Coastal adventures, training and the Christmas log

We have been in Girona for a month now and looking back there is a common theme and that is the kindness of the people here. It would seem that nothing is too much trouble and that people go above and beyond to lend a helping hand. It is quite humbling really as we are foreigners here and yet we have been made to feel at home and very welcome.

We had our first trip to the coast which is just beautiful. Breathtaking views, rocky coves with turquoise water and a rugged coastal path. On our walk we came across a couple who had been catching sea urchins. They had a bucketful of them and were quick to offer us some to taste! The man used a guillotine like contraption to cut them in half and inside a starlike formation of eggs to eat. I dubiously tried some and to my surprise it was very tasty. The first one tasted like smoked salmon, the second one that was a purple sea urchin tasted nutty and then sweet. It is a local delicacy here in Spain and apparently you would pay 20 euros in a restaurant for a spiky handful. Before we knew it the man had brought 6 beers out to share with us and we had a lovely time chatting and taking in the beauty of the little cove and our surroundings.

We carried on our way walking along the coastal path with a stop for paella before the return walk to the car. At the start of the walk Josh was very excited and in high spirits singing the theme tune to ‘Andy’s dinosaur adventures’ but by the end after getting  rather lost too we had walked almost 10 miles which is a lot for a little lad. His spirits were not quite so high and were was a lot of groaning and complaints that this was really not fun. Thankfully our friends had brought their dogs so the novelty of walking a dog on a lead helped and the homemade banana bread that I had brought with us came in handy for a ration stop. We found the car just before darkness fell.

Training has been in full swing for me. I have joined the local Catalan athletics group led by  Josep the coach. Everyone has been very welcoming despite my lack of Catalan. There is one other British girl that trains with them too so that is fantastic. Training sessions take place by the coast. Some sessions are on the athletics track, some on a killer hill circuit amongst the pine trees and others on a loop around farm land. My first session was on the track. The majority of the group are 10k runners and the session was looking fast on paper. It consisted of 5x500m, 6x400m, 7x300m, 8x200m. Thankfully I managed to keep up with the pace and really enjoyed training with a group again. For my longer training sessions Josep has paced me on the bike while I have had to run and keep close to the back wheel. He has been enthusiastically shouting ‘come on, come on’ while I have been working hard to keep up the pace. The drive home is beautiful as the pyrenees are the back drop now with their winter coats of snow on glistening in the sunshine.

As I mentioned before about kindness…one of our friends has lent us a car which is something we had not expected. Rich and Josh are excited that now skiing is made a lot easier and there is more opportunity to explore further a field. I have been enjoying riding my bike about town which is ancient…my bike that is. It weighs a tonne, has 3 gears, dodgy rod breaks and has a wicker basket on the front. I think it has seen through 2 wars in it’s time. It doesn’t look quite as slick as the bikes of many of the pro cyclists that live here! It is a good gage of how tired my legs are from training, sometimes I can speed about and other times I struggle to get the pedals to move around! Rich has been made welcome in the cycling community here and is enjoying the hills and churros at the cafe stops.

It is starting to feel more Christmassy here. The mornings start being cold and frosty but by mid morning it tends to be sunny and would be warm enough to wear a t-shirt. However if you want to blend in here wearing a thick coat and a scarf is a necessity. Even out running the locals are in balaclavas! The Christmas lights are up and there is a big Christmas tree in the old town. We have put up a little tree which is rather packed with decorations. Josh has been Joseph in the church nativity with his new friend Sofia as Mary. We have yet to introduce a new Spanish tradition into the family which is that of the log which they call the Tio de nadal. In most shops here you will see a log with legs on and eyes and a face drawn on and it has a blanket on its back. Apparently you have to feed the log up each day. Even in the local market the log there had a lovely array of cakes in it’s dish. As tradition has it after feeding the log from the 8th December up until Christmas Eve you then have to hit the log with sticks and sing a song. The log then proceeds to excrete chocolates and presents from its bottom! A bit different from the Father Christmas tradition!

Wishing you all a Bon Nadal.



