Race report: San Sebastián marathon, half marathon & 10K

Race report written by Sarah Harris

Earlier this year, Mariona and Sarah G hatched a plan to run the San Sebastián marathon. Fast forward to a few months later, and this had snowballed into a team event with around 20 ESMers plus supporters travelling to the Basque coastal city to participate in the 42k, 21K or 10K.

San Sebastián, locally known as Donostia and famed for gastronomy, is also home to the second oldest marathon in Spain. Nestled in a picturesque spot on the Atlantic coast framed by the Urgull and Igeldo hills and the wide sandy de la Concha and Zurriola beaches, it’s an ideal setting for this festival of running.

Most of us arrived on the Friday before, giving us the chance to convene and sample a couple of pintxos bars with a glass or two of Txakoli or Rioja — although Andy Leung had done some valuable groundwork for the team on this front enabled by flying in a couple of days earlier. Saturday brought the chance to collect race numbers, meet for a team photo, and explore the old town.

And then it was race day! The sun was barely up when the 10K runners ventured out for a chilly 8:30 start to the day’s first race. The route took the runners, including nine ESMers,  out and back along La Concha’s promenade before taking in a town centre loop and another out-and-back stretch alongside the Zurriola beach. Although not completely race fit, Lynn Wilson still impressively finished first in her age group (50:20), with Pat Thomas just a few minutes behind (53:30) despite carrying a heavy cold! Catherine Gunnewicht was next in from the women’s side in a time of 55:45, followed by Annette Galloway (56:28), who arrived in town only the day before and jetted off shortly after (there’s some dedication to the cause!). Rachel Hearson, Bev Packwood and Sophie Pesticcio ran some of the race together and all finished comfortably within the hour.

First home from the men’s team was Malcolm Woolsey (46:34), who impressively shaved off a minute from his last 10K race in the summer, further evidencing his upward trajectory following major surgery. Nick Vanson was next in (59:00), followed by Ronaldo, who, although he is yet to become an ESM member, deserves a special mention for managing the distance despite no training (and also his support for Bill and the rest of the team).

Conditions couldn’t have been more perfect when the marathon and half marathon runners set out at 9 am, remaining cool with bright sunny skies. The flat two-lap circuit (one lap for the 21K) covered similar ground to the 10K along the promenades but extended further to the Antiguo neighbourhood from La Concha Bay and out to the south, looping around the Anoeta Stadium and athletics track. Crowd support around the town centre and the final few kilometres to the finish line was great.

Colin Foster ran a superb debut marathon, coming in at 2hr 54:00 and exceeding his expectations, especially given that injury had taken a month out of his training cycle. Andy Leung, no stranger to the marathon distance, was next from the team to finish. He’d embarked on this with little expectations, looking relaxed and comfortable in the final miles and finishing in 3 hours 48:05. Our incredible endurance athlete Barbro Julin won her age category in 4hr 13:26, cutting a good chunk off her times this year in London and Edinburgh and should also have won the prize for the happiest looking marathon runner!

A fantastic run was had by Bill Lonsdale, who also won his age category with a time of 4hr 23:30, which was around 40 min quicker than he ran Berlin only two months prior! Mariona put in a heroic effort to complete the distance in just over four and a half hours with great pacing despite a troublesome cold. This was her sixth marathon, and she noted that it came in as her second favourite after Barcelona (although there could be some hometown bias there!). Jules worked together with Mariona for some of the race and also ran at a great pace, supported from the sidelines by husband Chris.   

Only Pete Flewitt and I entered the half marathon race, and we both found that congestion slowed our first 5K down considerably. This resulted from the 2,000 21K and 3,500 42K runners being released at the same time into the narrow streets of the old town centre. Nonetheless, Pete still pulled a very swift 1hr 19:37 out of the bag, placing third in his age category! I followed a little way behind, taking 20th place in the women’s race with a time of 1hr 32:14; slightly disappointed not to have capitalised better on the perfect conditions but happy to have had the privilege of running in such a great event.

Those of us who ran the shorter distances joined the supporters lining the streets in the final kilometres to enthusiastically support our teammates and the other marathoners. There was sunshine, music, dancing, and a lot of encouragement! Among the supporter ranks was Sarah G, who, although she had to pull out of the marathon this time, provided fantastic support and encouragement to the rest of us, and we look forward to her come back!

We finished the day in true Donostia style at a pintxos bar for more of those famously tasty snacks. And there may have been a couple of drinks thrown in. This was followed by a visit to another bar to continue the celebrations of the day’s running, spectating and, of course, Sophie’s birthday.

Most of us returned home the following day. We were perhaps a little tired and achy but happy to have spent an awesome few days enjoying the beauty of San Sebastián, developing new friendships, nurturing old ones, and doing a little bit of what we love… running!   Full results can be found here.