FOLLOWING his brilliant dispatch from the Berlin Marathon, Roadrunner Andy Atkinson has been pounding the streets of the continent again to bring us a first-hand report of another exciting race…
WHAT links architectural greats such as Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, Cesar Pelli and Philippe Starck and sharp artists like Joana Vasconcelos, Alberto Giacometti and Jeff Koons with marathon running? Answer: they all come together in the Basque city of Bilbao.
On October 20th, international architecture and art were complemented by an equally international group of Reading Roadrunners, who came together to run the Bilbao night marathon, half and Carrera Pirata 10k.
Starting at the Estadio de San Mamés (ACXT, 2013), with a bag drop at the Euskalduna Palace (Soriano and Palacios, 1999) and a finish at the Guggenheim Museum (Gehry, 1997) for architecture alone the key race points won first, second and third prizes.
The race was billed as a “night marathon”, which immediately raised comparisons with Roadrunners’ outruns, groping through dimly-lit alleyways and tripping over raised ironwork and kerbs.
Yes, there were a few cobbles and tram tracks to negotiate and the going was a little uneven in places, but overall the “night” format worked very well. It is easy to see why this timing is quite popular in hot Spain. It is cooler, there is less traffic to handle and, work being over, the crowds were out in force and in fine voice. The Spanish also seem to spend a little more on street lighting, reducing the risk of an unexpected trip.
The race format was interesting in that all three distances were combined in one common start. So, once we had found the bag drop – not at the start, as we were to discover – we all lined up in four zones for the off. To get runners to stop at the correct distance, a system of filters was used in much the same way as the M25 separates off the M4!
The gusto of some runners made it equally hairy, with 10k runners zipping in front of marathoners to exit at the correct junction and then, for some unknown reason, rejoin the main traffic before splitting off again.
The route was flat and fairly fast, sticking quite closely to the banks of the River Nervión through the heart of the town. However, the out-and-back riverside format had the unfortunate side effect of seeing the finish area approach on one side of the river, with cheering crowds and vivid illuminations, only to fade away as we slogged on to a far turning point.
The eventual finish made up for this – night accentuated the blazing lights alongside the Guggenheim and, never mind the neighbours, we were reeled in with music and cheering up to full volume.
Our performances were solid, but not spectacular and the jury is out on whether running at night is more efficient that in the morning. Our overall consensus was that morning is probably better, but who knows – there may not have been many owls in our group.
Fiona Ross (GB) took on the Carrera Pirata 10k, finishing with a very respectable time of 55:26. Most of the rest of us ran the half, with varying times.
A few notable performances included Fergal Donnelly (Ireland) at 1:27:11, Helen Pool (GB) at 1:36:54 and Nicole Rickett (Germany) at 1:43:58. Our guest on this trip, Seb Janssen (Netherlands), also managed a very respectable 1:52:48.
Two hardy Brits, Mary Janssen (right) and Mark Andrew accepted the marathon challenge, involving running twice around the half-marathon course. The repetition proved a challenge too far for Mark, who, afflicted by a stomach upset, withdrew after one lap, but managed a sprint to the loo, finishing in good time! Mary soldiered on to a brilliant 3:43:44
In the end however, she was not the biggest winner – Fiona picked up the sweepstake for most accurately predicting her finish time to within 20 seconds.
Finally, many runners live to run – not so with our group. We run to live and one of the great benefits of a Saturday night race was that most of that day and all the following Sunday we were free to socialise and explore the city.
It’s the Guggenheim museum’s 20th birthday and entry on both days was free. We made the most of this to review some interesting and controversial art (below).
Like true tourists we did both bus and boat trips. Bilbao has consciously attracted famous international architects and engineers in revitalising its run-down areas. If you like modern art and architecture, it is a place not to be missed and the bus or boat are a good way to get an appreciation.
A recovery run on Monday, with beautiful weather in such a spacious city, was delightful. Another way some of us recovered was to cross-train with a swim at the Azkuna Zentroa swimming pool in an old wine warehouse re-modelled by French architect Philippe Starck. The quality of the building and the experience of swimming there is matched by few other pools. And all this is not to mention the jazz, bars, an excellent hotel and general ambience of the city.
So if you run to live, Bilbao is a great place to race. Use one of the three races as an excuse to get there, forget the PB and have a good time!
COMING SOON: Andy Atkinson reporting from the New York City Marathon.