Maratona do Porto

Ein Bericht von Nuno Valente

After starting the year with some issues in the hamstrings, what prevented me to train at times, I managed to recover some of my condition by the middle of the year and I thought it was time to get a challenge i.e. try a marathon. Since I was already training quite a bit, I incorporated a couple, literally, of long runs and tried to find a marathon not too far from Basel and relatively flat. Forgot to mention, I wanted to race somewhere in July. LOL Nice try! Nothing appeared matching simultaneously all these criteria: “ok, then I stay close to Basel”, and decided to participate in the Schöck-Hornisgrinde Marathon, in the Black Forest, near to Baden-Baden. The race, organised by Turnverein Bühlertal, consists of a 1 km uphill followed by a 10-km loop around the Hochkopf (4 times), before returning to the starting point. Just the way I like: loops! Ideal to get familiar and control the pace. As a test, I did a 30-km long run, along the Wiese, aiming the 4’00”/km, 2 weeks before. Despite it ended up to be a bit slower, I set as a goal to finish around 2h50’-2h55’. One week before the race, I called the organisation to reserve a room in the mountain hut next to the start line, and I was told that there would be pasta for dinner! Perfect. On the day before I checked-in, saw the half-marathon and did a short and easy run to stretch my legs, and got ready for dinner, but… where is the pasta?

– “No, we don’t have pasta”, replied the lady in the kitchen
– “Buuuuut… I was told there would be pasta”
– “Sorry, we don’t have pasta”
– “Ok, what do you have then?”
– “Maultaschen. It is delicious”, pointing to something looking like big ravioli swimming in water
– “What is that?”
– “The ones we have contain spinach filling”.

As I had to eat something I took two dishes, for me and my girlfriend. And came back later to repeat, as I was still hungry and had a marathon to race the day after. 2 hours later, as there was nothing to do, my girlfriend and I were in the cafeteria/restaurant speaking to some people, while the helpers were having dinner: they were eating pasta bolognese and asked us if we wanted. WHAT? After some talk, we understood that the pasta was only for the athletes sleeping there (and for the helpers), and I had not mentioned that 🙁 Ok, it was done, I went to bed and got some sleep. The day after, woke up early, had breakfast, picked the race bib, warmed-up and got a place at the start line.
As the victory in previous years had been below 2h40, it would not be a concern to me (however a podium seemed possible), and I thought I could simply enjoy the race and do a hard, long and hilly training. However, soon after the gun went off, I was left alone in the front and the distance only grew till the end, reached in 2h47’48”. WOW, only 45” slower than my PB in the also-not-so-flat and already gone marathon in Basel, with the feeling that there was plenty of room to improve. While waiting for the other athletes, the speaker said to me:

– “so, I guess you ate pasta yesterday night!”,
– “No, Maultaschen”
– and then he announced to everyone: “we found his secret for today’s victory, it was the Maultaschen!!!” 😀 😀 😀

For long, I knew that with a decent preparation I could finish a marathon below 2h45’, possibly also below 2h40”. Meanwhile I started wishing to race once in Berlin! So, I checked the conditions to register: the “fast runners” option allowed me to grant my participation required that I had run a time below 2h45 in an AIMS-certified [Association of International Marathons and Distance Races] marathon course in the last two years. Based on the info available from the previous year I assumed the registration for 2020 edition would start on 1st of October till the first weekend of November. As I did the Schöck-Hornisgrinde Marathon in mid-July, I couldn’t start another preparation before the beginning of August, what meant I could only race at the end of October or first weekend of November! A visit to the AIMS webpage showed the options weren’t that many: I picked up the Porto Marathon on 3rd of November, what allowed me to visit my family and friends, and promote a Portuguese race. The course looked okay, mostly flat, but with a few passages with cobblestones. A very good friend, who had raced there already 5 times mentioned the atmosphere was good and was also participating this year. It all fitted perfectly, I had time to start a preparation and, admitting I would finish below 2h45’, I could register at the very end of the deadline for Berlin’s next year edition. I registered then for Porto Marathon by the end of July, and started training i.e. running with that focus the week after.

All in all the preparation went well, with 2 setbacks: (1) right at the beginning I sprained the left ankle and had to fully stop for 5 days, and (2) the first time I did a 35-km long run I was so exhausted that I felt super tired for 4 days; thankfully this was an easy week. A few days before Bekele’s win in Berlin and almost new World Record I received bad news: this year’s registration period would take place only in October, and not include the first weekend of November. That was sad, I would then try to get the qualification standard to participate in 2021.
The days before the race were easy, as supposed. I read a book chapter and some scientific papers about nutrition strategies for marathon preparation and racing. And wondered about what would suit me and I could implement. On the day before I visited the marathon expo and planned the way to get there in time. Just the weather wasn’t promising, on the contrary: there was a yellow warning for the region due to the wind and rain :/ It didn’t matter much, it was for everyone. I was super confident for a time below 2h45, a bit hopeful below 2h40 (but afraid of hitting the wall).

