Saturday 24th March 2018
by Nick Rowe
Its not very often you get the chance to run in a World Championships. For those of us who aren’t at the very snakey end of the field its an impossible dream. Valencia 2018 was to change all of that. The IAAF were holding the bi-annual World Half Marathon championships and as well as the elites there was a mass participation race, starting at same time, on the same course. It was too good an opportunity to turn down.
Tom Cassidy and I set off from a cold and wet London, still seemingly stuck in a never ending winter and landed in a warm and sunny Valencia. Though we did seem to get a number of strange looks from locals still in their winter coats as we strolled round in t-shirts and shorts …. surely 23 degrees is summer! After registering at the xpo and having a wander round the stunning finish area in true SHAEF style we got our pre-race carb loading of pizza and local beers underway.
The race didn’t start until 5.30pm on the Saturday, so whereas normally you get up and run, this time we had 8 hours to kill before the start and having done well over 25,000 steps on the Friday with tourist stuff we chilled in the room, watching strava updates of parkrun and the never ending social media output from the event and athletes past and present.
Valencia is known as Ciudad Del Running – City of Running and it is easy to see why. In 1957 after a major flood the city diverted the river away from the centre, after draining the riverbed they have turned it into a park of almost 6 miles. Full of sporting pitches, open spaces and a dedicated running track with distance markers every 100m. The number of people out running is simply amazing – PSH it’s a parkrun paradise (hint hint). This also means the population understands and supports running as was shown with the amazing support on the day.
After a warm Friday the temperatures had cooled a little bit and the wind had picked up considerably with gusts up to 60 mph so conditions were challenging. Neither Tom or myself were in great shape – Tom had struggled to shake off a virus and after 6 months out injured (knee) my main aim was to get round. We lined up alongside the elites and in a nice touch alongside your name on your number you also got your countries flag so it felt you really were part of the world championships. Alongside runners from so many countries we set off. Despite the wind and one brief torrential downpour it was a fast, flat course and the race did produce a womans only world record and remarkable piece of running from Geoffrey Kamaworor who ran 13:01 for 5k between 15 and 20K. The course was on closed roads taking in the old city and alongside the former river and incredibly flat throughout. Its well worth watching the BBC coverage of the event on iPlayer to get an idea of how runner perfect this city is.
SHAEF vests were proudly worn and Tom ran a very solid 1:34 given his lack of training. Despite his Irish passport he was forced to run with a union jack on his vest, which did seem to confuse his Irish elite team mates who were hoping he’d be their 3rd scoring team member. My run was far more pedestrian and to be honest at the start line I had no idea if I’d have to pull out after a first stride or be in for a very long stroll round the city. My knee sort of held out for 10 miles but the last 3.1 were an incredibly painful shuffle but I’d made it round ‘running’ all the way and the iconic finish line above the water in the Citutat des les Arts I les Ciencies was probably the most stunning race finish I’ve ever seen. Medals were given and and free bar (Shandy) killed some of the pain before the industrial strength painkillers kicked in.
We strolled back to the hotel via the bars along the course watching the last finishers come along. The support had been amazing with so many people out cheering, regular live music and bizarrely even a group of about 30 Spanish girls dressed in All Black rugby kit doing the Haka. It had been an amazing event and a city I would love to return to Valencia and run again (properly this time). Everything was perfect for runners from the registration, to the course and the welcome received. After Saturday night food was needed and a couple more celebratory beers the following day we did a tour of the Valencia Football stadium and another stroll along the former river, discussing if it would be ok to drain the Thames from Kingston to Kew for a new running route.
At the airport we were flying back with Elite athletes from all over the world and once again felt part of a global event. After a few weeks of both of us wondering if we’d be able to run we had a great event, both WAY below PB and more in PW range but really enjoyed ourselves and are looking forward to Gdynia 2020 for the next world championships ……… if selected of course.