After doing 2 marathons in a short space of time last year I said that I’d hold off for a while before I’d do another one but after being slightly jealous of everyone doing Dublin last October, I decided some spring sunshine in Barcelona would be a good choice for my 3rd one. Over the next few weeks I persuaded Sandra, Damian and Finbarr to come along and then found out that Grellan, Kevin, Nora and Edwina had also booked it. So, 8 of us from the club headed to Barcelona for the marathon.
I headed for Dublin on Thursday evening with Finbarr and Damian (and our supporters club) and overnighted in a hotel near the airport. We headed to the airport at 4:30am for the 6:40am flight to Barcelona on Friday. I knew our hotel was near the start line but I didn’t realise how close it was until we got there on Friday before lunchtime. The hotel was called Pestana Arena. It’s in an ideal location as its only 400m from the start/finish line, the expo centre and there are plenty of nice places to eat nearby. We all went to the Expo on Friday afternoon to collect our race numbers and then relaxed for the rest of the day.
On Saturday some of us went touring in the morning. We had arranged to meet everyone at McCarthy’s Irish pub in the city centre to watch the Ireland v Wales rugby match. There was plenty chat about gels, pace and tactics and the result of the match was forgotten about. We arranged a club photo for 8am the following morning on the steps of the expo centre to the right of the red brick towers.
The big day arrived for me at 5:30am. Damian and I went for a small walk down to the start line, then headed back to the hotel for breakfast with Finbarr and our supporting/suffering wives ;-) It was a lovely clear day about 8°C with no wind, an ideal day for running. Sandra arrived on the metro from outside Barcelona and met us at our hotel. We all headed off for the group photo at 8am. We couldn’t find the rest of the gang as about 10,000 other people had the same idea as us. We all wished each other well and made our way to our starting waves.
At the start there was a massive fanfare of confetti and music blaring for each wave start and this was brilliant. This was my 1st time ever running with km splits and I turned off the min/mile averages on my Garmin. I ran with a 42 x 1k splits wristband with the time it should be at each split. My Garmin had just time and HR on it. My target was 3:28:59; this gave me a minute of a cushion for my sub 3:30.
For the 1st 5k you are climbing to the highest point on the course out by the Camp Nou. I lost a bit of time in this section with the crowd and my HR was a bit high which made me extra cautious as I didn’t want to blow up like the last time. The next 5k I got back on track with my time as we were going back down in elevation to where we started at Placa d’Espana. Here I saw our ‘WAG’s’ for the 1st time with their Irish flag and they cheered for each of us as we passed. They then hopped on the Metro too try and catch us at some other parts of the course.
From 10k to 16k the route is through a built up residential part of the city. This is great because the height of the buildings means you are running in the shade. There’s a lot of support along this section and you also pass one of Barcelona’s main tourist attractions – the unfinished cathedral Sagrada Familia …. Not that I took any real notice of it to be honest, but it’s fairly spectacular!
The next 5k you’re running an out and back section, with another incline to the turnaround point. I didn’t take much notice of it as I was too busy trying to spot any Eagle singlet’s on the other side of the road. It wasn’t long before I spotted Grellan looking really focused on the other side well ahead of the 3hr pacers. He didn’t hear me shouting so when I saw Kevin I made sure he heard me, we acknowledge each other. Just after the turnaround point I spotted Damian making his way to the turnaround point, smiling and waving in my direction… I presumed he had spotted a camera somewhere ;-) I got to the 20k mark bang on my time of 1:39 but I was still concerned that my HR was too high and it hadn’t gone down from when I started. It was reading between 170-175 after having done all by long run training at 150 (I know my HR is high but it always has been). I was still feeling good so I made the decision to stick to the plan for another 10k and see how it went.
The 20k to 30k section is flat enough but has another long out and back section and by the time I got to the 30k (2:27:35) mark I had nearly a minute built up but was starting to feel it in the legs. I kept telling myself I’m on for 3:28 now and don’t blow it over the next 12k, dig deep and hold what I have, its only 1hr of running. My HR was started creeping up now too around 183.
The next section took us along the marina and the beach but to be honest I was concentrating on keeping the legs moving at the same pace and imagining running my 10k loop in Carrigtwohill, not the beach front in Barcelona. After passing the pedestrian section where we ran under the Arc De Triomf, out from nowhere out popped the WAG’s again at the 37k mark with their Irish flag and screaming my name, the pace picked up again.
At this stage I was counting down laps of the CIT track and the HR was at 195. I got to the 40k mark in 3:18:06, 7 seconds behind my 3:29 wristband – My 3:28 gone and now trying to hold my Sub 3:30.
I remember Grellan saying the day before that the last 2k on Avenue Parel-Lei was a drag and to save something for here… Well I was brought back to Manchester again with the two towers (near the finish) at the end of the 2k street resembling Old Trafford last year… never getting any closer ;-) but in fairness the crowd along the street kept you going as they were right in on top of you cheering you along. When I got to the end of this ‘little drag’ I spotted Grellan hanging over the barrier roaring at me and I picked up again for the last 200m – Job done – 3:29:23 achieved and I left everything out there.
All 8 of us did great times and really enjoyed the race. Grellan did 2:55, Kevin 3:14, Sandra 3:18, Damian 3:43, Finbarr 3:48, Nora 3:57 and Edwina 4:00 (carrying an injury). We all met up for a few sociable pints and dinner that evening to swap stories of our great day.
As I have only ever done 3 marathons I can’t really compare Barcelona to other marathons, but of the ones I’ve done it’s the biggest and best by far. With nearly 16,000 athletes, there are water stations at every 2.5k on both sides of the road with notices 100m before that they are coming up. At the stations there is bottled water, Gatorade, Gu gels, fruit and Vaseline. There were numerous bands and groups playing drums all along the route. There’s lots of support along the way and it’s very easy with the metro for supporters to go to different points. In the 2nd half of the course there’s cold mist showers to cool you down and the area in the run up to the finish line is amazing. Even though there are a few drags, they aren’t too bad as you can see from the elevation below. Would I do it again? Yes, definitely.