Devinder Bains, now 39, was a magazine features editor on a busy weekly magazine, more used to press launches and cocktail bars than running through the Sahara Desert without showering for a week. But that didn’t stop her taking on the Marathon Des Sables, an arduous six day multi-stage race of over 155 miles on just 12 weeks training that has a tiny 14% female entry level.
Sunshine, a bag of oranges in the finish bag and a beach on which to recover after the race, this is half marathon is hard to beat for the route, the support and the fantastic goodie bag…
In October, we took a group of women to the Valencia Half Marathon for the tenth of our Girls Run the World Run Away trips (we’ve taken groups to Istanbul, Lake Garda, Palma Half, Berlin, Paris and many more) and what an amazing race it was.
Valencia is a city that is made for running (although perhaps not in the heat of mid-summer!) with beautiful wide boulevards shaded by trees, the beach and the fantastic Jurida Del Turia, a landscaped park that has been created in the bank carved out by the old river that once flowed through the city and which means you can run or cycle right the way around the outside of the city. Add to that, fantastic food, a beach and incredible support from those lining the roads and this is one international race that we shall be returning to for future trips.
The day of the race dawned a little cloudy but still warm enough to allow us to adopt the novel approach of hiring the hotel’s bikes to roll sedately and anxiety-free down to the start line (hurrah, no panic about trains not running on time or taxis not getting through the roads). After dropping our bags, we each headed to our respective pens and then, we were off.
Thankfully, the morning was cloudy so it was a little cooler than the previous two mornings as we ran down the Aveniguda Del Port to the Jurida Del Turia and then headed back to the start line on the first 9km of the race. The route then heads out on the final loop in a different direction which sees taking runners through the centre of the city. I usually don’t like having to run past a finish line before I’ve finished but this time, it didn’t matter. The side of the road had been set up with grandstand type seating and the Spanish were all cheering loud, ‘Vamos’ ‘Go Chico, go,’ so it added to the atmosphere and buoyed me up for the second part.
This section of the route is more interesting because of the sights, winding it’s way over the stunning 16th century, Puente del Real, which once connected the Palacio del Real to the walled city, (Real comes from the Arabic word, ‘Rahal’, which means orchard or garden). From there, we ran through the city centre with it’s designer stores and funky tapas bars.
The route sticks to the main avenues so there is plenty of space to run, as well as navigate in and out of the plentiful water stops. You can catch glimpses of the more traditional Valencian city down the narrow side alleyways, deliberately built this way to help keep residents shaded and cooler in the summer. Then it was time to head back to the port area and the finish line with the crowds of supporters getting bigger and louder the nearer I got. Then came the countdown road markers, 800m, 700m, every 100 metres marked off as I sped over the finish line.
I’ve raced in many different countries in the world and on big name races, but this finish line was very well organised as I was directed out of the immediate finish area with a big goodie bag, around to a finish recovery area where you could line up to get your big gold medal engraved or grab an lemon flavoured beer (delicious). At the race expo, I’d already picked up a fantastic complimentary race vest and a bag of useful products and the finishing bag was just as good.
Best thing of all about the finish area is that you can see the finish line, so I was able to cheer in my fellow Girls Run the World runners, then it was off to the beach for paella, beer and a swim in the sea.
We ran, we drank delicious cocktails and enjoyed a few cervezas with some amazing tapas and food.Valencia as a city escape is fantastic. As a race destination, it truly rocks.
The Race in Brief
Flat, wide, route excellent for a PB (although I didn’t!)
Excellent goodie bags
the warmth – cycling to a race in October in shorts?!!
Not enough toilets. But when have you ever been to a race with enough?
Our next Girls Run the World Run Away Trip will be to the Lisbon Half Marathon in March 2018. Our next Valencia trip will be in December 2018 for the 10km and marathon.
Marathons are a fantastic way to explore a city and culture and Berlin is one of the best, giving you the opportunity to run through it’s history as you run between east and west as Irene Maulenda reports…
Waking up on the morning of the marathon in Berlin, I was both excited and terrified. It was my first ever marathon, one that I’d wanted to do for years and I’d finally got in on my fourth ballot attempt with some of the other girls from Girls Run the World.
We’d travelled out and were staying separately in different areas which meant we all made our own way to the race start line, although i was with my parents who’d flown from my home in Spain to watch. But even after saying goodbye to them and going off to my starting pen on my own, I didn’t feel like I was alone. It was like being part of a big party from start from finish.
I’d arrived at the race at 9am for my race start at 10am (editor’s note: the race starts at 9.15am but is a staggered start with those with proven fast finish times going off first), had handed my bag in and spent the usual amount of time queuing for the toilet. With approximately, 43,500 runners, Berlin has a busy start area so it’s good to give yourself plenty of time – an hour is enough – to sort yourself out and walk to your start area.
