Run the race: Carrera Nocturna del Guadalquivir 2022

I finally did it. I took part in my first Nocturna race. It’s only taken me 12 years to sign up and run it!

The Carrera Nocturna del Guadalquivir takes place every year at the end of September. When the sun goes down the city is flooded with runners in orange t-shirts who take on the feasible 8,5km course*. Following the historical ring-road, over 20.000 seasoned athletes and running amateurs enjoy views of the Palacio de San Telmo, Torre del Oro or Muralla de la Macarena, among other monuments, and for a few hours the city is theirs. This year, I joined them.

While I’ve never sat down to write a bucket list this would have been an item on it. I’ve wanted to run ‘La Nocturna’ since before I moved here (probably dating back to my athletics years) yet somehow it always got put off until ‘next year’.

The reason is obvious when I think about it. To take part in a September race you have to prepare for it over the summer months and Seville’s summer sunshine always put me off trying. I wasn’t ready to endure the heat.

However this year I decided I’d had enough. The weather wasn’t going to change, if anything it was getting hotter. If I wanted to run, now was as good a time as any. Surely I’d be able to find times of day when running without melting into the pavement would be possible! Maybe? Oh, whatever, I was going to try anyway.

So when the race was first announced and up popped an orange ad with the details, I clicked on it and signed up. Once I’d paid my 5,5€ entry fee it was official, I was doing this.

The journey started here, on a sunny Sunday summer morning

Summer came and went. I didn’t run loads but I found pockets of time in the early morning on the weekends or late in the evenings midweek when the scorching temperatures were slightly more bearable. I pulled myself out of bed or away from the aircon once or twice a week at most, eyeing the thermometer.

The best day? An early morning run at 22ºC. The worst? 34ºC at gone 10pm one evening, which felt cool compared to whatever we’d had that day. Most people would think it wiser to train in an airconditioned gym and they’re probably right, but I made do outdoors.

I survived the worst of the summer and in September headed back to the climbing gym, which helped contribute to my overall fitness. By the time race day came along I was feeling the strongest I’ve felt in a while. Nocturna, I am ready for you.

On the night of the 30th of September we gathered on Avenida de las Delicias where both the start and the finish line were located. What began as a trickle of people soon became a crowd as the runners arrived and bunched together behind the tape.

I quickly found myself surrounded by people of all ages as we waited to start. Wonky rows of trainers on tarmac twitched nervously to my left and right, giggles and excited voices rung out all around me as they called out greetings to familiar faces, squeezing past to say hi, joking about their fitness and the run or taking selfies to commemorate the event.

I turned and looked behind me, a multitude of faces looked back and as far as the eye could see there was orange. Above our heads a sea of balloons floated, bobbing along with the music as people danced or jumped up and down to the rhythm, a sort of awkward warmup.

The loudspeaker boomed with the voice of the enthusiastic commentator who welcomed runners and specktators to the XXXIV Nocturna race and talked us through everything that was going on just out of sight, somewhere in front of the sea of heads obscuring my view. Lights flashed, the cameras focused on the crowds and the pros while the big screen showed snippets of all that was going on.

As the countdown started we moved forward, inching towards the start line with hands on stopwatches, expectant, waiting. A cheer went up as everyone raised their arms and the helium filled balloons floated off into the night sky. Almost time.

Ten, nine, eight… Everyone is focused, ready. Seven, six, five… The numbers on the screen are out of sync with the voices counting down. When we reach zero we lurch forward as one and we’re off.

It’s a little manic at first and I find myself zig zagging all over the road to avoid crashing into runners or tripping over feet. The pace feels off and a little stopstart-y but after the first few hundred metres everyone starts spreading out and I find a gap to settle into.

Landmarks start zooming by and I barely register the crowds cheering us on, I’m focused on putting one foot in front of the other and I’m suddenly flooded by immense joy to be racing again for the first time in over ten years.

As I pass the Triana bridge on my left and head towards the underpass I’m overtaken by someone who catches my attention by zooming past me far quicker than the other runners. I am briefly tempted to give chase but realise almost instantly I’d never be able to keep that pace. They soon disappear off into the distance and merge with the rest of the crowd. After all, everyone looks alike in the same orange t-shirts.

Seville is as flat as a pancake and the only significant change in level is the underpass tunnel. I lenghthen my stride on the slope down and quicken it as I emerge out the other side. A chorus of ‘oeoeoeoeee’ echoes off the walls as some runners have enought breath to sing as they run. I don’t join in but smile and push on.

The stretch up Torneo feels long and boring. There are far fewer spectators here and I find fewer landmarks to aim for. There is now plenty of space between runners as we spread out over the road a bit more.

It’s quieter, too, and my mind wanders to the joy of racing again. For a moment, laboured breath and all, I almost feel emotional. Goosebumps creep up over my arms and I can’t help but think of Andrea Gibson’s poem on the subject. I feel so alive and grateful to be here.

As we approach a section of roadworks, a volunteer stands in front of a line of cones that separates the temporary bus lane from the rest of the road and runners head up both sides of it. As I take the right hand side I hear him call out from behind me ‘Cone. CONE. CONE!!’ as someone evidently nearly crashes into it.

The thermometer at Barqueta marks 23ºC a perfect evening temperature for the race and I am so glad it is nowhere near those summer night highs right now. I take a right at the bend onto Resolana and feel almost home, though we’re only now nearing the halfway point.

We are greeted by cheers as we approach the Basílica de la Macarena and the old city walls on the right, the Andalucian Parliament building on the left and in the distance I hear drumming. I find myself speeding up and even manage to hi-five a few kids. I’m not sure if their smile is bigger than mine but it is a close contest.

The road narrows ahead as people veer off to the side to grab a bottle of water from the refreshment table. My lips are dry but I’m not stopping mid race and I run on past the batucada, feeling like the next bit is easy.

Domino’s Pizza, Burger King, Lidl, Carrefour Express, the mattress shop on the corner… My brain has stored the route in easy chunks and all I need to do is get to the next one, and then the one after that. Before I know it I find myself at Prado, running past the old tobacco factory and hearing the encouraging words ‘you’re nearly there’ from onlookers. All I have to do is make it to El Costurero de la Reina and the finish line will be in sight.

At this point I’m feeling good, I know I’m almost there, my legs aren’t feeling too bad and I’m not hyperventilating yet. I’ve not really looked at my watch and I debate if I can speed up a little for the final kilometre or so, which I do.

Noise levels go wild as we approach the finish line as does the commentator’s enthusiasm. I know plenty of people have already finished but I also know there are plenty of people behind me. I clock in somewhere between 46′ and 47′ and I’m happy with that. My two goals for the night were to finish and have fun. I did both and loved the experience.

Have you ever run the Nocturna or a similar race? What was your experience like?

*I believe it used to be 12km at one point and finish in the Olympic Stadium, but that’s no longer the case.

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