Travelling Independently in Torres Del Paine National Park

When I was planning my trip to Patagonia I looked online for information about travelling independently in Torres Del Paine National Park and was surprised to find most resources (blogs, websites, travel guides, etc) suggested that only way to see the park was on a tour.

I try to avoid organised tours at all costs and much prefer figuring out my own way around where possible. After doing a bit of research it seemed it was possible to visit the park independently, and when I arrived in Torres del Paine a lot of other travellers also were. Here’s all the information you’ll need if you’re looking to visit the park independently (but please feel free to leave a comment below if there’s anything I haven’t answered).

Photo of Torres del Paine National Park: entrance by Hotel Torres

Near the entrance into Torres del Paine by Hotel Torres, to the east of the park

Getting to Torres del Paine

The nearest airport to Torres del Paine national park is in Punta Arenas, 350km miles south. From here you can catch a local bus to Puerto Natales, the closest town to the park. Buses originate in central Punta Arenas, come via the airport, then make the journey into Puerto Natales, which takes three hours and costs around 5-6,000 Chilean Pesos (CHP). About three bus companies make the journey; ask at the help desk at the airport for the schedule (I’ve included it below for information). There’s also free wifi in the airport, which is handy.

From Puerto Natales, there are numerous public buses to Torres del Paine, leaving from the bus station (on Avenida Espana) at 7:30am (and 2:30pm in high season, from October) and cost 15,000 CHP for an open return. Buses stop first at La Torres, on the east side of the park, then continue to the Administration, on the west side.

You’ll probably need to stay for a night in Puerto Natales either side of your park visit to pick up camping gear, food and bus tickets (I can highly recommend Tin House Patagonia).

Photo of mountains in Torres del Paine national Park

Near to the start of the W trek on the east side

Staying in Torres del Paine

Once in Torres del Paine national park there’s the option of camping or staying in refugios (basic mountain-style lodges). There are also a few luxury hotels on the periphery of the park. The east of the park is privately owned and accommodation here (owned by Fantastico Sur) is more expensive than that in the west of the park (owned by Vertice).

If you’re camping equipment can be rented from tour agencies in Puerto Natales or from the campsites in the park. It’s worth noting that most official campsites don’t open until high season in early October.

If you’re staying in refugios then bring a sleeping bag and towel, as it’s extra to hire these on top of the (already expensive) room rates.

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Wrapping up for the strong winds in the park

 Surviving Torres del Paine

Hiking in Torres del Paine is super easy. You don’t need to bring a map and can pick up a free one on entry into the park when you pay the fee (19,000CHP at the time of writing). Hiking trails are marked with orange posts and arrows and it’s pretty much impossible to get lost, as these are practically the only trails in the park. The main trek is ‘The W’, with an extended version, ‘The O – this site describes a bit more about them (more about these below).

I wasn’t brave enough to camp and stayed in the refugios (in fairness though I visited in September, which is winter, plus I reasoned that by the time I’d hired all the necessary camping equipment I probably wouldn’t have saved much money). The refugios were cold but comfortable and had clean (and powerful) showers with hot water.

It’s worth noting that if you want to cook for yourself (which is advisable, as the food served in refugios is horrendously overpriced – like, around £13 for a dry toast and instant coffee breakfast) then you need to bring your own stove or food that either 1. Doesn’t need to be cooked (eg bread, cured meats, cheese, pancakes, jams) and that will last for the duration of your stay, or 2. Can be prepared by adding just boiling water (eg instant noodles, instant mashed potatoes. Although guidebooks and blogs advise that there are kitchen facilities, refugios and campsites don’t provide cooking equipment, only boiling water.

It’s also worth mentioning that there’s no wifi or phone reception in the park, so sadly you’ll have to wait until you return to Puerto Natales before spamming everyone with your photos.

