Limassol GSO - Smiles better!

Bashir on podium at Limassol

Run with a Smile - the motto of the OPAP Limassol Marathon GSO. Well it really isn’t too much to ask - what’s not to like? Article by Jackie Newton.

I am writing this from the airport before flying back to the UK after four days in sunny Limassol, Cyprus where I have been a part of this marvellous event that included a half marathon and a 10k.

Myself and partner, Bashir, came out here on Wednesday after being invited to take part.  We decided that it was a good opportunity to have a bit of a holiday and also boost our running with a target that would put more structure to our training. It has also given me motivation to get out and do a few parkruns and threshold sessions to monitor progress. I entered the half marathon and admit it was a bit scary as it was 15 years since my last one! After a training regimen of shorter, faster work, Bashir went for the 10k.

We have been staying at the Amathus Beach Hotel - more of that later (it was fab!) and as well as seeing the sights we made the most of all of the activity around the race including the first Cyprus Running Community Forum and the Pasta Party.

The race village is set up at the top end of Molus Cultural Park just as it meets the harbour, where there is a modern plaza with bars, restaurants, a pier and a very wide promenade where the races start and finish. One of the first things that we did was to go down to the race village to get our bearings and this meant that we bumped into other runners, including Vinny who had travelled from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland and told me that it was cheaper for him to fly, stay and race in Cyprus than it is for him to fly, stay and race in England!

The pasta party took place the night before the race, in the race village, that had been well and truly energised by a dance floor, upbeat music and plenty of stalls to browse through. We didn’t stay out too long though as we wanted to check out where we could park the car, in the morning, without getting trapped in the road closures. The races are run along the coast road on out and back courses (lovely and flat for great rhythm and fast times!) The road is completely closed for the races but the old town is open and so you can get in and out via the roads to the north. The organisers also provide buses that, I must say, provide a much easier way of getting to the start and then back to your hotel but, unfortunately, we needed to leave for the airport fairly early in the day and so the car came in useful for us.

We arrived with around 40 minutes to go, found a parking spot just 2km from the start and joined the throngs of runners heading towards the arena. After hydrating well, I needed to find a loo and it was a real treat to find clean and vacant porta-loos at regular intervals along the road. No queues! I was already smiling before even starting my Run with a Smile and if that hadn’t put a smile on my face, the atmosphere soon would. There was a heightened sense of happiness and a chilled-out vibe; the sun was shining but it wasn’t hot. In fact, the weather was perfect and there was no wind. The organisers must know the perfect time to stage the race because, every day that we were in Limassol, a lively breeze came in during the afternoon but the early mornings were serene. Ok - so it meant an earlier start than we are used to in the UK but somehow it didn't seem early because it was so light and bright.

The races are all publicised as starting at 7am but they actually set the marathon off first, then the half and finally the 10k at five minute intervals.

With a cheery and relaxed approach, the organisers and support staff created exactly the right feel at the start for an event that wants you to run with a smile! Nothing was too much trouble - they were helpful and encouraging so we got onto our marks feeling positive and eager to get out on the road for our 13.1 mile (or 21km) jaunt that turned around at the Ancient Amathunta Kingdom Ruins (that are just past the Amathus hotel and worth seeing another time as well as in the run!) The atmosphere on the course was buzzing with several music stations along the way and superb water-station staff who targeted every runner to make sure you got water if you wanted it or had the opportunity to refuse. It was in bottles too so no struggling with plastic cups!

My race started really well and  I was running with a smile for the first 16km. I tried to run conservatively for the first half and the good thing about having a turn around point is that you can see exactly who is in front of you and behind you and how much of a gap you/they have. I realised that I was 6th woman and so decided to go for top 5. I picked the pace up for the next 6km and still felt good but after the 16km marker, the smile turned into a grimace although the crowds might have thought I was still smiling! I was telling myself that there was only the distance of my local parkrun to go and trying to stay positive but there was definitely a little voice in my head saying, “Yes but you don’t usually start parkrun with legs feeling like this!” I think it is fair to say that the wheels were falling off. How could the 2km that I used as a warm up from the car to the start have felt more like 12km at the end of the race?! The finish couldn’t come soon enough for me! I got there in the end though and was delighted to have finished 5th - yes - I did catch the girl in front of me just before that 16km marker and then was praying that I could hang onto it and not slow too much. I was pleased with the time too which was within a minute a mile of my last half marathon that I ran at the beginning of 2002. I need to check my handicap score now and see if I’ve improved it! (Post script - just checked it and should have done better!)

Of course, Bashir (also should have done better!) was all done and dusted by the time that I finished and his race had gone to plan as he was on the podium in 3rd place (see picture)! After collecting our medals, a 10km trophy and after-race banana, we headed back to the hotel with reinvigorated smiles on our faces where we were still in time for the massive and sumptuous breakfast buffet (another benefit of an early start!) where we refuelled before lying out on the lawn to catch a few rays before heading home.

The Amathus Beach Hotel was the perfect place to stay for the race. It had everything a runner could need and more including one of those pull-out washing lines across the bath to hang rinsed-out running kit, chocolates on the pillow at night, a well-equipped gym and a lovely pool. The happy and relaxed staff matched the manner of the gorgeous people that we met from the race - their attention to detail was superb and nothing was too much effort.

Thank you OPAP Limassol Marathon GSO, Carole and  Becs at Breathe Unity (the organisation that helped run the event and promoted it and put us on the invite list!) and the lovely staff at the Amathus Beach Hotel (I will also get busy on Trip Advisor!)

For a full report and with news of other British competitors click here.