Father Christmas and the unexpected Jean Bouin race

The last thing that I expected was to be entering a race within a week of moving to Spain. In fact I had thought that it would not be very sensible at all! In my mind my season had finished after a great race in Leeds on November 6th. The plan was to take two weeks easy while we got ready to move and then to start building the mileage for marathon training. Even on Thursday I hadn’t considered racing. After taking Josh to school I discovered some amazing mountain trails that surround Girona. One of the things that I love most about running is exploring new places to run. After about 4 miles of steady climbing I came to a beautifully bright blue painted stone seat with a few plaques remembering those that had passed on. I stopped to take in the view, the sun was beaming through the clouds and the back drop of the Pyrenees was spectacular. I wish I had taken my phone to capture it to share! It was so peaceful and I had the place to myself. I only came across a couple of mountain bikers as I was on the decent. I could have gone on exploring but I knew that I still had to run across the old town to get home. It ended up being a 10 mile run. In the afternoon I did a 5 mile threshold run along a flat sandy trail that goes all the way to the coast. It used to be a railway line. This path will be my equivalent of the Bristol to Bath Cycle path but with a better view! It was on Thursday night that I had the call about the race.

For those of you that are runners you will know that most of the time training is organised and races tend to be planned well in advance (well normally more than 2 and a half days in advance). If I was intending to do a race on a Sunday I would make sure that the Thursdays session would not be too taxing and it would definitely not consist of running up a mountain and then doing something speedy in the afternoon! When first asked I had said no and explained that I had just moved, it had been stressful and very tiring and I hadn’t planned to race quite yet. Appearance fees then got offered and the race was only going to be 10km and I do love to race. I asked if Rich and Josh could be put up in the hotel too and the following day it was all confirmed. We were heading to Barcelona at the weekend for the Jean Bouin 10km race (or so we thought). Bruce Tulloh my coach informed me that this was a classic race and that he had won the Jean Bouin race in Marseilles 50 years ago!

First we had a Christmas Fair to attend which was teaming with activities. A big array of stalls, festive foods, ginger bread decorating for the kids, face painting and the famous Father Christmas (which Josh was very excited about!). It was a great morning meeting lots of new people. Rich had a crash course in Catalan counting, offering to help sell teas, coffees and bacon butties as the team behind the food counter were rushed of their feet! It was then time to head on to Barcelona where the adventure began.

We found the athletes hotel fine and were given our room key. We trudged up to our room feeling tired, upon arrival we saw that the promised room with the double bed and the extra bed for a ‘nino’ (child) had no extra bed for the nino! We rang down and the staff said that they were sorry but there was no extra beds in the hotel and could Josh share with us. Rich explained that Josh kicks like a donkey and wriggles around in his sleep so there was no chance of that! We asked for extra blankets and pillows and made a bed for Josh on the floor which he was surprisingly happy about! Phew!

As I mentioned before runners tend to have routines especially pre race routines. For me I have breakfast 3 hours before a race so I was up nice and early for breakfast. The race was due to start at 9am so we arrived at 7:45am to give ourselves lots of time to collect my race number and timing chip. I had been told that I had number 45 and that it would be in the VIP area by the start. We found our way there and were told to go somewhere else and after being sent backwards and forwards a number of times there was no sign of my number, I need to learn some catalan running vocabulary! I have since written a list to learn for next time! Eventually I got told that there was a different race at 11.20am for the professional runners and that I was in that one. I was really hoping that they were right as the clock was ticking and I was anxious to be getting warmed up if I was due to be racing at 9am. We took their word for it and made our way back to the hotel. 9am came and went and so did the Jean Bouin 10km race. At our hotel I ate some more and after searching high and low on the internet we found more details about the professional race one of the details was that it was not a 10km race it was 6.6km! I was glad to have found that out before the start!

We made our way back to the race at 10am. There were lots of happy faces of hundreds of people who had all completed the 10km race. I was really hoping that I was due to be in the professional race and hadn’t just missed out! We found the VIP area again and I was sent to a table where numbers were laid out. Woohoo number 45 was there! What a relief! Despite number 45 being a number with the mens race colour on an organiser put his arm around me and said ‘tranquillo’ and then acted out running with fast feet. I took that to mean that I just needed to run fast!

I felt a lot better with my number pinned on and got into the zone with my usual warm up routine. Announcements for each woman racing were made and although I didn’t understand much I did understand that at leat 5 of the ladies were olympians.  The man on the microphone was saying ‘olympica’ very enthusiastically! By this point I was not phased I was just pleased to be in the right place with my number on and I was ready to race which is what I love doing. The fact that I had just had 2 easy weeks didn’t worry me either. I was ready and I was just going to do my best to hang on! I was just going to race this and forget looking at my watch to check for pace.

