TL;DR – 26.2 miles, 4 hours 28 minutes, awesome awesome awesome, pain.
On Sunday I ran my first ever marathon in Barcelona.
I arrived in the city quite late on Friday night and joined my sister and her boyfriend, who were finishing up their dinner. I had a lovely glass of wine and we didn’t get to bed until midnight.
Despite 8 hours of sleep, I felt exhausted when I woke up on Saturday. It was pouring with rain so we decided to go to the marathon Expo and then into the shopping centre that was just around the corner. The nerves were kicking in even before we entered the expo as groups of people were out for little jogs around the Plaza España, clearly looking like marathon runners. No queues whatsoever for packet pick-up – I picked up my bib number at the first table, my t-shirt at a different table, and then a bag to put it all in. I then went to chip validation before heading into the expo proper. There was a gigantic map of the course which we looked at for a while, with my sister’s boyfriend Miles saying things like “it’s a really long way”. Yes, I know Miles. “You’re basically going to be running all around Barcelona. Yup, I know. “It’s such a long way”. YES I KNOW!!!!!
The expo was huge and awesome and slightly over-whelming, filled with marathon runners and STUFF. I was having a stress over my running belt. I had run with a cheap one from Lidl all winter, only to find when getting to Madrid that it just didn’t work when I was wearing less clothes. So I bought a new one, but had only done one run, and that of only 2 miles in it. It had a handy little water bottle, but not a huge amount of space for lots of gels etc. Looking at the map, I realised there was going to be water every 2.5km along the course and so I thought that I probably didn’t need to carry a water bottle on me, so now I was wondering whether to buy a new belt. I went back and forth several times wondering whether to buy a new one, and if so, which belt. I ended up with a flipbelt and it was fantastic. More on that later.
Expo done, we wandered into the shopping mall, did some shopping while the rain poured down outside and then went back to the flat for Jilli to cook up a lovely pasta lunch. As I was feeling so exhausted, I stayed in the flat all afternoon having a nap and reading my book on the sofa. I think it was my body’s way of making me do nothing, and it worked out pretty great.
I was in bed by 11, super nervous. My other worry was what to wear – the forecast was for 11 degrees round about the time I would be finishing, but 5 degrees or less when I started and staying quite low all morning. Shorts? Leggings? Long-sleeved top? Again, having trained in the cold English winter, and then a ridiculously hot few weeks in Madrid, I hadn’t really trained in those temperatures! I had dreams about wearing the wrong clothes, including one in which I was making my way to the marathon in skiing salopettes before having a last minute panic that they would be difficult to run in!!!
The start for the elites was at 8.30am, with the rest of us following in waves after that. I was staying 10 minutes walk from the start, so awoke at the quite civilised time of 7am. I had my standard 3 weetabix with milk (desperately sought out from the posh supermarket in Madrid the week before the marathon – weetabix is nowhere near as common in Spain as it is in England!) and got dressed. I settled on long tights and my running vest top, with my new race belt, a headband and I had a hoody over the top to walk towards the start which I then left with my mum. I munched on a banana as we walked down, gradually joining up with more and more runners.
The atmosphere was INCREDIBLE. Loud music, people stretching and warming up, people chatting nervously, supporters supporting. Mum and I took a few pictures and then walked towards the entrance to my corral – right at the very back for the 4 hour + runners. I stood in the middle of the group, trying to keep myself warm (having left my hoody with mum), listening to everyone around me.
Beside me was a small Spanish woman who got chatting to two northern English guys. “Is this your first marathon?” one of the guys asked. “No” she replied, “I ran a marathon last weekend”. Turns out she is attempting to run 40 marathons in 2 years. Barcelona was her 36th. Remember her as we’ll see more of her later :)
The race started in waves, each wave with a separate start, and we gradually moved closer and closer. Then it was our turn. Eye of the Tiger was played, little bits of purple confetti (the colour of our waves and bibs) filled the air, there was a countdown, and then we were off! And yes, I had tears in my eyes even before the start.
I was good and kept pretty slow for the first couple of miles – I was absolutely determined not to make the standard first-time marathon mistake of going out too fast and then blowing up. And with my first few miles above 10:10 per mile, I was sticking to plan – or perhaps going slightly too slowly!
At 5k I missed my supporters for the first time – or rather, they missed me, as they were all standing by the side of the road, cheering on runners, looking straight at, or rather through me, and didn’t hear me shouting their names! I kept running as I soon would be coming back to this same spot from a different direction so knew I would see them again.
