Smile Politely

When in Spain, run like the Spaniards do

AlhambraThe morning of January 2nd was relatively warm by central Illinois standards, especially since I stood in the shadow of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Plaza de la Mariana sits less than half a mile from the Moorish fortress, and it is surrounded by a pharmacy, a bank, and some bars.

We, my wife and I, met up with a bunch of local Granada runners in front of Café Fútbol, a coffee shop in the Spanish style. A long bar surrounded by men ― men serving men manly meals of marmalade and toast, cortados, and juice. The early vestiges of cigarette smoke hung in the air. Runners looked out of place here, with our spandex and wicking clothes, sunglasses, and GPS watches. The men behind the counter gave each other looks. Not disapproving ones, mind you, just curiously wry. Some runners were less runner-like than others. Regular shorts and sweatshirts. Too-worn shoes having seen any number of soccer goals, arrant unpicked-up dog piles, and lots of kilometers of pavement. But the experienced runner was there too. Men in tights, unabashed in spandex where some of us in the United States might pair it up with shorts. Not so for the Spaniard. Let it all hang out, you might say.

Runners pose before the 8 mile uphill run from Granada to the Canales Dam

We traveled to Granada for the IV Carrera Ingeniero & Bravo, an eight mile uphill run through city streets, dirt paths, and forested trails to the Presa de Canales, a dam built of stone and earth providing Granada with water from the high Sierra Nevada Mountains.

How did we choose this run in this city? A friend from the Second Wind Running Club organizes the race each year. A native of Granada and current Urbana resident, Fernando Moreu puts the run together to celebrate the engineering talents of the dam’s designer and builder, D. Guillermo Bravo Guillén. The run attracts about 20 runners, mostly engineers from the University of Granada where Moreu once studied, yet some come from as far away as Chicago to attend. It’s more “fun run” than race; yet, the first place engineer and non-engineer do receive major trophies.

With a 1,900 foot gain in elevation (according to my GPS watch) the run is not easy, especially in the last quarter mile, during which you basically scale a mountainside. You also start the race at elevation. Granada stands at 2,421 feet. Even with a few days training in the city before the run, I wasn’t ready for how difficult adapting to the change in elevation would be. Add to that the fact that you’re traveling, visiting tapas bars, walking miles each day touring, and attending a New Year’s party in the Spanish style (hardly starting until 11:45 p.m.), it’s no wonder the legs are dead.

Besides the hills, the biggest challenge on the IV Carrera Ingeniero & Bravo was not knowing the route well enough. With such a small group of runners, getting separated from the pack added some challenging backtracking to find the right way. As a result, I tacked on an additional mile or so. But, that’s part of the fun in a fun run ― getting lost.

The route

There is nothing new about travel running, and many people do it. Most distance runners in Champaign-Urbana travel long distances to run marathons. Because we have only one marathon in town (the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon) people will go all over the state, country, and world to run various races. Travel running offers a unique way to see the world from a different perspective, on the road, and at your own pace. And, it is easy to do: lace up, pick a direction, and go. Finding your way back to your hotel only adds to the experience if you don’t have a GPS watch. It’s part of the adventure.

Where will you run in 2011?

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