Limassol Half Marathon: a tale of cheese, running and more cheese

Limassol Half Marathon, March 2017

When Susie asks you if you want to run a race in Limassol and then sends you a picture of the giant cheese selection at the breakfast buffet, you say yes.  

At a four hour plane ride from London, Cyprus is getting towards the slightly-too-far-for-two nights end of the spectrum but, ever optimistic and not wanting to take two days off work, I gave it my best shot.  I opted for a 6am flight into Larnaca airport on the Saturday, the day before the race.  I always make this mistake: 6am sounds like a reasonable time of day – then you realise you have to leave home at 2am.  Aided by a sleep on the plane, a quick nap on arrival and a few strong Cypriot coffees, I just about lasted until the evening pasta party but I maybe wouldn’t recommend this travel option if Limassol is your A race of the year.  (This no doubt goes without saying.  You probably aren’t as stupid as me.)

The others – all slotting into that not-as-stupid-as-me category – had arrived the day before.  I took a bus from the airport to our hotel, had that nap and then Bex and Carole from Breathe Unity picked me up and took me down to the old town to meet everybody else.  They were all sitting outside a café eating which is apparently how they had spent the whole day.  Damn, I really had missed out.  We wandered around a little, did some impressive carb loading at the pasta party and then took a walk to Lidl to stock up on breakfast supplies.  Armed with a baguette, a jar of chocolate spread and a bunch of bananas, we took the bus back up the road to our hotel and I was in bed for 8.30pm.  Going to bed before 9pm is pretty much my favourite hobby, so I was very happy.

I had originally signed up for the marathon but a niggly knee, a bout of (wo)man flu and a general lack of commitment meant that there had been a distinct lack of running in the weeks leading up to Limassol.  I was nowhere near marathon fit and, not being particularly enthused by the prospect of a complete sufferfest, I had decided to drop down to the half.  Given that I was here for the cheese and the company as much as (read: more than) the running, I wasn’t too gutted about this.  It wasn’t until the bus ride down to the race village that I decided to have a crack at running an alright time.  I plucked 8:30 minute miles out of thin air as my goal pace.

The race set off at 7am to avoid the midday heat.  I did feel slightly worried when my 8:30 pace didn’t feel massively comfortable from the off but I decided to just keep hold of it for as long as I could and see what happened.  The half route was an out and back along the main road that follows the coast.  Although not the most exciting of routes, you do get some lovely sea views and there wasn’t much chance of getting lost.  I also quite like an out and back. There’s something nice about turning around at the halfway point and knowing you have broken the back of it.

The turnaround point seemed to come around quite quickly and I was still keeping pace.  It was at the nine mile mark that I started having to hold on a little bit tighter.  It was getting hotter and I wished I had remembered my visor.  I was pouring water over my head at every stop, as well as drinking it.  This seems a little overdramatic now – it wasn’t that hot – but having just come out of British winter it really did feel uncomfortably warm.  Two miles from the end and I was clinging on for dear life.  I really, really wanted to stop running.  I passed the turnaround signs for the 5k and 10k races again and thought how great it would be to have been running one of them.  I would have finished already!  But then when I run a marathon I always wish it was a half, and when I’m running a 5km I daydream about it being a mile time trial, so it’s silly really.  I did really want to stop running though.

Finally the home straight appeared.  I launched into what I thought was a sprint finish for that last 0.1 of a mile but turned out to actually be slower than the whole rest of my race.  I stumbled over the finish line with 1:51 on the clock – a five minute PB – having averaged bang on 8:30 minute miles.  I was absolutely over the moon that my little gamble had paid off.  I took my medal and sat down on a wall for a few minutes to recover, befriending a girl over the common ground of us both being blinded by sweat.

There are lots of great things about Run Limassol: fast, flat PB-friendly courses, sunshine, a friendly and well organised race, you get to eat loads of delicious Cypriot food before and after… the list goes on.  However, by far, the stand out best thing is that there is an ice cream parlour at the finish line.  Literally, at the finish line.  I clocked it the second the sweat had cleared from my eyes and quickly went to retrieve my bag.  I changed into clean shorts, flip flops and my race t shirt in a public toilet and then immediately bought an ice cream as big as my head.  One scoop chocolate, one scoop raspberry sorbet.  It was the best.

At this point it was still only just gone 9am.  I wanted to go and redeem my free beer token but figured it was maybe a little early.  Instead I wandered back along the course a couple of hundred metres and set myself up in a prime cheering spot for the marathon finishers.  It was great to see everybody come in, looking very pleased to be finished given that it was getting hotter and hotter.  Ben was especially chuffed as he had scored a pretty hefty PB himself, ducking under 4 hours for the first time.  When everybody had finished I finally got to redeem that beer token and then we headed off in search of a cheese based lunch.  The rest of the day passed in a similarly cheese-y, beer-y, sunny vein.

Limassol was all of things I love most about running rolled up into one: a new place, some super people, that feeling of having done something, the first cold beer afterwards, eating all of the food.  It was a whistle stop tour – 72 hours door to door, 20 of which were spent on various buses, trains and planes – but I arrived back at work the following Tuesday feeling so much better for a having had a little trip away, a good dose of vitamin D and an even bigger dose of halloumi.

Ps. Just to clarify: despite the heavy mention of cheese and other dairy products in this post, I think you’ll still love Limassol even if you are lactose intolerant/enjoying a plant-based diet/generally just not a fan of cheese.  

Huge thanks to Breathe Unity for looking after us for race weekend.  We received complimentary race places and accommodation at the lovely Mediterranean Beach Hotelhome of the infamous cheese buffet.  Check out Run Limassol here.

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