Madrid and me: Running a half-marathon through Spain's capital city

Madrid and me: Running a half-marathon through Spain's capital city

I'm not hungover, but I feel as though I have been out all night. After a 13.1-mile run accompanied by intermittent sips of water and three blue Powerades (courtesy of the race), I still feel bone dry. The arid temperature of my single hotel room hasn't helped, sucking ounce by ounce of moisture and zapping away bits of energy while I sleep. It's largely my own fault.

After the run and post-run provisions, I visited the closest Rodilla to Plaza Cibelles (the finish line of the race), bought a salmon focaccia sandwich and a water, and wandered across the street to Madrid's largest park: Parque de El Retiro (literally, "retirement park").

In any new city, I have a penchant for visiting the nearest park where I savor the natural respite from urban tumult, particularly in a city as chaotic as Madrid.

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It was not difficult to find a remote patch of grass surrounded only by manicured shrubs and distant echoes of bagpipes tuning up. From my silver drawstring race bag, I produced my rolled-up purple travel towel and rested it just above the top layer of spiky green blades for a few moments of sunbathed stretching.


It has been five years since my last half-marathon, a 21-kilometer jaunt through the millennia-old temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. With a desire to complete another race and to visit a new destination (one that I probably should have visited a long time ago), I registered for a half in Madrid, a quick weekend break from Barcelona that would allow me to see the sights, get some rest, and run through the streets without worrying about traffic and crosswalks. 

This was also the first race I had run alone. My first marathon in 2008 (D.C.'s Marine Corps Marathon) had be alongside my training partner, a same-age female who I had met during a training run when we both realized our paces were practically identical. Five years later, I ran the half in Siem Reap with an American friend I had met in Phnom Penh who, like me, had only trained for about a month before embarking on the six-hour bus journey north to Angkor Wat. But Madrid was a solo venture: an opportunity to give me something to work toward, an excuse to get out of Barcelona, and a chance to see Spain's capital city.

I wasn't the only solo runner in the race; in fact, the anonymity the race provided allowed me to step outside of myself and absorb the shouts, chants, grunts, breaths, and feet-to-pavement steps of the people around me. Kilometer markers clued me into how much distance I had left, but these posted signs became more sporadic after kilometer 12. From that point on, I had no idea what amount of distance remained.

Fathers jogged past their babies and stopped to give them kisses; fans waved neon-decorated signs as they spotted their friends whipping past; every five kilometers or so a white canopy tent would appear, under which local bands performed recognizable rock-and-roll songs from the past and present. My solitude was palpable among the innominate cheers, but even in knowing that none of these cheers were coming from people I actually knew, I felt secure. Other runners had supporters rooting for them, to congratulate them, but I didn't need that. Time and experience had allowed me to build up enough confidence in myself to be my own cheerleader and to feel simultaneous pride and humility.

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I spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the park, letting the lactic acid release from my muscles. Hours later, I returned to my hotel for a quick siesta, followed by finishing the day with a bocadillo de calamares and an ice-cold cerveza. Maybe in another five years I will be running through the streets of a new city or through the manmade paths of a tropical jungle, if my body allows me to. But after getting this far--in both distance and acceptance--I feel impervious to limits.

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