We love Valencia and we love this marathon. As well as being one of our favourite European cites it is also a great race. It is no coincidence, therefore, that I chose Valencia as the place to celebrate running my 200th marathon. This weekend was also special because my son Calum (aka blog manager) decided that the time had come for him to run his first marathon. It must be difficult living in this family in which Martin at 30+ marathons describes himself as “not really a runner”! So another epic weekend with Calum smashing his first, Cam consolidating her sub 3:30 credentials, Martin running a good 10k and Ciara her first 5K event.

Approaching the finish line and celebrating 200 marathons with Matt and Cal.

But we’ve written about both the city and the race numerous times before. If you’ve read our others posts then you will already know how brilliant we think it is so we decided this time to let others do the talking for us. We often say that the best thing about running are the people we meet along the way. We may have different abilities and reasons for running and different experiences out on the course but when we get together there is always mutual respect for what has been achieved. So many unique stories.

We would like you to hear some of these stories so we asked a few of the amazing people we spent time with on this trip to write about the Valencia marathon weekend from their point of view. This is what we got….

Note: This is a longer post than usual. I can’t believe how generous people have been with their time and their thoughts. Some parts will obviously be of more interest to certain readers than others but I would encourage you to try to read the ‘other’ bits too.  Seeing an event from a number of different perspectives can, I believe, help us all to become better and more considerate runners.

The 5K Breakfast runner: Ciara Curley

Ciara has for better or worse landed herself in a “family that runs 5K on holiday for fun” and then goes on to run a marathon the next day! She travelled with us to Valencia determined to join in so we signed her up for the breakfast run.

Ciara: I am very new to running. Before this the only event I had taken part in was a local parkrun.

The Breakfast Run took place in the Turia gardens which was attractive and traffic free. I loved the friendly, carnival like atmosphere created by the international runners and the music on the course. The surroundings and noise were a great distraction from the running. There was no time pressure during the run – people were happily chatting as they ran along – which helped me feel more relaxed. The breakfast snacks at the end were welcome as were the Valencian oranges, but I wasn’t sure about the Horchata (a local drink made from Tiger nuts).

I really enjoyed running the Valencia Breakfast Run and recommend that anyone running their first event should go for something welcoming like this.

Jerry in healthier times – completing his sixth marathon major in Boston

The runner who got ill the week before the race : Jerry Lockspeiser

Jerry is a masters runner like me – still going for and getting PB’s. We’ve travelled to a number of races with him in the past and were looking forward to seeing him in Valencia. During the week before the event we heard he was ill. What do you do after all the training?  Stay at home? Go and run? Go and Support? (and/or) Sign up for next year? (sorry for the spoiler!)

Jerry: Delighted with running a PB in Seville in February, I was high on motivation for Berlin in September,
and planned to follow that with another crack at improving my time in Valencia. Alas no. A knee cartilage injury kept me out over the summer. I couldn’t get fit in time to make Berlin
worth doing. I didn’t travel. On the positive side, my knee was gradually healing and preparation for
Valencia took over.

Read the rest of Jerry's story here...

Alas again, no. I managed about 10 weeks of dedicated training, by no means sufficient for a PB assault, but enough to target a solid time. More importantly, I felt just about fit enough to run with my friend Juan Carlos. JC and I are about the same pace. He had only entered Valencia so that we could run together, his third marathon ever and his first for eight years.

A week before the run I started to cough. The Wednesday and Thursday before I lay prostrate at home, exhausted by getting up to make a cup of tea. Worried about JC, and thinking positive thoughts of recovery, I flew out as planned on Friday.

Ninety minutes walking along the landscaped Turia riverbed and around the old town on Saturday morning left me gasping. I messaged JC to say I couldn’t run. The virus had won. I have heard enough stories of people suffering permanent, career ending damage to their health by running when ill. Respect the virus.