Orange trail markers on the W trek in Torres del Paine national park

The W trek is regularly marked with orange markers – it’s pretty hard to get lost

Hiking the W trek

Most people that visit Torres del Paine complete ‘the W circuit’, starting from the east of the park (Hotel Torres) and finishing in the west (Administration). This can be done in about 4-5 nights (some people do it in less time but in my opinion, visiting the park is a once in a lifetime experience and not something that should be rushed. It’s also possible to hike from west to east and in high season (from October) the ‘O circuit’ is also open, which is roughly twice as long and takes double the amount of time.

Technical mountain trails in Torres del Paine National Park

Some of the harder, more technical mountain trails in Torres del Paine, in the French Valley

What to expect when trekking in Torres del Paine

People I met while hiking in the park likened the trails to those around Chamonix in terms of terrain underfoot. Generally, expect technical mountain trails with stretches with small and large boulders underfoot, as well as scree and loose pebbles.

Easy hikes:

  • The stretch between Hotel Torres and Refugio Los Cuernos is mostly unchallenging, with stunning views over Lago Nordenskjold and a few hills to climb. When I visited a small bridge had collapsed between Hotel Torres and Refugio Los Cuernos, so this stretch involved navigating a small river by climbing over boulders (tricky if you’re hiking with a large backpack).
  • Los Cuernos to Paine Grande: mostly flat with a few undulations and great views across Lago Skottsberg.
The Torres in Torres del Paine national park

The real deal: The famous Torres

Medium/hard hikes:

  • French Valley/Valley del Frances: involves a tough trek up rocky mountain trails, but more than worth it for views of Glacier del Frances and Cerro Ostrava.
  • La Torres: the hike from the base to the towers involves a steep scramble up rocks, snow and ice, but again, is worth it to see the famous towers.
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Scree and sandy trails on the path to La Torres

Gear to bring

I’ll be covering the gear that worked in a separate post.

Atacama Crossing – Acclimatisation

 

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Since arriving in San Pedro four days ago, breathing has got a whole lot easier, which is a relief, as I’ll be doing a lot of this during the Atacama Crossing. The town sits about 2,500m above sea-level, and part of my reason for arriving eight days before the start of the race was to acclimatise to this relatively high altitude.

Two-hundred and fifty thousand metres isn’t so high that it causes severe symptoms like sickness or dizziness, but it’s sufficiently high to make physical exercise hard. On arrival, I felt out of breath just walking up the street outside my hotel (which is on a slight incline) and when I went to bed on the first night, my heart thumping loudly spooked me a bit.

I hired a bike on the first full day in San Pedro and cycled up a big hill to see the views across the town. Two local dogs came joined me from the outskirts of town and ran alongside, not seeming bothered by the heat or elevation. But by the end of the trip I felt exhausted, headachey and blocked up from the scorched desert earth and dust.

The effects of altitude are really hard to describe to anyone that hasn’t experienced them before, but it’d be fair to say that it’s not too dissimilar to exercising with a severe hangover (I imagine – it’s not something I’ve tried). Your mouth feels dry (you lose more water through sweat at high altitude), your heart pounds and your head spins a bit. But I’ve persevered so the experience isn’t a massive shock on race day, and am so glad I have.

Yesterday I ran with a fellow race entrant – we got chatting in town after spotting each other in giveaway items of desert kit (me, front Raidlight bottles; her, Salomon S-Lab shorts). We ran (and hiked a bit) for about ten kilometres, out to Pukara de Quitor, some ancient ruins that sit at about 3,000m above sea level. At the top we could see for miles and miles, across San Pedro and to the volcanic ridge on the border of Chile and Bolivia. It was worth it not only for the views, but also to discover that running felt really comfortable once we got going: it was only the first few minutes where I felt short of breath. On a short three mile run today I managed to hit the pace I’d been training at back at home (between 9-9:30 minute miles, albeit that this time it wasn’t with full rucksack weight), and again, no lungs were coughed up in the process.

