Marathon des Alpes-Maritimes Nice-Cannes (04/11/18 – 71)

Marathon information
#ILoveNice
Running expo entrance

First participation in this marathon, taking advantage of a long weekend (All Saint´s Day) and a visit to some friends in nearby Monaco. I had never visited the Côte d´Azur, and this marathon offers a perfect opportunity to combine tourism and sport in the French district 06, that is trying to get the Alpes-Maritimes recognised as World Heritage by Unesco.

The race starts in Nice, in the popular Promenade des Anglais, that made headlines in 2016 for all the wrong reasons after a terrorist attack. From Nice and following the coastline towards the East, it finishes in Cannes, crossing some villages in their way to the finish line 26 miles ahead. There are a few modalities in offer with the usual marathon: a breakfast run one day earlier (4 miles), a 2×21 relay, and also a 6 stages relay (longest of them over 10k). Therefore, plenty of choices available for every runner level.

The runner expo is held in a temporary pavilion in Massena Square, one of the main sights in central Nice. It has a good deal of brands and races, and together with my running number I also collect my transport wristband, an optional 1-day train pass (6€), that allows to use all trains in the area. Being in Nice for the night I need transport to get back from the finish line in Cannes to Nice after the race (and later from Nice to the airport to go back home).

The start is at 8am, with warm temperature, a cloudy sky, and maybe some rain in the forecast. I am located quite upfront as I registered with a time target of 3.30, and it only takes me a few seconds to cross the start line. Not bad considering that we are over 5000 runners. For the first time I am using a running belt, that I bought in the running expo, to carry my gels.

Promenade des Anglais (where marathon starts)
View to the start
Ready to go

Again, as in the last marathon, I stay with the 3.30 group. At that stage I didn´t know yet that unfortunately the race would follow exactly the same pattern than in Burgos. I go easily in the group, crossing the 10k timing point in 50 minutes. After 2-3 miles I start losing contact, although I get to the half marathon not too far behind, in 1.48. From mile 19 the wall hits me in full force, and I decide to forget about times and enjoy the magnificent views.

Probably it didn´t help that my last training was 6 days earlier. In my case, usually a light training in the previous 2-3 days before the marathon helps my legs to be more relaxed. The 3.45 group reaches me with still 6 miles to go. These last miles feel much longer, especially when my legs decide to keep their own agenda and go on holidays, but Cannes is already within reach.

I cross the finish line in 3.53.24, in 1695 position out of 4973 finishers, receiving a beautiful medal and the finisher t-shirt. After wearing some dry clothes, time to get to the train station and back to Nice.

Score: 4.5 (out of 5)

Pros: sceneries; medal.

Cons: webpage should be improved, as English version not always offered full information; long queues in Cannes station to board the trains.

Extras: we shouldn´t add pressure on times when we keep competing continuously for long periods. Running bell definitively a comfortable choice for gels transportation,

Box of free samples
Medal and t-shirt

Burgos Marathon (14/10/18 – 70)

 

Second time in Burgos to run its marathon, after last years’ experience. It combines a half marathon, and running over the same course for another lap, the marathon.  Number of runners choosing the full distance is still low, for a race going for its third edition.

Arriving on Saturday, there is plenty of time to get the bib number just before lunch. There is no runner expo as such in the Coliseum Sports Hall, where I pick my runner bag, with a t-shirt, some local products and a free entrance to the Cathedral. The Coliseum will allocate tomorrow the start and finish line, and it is 20 minutes walking from the town centre, following the Arlanzón river course.

After a tasteful lunch in the central area around Sombrerería Street, the evening is used to visit the Cathedral (normal entry 7€), a Gothic master piece with UNESCO World Heritage Distinction, that also distinguished the town of Burgos with such honour. A perfect opportunity to combine sport and tourism. Also recommended the modern Evolution Museum, whose visit can be combined with the Atapuerca Archaeological Site, a key place for the study of our ancestors.

Although weather is still good, forecast is not promising. The storm Julie coming from the Atlantic is going to enter the Iberian Peninsula with hurricane winds and rain starting on Saturday night, and the worst conditions expected on Sunday morning.

