This word more than others got me through the Behobia to San Sebastián 20km run last November. The terrible weather didn’t help. The hills certainly didn’t help. But all those people, lining the route and often in the middle of nowhere, shouting at us to “COME ON!” was one thing that put a smile on my face.
The day started early, up before dawn eating toast and peanut butter in my friend Jenny’s apartment and driving through the mountains as the sun rose to reveal a wet, grey day. We parked up and took the train and bus to Behobia, a small town on Spain’s border with France. We were early, though the crowds were already forming: a brightly coloured bunch as everyone was wearing plastic ponchos to protect them from the downpour. For some, bin liners were enough as we all huddled together in cafes, under shop fronts and petrol stations. Despite the weather, the atmosphere was buzzing. This is the Great North Run of Spain, popular and fun for both seasoned runners and newbies alike.
Despite the lack of training, I was confident of finishing smiling and without too many problems, though there was the worry of the 2km climbs dotted throughout the route. There were so many of us, we had to wait an hour after the ‘start’ for our section to kick off. Despite the puddles, we danced and cheered our way to the starting line and we were off. Jenny had other friends who had been training with her running as well, though everyone was running their own run.
The first couple of kms were all about skipping over puddles and finding your rhythm and place, like every busy race is. Then a sneaky hill came as we hit km 4 and my mind went backwards. Shit, I thought. Then I remembered that I’m always rubbish in the first few kms of a long run. By the sixth km I was checking the watch and calculating making it in under two hours, which I would have been happy about at the start. Then I started to focus. Hill training or no hill training, I could get in under 2 hours and I was bloody well going to.
The rain still battered us, although there was no wind – a complete saviour. The first real climb was km 8 to km 10. It was one of those -just-keep-putting-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other moments. Actually, that’s a lie: it wasn’t a moment, it was more like fifteen minutes. But the end was always in sight, and that helped me. That, and knowing that turning that corner on the lip of hill was a downhill. Usually, I don’t like downhills, but they helped me make up time after slowing for the climbs. At the top, the heavens well and truly opened. Ignore the leg burn and the rivers running down the roads and go for it. The crowds were and didn’t thin. They had big umbrellas and they stayed throughout. Venga! Venga!
Towards the end after the last climb and on last 4km to the finishing line along the sea front in San Sebastián, I was running side to side along the route clapping those supporters back and high-fiving all the kids. They really had been amazing. Some even provide chocolate, fruit, water, handing them out to runners as they pass. Others open their windows and blast music, or take a huge speaker to an isolated spot on the route and blast it out from their car.
On that last climb, the steepest of them all I had to dig in. Walking I wasn’t. Half way up a man of about fifty patted me on the back. “I’ve been following you the whole way,” he told me in Spanish. “You’re running really well. Keep going.” He passed me, but that was the boost I needed. The rest of the hill passed in a glow of determination and it was down and flat to the end. The sea and its big, crashing waves came into view.
The finishing line was in sight, although there were lots of those inflatable line markers that it was a bit disappointing getting to one and realising it wasn’t the final one. I clocked in in 1 hour 50 minutes and was quietly pleased with myself. Not being a full half marathon, it wouldn’t have beaten my half marathon best, but all rain, hills and lazy training considered I happily took it. And more than the time I clocked, I enjoyed it. Running alone, without music and not having a clue where I was going or what was really coming next was a real pleasure. Sometimes I think we find out too much about new runs instead of taking it as it comes.
Afterwards we all celebrated together in a restaurant with fine wine and food, everyone pleased with their efforts whether they had finished or not. For some it was another day at the running office, speeding along the route with ease. For others it was too many kms that time. But for all of us who ran that day, there was a ringing in the ears…
And a big thank you to Jenny, reader of our blog, and fellow runner Nando for their fabulousness!