Sunday, May 24, 2015

Madrid Marathon - April 26, 2015

Know the Customs
"See," Rebecca says, nudging me while we sit at at the bar at El Botero Taberna in Toledo, "that couple sitting at the table asked for the menu, so they didn't get any tapas."

It's the day after the Madrid Marathon and we are still picking up valuable insights into Spanish customs.  This is one of the most important ones: so long as you order drinks and don't express any interest in getting food, you get a tapa with your drink.  It doesn't have to be alcoholic: this afternoon I'm having a glass of vino tinto, An is having ginebra y tonica and Rebecca is having tonica and we all have tapas.

A Spanish couple walks in and sits next to us.  They order glasses of wine and get a plate with four tapas.  Maybe they are regulars, or locals, or just Spanish.  Before we leave, after having ordered some media ración (half plates) to share, the couple is on their third glass of wine and third tapas.

Speed Touring Day 1
I arrive in Madrid on Thursday morning (the marathon is Sunday), get to the office of Friendly Rentals to pick up the keys for our apartment in the Chamberi neighborhood and make my way there. After getting settled I head out to explore Madrid. Exiting the Metro at Gran Via brings me up in front of the Telephone Company headquarters where demonstrators are occupying the street and being harangued by megaphone and drum and police stand by, but everything seems calm as pedestrians pass on the sidewalks and the street vendors keep selling (and occasionally raising a clenched fist in solidarity with something said over the loudspeakers).

I wander into the large department store El Corte Inglés and get a take-away something to eat that I consume sitting in the Plaza Puerta del Sol where I watch I watch costumed street performers work the tourists for pictures and tips. A short stroll takes me to the Plaza Major where I stop at a the bar of a restaurant for a glass of wine - and a tapa.  Restaurant prices in Madrid are generally absurdly low, and the wine costs less than two euros.

Refreshed, I continue west to the Royal Palace.  It is an astonishing place, with remarkable rooms each more astonishing than the previous one.

Speed Touring Day 2
On Friday morning I head to the Museo Reine Sofia to see its collection of modern art.  It's generally not my favorite style, but its collection of works by Picasso, Miró and especially Dalí are stunning. And, then there is Guernica, returned to Spain only in 1981 after the death of Franco and the restoration of democracy.

After a lunch of a bocadillo de calamares (fried squid on a short sub roll) and a beer (olives for the tapa)  I walk to the Museo de arte Thyssen to view its eclectic collection of art ranging from the the Middle Ages to modern (and a nice selection of Hudson River School paintings). After a rest on the terrace of the museum overlooking its garden to recharge with a glass of vino tinto (bar kibble for a  tapa) I go back to the apartment to await the arrival of Rebecca and An from their flight.

Off to the Expo
After their arrival and a bit of time to relax we head off to the Marathon Expo so Rebecca and I can pick up our packets.  It is an easy five stop Metro ride that does not require any train changes.

There's a short line to get into the Expo, but once in packet pick up is easy and we wander around after getting something to drink at the snack bar (no tapas, but free bananas at the next stand).  I look over the Havana Marathon booth, Rebecca buys a tank top Madrid Marathon shirt, then buys some banana-flavored marshmallow candy (in the shape of a banana).

We go back to the apartment then go out to eat.  We find a place with tables on the street, order a pitcher of sangria (days later the bartender at El Botero tells us that only tourists drink sangria) and order a couple of media ración. Rebecca picks one that is patatas fritas with something else that none of us can figure out.  When it arrives it is french fries with cocktail franks - especially ironic given that the vegetarian amongst us ordered it.  An and I don't have any problem finishing off the mini-wieners while Rebecca goes at the fries.  We move down the street to eat at another place and share more plates, including a nice bowl of steamed mussels.

Speed Touring Day 3
Detail from
The Hay Wain
by Hieronymus Bosch
Saturday I visit the Prado, simply the greatest museum for painting in the world. One proceeds from one room of El Greco paintings to another to yet another. Room after room filled with Goyas (the online catalog lists 116) exhibiting his extraordinary range of style and culminating in the powerful Third of May 1808.

I spend some time studying the intricate, fantastical and detailed works of Heronymous Bosch like the Hay Wain and The Garden of Earthly Delights as well as grimly detailed paintings such as Pieter Brueghel's The Triumph of Death.

I meet up with Rebecca and An and we go off to meet up with Rebecca's friend Kathryn and her husband King to share a pasta meal.  Katheryn is running the half marathon and then the two of them are off to drive through northern Spain for ten days or so.

Afterwards we head back toward the Prado were Rebecca and An take advantage of the free admission after 5 p.m.  While they go there I head to the Naval Museum a couple of blocks away. It is fairly interesting but the labels are only in Spanish so it is hard for me to understand descriptions more than superficially.  I do note a lack of information about the Armada of 1588.  Also unsurprisingly the section that has material about the Spanish in the Philippines lacks information about the Battle of Manila Bay in 1898.

I meet back up with Rebecca and An in the Prado, and then we head back to the apartment, stopping yet again for drinks, tapas and food.

Race Day
Our apartment is conveniently located in relation to the start of the marathon, and a departure at 8:05 for the short Metro ride and walk gets us there in time for the 9:00 a.m. start.

The weather is more of a problem.  Temperatures are in the 50s and are not predicted to increase throughout the day.  More troubling is that the forecast is for showers and rain throughout the day.  I set out with a hat, buff, long sleeve shirt, short sleeve shirt and arm warmers, a nylon shell and gloves. I make a last minute decision that I won't need the long sleeve shirt and give it to An.

