By: Alan Brunsdon
On Friday, 13 October 2017, our group of six runners set off to run the Lisbon Marathon in Portugal. The Stella contingent of the group was Alan Brunsdon, Roger Scholtz and The Butcher (Peter Limbouris). We flew from Johannesburg via Luanda to Lisbon with Air Angola, a return ticket costing R 3800! To our surprise, we found that the experience with Air Angola was a pleasant and enjoyable one – planes are new with Portuguese pilots, have inflight entertainment, good food and cold beers! The stopover in Luanda for 4 hours was uneventful except for the Butcher explaining to the immigrations officer that Cyprus was part of the EU and he did not need a visa for Portugal!
We arrived in Lisbon at around 7 in the morning to a bustling clean airport and easily cleared immigration etc. We then took the underground which is efficient and serves most of the city ( Lisbon only has a population of 500,000 people! ) to our AirBnB accommodation where we dropped off our luggage. We then proceeded to the race registration centre to collect goodie bags etc – the race entry was 40 euro. The queues were long but the atmosphere festive. A total of 35,000 athletes participated in a 10 km, 21.1 km and the 42.2 km marathon.
Race day arrived on Sunday together with blistering temperatures of 31 degrees – the weather all week had been max 21 degrees! To get to the start we needed to take free transport on the train to a resort town Cascaisi which was 30 km outside of Lisbon on the Atlantic coast. The train was filled with athletes and our South African running outfits were rather distinctive! On arrival at the seaside resort we lined up with 5,000 athletes to loud music and a carnival type atmosphere. The marathon is part of the Rock ‘n Roll series, so music and bands along the route were the order of the day.
Initially the course did a loop through the town before heading back to Lisbon alongside the coast. It was flat and similar to running Two Oceans going through Hout Bay etc. The scenery was lovely, the water tables well-stocked, and there were bands every 2.5 km along the route, encouraging us to press on. The organisation of the race was excellent and running in the South African flag colours certainly helps with crowd support and interaction with other runners. The last 10 km were hard work as it was hot and flat – we all had to dig deep! We finished in the main square in the centre of Lisbon called the Terreiro do Paco. We received a serious size medal and refreshments at the end – we were also finished! My time was slower than hoped but I will take the finish – 5:47 being the 13th South African across the finishing line.
Fortunately our accommodation was within walking distance of the finish and the afternoon was spent relaxing before spending the evening recounting war stories at a nice restaurant on the main square.
Over the next few days, we visited some of the historic sites in Lisbon from the St George’s Castle, Christ the King statue and Jeronimos Monastery. The cost of living is slightly more than in South Africa but it is relatively cheap compared to European prices. We discovered pasteis de Nata – the legendary custard tarts!
We managed to get tickets to a UEFA Champions Cup football game between Benfica and Manchester United at Estadio da Luz in Lisbon. It was an amazing experience to be part of a 57,000 spectator crowd.
We returned home after a memorable Lisbon experience.