Despite a cloudy sunrise, temperature is around 15°C as I walk towards the start area, where people are gathering slowly. Race starts at 9 with around one thousand participants, many of them going for the half marathon. Course leaves the stadium area, crosses the river, and following its course, passes Las Huelgas monastery (with a few hundred meters on cobblestones) and the University area. Then it crosses the river again, heading towards the quiet Costa Rica neighbourhood, where is the turning point towards the Cathedral and the city centre, and from there to the Coliseum.

It starts raining occasionally, although it doesn´t bother much. I keep the 3.30 pacing group in front of me, while miles start passing and temperature drops.  Runners groups are still big, but finishing the first lap spaces become wider. I cross the half marathon in 1.47. If I am able to keep this pace it could be a good time. Nevertheless I am slowly falling behind the 3.30 group, as my legs don´t feel as strong as they should be, despite taking my energy gels as usual and banana in the drinking stations.

Totally wet, the friction of my right foot´s sole on the running shoe starts feeling painful. It looks that I will finish with a blister souvenir.  With long gaps between runners I am also surpassed by the 3.45 pacer about three miles from the finish line, without much energy left in my reservoir to pursue him. A last effort, let me cross the finish line in 3.47.17, no far off from last year time. Overall position 95 for a total of 148 finishers.

It makes for the 10th marathon of the year. It could have been a better time, but I run the second half of the race 15 minutes slower than the first. A bit disappointing, although it makes me think that I could still be able to get below 3.30 with proper training and resting times.

Next stop: Marathon des Alpes-Maritimes, in France.

Score: 4 (out of 5)

Pros: good organization; facilities close to the start/finish line.

Cons: water stations could be improved (I missed 2-3 because they didn´t have enough volunteers); distant surroundings had no public; cobblestones area; lack of running expo.

Extras: Cathedral Square will allocate the start and finish area in 2019 & 2020.

Cathedral interior
Coliseo Sports Hall

METHYLSULFONYLMETHANE (MSM): a magic bullet?

MSM is an organosulfur compound, extensively used in alternative therapies, under an extensive range of names (dimethyl sulfone, sulfonylbismethane, dimethyl sulfoxide, etc). Before its clinical use was used as a solvent, as it was its compound of origin, the much better known in the chemical industry dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO).

In the late 70s was patented its use for smoothing of skin, strengthen nails or blood diluent, although in only a few years its uses had extended well beyond: stress management, pain reliever, energy and metabolism activator, improve blood flow or improve wound healing, with potential role in arthritis and inflammatory disorders, among them, exercise induced inflammation.

Oxidative stress and muscle pain always appear with exercise at a certain level. Many runners report tiredness and pain as the main reasons to change, or even interrupt their training plans, with the subsequent effect on the training planned in advance. MSM has been studied extensively, because of its high absorbancy and absence of secondary effects.

In one ot these studies (Withee et al 2017) they took a runners group compiting in a half marathon. Blood was collected and surveys about levels of tiredness carried out, one month before the race, and after completion (15 and 90 minutes, and also after 1 and 2 days). Among the factors studied were several oxidative stress markers, and also muscle damage, and muscle and Joint pain. Runners were separated in two groups, one taking placebo (rice flour), and the other one MSM (at a dosage of 3g/day) from 3 weeks befote the race until 2 after it. It was found that MSM supplementation attenuated muscular and Joint pain, although it didn´t change oxidative stress markers or the muscle damage that the race caused. Nevertheless, the authors pointed out the limitations of their study, because most of the participants were female, and it didn´t take into account the diet, training levels or goals of the participants.

In other of the studies (Nakhostin-Roohi et al 2011) MSM supplementation took place in untrained individuals for 10 days. Afterwards they had to run 14 km, and measurements of oxidative markers realised in plasma samples. It was found that the individuals that had taken MSM (dosage of 50mg/kg/day) had lower levels of oxidative markers when compared to the runners that had only taken placebo.

To conclude we can say that MSM has an extensive potential as micronutrient in the physical performance area, because of its lack of secondary effects and absorption facility. Its improvement of inflammation and pain could be useful in training and competition. It would also make a good ally in the physical recovery alter injuries, because of its capacity for improving blood flow to affected tissues. On top of everything else, it has been pointed to an improvement of the energy levels available.

Maybe the supplement to rule them all? More studies will be needed to determine this point.

