On tour: Santa Cruz Half Marathon

Tenerife is hot. Even in November, it’s hot. And so, as I lined up for the start of the Santa Cruz Half Marathon, 
I was glad I had decided to carry a hydration pack. There seemed to be a bit of a hold up, time the sun used to climb higher and get a better view of proceedings, and to select a victim.

Santa Cruz, the capital of the Canaries (shared with Las Palmas, on Gran Canaria) is a busy harbour city on the northeast of the island, and the first portion of the race took us close to the water. This stretch includes one of the most remarkable-looking constructions I have ever seen, the Auditorio de Tenerife, which features a gravity-defying arc that really has no business hanging where it does over the dome of the building. It’s as if someone saw the Sydney Opera House and thought, ‘Not bad, but watch this.’

(Related: How to run a race in the heat)

From here we turned right, back into the city. This uphill, shade-free early section was a smack in the sweat-streaked face, but we soon turned right again and found respite from the sun in the shadow of the colourful, tightly-packed buildings of the handsome old city. I had shade, but I was already sucking greedily on my water. There’s plenty to see along this part of the course, including the grand – and grandly named – Palace of the General Captaincy of the Canary Islands, which overlooks the elegant, airy Plaza Weyler, one of many lovingly maintained open areas in this surprising city.

After taking a lazy Z-shape through the old town we turned left to begin a long stretch along the coast and out of the city. The heat on this section was fierce and there was little shade, save for that cast by industrial units and the storage tanks we passed: from the memorable smell, I think they were filled with gas. On our left, low scrubby hills rose up from the edge of the road. The vegetation was so pale I thought it was going to pass out.

Water stations were plentiful and well manned, and whenever I passed one I grabbed a bottle and dumped its contents over my head. The heat was boring holes in my skull and as it did I began to entertain odd ideas: as my cap dried out, would it shrink and hurt my head? Does blood bubble when it boils?

By this stage runners were gliding by me, impervious to the sun’s rays. I was thinking about a cool amble around the city’s Botanical Gardens, or perhaps a visit to the golden beach of Las Teresitas, with its mile of imported Sahara sand, but I had work to do yet. And things became harder as I headed back to the city.

The pain arrived quickly, a tight band at the point where my right foot joined my leg. It radiated around my foot and clamped on tight. I began to limp and to do very curious things to distract myself from the discomfort: smacking my fists together, seeing how many swear words I could hiss and mutter in 10 seconds. I could no longer flex my foot, which made any kind of decent gait impossible to maintain.

As is always the case, other runners expressed concern for one of their own, and so did a policeman, who was leaning over his motorbike: ‘Estás bien?’ he asked, as I limped by, swearing grandly. I gave him a thumbs up for some reason. By this stage I was walking for one minute at each kilometre marker, then breaking into a determined hobble. Finally, at the 17km point, I stopped even that, and resigned myself to walking the rest of the way. I knew 
I would cross the finish line but 
my race was over.

And that’s when I met Nicole. She appeared by my side, also limping, and in far more pain than I was. 
I asked what the problem was. She pointed at her knee, which was swollen, practically pulsing like a cartoon hand hit by an anvil. ‘It’s my first half marathon,’ she said, ‘and I trained so hard for this.’ Then she began to cry. So I did the only decent thing a fellow runner could do: ‘OK, stay with me, and we’ll finish it together.’

So that’s what we did, limping along side by side, smiling gamely as people cheered our efforts, and talking to take our minds off our slow, ungainly and painful progress. She was Spanish-German but spoke some English. At one awkward point she asked what I did for a living. I rolled my eyes and said I worked for Runner’s World magazine.

‘Ah! Runner’s World! I read it for inspiration,’ she said. I don’t even think she was being sarcastic.

As we neared the finish chute she asked if I was able to run the last
 50 metres or so. I said I was, though I had no idea if this was the case. So, with spectators calling out encouragement, we broke into a broken run. Nicole, digging into reserves I do not think she knew she had, began to forge ahead, still limping badly but moving at a pace I could not match. And then I saw the source of her renewed strength: her two young children had run out from the crowd to join her; they each took a hand and pulled her over the finish line, where they hugged tightly. Emboldened, I increased the velocity of my limp, to cries of ‘Animal!’ from the crowd (which I think was shorthand for ‘It’s the glue factory for you, red-faced man!’)

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When I crossed the line, Nicole came over and shook my hand. ‘Thank you, if you had not been there I would not have finished.’

‘You’re welcome,’ I said. But yes she would.

The Santa Cruz Half (there is also a marathon) is well organised and there is plenty to see and do in the city. The race will test you if you’re not prepared for the heat but sometimes you have more to think back on than the tough miles.


The 2017 Santa Cruz Half Marathon takes place on November 12.

 

THE LOWDOWN

1/ Get there

EasyJet flies from London Gatwick to Tenerife South from £199 return and from Manchester (£255).

2/ Stay

The four-star Hotel Silken Atlántida is close to the race. Rooms from £63 a night.

3/ Eat

Head for the Calle Antonio Domínguez Alfonso, minutes from the race village. The pedestrianised street is lined with restaurants.

4/ Warm up

Try the Parque de la Granja, or head down to the water and run along a section of the race route.


THE RUNDOWN

Santa Cruz Half Marathon, Tenerife

2016 stats

First man: Jose Ignacio Martín García, 1:13:56

First woman: Marta Arnay Bethencourt, 1:23:56

Final finisher: 3:12:42

Number of finishers: 622

Finishing stats

1:00-1:29 6%

1:30-1:59 55%

2:00-2:29 34%

2:30-3:15 5%