Cycling the Anillo Verde – Madrid

When I moved to Spain I started googling for cycle routes to do. I found it quite difficult to find anything detailed and so decided when I started cycling that I would blog about my routes, link to the strava map of the route and give some detail. That way hopefully these blogs can be helpful to other cyclists in Spain, whether living here (in which case say hi!) or on holiday with a bike. Also if anyone has any recommendations, please let me know :)

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The Anillo Verde (literal translation: green ring) is a cycle path that circles Madrid. It is 69km, 39 miles long in total and is almost entirely off-road, on smooth, wide bike paths. It starts about 15 minutes from my flat, 15 minutes on quiet backstreets. Sounds perfect, right?!

And that’s why I decided my first proper ride in Madrid would be on the Anillo Verde. In hindsight, perhaps 40 miles was pushing it slightly for my first proper cycle in over a month and my first long cycle since January.

Saturday was a beautiful, warm sunny day with forecasts of above 20 degrees. I faffed around getting ready, putting suncream on, digging out my summer cycling gear and sunglasses, and headed out around 11am. I had downloaded maps to my garmin and a route from strava (more on this I think in another post) and was using this to give me directions.

Getting on to the Anillo Verde is easy – especially from my flat.Basically you want to get into the Casa del Campo, which for me is about a ten minute downhill scoot through Madrid backstreets, then up and over the motorway on a cycle bridge. The route starts with another cycle bridge and I was off! Winding my way in one big circle around Madrid.

It was a cycle of ups and downs, both physically, with over 600m of climbing, but also mentally. I was really enjoying myself for the first bit, on a lovely path beside the river. The path is paved so perfect for road bikes, and wide. There are three sections – two wide pathways for bikes in both directions (room to ride two-abreast and to overtake) and another section for walkers / runners, of which there were many in the first hour or so. The scenery to the right was standard city suburbs, ugly looking flats, large department stores and building works. But the scenery to the left was magnificent – expanses of fields with snow-topped mountains in the not-so-far distance. Hard to believe that was actually snow when it was so warm in Madrid!

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The path was busy, but not too busy. There was a constant stream of cyclists in both directions, ranging from families with kids on little bikes (going up some steep hills!) to mountain bikers, to super-sporty-looking road bikers. And lots of women cycling on their own! Which I quite enjoyed as, other than communting, I have very rarely seen a woman cycling by herself in the UK. I was also surprised by the high number of mountain bikes, by far the most common type of bike. It was strange as the path was perfectly suited to road bikes.

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About 15k in started the part of the ride I didn’t really enjoy. For at least half an hour, if not longer, the bike path just ran along side a busy, wide road. Yes, at least I wasn’t actually on the road. But being on the path meant frequent stops for side roads and it all just got a bit wearing. Plus I have a big thing for views and, as striking as some of the buildings were, this was just not my idea of an ideal ride.

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Once we finally left the side of the road my spirits perked up a bit, with some lovely long downhill stretches from about the 40k mark. At one point the path dived into a ridiculously green wooded area, with the river gently bubbling through it, at another point it ran parallel (prior to the main downhill) to the parque lineal de palomeras, which had incredible views looking out to the countryside west of Madrid. I bet there would be some fantastic sunsets from there.

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But after 2 hours and 30 minutes, my garmin screen froze. I still have no idea why this happened and really hope it’s not going to be a continuing problem. The route had been relatively easy to follow up until this point. The path was red and so looking out for the red pavement was always a good way to spot where you should go, and there were signposts pointing out “la ruta ciclista” or directly “anillo verde“. There were also always other cyclists to follow, or to point out the correct route, as happened twice when I looked slightly lost. Someone would cycle past and say “derecha!” (right) and I would follow them.

Then we hit a problem. I reached the entrance to the Parque Lineal de Manzaneres and the red path just stopped. Did I go into the park? Around it? I went in, stopped, looked around. Asked a cyclist where the anillo verde was and he gave me directions back out of the park. With hindsight, he was directing me back the way I had come, going the opposite way around the ring, but at the time I thought I must have missed a turn-off. I almost found myself cycling onto a motorway, realised just in time that that obviously wasn’t right. At this point I came across another cyclist who told me I couldn’t continue any further (I’d kind of worked that out by the cars and lorries rushing past at 70mph plus) and said I could follow him and he would show me the way to the anillo verde. So I did, and he did – back into the park. My next error was that I missed the exit from the park and ended up cycling almost all the way round it. I was having a bit of a sense of humour failure at this point. Losing my garmin meant I’d lost the constant “elapsed time” reminder that kept me on track with eating etc every hour. Plus I had no idea where I was or how much further I had to go. I was getting hungry – it was well past lunch time. I had finished off a banana and loads of strawberries, and although I had some shot blox I really wanted some lunch!

