Marathon of Valencia: Finding Strength Amidst a Breakup

December 1, 2019, Valencia 

It’s 25 degrees, and there, on the street corner, half a dozen women in short Christmas dresses and hats are singing along loudly to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” I make my way through the crowd of runners, representing various nationalities.

We’re halfway there, and it feels as if I’ve already completed an entire marathon. The past few days have been, to put it mildly, tense. Just a month and a half earlier, I had ended a 15-year relationship with my partner, whom I had known for 17 years. Right after the Rotterdam marathon, I bought tickets for Valencia and rented an apartment. The plan was to go together. Then, in October, I ended the relationship and left the house. We remained good friends, thinking it wouldn’t hurt to go to Valencia together after the breakup.

I was wrong. In my fantasy world, we were there as a couple, and I saw it as a exciting final trip together. Why not have fun when everything was already paid for and booked? But on the first evening, I discovered that my ex didn’t share this vision because he had been dating several women. The ground was pulled out from under my fantasy world. It felt as though a knife had been plunged into my heart. I had made a massive mistake.

The distance and tension grew with each passing day in Valencia. So, I had a few extra drinks. On the day of the marathon, I woke up with a hangover, I prepared myself for the race, and asked my ex what he was going to do that day. “I’m going to work, text me when you’re done,” he replied. I felt the disappointment wash over me, but what had I expected from this trip?

The first 21 kilometers, I run on anger, frustration, and sadness. I can’t enjoy the experience; everything irritates me, especially all the people I see relieving themselves everywhere. Men unabashedly unzip and urinate against any tree, plant, or flowerbed they find. Women crouch down between parked cars without hesitation. I also feel the urge to go, but never like this. I’d rather stop early than squat here.

And then I hear Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” blaring from the speakers. I feel goosebumps creep from my neck down my body, spreading with a cold shiver. Christmas echoes in my head — just 24 days until Christmas. And I’ll be alone for the first time in my life during the holiday season. The suppressed reality hits me so hard that I have to catch my breath; my legs suddenly feel 100 kilograms heavier. Christmas. And New Year’s. Panic courses through my body.

Okay, don’t dwell on it. As quickly as it surges up, I push it back down. I need to keep running, stay focused. I realise that I can’t keep running like this, driven by fear, anger, and frustration, or my energy will run out too quickly.

As I contemplate how to salvage the situation, my saviour comes running by. Anyone who has run a marathon has seen him before — the famous pineapple guy, the man who runs marathons throughout Europe and beyond with a pineapple on his head. Instantly, a smile appears on my face.

I look around, and there it hits me. I had been so absorbed in my thoughts and the negative downward spiral that I hadn’t even noticed where I was running.

I’m running in freaking Valencia!

 

Surrounded by people of all nationalities in colourful clothing. Everyone is cheerful or filled with healthy anticipation, and it’s a party everywhere. But I had been consumed by anger about the past and things I couldn’t control, as well as fear for the future. Yet, right there on the street before my eyes lay the beauty.

I pick up the pace and try to stay behind the pineapple man for as long as possible until I have to let him go after 15 minutes because he’s running too fast for me. But the uplifting spirit remains. I start to glow more and look around, taking in everything.

Then, after those 42 kilometres, I reach the most beautiful finish imaginable. I run across the blue carpet in the futuristic science museum complex designed by my favourite architect, Calatrava. It sends shivers down my spine beyond description. This is heaven on earth.

I do a little dance before crossing the finish line and spin around a few times to soak it all in, until a volunteer gestures for me to keep moving and make way for other runners. But I can’t wipe the smile off my face. This was the most beautiful finish ever.

And I learned the most important lesson as well. Always stay in the moment, don’t let your mind wander into the past or future. Stay in the present, with every step, every heartbeat, every breath.

Life is now.

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