An Adventure in Costa Brava
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to seize an opportunity when it knocks. Sometimes it’s a light tap, and yet other times it’s like a hammer down the door. The opportunity to go running through the Spanish countryside in the Costa Brava region was somewhere in between. This unique adventure was brought to my attention through my previous employer; it looked like an incredible chance to see the country as very few travelers do. Little did I know what was in store for us.
After many months of communication, planning and organizing, our group of six (my fiance and I, and four of our clients) embarked on the journey of a lifetime. We were exhausted when we first arrived in Girona, after nearly 23 hours of travel time. We had some free time to check out the shops and indulge in some local cuisine (read: mind blowing pizza) and some local (and might I add, cheap!) Spanish wine. Trying to stay out late like the locals do, in order to get into a normal sleep pattern, simply didn’t work out as planned for my Fiance, Mary, and I. We struggled to keep our eyes open until 6pm, slept a solid fourteen hours, and woke up feeling great! We were excited and mentally prepared to start our adventure of running approximately a half marathon everyday for seven days straight. The journey was about to commence.
We met our guides – Pablo and Danny – outside of our hotel in Girona, eager and ready to hit the trails at 8am sharp! We were in for a surprise though, as we were taken to the most quaint little cafe on the narrow streets of Girona, serving the best coffee any of us had ever had. One of our clients had never tried a coffee in his life (keep in mind, this is very rare for someone in their late 40’s) and he was completely blown away. While we sipped on our decadent Spanish coffees, savouring every sip, we got acquainted with our hosts. After this welcomed and short delay to our running adventure, we were caffeinated, buzzing on Spanish coffee, and finally off.
Running through the ancient city of Girona was nothing short of breathtaking. We were guided through narrow winding roads, atop the city guard wall, along the Roman road, and visited churches older than our own country! Half way through the day, Pablo removed his tiny sandals (there was hardly enough substance there to even constitute a sandal) to continue running barefoot for the rest of the day!
Day one turned out to be 18km mixed terrain of road and trail running, in and around the city of Girona, ending right back where we started. We sat down for an ice cold beer and lunch with Pablo and Danny in the heart of the city, watching the people go about their day. The night was spent enjoying incredible food and wine; little did we know that the next day was going to be an even longer run!
Our second day started with a big breakfast at our hotel and a short drive to our next location. Pablo and Danny would meet us every morning at 8am to load all our luggage in their van and drive us to the start of our next route. The group was in for a long haul today totalling 22km! This was not a non-stop slog however; we would stop in small villages for a quick beer or taking pictures of an ancient castle, so it was not the gruelling straight shot of a road race. Needless to say, no one was in a rush. We also ended up on a couple of self guided portions using a GPS tracker, as Pablo and Danny needed to return to the transportation to drive to the next meeting point or the final hotel. We ran through all sorts of terrain on this day including small towns, fields, forests and undulating hills. The day was incredibly hot. We were all quite beat near the end of a long days trek, only to stumble upon an oasis in the middle of a large field. We arrived at our final destination for the day at a B&B converted farmhouse complete with hot showers and a glorious pool that we dipped into to cool off. The first order of business was sitting down for amazing Catalan cuisine with local beers delivered by the B&B owners. After our meal we all agreed it was hands down the best culinary experience any of us had ever had!! That night we enjoyed another fantastic meal with some Spanish wine and lots of laughs. Early to bed that night, as we knew there was another epic run awaiting us in the morning.
This morning started with a short ride in our van up an incredibly steep mountain; I know we were all happy to not have to run up it! We split into two groups based on our running capabilities, and took slightly different paths for the first portion of the run. We were on our own in the middle of the countryside following our GPS through heavy forests. This was very strange for us, running through a foreign country with no guide. After two hours of our self guided run, we crested a hill only to get our first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea.
We met Pablo and the other group there for a long lunch break. The views were stunning to say the least; we stood atop that cliff, looking down at the crystal blue water below, and a small village in the distance. None of us wanted to leave this magical place.
We eventually started on the rest of our trek that day, and ran across beautiful beaches, through quaint little towns with multi coloured buildings. We eventually ended up at a gorgeous hotel for our third night stay after another 20km of running. The hotel was on top of a hillside with an incredible view of the town, Cadaques, from the patio. Lightly shaded by trees, with enough to cool us down after the long run, we went straight for a heaping pitcher of Sangria, and then hit the town to explore. Here we got to enjoy some beach time, and our first – but definitely not last – taste of local paella.
