Valencia is more than happy to sit pretty at 3rd in size and reputation when it comes to Spanish cities. What it doesn’t have in Barcelonan passion and Madridlenan posterity, it certainly makes up for in welcome and the city embraces traditional values with a modern outlook on life. Bueno… but is their marathon worth running?

Valencia is quite simply lovely in November. Warm during the day and cooler in the evening, oranges still adorn the trees, the old quarter still bustles with sellers, the horchatarias still serve tiger nut milk, paella is still eaten on the terraces of beach restaurants and 20,000 runners arrive to run a well-organised, super-flat, gold IAAF labelled end of season marathon.

The weekend itself is very well orchestrated. The expo opens Thursday in the stunning new Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias at the foot of the Jardin del Turia. The gardens are worth a mention here – formerly the old river bed, in the 60s the council decided to drench and divert a river which was prone to flooding the flatlands and replace it with 100 hectares of communal garden, adorned with palm trees, designated cycling and running paths, playgrounds and water fountains. It’s a shake-out runners paradise basically.

In fact, if you are looking for a metaphor for Valencian values that is it. Way of life seems in total equilibrium between what works for the city and what works for its people. Using that land for communal recreation rather than the growth of big business embodies that attitude. Cleaning up urban areas, like that of Rufassa, is another example – restoring traditional old buildings but keeping rent low and creating a place for young enterprise to spring up another example of embracing change, changing values and giving Valencians what they need.

In this sense, whilst remaining a city steeped in tradition, Valencia has moved into the future and its people with it. Ideas such as class structure, wealth and bureaucracy seem outdated. No matter how much money you have or in what area you bring your kids up in, everyone buys fresh fruit and vegetables at the markets in Central or Rufassa, everyone shoulders up to the next table to drink a cerveza with colleagues after work, and everyone (if not running) will line the streets on a balmy warm Sunday in November to watch 19,000 Spanish and a handful of travellers run 10 or 40 kilometres around their city.

The race starts in front of the modern opera house next to the aforementioned gardens. Baggage check and toilets right next door, no last minute queues to jump in your pen, so stroll down before sunrise and ready-up. Runners head out of town to the seafront and whilst you hurtle past the harbour, you never actually run by the beach; savvy race directors loop the course back in town as opposed to exposing runners to any offshore winds.

Taking you past the Mestalla football stadium, back into the centre and then along the gardens again, the route is pancake flat and support plentiful so you will probably be on track for something in line with pb pace if that’s your desired outcome. If not and ‘Runtourism’ is more your thing, then the architecture becomes more interesting in the second half of the race as you pass through the gothic quarter and the bullring. A slight false flat takes you into miles 17-19 before the course drops you back down through La Grand Via toward the science museum where the race finishes on an elevated platform surrounded by water and viewing gallery.

I won’t dwell for too long on how the race went for me personally. Ultimately, we all have our own reasons for running, our own goals to achieve. I went to run twenty six miles as quickly as I could and came away having achieved that. The race is well set up for running personal bests, be that the 10k or the Marathon. But for the latter, be aware that if you are still out there past 11am (most of us are as the race starts at 8:30), Valencia receives 340 days of clement weather each year so the likelihood is it’ll reach 20°c or more by this time. I, like many, slowed in the latter stages of the race as dehydration advanced fatigue, but for some that deal with running in the heat better than I this mightn’t be a problem.

Otherwise, the race is quick, there are plenty of people out, water and gel stations well organised, it’s flat and fun and I couldn’t recommend a European city marathon more highly. In fact, I’ll be returning next Autumn for the world half marathon championship, to see if I can run another record in the warm and charming city of Valencia.

Oh I also made a video about it which you can see over on my BRAND NEW YOUTUBE CHANNEL!

One can fly to Valencia with Easyjet, Ryanair, BA etc in 2 hours. Or into Madrid and continue the journey by AVE train which takes around 1h45. AirBnB is your best bet, but there are plenty of reasonably priced hotels for you to choose from depending on your pre-race ritual.

 

An evening of Japanese running presented by British Paralympian, Noel Thatcher MBE and author of ‘The Way of the Runner’, Adharanand Finn.

Summer 2020, the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Hundreds of thousands of fans line the roadside of the marathon route in anticipation. And then they come, one by one around the corner into the the last 400 metres. It’s the closest finish in the history of the olympic marathon, two Kenyans, an Ethiopian and a Ugandan trail them; Kiyohito Akiyama and Yuji Onoda lead the race… could this be the first Japanese men’s gold since Berlin and Sohn kee-chung in 1936?

Noel Thatcher
‘There exists an enriched love for the sport of running in Japan.’
On Wednesday evening, five time Paralympic gold medalist Noel Thatcher, gave us an animated introduction to running in Japan. Noel has lived and trained in Japan for 20+ years and is an avid follower of Ekiden running and Japanese athletics. He spoke of the incredible depth of talent today, taking us on a journey from high schooler, university runner to professional athlete. It was fascinating hearing Noel talk through the rich history of the sport before introducing the concept of Ekiden and specifically the history of the Tokyo-Hakone university race. The Hakone Ekiden is the biggest race of the Japanese running calendar and not just amongst runners. The television stats for 2nd/3rd January, the traditional date of the race since 1917, was 28.2%; the highest audience for any programme aired that weekend.

92nd Tokyo-Hakone Round-Trip College Ekiden Race
As a brief overview, the ~200km relay race from Tokyo-Hakone-Tokyo is run over two days (day one out / day two back) by twenty university relay teams; each student running one stage (between 18km-24km) of the planned ten. As an example of the aforementioned strength in depth of talent, in the preliminary race to the Hakone Ekiden, 90 runners ran under 62:30 for 20km in an attempt to help there team qualify. Here are the highlights and results from this years Hakone Ekiden.

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Adharanand Finn
‘There are an estimated 1,500 professional runners in Japan as opposed to a handful in the UK. In Japan… there is a career path for a runner.’
Following Noel’s introduction author Dhar Finn presented his own fascinating insight into living and running in Japan. He offered his own findings as to how a runner in Japan not only benefits from the existing heritage and infrastructure, but also the corporate sponsorship in place for an athlete to make a living. Dhar talked of how the Japanese had crucially turned running from an individual pursuit into a team sport through Ekiden and how this was an important factor in the popularity of running in Japan.  There is no doubt that this has encouraged youngsters to take the sport up early, live and breathe it’s values, train to be the best and reap the rewards.

He also explored training methods and how there is a real tussle between the regimented schedules imposed by coaches basing their methods on previous successes, versus the introduction of a new approach based on reduced training and enjoyment as promoted by younger coaches which, whilst becoming more and more popular, is also reaping reward.

Way of the RunnerYou have to read Adharanand’s story. Not just because of his insight into Ekiden and the corporate world of running, but also for the anecdotal humour found throughout. From his family’s adjustment to life in Japan to running monks and 1000 marathons in 1000 days!
‘The Way of the Runner’ is available now, published by Faber & Faber, at all good bookstores / Wordery / Amazon etc…!

 

Summary
Fast forward again to Tokyo 2020. We can now see how there is a real possibility that a Japanese man might be able to gate crash the East African dominance of the road marathon. There remains an incredible passion for the sport in Japan and more significantly an acceptance of new attitudes and training methods. By combining a rich running heritage with new coaching ideas, Japan might just find the formula to compete on the world stage.

Thank you to Run Fast and Running Works for putting on a terrific evening!
Artwork by Fergus McHugh.