Valencia Marathon

Up until this year I’d barely heard anyone mention the Valencia marathon before. Definitely didn’t have it down on my list as one to tick off, so I have no idea why everyone seemed to be in Spain for it this year. After I crossed the finish line I saw dozens of people I knew on social media posting about their races without even realising they were there. They must have done some good marketing this year.

Anyway, I only signed up to Valencia because my planned marathon of Vienna earlier in the year turned out the be one of the worst organised I’ve ever done, so I opted for the half about an hour in. Then I was meant to do Leicester in October but ended up being invited by Fitbit to take part in the adidas Shoreditch 10k – a damn lucky decision considering it’s the only time I’ve broken sub-40.

So Valencia, taking place in December,  was my last chance to get a good marathon in for 2018. Well, that and I had a few friends doing it who persuaded me to head out on the promise of a few beers.

In reality, I wasn’t expecting a lot from Valencia. From what I knew it wasn’t a massive marathon and I’d visited Valencia about 10 years before with no major desire to visit again. Add to that the fact that, even though I’d churned out 69 races so far in 2018, I’d barely done any distance training, so I wasn’t hoping for a particularly good time. It was a basically a little holiday at the end of the year somewhere a bit warmer than home.

After spending a couple of days in Barcelona, I jumped on a coach to Valencia. Based on the fact that Barcelona was cold and raining the whole time I was pretty surprised that a four-hour coach journey took me to a place that wasn’t far off summer temperatures.

The other thing that hit me pretty soon after I got to Valencia and wandered through a few of the streets, is that it’s a really nice place. Semi-circling the central point of the city is a massive park which used to be a river. Now it’s a ridiculously convenient green area that means you can bypass the city as you make your way from one side of the city to the beach and port at the other. I’m a bit obsessed with this park to be honest, it’s the future of city travel if you ask me. Also an amazingly nice place to go for a run – even has kilometre markers all the way through and a designated runner path. Heaven.

Anyway, less tourism, more race reporting.

My first taste of the Valencia Marathon was actually fairly painful. As I turned up on the Saturday, my first stop was the expo. My friends, rather smartly, arrived in the city the day before and said that the expo took them about three minutes to get through. For me the expo was a very long queue of people collecting they’re race numbers followed by another queue of people checking their chips, soon followed by a third queue, this time about 800 metres long, of people collecting their t-shirts. It was a low point of the weekend and instantly made me feel slightly negative towards the event. I assumed that the rest of the organisation was likely to be in the same style.

With the expo done, where I got my personalised race number (an awesome touch) along with a somewhat lame race t-shirt, I headed out for a wander in the city and some fairly hefty carbs. Oddly ended up having paella, which is not my usual race prep, but it seemed to work.

Race Day

The marathon started at 8.30am, a very good decision to help avoid the midday heat, but one that did mean getting up in complete darkness. As myself and hundreds of other runners made their way through the city from their hotels it was a pretty depressing atmosphere, didn’t take long for the sun to come up and suddenly everything started getting very exciting.

With around 20,000 runners, Valencia is by no means one of the bigger marathons, but 20,000 is still a lot of people so I was pretty worried it would be like the kind of mess I saw at Vienna. In actuality it was a beautifully smooth operation. Minimal toilet queues, clear signs to the start line (no easy feat considering the 10k was taking place at the same time as well),  access to the various start pens based on expected time and the start and finish are at the same location as the expo (unlike a lot of marathons that stick it a few miles away). The whole process was a real treat, perhaps helped quite heavily by the fact that even at 8am, it was still T-shirt weather. I didn’t even take a jacket or a bag with me.

The Course

As I’ve already mentioned, I knew very little about Valencia, so the route available on the supplied map gave minimal information that I could actually use. I knew that roughly half of the race took place to the North East of the city, with some long straights heading back and forth from the port area. The second part of the race took place on the West side of the park, with a load of it heading through the main city streets.

As marathons go, it’s exactly what you want, your first half being the more boring, quiet sections and the second surrounding you with crowds for motivation. The whole route also passes some pretty impressive scenery and architecture without resorting to industrial areas, dual carriageways or monotonous residential areas.

The actual roads from start to finish are an absolute dream: wide, flat and smooth. I don’t remember one section with any sort of bottlenecking throughout the whole race, something I also noticed when I did the Madrid marathon a few years before. Must be something to do with Spanish race organisation – bodes well for Seville in February. Definitely my favourite country to run a marathon in so far.

Unlike a lot of city marathons, the route tends to be made up of long straights, with very little meandering or tight turns. Really flat as well, which makes for a pretty fast course – presumably why it’s such a popular destination for runners this year. Madrid, in comparison, is similar in terms of roads, but the elevation is ridiculous.

The final stretch of the race is one of the most impressive finishes I’ve ever ran in a marathon. The City of Arts and Sciences is like a big futuristic cityscape set right next to the central park. Covering the bulk of the enormous grounds is a massive blue pool of water which is even more impressive when it’s not covered by runners or people queuing. For the final hundred metres or so they built an enormous wooden stage which led through the centre of the pool leading to the finish. Really impressive, especially in the sunshine.

Organisation

I allayed to this earlier, but the whole experience was perfectly pulled together. The route was brilliantly sign-posted and marshalled, the start area was largely stress free and the water (most later ones with energy drink or gels), positioned every five kilometres, were a joy to run through. Crossing over the finish line lead us into a sort of closing area with San Miguel Radler (basically a shandy) at the ready – an absolutely awesome drink after a marathon. Easy access to the bag collection as well.

Here’s me with fellow Team Iffley ambassador, Nick, who’s so much faster than me I’m not going to even mention his time.

Who Should Run Valencia?

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’m not a massive fan of some of the more famous marathons, especially the big ones like London where the risk of tripping over a bottle or getting pushed over by overzealous PB-assassins can make the experience a bit more stressful than it needs to be.

If you’re only ever going to do one marathon, and you want that to be special, then London is obviously a great option. However, if you’re either a seasoned marathon runner or, like me, prefer to use marathons as an opportunity to have a weekend break, then Valencia is perfect. It’s also a hell of a lot cheaper than most large-scale marathons, with a registration costing €55 euros at the moment – which is about the same as some London 10ks.

How was my race?

Glad you asked. You’ve probably worked out that I’m a massive fan of Valencia from my beaming review, but that enjoyment appeared quite prominently in my finish time of 3 hours 34-minutes – 5 minutes off my previous PB. Here’s my Strava results if you’re interested.

To find out more about the Valencia Marathon, or to sign up for next year’s event (do it!), head to the website here. There are also 10k and half marathon options, as well as a breakfast run on the Saturday.