Bibliography:

“Effect of chronic supplementation with methylsulfonylmethane on oxidative stress following acute exercise in untrained healthy men”. Nakhostin-Roohi B, Barmaki S, Khoshkhahesh F and Bohlooli S. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2011 Oct;63(10):1290-4

“Effects of Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) on exercise-induced oxidative stress, muscle damage, and pain following a halfmarathon: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial”. Withee ED, Tippens KM, Dehen R, Tibbitts D, Hanes D and Zwickey H. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2017) 14:24

“Methylsulfonylmethane: Applications and Safety of a Novel Dietary Supplement”. Butawan M, Benjamin RL and Bloomer RJ. Nutrients 2017, 9, 290

BERLENGAS ISLANDS (PORTUGAL)

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Berlengas location

In the central Portuguese coast, just 6 miles west of Peniche, it is located the Berlengas archipelago, a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. It consists of 7 small islands, although only the largest one, Berlenga Grande, is available for visits.

Most of the tours (available from many companies) depart from Peniche, and operate mainly during the summer. Because of the island small size (0.9 miles long x 0.5 miles wide), visitors at any time are limited. I decided to get a fast boat (Pássaro do Sol, 22€ and 20 minutes), being offered three slots: 10.00-14.30, 11.30-16.00 or 16.00-18.30, choosing the one departing at 10.00, that was also the longest visit. I also included, for 6€ extra, a 20 minutes tour of the caves, in a glass bottomed boat. Being on the top of high season, and booking a couple of days in advance, many companies had already sold out their tours.

Information about Reserva Natural Berlengas

A short and bumpy trip, despite the good sea conditions, get us to the harbour, near to the small beach and the fishermen neighbourhood, a tiny settlement that offers a restaurant, a small coffee shop and a set of simple houses. We only have time for a short walk before visiting the caves.

View from the harbour area (Berlenga Grande)

The tour in the glass bottomed boat, although short, is really worthy. We get to see the island rugged seashore, with caves offering shaped outlines (the Elephant for example), and the clean seafloor, where we have the chance of watching some fishes (although we don´t see any dolphin). We disembark in the St John the Baptist (São João Baptista) fort that stands since the XVIth century on the grounds of an even older monastery that was abandoned because of the frequent pirate attacks.

Bridge to the fort
The Elephant
View towards fort and lighthouse
Lateral of São João fort

The fort is only accessible by boat or crossing a narrow bridge after a steep set of stairs. It allocates a hostel offering overnight accommodation, the only facility doing so in the island besides the small camping in the harbour area. From the fort we follow the walking trail around the island, unique one where visitors can walk, to avoid alterations of the flora and numerous nesting birds.

Access and São João Baptista fort

The walking trail is an easy hike, besides some steep stairs. Travelling around the whole island, doesn´t take long. We arrive to the lighthouse (closed to visitors), and going behind the fishermen village, where it is quieter and tourists are scarce, there is a chance to have a close look on the nesting birds.

View of the harbour area (Berlenga Grande)

A nice summer half-day tour, especially if the weather conditions are good.

ALZHEIMER´S DISEASE AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITY

                                                                    Evolution from healthy to diseased brain

The word “dementia” is used to talk about a set of neurodegenerative diseases, associated generally with aging. Because of the longer life expectancies, number of people suffering from dementia is rising consistently, with estimated numbers well over 100 million by the year 2050, making it a health priority for the World Health Organization.

Alzheimer´s disease (AD) accounts for 60-70% of dementia cases, and is characterised by a marked cognitive deterioration that affects memory, thinking and behaviour, and unaccountable to a normal ageing process. AD was long explained by the amyloid cascade hypothesis, as observations in brain tissue during post-mortem examination found accumulation of proteins, called amyloids which deposited intracellularly, affecting neuronal synapsis and causing neuronal death. Nowadays the explanation for AD onset is more complex, involving several pathogenic processes, which can be affected by genetic and environmental factors, and that goes beyond this entry.

In the development of AD have been distinguished three stages:

1/ Subjective Cognitive Decline (SCD): preclinical stage, without symptoms.

2/ Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI): preclinical state, with some symptoms.

3/ Alzheimer´s Disease (AD): cognitive impairment, affecting daily activities.

Worthy to remark that not every individual in the SCD or MCI stages develops AD.

Physical activity (PA) has been considered beneficial on general health, as it decreases the risk of stroke and diabetes, among other diseases. A sedentary lifestyle has been associated with a higher risk of AD, so it was logical to study the effects of PA on it, as it would be an easier intervention than the pharmacological approach.