Central Valencia is a beautiful place, the sun was shining, several friends and family were running. By Saturday lunch time I felt oddly relieved to have made the decision not to run. Lifting the “shall I, shan’t I” pressure felt good. A beer and a few glasses of wine on Saturday evening with my (not drinking) runner cousin Tom and his partner was an unexpected bonus.

I really enjoyed the race. The first half of the course is great for places to see runners going out and back. I positioned myself to watch Jacquie smiling past at 9.5k, before a 10 metre shuffle to Tom looking determined at 19, then more faces at 24 before a 10 minute walk to 41 and the whooping, ecstatic run of runners homing in on the finish. Along the way I saw many from my running club, Serpentine, and everyone else I knew who was there – except JC.

The day after the marathon an email arrived from the organisers offering participants a small discount to sign up Immediately for December 6 th 2020. I am in. And I just booked my hotel for Rotterdam on April 6 th.

Dave with Rachel – who incidentally got an accidental PB in the race on Sunday.

The runner confronting demons: Dave Mantle

We actually met Dave and his wife Rachel in a restaurant in Valencia after last year’s marathon. Turned out they lived five minutes away from us in Chiswick! What we didn’t realise on that occasion is what a tough time Dave had had during the race. He is an amazing athlete – World Championship Triathlete – whose Strava feed makes us feel exhausted just reading it. We were so pleased to hear about his success in Valencia this year.

Dave : I started jogging 30 years ago as a way of countering the midriff bulge of university drinking. The drinking continued, the jogging became running, I bought shorts made from spandex, I was almost a real runner.

Read the rest of Dave's story here...

That feeling of gliding (read: rear foot-strike plodding) felt like nothing else. Free!! The permission to sweat profusely, thumping heart beat. Then the first marathon attempt:1997. I cried, I limped, I finished, I was hooked. The need to drink lessened, the need to run became obsessive. I loved racing, just that inexplicable sense of being in control, or at times trying to control the uncontrollable if I ventured too close to the hypoglycaemic wall!

But last year this all changed. I’d been beaten. 2018 Valencia marathon had got me good. Whatever it was, and why it happened I’m not sure. But from the time that start gun went off, all I battled with was a torrent of negative internal dialogue. What the hell was this?!! This doesn’t happen to me, I’m a tough lad from Dudley for godsake! The talk got louder and by mile 15 I stepped off the course with an overwhelming sense of anxiety and a need to get away from everyone.

I walked back to my hotel room, grabbed my phone to try and establish some normality to routine. I sat on the end of my bed and just tried to think what had happened. I was fit, I’d trained hard for this, but my head was in pieces. I decided to return to where I stopped and wait for Rachel to run by and join her for the remaining 11 miles. We ran across the finish line hand in hand, it was wonderful, I cried a little, but little did she know that the was something wrong with me.

A few months rolled by and I’d regularly been seeing Jane, a psychotherapist. The counselling has helped bring clarity and mindfulness to the fore. She helped me develop a greater understanding of how anxiety manifests, and now I reflect on all those running years with acknowledgment that each run, each race, was a temporary mind reset for a deeper seated unmanaged anxiety.

So, back on the startline at Valencia marathon last Sunday. A sense of nervousness regarding my mind state. I felt good, but I also felt good last year. The gun goes off, I start running, then, oh hello! The negative thoughts. The naughty amygdala tapping my consciousness. But this time, I’m cool with it, they’re just thoughts, nothing else.

I run past 15 miles, my drop out point from last year. I shout ‘fuck yeah, c’mon!’ It’s met with a few glances. I run like I’m a fighter, back in control. 26.2 miles fly by, I crossed the line, I cry a little, but I’m happy. Back on it again. But this time with a true sense of why I run, it’s is, and always has been for mental well-being.

First time marathoner:  Calum Langlands

After coming out to support us at the London Marathon this year Cal decided that it was time for him to have a go. Running in my 200th marathon event seemed like a good idea.

