After a winter defined by dramatic amounts of rain, flooding and general wetness, the prospect of escaping to warmer climates to run around the dusty farm tracks of olive and almond groves in Spain sounded like the perfect tonic for some winter running blues.
Approached by Rob and Lizard Trail Running based in Cornwall, the proposed trip to Spain was the first of its kind as he took his running holiday knowledge and partnered up with our base for our stay in rural Andalusia, the beautiful Almond House Oasis, a yoga and health retreat set up ten years ago by Paul and Jools in this secluded and rugged landscape near the town of Huercal Overa.
Before we even get to the running, it’s important to discuss the Almond House some more. Having been up and running for some time now, the Almond House bypasses all the awkward teething problems that some new ventures suffer from, and from the moment you arrive you feel incredibly welcome.
Accommodating a maximum of eight people in the main farmhouse and adjourning casita, the whole experience is set up to make you feel like you are getting the personal attention that you deserve from such a holiday and attention you get (the good kind).
The whole house is incredibly turned out; the style and detail in each room makes it feel perfectly placed in its surroundings but also comfortable and relaxing. It’s very much like you’re in a home from home, not some sterile holiday cottage somewhere. My room (pictured below) was incredibly comfortable and had it’s own bathroom just down the hall.
There’s a main dining room table for meals (and what meals they are!), though on warmer days BBQs outside are very much the order of play, there’s a very comfortable lounge with big sofas and a fireplace for the cooler nights, a fantastic pool with large cushioned seating areas for when it’s time to relax, a separate studio for all training/stretching/indoor workout needs and a huge outdoor training courtyard with one of the best views you could imagine whilst working out. On the accommodation alone, this holiday is worth considering, but amazingly it gets better.
Before we all got too comfortable in our home for the next few days, we were reminded that this was an active holiday and this didn’t just mean running. Like most professional running holidays these days, getting in the miles is one thing, but training to be stronger runners is the key to success and our days were structured so; each day was a combination of spectacular trail running and bodyweight/suspension training.
Now this might not be something you’re used to in your training routine, but that’s why trips like this are so useful, they take you out of your comfort zone and add an extra dynamic that you can take home with you and improve upon. And so to the running.
After a dynamic warm up in the training arena, it was time to fill the hydro packs, slap on some sun cream (it was mid-April and 24°C!) and head out into some of the most stunning and accessible terrain I’ve had the pleasure to run in. This area of Andalusia has remained relatively unchanged for many years, it hasn’t been developed into a bustling touris location like Benidorm and still very much exists on the traditional olive and almond farming that has shaped the land for centuries. This means that the moment you leave the doorstep of Almond House, you can head in any direction and explore the canyons, ridges, farm tracks and ramblers (drainage routes for water) for miles around.
We took in a few key vantage points on most runs, which offered fantastic views of the surrounding area and allowed us to familiarise ourselves with the vastness of the area.
The surface varies from hard dried riverbeds, loose shifting gravel, soft deep silt and everything in between and being at 750m above sea level, there’s the extra benefit of training with some altitude. There are long slow uphill drags, short punchy climbs and descents that will test your foot speed and courage.
It's not just long runs though, there's speed work too taking place on the challenging half mile 'Wolf Run' course that circles the house and will have you out of puff before heading into the arena for some more circuits. This certainly works up an appetite, something that is more than catered for.
A key part of such a holiday is food. As runners, we’re used to burning calories and the need to replenish and recover, especially when you're racking up the miles on demanding terrain. This is not a problem. The food was plentiful and delicious, the perfect combination of locally sourced, incredibly healthy and in constant supply!
Jools is in charge of the food and prides herself on being able to cater to any dietary requirements and I wouldn’t doubt this for a second. Our breakfast of choice consisted of porridge, fruit salad and toast before the exercise begun, but after we’d completed a run or some training, we were presented with homemade trail mix, smoothies and my personal favourite, delicious cakes made using no fat or refined sugar.
Lunches were equally abundant and nutritious and once they’d settled it was more training, then snacks, then the evening meal served with local wine. It is a holiday after all.
So the downsides. Well, there's only one really and that's the isolation. You are in the middle of nowhere, which is fantastic, peaceful and relaxing, but if you are someone who needs to be entertained on holiday and a book by the pool doesn't cut it, then you might struggle. That's it though and it's hardly a negative!
At £799 for a weeks stay all included and flights into Alicante with easyjet picked up cheap, this should be a very serious consideration for anyone who wants an active running holiday with all the luxury of an all inclusive break. The next running holiday is at the end of May, for more info check out the Lizard Trail Running site.