Home to world-renowned beaches Portugal and more specifically the Algarve is a sun seekers paradise. But those who venture away from the sand and high rises will be rewarded by this bountiful country; cobbled hilltop villages, verdant headlands, and captivating sun-baked plains demanding exploration.

Running trails in Lagos

With the masters and the senior cross country season behind me for another year and some time on my hands, I decided to head away for a week’s training in preparation for the upcoming indoor and outdoor track seasons. I asked around about winter training and the Algarve sounded like the good option with a mix of 18C temperatures, great off-season value, the legendary trails around Monte Gordo and the almond blossom cross country course near Albufeira.

Almond blossom cross country course near Albufeira

There is a good reason why many of the worlds best athletes light up those Instagram feeds over the winter, in the Algarve training. The beautiful beaches, incredible trails over the cliffs and through the orange groves and the ease of travel and lifestyle make it the perfect location to balance hard training with a perfect break. With Brian Bryne going on a trip in May I said I’d write up a few tips and good routes.

The Ryanair flights to Faro are inexpensive over the winter months with return flights typically costing less than €80. Despite there being an infinite amount of places to run in the Algarve the two most popular destinations are around Albufeira in the West and Vila Real de Santo António in the East.

Regions in the Algarve

I choose to stay at the Alfamar apartments which are 35 minutes West of Faro and set between Albufeira and Vilamoura. The pine forests and Albufeira nature reserve surround the hotel and it is only 400 meters away from the fabulous 6 kilometers long Falésia beach. Score!

The hotel has its own track, indoor and outdoor pools, and gym and triathletes can swim in the sea and enjoy the many safe cycling and running trails. The hotel is also less than a kilometer from the cross country course. There is another hotel nearby in the top left of the image below, which is where Brian byrne had previoauly trained.

A quick disclaimer, the hotel I stayed in is conveniently located for those with sporting intent but it’s quite basic and not a good location for a week of sightseeing without a car. On the other, and if you just wanted to run and lie by the pool or the beautiful beach them knock yourself out. I believe there are bus transfers for €15 from faro but the car was only €150 including the 500 kilometers I drove along the coast West of Faro.

Falesia beach is 6K long and 400M away

Back to the running bit. Running alongside invigorating cliff top paths with the exhilarating Atlantic Ocean smashing menacingly upon dramatic cliffs provides runners with a refreshingly diverse landscape in which to train and improve fitness levels and performance.

Go for a run, but love the trails. It’s valentines.

Added to the above, the Algarve is a rural location. You don’t meet traffic on the roads, it’s not far removed from Connemara, apart from the 300+ days of sunshone. The gentler roads cut through groves of orange trees that run alongside long stretches of fine sandy trails. I promise I’m not on any commission, just check out the pictures.

Map of the hotel and surrounding areas

Typical trails in the area

When you are away for a training week you need to make the most of it and push the weekly mileage a bit higher than you would at home. It’s a good opportunity to try running twice a day if you have never done that. I set a plan for the week as follows.

Wednesday10KTrack Session
Thursday15K15K Tempo
aturdayXC Session10k
Sunday 30K Long Run

On Monday I got the early flight so by 11 AM I’d landed in Faro and was on the road way too early to check-in. With DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Portugal in hand I headed to Tavira and Loule to do some touristing.

Beautiful plants outside a house in Loule, Portugal

By 3 PM I was checking in and ready to get my recovery run out of the way. The 4 AM start and national master cross country the day before. I used it as an opportunity to see the place and get my bearings. Over the course of the week, I would manage to get lost quite a few times but made a few friends.

My favourite Portuguese donkey

Despite the warm midday sun, the overnight temperature in Portugal can be in the low single digits. Even on the coldest mornings, you can still see the sun and the moon. the On Tuesday morning I ran from the hotel toward Vilamoura. Its a good run on trails and asphalt. If you get out early running the cold temperatures and sunrise in your face on country roads makes for a memorable experience. All you can hear is birds chirping and life is good.