There are evidences that PA on the SCD stage may be a strategy to delay the AD progression, as it stimulates brain plasticity. Not every PA is the same, as it has been found that the PA related to work activities has not the same beneficial effects than the leisure PA. And for the leisure PA it was found that it offered more benefits when it was combined also with other mental and social activities, as it could be expected.

During lifetime it is obvious that generally there are different patterns regarding PA. Retirement should allow for more leisure time, although it is usually accompanied by a decrease in PA. Individuals with sedentary occupations otherwise generally increase their level of PA, especially if the economic status is good. PA at a higher age would be also beneficial in preventing, or delaying the effects of brain function decay associated with AD.

There have been found some genetic alterations that make people more susceptible of suffering AD (APOE4 for example). In these people is still unclear if a healthy lifestyle including PA could be enough to counteract the detrimental effects of these genetic alterations.

Until recently there were no many studies on PA at latter stages of AD. An article focusing on late running proved that, although the protein abnormal development was not altered in AD patients, it was able to improve memory performance and the agitation that also accompanies the illness.

As a conclusion we can say that PA (whether it is running or not), is useful in preventing and delaying AD at early stages, and also improves some of the symptoms in later stages.

 

Never is too late to exercise your body: it will also contribute to keep your mind and brain healthy.

 

Bibliography:

Late running is not too late against Alzheimer’s pathology

Herring A, Munster Y, Metzdorf J, Bolczek B, Krussel S, Krieter D, et al.

Neurobiol Dis 2016; 94:44-54.

 

Physical Activity and Alzheimer’s disease: A Systematic Review

Brini, S., Sohrabi, H.R., Peiffer, J.J. et al.

Sports Med (2018) 48: 29.

 

Physical Activity in Preventing Alzheimer’s disease and Cognitive Decline: A Narrative Review

Stephen, R., Hongisto, K., Solomon, A., Lönnroos, E.

The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 72, Issue 6, 1 June 2017, Pages 733–739 

KARL MELTZER: MADE TO BE BROKEN (2016, 42min, M Katsolis)

“He is just a normal guy with a running problem” Eric Beltz, Meltzer´s crew member

Appalachian Trail Map

 This is a short film, available on streaming (Netflix and also on the Red Bull webpage) that follows the 2016 attempt of ultrarunner Karl Meltzer, 48, to break the record on the Appalachian Trail (AT).

We are given some basic information. The trail is 2188 miles long, it goes from Maine to Georgia, crosses 14 states, and has a 25% finishing rate among hikers. A tough course, it crosses mountains and forests, and the bad weather is inevitable. Most hikers do the AT in 4-6 months. Doing it running is a different story. Meltzer will try covering the whole distance, non-stop, and break the 46 days and 8 hours set by Scott Jurek one year earlier.

On his attempt, Meltzer is accompanied by an essential supporting crew, composed by his father and a friend, and sometimes also his wife. No easy work for them, as they must be aware of Meltzer´s every need, including, but not only, food, drinks and clothes, driving a van (that also works as sleeping quarter) from each check point to the next one, for a planned 46 days race.

Experience and careful planning are important, as this is going to be Meltzer´s third attempt, after failing in 2008 and 2014. To break the record, he must run around 45 miles per day for one month and half. Not only will his physical stamina be determinant, but also his mental strength.

We follow his ups and downs, and see him accompanied by some other ultrarunners, Scott Jurek among them, offering support and useful advices. We have the chance of learning how to empty a blister with a surgical needle, and although some physical problems and tiredness make Meltzer fell 12h behind the record pace, an 8h night sleep gets him back on track. We witness his last efforts, as he arrives to Springer Mountain, Georgia, and sets a new record of 45 days and 22 hours: incredible personal achievement. 

Score: 4 (out of 5)

Pros: get to know the AT; landscapes; ultrarunning camaraderie

Cons: we never get really empathic with Meltzer´s efforts

Extras: In 2017 Joe McConaughy, 26, set a new record in the AT of 45 days and 12 hours, hiking it self-supported and carrying a backpack. This record was beaten again in 2018 by Belgian Karel Sabbe, 28, who completed the AT running in an incredible 41 days and 7 hours.