Day four commenced at 8am outside of our hotel, where we started running through the town, eventually making our way to a seaside trail. Gently rolling hills leading to spectacular viewpoints all along the coast had the group stopping for pictures at every photo opportunity. We descended to a private beach which was only accessible by foot. Here we stopped at a small, family owned restaurant for a local beer, and enjoyed the beach views all to ourselves. We even stopped during the run for a quick dive into the Mediterranean near the end of the run! Lead by Pablo, we arrived to a field at our destination for the night, a castle previously inhabited by the local inquisition officer dating back a couple hundred years. At this point two of our clients left to head back to Barcelona, and then flew home for family obligations. And then there were four…
On the fifth day we started out with Pablo for a shorter run (approximately 15km). We ran up and down mountains on small, winding, single track trails bordered by cacti, some of which ended up stuck in our legs and somehow on one runner’s tongue! As we made our way down to sea level we stopped on a beach for beers and some R&R looking out on the water. Sitting in chairs made of fishing nets, that were surprising very comfortable, we enjoyed the mid-day sun and cold drinks contemplating our incredible trip up to this point. Begrudgingly we had to finish up our beer, and continue our run for the day. This was a short day in comparison to previous runs, so we arrived in the city of Cadaques which we would stay for the final 2 nights. We arrived at our hotel at the very edge of town, with views of a pristine bay and beautiful yachts. This was a tourist destination for obvious reasons. That night the four left in our group and Pablo walked down the twisting roads to eat dinner at an authentic tapas bar. This dinner was definitely a highlight of the trip.
We woke to head out on the penultimate day of our seven day adventure. Unfortunately one of our clients had to sit this day out, as a result of horribly uncomfortable blisters that had developed on his feet. Keep in mind, this was the most running he had ever done in his entire life. He had run 100km in 5 days having never run more than 15km at one time. Needless to say he had more than exceeded his own limits and felt extremely accomplished having done 100km total.
We started our day climbing up a steep mountain to an old lighthouse overlooking the entire Cap De Creus region. From here we made our way down the opposite side of the hills. We had sweeping views of the Mediterranean along most of our route which lead us back down to sea level at the Cava Tavalera bay. From here we were headed back inland to once again make our way up a large mountain to enjoy the views on top. After the quick break, we were sprinting downhill again to finish off the day.
Our seventh day of running and the last day of the trip was down to Mary and I with our fearless guide Pablo. We are both experienced runners and love a good adventure which lead Pablo to pick a special route for us this day. Today we scaled the Pyrenees mountains! The first two hours were straight uphill, and with my chronically tight calves this was a challenge. The trail was a winding single track trail with many cutbacks making the ascent a bit more manageable, however, there were sections of extremely vertical scramble. It was at this point, on the final day, that I fully appreciated what an incredible runner Pablo was. At one section he went to run ahead and I swear he could have been mistaken with a mountain goat. I was in awe of the skill set he had for climbing and the effortless motion of scaling this mountain. We continued to the top of the grueling climb to come upon the ruins of an old castle which we explored while resting at the top. From this point we could see the monastery in the distance that this castle was meant to guard over. From here Mary and I were left with the GPS while Pablo made his way back to the start and we got to bomb down the mountain to the other side. Winding down sharp cut-backs and through cities older than our own country, we zipped down the last leg of our trip. We ended up in a small fishing town and were able to sit down for lunch and some Sangria before Pablo met up with us. From here we drove back to the train station in Girona and caught a lift to Barcelona.
Once arriving in Barcelona, Mary and I had a few days to relax and enjoy the sights before we headed home. The grandeur of this trip was something that our entire group had to experience to believe. I knew that it would be an incredible adventure heading into it because I had planned the travel arrangements and spoke in detail with Pablo and his wife, Cristina, to get the group there. No one, including myself, knew the extent of this life changing experience we would all share together. Travelling through a foreign country and completing a challenging task everyday brought us all very close together and remain that way to this day, nearly two years later. We all found that every dining experience was far better having really earned it through that day’s run. Both food and wine tasted better than it ever had before. At the end of the trip, we had all agreed that this was the only way we wanted to travel moving forward, to truly experience the beauty and culture that a country has to offer, in a way that most tourists will never get to. This new outlook on travel was an incredible and somewhat unexpected result of our time in Costa Brava, but the real life changing opportunity was yet to come. More on that in another article…