When I traveled abroad and sought out races to run, I stumbled upon RunAbroad.com, a very cool noncommercial site dedicated to reviewing worthwhile running events around the globe. It’s produced by Renato Losio, a peripatetic runner living around Europe. Renato wrote the report below about a race he ran in Portugal in late January, on Europe’s “edge of the world.” I love his positive attitude about finishing next to last!
When I asked Renato to tell me a bit about himself, he wrote: “I have run since 2003. My very first race was the Venice Marathon a few months later. I forgot my running shoes at home, but I found the experience amazing. I have (slowly) run 50 races, mainly abroad, mainly half marathons—to me, the perfect distance for a weekend break that is not only about running, and a distance I can plan without thinking too much about training. I am lazy.”
Renato is from Milan originally. “My favorite runs so far have been the Swissalpine in Davos, the Marathon des Alpes-Maritimes, and the North Downs Run in the UK.” He now works for a California start-up, Funambol. “I am moving to Berlin in a few weeks. Running a half marathon in every European country is my long-term running goal, and a great excuse to travel.”
See why I like this guy, even though I’ve never met him in person?
Here’s his report on the Fim da Europa 2011, a 17K race that starts in Sintra, a village 20 miles northwest from Lisbon that’s famous for its medieval Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) and its palaces. The race crosses a national park and reaches Cabo da Roca (Cape Roca).
I put down my heavy backpack. In September of 2009, after three hot days and quite a dull hike of about 60 miles, I finally reached Cape Finisterre, the remote town on the west coast of Galicia. It literally was “Land’s End,” the end of Europe—or so I thought. I was eager to reach by foot the point that for hundreds of years was known as the “edge of the world.”
But then I read about the Fim da Europa running event in Portugal. The name, which translates to “End of Europe,” and the leaflet made clear: the 17K (10.5 mile) race ended at the westernmost point of mainland Europe, Cabo da Roca. I felt cheated, as though I had hiked to the wrong place when I went to “Land’s End” in Spain. So, I promptly decided to register for the Fim da Europa, held on the last Sunday of January.
The Fim da Europa is a relatively short race where you can enjoy in a single day one of the best national parks in Portugal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the westernmost European place. The value for money is amazing too: the registration fee is 5€ (around 7 USD) and includes a long-sleeve shirt, a bus ride back to Sintra, and some food at the Cabo. And perfect organization: no cars, every road close to traffic, and plenty of support staff and water.
By race day—a sunny and not windy day—I was ready to run and finally reach the westernmost goal. But I had a minor problem: I sprained my ankle one month earlier at the São Silvestre de Lisboa race and had not run since then. The doctors had told me no walking for five days, no running for at least three weeks. No problem. I relaxed during January and read Pedaling to Hawaii, Stevie Smith’s account of a journey in an ocean-going pedal boat. And I took his advice. “Training Strategy: None. Why prolong the agony?” No time pressure, no goal, just enjoy the race.
Organized by the local town office for over 20 years, the Fim da Europa starts in Sintra, a UNESCO site and famous for Portuguese pastries. From the station to the start line is barely half a mile but enough to cross one of the most famous bakeries in the area and buy some travesseiros and queijadas, which are sweet pastries—one puffy and one crispy—but both equally delicious. Forget the stopwatch; with no training, a digital camera, and some pastries, I decided to join the very back of almost 2000 runners and compete with an ambulance and the bikes closing the event.
The first 4 kilometers from Sintra are uphill and you are soon in the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, crossing the Serra de Sintra mountain range. Relaxing is probably the best adjective to describe the course. And for the first 10K you can forget the ocean, with great views of the Palácio Nacional da Pena and of the Castelo dos Mouros. When the main downhill starts, you can finally see the ocean and the lighthouse in Cabo da Roca and run the last few miles with views of the cliffs. The finish line is just in from the lighthouse.
Chatting with a Portuguese runner, I almost forgot my bad ankle for a good part of the race. I managed to finish without any problem with the second slowest chip time in the race, and with just ten runners close behind, including the ones over the official time limit. I just was disappointed I was not the very last one.
Along with Andalucía in southern Spain, Portugal is probably the favorite destination in winter for runners around Europe. Temperatures are mild, food is great, and accommodations are cheap: from the Maratona do Algarve to the Maratona de Lisboa and the Lisbon Half Marathon (happening soon on March 20), the options are endless.
Running in Portugal might not be a major sport—soccer is the national passion—and Lisbon is a very hilly city with cobblestone streets, so not the best place to train for a marathon. Nevertheless, hundreds of runners still gather every weekend on the seaside promenades, and small and medium events are organized in every city. For a full calendar, check C.Fonseca Atletismo.