seafront of the Vieux Port in Saint-Tropez.

Europe has a well-developed marathon scene. Košice Peace Marathon in Slovakia holds the record as the oldest marathon in Europe since 1924 and every major European city boasts of a spectacular marathon or two every year. It is rare to find a brand new race nowadays so I jumped at the chance to take part in the premiere edition of the Marathon International du Golfe de Saint-Tropez at a favorite vacation spot of the rich and famous.

We took the 9:40 AM EasyJet flight to Nice out of Brussels International Airport on Saturday, March 24, 2018. We landed at 11:30 AM on Terminal 2 and proceeded to pick up our rental car at the Sixt counter. Richard drove while I helped navigate the hour long trip to Saint-Maxime. There were two tolls along the way, one for 5€ and another for 3€.

We found parking at one of the side streets and hotfooted it to the Saint Maxime Tourism Office on 1 Promenade Simon Loriere to pick up my bib and the goody bag. Registration for the race was 60€ with an additional 9€ for those taking the bus to the start line or from the finish line. Saw my name on the photo wall!

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Hotel Les Santolines was our accommodation for the weekend. The three-star hotel had breathtaking views of the Croisette beach and the azure waters. Good thing they had free private parking because everything in Saint Maxime, just like with all the cities on the Gulf, was expensive! We had a huge room with a separate sitting area and a balcony overlooking the pool and the sea.

Loved the goody bag! It included the race shirt, a welcome box containing crackers and candies, and rosé wine especially bottled for the race participants.

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We had lunch at a cafe near the race expo.

We leisurely walked back to the hotel, pausing to take some souvenir photos.

We got into the car and drove to Saint-Tropez to check out the area.

We toed the starting line at the Pont le Préconil (Preconil Bridge) with the race kicking off at 8:00 AM on Sunday, March 25, 2018.

The first few kilometers were along the beautiful seafront before we headed inland. The weather was nippy at around 7 degrees Celsius. We were at Saint-Tropez at the halfway point and then we started the uphill part of the race from 22K to 33K. The aid stations had water and wine! They also had some wonderful solid food: raisins, oranges, and other fruits.

The race had everything: road, trails, forest, sand, uphill and downhill. Good thing the race had a six-hour time limit!

Timing starts when the starting gun goes off, not when you cross the timing mat. I started two minutes after the gun start; I barely squeaked in under the limit, finishing in 5:56:44 at Maison de la Mer in Cavaliere. I walked 400 meters more to catch the bus back to Saint Maxime. I waited 30 minutes more for the bus to get full before we started the trip back.57A20310-D18D-421B-9C59-1B0FFC0AA225

Richard walked around in Saint-Maxime and took some photos while waiting for me.

He was patiently waiting for me at the bus stop. We were already checked out so I had no chance to take a shower. I changed in the car before we headed back to the airport. We returned the car at Terminal 2 and took the airport shuttle to Terminal 1 for our flight. We were able to relax, get something to eat and drink at the Priority Pass lounge. I washed up in the bathroom so I can be a little more decent. Our Brussels Airlines flight was scheduled to leave at 21:50 but the flight was delayed for more than an hour. We were home at 2:00 AM to catch some zzs before going to work the next day.82823440-0CD0-43B3-8E06-4B3FCD8F286D

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13th Alexander the Great Marathon 2018

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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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??

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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.

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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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