Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Race Report: EDP Rock 'n' Roll Madrid Marathon

Thursday, April 20, 3:30pm: It's the day of my trip to Spain.  I get a text that my flight to Paris on Air France (ticketed through Delta, though... gotta get those maximum MQMs and MQDs!), which is supposed to leave at 11:20pm tonight, is now departing at 12:45am. I immediately call Delta's Elite Medallion hotline, as this delay could very well cause me to miss my connecting flight to Madrid, as Paris is a huge airport, and passport control could take a very long time. There's an hour to two hour wait to speak with a rep.  I leave my callback number.  Ridiculous.

4:18pm: I get a text that my transatlantic flight on Air France that night has been cancelled, but I've been rebooked-- strangely, on another Air France flight that just happens to leave at the exact same time I was supposed to leave (at 11:20pm) but with a different flight number. I continue to wait for my callback from a Delta rep.

4:54pm: Delta calls me back. I explain my situation and they're puzzled by the delay, cancellation, and rebooking, too. The rep, Shani, is very nice and already begins the process of looking at alternate flights and immediately reserves a seat for me on a direct Delta flight from JFK to Madrid, leaving at 7:30pm.  A whole four hours (at least) ahead of my initial flight, and direct instead of with the Paris stopover. I stay on hold for them to re-ticket the flight off of Air France.

5:03pm: I'm ticketed and checked in on the direct flight to Madrid.  Totally free of charge.  Got a window seat, thank goodness, but unfortunately not able to be on the upgrade list since I was moved to the flight so late... but I can't complain. I'm getting into Spain a lot earlier than I had intended.

5:08pm: I still get text response from Air France... "your flight now leaves at 1:00am, arriving at 14:15. Your connecting flight, leaving at 14:40, remains unchanged." #sorryNOPE

5:10pm: I'm out the door and headed to the airport.

5:45pm: Arrive at JFK Terminal 4. Beeline it to TSA Precheck line at security checkpoint (thankfully I could use it... If I flew Air France, I wouldn't have it and would probably still be stuck in the security line at Terminal 1!)
6:00pm: I get to my gate.  It's actually pretty quiet, I rushed for nothing, LOL.

7:30pm: And we're off! I'm flying out four hours early and arriving in Madrid at 9:10am instead of 4:50pm. Yay for 8 extra hours to play in Spain!

The following morning, we land in Madrid at 9:10am! I am able to quickly get through passport control (I run past all the folks just walking along down the long corridor from the gate), and meet fellow Black Sheeper Greg outside in arrivals.  He arrived maybe half an hour ahead of me on a Delta flight direct from Atlanta.  We head straight for the metro, which is a long walk from the terminals.  Sherry was to join us, but her plane leaving Newark became delayed and she wouldn't end up arriving until later in the day.

After about fifteen minutes of walking, we end up in huge lines to get tickets to get on the metro.  We get our single rides to Tribunal station in Chueca, the closest station to our apartment, and arrive by 10:30, meeting up with Mitch, who had arrived yesterday.

Breakfast of champions. Potato, egg,
and onion tortilla española
at Bodega La Ardosa

Before I left, I found an Travel Guide on TripAdvisor entitled, "3 days in Madrid" must dos. I'm starving, so Mitch and I head to Bodega La Ardosa, which is on this list.  Turns out, it's just two blocks from our apartment. The place has been around since 1892, and serves some of the most authentic tapas in the city - one of these items is a tortilla española - a potato and onion omelet - and is the most popular item on the menu, costing me only €2.95, which included a side of fresh bread.  Mitch and I then walked down along Calle Fuencarral southward down to the Puerta del Sol, a large public square known as one of the busiest places in Madrid, and a landmark that we'd be running through in the marathon, before getting a text from Sherry that she had finally arrived at the airport.  We headed back to the apartment to retrieve Greg, and gave Sherry directions to meet us at the race expo, as the expo was much closer to the airport as it was to the apartment - and it would save her money and time.

