Three marathons in and I couldn’t have had three more different experiences. I’m happy to report my race day in Barcelona was the best of my life. It was my first international race. It was my first big city marathon. It was the biggest race I’ve ever raced both in terms of runners and supporters. It was the hottest marathon race I’ve ever run. It was the most atmospheric race of my life.
I chose to race the Barcelona marathon as I love the city. You have the Catalan culture, Gaudí’s iconic architecture such as the work in progress which is the Sagrada Familia, one of the world’s best football teams and stadiums and the shores and climate of the Mediterranean. For the fist time this year my race was on a Sunday so after a Friday night shift at work I made my way straight to the airport for an early flight to Barcelona. I literally took my window seat on the back row and the next thing I knew I was in Barcelona. I visited the expo on Saturday afternoon, which is compulsory to register. I sure made the most of the pictured pasta party! I enjoyed a free treatment from the physio team, as I had flown in they gave me a gentle massage then wrapped my legs in bandage for eight minutes. I wandered around the stands, keeping an eye out for a bargain but all I managed to pick up were leaflets for future marathons – the Bilbao night marathon in October is now one I’m considering.
Early rise Sunday morning, getting to bag drop at 08:00. Then a light warm up inside the expo building and some dynamic stretching exercises. I made my way out towards the start and truly felt the race day atmosphere for the first time, there was a buzz in the air as I made my way to the start funnel. As I made my way in to the crowd I saw a friend and we wished each other the best of luck, he was from New Zealand and this was a truly international race! I was wearing my London 2012 Team GB sweat band (which is a race day exclusive) and then spotted another one – we high fived and then learn’t she was South African but living in London. As the minutes ticked away I heard “tres, dos, UNO!!!” and the elite were away promptly at 08:30. I started bouncing along to the roar of excitement, the crowds, the runners, this was it – marathon No.3, Barcelona, lets do this!
Crossing the start line I was wound up in excitement – almost to the extent I had forgotten I was about to run 42Km. I had briefly looked over the course in the week leading up – mainly to see which land marks I would run past, rather than to plan a race strategy. First of those came around the sixth kilometre as I ran passed the most famous football stadium in the world, the ‘Camp Nou’ home of FC Barcelona. I’ve been lucky enough to tour the stadium and see a match there, with ‘Barca’ winning 6-1! I would say this is a must for any sports fan, the team, stadium and fans are something special. As I passed the Camp Nou I saw my first and only ‘Messi’ jersey running the marathon and thought this is meant to be. Around this point I picked up my pace, boosted my the crowd. The 10Km mark came and went and we soon past near the start/finish area. I was aware I was running significantly faster than I had planned and was thinking I should really slow down to avoid a total burnout in the later stages of the race, then there was the other side of my thoughts thinking this is the best atmosphere you’ve ever run in, use it or lose it! That’s the way I approached the rest of the race, pushing hard yes but doing so by using the crowd and I would say I ‘enjoyed’ it more so and have memories which will last longer for it.
We then passed Gaudí’s work multiple times, with the Casa Batlló, Casa Milà and the most famous of all La Sagrada Família. They were a nice distraction and a reminder it was more than the crowds which were making this such an exciting race. As I approached the half way mark, it was the first of two out and back stretches over 4Km, I recall thinking if this was training or a race without much support this would really grind me down, however it was quite the opposite. With the race running bidirectionally it was a great location for supporters to position themselves and so the atmosphere was increased further. The bands were also heard twice which was great, the marathon organisers had organised a great selection of bands which were about every kilometre. It was around here I saw a spin class and shortly after an aerobics class taking place, pumping out the energetic tunes. After a few kilometres in more residential neighbourhoods, the second out and back was in front of me. As the morning went on, the temperature was rising, at 26Km it was just about hanging in there staying positive. Having crossed the half way mark way ahead of schedule I knew a personal best was on the cards as long as nothing drastic happened. In front stood the impressive structure of the Torre Agbar. Whilst on this section I was mentally preparing myself to run the last 10Km with intent and see what happens.
It was brilliant hearing the crowd constantly shouting ‘VAMOS’ y ‘MUY BIEN’, the race definitely had a Latin feel to it with many South Americans running, I loved seeing the flags of so many different nations. As I turned the next corner I saw the Mediterranean coast for the first time, wow! palm trees, music, sun – and then I had to remind myself to run! I spotted a red vest with two yellow horizontal stripes, I recognised this as a Serpentine club vest (one of London’s biggest running clubs) as I passed him I gave a big roar of “C’mon Serpie!” (thank goodness it was a Serpie vest and he laughed!) The coastal stretch lasted about 2.5Km before heading towards Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf, running beneath it was something special. On to Barcelona’s main sqaure, Plaça de Catalunya and then off to the Gothic Quarter. Running through here was a real treat, narrower roads but the closeness of the crowd was felt even more and you really felt this historic side of the city, especially running by the Cathedral.
As I passed the final aid station I took on some water for a final push, for a brief while the crowds were spilling into the road! It was like a scene from the Tour de France! For a split second I wanted them out of the way, I then snapped out of it and embraced them! The bands were more frequent, the crowds louder the finish was beckoning. I now knew I was going to set a new personal best, with the twin Venetian towers by Plaça d’Espanya in sight it was time to throw anything I had left in to it. Passing the 42Km mark with 195 metres to go all I remember is running with a smile like a kid and a lot of noise! Throwing my arms up in the air as I crossed the finish line, proceeding to high five and hug strangers! A new personal best by 18 minutes!
I made my way, collecting drinks, food, having my chip returned and the all important medal! There was a festival like party atmosphere! I returned to the expo building to collect my bag and full of emotion paid 5€ to have my name and new PB time printed on my medal. I joined the queue for a massage, expecting to pay I was pleasantly surprised they were free! With a fast moving queue I was expecting a quick massage, what I got was quite the opposite. An area set up with around 100 tables pictured to the left, I had two masseuses who worked on each leg simultaneously, spending what felt like 15-20 minutes. Heading back out to the finish area I walked around slowly taking in the atmosphere and appreciating the event.
This was my first international race and biggest event of my life and as far as organisation goes it was the best, considering the numbers involved. The registration expo, bag drop, start and finish were all in one location. There were friendly faces in abundance. The live bands which lined the route, whipped the runners and crowd in action. The local Catalan crowd embraced a huge event which shut down parts of their city and supported the runners exceedingly well. The international runners and supporters were well looked after. The aid stations were frequent and well stocked. You receive a nice chunky medal. It is relatively flat and evidently good for a PB. The winner of the marathon was the aptly named Philip Kangogo. If you are potentially looking at a spring marathon for next year, this is one I would absolutely recommend – find out more here
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Weather: 8-14°C, clear sunny run
Terrain: 100% road
Time: 3 hours 33 minutes
Nationalities I observed (other than UK and Spanish): French, German, Swiss, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Irish, Dutch, Belgian, Polish, Romanian, Italian, Portuguese, South African, Australian, Kiwi, Argentinian, Brazilian, Uruguayan, Columbian, Venezuelan, Mexican & American.
I may have enjoyed this race, but pushed my body hard and it has made the difficulties of my last race and sacrifices worth it. If you would like to support my #15in15 challenge for Macmillan Cancer Support you can do so here
What’s next for #15in15? Sunday 26th April – London Marathon
What’s next for Adventure Adam? Sunday 22nd March – London ‘FUN-RUN’ Series – London Parks 15Miler