Meeting “The Squirrel’s Hour” folks

I’ve been following The Squirrel’s Hour and the Monsanto Running Team for quite a while now, in hopes that one of my visits to Lisbon would cross such communities. Being passionate about trail running, it only made sense to meet those that title themselves as mad for trail running.

These folks run every day at Monsanto Forest Park, the green heart of Lisbon, between 6 and 7 o’clock in the morning. The training plan differs every time and they advertise it on short notice on their Facebook group page. On weekends they head to Sintra to leverage on the vast offer of trails and to benefit from much more elevation gain.

What’s the best thing I could do the day after Christmas? Exactly! I’ve set myself to wake up early and meet them in Sintra on a Saturday morning, when the sky was still dark, the air quite cold due to a chilling breeze, the clouds low embracing the mountain top, inviting us to meet them and let our imagination flow into their enchanted mist.

The good news? After more than a month and a half break due to a (perceived) knee injury and going through a slow recovery, my right knee is back!

The bad news? I broke all running common sense rules and dived straight into a tough training of ~29Kms, 3h42m long, 1329m elevation gain with the folks. Needless to say that I have broken legs today, which is a feeling I haven’t been accustomed to for a long time now.

We started from Sintra’s National Palace and headed all the way up to the Cruz Alta. Everyone moved lightly and swiftly, flowing through the hills effortlessly, while I wondered how much impact a few weeks without training have on the whole experience.

As expected I’ve met great people! Sónia is a superb athlete, which due to a terrible cold was staying often behind, positively keeping me company as I fought to stay with the pack. Gonçalo supported us frequently and motivated us to stay on the track. Rodrigo kept pushing in the front – after the whole exercise he headed to the São Silvestre de Lisboa 10K race to get a 36 min achievement! Wow!  Half-way we met the determined Sommer, symbol of resilience and determination. Didier is one of the strong men getting the community together and the rest of the folks kept running cheerfully through the hills. Fantastic people, fantastic atmosphere!

At Km 18 something new came up: cramps! Yes, cramps! I don’t ever recall having them. My right calf just blocked and shouted it had enough! Stopped, stretched, went on… cramp!, stopped, stretched, went on…

The way back was painful but smooth, mostly flat heading back to Sintra’s city center. We passed by Quinta da Regaleira, one of Sintra’s precious treasures, definitely worth a visit in case you haven’t had a chance or need a good recommendation for your next visit. Must see place!

The final prize was visiting the Pastelaria Piriquita to get some nice food and buy a pack of Travesseiros, another of Queijadas, to score points when getting back home. Family loves these things 😉

I’m now happily recovering through smaller runs and thinking of the upcoming challenges in 2016 🙂 I look forward to meeting these folks again sometime soon…

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