Walking around on Calle Fuencarral, and a store called "Oveja Negra" or "Black Sheep" in Spanish

Sweets aplenty at La Mallorquina
We took the metro back up toward the airport to the Campo de las Naciones stop. At that stop is the IFEMA event center, where the expo was being held in one of the center's twelve humongous pavilions. We easily found Sherry and also Erika (another Black Sheep runner) after picking up our own bibs and t-shirts, and we milled around the expo before heading back into town to have Sherry drop her stuff off at the apartment.  We then decided to wander around the touristic areas walking distance from where we were staying, including the Puerta del Sol (again), and the Plaza Mayor, another central plaza surrounded by balconies only a few blocks away.  We also made stops for food (starving again!) at a little storefront on the Gran Via serving Iberian ham sandwiches and for a quick merienda of pastries and beverages at La Mallorquina, a historic 100+ year old bakery along the edge of the Puerta del Sol.  We also stopped into the Mercado San Miguel, to peruse the offerings in a lively Spanish market setting.

Plaza Mayor
Jamón ibérico!!

Reconnecting with my high school friend, Laura,
who's been living in Madrid for the past 3 1/2 years
We headed back to the apartment to rest up for a bit before heading back out for dinner at a later hour (just like how the Spanish do it), and would end up meeting with my high school friend Laura at a microbrewery, Fabrica Maravillas, located the next block over from our apartment, which was recommended by the management folks of the apartment we were staying at.  They had about five different beers on tap, and it was pretty busy when we got there.  After drinks, we stopped at a couple restaurants where we couldn't be seated due to lack of reservation (Friday nights are HOT in the trendy Malasaña district!), but we ended up finding our way to a great restaurant about 10 minutes from our apartment, called La Mucca, where as we waited for a table, we bonded over drinks - in particular, the ever present refreshing tinto de verano, a drink very similar to sangria. We all learned from Laura a Spanish way of saying "cheers" - by bumping the glass to the countertop, as we say "Quien no apoya no folla," meaning "He/She who doesn’t tap the glass down doesn’t get laid" - much like the superstition of not looking someone in the eyes during a toast can lead to seven years of bad sex.  Dinner was great (albeit a little chilly in the evening air, since we were seated outside), and soon we were feeling our eyelids droop from the six hour time difference.  

I <3 Dana! In Madrid,
she became a Black Sheep!
After a restful night's sleep (for me at least... I shut myself into the little alcove loft space without any windows, so I couldn't hear any street noise), we woke up around 10am and took our time to get ourselves ready and out the door before heading right back to the expo, where we would meet up with my friend Dana (as her flight was getting in that morning) and eventually Irene and Jesus from Chicago at the free Pasta Party also located at the expo.  I also realized that the Limited Edition World Rocker Medal, which I was to receive upon completion of the marathon here in Madrid, was to actually be picked up at the expo rather than after the race; so I picked it up that afternoon.  After brainlessly trying to find the entrance to the pasta party (it was all the way around to the other end of the massive building), we got ourselves situated and enjoyed the eh-tasting pasta, but with free beer, we couldn't pass it up.  We then headed back toward the apartment, where we would lounge around and meet up with Erika (again) and her friend Peter, before heading out for a relatively early dinner (by Spanish standards) at the nearby Mercado San Anton.  It was recommended in my TripAdvisor travel guide: "Recently renovated, San Anton Market (El Mercado de San Anton) is a new hotspot for local gastro lovers. That's because it's one part old-fashioned market, complete with meat, fish and produce stands, and another part modern foodie paradise, consisting of tapas bars and even a rooftop bar and restaurant."  We found seats at a pop-up restaurant called Trinkhalle, located on the third floor of the market, in the multidisciplinary "Espacio Trapézio" space. The food was nothing that special, and the service was far from acceptable, as there was a single waitress working all the tables.  But we managed to have our dinner before 10pm (also meeting up with several other Black Sheep who made their way to  our location - Deb, Amy, Fernando, and Ale), which was the goal, since we had a race the next morning.  So, Saturday was a bit more restful of a day.

