Purely by chance, I discovered the Valencia marathon from my Instagram feed. It wasn’t a city I’d considered before but then again when I think about it every city is likely to have a race of some form, it’s good for tourism and promotes exercise. I pulled up their website only to discover the entry list was full but there was a waitlist, so I added myself to it for a €5 deposit. This was mid-September and I was 154th in the queue then literally 5 days later I was in. Ok then, I’d better pull a plan together. Berlin’s marathon was looming with London’s 8 days after that. If nothing else, my passport wasn’t going to be gathering dust anytime soon.
I jumped onto AirBnb and grabbed an apartment in the city centre. Flights were still pretty cheap given that travel corridors, Covid testing and country quarantine ruling were changing weekly. The train connections into the city were easy and cheap so the pieces were slotting into place quite nicely.
Friday, 3rd December
Another Covid variant was gripping the UK with a general panic setting in as the confirmed cases leapt up daily. I chose to remain firmly away from business meetings so as not to jeopardise my chances of racing. My work’s Christmas Party and team gathering were politely declined too.
Armed with all the necessary paperwork I left a Christmas themed London airport and flew into Valencia, jumped on a train to the city and found my apartment. The owner gave me a door key and informed me the building access code had been set to 42195, you’ve got to love a fellow runner that manages properties. After a quick bag drop, I headed off on foot to collect my race number and swag from the Arts, Science and Culture centre. It took about 30 minutes on foot which would be my route to the start line on Sunday. As you can see from the photos below the architecture of this place is dramatic and huge.
Registration was simple and I spent a few minutes briefly looking around the small collection of vendor stands. The swag bag was larger than I had expected with a lot of content. I loved the slight twist of the RUN DMC too.
The swag bag from the registration and bib collection photographed later at the apartment.
Heading back into town I grabbed pizzas from a local independent restaurant and watched the world pass by. Walking to my accommodation at night put a different slant on the buildings adorned with Christmas decorations as well as uplighting some of the older properties really provided a good atmosphere.
The following morning I was up early to explore the city on foot as part of my shakedown run. I’d seen that a local park wasn’t too far away from my apartment so off I set toward it. The streets were deserted which provided great photo opportunities.
Arriving at the park I happened to find it had dedicated running, walking and cycling paths – genius. There were plenty of other people about so I joined the flow. It was delightful as the park had many features and planting to absorb and as I gazed around I soon lost track of how much distance I was covering. Ohe dear, no good. I headed back via a more direct route consciously keeping my pace controlled. The direct route did provide one gem of discovery as I passed a road where I’d eaten lunch as part of my interview process in 2014. The Director at the time wanted to see me for a final interview and flew me to Valencia for the afternoon, it was crazy but worked out.
Back at the apartment and 7.5 KM later I took the rest of the day to relax and rest. An early pasta dinner and an early night concluded Saturday for me.
Sunday, Race Day
Up early and with a full breakfast in me I arrived at the starting area and was ready to begin my tour of the city around 8:30am, ready for a 9am start. It was bright and sunny but cold and windy. We all stood around wearing our masks and in the main people kept apart from each other.
The waves of runners in front were being counted down and then released into the city. The chills of cold were soon replaced with chills of anticipation as the countdown boomed out the sound of a heart beating. The volume drowned out nearly all the runners chattering away. It wasn’t long before I too crossed the start line and within hundreds of metres masks were being pulled off and we were on our way.
I soon found a comfortable rhythm and began to warm up. For the first time, I opted to forego writing split times on my arm and just run how I felt. I’d witnessed that in my long training runs at home I wasn’t clock watching because it was purely about time on legs but in fact, some of the distance and time statistics were within my usual finish time. I applied the same approach to Valencia following the train of thought that I can only run as fast as I can.
As the course opened up I was seeing fantastic art installations on roundabouts as well as myriads of great building architecture. Arriving into the port area, around 4 KM, the outbound and inbound routes were parallel and the Elite runners were heading toward us, following their pace timing car. Everyone, including the runners, was clapping and cheering the super fast.
I continued in the bright sunshine trying to ignore a seemingly endless headwind, the roads were wide as the course followed industrial estate-style blocks. My running cap blew off at one point only to be effortlessly caught by a runner behind me, it’s the small distractions that help break up the task ahead. Another one was that a British supporter kept appearing on her bike around the city cheering her friend on, soon after I garnered her support!
The architecture was soon replaced with the open area of the main park at 17 KM. Periodically passing sound systems I couldn’t help but latch on to a song which then stuck in my head, it was Icona Pop – I love It.
Soon the port area was back underfoot at 23 KM and where the Elites had flown past earlier. Back in Black by AC/DC was blaring out from a speaker system, that was clearly under load, as I turned and headed back into the city. An occasional percussion band were thumping their drums with all their might interspersed by various sound systems and cheering groups of people leaning over their balconies. Streets narrowed as the train of runners negotiated parked cars and all manner of switching from left to right hand side of the roads. Back in the open and the park appeared once more, I passed one the same sound systems clearly on a loop of songs. Icona Pop was playing once more.
The route narrowed and the buildings grew taller with greater grandeur. I was back in the city and it wasn’t long before I was running past my apartment, a reassuring feeling too as I was beginning to feel like nearing the end even though it was only 31 KM. The KMs clicked on by and it was noticeable many people were pulling to one side. I too felt myself fading and looking back now I just needed to eat more food but my fatigue had broken my train of thought as I was solely focusing on chipping away at the KMs. At this stage of the distance, I managed to empty a substantial amount of Powerade over myself. I was using a new hydration vest with its custom-fit bottles, the bite valves being a simple pull out/push in and I’d pulled it out completely. With every motion forward the vest compressed spilling the contents of the bottle over me. Stopping momentarily I pushed it back in place but now everything felt sticky from the sugary drink. Oh well…
At 37 KM I was really feeling the distance, I distracted myself as best I could as the roads sections were long and straight. The old bull ring soon came into view, the barriers returned and many people flanked the streets. The energy and idea now that I was within ‘minutes’ of completion lifted me. I say ‘minutes’, but of course it was still to be another 20-25 but I convince myself it’s less to help with the battle.
I recognised the road I was now on, it was heading to the Arts, Science and Culture centre which meant the finish was within my grasp. The runners were corralled onto a pavement for nearly 2 KMs before dropping down to the finish area. The pavement was narrow and people were slowing, pulling across to see friends and relatives. Supporters were also on the pavement cheering on people which reduced the safe area to run. It was hazardous and more than once I frantically waved at people to move. I appreciated the energy and support from them but at times the encroachment was way too much.
The Art Centre was now directly ahead of me, with no distractions from supporters an MC was reading out names of runners and as I passed, mine echoed from the speakers too. The cobbled area was covered with wood painted a bright blue which offer a spring which each fatigued stride. I could see the finish line ahead and raised my arms. I crossed the line and clicked in at 3h 58m 12s on my watch, I’d await to see the official chip time later.
I was exhausted. I collected my medal stepping around people that simply had thrown themselves to the floor not long after passing the line. The volunteers were handing out (another) swag bag to the finishers as well as fruit, water, smoothie style drinks and the strangest thing… Broccoli
After politely declining the broccoli I grabbed a banana and bottle of coke. My flight was leaving in 3.5 hours which meant I could walk slowly back to my apartment as my legs felt quite wrecked.
Valencia is such a great city to see on foot and the general pace of the runners is fast. I finished way down the list with my position of 9042 out of 12663, official chip time 3h 58m 10s. This is a city I certainly would encourage someone to consider if they’re thinking of the Half and Full Marathon distances.