Twenty (Nearly) Solo Miles (in Spain)

I’m running my next marathon in two days and I’ve been pretty focused on that so I haven’t posted much here. I did want to include this report I did on my long run in Spain though. Running abroad is great fun, but running 20 miles while in a foreign country for work, involves a bit of planning. So, here’s how and what I did:

Run from April 13, 2013

This run was not like my usual running away from home. At all. The training plan Fast Friend and I are following is from SmartCoach (available at and it gave us three 20 mile runs to do. When training for Hartford, I only did one 20 miler, but I wanted a more ambitious plan this time around, so here it was. I could see way back in January that the last 20 mile run would happen while I was in Spain. Otherwise, Fast Friend and I have done all the long runs together and most of the shorter ones for that matter. I knew I would miss her.

Last fall I was in Berlin while training for Hartford. I had to run 16 miles and that went brilliantly well. I was able to recruit a couple of political science friends to run the first part with me and one ended up sticking with it for 10 miles. I think that was a new distance record for her, which was amazing, and we had a fabulous time running together and chatting. Berlin is a city I know really well and we ran past most of the major landmarks. I finished the last 6 miles in the eastern part of the city alone, but with lots of memories from the years I’d lived there. I ended the run at a former roommate and good friend’s apartment and he supplied me with yogurt, bananas, and a jacket to wear home so I didn’t freeze on the subway. Plus, I speak German and Berlin has excellent public transportation. I was never more than a few hundred yards away from a bus stop or subway station that would let me bail if I needed to. The successful 16 in Berlin last fall gave me the confidence to contemplate tackling 20 miles in Salamanca, but I was still a bit daunted when it came down to it.

I was really hoping to rustle up some friends for at least part of this adventure. I’ll do a separate blog post about the great joy running with colleagues has brought me. This time around, though, political scientist runners were hard to come by. I eventually arranged to meet KC and LM. They had planned to run about 6 miles with me but it ended up being much closer to 3, I think because of the heat.

The heat was a bummer but there wasn’t anything to be done about it. I saw thermometers while running that read from 26C (78F) right up to 34C (93F). We only had Sunday afternoon off from workshop programming though. The 20 miles had to get done some time between the end of the workshop around 1:30pm and dinner at 8:30pm, including lunch and recovery. The hottest part of the day, ugh. On the way back from the workshop to the apartment, we got stuck on the wrong side of a Palm Sunday parade and really felt the heat. Also, wow, the Spanish take Holy Week very seriously:




So, a hot day, only a little companionship, no obvious great route (I ended up more or less just going back and forth along the river) – I figured I’d follow my own rules: go slow, cover the distance, take lots of pictures. Coach Cowboy had somewhat different ideas. I started getting texts like “Do the damn run like you mean it!” “80% effort!” and something along the lines of, “What kind of pictures do you want to have on marathon day anyway?? Crap ones? Then go ahead and take a lot of snapshots now!!!” Looks like this run was not going to be a lope around the city with friends or a sort of combo photo session-jog, but something a bit more serious.

This is as good a place as any to list what I took with me to Spain for running. I should have at least taken a picture of the gear since I didn’t take a lot more of Salamanca! Running 20 miles on a trip takes some planning though, so here’s what I brought:

  • Four complete running outfits (short sleeves and shorts – had to dig these out of the basement) for four days of running
  • Running shoes, obviously!
  • Running cap
  • Sunglasses
  • Hand held water bottle
  • Fuel belt
  • Hydration backpack
  • 8-10 Gu packs
  • 1 pack sports beans
  • Body glide
  • Salt tablets
  • Banana (purchased in Spain, duh)
  • Protein shake powder (pre-measured in a ziplock bag)
  • Compression socks
  • Garmin 405
  • Charger for Garmin
  • Knee strap
  • Ice pack
  • iPod shuffle and charger


I saved my water bottles for the first few days of the workshop and put them in the freezer in the apartment kitchen so I could do an ice bath.


Ready to go!