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I eventually found myself back on the right route, and soon realised I was coming along the river back into the centre of Madrid. This area was very busy with people wandering (it’s different from walking, trust me) in a way that the rest of the route hadn’t been and it was hard to get up any speed whatsoever. I almost had a collision and ended up swearing at a young child when I was just about to overtake him and he decided, without looking over his shoulder or making any suggestion whatsoever, to turn at a right angle and cycle directly across the path and pretty much directly into me. In my defence, I didn’t so much swear at him as swear involuntarily. I have a big fear about coming off my bike in a collision. Heart rate sky high I cycled on.

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After almost exactly 40 miles, I was home! I immediately got some water boiling for a huge bowl of pasta and was exhausted the rest of the day – probably not helped by the fact I had managed to burn myself quite badly on my thighs and on the inside of my elbows despite the putting on of suncreamI had done in the morning! There is now absolutely no way I can pass off as being Spanish.

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All in all its a good route to do if you want an easy circuit that doesn’t involve cycling on the wrong side of the road (if you’re English) or getting to grips with Spanish driving. Its unlikely to be a route that will give you a top overall speed but there are definite sections you can really push yourself on to get a good workout in. I’d do it again but I won’t be doing it every week!

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Here’s the ride – if you have strava premium you can directly download the gpx onto whatever device you use and have the map! If not then at least it will give you a good idea. I’ll update this when I do the route again without getting lost :)

https://www.strava.com/activities/275300508/embed/29f70d1e1e457813b7c86d746d36038ad7db1570

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The aftermath

I had tears in my eyes when I crossed the finish line of my first marathon. In all honesty, I don’t know why. It certainly wasn’t euphoria – I didn’t feel euphoric at all. I did feel ridiculously proud of myself but more in a quiet, calm way. I think I felt relief more than anything else. It was over, I could stop running, I had done it and in a respectable time, the time that I wanted to achieve. 

And another reason for the tears – I hurt so much. The sole of my left foot, the small of my back, the front of both of my thighs. Agony. Stopping running was great, but I still had to walk, and that was sore too. I finished off an orange slice and half a bottle of powerade, together with more water. I put on the plastic covering handed out at the finish before I got cold. I tried to sit down but my body wouldn’t let me (well done body) so I stretched out a bit and then just kept walking. 

 I felt relief, tiredness and accomplishment. I hadn’t processed everything, my mind kept flitting back and forth from moments on the race to not wanting to think about it ever again.

We walked slowly back to our flat, where I finally was able to sit down, and then eventually I got in the shower where I turned the nozzle on cold on my legs for as long as I could bear it (not very long). We packed everything up and I hobbled to a restaurant where two (small) glasses of red wine disappeared very quickly, along with a lot of tapas! 

Monday morning I was in the most pain I can remember. This was MUCH worse than cycling 100 miles. Interestingly, I felt worse in myself after cycling 100 miles, more dehydrated and weak, but I was nowhere near as sore. It was as if my thigh muscles had just disappeared. All day I hobbled around, whimpering every time I had to stand up or sit down. Do you know how much you use your thigh muscles just to stand up? Have you ever really thought about the process of getting up out of your chair? I spent the whole of Monday looking for things to push up off with my hands. Toilets were the worst – toilets are so low down and there is nowhere to put your hands to lever yourself up! Did I mention how much pain I was in? 

My mum sent me a text telling me to take it easy – no worries about that! There was no way I could even do a down dog so not even yoga was on the cards.

It was a strange week anyway – Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning were ridiculously busy at work – not getting home until 11pm for example. Then Thursday was a Spanish bank holiday. I went out for dinner Wednesday night and probably drank slightly too much, but I had no plans for the bank holiday. It came at the perfect time, i pottered around the flat doing chores, popped to the shops, finally put my bike back together.

If you are getting a bit jaded by cycling, I have a tip. Focus on another sport (that was the marathon for me). Don’t cycle your bike for almost three weeks.  It was a grey, rainy day but I was SO excited to get out on my bike. I pulled on my cycling gear with a big smile on my face and off I went. It was just an easy hour spin and at no point did I try to exert myself at all. I could feel slight pain in my ITB whenever I put slightly more effort in so I just kept the cycle at recovery level. It was awesome. I didn’t even mind when the rain came down heavy, I just zipped up my jacket and continued smiling.

I had also planned an easy swim for Friday morning, but as my legs had been recovering post-marathon, my immune system had given up. I was fully in the grips of my first real cold in years and, nose streaming, didn’t think swimming was a particularly good idea!

Work was very quiet on Friday and I left at 4.30pm to catch a plane back to the UK to see James and Oscar-cat for the first time in three weeks!

So that was a total of one hour and 55 minutes exercise this week – some walking / hobbling earlier on, the cycle and 15 minutes of yoga. I think it’s the least exercise I’ve done in over a year! And then I spent the weekend back in the UK with no sports kit whatsoever – no trainers, no sports bra, no swimming costume. It felt wierd but I need to make sure I get better before triathlon training so a good rest is on the cards!! Hopefully back to it next week :)

Barcelona marathon

TL;DR – 26.2 miles, 4 hours 28 minutes, awesome awesome awesome, pain.

