I am susceptible to advertising. Last month at the expo for the Amsterdam Half Marathon, I picked up a free magazine of race calendars and ads. I was flipping through it at home when a race photo caught my eye. Whoa, I said. Where is that?
The race in question turned out to be the Divina Pastora marathon and 10K in Valencia, Spain. The futuristic, Mediterranean-perfect-water backdrop was a massive complex known as Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias–the City of Arts and Sciences. Don’t those runners look happy and warm? I mused. A quick search produced budget airfare (Transavia) to Valencia’s airport, and the sense of Valencia as an up-and-coming (but still quite affordable) tourist destination, drawing increasing crowds since hosting the 2007 America’s Cup and opening the various buildings of the City of Arts and Sciences between the late 1990s and early 2000s. Race registrations were made, tickets were bought… and as 17 November approached, Valencia’s weather began to resemble Delft’s far too closely.
Our AirBnB host and the man who shared our row on the plane contributed to a chorus of apologies for the uncharacteristically cold weather and periodic rain. Saturday afternoon we put on our hats and gloves and bundled up for the expo, while I fretted that I hadn’t brought warm enough race clothes.
The City of Arts and Sciences occupies a nearly two-kilometer stretch of the nine-kilometer Jardines del Turia: the former bed of the Turia River (rerouted in the 1950s after disastrous flooding). The stark white buildings punctuated by waterways are compared to a whale skeleton, Darth Vader’s helmet, and a jamonero (ham slicer). Even after several passes, I had a hard time keeping straight what was what, but the complex includes a music hall (El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia); a museum (El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe); and a fantastic, sprawling aquarium (L’Oceanogràfic). We visited the Oceanografic the day after the race—I aim to write another Valencia post about our more touristic activities.
The walk from the Alameda metro (closest metro) to the start area took us close to thirty minutes on Saturday, far more than the fifteen our race paperwork claimed; and so on Sunday morning we aimed to catch a bus toward the 9 AM start. Curiously, thousands of other people had the same idea. We arrived at a bus stop clogged with runners (nice, friendly runners) and watched as bus after bus passed without stopping—already jammed full. Not wanting to walk a couple kilometers before beginning a race (especially for the marathoners among us!), we talked about splitting a cab with some others, but couldn’t manage to hail one (like the buses, they were all packed with runners). Tim and I wound up walking the whole way, as did plenty of others. I was having negative thoughts about the organization of the race at this point, but when we finally reached the start area, things were pretty functional. Bag drop was seamless and fast, and although I was cold, the sun was out and I was jumping up and down in my start corral soon enough.
I’d like to lament for a moment the plight of the “average” runner. I train. I race. I run several times a week. I’m improving. I’m fit. And I’m still running mile times between 8:45 and 9:30 in a 10K. Doing a race reminds me that I am in a very common pace group. Too common, you might think as you stand in a jam-packed corral (sometimes it’s the back corral, which never feels very nice). As I waited for the start in Valencia, I determined that I needed to pass people, early and often; otherwise I would run the risk of being stuck in a pack too dense to do my best. Go out fast, I told myself. Back off later. This is, some of you are thinking, the exact opposite of what runners are supposed to do.
But for me, right now, this is a pretty good philosophy. I tend to hold back, afraid of tanking later on. Pushing myself early, in a distance like 10K, can actually result in surprises. In this case, it was a 55:14 race, my first 10K under an hour—and even though I went out fast, I had negative splits the entire way, with a 6th mile of 8:12. Crossing that bridge with the water on either side felt just as good as I’d imagined—even if it was a little chillier in real life.
Afterward, the sun was strong enough that I believed we were truly on the Mediterranean, and we hung around to watch the finish of the marathon. I have so much respect for marathoners. I aspire to do one some day, but I still can’t stop thinking: It’s SO FAR. While we waited on a bridge and the first men appeared, two girls who were passing asked us how many kilometers the race was. Using his high-school Spanish, Tim told them it was cuarenta y dos, and I didn’t need to know the language to understand how appalled they were!
Organization: Mostly good. The expo was interesting, and picking up our packets was smooth. There were lots of signage and maps available, near and on the course. There was an adequate distribution of Porta-Potties. In fact, an hour or so after the race, I popped into one, and it still had plenty of toilet paper, as well as running water to wash your hands–-what?!
The only down would be on the city for not better handling the flow of people on public transportation that morning.
Race atmosphere: Great! Good music on the course, plenty of fans most of the way, a relatively scenic course and good vibes overall.
Race SWAG: Pretty good, for an €18 entry! When we picked up our bibs they were already out of the t-shirts in everything but XL and XXL, so that was a fail. (This always mystifies me, because in the general pool of a race, you need a lot more shirts size S or M than XXL.) The shirt design was just OK, so we didn’t feel too deprived.
There was a plastic bag of the usual random stuff they give out at races, but the best part was after I crossed the finish line. Last month I ran the Amsterdam Half Marathon and became hostile after finishing when there were basically no post-race amenities (aside from a plastic poncho-wrap). In Amsterdam, there was a massive, clogged queue to get a single bottle of sports drink, and I was incredibly thirsty. In Valencia, within moments of crossing the finish I was given a full-size bottle of water, a full-size sports drink, and an entire bag of oranges. No joke! There was also beer (Amstel was a sponsor- I passed) and free massage tables.
Would I do this race again? Yes! I don’t know if I’d make the effort to get to Spain just to do it, but I’d certainly recommend the race. The race was enjoyable and successful, and a long weekend poking around Valencia was fun, too. On that note, to be continued.
Next race: Semi-Marathon de Paris (Paris half), 2 March 2014