Appalachian Mountains

RUNNING SHOES ON BREAKING THE 2 HOURS MARATHON BARRIER

With the recent marathon world record (WR) of Eliud Kipchoge, which stopped the watch in 2.01.39 in the last Berlin marathon, much has been talked about how long it will take to break the 2 hours barrier in the marathon. He had already run the marathon distance faster, in the Nike sponsored and failed attempt to break the 2 hours barrier in Monza in 2017 (2.00.25). 

His running shoes in both occasions, the Nike´s Zoom Vaporfly Elite in Monza, and the Vaporfly 4% prototype in Berlin, have been a matter of discussion, as whether technical improvements on running shoes will be determinant on achieving new WR, or if these technical modifications should be limited somehow in the future. This reminds of what happened with the revolutionary Speedo swimsuits that appeared in 2008, that were decisive in breaking 93 (!) world records, until the International Swimming Federation ruled a new set of regulations.

Predictions about WR evolution in marathon has been the subject of numerous studies over the years, with hypothesis in recent articles about breaking the 2h barrier going from the year 2022 to the year 2100, or as far as saying that human limit for running a marathon was 2.00.43.

As already mentioned in other entry, running economy is one of the three main determinants in running performance (the other two being the maximal VO2 and lactate threshold). Footwear will be a key factor, as reducing the running energetic cost will be determinant in achieving a sub 2h marathon.

When comparing different types of footwear, and also the barefoot option, among the main characteristics to consider we could point out to shoe mass, cushioning, stiffness, motion control, drop height or comfort. As for the shoe mass, there is a higher metabolic cost when running with heavy shoes (more than 440g) than with light shoes (less than 440g) or barefoot, although there was no difference if using light shoes or running barefoot. Not considering footwear mass, minimalist shoes were also more economical than normal shoes.

More shoe cushioning, and consequently comfort, were also associated with small improvements in running economy, although it also implied more shoe mass, and therefore a higher energetic cost. A benefit on one side (cushioning), can be a risk on another (shoe mass).

Considering the sole, for identical shoe mass, there was no difference in running economy between hard and soft shoes. As for the longitudinal shoe stiffness, it was associated with a small improvement in running economy.

A new batch of running shoes have been recently developed trying to bring together every positive effect on running economy: low shoe mass, highly compliant midsole material and a stiff embedded plate. Using these prototype shoes, as the ones used by Kipchoge, it was found a 4% reduction in the running energetic cost when comparing with previous marathon running shoes, as the Nike Zoom Streak 6 and the Adidas Boost 2 that had been used to run some of the best marathon times previously. This improvement in running economy has proved crucial in establishing the new marathon WR.

A new generation of running shoes, in addition with ideal weather conditions, careful pacing (that lacked in the second half of Berlin marathon) and new energy drinks and supplements, will surely get an athlete below the 2h barrier. Any prediction on when this will happen? And more important: who will run it?

 

Bibliography:

The Effect of Footwear on Running Performance and Running Economy in Distance Runners

Fuller, J.T., Bellenger, C.R., Thewlis, D. et al.

Sports Med (2015) 45: 411

 

A Comparison of the Energetic Cost of Running in Marathon Racing Shoes

Hoogkamer, W., Kipp, S., Frank, J.H. et al.

Sports Med (2018) 48: 1009

 

How Biomechanical Improvements in Running Economy Could Break the 2-hour Marathon Barrier

Hoogkamer, W., Kram, R. & Arellano, C.J.

Sports Med (2017) 47: 1739

 

MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (V) – Stockholm 1912: KEN McARTHUR (1881-1960)

Start of the 1912 Marathon

“I went out to win or die, and it was worth two and a half years working and waiting for.”

Ken McArthur

Some countries did their first appearance in these Olympics, with Japan becoming the first Asian country, and first and last appearance of Serbia as an independent country until the 2008 Games. It was the last occasion where individuals could entry as private instead of being selected by a country.

As for the marathon, it would start in the Olympic stadium, go to the Sollentuna town, and come back to the stadium. Among the runners, world most renowned ones were present, with the North-Americans favourites, with the 1911 (Clarence DeMar) and 1912 (Mike Ryan) Boston marathon winners and the bronze medal at London Olympics 4 years earlier (Joe Forshaw). Kenneth McArthur entered for South Africa, and although little known outside his country he was undefeated in the distance, having won his three previous marathon races.

