There are certain places around Europe athletes flock to. Font Romeu, St Moritz, Monti Gordo or Murcia might be familiar. Vilamoura and Falesia, near Faro in the Algarve, is just such a place.

The Portuguese location has held past editions of the World Half Marathon Championship and the World Cross and the roads, trails, cliffs and beaches, combined with beautiful weather, have made this a favourite stop for top runners for decades.

We caught up with 2:09 marathoner and owner of 2:09 Events Mike Gratton, to give you the low down.

In a nutshell

The range of fantastic routes on the road, trail and beach, the consistently good weather and being just a short flight from the UK makes Falesia and Vilamoura Europe’s leading location for warm weather training.

The pedigree

London Marathon winner Mike Gratton has been training and coaching in Falesia near Vilamoura for 35 years and knows the area as well as any runner. He explains that it’s been focal point for quality runners for decades

“In the late 80’s, when the World XC was due to be held up the road in Lisbon both the Australian and Japanese National distance teams where at the resort at the time of the camp. Getting up for our 8am morning run we would be welcomed by the site of the Japanese team standing in a circle with the great Toshihikop Seko a motivational speech.

Rob D’Castella, Gary Henry and a young Steve Moneghetti could be seen bashing out tempo up and down the road, and as if a bonus was needed Rosa Mota, Carlos Lopes, the Castro twins and Fernado Mamede, who, at that time held the 10,000m World record at 27.13 where in there too.

I remember meeting D’Castella, Henry (2.10 marathon), Moneghetti (soon to run 2.08 in Berlin) and my training partner, Nick Brawn (2.11.10 in New York) for a long run. It was some pack and I was a bit nervous of what the pace they may set off at as I’d run 5 miles already.

We set off on the track to Vilamoura at a pace so slow, for these athletes, that I was literally falling over myself to slow down since my legs were warmed up and in the grove. After Vilamoura Harbour we reached Quateira seafront and the pace upped to a strong steady pace, that is until the turn, when it all wound up to finish at under 5 minute miles!

I find it hard to get my coached athletes doing progressive runs to go slowly at the start so that they feel and can manage the progression – this, I always think, is the way to do them.”

Mike Gratton victorious in ’83

The training

One of the best coaches in the world explained why this is such a wonderful location for training, says Gratton
“In the late 1980’s Frank Horwill was our guest with members of the British Milers Club, he exclaimed in his flamboyant manner, ‘This is running Mecca, no clubs or discos as distraction, beaches, trails, trees, grass and an all-weather running track, you could not want for more’”

Vilamoura and Falesia are blessed with fantastic routes. From hard pack trails around the orange groves, technical runs over the cliffs and the beautiful of the wide expansive beach there is something here for all runners. Tracks are available in Falesia at the Victoria Beach and Sports Hotel and the Alfa Mar as well as in nearby Vilamoura and Albufeira.

Photo credit: Steven Seaton

If you are looking for a break from the running there are fantastic road and mountain bike routes up in the hills nearby taking your out towards the beautiful historic town of Silves.

Of course Vilamoura is the site of Paula Radcliffe’s 2003 World Half Marathon victory so the road running is great too. The 2km World Cross Country course in Falesia gives you the chance to experience a bit of running history and is a unique venue for racing and hard sessions. These days the International Almond Blossom takes place on the course annually attracting some top European and African runners.

GB ultra runner Robbie Britton regularly travels to Vilamoura to train and he explains it’ more than just the routes and weather;

“It’s the people , there is always a good crowd of people there. Runners of all abilities, from different parts of the UK and Europe that you can partner up with.  The big part of warm weather training isn’t actually the weather it’s having a great group of people together to train. That’s what you get in Vilamoura.”

How to get there

The nearest airport is Faro with cheap direct flights to airports around the UK. A short 30-minute journey by bus, hire car or taxi and you are good to go. Bus connections are easy and cheap to book in advance or when you get to the airport. Out of season hire cars can also be very affordable.

The beach is a wonderful location for running, a favourite of the late, great Bruce Tulloh. Photo credit: Tom Craggs

The location

“Our camp takes place at the Victoria Beach and Sports Hotel” in Falesia explains Gratton “having stayed at several hotels in the area we absolutely love this place – it’s been recently renovated and has it’s own track and gym and the rooms have private cooking facilities – which is great for runners

Situated just outside of Vilamoura Falesia is a perfect spot for athletes. It is quiet enough to give you the peace your need to train and recover hard, but has enough excellent local bars, restaurants and shops to feel connected and lively”

There are of course plentiful hotels and holiday apartments available in Falesia and Vilamoura itself.
A short trip in the car and you can see the rugged beauty of the wild Atlantic coast near Sagres with the huge surf waves rolling in and pristine white beaches.

Andy Norman & Ben Riddell getting work done in Vilamoura. Photo credit: Tom Craggs

When to go

Mid summer gets very busy and very hot. The roads are packed with tour buses and routes get difficult to run on. The Spring and Autumn are the perfect times to get out to the Algarve.

“Our camp takes place in March” explains Gratton “at this time of year the weather is generally perfect for training hard, it’s quiet and it allows training for major spring road races some really focused preparation”

Why go on a camp

A training camp is a great way to experience this running mecca. Surrounded by a group of positive people you’ll you get that bit more out of yourself. The warm weather can provide consistent training, some of the increases in red blood cells you’d see at altitude and of course the opportunity to relax and enjoy the beautiful location.

Mike’s training camps are consistently the best attended in Europe – and for good reason!

“Way back in 1970’s and 80’s running camps were exclusively for elite runners athletes only – typically the likes of Dave Moorcroft, and even before that, Bruce Tulloh, would spend the winter in Australia and New Zealand so that they effectively could have two summer season, one down under and then back on the European circuit.” Explains Gratton

“When the London Marathon came about in 1981 a new demand from beginner runners was created and part of the AAA membership at the time was the opportunity to train in the Algarve in March with Ian Thompson, the 1974 Commonwealth Games marathon gold medallist, and myself.

The format of our camp has remained the same ever since; led by current elite or retired elite athletes, twice-a-day training options and plenty of social opportunities. Since 1984 many other training bases with good facilities and reasonable flight times have sprung up, but we have held firm in staying in the Acoteias, or as it is now better known, Falesia resort.

We have worked with a number of great names on the camp over the years; Ian Thompson, as mentioned, Hugh Jones, Eamonn Martin, Paul Evans and currently Mara Yamauchi.”

The 2:09 Events camps for 2020 are between March 14th and March 28th with durations between those dates available from 7 to 14 nights.

The formidable coaching team includes 2.09 marathoner and London winner Mike Gratton, Mara Yamauchi, 2.23 marathon, second in London and 6th in the Beijing Olympics and Jenny Spink, winner of the Manchester Marathon 2019 in 2.34, plus support staff covering yoga, Pilates, remedial massage and core strength work.