On Sunday I ran my first ever marathon in Barcelona.

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Pre-race

I arrived in the city quite late on Friday night and joined my sister and her boyfriend, who were finishing up their dinner. I had a lovely glass of wine and we didn’t get to bed until midnight.

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Despite 8 hours of sleep, I felt exhausted when I woke up on Saturday. It was pouring with rain so we decided to go to the marathon Expo and then into the shopping centre that was just around the corner. The nerves were kicking in even before we entered the expo as groups of people were out for little jogs around the Plaza España, clearly looking like marathon runners. No queues whatsoever for packet pick-up – I picked up my bib number at the first table, my t-shirt at a different table, and then a bag to put it all in. I then went to chip validation before heading into the expo proper. There was a gigantic map of the course which we looked at for a while, with my sister’s boyfriend Miles saying things like “it’s a really long way”. Yes, I know Miles. “You’re basically going to be running all around Barcelona. Yup, I know. “It’s such a long way”. YES I KNOW!!!!!

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The expo was huge and awesome and slightly over-whelming, filled with marathon runners and STUFF. I was having a stress over my running belt. I had run with a cheap one from Lidl all winter, only to find when getting to Madrid that it just didn’t work when I was wearing less clothes. So I bought a new one, but had only done one run, and that of only 2 miles in it. It had a handy little water bottle, but not a huge amount of space for lots of gels etc. Looking at the map, I realised there was going to be water every 2.5km along the course and so I thought that I probably didn’t need to carry a water bottle on me, so now I was wondering whether to buy a new belt. I went back and forth several times wondering whether to buy a new one, and if so, which belt. I ended up with a flipbelt and it was fantastic. More on that later.

Expo done, we wandered into the shopping mall, did some shopping while the rain poured down outside and then went back to the flat for Jilli to cook up a lovely pasta lunch. As I was feeling so exhausted, I stayed in the flat all afternoon having a nap and reading my book on the sofa. I think it was my body’s way of making me do nothing, and it worked out pretty great.

I was in bed by 11, super nervous. My other worry was what to wear – the forecast was for 11 degrees round about the time I would be finishing, but 5 degrees or less when I started and staying quite low all morning. Shorts? Leggings? Long-sleeved top? Again, having trained in the cold English winter, and then a ridiculously hot few weeks in Madrid, I hadn’t really trained in those temperatures! I had dreams about wearing the wrong clothes, including one in which I was making my way to the marathon in skiing salopettes before having a last minute panic that they would be difficult to run in!!!

Race day

The start for the elites was at 8.30am, with the rest of us following in waves after that. I was staying 10 minutes walk from the start, so awoke at the quite civilised time of 7am. I had my standard 3 weetabix with milk (desperately sought out from the posh supermarket in Madrid the week before the marathon – weetabix is nowhere near as common in Spain as it is in England!) and got dressed. I settled on long tights and my running vest top, with my new race belt, a headband and  I had a hoody over the top to walk towards the start which I then left with my mum. I munched on a banana as we walked down, gradually joining up with more and more runners.

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The atmosphere was INCREDIBLE. Loud music, people stretching and warming up, people chatting nervously, supporters supporting. Mum and I took a few pictures and then walked towards the entrance to my corral – right at the very back for the 4 hour + runners. I stood in the middle of the group, trying to keep myself warm (having left my hoody with mum), listening to everyone around me.

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Beside me was a small Spanish woman who got chatting to two northern English guys. “Is this your first marathon?” one of the guys asked. “No” she replied, “I ran a marathon last weekend”. Turns out she is attempting to run 40 marathons in 2 years. Barcelona was her 36th. Remember her as we’ll see more of her later :)

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The race started in waves, each wave with a separate start, and we gradually moved closer and closer. Then it was our turn. Eye of the Tiger was played, little bits of purple confetti (the colour of our waves and bibs) filled the air, there was a countdown, and then we were off! And yes, I had tears in my eyes even before the start.

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I was good and kept pretty slow for the first couple of miles – I was absolutely determined not to make the standard first-time marathon mistake of going out too fast and then blowing up. And with my first few miles above 10:10 per mile, I was sticking to plan – or perhaps going slightly too slowly!

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At 5k I missed my supporters for the first time – or rather, they missed me, as they were all standing by the side of the road, cheering on runners, looking straight at, or rather through me, and didn’t hear me shouting their names! I kept running as I soon would be coming back to this same spot from a different direction so knew I would see them again.

