How many places can you think of that start with the letter U and have a marathon; you’re right there aren’t many. Whenever people hear for the first time of my project they always ask where the Z marathon will be, never where U is going to be. The reason I had to cram in 3 marathons in 29 days was so I could run The Utrecht Science Park Marathon. These three European marathons contrast greatly with my first three last year, where I ran on 3 continents at venues where either I didn’t really want to go, or was told by the government to not to travel to, or by friends that I shouldn’t visit!
The race started unusually late at 12.15pm, there were 5k and 10k races before and the half marathon started at the same time. The location at the Science Park was more than 5k from the centre of Utrecht and the same distance from my accommodation. Although I walked to the ‘expo’ (really just a place to collect bibs and T shirts) the day before I wasn’t keen to repeat that on race day. A free bus was provided from the centre (although when I asked at the expo they didn’t know about it) so I hopped onto a local one to the centre. I then arrived much too early, and the heavy cloud cover plus cold northerly meant that it was sensible to hang around inside until the last minute before walking 1k to the start.
Like quite a few others I wasn’t too impressed with so many runners being in the same starting pen and the lack of visibility of the pacers. It wasn’t until I had been running for quite some time that I caught up with the 4:30 then 4:15 and finally 4:00 pacers (the latter after 7/8k); no balloons just the time written on the back of the 2 runners leading each target time.
When I was running with the 4 hour pacers, a group of a 20 or so including half marathoners, I tucked myself behind them so as to get a shield from the wind when it was in our face. The problem with this was one of the group was clearly using his own form of wind power, farting regularly and producing an atmosphere that he dragged along with him for too far! I don’t know if this affected my eyesight, or I was just concentrating to stop myself clipping any heels but after 10k I didn’t see any distance markers until we had finished the first lap and the half marathon runners peeled off. I am convinced there weren’t any, but they miraculously appeared on the second time round. The psychological effect was surprising, even though I was obviously running slower from 30k to 40k the time seemed to go by more quickly than from 10k to 20k.
I was more than pleased to finish in 4:09:46, if you had offered me a total under 12:20 for three marathons in 29 days I’d have laughed at the likelihood. Right from the start of this run my legs clearly were not happy with the thought of the 42.2k ahead, thighs particularly felt tight.
A real bonus, and something I haven’t encountered in any of the previous marathons, were free downloads of the official photos from Marathon-Photos; OK they are not high-res but at least I have some I can included (my daughter Cat took a break from her ultras and ran The North London Half Marathon on the same day, but the same company did not offer free downloads for that race).
Before I had actually hit upon the idea of alphabetic marathons in different countries my first ever marathon was booked, coincidentally starting with A and it happened to be in The Netherlands. However a stress fracture less than 2 months before the race meant I couldn’t run it but I had by this time decided on the project, booked up my B race and started to plan others. If I had run in Amsterdam I couldn’t have run in Utrecht and I thought I could run The Ulaanbaatar Marathon; but it is now being called The Mongolian International Marathon. I also contacted some running organisations in towns/cities whose name started with U to ask if they would organise a marathon, none would. So the stress fracture I suffered in the summer of 2013 was, with hindsight, a very luck break.
I now have more than three months before number 22, and the plan is to visit a 6th continent. But I do hope to run, probably with a lot of walking, the NDW50 before then.
Just over a week after returning from Seville we were back at Gatwick for our flight to Marco Polo, Venice.
I had, of course, booked an apartment in Treviso, where else for the Treviso Marathon? It was the 13th running of the event and in previous years it had started in, or north of, Conegliano (itself 25k north of Treviso) and finished in Treviso. They changed the course this year. It started and finished in Conegliano (the expo was also there) and didn’t come within 30k of Treviso! Thankfully the name stays the same so fits in with my ‘rules’ the alphabetic being the name of the marathon, ignoring sponsors names.
There was no special transportation for the race, but there was a good quick and cheap train service which made it easy to get there for the 9.45 start. The forecast suggested almost ideal marathon conditions, cool with not too much sun or wind. Various items were used for protection before the start, the bin liner that had travelled to five continents with me was finally used and I saw a first, forensic suits.
Even though I started in just my normal top and shorts, many were wearing base layers, jackets, buffs and gloves.
I had a moment of panic as I walked up towards the start. Even with my non-existent Italian I could understand a countdown, but the relay started at the same time as the main marathon and the half at 10.10, could I really have the start time wrong? Of course not, it was the wheelchair and bicycle race starts.
The marathon web site, T shirt and bib state ‘corri nelle terre del prosecco’ which translates as ‘run in the lands of Prosecco wine’ and we certainly did that. In the first 10k we twisted our way through vineyards, more than once I was offered a glass by locals supporting outside their houses and the goodie bag did contain a 375 ml bottle of the sparkly stuff.
I ran most of the way with the 4 hour pacers, it clearly wasn’t fast enough for one of them to sweat out his pre-race liquid as a number of times during the race he quickly ran off in front of the group then veered off the road to relieve himself!
I was confused during the first 8k when on occasions we passed ‘walkers’ that were part of the race and they seemed to be in similar or even identical kit. After the 4th time I was convinced it was the same person each time, but did not know how he had got back in front of us; clearly I had not been observant enough because I did then see him come running past us a little later and he continued with his successful walk/run strategy for at least the first half of the race as we continual swapped places but after that we seemed to stay in front.