McArthur was born in Ireland (Ballymoney), and known as “Big Ken” because of his bulky frame. There he worked as a postman, usually running his rounds and racing against trains. In 1900 he moved to South Africa to become a policeman, and only then started to compete, winning many cross-country national championships. In 1908 he won Johannesburg marathon, and the following year Cape Town and Durham, when he finished 5 seconds shy of the standing world record (2.44.31).

Once again hot conditions were present in an Olympic marathon, with an estimated temperature of 32°C in the shade, and 68 runners of 19 countries present. In the early stages the Finnish Tatu Kolehmainen was leader, but at the turn around point South African Chris Gitsham took the lead, with a few more runners less than 1 minute behind him. Kolehmainen caught Gitsham, and they run together for a few miles, until Kolehmainen definitively dropped behind around mile 21. McArthur got to his teammate, and when he stopped for a drink, pulled away, being able to win the marathon in 2.36.54, with Gitsham less than a minute behind, and North American Strobino in third place. It is the only time that the same country has won gold and silver in the Olympic marathon.

Among the anecdotes of the marathon, the Japanese Kanakuri Shizō went missing when he stopped at a party to drink, and decided to quit the race. He took a train back to Stockholm, and without notifying any official, left the country on the following day. Invited again by Swedish authorities 50 years later, he managed to complete the race, with an unofficial time of 54 years. Sadly, this marathon also had the first fatality in the Olympic Games in the figure of Francisco Lázaro, a Portuguese marathon runner that decided to cover his body with fat to prevent sunburn and avoid transpiration. At the mile 19 he collapsed with a body temperature of 41°C, and nothing could be done to prevent his death. Before the race he had said: “Either I win, or I die”.

As for McArthur, about one year after his victory and already back in South Africa, a foot injury ended his running efforts. Once retired from the police, he moved briefly back to Ireland with his wife and settled on a family farm, although they eventually returned to South Africa, where he would die of old age in 1960.

Sourced from:

https://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/summer/1912/ATH/mens-marathon.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athletics_at_the_1912_Summer_Olympics_%E2%80%93_Men%27s_marathon

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_McArthur

Pictures in the public domain used under Creative Commons Licence

Silver - Gitsham (South Africa)
Bronze- Strobino (United States)
McArthur crossing the finish line
Gold - McArthur (South Africa)

Vías Verdes Plazaola Marathon (16/09/18 – 69)

St Martin church (Andoain)

After a summer with holidays, weeks going easy on training, and some short races during July, this marathon was the comeback after more than 100 days, and on the day that Eliud Kipchoge set an astonishing new world record in Berlin, in 2.01.39, that may remain for a long time.

Marathon 69 was supposed to be Valtiendas, near Segovia, returning in mid-August after a long hiatus. Already registered, in early July I got an email announcing its cancellation because of the low number of registrants. With my entry price returned, I decided to register for the Plazaola marathon instead. I had already registered in 2017, but because of difficulties to sort out travel and accommodation, I finally decided to cancel my entry and run the inaugural Ribera Run Race ultra that took place in Peñafiel, near my hometown.

Vías Verdes marathons (https://www.maratonviasverdes.com/) are races that take place in old abandoned rail tracks, restored as pathways. Nowadays there are 4 of them, and Plazaola was the last in the calendar, and would become my first experience with them.

With also a short 26k edition available, the marathon would run from Lekumberri, in Navarra, to Andoain, in Guipuzcoa. With easy train access from central Spain, and good combinations from the near San Sebastian, it looked as a good marathon option in an otherwise quiet September. I booked one-night accommodation in Andoain, and the bus available from the organization at the time of registration (6€), to go from Andoain at 7.30 to the start in Lekumberri. At the time of registration there also some offers including two nights’ accommodation and transport to the start, that could be a good opportunity to do some tourism in the area and know the nearby San Sebastian.

Lekumberri is a small village in a hilly area. From there is 26 miles to Andoain, after passing Leitza (where is located the start for the shorter race), going from the 560m at the start to the 80m at the arrival. Without cloakroom facilities at the race start, was better to wear something to keep us warm until the 9.00 start, although the weather was so good that it was almost unnecessary.

Only a few more than 100 participants take the start, and after a short lap in the roads of Lekumberri we take the Vías Verdes route. From that point on the whole course follows the old train paths, in a greenish scenario with many tunnels, the longest about 1.5 miles in length. In the rules was specified the need of frontal light, and although some of the tunnels are short or partially lighted, it was useful to avoid the water patches and occasional potholes in the dark areas.