The route went up and round the back of the Barcelona Nou football stadium. At this point I spotted the 40 marathons lady – posing for a picture in front of the football stadium. We then ran past a steel drum band and she stopped in front of them and danced for a couple of seconds before running on – this kept a smile on my face for around the first 15k until her dancing meant I left her behind. I was slightly sad about this as I was enjoying running beside someone so obviously having such a good time but I had my mind set on 4.30 so off I went…

DSC00902This was also the spot for the first loo break – although there were LOTS of toilets en route, there were small queues at almost every one. At this point there were less spectators and lots of grass, including a huge tree, basically half surrounded with female runners having a pee! So I went and joined them. Running a marathon made me hate men (sorry boys) – they just get to pee all the time wherever they want so easily! Very unfair.

Back down towards the start of town and this time my supporters saw me and gave me a big cheer. I smiled and ran on, running quite fast at this point (it was slightly downhill) for one of the faster miles of the race.

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A couple of miles later was the first hard section. Probably less than half a kilometre but it was slightly uphill and all in the sun. However a smile was put on my face by a loud shout of “ALICEEEEE!” and then glancing to my left to see my family sprinting out from a side street just in time to get to me and check on how I was doing – still good at this point and still with a smile on my face.

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I kept checking in with myself throughout the first half. Body feeling good? Yes. Mind feeling happy? Yes. I actually kept thinking to myself that I was really enjoying it, I am loving this. I actually am having a fantastic time. And I was. At one point around about 11 miles or so I had sharp pain in my ITB. I thought uhoh, this is where it starts. Then on my next body scan, I realised the pain had gone away. Although it came back (and went away again) before the half way point, it never seriously troubled me. I also kept trying to keep a smile on my face – this was on advice from a post by Janae at Hungry Runner Girl who always says one of her main tips for racing is to try and smile, even when it is hurting, as it will relax the body. I tried to remind myself of this, and also I was interested to work out at exactly what point I stopped enjoying myself!

Around this point I had some of my fastest miles (we were going downhill) but I even managed to stop and take a quick picture of La Sagrada Familia looming up above us in the sunlight.

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It was a hard slog out to 13.1 with a 2k out and back – the out being all uphill and in the sun. I had my headphones in by this stage and was happily trucking along. I reached the half way point in around 2 hours 12 and was very happy with this as I knew now that, unless anything went wrong in the unknown after 18 miles, I could mange 4hrs30. At this point I overtook a guy with a black race number, something like number 60/80. He would have been in one of the top waves and was walking with obvious pain on his face. I felt so sorry for him.

After the out & back I had another quick toilet break and then my supporters were with me again, jumping out from the sidelines to run alongside me for a minute or so while I gave them my headband and they checked in on how I was doing. They soon jumped back off the road and I kept running, towards the next long out and back. This seemed the same as the last – out all uphill and in the sun (although in reality it was so barely uphill that you wouldn’t really notice it unless you were running a marathon). The start of this out & back was the 18 mile point, marking the furthest I had ever run. And I was still feeling good. The front of my thighs were tired and slightly sore, and I was slightly worried about chafing under my arms (despite lots of bodyglide in the morning) but other than that I was completely fine. The out section was also right next to a tramline – straight, flat and grassy – so I was able to run on this for a kilometre or so instead of on the tarmac.

I was still feeling absolutely fine by the 20 mile mark, and was very excited to see a big sign saying “vaseline” and a lady holding a massive jar of it. She had lots scooped into her hands so I ran towards her, grabbed a handful and smeared it all over my underarms and upper arms – it felt great and put my mind at ease about chafing. I was getting quite hot by this point – although for the majority of the race I had been the perfect temperature (except for cold hands at the beginning) it really warmed up in the last hour and I was very grateful for little “showers” that appeared in the last 6 miles to cool me down.

We were almost at the sea front and I ran up next to a guy in black shorts and a bright blue top that I had been going back and forth with all day. He smiled at me and said “venga! venga!” and I grinned back and kept on running beside him. Then again there were some loud shouts and cheers and mum, Jilli and Miles joined me to run along the seafront for a few minutes. I was hurting by this point and they cheered me up, especially when I heard Jilli and Miles behind me discussing how I still looked good!

All too soon the route turned away from the sea, with less than 7k to go now the worst part of the race began. I left my wonderful supporters behind and headed back uphill, through the Barcelona Arc du Triomphe which I do not remember at all – but it was on the map so I must have run through it. At this point I mainly remember pain, in the front of my thighs and in my left foot. I also remember noting that it didn’t hurt any more to run slightly faster, and the faster I ran, the sooner it would be over. So I tried to put a little more momentum into it. I also knew 4hr30 was within reach, although at this point my maths was failing me and so was any concept of how fast I could run in kilometres (NB: next time running a European marathon, also note your planned marathon pace in km, not just miles!)

The path came down through the Barri Gotic – the old centre of Barcelona, a supposedly beautiful meander of pedestrianised streets, shops and tapas bars. At this point I was angry. I was swearing to myself in pain and at any pedestrian who attempted to cross the race path. We went through a food station at a point where the race route narrowed considerably. The path was strewn with banana skins and oranges and a woman dropped her water bottle which landed on my foot. I kept running and overtook her with a muttered “careful!” as I did so. Everything was pissing me off. Did I mention how much pain I was in?