I’d never put any pressure on Cal to run. He has done a bit in the past – a few parkruns and a couple of half marathons. I had no idea what to expect from him in Valencia. His longest training run was 13 miles and he had certainly embraced the taper!

As it happens he did brilliantly and best of all enjoyed it. Let’s hear Cal’s first-timer’s perspective.

Read Cal's story here...

Cal : Overall I had a really great time and can’t name any negatives at all, so here’s five observations/tips.

  1. Try to stay somewhere you can prepare your own food beforehand, our apartment was perfect for my morning pasta!
  2. Go and see the start/finish before, especially in Valencia the huge impressive building approaching was motivating off in the distance.
  3. Do a loud/lively marathon, the crowd/bands distracted me and motivated me throughout.
  4. Valencia was warm and I think the lack of cold/rain took away a lot of the dread of the run before, so I recommend seeking out good weather.
  5. Valencia was crowded but had a lot of wide roads, so do a marathon that goes down plenty of main streets for when you need to walk or stretch.

Do the Valencia marathon you will not regret it!!

Frontrunner: Robbie Cox

We met Robbie on Sunday evening after the race. He came along to the Carmen Convent (a brilliant venue btw for larger groups) with a fellow Serpentine. This is a good example of how out running friends group continues to grow. We might not meet up with Robbie again until Valencia 2020 but we will certainly be following his progress. Robbie ran an incredible 2hrs 37 minutes. Let’s hear how the race appeared at the front end of the field.

Read Robbie's story here...

Robbie : Valencia, te amo <3

The Valencia Marathon had been sold out for weeks when I was offered a place by the local Sweatshop. Knowing I’d missed out on the cheaper flights and hotels, I sought out advice from runners with prior experience. To my surprise, every single one were singing its praises: “Fast”, “Well Organised”, “Beautiful”, “Great Support”. The list went on and on. My decision was made.

Training had gone well, I built my daily training into my commute which not only saved time and money, but also had led to fantastic consistency. I’d nailed some good long runs at the weekends. The Serpentine “Tempo” sessions on a Thursday around Battersea Park were the icing on the cake. My one week taper had gone well and I got to the start line fit, healthy and raring to go.

My last marathon was mostly solo on an undulating course and my only other marathon attempt was 5 years ago – so I really wasn’t sure what exact pace to set off at. But I’d run fairly long stints in training at 6 minute miling, so figured that was a good starting point, and then playing it by ear.

The gun went and despite the argy bargy I found some space and settled into a rhythm. First thought – wow, the taper makes such a difference – 6:00 miling felt like jogging. Second thought – this course is FAST. Yes it’s dead flat as everyone says, but it also has a great smooth surface, no camber, no sharp turns and loads of long straights – all these little things combine to make a big difference. The field also had fantastic strength in depth which meant I was never alone.

Both the atmosphere and the crowd were great all the way around. The Spanish translated signs of “Corre Forrest Corre!” made me chuckle, and I got a bit emotional when Chariots of Fire played towards the end. But the very best was one section at around 24 miles where the fans all encroach right onto the course – almost literally in your face – and shout your name. It was Tour De France esque, and when every part of your body is hurting it’s a huge boost.

The finishing straight is absolutely epic (the cobblestones beforehand not so much) and crossing the line was a great feeling. I hobbled back to the hotel and headed out for celebratory Sangria in the beautiful old city, with some wonderful people.

That’s not to say everything was smooth sailing – My hotel didn’t have a kettle so obtaining a pre-race coffee at 5am was a real challenge, the taxi to take us to the start line never arrived and led to a minor panic, and the Spanish insistence on the metric system meant I spent the race trying to divide each 5k split by 3.1 !

Shout out to Dasen Pather whose local knowledge and experience helped massively all weekend. And another shout to Ben Goddard who lives down the road from me and ran 2:26, despite his bib name of “Benjo” leading to 26.2 miles of “Ben Ho” shouts from the Spanish spectators. I must also say it’s odd to run 2:37 and not even be the fastest runner in my postcode!

