Cape Multisport runner CRYSTAL JOY LOTTERIET recalls her running tour to Spain …
Having never travelled abroad before, in April 2015 I took the brave decision to run 2 marathons in Spain with Disfruta Sports Tours. This was all part of my preparation for The Ultimate Human Race – the Comrades Marathon, celebrating its 90th anniversary, on the 31st May 2015.
My Spanish adventure began the moment I arrived at the pulsating city of Madrid after a long journey, my first international flight, which caused an adrenalin surge of excitement. Our group from Cape Town was welcomed by our Disfruta guides, Faldiel and Jummanah. We were escorted to a very comfortable and friendly hotel situated in a vibrant suburb of Madrid where some ornate buildings seem to decorate the streets with a subtle charm.
I was immediately drawn to this alluring city. After some quick Spanish lessons we navigated our way mostly on foot and blended in with the locals. The early morning park runs and sightseeing to the most touristic spots in central Madrid made magical memories. One of my favourite moments was our park runs in Parque del Retiro – a vast beautiful park with majestic gardens, fountains, lakes and it’s main attraction being the Monument to King Alfonso II. Just to think it was once a playground for royalty and now a runner’s haven. Lots of exciting photo shots and group selfies followed.
The Race day had finally arrived and nerves kicked in but I still managed to keep calm for my first international marathon. Contrary to the norm in South Africa, the marathon only started at 9 am – we soon realised that the Spanish prefer their later nights and later starts to the morning. The atmosphere at the starting point of the race was electrifying with the buzz of almost 40,000 runners from all parts of Spain and across the world united in the streets.
The live bands along the route kept runners mentally fuelled and supporters entertained. Every 5km felt like a rock concert minus the head banging of course. Local supporters cheered us on all the way chanting “Amino Amino Vamos Campiones” while shouting our names which were displayed on our race bibs. Running with my South African flag and in my Cape Multisport club colours I felt extremely blessed and proudly South African.
The course was tough but with the cool and overcast weather conditions I ran with ease through the undulating streets of a compact Madrid with its rolling inclines. The race marshals were quick on the scene and swift on their rollerblades to assist runners in need. Running past all the emblematic landmarks such as Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Royal Palace & Plaza Major to name but a few and taking a few shots along the race was a major highlight.
I was very impressed by the well organized event which definitely exceeded all my expectations. I finished the Madrid Rock and Roll marathon in 4 hours 50min and was very happy with my time. Bringing back home a Spanish medal to my collection was a milestone. My first international experience, a memorable event, I will forever cherish
BON DIA BARCELONA
Another major highlight on the tour was travelling to our next destination, the captivating city of Barcelona where the people were extremely friendly and engaging. The day following the Madrid Marathon we enjoyed a quick journey from Madrid to Barcelona via the fast train. This gave us the opportunity to see a bit the Spanish countryside while we kept our tired feet off the ground.
Barcelona has a more rustic feel to it as opposed to the much more modern feel of Madrid. The city is filled with Catalonia flags hanging from apartment buildings and has been blessed with the work of world renowned Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi was truly a man ahead of he’s time
Our early morning and evening runs to the famous landmarks are still engraved in my mind. My favourite landmarks were Gaudi’s Park Guell, Turo Parc and Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia. Running seems to be a big part of Barcelona’s culture as you see runners out from sunrise to midnight.
Strolling through the streets of Catalonia felt like an endless adventure. My favourite place in Barcelona was La Rambla, a lively street filled with bustling kiosks and markets where we bought most of our souvenirs. We also had the honour of watching FC Barcelona score 6 goals at the 99 000 capacity Camp Nou stadium which was another highlight for me.
Disfruta also arranged a fun filled electric bicycle ride throughout the city, along the beach front, as well as up the mountain which was an unforgettable experience. With electric assisted bicycles we managed to easily access the top of the mountain to visit the Sagrat Cor Cathedral as well as the Tibidabo Theme Park. Barcelona actually has a theme park with a roller coaster on top of the mountain! The views of the city from the top of the mountain were breathtaking. Barcelona is truly a beautiful city to visit.
Another sporting highlight was completing my second marathon, Marato d’ Empuries, in L’Escala. Situated 2 hours drive north of Barcelona, L’Escala is a tranquil seaside town filled with sandy beaches. We stayed at a beautiful hotel adjacent to the beach and enjoyed well prepared breakfasts sitting outside next to the pool. A good way to end off my Spanish adventure after staying in Spain’s two biggest cities.
The Empuries race starts and finishes at the ancient Empuries ruins, the Ruïnes d’Empúries, dating back to 575 BC. Before the start of the race we were escorted through the ruins to the official start of the race. It was amazing to see the ruins of buildings dating back to times before the start of the modern calendar.
With marathon, half marathon & 10km distances to choose from, only 200 runners took part in the marathon. The course was quite flat throughout and there were a few spectator points along the course. The most notable thing I remember about the race was the view of the Mediterranean Sea for a significant part of the route. I managed to secure a time of 4 hours 20 minutes which was a few minutes off my personal best marathon time. I also managed to secure 11th place in the female category. For me this was a great achievement and another Spanish medal added to my collection.
Thank you once more to Disfruta Sports Tours for supporting me throughout my Spanish experience. An unforgettable experience with much needed mileage for me in preparation for the Comrades Marathon which I eventually finished in 11 hours 35 minutes.
Crystal Joy Lotteriet
Follow Crystal on Instagram