When it comes to running in a different country, it is not just the promise of warm weather and spectacular scenery that attracts me but the food. Three years on from running the EDP Lisbon Half Marathon, and what sticks in my mind? The delicious Portuguese custard tarts, or pastel de nata that I scoffed, warm from Café Pastéis de Belém, one of the best bakeries in the city which sells 14,000 tarts per day and sits right near the finish line.
So, why run in Portugal? Spectacular scenery for one, along with the option to make a holiday of it by exploring its many UNESCO world heritage sites, or heading to the beach for recuperation, the aforementioned food, and a climate that ranges from approximately 61°F/16°C in the winter to 78°F/25° C in the summer. Although, fair weather runners beware, the winter is renowned for being wet.
If your aim is a personal best, choose an event that attracts elite runners and has slick organisation. Alternatively, if the race is merely an excuse for a healthy holiday, venture outside the cities for some of the more interesting regional running events.
For a more laid back affair, particularly suitable for first time half marathon runners, the RocknRoll Vodafone Half Marathon in October is a good bet. Held in conjunction with the full marathon, you can expect excellent marshalling, and the kind of atmosphere that comes from this American-owned events company, who focus on having music stages throughout the race.
The events have different start lines, with the marathon starting west of the city in Cascais, and travelling along the coast. The half marathon route in contrast goes across the Vasco De Gama bridge, one of the longest in the world, before an out and back route to finish in Lisbon.
These races allow you to enjoy an atmospheric weekend in the capital city, resting weary legs by jumping on the city’s network of old fashioned trams which trundle up the steep streets. (Easyjet flies from Edinburgh to Lisbon).
It means that you can hope for a PB and reward yourself with wine tasting at one of the many vineyards in the area, not to mention sampling grilled river fish or specialities such as roasted goat with new potatoes and the perfect runner’s dessert, aletria, vermicelli with cinnamon.
For the Douro Valley you will need a car or to catch a train or boat from Porto, (TAP Portugal flies from London Gatwick to Porto 14 times a week, with return fares starting from £126).
You can negate the effects of any port tasting by running the Porto Marathon, or 16k distance which has been staged here every November for the last decade. The perfect race destination, with its UNESCO World Heritage centre, the city is beautiful with a mix of cobblestone alleys, broad avenues and shady city squares.
After the marathon, break your no booze training regime by tasting one of the many white, pink, ruby, tawny or late-bottled vintage ports down on the river bank as the sun sets.
Whatever you are looking for in a race destination, from city breaks to culture, food to outdoor adventures, Portugal has something to offer. In fact at this rate, I could be there every few months exploring the country, one run at a time. Hmm, now there’s an idea.