On the big day, I had clear sky as I drove the 40-km way to Matosinhos (a coastal city next to Porto, where the race starts and ends, ca. 1 km apart), but once I arrived there the clouds had shown up… and got darker soon after, included by a few drops: „OK, let it rain“. On the 1-km way to the bag drop-off something nice: the drops had stopped and the clouds were gone. After a short warm-up, an even quicker toilet visit, with 10 min to the expected start, I hear a countdown: 10, 9, 8, …, My friend (also called Nuno) and I were outside of the course and started running like crazy, without a clear idea how to get on the course, and pass over the mat that records the time, in a quick manner, once that mass of people started moving (I wanted to start in the front, not after ~4000 other marathon participants, plus a few other thousands of the 15 km Family Race) …3, 2, 1… The gun goes off but no one moves! „Aaah, it was the wheelchair race start. I didn’t know!” I could then catch my breath and walk slowly to the start.“ Moments later I had sneaked into the front of the race and once my watch hit the 9 o’clock we all were staring at the race starter: Fernanda Ribeiro, the Olympic champion on the 10000 m in Atlanta ’96. She was ready, holding the gun, but no countdown… we waited, and waited, and waited. Finally the gun was fired, but the speaker didn’t do the countdown. It was time to move. The first 1 km split was reached in 3’44“: „okay, below pace for 2h40′, slow down!“ The second at 3’54“ (pace for 2h45′: „slow down but not so much“). At some point it stabilised around 3’50″/km and I reached the 10 km mark in 38’08“: „great, this is just a bit above 2h40′ pace. Keep it easy“. At the km 12 we finished a loop in Matosinhos, well crowded the most of the way, passed by the start line and then went in direction to Porto, along the Douro river (meaning golden river), upstream. I tried to keep the pace alive but without forcing, and to see if there was someone around my pace so that I could get some company. One athlete from Latvia caught me and said he was planning 2h45′-2h50′: „but this is pace for 2h40“, I told him. „OK, but I’m feeling comfortable“. I said nothing and we moved ahead together. Inside the km 20 we passed by crowded Cais da Ribeira, the Porto’s heart, just before crossing the bridge to Gaia, catching a group of 5 athletes and hitting the half-marathon in 1h20’27“. WOW! What a confidence boost. Unfortunately all the group was slowing down and, simultaneously, I also lost my Latvian fellow to them. I kept my pace but was now running alone against the wind, in direction to the coast for 4 km before turning back to Gaia. On the way back I saw once more my friend Nuno: „go Nuno, you are looking super good“, he shouted and soon I was back to Gaia before crossing the bridge once more and doing 2 km upstream. I reached the 30 km in 1h54’05”. Afterwards came the last U-turn and it was missing 11 km with the stream to the finish, without any complicated turn, but always exposed to front wind. I started believing that I could break the barrier of the 2h40′. I needed to run under 3″45’/km, to recover a few seconds. I passed a couple athletes, including a Kenyan woman, the third placed. The legs were good but it was still a long way. 35 km mark below 2h13. Another push, the legs keep answering positively, I pinch myself and believe even more it is possible. The kms pass by and…ups, 200 m uphill with cobblestones, I had forgotten about this. „Push, push! Do you see that guy 50 m in front? That’s your next goal, go catch him!” I do manage to get a bit closer but cannot close the gap. The splits of 3’40”-3’47“ start saying I’m now even closer to break the barrier! Go, go! I pass through the start line with less than 1 km to go: „2 turns more and the finish will be waiting for you“, I think. „F***, who put this ascent here?“ I start picturing in mind the ’safety margin‘ decreasing because of an unexpected ascent, and push a bit more. The cheering crowd brings some more energy, and I smile, „It’s time for the photos. I hope they get a good one :D“ I cross the finish, pass by the photographers and check the time: 2:39:59 😀 😀 😀
DONE. “I did it. What should I do now? Jump? Cry? Just sit? Oh, I see beer, it’s time to get one!” 😛

Now, after all this text I want to thank you for reading it. I hope to had some fun in the process. I also want to thank Rainer for the training plan and super useful tips, all the club members and other coaches for sharing knowledge and moments, and Nuno for the friendship and motivation during the race. And the most important, to thank my fiancée for the support and endless patience.
One footnote (not new but true): enjoy the path, not (only) the goal. The race was super good, but what makes me love running so much is the process leading to it, sometimes in circles or simply around obstacles.