IMG_6144Mum looking so cheery in the pink top beside me, me much less so! You also may not think this is “running” but I promise my front foot is slightly off the ground!

With just under 3k to go I ran past my mum again and she joined me, running alongside me and talking constantly at me, telling me how good I was looking, how well I was running, reminding me that two years ago I couldn’t even run 5k. She was super-cheery and helpful, laughing at me when I kept swearing (“where the fuck is the 41k sign?” “why the fuck is it a hill?”fuck ow fuck” etc) – or maybe she just didn’t hear the extent of it due to selective mum hearing! As you may have gathered – the last bit was up a hill. And due to perfect pacing on my behalf (no, really, see below…) we were passing people all the time. I may have just blocked it out from my memory but I don’t think a single person passed me in the last couple of kilometres – or very few! Not that I was caring about my positioning in the race, but it felt good to know that I was finishing strong-ish. We ran past one girl with a “Burgess Hill Runners” club vest and knew she was from the UK. “Go on Burgess Hill!” my mum said as we ran past (jogged, very slowly, past) and she turned a face to us that was so full of misery, it reflected exactly how I was feeling. I hope my mum’s cheery upbeatness gave her a little extra spurt. It was certainly doing so for me!

Into the last kilometre and mum said goodbye and left me to it. I knew there were several arches to run through so not to sprint for the very first one, but I hadn’t realised quite how far the actual finish was from the first arch! This made me slightly sad but I really pushed myself, spurred on by a shout from my friend, Charlotte, and watching the clock, and crossed the line in 4 hours 28 minutes 47 seconds. Then I cried a little bit as I walked away from the finish line, grabbing my drink and a medal, struggling to lift my foot onto a box so my chip could be cut off. I had done it, run my first marathon, in the time I had wanted, and I was so happy, but also in so much pain.

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That’s what I’m most proud of. Not that I finished in under 4 hours 30, or even that I finished, but that I was hurting so bad for the last 5k and I kept going, and even pushed myself to run faster. That is a good thing to know about yourself.

The other thing I’m proud of is my above-mentioned perfect pacing – with 5k splits throughout varying from 30min53 secs (10k-15k) to 32min40 (30k-35k). Indeed, my second slowest 5k (30min38) was the first 5k! Not bad for a first-timer. My fastest mile was mile 9, in 9:38 and my slowest was mile 15, in 11:12. Pretty sure that was up a hill. Do I wish I’d run the first part faster? No – I could have run those first few miles faster, but I had absolutely nothing left in me at the end, and I think if I had, I would not have been able to keep going at the speed I did at the end (i.e. slower than a tortoise but still moving).

I was very disciplined with my fueling, alternating between Sis gels in apple flavour and Shot Bloks (with caffeine) every half an hour. I never felt like a hit a wall or lost energy, I just felt sore…. The FlipBelt was INCREDIBLE and I am ridiculously glad that I bought it after going backwards and forwards for so long on buying some kind of new waist belt. I also alternated water and energy drinks at most of the fueling stations. The water was given out in little bottles which was great as it was incredibly easy to drink whilst running, but also bad as I felt horribly guilty throwing away bottles still with water left in them! But I just couldn’t drink a whole bottle at once. The oranges and bananas were fantastic, although potentially lethal when thrown all over the race path. There were loads of toilets, and although there were queues at most of them, there were never normally more people in the queue than there were toilets. The volunteers were smiley and cheery, and the supporters were great. I especially enjoyed running past long lines of cleaners and/or firefighters, who cheered us all on while they waited for us to pass so they could begin their job/hoped they wouldn’t be needed (in respect of the firefighters!) There were bands and groups of drummers which were incredible, and there was the beautiful city of Barcelona.

There were also my amazing supporters. I don’t know if its usually frowned upon to have someone run with you, but I had read several blogs of Barcelona marathon before where people had supporters help them along for a bit at the end, and there were several people around me running, cycling and rollerblading next to runners so I hope it was okay. I couldn’t have done it without them.

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And of course Miles, who was behind the camera in this pic and took most of the pictures in this post. Always nice to have a personal race photographer!

Two days until Barcelona marathon

With Barcelona marathon looming on Sunday (how did it get so close?) the one thing I have been constantly asked this week is “how are you feeling about it?”

It is a question I have absolutely no answer to.

I have almost no feelings about it at all other than a vague sense of unease and some tiny rumblings of excitement. I just have NO idea how to feel about it, or what it is going to be like.

I know it will hurt (hopefully the pain will hold off until mile 18). I know it will be hard. I know my ankles and probably my knees will be screaming at me and I will have blisters and chafing in wierd places.

But I don’t really know what that will feel like.