I’ll certainly return next year, but now I’m taking a week off to visit some Christmas Markets in Scandinavia and let the legs recover. Then it’s back to the grind. For my next marathon I’ll incorporate some intervals into my training and also experiment with gels – hopefully leading to a sub 2:30 clocking in this wonderful city next year.

The 10K runner: Martin Langlands

As you will read, Martin has tried to run this race a number of times before. This time he made it. And was it a good one?

Martin : I’d turned up two years in succession expecting to run the Valencia 10k, only to find at the expo that I’d failed to register. This year, to make sure I got a run, I entered both the 10k and the Marathon – although I was put on the waiting list for the latter. By the time I got a place, it was a bit late to get in shape, so I took up the 10k option. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Martin in the middle in his red 10K finishers shirt.

Read the rest of Martin's story here...

A spot of delay finding the bag-drop (underground car park!) plus a longish loo queue meant that I got to the back of the start pen about 30sec before the start, so had a slow first kilometre – but after that it opened out and was a nice fast (all these things are relative, of course) and flat run.

A really attractive course; I think it was the more interesting parts of the full marathon route, around the sides of the Turia Gardens and through the old city centre. Surprising numbers of supporters out already, and not too warm before the sun got up, with the same great finish spot as the marathon.

I finished to the news that the winner, Joshua Cheptegi from Uganda, had broken the 10K world record by 6 seconds finishing in a time of 26 minutes 38 seconds – a bit faster than me.

Then off to do my bit supporting the 42k runners in the party …”

The Marathon Supporter: Beckie Hartley

Beckie had travelled out to Valencia to support her twin sister Jain in the marathon. Her day was meticulously planned and consequently Jain got a PB. Read how to be a super-supporter. This is brilliant!

Beckie : I’ve never run a marathon, and the most I’ve run since school days is a 5k, but I enjoy tracking my twin sister Jain when she runs. I’ve travelled with her a few times now and it can be a fun challenge for a supporter to follow their runner around a route. Staying in one place is easier for tracking multiple people but I find it fun to see how many points I can fit in. It is a nice way to share the experience and be included in the event.

Many marathons host a breakfast 5k the day before and even if you can only walk it, this is another great way to share the experience and build excitement for the big day itself. Sometimes there are also shorter distances eg 10k, and there is still time for a supporter to run that and meet the marathon runner in latter stages.

Read the rest of Beckie's advice here...

Advice from a supporters perspective:

1. Get a transport map in advance and identify which services are running. In Valencia the route crossed transport lines so tram lines 6&7 only ran later on. There were three free bus routes in operation (pick up free map of routes at the Expo). The Valencia marathon map didn’t show tube or bus routes but it was easy to cross-check the day before with a more detailed map

2. Plan viewing spots in advance. You may be able to squeeze in 4-5 stops plus start/finish but don’t be over-ambitious, you need to enjoy the day too! Ask runner where they feel you would be most support and plan from there. Don’t be surprised if they are in the zone and don’t stop and all you get is a quick wave and a smile! The Valencia route loops around the City so there are good viewing points close together to minimise walking and see a runner at two distances without having to move far and take in a coffee stop in between! In Valencia good spots were 10k/19k you can walk there from start line then get Ayora orange 7 line to Bailen or green 5 line to Xativa for 30k &38k. Both allow direct line back to Ayora + 15 min walk to finish. If you want to see the finish itself leave after 30k (or take taxi after 38k)

3. 29k mark has some nice cafes and not too busy

4. Avoid 39k as v busy and difficult to cross the main road due to barriers. Most other areas you can cross the road in between runners but not always easy especially in first half so try to plan so you don’t have to cross marathon route

5. Check out any ‘music’ zones. These can be more crowded but is fun when waiting for your runner

6. Useful to watch finish from the bridge then walk round to steps on left near bag pick up point to meet up

6. Nice to walk back together through gardens to the old town (where we were staying) to loosen muscles and share experiences

7. Know what colour your runner is wearing, ideally not the official marathon top as difficult to spot as lots of runners wearing same! Also best for supporter to wear bright colour top/hat.  Valencia was not too busy but for busier marathons eg London, a big helium balloon helps to be spotted.