We were given a sponge in the goodie bag, and in some races these are very welcomed, but I was correct in thinking that I did not need to take it with me. Quite a lot of runners did have theirs, I saw them being used at all seven of the water baths provided. The ‘refreshment’ stations were every 5k, with water plus energy drinks in the second half; at two of the later stations cups were handed out that contained neither, strangely it was something warm. I have no idea what it was, a had a mouthful but spat if out at the first and just handed it back at the second. Maybe it was the peach tea that we were given in the goodie bag. I wonder if any using the spongers to cool down then used the drinks to warm up.
It was another easy course; Strava shows it having an elevation of just 86m, making it flatter than Seville. The only noticeable rise came after we ran through a tunnel under a road just after 38k, and the descent came in the final 0.5k running over cobbles in Conegiano. As we ran after the 30k mark the paradox of the area became clear, because when the view to the north was unimpeded the snow covered Dolomites rose out of the plain not a marathon distance from us. I did find the whole run as comfortable as Seville two weeks previous, and ended up more than 2 minutes quicker with 4:03:57 and 3rd in my age category.
The athletes village afterwards had free beer, which didn’t run out and it seems you could keep going back for more. There was also a warm soup provided, and the servers understood the 2 Italian words I had specially learned “Senza gluten” and immediately went to a different casserole to produce something suitable for me.
So just another 2 week recovery before my U marathon, there aren’t too many beginning with letter 21 of the alphabet. Actually I am lucky I was injured before I was due to run my very first marathon as the change to Athens has left this country free.
Although I have run a number of marathons in big cities, I have run very few ‘Big City Marathons’. My understanding of this phrase is a race with many thousands of runners, all doing the one distance (so not cluttered with half marathon, relay or 10k) confined to the city region so there can be good support all around the course.
Seville ticked all of these boxes. 13,000 were registered for the race and nearly 11,000 finished (809 recorded their run on Strava). The course was well contained within the city, so much so that there are more than 40 turns of at least 90º. Spectator support was great during the whole run and very enthusiastic in the city centre areas.
It started outside and finished inside Estadio Olímpico (The Olympic Stadium) which was opened in 1999 to support Seville’s unsuccessful bids for the 2004 and 2008 Games, but it did host the 7th Athletics World Championships in 1999, the Davis Cup final in 2004 and the 2003 UEFA Cup Final, where 80,000 Celtic fans behaved impeccably and famously drank the city dry.
I had a 30 minute walk to the start, the stadium actually isn’t very obvious but of course
there were huge numbers making their way across La Barqueta Bridge over Rio Guadalquivir, which we crossed again just over 2k from the end of the race. The start was at 9.00am and it was distinctly chilly as we waited. Despite the large numbers of runners the portaloo queues were negligible and even just 10 minutes before the start I had no problems slotting into my starting pen.
The sun was out for the whole race, but even as it climbed higher in the sky there was plenty of shade from tall buildings. Water and electrolyte stations, on both sides of the road but offset, were every 2.5k so no excuse for anyone to become dehydrated. The organisers state that the marathon is the flattest marathon course in Europe. My Strava record shows an elevation of 142m, just less than Podgorica with 146m; the Nova Sad Night Marathon was of course less, at 66m, but that was just trotting backward and forward along the Danube 6 times.
Under different circumstances I would have tried to make best use of the course to go for a PB; however with an upcoming schedule of my next 2 marathons in 28 days after this one I had to look at the bigger picture and ensure that I would be ok to complete these. So anything around 4;15 would be acceptable, even though I was starting in the sub 4 hour pen. I had forgotten one of the positives of big city marathons, that is even when taking it easy there are many locals running their first (and often last) marathon so it wasn’t unusual to be going past other runners, particularly during the last 10k, and let’s admit it, we all feel good when we pass others (particularly when they are much younger!)
I hadn’t done much research on the city, so didn’t know much about what there was to see. The stunning, Plaza de España, appeared out of nowhere at just after 35k. It was almost worth stopping to admire, but I resisted and came back the next day; I wasn’t the only one, many runners wearing the blue jacket that was provided, rather than a usual running top, were also revisiting.
The next 5k, until we crossed the Rio Guadalquivir, went past key tourist sites such as the cathedral, with the Giraldillo Statue which features on the medal, and The Metropol Parasol. These street were heavily lines with locals and tourists alike who provided noisy, much appreciated support. My wife who I hadn’t expected to see for a third time after 7k and 16k, was also present just before the bridge.
The whole race went as I had planned and I crossed the line, after half a circuit of the tired looking running track inside the stadium, in 4:06:08. The exit from the stadium, past tables of oranges, crisps and various liquids was easy enough, but after collecting my bag I had no idea how to get back into the city centre. I actually walked around the outside of the stadium twice before I decided to head towards the car park and ask the security. My Spanish is non-existent and so was his English but I knew I had to go past ‘Isla Magica’; he understood these words and his hand gestures sent me in the correct direction. Strava had managed to restart itself so when I reached the apartment is showed more than 6 hours and 48k since the race start!
Bonuses of running overseas marathon are turning a run into a holiday (there were many
Brits around, in their blue tops, until at least midweek), food and different beer. We stumbled across an amazing Tapas bar, Eslava, just over 100m from our apartment. After many innovative dishes and great gluten free knowledge, it will be very difficult to visit anywhere at home for Tapas; and the beer was cheaper than the water!