A cool, soft and forgiving kind of Spanish rain is falling.
I drift down the hill, easing into my pace and gently exploring that warm sense of anticipation which the early miles of a race can sometimes bring. There’s elation beneath my feet today. It’s hard to explain, but it fills the morning all the same.
This is the longest race I’ve run for two years, and my preparation has been meticulously disorganised. Steady, shortish lunchtime runs through Horsham. A nine miler every fortnight throughout the autumn. A 10km in November. Eight miles of the hilly Hogs Back Road Race in December. A two hour outing across the sunny Surrey Hills just two weeks ago.
My journey to the start line didn’t bode too well. A far too lazy start yesterday morning, followed inevitably by a wheezing mile-long dash hauling a heavy holdall at full pelt across the park at 5am to catch my airport train.
A long walk into Almería last night to buy the running socks I’d so rashly left at home.
At one time, I’d surely have worried about all those things. But today it doesn’t matter. I’m here to run, but it’s not about the running.
I’ve come to hold the hand of Spain.
At the bottom of the hill, the puddles are growing bigger. We turn right, and the race begins on the long slow climb up the Rambla de Almería.
I look around, and breathe it in, and it strikes me that everything about this street is different from how life is back at home. The palm trees.
The mountains rising up through the gloom ahead. The buildings, the banks and the apartment blocks. The sound of Spanish pop music playing beside the route.
The faces of the crowd look different, too. Rugged, bearded men in leather jackets. Ladies with their thick coats, immaculate pink lipstick and pale brown hairdos. The dark-eyed toddlers held up gently to marvel at the race.
The shouts of Animo! all along the Rambla. You never hear that in London.
I complete the climb and breathe back down again. Somewhere near the seafront, there’s a screech of police sirens and two elite runners rush by the other way. They’re halfway through their race, and I still have 15 km to go.
My target time? Two hours, or just a little more, and yet I’ve no plan, no running watch and no GPS today.
I plod further, past the bakeries and driving schools and blocks of flats and travel agents, dodging puddles all the way.
The rainy day of a Spanish city is running slowly past me.
The kilometres go by looking out for friendly faces. Three quarters of an hour in, someone offers me a whole orange (what am I supposed to do with that?) just as the fun runners peel off right. The field thins out by half and I realise that my legs are strong today. I know I’ll make it home. I pick off the first few slowing runners, and lose track of the distance markers.
We leave the main drag for a circuit of a garden suburb. The balconies of pretty Spanish terraced houses, hiding behind fig trees and unlikely tangles of electrical cables.
At the magnificent portal of a school sports centre, a bunch of kids is hanging out and laughing excitedly. I spy a policeman. A race marshall. A sports teacher. The ordinary lives of another nation from my own.
Back on the main street, I pass the 16km marker and run underneath the English railway. Just 5km to go — we must be missing out the Rambla on this second circuit — and I pick up the pace, just a little.
We round a corner, and unexpectedly we climb the Rambla after all. I put my head down. Ten minutes of breathless running brings me to the top.
Half way up I spot the 14km marker. The distance boards are out of order, and instead of 3km, there’s 7km left to go.
I try to kid myself that another twenty minutes of running will make no difference. But it does. By the time we leave the Rambla, the Avenida del Mediterráneo has grown twice as long as just an hour ago.
The climb beyond the railway yards is as taxing as I remember. I’d like to walk, but somehow I resist that urge. The field of runners has faded to a handful now, and we’re living different kinds of races. One runner comes back to me like he’s standing still, and another rushes past me at lightning speed.
As we run down the ramp and round the corner into the stadium, the clock is showing 1:58 with a full lap left to do. I put my foot down. Nothing happens, then suddenly I’m flying along the back straight and I can sustain a sprint from here. Try to kick again, but there’s no one left to chase, and no one chasing me.
The clock keeps ticking over down the final 100, and the last few metres last for ever as they flash by within an instant.
Then suddenly I raise my arms and the line flashes past me. 1:59:51, and I’m delighted with that time.
And yet, it’s really not important. Less than two hours is all it took to run my race, but it’s a lifetime of appreciation which awaits me in the warmth of this Andalucían city. The taste of chorizo, manchego cheese and Spanish omelette.
A discussion with a store owner about running socks. Knowing how to ignore a menu and find the perfect plate of food from a friendly barman. A drive from Murcia past olive groves and orange trees and unforgiving desert.
A cathedral lit by floodlights in a silent midnight. A paella. Cries of Animo, all along the Rambla.
As often as I run this race, I won’t improve my time.
But what’s important is simply to return, to hold the hand of Spain and to enjoy all the time I’m here.
And that, amigos, is exactly what I did.
78. Spanish stroll: Almería Half Marathon
137. Otro día más sin verte: a return to Spain
91. Madrid me mata
136. En directo – Medio Maratón de Almería 2007
129. Tenerife – 1: the light at the end of the world
98. Off the shoulder of Orion – Costa de la Luz
90. Iberian chains – Tierras del Cid, Spain
Congratulations, R. Beautiful report. I´m glad you enjoyed the race in spite of the double start and the rain. I´d love to have managed to keep your pace and do a half marathon under two hours.