Something I don’t know at all is how I will run. Will I be able to run at my PMP (4 and a half hours)? Will I be able to finish at all or will the pain and the lack of training due to my knee injury stop me in my tracks? Will I limp/ hobble/ walk to the finish well after my aimed finishing time? And if that happens, will I still be happy?

What does it feel like to run for that length of time, that distance, for the very first time?

If anything, how I am feeling is curious.

Now seems like a good time to re-read and remind myself of a post I wrote before my first Olympic distance triathlon, Mental Strength, and to go back to the post by RUnladylike that inspired it.

The one thing that you have absolute control over is your own thoughts.

1. Trust in my training. Okay it hasn’t been ideal, but I was running strong before my knee derailed me, I’ve kept up cross-training, 18 miles alone on a cold winter’s day in London (so cold the pond was frozen) wasn’t actually that hard. Six weeks later I am ready.

2. Concentrate on performance goals - those that I can control. My performance goals are going to be to think positively, and keep moving forwards. And to keep repeating “the more I run the sooner it’s over the more I run the sooner it’s over” whenever the urge to walk takes me!

3. Linked to that – “my mind controls my body“. Another favourite quote of mine.

4. And finally – concentrate on the mile I’m in. A marathon is really long and all I can do is focus on the current mile, not think about what it might be like in 10-15-20 miles time.

Mental strength is going to be super-important.

I really do want to finish. As I’ve just started a new job (same company, different country), and have told people I’m going to Barcelona this weekend for the marathon, I have become known as the “girl that does marathons” despite how often I try to tell people that is not true! And one reaction when you tell people you’re about to run one is “that’s incredible!“. Well. Not yet it’s not!!!

On the other hand, I was talking to a group of the secretaries at work about the fact I was running a marathon this weekend. One lady asked me how far a marathon was, and when I told her, said “you’ll get to see most of Barcelona then. That sounds like quite a long way”. You get so wrapped up in it that you forget that other people have absolutely no idea of what a marathon even is.

A lot of focus, a big smile, and a little bit of perspective.

That’s what I need for the weekend ahead.

Wish me luck!

 

A weekend in Madrid

So this was my first weekend in my new home, and it was fantastic. Here’s how I spent my first weekend in Madrid….

Saturday

I slept in due to the black-out blinds in my bedroom and woke up slightly disorientated, in the pitch black at 9.45am!! Blinds drawn and the sun poured into my little flat. I ate, dressed, and headed out to Chamberi Market.

The market is about a 5-10 minute walk from my house and is filled with different stalls, carnecerías (butchers), pescaderías (fishmongers), verdulerías (greengrocersand more besides! At first I just wandered around, taking it all in.

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It is not that big but there are a load of different stalls and I wasn’t sure which ones to go to. Then bit by bit I went for it…! This is not like shopping in a supermarket, you can’t just pick up a bag of whatever it is you want. For example, I spotted some lentils and asked for some “lentejas” – the first question is how much do you want? I went for 400g, which was spooned out in a paper bag, weighed and handed to me. More of the same as I continued going round the market – how much cumin did I want?! That’s a hard one, I had no idea in grams. I let him tip it out of a huge pot until I thought I had more than enough. Everyone was very friendly, as the Spanish are, full of holas and hasta luegos and que tals? The Spanish are all very friendly and it is completely normal, in your local neighbourhood at least, to say hola or buenos días or even just buenos as you pass someone.

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I picked up the aforementioned lentils, spices, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, normal potatoes, carrots, blueberries, strawberries and more besides all for about £14. The strawberries were bright red and plump, poured into a little twist of paper and providing the perfect, sweetest snack over the next few days. Oh I love strawberries.

Back from the market and it was time to head out for an 8 mile run. I ran through town initially, ending up at the Moncloa metro. From here there is a closed road leading down through the park – I think it is called the Rosaleda de Madrid. It is newly tarmac-ed and in fantastic condition, but for some reason is closed to all but buses. It is also a good 1.5/2km down quite a steep hill and so the road was filled with teenage boys on skateboards going downhill and then carrying the boards back up, plus cyclists heading out of town and runners going down with huge smiles on their faces and trudging uphill with grimaces. From the bottom of the hill I ran south along the riverside and then back again.

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Home and I had 10 minutes to shower, change and put some makeup on before heading out for lunch. I can be a whirlwind when I want to be and was out with a minute to spare. I hopped onto the metro at Rubén Dario, for a few stops down to Opera. For a 10-trip pass, it costs 12 euro – less than £10. Madrid is crazy-cheap compared to London.

I was meeting another new Madrileña, another trainee from a London law firm working in Madrid for six months (the Friday night drinks I mentioned previously had to be cancelled last minute due to work). The roof terrace we were looking to go to was full so we wandered around, like most English people unable to contemplate the thought of not being in the sun when it was actually out. We eventually found somewhere that turned out to be quite posh and settled down for a few plates of tapas and two glasses of really nice cold white wine. Sadly I can’t remember the name or find it on the map but I will go back!