Everybody in my starting pen wore the same excited look that must have been on my face too, and the atmosphere was electric. To keep myself calm while I was waiting to race , I read a few texts from my friends and thought of other runners who inspired me, such as my fellow runners in Girls Run the World, who were at that moment also taking on their own challenge doing the Ragnar Relay, a 170 mile run over the Kent Coast and my best friend who’d been the first person to inspire me to start running time seven years ago.
I didn’t have to wait long though before we were off, running down the streets of Berlin in a group like a huge street party.
I’d decided to ignore my intended race pace and to run to enjoy the experience, rather than trying to stick to a pace which would have been impossible to do in such a crowded group. It meant that I was able to chat to other runners, including Jaime and Javier, both Spanish, who told me that they were running their third marathon. I told them it was my first. “You’re going to experience things you’ve never felt before,’ they said. ‘But you will love this day.”
I lost them at the next water station, where I managed to perfect my technique of drinking while still running. Without an official pacer to follow, I spied a tall guy who was running a similar speed and decided to follow him to keep myself motivated. That said, the atmosphere was so amazing I felt buoyed up simply running along with so many others from around the world.
I was running for MacMillan Cancer and when I passed another runner who was also running for them, I said hello. Her name was Danielle, and she told me she’d also done London and LA and that I’d love London if I ever got the chance to run it. I wished her luck and set off after my unofficial ‘pacer’, through the 10km mark, where I high fived all the kids holding their hands out on the side of the route.
My German is rusty but I managed to say a few things “ganz toll” (great), genau (genius) and fantastisch (fantastic) to other runners, which helped to keep me distracted up to the half marathon point where I met a couple from Bilbao in Spain. “This is the second time I’ve run in Berlin and it won’t be the last, I love this race!’
Leaving them behind, I started to notice other runners were beginning to slow down and cramp, but I focused on sipping water at every station and taking on a gel every five miles. That and the iconic scenery kept me occupied as it started to feel harder. The route wound past the iconic Rathaus Schöneberg, the city hall for the borough of Tempelhof-Schöneberg which had served as the seat of the government of West Berlin till 1990. It’s where President J. F. Kennedy had proclaimed his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner”, and where so many people had gathered when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. The sense of running through history as I ran through just gave me goosebumps.
As I approached the 20 mile mark, I began to feel a bit anxious as I’d only ever ran this far once before when I’d bonked. Training for Berlin, my biggest fear was that I’d hit the wall but suddenly, I was past the point and reaching 21 miles feeling tired but good. Having my printed on my bib so that people could shout my name really helped encourage me and kept me going. And when I saw someone else struggling, I’d call out their name and say, ‘come on mate, you can do it.’ I don’t know whether it helped or annoyed people but it helped take my mind off the discomfort!
By the time I started my last 10k, I had my parents to look forward to seeing who’d arranged to wait at the next water station. AS I turned the corner into K’damm, music blared out and I could see my dad’s red raincoat (Editor’s note: get your supporters to wear something bright, or hold a colourful sign on a tall stick so you can spot them) and started waving like a mad woman.
I managed to blow them a kiss and as I ran past I began to feel even stronger. ‘Was I crazy if tried to run a bit faster?’ I thought. I checked my running form, mentally scanned my body for anything that hurt, and I decided I felt good and I was going to go for it.
I have never loved running more than that moment. People were shouting my name, and I couldn’t stop waving and smiling, it felt so AMAZING. By now, I was passing people and when I ran past the last aid station at the 40 km point I felt like I was flying. Finally, I could see Brandenburg Gate in front of me, and started to sprint. It nearly finished me off when I then realised that the finish line was a further 400 metres but I found the strength and pushed through to cross the finish line in 4.18.21.
When the race volunteer hung my medal around my neck, I was so overwhelmed I burst into tears and was still crying in the race picture. Heading out to meet my parents, I spotted the unofficial race pacer I’d followed for most of the race standing with his family. “Thanks so much for your help, I’ve been following you most of the race, you kept me going.” It turned out that it had been his first marathon too.
Berlin is renowned as being an iconic race and all I can say is that it lived up to and surpassed expectations. As a trail runner, I’d been worried about whether I’d enjoy a road marathon but the Berlin marathon is fantastic, for the scenery, its history and the support and sense of camaraderie amongst the other runners.
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Here’s where we break down the race and give you our nuts and bolts assessment…
Amazing atmosphere and organisation
The expo was fantastic, packed full of fantastic new products like a foam roller with three vibration modes that is already in my Christmas list!, definitely worth going
A fast, flat course
Although each pen apparently has official pacers, it’s so busy in the pens at the back, I never saw any. If your aim is to get a good time, then having an official pacer to follow would be good.
It may be a flat course but it is difficult to get a personal best if you don’t start near the front because it’s so busy; in places the roads are not wide enough for the crowds and runners, and the water stations are a nightmare with cups all over the road.
