Hello! Welcome to my Cyprus International 4-day Challenge blog. The Challenge is a stage race held in the Akamas peninsula of Cyprus, taking in four very different races - and I'll be blogging throughout.
I've been running for about four years and have actually taken on the 4-day Challenge before, in 2009. But whereas back then I arrived in Cyprus bursting with enthusiasm and fresh from a 10K PB and my first ever half-marathon, things are a little different this time. After damaging a knee ligament while skiing in February this year, my running has been a disaster. It's just never really got back on track, and I'm returning to Cyprus at least a minute/mile slower and a stone heavier than before - and with even more nerves because I already know how tough the Challenge is.
But I do remember how beautiful and varied the races are - and how amazing I felt when I crossed the final finish line last time. I'm hoping this week will reignite my love of running, so I can get in gear for a slightly more successful 2012!
NOVEMBER 24 - CORAL BEACH 6K TIME TRIAL
The Time Trial isn't until mid-afternoon, and starts in front of the pretty Coral Beach Hotel harbour. The route then heads off along residential roads and through banana plantations to the finish - a pretty beach overlooking sea caves. It is a flat route, but the deceptively tricky challenge of the time trial is to stick to your pace. Rather than a mass start, runners start 10 seconds apart in random order - which can feel disorientating!
NOVEMBER 25 - AKAMAS 11K HILL RUN
'Hill' being the operative word here. The Hill Run race starts at sea level in the Akamas nature reserve. After a flat first kilometre lulls you into a false sense of security, there's a right turn into the Avakas Gorge - and the climbing starts. Winding through the gorge, we climbed to over 300m by 5K. There's then some welcome respite - a sharp descent by the 6K point and dramatic changes in scenery as the forested area gives way to a rocky valley with stunning views over the sea - and another 200m of climbing to do. The final three kilometres are tough but inspiring - through farmland and vineyards and then climbing up through the tiny village of Pano Arodes, with the finish gantry taking up the whole village square in front of the church.
NOVEMBER 26 - AKAMAS MULTITERRAIN HALF MARATHON
The Multiterrain Half-Marathon starts in the Smigies forest at an altitude of 274m. From here there is a steady climb up through the Akamas forest until it thins out and becomes a winding trail through the heart of the Akamas. After the highest point, just over 600m, a steep but steady descent starts. The finish on the sands of Toxeftra beach, where many runners cool off in the sea.
NOVEMBER 27 - 10K PAPHOS CITY RUN
Starting in front of the ancient castle in the picturesque harbour, this flat 10K road race takes you through Kato Paphos and the beachfront hotel district before returning to finish with a sprint past the pleasure boats back at the medieval castle. The ranks are swelled on Sunday as local runners and expats join in for the 10K. But the best bit is unsurprisingly the free beer laid on at the finish in front of the castle, just as the morning begins to heat up.