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From there we wandered up to the Plaza Mayor and took a seat in the sun at one of the restaurants for some people-watching…. oh and more wine-drinking. While I wouldn’t recommend eating in one of these restaurants – its a well-known fact that the more touristy the place, the worse the food – it is a great spot for a drink!

After we’d finished a bottle of wine between two of us we went for a wander around Madrid, walking up the Gran Vía and visiting the roof terrace on top of the Corte Ingles. I am desperate to return here as the sunset and the views were magnificent, but sadly we were far too late to find anywhere to sit and so just took in the views for a bit before walking towards La Latina.

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We found a bar on Santa Ana and finished up the evening with some sangria, then some tapas and another bottle of wine, before slowly walking home all the way through Madrid.

Sunday

A slightly slow start… followed by an attempt at making a tortilla just as well as they do it here – not a great attempt but there will be more to come! After lunch I caught the metro to my new swimming pool in Chueca (more on that to follow) and spent a quick half an hour swimming. The afternoon was whiled away with a book in Retiro Park with friends, eating chocolate ice cream and drinking diet coke before home to make dinner and prepare for the next week.

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Not a bad way of spending a weekend!

Marathon Training week 17 – tapering

This week was all about making sure I kept up some running, while also staying rested, and keeping a positive mental attitude. I managed that – I imagine the sun and 20+ degrees of heat probably helped! There is nothing that can’t be cured with a little sunshine :)

Run 1 – 4 miles

This run felt AWFUL. Seriously, just awful. Like every step was running through treacle, with legs made of lead. I was much slower than my 10 mile run at the weekend, and it felt much harder. Funny how the body can do that to you. I ran from my flat to Retiro Park, round the lake and up a bit further before coming back to my flat and I was SO grateful to stop. At one point I felt twinges in my hip so stopped and walked for a minute or so – with hindsight I think this pain was entirely psychological as it did disappear with just a minute of walking and came out of nowhere! But the last thing I wanted was to injure myself, always better safe than sorry.

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Here is my mental plan for dealing with bad runs. I go through everything in my head which will not be the case on race day. For example:

1) I ran 10 miles yesterday (or the day before)
2) I haven’t had any breakfast
3) I’m wearing the wrong socks
4) I’m wearing a rucksack
5) I started running too soon after I woke up….

I could go on. There are a list of things that tend to apply to my “bad runs”. I also then take comfort in the fact that I have had bad runs before immediately followed by really good ones….. see below.

Run 2 – 3.3 miles

I had thought about doing four runs this week, two short ones of around 3 miles. However, when my alarm went off on Wednesday morning I felt exhausted and my body hurt. So I reminded myself that this is all about tapering, and if my body needs rest, my body shall get rest. So I rested and instead spent half an hour at lunch time doing some yoga and body strength exercises.

Thursday morning, when my alarm went off, I was raring to go! It was FREEZING. I mean literally, below zero degrees celsius and I was not expecting it, given it had been almost 20 degrees the day before and the sun was shining and the sky was blue. Luckily I was in my long tights and top but without gloves or headband…. And in England when it was that temperature I would be wearing two pairs of tights and a jacket! I think the cold is less noticeable when the sky is so summery blue and the sun is shining.

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Anyway, this run felt great. I wasn’t wearing a watch but I felt like I was flying effortlessly on the way to the park. On the way back, I realised it had been because I was going downhill with a tailwind. Ah. So I pushed myself up the hill (a tiny incline that continued over a bit of distance) and into the wind and ended up actually running the second half faster than the first!

Even when I run without a watch I always track my runs on strava – it is good to have a record of the paces you run at when you are not trying to run to a specific pace, if that makes sense.

The 3.3 miles was almost a full minute faster than my planned marathon pace and I finished with freezing cold hands and lips but a smile on my face.

(p.s. this run kind of ruined my bad run theory as this was also immediately after I’d gotten out of bed AND I hadn’t had any breakfast either. Oh well)

Run 3 – 8 miles

Although the run actually ended up being 7.8miles and I had run out of time to go round the block and add on those all-important extra 0.2 miles. I was due to meet someone for lunch at 2.15, 25 minutes away, and I got back in the house at 1.39 – yup, 11 minutes to shower and dress and yes I managed it! Even putting some makeup on. :)

The plan was to run down to the river, along the river, and then back tracing my steps. It went great. I loved the first half, felt strong and good and as if I was flying down the hill. Then my legs started to feel heavy, I felt hungry, and I felt as if I really struggled coming back along the river, also knowing that I had over a kilometre of climbing with an elevation gain of about 70m coming up ahead of me. I kept powering on and tried my hardest up the hill. The other reason this felt hard is that I was purposefully avoiding the shade and running the sun. I was worried that Barcelona might be hot and sunny, and I wanted practice of how much I should be drinking and how hot I would get if I ran in the sun. It was not fun. It was well over 20 degrees at this point and far too hot to be running uphill in the full force of the midday sun.