The gun went and off we went with the men too. The men were doing 3 laps and the women were to do 2. After about 400 metres it became apparent that the race was going up hill. We left winding all the way up to the top of Montjuic and then it was downhill until we got to the start of lap 2. The fact that it was up and down a hill twice worked in my favour as the distance is a bit short for me. I might have been left for dust if it was flat. I was in third position in the second lap but didn’t have quite enough in the tank as a girl overtook me in the final third of the uphill. I have never felt so out of breath running downhill to try and close the gap. I finished in a not too shabby 4th place. Despite all the stress and confusion pre race I am so pleased to have done it. It’s in moments where things are thrown out of routine that I remind myself of past races where there have been plenty of obstacles. The Toronto Marathon which I ran representing England was one of them. We were faced with jet lag, freezing conditions so we had to wear things that we hadn’t practised wearing in training and a number of other obstacles and yet I still had a good race there. I often use that race as a reference point to come back to.

They love a trophy here in Spain so despite not being in the top 3 I still got a great trophy! Josh was pleased! The winner got 4 trophies! We were well looked after and Josh and Rich enjoyed munching on the baguettes and complimentary drinks while I raced. I also picked up a Jean Bouin t-shirt for Bruce as a moment for his victory 50years ago!

We did it! We made it!

When people have said before that moving house is one of the most stressful things in life I have thought that it can’t be that bad, I can now say that it is true! For us it was not just moving house but moving countries too. None of the copious trips back and forth with a van …. just one van and a whole lifetime of stuff to sift through, sort, sell, take to the dump, charity shop and repeat again and again. This was happening right up until the day we left. In the midst of all this saying goodbye to so many friends, neighbours, work friends and clients which was just adding to the emotional roller coaster! I think I can say that last week was one of the most stressful weeks of our lives (omitting Rich’s ship wreck situation in the Atlantic).

We did try and get into ‘expedition mode’ seeing it as a challenge or a mission, but as the week went on with the clock against us we didn’t know how we could clear our whole house to empty and fit everything into the van. I can recall a number of moments when the stress on my shoulders felt like a weight pressing down on them, tears were shed but needed to be held back as we had no time to lose! The rain kept beating down and to add to the dark moment thunder started to roll. One picture that comes into my mind is of me, Rich and our neighbour Iris huddled on our doorstep with the rain lashing down while we had a brief cry, not knowing how we could get everything done for the next day. We then had to snap back into action handing over house plants, lamps, the bread maker, the kenwood mixer and any other possessions that we could off load on to our neighbours. The pile for the van kept increasing. The tape measure came out to see if this huge pile would fit in and we thought at a push we might just be ok!

The person that has been the constant joy throughout this process is Josh. How much can we learn from children. His enthusiasm remained even when his bunk bed had to go and his toys were sifted through. Even his last day at school as I was struggling to hold back the tears he was bouncing around pleased with the balloon poster that his school friends had made him for a farewell present. While we were stressing he was at his best friends house having a ball. When I felt cold and gloomy he was kicking the leaves and throwing them in the air saying “I love autumn! It’s snowing leaves”.

Leaving Rich behind to deal with loading the van and a few more dump trips and a 24 hour drive ahead with James felt unfair. After another short nights sleep Josh and I made it to the airport. Thankfully no one questioned my rather large hand luggage bag that was stuffed  with books and toys and a few things that we would need before the van arrived. It hit me at the airport that I have never bought a one way ticket before. This was it we were finally doing it, moving to Spain!

Arriving at Barcelona Sans train station with Josh in tow and a few queues later trying to work out where we needed to go to catch our next train a few thoughts of panic came into my mind…’what have we done, is this the right thing for Josh, for us …ahhh!’ Then my rational brain set in and I knew that long term it would all be worth it. It highlighted the increased need to get to grips with Spanish and Catalan quickly and I knew deep down that we could make this work.

We have been shown no end of kindness. Josh and I were collected from the station by our friend (when I say friend we had only met him in a cafe once on our last trip). He helped us find our flat and later came to collect us to join him, his wife and his daughter for tea and games and general fun at their house in the country with their pet dogs, cats, hens and a goose. We had the fire roaring, music blaring and Josh and his new friend Meya hit it off. There was lots of laughter too. Just what was needed after an epic week and a good means of taking my mind of Rich and James driving through the night on very little sleep.

Rich and James arrived the following evening in high spirits despite the 23 hour journey and 2 hours sleep on the floor of the bar in the ferry (not because they had passed out from booze-just because it was quite and more comfortable than the recliner chairs!

So here we were reunited as a family ready to take on the new chapter. This dream hatched many years ago and it is now starting to become a reality. There will be many challenges and hurdles to scale along the way and probably a few more years until this chrysalis turns into a butterfly but I know it’s happening and I know that with God all things are possible.

Until next time!