No race finisher’s t-shirt.
How to get into the Berlin Marathon
The Berlin Marathon is very difficult to get into on the ballot which is why so many people enter via running travel companies like 209events.com. The other ways to do it are as a fast runner which affords you automatic entry, or enter the ballot as a team. It doesn’t mean that you have to run together, but it means that you ALL get in together if accepted. We don’t know whether it improves your chances but Irene had tried three times separately without success. It was fourth time lucky for her and first time success for all of those she entered with who were all women. Worth a try!
Nowadays, there are thousands of races from fun 5km to fiercely fast ones, and from glorious, awe-inspiring trail running races in the UK to nail-biting, challenging for life changing trail races in Iceland or India. Whatever the case, WE want to hear about them.
If you have participated in – or about to participate in a race and think it is one that could help to inspire other women to start training in order to take part themselves, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org, outlining the event and including the website link. This could be one that you’ve already done or one that you have lined up.
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We look forward to hearing about all your amazing, life affirming race experiences from the UK, Europe and worldwide!
Paris, London, Berlin, Mumbai, Istanbul are all impressive cities to run a race in. But none have offered the spellbinding magic of running around the 12th century ruins of Angkor Wat, the former centre of the Khmer Empire
I arrived in Siem Reap, the town on the outskirts of the Angkor Archeological Park a few days before the race to acclimatize to the humidity and heat. Although it is held in Cambodia’s cool season, temperatures can still reach 87 F with over 80% humidity. On the plus side, it meant I wasn’t shivering on the start line.
By the time I arrived at 5am, following a 15 minute moto ride, a covered cart with cushioned bench seats pulled by a motorcycle, the start was buzzing with runners from all over the world some running the half marathon and others the 10 km. Now in it’s 20th year, the Angkor Wat International half Marathon attracts up to 10,000 runners from all over the world with its start and finish in front of Angkor Wat.
Checking in my bag, I made my way to the starting pen and watched as the rising sun etched the iconic silhouette of Angkor Wat against a reddening sky. Milling around were expats from Europe and US who had flown in for a short visit from jobs elsewhere in Asia, along with holiday makers like myself, who had included the race as part of their travel itinerary with the country now opening up to tourism beyond just the capital, Phnom Penh and the temples.
Once the sun had risen everyone was keen to get going but if there’s one thing that you have to remain sanguine about in Cambodia, it is that time is a fluid concept. Thirty minutes later than the advertised 6am, I crossed the start line.
The first 8km followed an out and back route along the approach road to the archeological park, tracing the 190m wide moat that surrounds Angkor Wat. At 10km, I began to pass the Cambodian wheelchair racers who had begun the race earlier, which served as a stark reminder about more recent history. Torn apart by the rule of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, Cambodia was also heavily land-mined and has over 25,000 amputees, the highest ratio per capita in the world. A proportion of the race profits go to help those affected.
With the sun overhead, everyone was grateful for the shade cast by trees and for the supporters. Some were tourists cheering friends and family but there were just as many Cambodian children all eager to high five the runners. Water stations were plentiful and I poured as much over my head as I drank.
The Angkor Archeological Park is over 400 square kilometres and contains much more than Angkor Wat. The race passed the magnificent entrance to Ta Prohm, four enigmatic faces believed to be of King Jayavarman VII who built the temple. It is a particularly popular site as it was used in the filming of Tomb Raider. I was torn between wanting to explore while it was quiet and the desire to finish the run before it got hotter.
Although the route does not take you into any of the temples, you do get the chance to run under Victory Gate, one of the gateways to the ancient town of Angkor Thom. Not that I felt victorious with 7kms to go as I ran towards it down the approach road flanked on either side by carved figurines, thousands of years old and some exhibiting bullet holes as a result of fighting between the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge.
Running out of the shade into the open at The Terrace of the Elephants was like running into an oven. The 350 m long stone platform features carved elephants and was originally used to view victorious returning armies by the King. It was hard not to feel overwhelmed at the echoes of the many people who had trodden these same roads thousands of years before my own feet had pounded past.
The final stretch was more difficult as our race merged with the 10km (which had started 30 minutes later) as many participants were walking four or five abreast. Thankfully, the finish was not far off and when I heard the cheering supporters and Angkor Wat came into view, I managed a final sprint to finish in a sweaty heap.
After collecting my medal and a banana, I walked out of the finish area to be offered a beer and fresh coconuts by the many industrious hawkers but I declined both in favour of returning to my hotel and a cool swimming pool.
Most of the runners at the Angkor Wat Half Marathon are expats and tourists and so this race doesn’t offer the same experience of meeting runners from different countries like those I’ve done in India and Turkey. But it more than makes up for this in the extraordinary opportunity you get to run through ancient Khmer ruins. Combine this with a country that is fast becoming one of the hottest new travel destinations and it’s a holiday race that is well worth putting on your bucket list.