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Obviously in the marathon I will be seeking out shade where ever possible but I just wanted to know what it felt like! I continued trudging on up the hill, and then flew downhill for the last kilometre and a half with one of my fastest kms in a really long time! Overall the run was over 30 seconds faster than marathon goal pace, without really pushing myself – only pushing myself to keep trudging on when my legs felt really heavy. It was only 8 miles but I am feeling positive at this point…. the only worry is what will happen to me after 18 miles as I have no idea! Just pain, pain and more pain I imagine :/

Cross-training

I did a total of 5 hours exercise this week which included one swim, one spin class, and numerous little yoga / body-strength sessions. My bike is still wrapped in bubble wrap from its trip over here….

Something fun that is nothing to do with running

The whole of Saturday! And Sunday afternoon! Of which more in my next blog post but let’s just say it involved sun, wine and tapas. What more could a person want from a weekend in their new home?!

Moving to Madrid

I now eat lunch at 3pm and dinner at 9.30pm. Who am I?!!!

And that is the first thing I’ve noticed about moving to a different country – or, more precisely, about moving from England to Spain. I’m still finding my feet and settling in here which is why blog posts have been sporadic / hurried. I hope to blog a lot more about life in Spain over the next six months and some specific posts already in mind, but let’s start at the beginning.

What is it like to leave home to live in a different city?

Stressful. That’s about it. In the weeks leading up to leaving I was too stressed to be excited. So many things to pack, so many things to arrange both at home and at work, worrying about whether my bags would be overweight for the flight, would my bike be okay on the flight? What would my flat be like? What would my new colleagues be like? Will I hate the work and spend all my life working? Will I be able to deal with the late working hours? Would my Spanish be up to the task? Will I just be horribly lonely constantly? And on top of all that, saying goodbye to James and Oscar-cat.

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I might have to get this one framed

With hindsight, I was completely over-thinking pretty much everything. Other than saying goodbye to James and Oscar-cat. Well more James really, Oscar ate his breakfast and then scampered out of the cat-flap with no idea that he wasn’t going to see me at all for three weeks, and not properly for six months.

The other thing I wasn’t over-thinking was my stress about packing.

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IMG_6003I took a LOT of stuff to Spain.

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Like any good triathlete, what you can see on the top there are my spare trainers, my swimming fins and my yoga mat :)

The trunk was delivered separately and arranged by work, but the other bags I had to deal with. This was a major source of pre-move stress which was definitely not over-exaggerated!

Arriving at the airport they were both overweight and the charge was £65 per bag. I was that person knelt down by the kiosks rearranging everything, underwear flying everywhere etc etc. I managed to get both bags down to a reasonable weight by rearranging and especially, putting my bike lock in my on-flight luggage.

Cue the next problem. My bag is stopped going through security. I’m not worried, either there’s a stray liquid in there or its just a random check. But no. They have found my bike lock and are worried it can be used as a weapon. I really didn’t want to lose it as it was expensive and so I made this point gently but firmly. I was asked a lot of questions – where are you going? why are you taking your bike? where’s your bike now? (erm, hopefully on its way to the airplane) why are you going to Spain? To work for six months. What do you do? I’m a lawyer. That seemed the correct answer as the questions ended there and I was told I could have the lock because he was in a good mood and I had smiled so nicely. Fantastic, I get the lock. Not so sure about that as a security protocol though. I guess that was just a more appropriate way of saying I didn’t look like I was going to beat someone to death with the lock.

Landed in Spain and my bike hadn’t arrived with me! It was arriving on the next flight and would be delivered to my flat later. Actually a relief as now I didn’t have to worry about getting a taxi big enough to fit me, all my bags AND my bike bag. And I am in Spain! And here the stress stopped.

First week in Spain

Immediately I got into my flat I relaxed. It is nicer than I had imagined, light and airy with windows overlooking some pretty Madrid streets, a nice sized kitchen, a big bed and a bathroom with two sinks! (One toilet, one shower, but two sinks?!) Trainers were straight on and I was out for a run.

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I’m still getting used to living here and haven’t done much exploring due to that little thing called work. But my body seems to cope fine (or at least okay) with the crazy eating hours (there’s a whole separate blog post on that!) and the people I am working with are ridiculously friendly and kind, and the work is enjoyable, and I’m not working all hours of the day and night.

My Spanish is not up to the task.

I still miss James and Oscar-cat.

But overall it has been a great first week and there was really no need to stress so much. With hindsight, what would I have done differently? Sadly, in this situation there was not much more that I could have done to know it would all be okay before coming out here. So my only advice to anyone in the same situation is don’t stress so much! It will all be fine! You will have a fantastic time! I promise!

It’s now 8.30pm at night and I am waiting for a potential new friend (currently a stranger) to finish work in the next few hours so we can go and grab some food and a few glasses of wine. WHO AM I?