The fun that was Barcelona Marathon

Wow – what a race! I went in with a plan, adjusted to the conditions and executed it perfectly. I didn’t get overwhelmed or obsessed by time and I had fun! Amazing.

Barcelona wasn’t going to be like any other marathon I’ve run, because it was a specific training run. I would be running the first 10km at an easy warmup speed, then hitting marathon pace (MP, ~5:00/km) for 22km, before slowing back down for another 10.2km of easy running to finish. The aim was to test whether I was capable of maintaining the speed I want to run at Paris Marathon four weeks later.

I got to the start area in enough time to queue for a bathroom and hand off my bag and warm layers before finding my corral. The weather report had predicted 18degrees, which was worryingly warm given my training over the past winter months. Without my jumper and track pants I was only lightly cool at 8am, and hoping I had made the right clothing choice in my capris. Today was a blue tutu day, with orange race nails for a bit of (more) fun.

There was only one sign to the start pen, and then a long walk, but eventually I found it and stood waiting for everyone else to file in. Ahead of me I could see some balloons, tall figures and four guys in Pikachu headwear who everyone seemed to want a photo with. I felt sorry for them – it was going to be very hot under there!

It was a long wait to start, and there were no speakers at my pen, so the only way to tell that anything was happening was occasional clapping and cheering. I wasn’t in a particularly talkative mood, and didn’t feel like trying to hold a conversation in stilted Spanish and hand-signals. I did ask a guy from China in front of me if he was excited, but only got back a tirade about how stupid and lazy Europeans are for starting the race at 8:30 when it was already warm. He had a valid point, but it wasn’t a particularly cheerful way to start the race.

I finally crossed the start line some 21min after the leaders, and eased into a slow run. The tall figures I had seen earlier and assumed were markers for the start of the pen were actually traditional characters being pushed along by a group of men! I spent a good portion of the first few kilometres admiring them and snapping selfies.

It was hot. By 4km I was regretting my capris and wishing for shorts. But, having run one hot marathon already (Copenhagen last year), I knew that I would just have to keep splashing water on myself at every aid station, and adjust my pace to the temperature if it went up much more. The first water stop was meant to be at 5km but in reality was nearly at 6km, so I quickly learned not to expect to get refreshments exactly where they had been advertised.

My pace was slow and trudgey and I wasn’t really having fun – I still wasn’t talking to anyone and it felt like all my concentration went on moving forward under the harsh sun. At around 7km though we started running along a long stretch of shade, and at the 7.5km (~8km) station I had a gulp of electrolyte drink.

With that drink, the whole world shifted. I cooled down, my body had some carbs and all of a sudden I just wanted to run – and fast! Annoyingly I still had to trudge out another 2km before I could go, but I spent that whole time waiting to be let off my leash. I was ready.

Oh it was such bliss. My watch beeped 10km just before the marker (~59min) and off I shot. I hit 5:00 pace pretty quickly, and was flying past all the masses of people I had just spent the last hour with. Sure, there were times when it was a bit difficult to dodge and weave through people, but I have learned a lot from running through London inner-city streets! I heard a few men grumbling about ‘the girl in the tutu flying past’ but ehhh haters gonna hate ?

All of a sudden I had all this energy, and what I was giving out I was receiving right back from the supporters on the streets. I started hearing people call my name and cheer as I went past, which only spurred me on more. My watch was beeping off kilometres averaging ~4:55 – right where I had hoped but not expected to be.

The beauty of this run was that in my mind it was only a 22km race. I didn’t see 15km as the distance it was, but rather 5km complete of my run. Everything seemed so much more achievable that way.

At 16km I finally caught sight of the 4:00hour pacers I knew I had been chasing, although it took nearly another kilometre to pass them. That was a difficult crowd to push through! And yet I was still maintaining sub-5:00 splits.

Sye & I had agreed that he would be cheering at the foot of a switchback sections, so I would see him at 18km and 22km. Somehow though I totally missed him at 18km! It was a bit devastating, but managed to send him a message (while running) to make sure he knew I’d passed. There were a lot of people in the crowd and very easy to miss each other, but I didn’t want it to happen again.

The next 4km became just all about getting to Sye. At 19km I saw the 3:45 pacers just over 2km in front, and although I was running sub-3:30 pace, I wasn’t sure I would reach them.

Another fabulous costume – saw this guy at Dublin marathon too! (pic by Sye)

I passed through 10km (of my 22km) in just under 50mins, and before I knew it was under the halfway timing arch. The beauty of this speed and the water stations every 2.5km was that it all just seemed to fly by. I quickly sent another message to Sye to warn him I was coming soon and then… there he was holding my big ‘Run Julia Run’ sign! I stopped off very quickly, and knew that it would only be 6-7km before I saw him again.