It has also been reassuring to find that the peak temperature isn’t as hot as I’d expected. It reaches about 30C by the afternoon, but on most days I’ll hopefully have finished running by then. Nights in the desert are very chilly (about 4-6C) and often windy, so this is more of a concern than the heat, but hopefully I’ll have enough kit to stay warm (despite having packed very light).

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From the many photos I’ve shared so far, it’s probably clear that this is a pretty special part of the world to be ‘racing’ in (and by racing, I mean stumbling around in a desert halfway across the world, trying not to inhale too much dust or get lost). Despite the event only being six days away, I still feel quite detached from what I’m about to take on. Travelling alone, staying with strangers in dorm rooms and drifting around sleepy San Pedro, waiting for the fifth of October to come. This has felt like an adventure in itself and has distracted me nicely from what’s around the corner, and I’m pretty happy about that.

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Race report: The Seville Marathon

When you’ve run all your quick marathon times paced by fast boys, it’s nice to finally be able to say that you’ve held your own. It’s reassuring to know that, when things get tough, you’ve been able to find the strength to dig deep and push the pace more than you thought you were capable of.

The plan for Seville was to use it as a training run for the South Downs Way 50 miler in April. Jon and I flew out the day before; he’s run the event three times so we didn’t bother to check details like where the expo was. On autopilot we trekked out to the Cartuja sports stadium west of the city where it had been previously, only to find it had moved to an exhibition centre ten kilometres away in the north east of Seville. Great start.

After navigating the local bus system across the city, we arrived just in time for the pasta party which was extremely generous and practically worth the €30 entry fee alone. The goody bag was also substantial and included a vest (that actually fitted) and a (very short) pair of shorts; both New Balance and good quality. We forced down a second dinner a couple of hours later and went to bed feeling bloated, but that’s all part of the pre-race experience, right?

Race morning came and we walked to the start, cutting things a bit fine, but the less time hanging around the better; February mornings in Seville are chilly affairs. We squeezed into our start pen with not a moment to spare, surrounded by runners in an array of bright kit. European runners, particularly Italian and Spanish, seem to have a penchant for techy running gear, and for the first few miles I was swept along in a sea of compression socks.

The goal was to run roughly a 3:30 marathon, with the first half paced slightly faster to allow for an emergency loo stop. At the eight kilometre mark we ran under a flying camera snapping away just above runners’ heads. Jon and I laughed at the novelty of having a drone race photo, then a couple of minutes later he upped the pace and sped off into the distance.

For the next 13k I maintained a steady but comfortable pace, passing the half way point in 1:41, feeling strong and grateful my stomach was behaving. With this extra time in the bank and a faster finish time a possibility, my head said ease off and be sensible, considering the long-term goal at stake. But with the opportunity to practice mentally digging deep and holding on to a faster pace, I ran the final half with absolute conviction. All that mattered was getting to the stadium where the race finished in under three hours and 25 minutes.

I made a promise to myself not to have a single negative thought and ran with tunnel vision, through streets crowded with cheering supporters, past the Plaza de España, into the stadium, speeding up around the track to just dip in under my goal time, finishing in 3:24:54. I can honestly say I ran 100% with my heart and it was my proudest marathon achievement to date, running a predominantly solo race at a 7.44 minute mile pace over 26.2 (26.5, according to my Garmin) miles and maintaining a metronomic pace for both halves (consistent pacing isn’t my forte).

Post-race celebrations were a bit of a write-off: Jon and I were both exhausted (he finished in 3:17) and after a few beers and plates of tapas sat out in the afternoon sun on Alameda de Hercules, we were ready for bed by 8pm. But it was worth it, to go into my longest race yet with belief in my heart I can run strong and the mantra, ‘remember, Seville’ guiding the way.

 

Race report: The Marrakech marathon

Entering a marathon two weeks after a 43 mile ultra probably wasn’t my best idea ever. Despite having spent the last couple of weeks resting pretty hard, by mile eight of the Marrakech marathon my legs were already starting to feel a bit sore.