8. Some runners don’t take phones so communication is difficult. If they have a phone or watch messaging let your runner know where you are 1-2k before they arrive.  Be concise, don’t forget to tell them which side of the road you are on and what (non-moveable) landmark you are after as they run towards you eg 10k left, after lights

If you don’t make it in time, wait till you know where you are able to get to next before messaging runner so you don’t bombard them with messages whilst running.

9. Valencia App is great for live tracking but not totally accurate. Seemed to show about 0.5k behind where runner was. Take spare battery charger pack as taking photos and using Apps can consume power

10. Wear comfy shoes in case you have to walk/run and spare blister plasters.

11. Know runners expected pace and PB. If at the last meet up (eg. 38k) you can work out rough speed they need to hit their PB that will give them somethg to aim for if their brain has gone to jelly near the end. This nearly always happens to Jain and she is incapable of basic maths to work out how close she is to a PB! The Marathon App will help as it shows average speed over each 5k and estimated finish time

Note from Jain : Beckie has supported me both times I’ve run Valencia. Both times at 38k I was flagging and her pep talk spurred me on. When she told me I could get a PB if I just sped up a bit I managed to pick up and just squeaked a PB (4 seconds!). I owe this PB to her!

The runner who didn’t achieve their goal: Cam

What happens when you have a goal and realise that you are going to fall short of the mark?  Does it have to be a bad run? According to Cam maybe not.

Cam : For the last few years the ultimate goal had been qualifying for Boston (needing 3.25 to be safe). Having run a sub 3.20 very early in the year I was in still in slight shock/disbelief until I ran another similar time in Loch Ness in October.

That confirmed to me it was time to start dreaming about and working on the next step – a  Championship start at London (3.14). I decided Valencia was where I would attempt this. I knew it to be a flat, fast course from my experience of running it in previous years.

Read the rest of Cam's story here...

With some guidance and a bit of a plan (shock horror) I trained well in the weeks approaching the race, it was going to be a huge ask on the day but I felt ready or very close.

When the bib numbers for the marathon were released a few weeks ago I realised I was seeded based on my somewhat slower PB from last year which wasn’t going to help. The marathon did offer the chance, for a small fee, to move pens  if circumstances had changed and gave a clear deadline for that change – I remembered it wrongly and missed that opportunity. 100% my fault!

I therefore started with the  3.30 to 3.45  runners, a large busy pen which I could only gain access to once the race had begun.  It was tough to get out at anything faster than the pace which the pen was moving at, correct for most of them of course as they were in the right place.

After a few kilometres it became clear that it wasn’t going to be the day to attempt a championship time. I needed to be moving quicker from the go. I backed off switched my watch face from pace and decided instead to enjoy the sunshine and the crowds and reflected on a great year of running.

I finished just under 3.30 which in fact is still a big deal – a time that I was chasing for so long was now very comfortable – proof to me that I am continuing to make progress.

I suppose in the past seeding hadn’t been so much of an issue or something I had really considered but it’s now clear to me that, when in quest of these faster times, getting out quick is going to be essential. Another important lesson learnt – bring on 2020.

The back of the packer : Peter Mizzi

Last but not least! Running at the back of the field could be thought by some to be disheartening but Pete’s post paints a different picture. His marathon is full of interacting with others, taking photo’s and even dancing along with the band.I will hand you over to Pete to read more about it.

Read Pete's story here...

Pete : I had been looking forward to the Valencia marathon for some time as I had only heard good things about it, and you can’t beat a bit of winter sun.

The race was starting at 9, I was a bit nervous I I had an upset stomach the day before. We left bat 7:30 which we thought was plenty of time to get to the start line about 4 miles away. After failing to get a taxi for 10 mins  we started to walk but had a result in that a driver of a bus was beeping at us to get on board – we weren’t even at a bus stop and didn’t even have to pay.