On Wednesday after a 12K morning run, I headed for the track. It is not right beside the hotel, which is good for getting a 1K warm-up done. I arrived with the intention of doing 16 x 400 Min around 70-72 seconds with a 45-second floating recovery. Quickly I was told by the grounds person that I needed a ticket, despite there being nobody else using it.

Workout Wednesday

Finally, 15 minutes later than expected I was starting my session. Having not done the much fast work in months I took the very first 400M very handy but ran 76 seconds. A bit gutted I tried to pick up a bit and ran a 71. Then on number 3 something clicked and I just started to get into it.

76, 71, 68, 68 
68, 68, 67, 64 
64, 65, 64, 64 
66, 64, 63, 62

Delighted with the overall pace once I got moving. My take away is to check with reception on track availability. Track workouts are particularly rough by yourself so bring some electrolytes and loads of water.

Thursday as all about doing 10 miles or 16K easy in the morning and then do the same loop again in the evening at tempo pace. The morning all went to plan. In the evening, I decided last minute to do the lap in reverse, got lost in the first few kilometers and well there isn’t exactly anyone to stop and ask for directions. If you go South from the hotels there is a trail of about 3-4 K into Vilamoura whilst if you go North it is about 6-7 away. Once you get to Vilamoura there is somewhat of a ring road with good footpaths for runners and not too many traffic lights.

Running around the Vilamoura golf courses

One other thing I figured out is that some of the golf courses have public paths, just learn what “Quatro” in Portuguese means. you really can just make it up here.

North or South routes from Hotel

On Saturday I was up early to do 5 x 2K with 2-minute recovery around the cross country course. Despite the European club cross country champions the course wasn’t well marked in parts. I was quite pleased with the session, running an average of 6.30 for each of the 2K laps. The course is tough with two huge sand traps, log jumps, and sharp hills. It’s not mucky but the sand is almost as bad as a day out in Galway, almost!

Challenging hills

On Saturday afternoon I found myself doing a run around Lagos, having spent a few hours at a couple of the epic beached in the area. I wouldn’t recommend this approach for sessions but for easy or recovery runs it’s great to just throw some gear in the car and go explore.

By Sunday I was starting to get to know the place and picked out a route for just over 30K. I started at the hotel headed North and crossed the main road. You can run on the main roads, there is a cycle lane but Portuguese driver are erratic so best to stick to the side roads. As can be seen on the unintentional runner shaped Strava plot below, there’s plenty of running North of the hotels and beach on quiet roads. it’s super quiet you have the odd hill and plenty of scenery.

No traffic, blue skies, perfect for a Sunday run

One quick word of warning that it’s easy to get lost and you do occasionally have to turn around and try and retrace your steps. It’s also so remote that ladies might want to runs in twos. I only found out how to enter this area at the end of the week but if you run towards the equestrian center there is an entrance to the nature reserve with miles and miles of trails. This area is majestic with the suns shadows bouncing off the trees. You really do feel like there isn’t a problem in the world running through here. You do have to jump a river at one point but be spontaneous.

I wound up a great week of running with a final lap of the cross country course before the run for home and an awaiting glass or fresh orange juice from some of the local trees.

Running between trees in an orange grove

Inevitably I compared the experience to the International running challenge in Lanzarote. The challenge is more of a holiday than a training week but the fitness benefits I found to be similar. The accommodation in Lanzorate is nicer and there are fewer options for dinner in this part of Portugal unless you get a kitchen or have a car. Overall if you are looking for a getaway from everything holiday to improve your running it is perfect

Most of the afternoons I spent exploring the Algarve West of Faro, spending a few hours each day at the beach or walking along the hill tops. There are some really beautiful spots with a lot of Roman and more recent history.

Brian Byrne is going to the area in May and I’d advise anyone with some spare holidays that is keen on getting in a week of training with some good relaxation to give it a shot. If you want to see a bit of the place get a car. M top spots are the beach near Lagos and towns of Silves, Tavira and Alte. There is a great strip of restaurants with an Italian called Pizza Falesia.

Life on the deserted beach
Sunsets on the cliffs