On The Run: some warm weather training alongside the Tagus River in Lisbon

Runners in action alongside the Tagus River, with the Ponte 25 de Abril (bridge) in the background.

Runners in action alongside the Tagus River, with the Ponte 25 de Abril (bridge) in the background. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

One of the advantages of Colchester United FC regularly exiting the FA Cup at the first round, is that I usually have a few free days when second round fixtures are played during the first weekend of December.

Fellow runners training along the promenade beside the Tagus River (Rio Tejo) in Lisbon. Picture: CA

Fellow runners training along the promenade beside the Tagus River (Rio Tejo) in Lisbon. Picture: CARL MARSTON - Credit: Archant

Such was the case this season, and last weekend in fact.

The U’s inactivity paved the way for a short break in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal.

A terrific city for visiting castles and monasteries, climbing the steps of the Torre de Belem for great views across the Tagus River, wandering around art galleries, eating codfish, sardines and pastries (Pastel de natas, little egg tart pastries, were a big favourite of my wife Helen!), travelling on trams and guzzling some Portuguese wine – and, more importantly, a fine city for running!

Portugal is not one of the 16 countries who currently host Parkruns – those that do include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Poland, France and of course the UK.

By coincidence, though, the City was hosting the Discoveries Half-Marathon, with supporting 10K and 5K races, on the day of our departure.

I couldn’t really risk taking part myself, for fear of missing the flight home. Besides, on entry-on-the-day of 30 Euros for the 10K or 5K was a bit steep, especially for someone not in the peak of fitness.

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However, I did leave Lisbon fitter than I arrived, due to a number of training runs – the banks of the Tagus River (Rio Tejo) provides an excellent running route, and there’s plenty of cobbled streets and narrow alleyways winding up from the Baixa region (where we were staying) to the impressive castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge) via the old Alfama quarter for a few hill sessions.

I would recommend Lisbon as a fine venue for a weekend break, combined with some top-notch running.

In fact, Portugal has a terrific pedigree of long-distance runners, especially the likes of Rosa Mota and Carlos Lopes, who were prominent on the world stage when I started running marathons.

Lopes was a particular favourite of mine, not least when he broke the World Record for the marathon, at the ripe old age of 38, when winning the Rotterdam Marathon of 1985 in 2hrs 07mins 12secs.

I happened to be in the field that day, belatedly I admit.

Travelling around Europe on a student rail card, I had entered the Rotterdam Marathon before the start of my trip, but I almost didn’t make it to the start-line, or rather the correct start-line.

I actually joined other runners congregating for the start of a supporting event (a 20K, I think), situated at least half-a-mile from the marathon start.

By the time that I realised my mistake – my race number was a different colour to all the others – I had to make a mad dash across the city and duly missed the start of the marathon.

I therefore started off on my own (I remember a few strange looks from spectators), a few minutes behind the field, and spent the next three-and-a-bit hours overtaking stragglers.

It was only a few days later that I discovered that Lopes had broken the world record. It stood for more than 12 years.

The year before (1984), Lopes had struck gold at the Olympic Games marathon in Los Angeles, despite being run over by a car during a training run in Lisbon just a week before the event!

Which brings me back to Lisbon, in a round-a-bout way.

I was never in danger of being knocked down by a car – trams were a greater risk – but a sharp four-miler each day along the Tagus River was a joy, in brilliant winter sunshine.

Starting from the Praco do Comercio, known by the locals as the ‘Palace Square,’ (our hotel was nearby), I just followed the wide, slow-flowing river downstream along good promenades towards the Ponte 25 de Abril, a distinctive suspension bridge that spans the Tagus and resembles the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. It is named after the date of the Portuguese Carnation Revolution of April 25, 1974.

It’s at least three miles to the bridge, and another mile or two to the start of the ancient district of Belem, near the mouth of the Tagus, but it’s a great run – the local runners and joggers are always out in force.

We did get to see some of the half-marathon race, from the Praco do Comercio, before jumping into a taxi for the airport.

And no, I didn’t spot a budding Lopes.

I do hope you forgive me for this Lisbon self-indulgence, and the break from Parkruns. If you don’t, then blame Colchester United!