Running the Barcelona Marathon last Sunday was a fantastic experience. Apart from not getting a PB (although it wasn’t a PB course) everything about the race was brilliant. The organisation, the route, the volunteers and, especially, the crowd support, were all amazing.
This was my first ever trip to Barcelona and I didn’t land until late Friday afternoon, which by the time I had found my accommodation and worked out the metro system, was too late to pick up my race number. Instead I headed off early the next morning and quickly found where I needed to collect the number, which was fortunately only about 4 stops on the metro line closest to where I was staying. What was even more convenient was that the start line and where to pick up the race number were in the same place – this meant that I didn’t have to worry about finding the start line the next day.
The expo was well organised and it only took me a couple of minutes to pick up my race number (I had the shortest queue for my number). While the person giving me the number didn’t speak much English, the people on the information/help desk were fluent and really helpful. The rest of the expo was large and you could easily spend a few hours looking around, but as this was my first time to Barcelona I wanted to get out and explore the city so I didn’t stay long.
On the morning of the race itself I had to get up really early – my alarm went off at 5am – as it was an 8.30am start. I wanted to get to the start area early as I wasn’t sure how long the queues would be to hand in bags or for the toilets. The early start made sense as the temperatures at midday were predicted to be a high of 18c. I had dressed for warm weather, shorts and a light running top, so I felt a little cold waiting for the start of the race. I was also really nervous as the last month of training hadn’t gone well. I had been injured which prevented me from doing my longest run, plus the weather had been so bad the last two weeks that I was unable to get outside and train. For the first time I was genuinely worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it to the end of the course!
This race has a maximum of 20,000 runners and there were people from all over Europe there. I saw lots of English, plus French, Dutch, German, Portuguese and Australians. Despite the thousands of runners the start line and waiting area didn’t feel too crowded and handing in bags and the toilet queues didn’t take too long. The race started in waves, with the elite runners going first. The waves were a few minutes apart, but again it didn’t seem too long to wait until my wave, about the fourth one to go and which I was at the back of, was heading over the start line.
For the first few kilometers I tried to calm my nerves and settle into a pace. The first 4k was a gradual incline and my main focus was to stick to the blue line and not go out too fast. By the first 5k I was starting to relax into the race, there was a slight downhill bit at this point but almost the entire first 20k felt like it was running at an incline. This was made tougher by the fact that the sun was now out and the temperature had warmed up – by 7k I was already soaked in sweat. At mile 6 I started taking my energy gels, half a gel for every 3 miles. In between this was the water stations which were probably the most chaotic part of the race as all runners were trying and get hold of water. The water came in bottles, with energy drinks being handed out in cups on the next stand. I didn’t take the energy drink as I had my gels but a grab a water at every water station on the route.
Mile 8 and I was settling into my pace but I think I finally calmed down from my nerves and realised I really needed the toilet. At this point my pace had been 8.8 minute miles, which was ideal for my target of getting under 4 hours. I ran through the 10k point at 55 minutes. I’ve never stopped for the toilet during a race before, but I decided that as my pace was on target 30 seconds wouldn’t make too much difference, so when I spotted a free portaloo ahead I jumped in. Although the stop didn’t take long, it took me about a mile to get my pace back up to under 9 minute miles, this wasn’t helped by the fact that it was once again running uphill.
At the halfway point I passed through in a time of 1:57:39, a slow half marathon time for me but still on my target of 9 minute mile pace, plus I had stopped as well. The next half of the race was mainly flat, or didn’t feel as much of an incline as the first half. There were two short but steep hills, but I got over them without any trouble. I knew the hard part was yet to come but I was still happy with my pace and continued to focus on staying on the blue line. I passed 30k (18.6 miles) in a time of 2:52:40, which put my marathon at an average pace of 9.3 minute miles. This wouldn’t have gotten me under 4 hours but would have been a PB. But at 18 miles I hit the wall.
The injury I had leading up to the marathon had still been niggling and by mile 18 my right leg was in agony, the outside of my left knee was also really painful at this point. I desperately wanted to keep running but ended up walking and running for the next 1.5 miles. At this point along the route there were physios on the course amongst the runners and I managed to grab one and luckily she understood enough English to realise the pain in my leg and knee. After spraying some deep heat on the areas, I started running again.
From this point onwards my pace never recovered and at mile 20 we were running along the open sea front in the full heat of the sun without shade. The heat was starting to impact a lot of runners and from now on whenever passing water stations I walked through and drank as much water as possible, while tipping the rest over my head to cool down. There was also showers on the course to run through to help cool down runners. I managed to keep running, only walking through water stations as I desperately needed to drink water at this stage.
The miles started going by much more slowly but we were turning away from the sea front and felt like we were heading further into the city. Soon there was only 5k left, which was a huge mental boost, although the last 4k seemed to go on forever. The final 2k were incredibly tough, as it was in a long road and a constant incline that seemed never ending. Eventually in the distance I could see inflatables across the course for runners to run under, I was sure that these must signal the start of the finish line so I just focused on them and kept running. Slowly they got closer and closer, and luckily I was right and as soon as I passed under them and turned the corner the finish line was in sight. I used all the energy I had left to try and run as fast as possible and reached the finish line in a time of 4:15:56.
Once over the finish line I grab a couple of bottles of water as I was still so thirsty. The organisers were handing out bananas and oranges but I just took a banana, and then I collected the medal. After the medal runners were given a plastic poncho to help keep us warm. The finish line area was busy, but collecting my bag was really quick and easy. I’ve learnt in the past to change out of trainers as quickly as possible and so had a pair of flip flops in my bag to change into.
Although I didn’t get a PB and I found the course tough (a few runners I spoke to said that it was a tough course as well and not good for PBs), it was a brilliant race. The support was unbelievable and crowds lined nearly the entire 26.2 mile route. The supporters really helped to keep runners going and even in the last 10k very few runners were walking as the crowd was helping everyone to get through it. As well as this, it was incredibly well organised and felt as though the safety and wellbeing of runners was a priority. There were plenty of water stations, so much so that every time I was getting thirsty and needed a drink a water station was only a few hundred meters away.
I signed up to Barcelona as I once again missed out on the London Marathon ballot, but I’m so glad I ran this race as it was an amazing experience from the start line to the finish line. It’s a race I’d definitely recommend – just don’t expect a PB – and one that I would run again in the future.