But mentally, I was flying. You see, Morocco has always held a special place in my heart and this was no less than my fifth visit to Marrakech (two of these were to run the half marathon). There’s just something about it that keeps drawing me back.

To be honest, the race is pretty shoddily organised. The expo is awful, there’s no bag drop or portaloos at the race start, or energy drinks on the course (just water, oranges and dates). For the €70 entry fee (€50 for the half), that’s pretty piss-poor. But if you can forgive these shortcomings then Marrakech really does make the perfect race-cation and minibreak. After all where else, for a three hour Easyjet flight, can you run through orange groves, palmeries and see camels against a backdrop of the Atlas mountains and terrocotta walls? Magical.

The race started early at 8am to avoid the heat of the sun. I’d read Sophie’s blog about the Dubai marathon while getting ready and, with mosques on every street corner in Marrakech, #mosquewatch seemed like a fun game to play. But the route took us out of the city and into the surrounding countryside, where mosques weren’t quite so ubiquitous, so Jon and I reverted to playing #camelwatch instead. I counted 131 in total and even stopped for a quick camel selfie at mile 18. I’m not normally a fan of selfies, but it was too good an opportunity to miss.

There were a few moments where I was convinced the race gods had been sent to test me; the first involving the dreaded runner’s tummy. Despite having hung around in the riad until the last possible moment to make the most of having a toilet (there were none at the race start or on the course), four miles into the race my stomach felt a bit churny and I knew there was no way I could last another three-plus hours without stopping. Fortunately, we were passing through some orange groves at the time so I was able to duck behind a tree. Not great, but I felt much better for it.

The race continued on long, flat stretches of road which felt great, psychologically, and I was really able to get into my running groove. But around the ten mile mark I started running alongside a guy with his Garmin on that setting where it does a little tune if you’re running above or below your target pace. It was excrutiatingly annoying, and to make matters worse he was wearing headphones so couldn’t even hear the damn thing. I tried to imagine what Sakyong Miphan, the zen master and author of Running With the Mind of Meditation would do. He’d probably manage to feel kindness rather than rage towards the dude. But I failed miserably and ended up angrily gesturing to him as I sped up to overtake. I’d make a really shit Buddhist.

The temperature had picked up by this point and had probably reached the mid 20s. There were a lot of (relative) downhill stretches in the second half and I overtook lots of people, getting my usual second wind around the 16 to 22 mile mark. I was fuelling on a hotch-potch of shot bloks left over from C2C, fruit-based jellies from the Venice marathon and a salted caramel Gu (tasty, but I find Gu gels way too thick). I was aiming for a sub 3:30 time and thought this was in the bag until the last few miles. But if I’d known I wasn’t going to run this sooner on in the race I’d probably have taken my foot off the gas much sooner, and as I crossed the line in 3:33 (AKA a half Satan), I was pretty damn chuffed all the same.

There was a serious lack of water at the end of the race, but plenty of satsumas, which tasted heavenly. Hobbling back to our riad, we grabbed a load of 3 Dirrham (about 25p) chocolate milks. In the afternoon we managed to find a roof terrace bar for well earned beers (in a country where it’s easier to buy hash than booze, that’s quite an achievement).

Marrakech is definitely a race I can recommend, with a few caveats, like bring your own fuel supplies. A visor or cap and/or sunglasses come in handy, as the sun is pretty strong. And don’t be too proud about having to crap behind bushes.

Race report: The Valencia marathon

Travelling abroad to races is a lot of fun, but after a while you come to know what to expect from certain countries. Hopefully this won’t read like a xenophobes guide to marathons, but northern European races (such as those in Germany and Scandinavia) tend to be organised with military precision, but with a high price tag and less frills (so no free race Ts, pasta parties or quirky goody bags). Southern European races, including those in Spain and Italy, are generally less well organised but compensate for this in part with cheaper race entry and generous race goodies.

