This Sunday was the 8th annual half-marathon of Segovia. Nearly 3,000 people took part, including me. It was my first official half marathon, and despite having splurged on fancy footwear and aerodynamic lycra leggings with little reflective ‘speed’ stripes, and having been training (relatively) regularly since Christmas, I was absolutely dreading it.
This was mostly because of the weather. After a fortnight of spring-like sunshine (a cruel teaser), the weather had reverted back to being overcast, rainy, incredibly windy, and just damn unpleasant. But also because Segovia is just such a tough city to run, even under optimal conditions, and especially when you’ve got to do 21km of it. So the combination of wet weather and winding streets of ancient, well worn cobblestones was inevitably going to make for particularly difficult terrain, and a long, hard race.
Despite all this, the day turned out to be a success. Much to my surprise (and relief), I finished the course – alive, pain free, and in much better time than I’d hoped. But the best thing of all was that – I had fun! It was actually enjoyable, and dare I say it, an exciting, exhilarating, and overwhelmingly positive experience. Aside from a runny nose, minor headphone battle, toilet urgency (it passed, but was not made any easier by seeing guys making quick detours whenever there were trees or bushes available, which was totally unfair, and totally disgusting), and a rude, unexpected hill at km 17 (I’d been looking forward to running down it, but to my horror, they’d changed the route so that we had to go up it), I spent the better part of the race running along happily to a perfectly timed ‘inspirational music’ playlist, with a stupid grin on my face, waving at familiar and unfamiliar faces, high fiving little kids along the way, thinking, ‘my god, this is awesome’. The atmosphere was electric from start to finish. That’s to say, from the pre-race warm up (so many good looking sporty people, so many hilarious warm up techniques!), to the exhausted post-race bonanza of sweaty hugs, show bag collection, powerade sculling, and the usual ‘trying to find my friends in the crowd’ chaos.
So during the race I had two hours of uninterrupted, compulsory reflection time, and my thoughts rather predictably gravitated towards running, Segovia, and ultimately, why Segovia is such a great place to run. I even made a little list in my head.
1. It’s beautiful. The city itself is full of spectacular monuments, and within five minutes you can be in the countryside, with rivers, hills, and leafy parks and picnic areas (picnicking not for you, you are running)
2. The air is fresh and clean.
3. There are lots of drinking fountains.
4. There are heaps of uphills and downhills. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a decent flat route. Although the uphills do make it tough, they also get you in shape pretty quickly, and the downhills are a pleasant reward. Running Segovia is like doing incidental FARTLEK training, and you don’t even need a stopwatch.
5. It’s at altitude. Only 1,000m, so not enough to completely wipe you out if you’re not used to it. But enough to notice some affects when you first start exercising there. I’m no expert in fitness or physiology, but I’m pretty sure that if you adapt to the altitude and no longer feel the effects, that means you must be getting stronger. Or rather, your blood is taking up oxygen faster and you’re on the right track to becoming super human. Ye-ah
6. Aside from last weekend, the weather is usually quite good. Segovia has a dry climate, so even when it snows, it doesn’t feel as cold as it should. And in summer, unlike most of Spain, it cools down overnight (so you can run quite comfortably in the early morning).
7. There’s very little traffic. The city centre is horrible for driving and has lots of restrictions, and there are plenty of walking and bike paths all around the outskirts. So you rarely have to contend with pedestrian crossings (or feel silly jogging on the spot at traffic lights while all the cars are watching you).
8. There’s no dog poo.
And… those are all the reasons I could come up with. Of course, I was hoping for a nice round ten. Perhaps I needed to run a little further to get some more ideas. Or not.
Well, in the unlikely event that anyone who reads this blog actually comes to Segovia and runs, here’s my only warning: avoid Calle Real (the main street from the plaza to the aqueduct) between 8am – 10am (bottleneck of delivery trucks), or 10am – 2pm (bottleneck of tour groups) or 6pm – 9pm (bottleneck of locals out for their evening stroll).
And the best time to run? At daybreak, especially in the busy tourist period. That’s when you’re most likely to see the hot air balloons floating across the dawn sky. Or you can catch them at ground level; they take off from the fields opposite the Alcazar. The champagne breakfast tourists will happily give you a wave, and you all start the day with a smile on your face.