At every aid station I took a water bottle, drank a little and poured the rest over myself. Sure, it made my hair look awful but I wasn’t taking any chances in the heat. It had cooled a little though, which was fortunate. The electrolyte drink was unfortunately distributed in paper cups, but occasionally a kind volunteer would hand out the last part still in the bottle, which was much easier to drink on the go.

I had a GU at 14km and a SIS gel at 24km, but by 27km I was starting to find it tough. I was running down another long switchback and knew Sye was at the turnaround (~28.5km), but it was just taking so long to get there. My watch was ~300m out with the markers too, which was somewhat demoralising. It was starting to feel like I had actually run 27km, rather than the 17km my mind was still holding on to.

I made the executive decision to walk through the 27.5km water station, and it was 100% the right choice. Even just that 50m of walking reset my mind and I felt like I could keep going for the final stretch. Despite the walk, that kilometre still only took 5:05 which indicated that my pace was probably also causing the low point I’d just had. Dropping a few ~4:45s wasn’t really in the plan…

Band playing at the turnaround (pic by Sye)

The turnaround was so tight and full of people cheering (amazing!) that I only just saw Sye and manage to give him a wave before I had gone past. Again though, so grateful for even just that tiny moment, it makes all the difference.

I was still overtaking people, albeit not as many as before. That probably contributed to it feeling like these last few kilometres (of my run) were a bit of a slog – I just wanted to finish already! And I was so close: we exited the switchback with 31km down and not long after my watch went for 32km. I kept running at pace for a little while longer (I had originally planned to make it to the 32km sign if my watch went out) but then decided that enough was enough and slowed to a jog. I had done it! 22km in 1:50ish, including what I knew was likely my 2nd fastest half marathon time ever. Whoops/yay!

The 32.5km station was my reward – complete with a shower, fruit and nuts. I walked through the whole thing, took my time and enjoyed it. Yes, I still had 10km to run but that bit didn’t really matter. I did the same thing at 35km, it helped for my aching feet and plodding pace. After 2 hours of speed every kilometre was now moving so slowly.

On one hill I had a quick chat with a young lady wearing a 100 Marathon Club t-shirt. I commented that she was much younger than the normal people in that club and she said she had run her first marathon in 2013 and just got hooked! This was only her 103rd, and the first she had run in the shirt, so she felt special. I wonder if I’ll be in a similar position in a few years time… (unlikely).

I finally found a rhythm again which I knew would see me through to the end, and so didn’t stop at 38km and only took a quick walk at the 40km station. My watch was nearly half a kilometre out with the signs, but at least that meant there were constant mental signposts to get me through the final stretch.

I could also calculate now that this run would come in somewhere close to Copenhagen (3:49:09) and Florence (3:51:09). It didn’t really matter where it sat in relation to those, until the very final stretch where I could see that I might just be able to beat Copenhagen. I put on a valiant final sprint and thought I even managed to stop my watch on the exact same time – but alas it wasn’t quite meant to be. Still a thrilling finish!

Hot, sweaty and happy ?

That was such a brilliant run. I came out of it on a complete high – I did exactly what aimed to do. In fact, I did better than I expected! Not only did I run faster than my goal time for the fast section, I adapted to the heat, didn’t push myself to exhaustion (as unfortunately happened to many other runners I saw on the side of the road) and raced smart.

And I had fun!! The crowd was amazing and the route was beautiful – flat and passing many great sightseeing spots in Barcelona. The water stations were frequent and well-stocked, and on the whole the race was well supported even down to roaming physios who ran alongside and helped where needed.

I never quite caught those 3:45 pacers, but I don’t think I would have been very far off when I lowed in the last 10km. Now bring on Paris where I’m going to smoke them all!!!

3 thoughts on “The fun that was Barcelona Marathon”

  1. Hi, thanks so much for the detailed race review! I’m thinking about signing up to Barcelona, after not getting a place in the London Marathon ballot last week. Silly question but I’d be grateful if you could help – are the Barcelona finishers’ T-shirts true to size, or would you go a size up?!

    1. Barcelona Marathon is great, you should definitely go for it! I still wear the t-shirt a lot now. Typically I wear an S or M and the women’s S I have fits me perfectly. If you hover between sizes like me, I’d choose the size down. You pick up your shirt at the expo beforehand, so you can still swap it on the day if it doesn’t fit you well. 🙂

      1. Oh, that’s perfect – I’ll go for an S too. It’s a relief you can swap them at the expo, from the registration form it seemed like you couldn’t change your shirt size at all! Thank you so much for replying. I’m literally about to sign up for it right now!

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