Once in start area we found it very poorly sign posted and not many people were around to help. We were rushed for time, literally got into the pen and the  race started which was a shame because I like to be there 15-20 minutes before to soak up the atmosphere and get in right frame of mind.

The race had a cut off of 5:30 and my times are between 5-5:30 I was hoping for 5:15.

I decided to use my run 5min walk 2min plan which regularly brings me in this time. I had done six marathons in six weeks then had a two week break so I was surprised that my quads were feeling achy. I was running reasonably well. The course was flat as a pancake and fast. My favourite races are big city road marathons. Where else in your life do you get people cheering you and giving you support?

I love the atmosphere at them. I was running with my running belt so I did not need the first few water stations. I did think the race did not have much to see and was fairly bland in places but as it was a large race it was good to have people around me throughout. And even though there wasn’t always a huge number of spectators, it was good with people calling my name.

As the start was rushed I was keep an eye out on route for a toilet.but surprisingly for a city marathon that were none to be seen so around half way I had to pop into a restaurant.

During the race it was good to see Jain from Chiswick and Warren who I hadn’t seen for a long time. Around 10 miles I was overtaken by the pineapple man  – this man is amazing he runs the whole marathon balancing a pineapple on his head. I had to take a pic.

Up to 16 miles I was on for about 5:10 but then the race began to unravel. I normally take caffeine during the race but due to the rush at the start  I left it in my kit bag. This got into my head bit  The aid stations were well stocked so I took a power aid bottle for the 2nd half. The helpers were excellent with smiling faces, urging you along.

As the miles continued I was really struggling and a time of 5:10 was now looking MORE like 5:20 – 5:30.It was brilliant to see Cam and Jon who had already finished around 20 mile mark. It was a well needed tonic.

There were a few Brits in the race so was good to chat to a few of them.

The finish area was very good. As you came to the finishing line it was lined with marshals cheering and clapping you, even for us back of the pack runners. Some how I ran 26.76.  mM time was dead on 5:30 which I was a bit disappointed with but I got the job done.

Now to meet up Iain who had already finished. We managed to get a taxi back to the apartment and had a quick couple of drinks before having a rest.

A very big part of running for me is the socialising so I was over the moon to be going out to celebrate Jacquie’s amazing achievement of reaching 200 marathons – a true inspiration. It was a very enjoyable evening with excellent company and making new friends – this is what running is about. At 25 miles an English guy (Matt) was really yelling and giving me support – it was fab to see him at the meal.

During the race there were a lot of drum bands which was excellent so at 23 miles I joined in dancing with them for a bit.of fun and to lift my lagging spirits.

Valencia you did not disappoint. I loved the city and I am sure I will dance again.

Don’t quite understand the sign on the left but love it anyway. Santa outside our apartment in a air-conditioned suit and ready to start celebrating with Jon and Cam.

In conclusion

Thank you once again all those who have contributed to this post and the rest of the people who we spent time with this weekend running and celebrating running.

The overwhelming message coming out from these accounts is that the Valencia marathon definitely gets the thumbs up no matter where you are in the field.

A few points that are probably worth noting – if you plan to run Valencia familiarise yourself with the start area, bag drop etc sometime before race day – perhaps after visiting the expo.to pick up your bib. This can make race morning so much easier to negotiate.

Also make sure you are in the correct pen for the time you want to achieve – this is a busy race with wave starts. The organisers make changing pen and also transferring numbers easy for entrants.

Encourage supporters to read Beckie’s post and also enter the breakfast run on the Saturday. Non-marathon runners in your party can run the 10k which starts at the same time as the marathon and still gives time to cheer marathon runners in places along the route.

Finally, I think that this post shows that the Valencia Marathon week end has something for everyone. I hope it will encourage others to come and enjoy this beautiful city.