One of the reasons I really did want to study abroad is after the rather work-filled, stressful three years of senior year, and college, I wanted to fully let loose, experiment, and try out new things. It was a commitment to exploration and fun. This is why I gave in to the spontaneity, and the hope that my youth would make up for my lack of preparation by signing up for a half marathon in Córdoba. A historical city in Southern Spain, Córdoba hosts one of the most popular races in Spain, the Córdoba Media Marathon, attracting participants from across the country. A fortuitous 10-mile run earlier in the semester with one of my rather athletic friends (she’s a competitive swimmer) in my residence hall, had convinced me I would be able to pull through with training. Yet, my superior procrastination skills, and the rather traumatic week of losing my phone, meant that I’d never practiced much or been in the right mood to be running. I do rarely like leaving things halfway, though, so come 6:30 a.m. on the 26th of November, we were anxiously attempting to make it to the train station at Atocha for a two-hour train to Córdoba Central. Uber cancellations and roadblocks led to us having to race to just barely make it onto the train, with about thirty seconds to spare. While we would have ideally made it the day before for bib collection, we had booked our trains far out in advance, and changes were no longer possible. What followed was an even more anxious attempt to find the race venue, hastily collect our bibs, and deposit our bags for the race start at 10 a.m.
We did make it to the start, and we did get to participate. And boy, there was a crowd, about 6,000 people crowded in giant packs. Huge posters, and billboards advertised the marathons throughout the city, with blasting music and announcers eagerly yelling encouragement.
Running is interesting, because, in my opinion, it’s equal parts fitness and mental strength. While it can seem incredibly boring, there’s a high you experience solely from racing down another mile, the activity with one of the easiest and instantaneous rewards. Onlookers lined the streets, cheering on, while police and ambulance maintained the lines. Córdoba is one of the best places, for the fairly flat track, except for a couple of hilly sections, and the highly picturesque race route. Starting off in the Jewish quarter and ending right within the Alcázar, it takes you over the most emblematic places the city has to offer, including the Guadalquivir River, Mosque-Cathedral, Plaza de las Tendillas, and over the Roman bridge for the last mile and a half. Every four-ish miles, helpers handed out water bottles, which runners promptly threw out after downing; I was almost taken out by a couple of them. The energy was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, as hard as my feet cramped, calves shuddered, and body protested, hearing the onlookers scream and cheer around me, participants high five, and the little kids eager to high five runners as they passed really did push me through the last half, as much as looking up at the views and being awed by my surroundings helped me in the first half. There’s an infectious energy to the air, and a certain camaraderie that comes with self-inflicted physical torment. The whole city seemed to be gathered for this half marathon- customers in cafes had signs, and all the streets had been cleared save for volunteers, and family. We did spot the stray tourists emerging from the train station on our way, and I couldn’t help but smirk with what I consider a well-deserved air of superiority. You know? Clearly, I was a much better and proactive traveler.
It remains one of the most physically grueling experiences I’ve ever put myself through. I remember somewhere around mile eight, having an extremely fit group of senior runners race up past me, and feeling like this whole thing was ridiculous, but I did force myself to keep pace, after much cursing out loud. A police officer did look rather concerned for my well-being, asking me if I’d like a spare water or medical help. I think that spurred me into action more than anything else—my ego did not appreciate the intervention. But crossing the finish line was the absolute best rush I’ve felt.
The event was very well organized, and we took advantage of the shower facilities in a local gymnasium/swimming facility afterward. After a scrumptious brunch at The Club (highly recommend), and desserts at local patisserie chain Roldan (a Spanish friend of mine whose family is from Córdoba raved about it before I left Madrid and so I absolutely had to check it out. It turned out to be absolutely worth the hype, especially the tarts and mini chocolate croissants) we spent the day touring the city, including the Mezquita, Instagram-worthy flower street (Calleja de las Flores), and main squares. We must have covered the whole city on foot at least three times.
But little did we know, our mishaps were far from over. Our train was delayed. Twenty minutes after it finally arrived on the platform, it was joined by another train line. A rather frantic employee yelled at us to get on it, and find our carriage later, lest it depart, and we get stranded. But what we didn’t realize was that although the trains might be attached, it was impossible to transfer from one to another. Twin looks of horror and fatigue crossed our faces as the train slowly pulled out of the station. A late-night train on a Sunday, meant there were no seats free, and neither of us was keen on testing our broken Spanish to avoid incurring some sort of fine by approaching the rather mean-looking conductor and explaining our situation. After three trips up and down the carriage aisles, the solution became evident—the dining car. While a longer journey would have merited a proper restaurant with tables, this one had just tables lining the windows. My legs had pretty much turned to jelly at this point. I don’t really remember the rather agonizing two-hour journey, where I sipped my chocolate milk to justify my presence, and read a fantasy novel on my phone, but we managed to get through the ordeal.
Some things can only be done in your twenties, and I do think running 13.2 miles with no training and about four hours of sleep, walking around the city for five hours after, and then standing on a two-hour train count as one of those days. The fact that my body was able to bounce back three days after, is nothing short of miraculous to me. (In all fairness, I did attend class the next day, wrapped in every variety of Carrefour’s thermal pain patches)
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My name is Eeshta Bhatt and I'm originally from Mumbai, India. An avid reader, writer, and dancer; you are most likely to find me sipping coffee with a fantasy fiction novel, watching a murder mystery or charting out new runnining trails.