January is not a month with many marathons to choose from in Europe, as weather conditions are quite hard. Other years I had gone for the Gran Canaria marathon, in the Canary Islands, although I decided it was time to run a new one, taking advantage of a short holiday break.
The island of Madeira belongs to Portugal, and is located north of the Canary Islands, offering ideal weather conditions all year round. The marathon takes place in the island capital, Funchal, offering also a half marathon and an 8k race.
Arriving to Madeira involves a stopover in Lisbon, and then a 1 hour and 45 minutes flight to Funchal, but there are many direct flights from all over Europe. On arrival I go straight to get my running number and complimentary t-shirt in the small headquarters, before heading to my hotel. Doing it on Friday, Saturday is free to visit some of the beautiful spots on the island, offering contrasting views from sea level to the mountains, and enjoy the traditional food, such the meat “espetadas” and “bolo do caco”.
Marathon start is scheduled shortly after dawn, at 8, with the half marathon at 10 and the short race at 11. A 10 minutes walk get me to the start line, where a small group of around 200 runners are gathering, and a temperature of around 17°C.
Since Christmas I had been with a rebel cold. I kept running during the first days, and then decided to have a short break to recover, 2 weeks before race day. What I thought would be a couple of days off, extended, as days went through without much improvement, while trying unsuccessfully all kind of natural remedies (from onion to honey with lemon). After a week off, and just feeling the marathon too close, run two days, followed by cough attacks, just to avoid going to the marathon without any training in 11 days.
Knowing that my fitness level is not ideal, my thoughts on the start are mainly focused on enjoying the race and nice weather conditions.
The course is divided in two sections. In the first one we will run 4 long laps, in an out and back course, undulating and including a demanding hill. I go on an easy pace, and around the 10k mark I see that the timing carpet doesn’t beep when I run over it. Suddenly I realise that I am not running with the appropriate running number. We were provided with 2 exactly identical ones, one with an enclosed chip, and the other one, supposedly to be attached on the bag for the finish line, without it. I feel a mixture of anguish and disappointment for the confusion. Such a ridiculous mistake, although an issue to solve later.
The sea is often in sight, and some areas offer a pleasant shadow as temperature rises. Two hours into the race, some of the front runners start lapping me, while the half marathon runners also come in the course. For the last 7-8 miles we transition to the second section of the course, around the port and old town area, where we will run a further 3 laps. This section is flatter than the previous one, although more exposed to the Sun, and therefore hotter, especially with no front wind, and also with a cobblestone section, hard on the muscles at this race point, when my pace drops enough for the 4.00 pacer surpass me. I cross the finish line with my watch marking 4.03.31.
Luckily, although without intermediate times, my issue with timing was solved efficiently after the race, giving me an official time of 4.03.42, in 88th position out of 200 runners, for the only Spanish runner in the marathon. Race beaten, and an evening to enjoy around.
Score: 4.25 (out of 5)
Pros: weather conditions in January; considering the island geography, a relatively flat course; generous time limit of 6 hours and 30 minutes.
Cons: a sometimes confusing course, which could improve with laps over a unique longer section, (and if possible not including the cobblestones in the old town area).
Tip: Madeira offers some interesting trails, over a range of distances, to justify a later visit.