Palacio de Cibeles on race morning
Black Sheep crew pre-race
Sunday was race day, and with the 9am start, we wanted to leave enough time to leisurely walk to the ~2 miles to the finish line, where gear check would be, have enough time to utilize the port-a-potties near the 10K start line, and then get ourselves into the start corrals along the Paseo del Prado.  We left the apartment while watching several people whose evenings were just ending, stumbling back home after a very long night (and morning) out, as well as the street cleaners washing down the streets and sidewalks.  It was actually very beautiful to pass the Plaza de Cibeles at that hour, seeing the majestic Palacio de Cibeles (currently the seat of the Madrid City Council, home of a terrace that can see the entire city, and housing a cultural centre called CentroCentro) lit against the morning sun.  It was also quite nice being able to walk through Buen Retiro Park, where we would end the race, passing by the huge artificial pond in front of the Monument to Alfonso XII. We eventually made it to the gear check area, which was already filling up with people, before we headed right back to the northwest corner of the park to hit up the port-a-potties just as the 10K runners were leaving at 8:30.  After everyone had gotten through their necessary motions, we headed to the start corrals, and made our way inside to Corral 4, as no one seemed to be paying attention to the assigned corral numbers on our bibs.  The five of us met with Irene and Jesus there, as well as birthday girl Nichole, patiently waiting as our corrals moved forward. With the sun out, it was a nice 55° to begin the race.  We crossed the start mats at 9:13, and began to make our way northward along the extremely wide boulevard, known as Paseo de Recoletos, until we made our way past several large plazas marked with fountains and/or monuments.

The startline!
Running up the Paseo de Recoletos toward the Plaza de Colón
The fountain at Plaza San Juan de la Cruz

Obelisco de la Caja
Past the Plaza Colón and its fountain, the boulevard became known as Paseo de la Castellana, which we would follow all the way up until the four mile mark near the Almenara ward of the Tetuán district of the city.  Along the Paseo, which we could definitely feel was a gradual uphill the entire way, we would pass several major points, including the Nuevos Ministerios, a complex of government buildings including the Ministry of Public Works; the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, home of the Real Madrid Club de Fútbol since 1947 (and where the very important annual "El Clásico" match versus Barcelona would be played THAT EVENING); and many business, banking and financial buildings, including those that house AZCA, Puerta de Europa, and the CTBA.  At the north end of this part of the route was the Plaza de Castilla, where the Puerta de Europa towers are situated, and the 301 foot tall Caja Madrid Obelisk, designed by Santiago Calatrava, stands.  We would also pass a large bus stop area, and see runners coming southward clear on the other side of the massive boulevard.

Paseo de Castellana, passing the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu
10k in, through Castillejos
As per usual, the first water stop is what could be explained as a shitshow.  People running over each other to quickly get a swig of water before continuing -- of course, I try to make my way to the edge unsuccessfully.  I manage to get myself appropriately hydrated, and then get back onto the course.  The turn around point is unassuming, but we get back onto the Paseo de la Castellana heading southward, and its noticeably less difficult to run on, since we're heading downhill.  Past the Puerta de Europa towers and the obelisk, we make a right turn, and proceed down the Calle de Bravo Murillo, deep into the middle of Tetuán district. This commercial thoroughfare is the boundary between several of the barrios within this working class district.  At about the 6.5 mile point, we turned left at the Glorieta de Cuatro Caminos, going down a nice downhill along the south lanes of the Calle de Raimundo Fernandez Villaverde.  My high school friend Laura, who's lived in Madrid for the past three years, lives near here, and indicated she'd be at the 11k mark on the left side - but it turns out, she was on the right.  Sadly, I missed her and a sign she had made specifically for me and my friends!

A tree lined street in Arapiles
Undeterred, I continued onward, as we crossed over the Paseo de la Castellana, which we had ran earlier, and to the southeast, as we passed the Plaza de la Republica Argentina, eventually making our way down an offramp onto the Calle de Lopez de Hoyos.  We weaved through some streets of the El Viso barrio in the commercial district of Chamartín and the Castellana barrio of the more upscale Salamanca district, before separating roughly 8.6 miles into the race from the half marathoners, who would continue straight down the Calle de Serrano, while we turned right onto the Calle de Juan Bravo, immediately being able to spread out with less people taking up the roadway.  We hit the mile 9 mark as we made our way down Calle de Almagro.