The beautiful scenario, well provided refreshment points, good weather and mostly shaded areas make for a fun race, where miles start going by unnoticed. I feel with energy, although considering the lack of long sessions during the last few weeks, I decide to save energy and enjoy the views, losing a few positions. I cross the half marathon in 1.47.37 without effort, while keeping a stable pace and doing the stops in the refreshment points as short as possible I start overtaking some runners. Feeling well I push in the last 5 miles to get to the finish line in 3.36.45, my best time of the year by more than 7 minutes. Finally, good body sensations, helped by the nice downhill course, and probably an unusual long period away from competition.

A marathon that deserves a slot in my next year calendar, and the entry race for a more demanding autumn season. With the Grand Slam (12 marathons in a calendar year) planned for 2018 getting closer, I start thinking about going a bit further (13, 14…?).

What are your racing plans for the remaining months of the year?

 

Score: 5 (out of 5)

Pros: green scenery; good organization; hoodie in the runner bag; free lunch post-race

Cons: no answer to any of my emails asking for information

Finish area
Race medal

GUATEMALA (2/2)

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Guatemala national flag

We get an early morning call, at 2.30am, to get from Antigua to Guatemala City airport, and the 6.30am flight to Flores. It is a short duration flight of 1h in a small airplane. Our travel package included one-night stay in Tikal, although many tourists are doing the 1-day tour, and will return on the evening. They don´t have to carry all their luggage with them, but it must be a more tiring trip, as they have to get back later to Flores airport on the evening to fly back to Guatemala.

View of Tikal from the top

We leave our luggage in the hotel, in the lake shore of Lago Petén, from where we can see the small peninsula of Flores, and start our day trip to Tikal, that is about 40 miles north, taking a bit more than 1h to get to the entrance, where our guide buys the tickets for us (20$ for foreigners). Weather is considerably hot already at 10am, and it looks like the perfect time to cover ourselves with sun protection and strong anti-mosquito repellent. Tikal was the first archaeological site recognised as World Heritage by UNESCO, as far back as 1979. The tour gives us an insight of the amazing Mayan town of Tikal, and even when only a tiny fraction of its buildings is restored, you can imagine the amount of people that used to walk and live here centuries ago, with an estimated population of around 50 thousand inhabitants. Most of the buildings are still hiding under the jungle, while only a small percentage of the town is open to the public. Imagination, and especially recent new laser techniques, have allowed to see what lies beneath the vegetable cover. As we were explained the costs of restoration and maintenance are very high, and the number of tourists still insufficient to proceed with extensive excavation campaigns. We are given some free time in the central square, useful to explore some back alleys far from tourist crowds. After a picnic lunch, we get back to the buses and our hotels, after an exhausting day, but with a very rewarding visit that will stay on our memories for years to come. Still time for a visit to Flores, a nice touristy spot, overcrowded with swallows at sunset.

Pyramid half covered in vegetation
Ceiba tree
Covered pyramid
Tikal buildings
Tikal central square

Next day we get an optional tour to the Blue Crater, in Sayaxché, where we arrive after one and a half hours in a boat following the river Pasión, where we can see the local population using the river resources and plenty of birds (sadly crocodiles were not on sight). We get on a small affluent when water turns from green to transparent, to finally arrive to the crater. It is a small lagoon, with crystalline clean waters and a depth of 5-7 metres in its centre, that offers a perfect swim and the possibility of seeing the river bed. The peace of the spot is ruined when some noisy North-American tourists arrive in their boat with the music at high volume. Possibly one of those places that tourism will ruin before long. The return boat trip offers a last view of the wildness, as we return to Flores airport and back to Guatemala City, where we will spend our last night in Guatemala.

Río Pasión
Cráter Azul waters
River shore
Cráter Azul

Next morning there is only time to do some souvenirs shopping and a short city tour in the same bus that will get us to the airport to catch our return flights home. We only have the chance to leave the bus for a short walk inside the Cathedral, and from there head back to the airport, where we will finally arrive with just enough time to do our check in and pass the security controls because of the heavy traffic. And here it finishes the 1-week tour to Guatemala, for a rewarding first experience in Central America.

Ciudad de Guatemala Cathedral
San Simón image