I´m very glad that you enjoyed the long weekend here in my home town.
Saludos desde Almería
Excellent report, old chap. Great writing.
I don’t call in as often as I should. Must do better.
I was sorry that I couldn’t join you this year. Hope you can make it again next time.
It was great to run with you again Roads . . . and to relive the day through your perceptive eyes. My own breathless thrash, whilst moderately swifter than your journey, left no time for detailed observation or appreciation of surroundings. Thanks for showing me what I missed.
Interesting that you marked a church, lit late at night from the inside. Here in the north of Brazil I drove by just such a site last evening. The warm night meant all doors and windows were wide open, candles illuminating a packed interior as the priest conducted a solemn ceremony. It’s quite something to see, eh?
Even more so after an evening spent with the delightful Molly I’ll wager ; )
Excellent report as always Roads. You picked up on aspects of the race that I could never recall. It’s almost as if I was there…
I do disagree with you though on the faultless organisation. It’s obvious the lead runners didn’t know the (red line) route and therefore should have been told.
That said it didn’t detract from the enjoyment, quite the opposite in fact. :•)
I agree with you, R. I can´t understand why we have a chip, there are mats in kiolometre 8 , km 18 and at the finish and there isn´t one at the start so that we can learn the real time we have done.
I´m glad the forced warming up was good for you. As we say in Spanish “No hay mal que por bien no venga” or in English “Every cloud has a silver lining”.
Saludos desde Almería
Many thanks, Antonio, and warm regards to you and all the runners of Almería. Every event is different, and this was no exception to that rule.
I’ve never seen a race recalled to the start before as happened on Sunday. But finally it was the right decision. It’s a pity that the lead runners went the wrong way, but since they didn’t follow the blue line or the official race car either, it’s hard to fault the organisers who on all other counts did a sterling job.
One small suggestion would be to add a timing chip mat at the start line as well as at the finish. At the moment we have electronic timing based on gun time only, and it would be good to see that amended to add the runners’ individual line-to-line time as happens in most international events. Thus my gun time was just over two hours, but since it took me a little time to cross the start line, I know that my line to line time was 1:59:51. The addition of a chip mat at the start line would allow the official results to reflect that difference. It’s a pleasure to run in your city, and I look forward to returning before too long.
Hasta luego en Almería, y muchas gracias!
It’s good to hear from you as well, Seafront. There’s a huge amount of work involved in shutting down a major city centre for two hours (or finally three) to allow us ‘athletes’ (ahem) to plod our way around a downtown half marathon. On the whole I think that Almería does it rather well. Sure, there are idiosynchracies, but that is part of the charm of exploring another way of life.
Thanks again, Antonio. I hope you’ll tell the organisers just how much we all enjoyed the race.
Many thanks again, and hasta la proxima vez.
Thanks a lot, El Gordo — and it’s very good to see you here. A scary thought is that we were there without you this time, but that without you, we wouldn’t have been there at all.
I’m sorry about the loss of your mother. It must have been a hard and miserable week for you, although we did our best to raise your spirits by raising our glasses to you on numerous occasions. Perhaps in retrospect too numerous…
I hope you get back to running soon. It really is the answer.
Thanks, Sweder, you cheeky devil — too fast to notice the views of Spain, indeed. It was only through the most sophisticated image processing techniques that I was able to reconstruct any sort of coherent narrative from the doppler-shifted red mist of images I witnessed.
It was a great trip. Looking forward to another one soon.
Gracias, R. I´ll pass your recommedation to the organisers with your beautiful report. Besides, ideas from foreign people are more respected here than if they come from the locals.
Si, gracias, amigo. I appreciate that, very much.
Pero … pero ‘Yo no soy extranjero, soy europeo’ 😉
Saludos desde la sierra todavía nevada de Londres…
Yes, you´re right,R. Actually, we´re citizens of the world. We all belong to the same planet.
Saludos desde Almería, Andalusia, Spain, Europe, The Earth.
That’s right, Antonio!
Congratulations — great time, in every sense of the word.
Many thanks, BB. It was good to complete a long run.
Long being a relative word. My half marathon was still a staggering 87 miles short of your Rocky Raccoon race a week later…
thanks for that piece of writing. It was a joy to read. I know Almería a bit (particularly Almerimar and El Ejido). I would very much like to do this half marathon. It sounds a great one to take part in. I did the great north run last year, and would like to have another go at a half marathon.
How can I register for this run?
Greetings, Paco — and welcome to roads of stone. You’re very welcome here.
I’m glad you enjoyed the report — it’s a wonderfully friendly race, with its own unique atmosphere and organisational flavour. There’s more information on all races of this kind at http://www.todofondo.es — and the race has its own website as well.
Entries for the race begin quite late, since the date is generally finalised around late November, with the race running on the last Sunday in January or (as this year) on the first Sunday in February.
Entry is around 12 Euro, as I recall, and that includes an excellent pasta dinner on the eve of the race.
If you drop me a line (check the e-mail address on the contact page above) then I’ll be happy to put you in touch with some local runners in the city so that you can sign up to receive more information as it becomes available.
Enjoy your running, and do give my regards to Spain when next you have the chance to visit!