Our Lady of Montserrat Church
At Plaza Alonso Martinez, we made a sharp right turn and headed northwestward along Calle de Santa Engracia in the district of Chamberí, a very traditional, village-like area that seems to be your typical Madrileño relaxed and friendly neighborhood, still close to the city center, but not too close to make it be too touristic.  We then made our way down the Calle de San Bernardo, partly with a steep descent sending us past the Church of Our Lady of Montserrat, one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in Madrid.  After a short few blocks down Madrid's Gran Via, we made our way onto the Calle de Preciados, one of the first pedestrian thoroughfares in the Spanish capital, and also a buzzing street notably known as one of the most expensive streets in the world with commercial rents approaching an average of $316 per square foot per year

Running past Palacio Real
Eventually, we emerged onto the Puerta del Sol, surrounded by thousands of people cheering the runners on, as we turned past the La Mallorquina bakery onto Calle Mayor, heading westward toward the Calle de Bailén and the Royal Palace (Palacio Real), the largest royal palace in Europe by floor area and the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family; and the Plaza de Oriente,  the rectangular park that connects the east facade of Palacio Real to the Teatro Real.  While it was quite awesome to be running past the palace and its surrounding sights, I had to pay some real attention to my footing, as much of the roadway was cobblestones or slippery stone pavers.  We were only a kilometer away from the halfway point of the race.  Notably, I had been running by the 4:45 pacers for much of the first half of this race, but by the time we reached the palace, it was funny to see them BEHIND the 5:00 pacers.  Obviously, someone had gone out too fast, and had not being paying attention to their pace!

Parque del Oeste and the Fountain
We passed the hubbub of the Palace and took off northwestward onto the Calle Ferraz, passing the halfway point, which I crossed in a chip time of 2:23:54. Although slower than I would like, the temperatures were rising rapidly, and because of the later start, we were in the thick of temps rising to the upper 60s at this point in time.  We also had a tough uphill right up to the halfway point, which was allayed by the fact that we had a nice downhill coming up shortly, as we made our way into the Parque del Oeste, which at one point in time of Madrid's history was its landfill.  Right as we turned into the park and past the beautiful Fountain of Juan de Villanueva, we had a nice solid downhill for the next 3/4 mile, finally posting a steady 9 to 9:30 pace right up til we got to the edge of the park at the mile 15 mark, and where I took my first GU packet of the race.  We make a sharp left turn and cross underneath a bridge and then run down the Avenida de Valladolid, basically running along the western edge of the Parque del Oeste.  In the distance, we can see the Royal Palace high up on the hill, as we ran toward the Puerta de San Vicente arch.


A tunnel of trees
in Casa de Campo
We made a turn into the open plaza facing the arch, then proceeded along the pathways through the riverside Parque Virgen del Puerto, taking us across the Rio Manzanares, and through the shaded pathways along the Paseo del Embarcadero as we moved deeper into Madrid's largest park, the Casa de Campo.  Once a royal hunting estate, this 6.8 square mile park is MASSIVE, and has many more natural and hilly areas, showing off Madrid's semi-arid beauty with red soil and scruffy pine trees.  This park actually has a bad reputation of being a place frequented by prostitutes, however none were seen during the run (at least, from my vantage point, lol!) We proceeded along a lengthy treelined stretch (which was gradually uphill) along the Paseo Maria Teresa, before making the turn at the 18 mile mark onto the Ronda Lago, finally enjoying a downhill that would take us out of the park via the Paseo Puerta del Angel, and onto the Avenida de Portugal, where I was able to buy back some time by proceeding down the hill at a screaming pace.  Just after the 19 mile mark, we turned onto the Paseo Marquès de Monistrol and followed the west bank of the Rio Manzanares southward.  We banked right onto the Paseo de la Ermita del Santo, following it through the high-rise residential area, chugging long through a rather uninspiring section of the course.  However, it was here, where I began to play a little bit of cat and mouse with an older woman wearing a "100 Marathons Club / Bionic Karen" singlet, and later chatted with her to find out that this race was her 200th marathon!  Karen lived in England, and has done many races in Europe, and her partner Brian was setting a world record in running 100 marathons apiece in three different countries - England, the Netherlands, and Spain!

Estadio Vicente Calderón
The wall came down hard.  With just over a 10K to go, the high temps were definitely becoming a factor, and I struggled to keep up a steady running pace before needing to walk again.  To make matters worse, miles 20-25 were gradually uphill.  And boy, would we feel it.  We made our way back over the Rio Manzanares, but this time over a bridge called the Puente de San Isidro, which would take us past yet another stadium, this time the home of Real Madrid's intercity rival, Club Atlético de Madrid. The Estadio Vicente Calderón loomed to the south of us, as we ran exposed to the sun, but we continued onward, as we looped our way to the eastern bank of the Rio Manzares, running northward along the Paseo de la Virgen del Puerto, through the barrio of Imperial in the central-southern district of Arganzuela.  We trudged along through a very unimpressive residential neighborhood along the Paseo Imperial, eventually making our way to the Paseo de las Acacias, and a long stretch of gradually uphill road that we would end up being on for the next mile.  I felt like I was playing fartleks with my body, just trying to run to every other stoplight, walk for a minute, then start over again, as we continued along this stretch of road.