But sadly Valencia was a bit of a let down. On arriving at the expo early on Saturday afternoon, Jon and I queued for about 20 minutes to collect our race numbers. We then had to pick up the rest of our race packs (which was essentially just a technical race tshirt) from a different area of the expo, and after queuing for another 20 minutes we discovered that only extra large t-shirts were left,which for the €60 entry fee was a bit disappointing.

So we stropped over to check out the paella party, but on discovering a queue of people buying €5 tickets to this, we stropped off to town to find something else for lunch. Fifteen minutes into the journey we discovered that we’d had vouchers for the paella party all along with our race packs, so we cheered up a bit and made our way back to the expo to wait in yet another queue for paella. In fairness this was pretty good and there was beer thrown in too. But all that queuing? Funny, because that’s what Brits are famed for…

On race morning, I’d heard rumours of free churros and chocolate for runners, but sadly didn’t find these. It was a cold start with a lot of weaving around slower runners, who had presumably been slightly ambitious about their finish time and started in earlier pens. After an emergency toilet stop at the ten kilometre mark Jon and I were back on the road, aiming for sub 3:30 times on one hand but trying to run a fairly relaxed race and enjoy the sights on the other.

But sadly the route wasn’t as scenic as the last few European races I’ve entered (such as Budapest and Venice) and my legs decided they didn’t particularly want to run 42.2 kilometres, so it was one of those ‘try to stay focussed and hang on in there’ days. I found that chanting ‘strong body, strong mind’ helped me to stay in a positive place, but my stomach felt sloshy, my quads ached and my brain kept reminding me about the time I’d spent drinking cider, jagerbombs and gin two nights previously. Jon was in an annoyingly good mood, which in my grumpy state I found highly irritating. At the 38k mark he bounded off, when the 3:30 pacemakers started breathing down our neck, and without any distractions I somehow managed to dig deep enough to pick up the pace for the last few kilometres, by just enough to squeeze in in 3:29:38.

The finish line

The race finished at the futuristic Ciudad de les Artes and Ciencias complex, on a specially constructed platform over water, which was pretty special. We collected our medals, a bag of satsumas and a selection of pastries, then headed into town for beers and tapas.  The event was, on the whole, an enjoyable experience, despite some of the organisational short comings. It was completely flat, there was plentiful water, energy drinks and gels, and bananas and dried apricots at regular interval around the course. The support around the route was great and the medal is one of my favourites. But all things considered, I can’t help but think that there are better Spanish races out there.

Guest race report: The Athens Marathon

Last Sunday, my Dad (that’s Keith to you folks) ran his first marathon in Athens and for such a momentus occasion for him I asked him to write a guest race report, so here it is (I must confess the last paragraph made me shed a little tear):

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I’ve spent the last few years entering races with my daughter and son-in-law, but doing the shorter version of the event (ie the half marathon), while they ran the longer one. On most occasions I still picked up the same medal and t-shirt but this made me feel like a fraud, having run a lot less miles to achieve mine than they had to for theirs. So Athens was my chance to match their achievements, in distance if not speed.

Of course marathons are not meant to be easy. It is not just simply two half marathons back to back. It isn’t a given that just because you can comfortably run a half you can turn up and know you can complete 26.2 miles. Even seasoned runners who have completed many marathons know it’s a distance to be treated with respect.

I had reservations about entering Athens as my first race, given its reputation for being a tough one. Add to this the fact that a stress fracture (which I’d stupidly run two half marathons on) had meant nine weeks of enforced rest prior to the race, the prospect of running 26.2 miles was doubly daunting.

The coach journey from the centre of Athens to the start line in Marathon, along the route we would be running, confirmed what I had suspected –  42.2k is A LONG WAY. Two hours before the race start the sun rose into a clear blue sky and it was certain that the expected temperature of 22°C would be the minimum we were likely to encounter.