I ended up carrying the hydration backpack and also the waist pouch on the run. For fuel, I had a salt tablet at the beginning, then Gu and salt at miles 4, 7, and 10. A banana at mile 12. Another Gu and salt tab at mile 15. My hydration pack was completely empty at mile 15 so I had to stop and buy water. I was so glad I had money with me because I could not have continued without more water. Got another 1.5 liters and drank almost all of it by the end of the run. I thought about having another Gu and/or more salt after that, but I also just wanted to get finished so I didn’t bother. If I’d had to go 11 more miles after mile 15 I would have had them of course and maybe another banana.

I also put some thought into pre-run fueling which was hard to control under these circumstances. On Saturday and Sunday at the workshop, I tried to drink a small bottle of water for each paper that was presented – each paper got one hour and one bottle. At dinner Saturday night I ordered pizza so I would be sure to have enough food. Spanish food is a bit of a mixed bag for vegetarians. It’s delicious but the choices tend to be limited. I ate an awful lot of “tortilla” leading up to the run, which is pretty much a potato frittata. On Saturday and Sunday, I switched from plain tortilla to tortilla sandwich to get more carbs. All of this worked great and maybe I should run on tortilla sandwich more often.

So, how did the run go? I feel pretty pleased with it. I started a little after 3pm. Since I wasn’t planning to take a lot of pictures, I just ran the same route from Friday, more or less. Through the park, along the river, on the bike path. I started by running as far west as I could along the river, until the path veered away from the water and the surroundings just became ugly. I went back east as far as I could. Crossed the river at some point to run on the other side for awhile. The Spanish are not quite as good as the Germans at providing good paths along every waterway, but it wasn’t bad. On the far eastern edge of my run, they were setting up some permanent-looking tents that were going to be cafes for the summer or something.

I’ve never run that far alone before and I’m a quite social runner. Without friends to chat with, I listened to some Another Mother Runner podcasts for the first hour or so. I always feel like my ears get tired of listening to podcasts after awhile so about an hour into it, I switched over to music. During this time, I tried to drink while running, but I stopped for Gu and salt. I tried to keep my pace between 10 and 10:30, which seemed reasonable, given the heat. I had hoped to meet up with my friends at 14 miles so they could finish the run with them, but with the later start and the slower running, I was only around 12 when I got to the Plaza Mayor.


It turns out KC and LM had been doing an evening run plus some calisthenics most nights and they wanted to repeat that. Our paths overlapped for about 3 miles then I let them head off to their push-ups and tricep dips in the park while I finished the run. First I had to buy water. Luckily, the Spanish seem to agree with the Germans: if you’ve got a nice river with a nice path, you also need a nice outdoor bar right at the side of the river. So, buying water was no problem. It came in ½ liter bottles and I drank the first ½ liter at the bar. Got a second bottle, went to the bathroom, and bought a third bottle. The bartender probably thought I was crazy, but damn, it was hot! Actually, by now it was late enough that it was cooling off a bit and other runners were starting to show up on the bike path. I ran back west again and explored a somewhat different road with no gas stations. I really didn’t want to have to screw around with more running once I got back into town so I went out far enough that I was sure I’d have 20 done by the time I got to the apartment. For the last five miles, I probably walked every 1.5 miles or so for a few seconds just to have water because I really wanted to be sure I was drinking enough.

I didn’t have too much cramping but it wasn’t zero either. I guess I have to both drink a lot and take the salt and maybe cross my fingers as well. The hills were getting harder by the end but I kept thinking of the 8 million squats we do in circuits and that was pretty helpful. I also put on my half marathon racing playlist for the last five miles and that was great. I have a really fun collection of songs that help keep me running at a reasonable clip. “Top of the World” came on at the end and I even sprinted right up the last hill to the apartment!


All done!

This is the third time I’ve ever run 20 miles, not counting the marathon. Despite the heat, I definitely felt the best at the end of this one, compared to the other two. Leaves me feeling pretty hopeful for the marathon!




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3 Responses to Twenty (Nearly) Solo Miles (in Spain)

  1. What a great post! Such a great run. I would of love to have been able to run with you there. You are more than ready for this race on Sunday and I know you will do well. You make me want to start planning my redemption marathon. Hmmm…. I have some thinking to do.

  2. sarah says:

    Thank you! You are too kind. And, Nicole, you should totally plan a redemption marathon!! Philly in 2015!!

  3. That whiny Florida bitch with the busted up hip says:

    Great recap Sarah! Felt like I was with you every mile!

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