Rebecca happy about km 3
We have approached the start line from the front. We are supposed to line up in corral 5 which would require us to walk toward the rear of the runners lined up.  Since there are 12000 marathoners and 7000 half marathoners, all starting at the same time, (as well as 5000 10K runners starting at 8:30) we simply wait at the entrance to corral 2 until the race is started and runners from the fifth corral come into view (corrals are marked on the bibs).

The first 5.5 kilometers are a steady, but not steep uphill.  Runnable but we know we are going uphill.  There is no rain and as we warm up both Rebecca and I remove layers until we are down to our matching steam-punk themed shirts - the ones we wore at Marathon du Medoc in 2013.

Approaching the twin towers of Puerta de Europa
at  Plaza Castilla about km 5 (and then km 8)
We follow the broad Passeo de la Castellana northward, passing through the twin towers of the Puerta de Europa. In about another kilometer the course makes a U-turn and shortly thereafter a light rain or mist begins.  We put our jackets on,  It is a maneuver that we will repeat several times over the next few hours as the rain comes and goes.

Having turned in the opposite direction, the course now gives us a downhill.  In fact, with the exception of a few short uphills, we will generally run gently downhill for the next 25 kilometers.

Tales of Three Spaniards
On Calle Santa de Engracia(?) about km 15
There are no throngs of spectators, at least toward the back of the pack where we are as the weather is not conducive to standing around unless there is a runner you are trying to see. At one point an elderly man in his Sunday suit decides that he needs to cross the street.  He steps out into a crosswalk, looks steadily ahead, and regally walks slowly across the street as runners dodge around him.

A bit further along I await while Rebecca uses a race Portapotty in front of a church.  A women asks me a question in Spanish.  I have no idea of what she has asked, but it may have something to do with the marathon, so I point to the facilities and in my best tourist Spanish say "mi amiga!"

Still further along I point to a cervecería (they are basically beer bars), jokingly suggesting that we could stop for a drink while I mangle the word. A runner corrects my pronunciation. I try again. Get corrected again. Try again.  Finally my pronunciation is close enough to the satisfaction of the runner.

Around kilometer 14 the half marathoners leave the joint course to head to the finish. Both groups of runners wave good bye to each other.

We run through Puerta del Sol and near Plaza Major and then past the Palace. The course nearly replicates my stroll on Thursday.  We cross a small bridge over Rio Manzanares into the Casa de Campo for about four kilometers, a large park on the west side of Madrid.

Northern Yankees
We pass the site of the expo and come upon several runners speaking English in a accent we recognize.
Onto Gran Via about km18

"Buenas dias, Yanquis," I say.

"We're not Yankees," comes the reply, "We are Canadians."

"Ah, Northern Yankees," I quip.

They are from Nova Scotia and we run along with them for awhile, talking about the weather ("at least it isn't snowing"), visits to Nova Scotia by Rebecca and me and the usual stuff runners talk about.

Bust a Move
The Madrid Marathon is part of the Rock n' Roll franchise so there are a number of bands along the course.  Some of the bands sing in English, others in Spanish.  There is a mix of styles, from classic rock, to punk (or maybe grunge), to metal, to some softer indie play.  I take the opportunity to energetically dance to some of the classic rock, resulting in me huffing along for the better part of a kilometer to catch my breath.

Around kilometer 33 we recross the river.  An, riding a BiciMad electric bike share, intercepts us.  He has been trying all day to intercept us on the course and this is the first he has succeeded.  The next nine kilometers are a steady uphill with a net gain of about 375 feet.  Now we are running in a steady rain.  The streets are accumulating puddles that we try to get around or over.

At kilometer 37 we pass Reine Sophia and the Estación de Atocha, where we will get the AVE high speed train (it will hit 160 mph to Toledo on Monday), make a slight left to pass the Prado and recross the start line at kilometer 38.

Hell is a Lonely Place
By now I have gotten to a very dark place.  There is no happiness in the last few miles of a marathon.  You are not feeling good "because you are almost done."  You are feeling bad because you have just run 22 or 23 or 24 miles on pavement and you are NOT done.  A marathon is a 10K following a 20 mile warm-up.  That last 10K, especially the last 5K, is never a happy place.

I'm struggling.  I feel like those tormented souls in the Hay Wain.  Perhaps looking a macabre paintings the day before a marathon is not advisable. Now Rebecca is chirping positive thoughts at me.  That makes me angry.  I tell her to stop; that it is not making me feel better.  She says that she isn't doing it for me, but to keep her own spirits up. "Then run off and talk to yourself," I snap. She does and will finish a couple of minutes ahead of me.

But soon enough I enter the Parque de El Retiro, cross the finish line and find Rebecca waiting. I finish in 4:45:13, 72 of 91 in my age group, and 9678 of 10537 male finishers. I take solace in that I picked up 563 places in the second half.

C-c-can Y-y-you S-s-say Hypothermia
The steady rain and mid-50s temperatures continue at the finish.  Having stopped running we are no longer generating heat and soon Rebecca and I are both shivering while our finger go numb.  And we need to find An.  We had agreed to meet at a certain place in the park but we have no idea of how to get there and no one at the finish knows where the intersection that we need to get to is.

We try texting and calling An but the shaking, numb fingers makes use of the device difficult.  We give him a partial location at a snack bar where we have managed to get some shelter and a cup of tea. (An aside: the counter server asks if green tea is OK as he is out of black tea. Rebecca notes later that we would have been happy with a cup of hot water.) Before we can complete the address we exhaust the funds on the prepaid sim card.

Just as we are about to try to head back to the apartment on our own (it was plan B) An finds us.  We walk shivering out of the park, hail a cab and head back to the apartment.  The driver asks if the cab is too warm. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Swag: shirt, buff, backpack, bib, program,
medal, gels, box of supplements