Other runners taking part were a very friendly bunch and the fifty-ish minutes I had to wait around in my start pen before taking my first steps into the unknown flew by. Would I finish? Not a given after the previous nine weeks. Would the whole experience be such that it would be my first and my last marathon?

I need not have worried and I feel the injury actually helped me. I ran at a conservative pace from the word go and actually enjoyed the running, even at the infamous 20 mile point, where I had read that the effort really can suddenly start to become too much. I suppose I never really believed I wasn’t going to make it.

Even though a lot of the run was along uninhabited stretches of main road, whenever supporters were present the noise they made was amazing. The final few kilometres through the streets of Athens into the Olympic stadium were lined with clapping, cheering locals shouting out your bib name. What an amazing place to finish my first marathon, hopefully the first of many.

Although Pheidippides would certainly have been faster than me 2503 years earlier, his marathon would have been a trail rather than a road run and without water/electrolytes/gels and sponges every few kilometres. But at least I have survived to tell the tale, and only 5,219 of the 12,000 registered entrants were in front of me!

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So thank you to everyone who encouraged me and wished me well before the start. Cat – your belief was unwavering and reinforced to me that I could do it. And although maybe you would have liked to have been at the finishing line, I am pleased that I crossed it, even if it was with just my own thoughts. I do hope and intend that we can run one together; maybe not at your normal pace, but at one that doesn’t slow you down too much.

Keith/Dad normally blogs over at http://notjustanotherrunningblog.wordpress.com/

Race report: The Venice marathon

‘My first marathon with woman’ was the slogan printed on the t-shirt of the man standing in front of me at the start-line of the Venice marathon. Puzzling over its meaning while waiting for the start horn to sound, I almost missed a paraglider overhead, powered by what appeared to be little more than a motorised desk fan. Precariously dipping down every so often, his feet almost grazing the heads of runners, it made for an entertaining race start. You can always rely on foreign marathons to be a bit different.

It had been an early start; a 5:30am wake up and 7am bus put on by race organisers out to the start in Stra, a small town 20 miles north-west of Venice. The race began adjacent to the rather impressive and appropriately named Villa Pisani, given the number of runners relieving themselves outside the gates by the start corrals rather than queuing for the portaloos.

It was a muggy morning enveloped in grey mist, but still and dry; I was grateful that the storms had chosen to hit the UK rather than wreak havoc on Venice again (2012 saw runners battling 30mph winds and flooding). The first half of the race was pancake flat alongside a canal, passing huge villas and towns full of cheering locals. Live music along the way was really appreciated and a rendition of the brilliant Toots and the Maytals’/The Specials’ Monkey Man provided a much needed boost at the 25km mark.

One of the highlights of the race was crossing the bridge linking the mainland to Venice Island, which went on forever, stretching out for nearly 5km. I hadn’t really appreciated how many bridges there were on the island part of Venice until the 35km mark: the final 7km involved crossing around 14 bridges (fortunately ramps had been erected over these to avoid clambering up and down stairs, but nevertheless they were challenging). A quick circuit of St Mark’s Square at the 40km mark, a few more bridges, and I crossed the finish line in 3 hours 26 minutes and 16 seconds, inside my target time of 3:30.

After the race we caught a vaporetta (water boat – sounds better in Italian) back to the north side of the island (free boats were put on for runners) with amazing views – some compensation for not being able to source post-race chocolate milk anywhere on Venice Island. In the evening we donned our medals and headed out to Paridiso Perduto for drinks overlooking the northern canals, with cheap (and tasty) local wine flowing freely and seafood to snack on.

Reflecting on the race, I realised I’d pushed the pace much more than I thought I was really capable of. I don’t really like to bore everyone with times and pace too much on this blog or go on about myself, but I suppose I was quite surprised and pleased. Having spent the summer focusing on distance over speed for ultra training, running more miles at a slower pace and doing ZERO speedwork, I was worried I might spontaneously combust or something if I ran under 8 minute miles for too long (as I used to be able to do).

