Running Costa Brava

Girona
View from a wall outside of Girona

As you know, I love to run. I also love Ragnar Relays, which are 200 mile running relays where you run with a team from one city to another. There’s something very fun about running and actually getting somewhere rather than running in a big circle like most marathons (although, I do still run marathons because I’m crazy and can’t resist pain).

This year, I thought, “I wonder if there are such things as running vacations?” I’m not talking training camps where coaches train you how to run, but an actual running vacation – similar to a cycling tour except without the bike.

Google to the rescue 

Turns out, after a search in google there is one (and only one that I could find) company that does these. The company is Run the World Adventures (they also own Running Costa Brava) and they conduct running vacations in South America, Costa Rica and Europe. Most of their tours sound hard core – like running the Alps – but they had one that seemed my pace.  It was their 4-day Running Costa Brava Tour.

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Lots of little villages along the way

I read over the description and was hooked, because what was not to love? I love Spain, I love running and the scenery sounded wonderful. I was only concerned about two things: it was all trail and I haven’t run trail before; and what if the other people were super athletes and I held them back?

Thankfully, Cristina and Pablo were used to having slow pokes like me on their tours. They said what they could do was give me a GPS so I could go at my own pace. The rest of the group could race ahead, and eventually I would meet them at the end point.

Whew…this sounded perfect, because I also had a third concern. People.

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Many of the villages had arches and were inside stone walls.

When I run, I run by myself and that’s how I like it. It’s my zen time where I tune out the rest of the world, leave my cell phone at home and just focus on breathing and running. For me, it’s better than yoga for destressing. So I wasn’t quite sure if I would like running with a group of 8 to 10 people. What if they wanted to talk?

Exploring Costa Brava one mile at a time 

It turns out all my worries were for nothing. I should have known that people who sign up for running vacations are the same breed that sign up for Ragnar Relays. They are a little crazy in that they want a challenge that pushes beyond the comfort zone, they never give up and will keep running even if it hurts, but at the same time completely laid back.

While everyone was in shape, no one was an Olympian. In other words, they were like me. They were simply people who like to run.

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Enjoying a wine break along the way. I’m not hard core enough to mix wine and running so had to stick with water.

Our group consisted of 10 people. Three couples from South Africa, a couple from Scotland, a girl from Canada and myself. I was worried that I would be the oldie in the group, but surprisingly, our youngest runner was 39, with most people being in their late 40s and early 50s. I have no idea if this is typical, but it was refreshing to meet so many people who were not only running, but running long distances in their 50s. The couples from South Africa had done the Two Oceans Ultra more than once and the couple from Scotland had completed some really impressive trail races.

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The trails were hard, but the views incredible.

The other thing that was great about these people was that nobody was there to break their PR. They were there to enjoy the run. The pace was relaxing, photos and selfies were taken along the way, and lots of jokes were made.

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Running along the rocky coast.

Did I really sign up for this?

The Tour began in Girona where we explored the narrow streets of the ancient city which was the location of Season 6 of Game of Thrones. The next day, we began our trek through the Costa Brava region. We ran through seven medieval villages, finally ending at a 1000 year old Catalan farm house in Mals Cals

By day two, I admit, I was feeling the pain. We were only running on average, 25 km a day, but it was all trail. As I mentioned, I’m not a trail runner. I run roads where the surface is even and the hills are gradual.  Trail running is a different beast. The terrain changes from rocky to dirt to sand. And the hills….well, sometimes the hills are cliffs and you are sliding down them on your butt.

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Lots of peaceful countryside to enjoy along the way.

Basically, what this means is that I was using lots of muscles I hadn’t used before. The muscles around my ankles were exhausted from balancing the rough terrain, my quads were sore from the downhills, and my upper back was sore because my legs were exhausted so I was tensing up.

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Kill me now. These hills seemed never-ending.

But I had two more days to go. And day three was the day, we were to finally reach the sea. Spurred on by the lure of the great view, we ran again. I wasn’t the only one suffering. The rest of the group was also feeling fatigued – which made me feel better for some reason. So off we ran – down technical trails, up crazy-hills and through the woods.

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Fishing village along the way.
The good news is that the sea was beautiful and worth the effort to get there. For most of the tour, the only people we saw were ourselves, so we were definitely off the beaten track. It was kind of an intimate experience where you were pushing yourself to the limit each day, with 9 other people who were doing the same while exchanging stories.

Paella Day – Carbs never tasted so good

Pablo, our guide, calls the last day of the tour, Paella day. That’s because at the end of another day of running, you are finally done and rewarded by feasting on this amazing paella.

But let me tell you about Pablo. This guy is a running machine. No really. He wears these flimsy sandals and runs like a mountain goat, hopping over rocks and bounding up and down hills. And the whole time, he’s smiling, taking videos of the group and making sure you are okay. One minute he’s at the end of the line and the next, he’s swooshing past you to catch up with the lead runner to let them know there is a turn coming up. It was incredible to watch.

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Pablo and his running sandals.
The whole tour was extremely well-organized. Pablo knew the trails inside and out, and after figuring out our own personal limitations had laid out alternate routes that would keep us challenged – without completely defeating us.

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Paella!

For someone who likes to run, the experience was amazing. I’m even considering doing their hut-to-hut tour in the Dolomites in 2018– if I start training now.

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