Running past the Museo Prado, which I remember visiting when I was 8 years old in 1992!
Eventually, we'd reach Atocha and the first of the Golden Triangle of Art - the Reina Sofia Museum. We then turned right onto the Paseo del Prado (surprisingly the same road where we had assembled at the start of the race, and where we would pass where the start line had been, just south of the Plaza de Cibeles), passing the Museo Nacional del Prado on one side of the road, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum on the other.  We were less than a 5k from the finish at this point, but it was a truly ROUGH last 5K.

Finishing alongside new friend Karen,
who ran her 200th career marathon!
We continued back up the Paseo Recoletos, feeling a sense of deja vu from earlier that morning, eventually turning onto the Calle de Goya, and hoping for the right turn to get into Retiro Park... but no, we actually turn left into Salamanca, taking the Calle de Velazquez only four blocks north and the Calle del Principe de Vergara four blocks south.  An out-and-back through a not very exciting neighborhood... but it had to be done.  Eventually, the park finally came into sight, and also the metal barricades.  The crowds had long gone, cheering for most of the half marathoners and faster marathoners who had come in over an hour ago, but we had the finish line in mind, as we took the Paseo Fernan Nuñez through the eastern part of Buen Retiro Park.  A fake finish line (for the 10K, I believe) greeted us, but we knew better after having seen that earlier that morning when getting gear check -- the actual finish line was another hundred yards away.  I crossed in 5:08:23, relieved to be done, and gasping for water and shade.  Karen had finished about ten minutes in front of me, but I managed to get to her and take some photos, before finding my Black Sheep who had waited up for me, and for the rest of us still coming in to finish the race.  It was a tough one for all of us, with the heat and the slightly unexpected variations in elevation... but another country was done!

Celebration... at Taco Bell!! (Seriously!)
Taco Bell and beer.  YES.
While there was no beer tent or party after this race, we decided to make our own, and despite feeling deprived of all of our energy, we sought out a place to celebrate... and in Spain, Taco Bell has beer.  As we headed in that direction, we passed by the Puerta de Alcala, a stone gate monument at the corner of Retiro Park.  Here, I did my victory headstand, in front of what is regarded as the first modern post-Roman triumphal arch built in Europe, older than the similar monuments Arc de Triomphe in Paris and Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. We got to Taco Bell at the perfect time... it just so happened to be "happy hour," only available 5-8pm from Friday to Sunday, we could purchase a meal item (in my case quesadillas) and THREE Mahou beers... all for only €4 - what a steal!  We all laughed as our orders came in... the Madrileño cashiers had much trouble with pronouncing and spelling our American names: Jim became Yin, Greg became Gred (?) Dana became Deina, and Mitch became Mish.  Laura even came down to meet us, too, and brought the handmade sign she had made for us that said "Vamos Campeones!" or roughly, "Let's go, champs!"  After our celebration, we headed back to the apartment for much needed freshening up, and soon, dinnertime was already upon us.  We made for a quick dinner at a small bar around the corner from our apartment, and decided to share some delicious Spanish tapas, before we turned in for the night, and woke up early the next morning to get ourselves to the airport for our flights back home, the earliest starting at 11am.  I flew home via Paris, and got home that evening, eager to get to bed, as I stayed up the entire transatlantic flight in order to readjust to east coast time quicker.  Plus, I had work the next day.  Such is my life after these run-cations!

Well earned Victory Headstand at the Puerta de Alcalá, in the Plaza de la Independencia.
Final meal in Spain... and FINALLY getting my Pulpo a la Gallega (Galician-style octopus)!
And what a trip it was... another country checked off!  It had been 25 years since my last visit to Madrid, so it was definitely quite nice to be able to experience it as an adult.  I'm so glad to have been able to experience it with my running friends - and to reconnect with old friends as well!

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