There were a few times during the race when the negative voices in my head tried to discourage me from pushing the pace. They told me to slow down and just chill out: I wasn’t after a PB, after all, just to get round and enjoy the scenery. But I suppose what I’m trying to say is that, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, having negative thoughts on long runs can essentially lead to negative consequences on your performance. By acknowledging them and actively turning them into positive ones (I found myself reinforcing ‘can’ whenever ‘can’t’ cropped up in my thoughts) it can have a really positive effect on your race.

Race report: The Budapest marathon

You learn something new every time you run a marathon and as I made a beeline for the Portaloos at kilometre 12 of Budapest, I wondered what it was that I should avoid eating next time around.

It could have been the pre-race pasta party at the expo the day before, where a choice of sweet or salty pasta topped with runny cottage cheese and deep fried bacon pieces was offered (it tasted as good as it sounds, really). There was also complimentary beer, which I don’t normally indulge in the day before a marathon. But I wasn’t really running for a time, rather, as a sightseeing tour of the city, so made an exception.

And the route didn’t disappoint either. It was predominantly along the Danube with the autumnal hues of the Buda hills and the city’s architecture to marvel at. From the gothic parliament building, castle turrets and something that looked like London’s Gherkin on its side, it was stunning and exactly what you need to make 26.2 miles fly past.

Except the race was marked in kilometres, which made for what seemed like a much longer experience. Kilometre makings are a great thing when a race is going well and it feels like the distance is ticking by nicely. But after about 30 kilometres they really started to drag. Not even the scenery swathed in glorious sunshine, frequent water stops and support from locals and tourists could detract from the fact that running on concrete felt tougher than the softer trails of my previous marathons and ultras.

But come 42 and a bit kilometres and passing under a sign which read ‘you are all heroes!’ (cue emotional fighting back tears moment), I was pleased I’d dug deep and made it round in roughly my target time (3 hours, 31 minutes and seven seconds). A post-race goody bag full of local snacks and chocolate milk (how did they guess…?) and a trip to the local thermal baths was the icing on the cake. Soaking my tired legs and feet while drinking beer really was the perfect finish to a day which involves running a marathon. Whether it’s 26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometres, you just can’t beat the atmosphere at a big city race. Budapest, you didn’t disappoint me at all.

Big thanks to the organisers of the Budapest marathon who gave me a complimentary place and put on a great race. Full e-race guide to follow.

Race report: The Kent Coastal Marathon

margateOh Margate, you do spoil us with your sandy beaches and sweeping coastline. Ok, so you may be a little rough around the edges and the boarded up arcades along the seafront spoil first impressions a bit. But dig a bit deeper and there are boutiques hotels, independent shops and restaurants serving local Kent produce popping up quicker than you can say ‘kiss me quick’.

To be fair, I’m probably a bit biased, as I holidayed in Margate as a child; not on the main strip but on a small beach around the corner. I remember spending afternoons hunting for crabs at low tide, clambering over rocks and seaweed. As a teenager I recall my first teenage crush on a local boy and getting drunk on cheap cider with a friend after getting our GCSE results; stumbling around Dreamland theme park before it was stripped of its rides and its soul.

But nostalgia aside, this was my second time running the Kent Coastal race, a course which could be described as mostly flat with slightly undulating stretches. Tracing the coastal path with around 700 other half and full marathon runners, we passed through Broadstairs, home of Dickens’ Bleak House and Morelli’s ice cream parlour, then back to Birchington. Frequent water stops and friendly marshals made battling a strong headwind on large parts of the route more bearable. I suppose a couple of little trophies picked up also sweetened the deal, as did post-race fish and chips overlooking the harbour before heading home.

