ONE of the most spectacular starts in mass running is at Valencia in south-east Spain.

The 42.2k marathon and 10k kicked off side by side under cloudless blue November skies on parallel sections of the Monteolivete Bridge.

I was among 17,000 in the marathon, while 8,500 were in the 10k. We hit the road at 9am, streaming over the bridge before separating to go on different courses.

The temperature was a pleasant 13oC (55.4F), but later soared to a strength-sapping 23oC (73.4F).

The marathon – 26.2 miles in real money – was a roughly circular tour of Spain’s third biggest city (after Madrid and Barcelona) with around 800,000 citizens, most of whom seemed to be cheering us on in the sunny streets.

This was my 43rd marathon and first in Valencia, which sits on the ‘Orange Blossom Coast’ and boasts the busiest container port on the Mediterranean.
It was the 35th time the increasingly popular marathon had been held.

As its website says: “What started out as little more than a trickle of athletes dodging the local traffic has now become a grand sporting happening.”

A quarter of the marathoners were foreign, many from Britain, France, Italy and Germany.

They were lured by the reputation of an event named the best marathon in Spain by the Spanish Athletics Association, ahead of Barcelona (which I did in March), Seville and Madrid.

Valencia deserves great praise for tackling the formidable logistics involved in putting on two big races at the same time. It also held a half-marathon a few weeks earlier.

The marathon course is commendably flat and has a dramatic ‘salida’ and ‘meta’ (start and finish). It goes through the city centre and includes the bullring and Valencia and Levante football club stadiums, but, regrettably, offers the merest tantalising glimpse of the Mediterranean.

What makes this marathon stand out from many others is the exhilarating atmosphere created by the wonderful people who line the streets in numbers rivalling the London Marathon.

Some were even dancing with each other to the inspiring music provided by wildly enthusiastic DJs.

Brass bands and droves of drummers also ensured that anyone living along the route had absolutely nae chance of a long lie that Sunday morning!

All of the runners had their first name printed on their number by the organisers. Several fans called out ‘Er-eek’ to me. I responded with a wave and a smile of pleasure that they had encouraged me.]

There were also countless shouts of ‘muy bien’ (very good), ‘animo’ (good luck) and other words meaning ‘keep going’ including ‘vamos’, ‘venga’ and ‘arriba’.

My usual target is around three hours 30 minutes, but this time I was aiming for about four hours.

Calf and back strains had seriously hampered my training, so I planned to take it easy. In fact, I was only able to join this colourful throng because of the skill of NHS physio Gemma Taylor.

I maintained a pace of around five minute 30 second kilometres for much of the race, but struggled between 35k and 40k.

As I approached the end at the futuristically fabulous ‘City of Arts And Sciences’ complex, I knew there would be only seconds in it if I was to beat four hours.

The course twisted and turned down to a bright blue finishing straight walkway built on a shimmering man-made lake.

I summoned a heartening sprint to get to the line only 20 seconds over four hours in 8,958th place. It was my slowest-ever marathon, but, after fearing earlier this year that I might have to give up running, it was one of my most satisfying!