Los Baños de Sierra Alhamilla stands grey and forlorn beneath palm trees in a February mizzle. It’s Hotel California, on a rainier day.
There’s a faded, nonchalant elegance here in this mountain spa. On the main street, a goofily smiling old bloke sits outside the baths, trousers rolled up and feet dangling in the hot stream. We smile and wave, because frankly, we’re more mad than him.
The unforgiving Andalucían desert stretches far and wide below us. Scattered plantations, yucca, palm trees. Grey gravel, scrub and miles and miles of waste, magnificent in their desolation. Far in the distance beneath low-hanging cloud lies the city of Almería and the steely Mediterranean Sea beyond. Continue reading →
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.
Summer. Early afternoon. A soft and unassuming heat haze rising from the lush green meadows of Sussex.
And rising too, slowly but relentlessly behind this pretty village, lies the reason that we’re here.
The most famous climb in all of southern England.
The mean city streets of London seem such a long time ago. The start in Clapham lies almost fifty miles behind us, and barely a handful more remain ahead. The countryside is peaceful. Very peaceful.
The chatter and banter of those early miles has faded now. With a myriad and more of cyclists on the road, along the classic route to Brighton – you can hear them, all the way.
Not just the whirr of spokes, the squeal of frantic brakes, or the grinding, mashing sound of crunching gears. There’s a richer, more lyrical sound to listen to, louder and more urgent still than the rhythm of the riders’ breathing.
Much more than that. Because I’ll swear that on these Sussex roads you can hear the spirit of the peloton. Continue reading →
Every week, since December, I’ve run this route. And all those months, I’ve run past that house, safely unaware that someone inside was planning to kill me.
It’s just seven miles, but in many ways it’s a microcosm of England. Starting alongside factories, warehouses and office blocks, across the main road by the new shopping park, and through the bleak housing estates. Continue reading →