It would be a shame not to mention the rather fabulous Great British Pizza Co, which served up a spectacular helping of pre-race carbs to top up my levels after a holiday in Ibiza the week prior to the race, which was spent over-indulging in booze and crisps. But coming away from the race with the 2nd lady place and a 3:32 finish time, I wonder if I dare say it. But I think beer really does make me run faster.

Photo credit: Dad

Throwback Thursday: The Nordmarka Marathon, Oslo

Warning: This post talks about a race where no medal was given out. If the principle of not receiving a medal after a race offends you then please feel free to stop reading.

This time last year my husband and I were packing our bags and heading to Norway for an extended run-cation. He was running the Nordmarka Skogsmathon, or the Nordmarka Forest Marathon for non-Norwegian speakers. Having heard great things about the country’s natural beauty it seemed like the perfect excuse to tag on an extra week after the race to explore the mountains, forests and fjords.

We flew into Oslo for the marathon, which was held in the forests north of the city. On race morning, after a 20 minute journey on the metro to the end of the line, we found ourselves at a sports centre in fresh, pine scented surroundings. Around 200 (mostly Norwegian) runners were congregated at the start area, ready to take on the Troll’s land and the lakes and trails of the Sognsvaan forest.

nordmarka route

Route source

The course was entirely through the forest around the many lakes in the region. Due to the remote nature of the route (and the weather – it was raining heavily) I wasn’t able to provide a personal photo service for Jon, so I’ve borrowed the below photo to give a rough idea of the scenery.

nordmarka marathon source

I met Jon after the race and he collected his goody bag, which as mentioned above featured NO MEDAL! However, the organisers gave out mugs branded with the race logo and a technical t-shirt, among other standard race nick-nacks. We headed to central Oslo for sightseeing in Statue Park and to hunt down an elusive cheap pint of beer (it’s no secret that Scandanavia is notoriously expensive – a 500ml beer cost about £8 in most bars in the city).

Sight seeing in Statue Park, Oslo

After the race we spent two further nights in Oslo (we even found a bar where beer was just £4), before heading north-west on the scenic Rauma Railway to Åndalsnes, a small town set in beautiful mountain scenery. We stayed in a cosy mini-cabin on a local campsite, which had the added bonus of being on a clearly marked 5k walking/running circuit. So for three days I had the priveledge of running with this scenery in the background:

Andalsnes

After two nights we caught a local bus down to the postcard perfect Geiranger, probably the most famous fjord in Norway and cruise ship favourite.  Geirangerford took our breath away – you can probably see from the photos below that it was stunning:

Geirangerford

And this one:

Geirangerford panorama

Hiking with real life llamas:

Hiking (sort of)

It was great for hiking (as non-serious hikers), with loads of well-marked trails up into the hills.

After Geiranger we headed south to Bergen on a ferry-bus combo and stayed in a lovely apartment. On the last night we treated ourselves to dinner out (having cooked for ourselves for most of the holiday) in Pingvinen and a few drinks around the city.

All in all it was a lovely, lovely holiday. Yes, it was fairly expensive, but nothing that couldn’t be managed by reverting to student ways. We ate a lot of pasta and tinned vegetables (a fresh pepper cost about £3 – not joking). I developed a love for frankfurters that I didn’t think was possible (don’t knock pasta with tomato sauce and chopped frankfurters until you’ve tried it). We drank ‘indoors’ a lot and the cost of booze (about £2.50 for a can of beer/fruit cider from a supermarket) vastly reduced our standard holiday alcohol consumption, which can’t be a bad thing. We stayed in self-catering cabins on campsites and apartments (about £30 a head per night).

Also, while I don’t necessarily go on holiday with the intention of exercising, it would have been a crime against running not to have done so, given the amazing scenery. I ran pretty much every day.

The Nordmarka marathon: http://www.skogsmaraton.no/
When: early/mid June
Location: Oslo, Norway
Rough size: 200-300
Price: approx £30-80 (tiered entry)