In January, my college friend Mindy contacted me and told me that she was running in the Madrid Half Marathon in April. As a fellow runner/traveler junkie, she encouraged me to run in the Madrid full Marathon. I was certain that the logistics would not work out, as I was scheduled to work the weekend of the race and we were going on our honeymoon in February.
The stars aligned in my favor, and the next day I received an email from theflightdeal.com about a mistake fare for roundtrip flight from Detroit to Madrid ($650 per person). Very rarely are there deals from Detroit, and the travel dates included April! I immediately contacted my supervisor and explained the situation. She encouraged me to go for it and approved my time off. I booked the flights and signed up for the race. No regrets, right?
We arrived in Madrid on Friday after 4,000 miles and 24 hours of travel (the problem with mistake fares, although cheap, are that there’s usually multiple legs and long layovers), and hit the ground running!
We quickly figured out the Metro (Madrid’s public transportation system is considered one of the best in the world) and we headed to the race expo to pick up my race packet and bib.
The goody bag included a drawstring daypack and an Adidas Dri-Fit fitted technical shirt. The expo was held at IFEMA and was very similar to a U.S. race, likely because it is a Rock ‘N’ Roll title marathon, and the company’s 200th RNR race to date. The major difference was that everything says 42 km instead of 26.2 miles (pretty cool), and the bibs didn’t have any holes in it (kinda odd). We were surprised to meet a man working at the Brooks booth who happened to be from Novi, Michigan! A neighbor!
After the expo we went to meet our Airbnb host Meli at the apartment we were renting for the next 5 days. Meli was a fantastic host. She showed us around and gave us lots of great local recommendations. Her apartment was located near the Puerta de la Toledo in central Madrid, and we were able to walk everywhere.
We took a short siesta and then headed out to explore the town. We walked north on Caile del Toledo, through the hip La Latina neighborhood, filled with shops and cafés. We passed the oldest restaurant in the world (la Botin, first opened in 1725 and remains open to this day) and walked into the Plaza Mayor, a large square that was once the site of bullfights and public executions. It’s now home to souvenir shops, street performers and lively cafes.
We sauntered through town, past the Plaza del Sol (the geographical center of Madrid and the county of Spain), down the Grand Via, and passed the Palacio de Cibelos to the beautiful Parque de la Retirlo.
We walked around the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) and the surrounding manicured Plaza de Oriente. Marble statues line the topiary hedge mazes and flowers are in Spring bloom.
We explored the Temple de Debol, an authentic Egyptial temple that was transferred stone by stone to Madrid from Eqypt in 1972. It was built by Cleopatra II. The hieroglyphs can still be seen.
The weather changed dramatically and we found ourselves caught in a downpour. We walked back to our apartment to change before heading to the Atlético de Madrid soccer game. Atlético is one of Jeff’s favorite teams (at the time of this posting, they are currently finalists in the 2016 Champions Cup) and they are replacing the stadium in 2017. Jeff was so excited to get tickets for a game while we were in town. The Vicente Calderón Stadium was a few blocks from our apartment and an easy walk.
We had amazing seats, in the corner of the stadium, level with the field. The players were just feet from us. We sat next to the Atlético fan section and they cheered the entire game. The energy was electrifying! Atlético won 1-0!
We celebrated the win by carb loading with pasta dinner at Gino’s, near the Puerta de la Toledo, a few blocks from our apartment.
Sunday was race day. The streets were buzzing with adrenaline and smelled of Icy Hot. Flag-clad parachuters flew over the start line near the Banco de España. At 9 AM, typically a late start for a Marathon, the gun fired and 20,000 runners sped past cheering crowds shouting “vamos!” and “animó!”. The race course snaked through tree lined boulevards and around monuments, up and over hills, passed elegant churches and beautiful buildings.
We ran down the Gran Via lined with spectators, past the magnificent Royal Palace, into the forested Casa de Copra, and past spectacular fountains and landmarks.
As we reached the finish line, the announcer cheered “another finisher!”.
That evening, we celebrated with the famous tablao flamenco show at the Corral de Morencia. It was here that I finally caught up with Mindy. She was as joyful and inspiring as ever!
Stiff and sore, Monday we started our day with deysayuno at Gelatrio 4D. I had a Spanish coffee, complete with cream, cinnamon and rum, and churros con chocolate. I figured I’d earned it.
We then toured the Royal Palace. With its impressive Royal Armory (the most extensive collection of its kind in the world) and the frescoed ceilings, I think this Palace is more beautiful that the Palace of Versailles in Paris. The tour consisted of only 29 of the Palace’s 2800 rooms. It also included 5 Stradivari instruments- two of which are violins.