The route went up and round the back of the Barcelona Nou football stadium. At this point I spotted the 40 marathons lady – posing for a picture in front of the football stadium. We then ran past a steel drum band and she stopped in front of them and danced for a couple of seconds before running on – this kept a smile on my face for around the first 15k until her dancing meant I left her behind. I was slightly sad about this as I was enjoying running beside someone so obviously having such a good time but I had my mind set on 4.30 so off I went…
This was also the spot for the first loo break – although there were LOTS of toilets en route, there were small queues at almost every one. At this point there were less spectators and lots of grass, including a huge tree, basically half surrounded with female runners having a pee! So I went and joined them. Running a marathon made me hate men (sorry boys) – they just get to pee all the time wherever they want so easily! Very unfair.
Back down towards the start of town and this time my supporters saw me and gave me a big cheer. I smiled and ran on, running quite fast at this point (it was slightly downhill) for one of the faster miles of the race.
A couple of miles later was the first hard section. Probably less than half a kilometre but it was slightly uphill and all in the sun. However a smile was put on my face by a loud shout of “ALICEEEEE!” and then glancing to my left to see my family sprinting out from a side street just in time to get to me and check on how I was doing – still good at this point and still with a smile on my face.
I kept checking in with myself throughout the first half. Body feeling good? Yes. Mind feeling happy? Yes. I actually kept thinking to myself that I was really enjoying it, I am loving this. I actually am having a fantastic time. And I was. At one point around about 11 miles or so I had sharp pain in my ITB. I thought uhoh, this is where it starts. Then on my next body scan, I realised the pain had gone away. Although it came back (and went away again) before the half way point, it never seriously troubled me. I also kept trying to keep a smile on my face – this was on advice from a post by Janae at Hungry Runner Girl who always says one of her main tips for racing is to try and smile, even when it is hurting, as it will relax the body. I tried to remind myself of this, and also I was interested to work out at exactly what point I stopped enjoying myself!
Around this point I had some of my fastest miles (we were going downhill) but I even managed to stop and take a quick picture of La Sagrada Familia looming up above us in the sunlight.
It was a hard slog out to 13.1 with a 2k out and back – the out being all uphill and in the sun. I had my headphones in by this stage and was happily trucking along. I reached the half way point in around 2 hours 12 and was very happy with this as I knew now that, unless anything went wrong in the unknown after 18 miles, I could mange 4hrs30. At this point I overtook a guy with a black race number, something like number 60/80. He would have been in one of the top waves and was walking with obvious pain on his face. I felt so sorry for him.
After the out & back I had another quick toilet break and then my supporters were with me again, jumping out from the sidelines to run alongside me for a minute or so while I gave them my headband and they checked in on how I was doing. They soon jumped back off the road and I kept running, towards the next long out and back. This seemed the same as the last – out all uphill and in the sun (although in reality it was so barely uphill that you wouldn’t really notice it unless you were running a marathon). The start of this out & back was the 18 mile point, marking the furthest I had ever run. And I was still feeling good. The front of my thighs were tired and slightly sore, and I was slightly worried about chafing under my arms (despite lots of bodyglide in the morning) but other than that I was completely fine. The out section was also right next to a tramline – straight, flat and grassy – so I was able to run on this for a kilometre or so instead of on the tarmac.
I was still feeling absolutely fine by the 20 mile mark, and was very excited to see a big sign saying “vaseline” and a lady holding a massive jar of it. She had lots scooped into her hands so I ran towards her, grabbed a handful and smeared it all over my underarms and upper arms – it felt great and put my mind at ease about chafing. I was getting quite hot by this point – although for the majority of the race I had been the perfect temperature (except for cold hands at the beginning) it really warmed up in the last hour and I was very grateful for little “showers” that appeared in the last 6 miles to cool me down.
We were almost at the sea front and I ran up next to a guy in black shorts and a bright blue top that I had been going back and forth with all day. He smiled at me and said “venga! venga!” and I grinned back and kept on running beside him. Then again there were some loud shouts and cheers and mum, Jilli and Miles joined me to run along the seafront for a few minutes. I was hurting by this point and they cheered me up, especially when I heard Jilli and Miles behind me discussing how I still looked good!
All too soon the route turned away from the sea, with less than 7k to go now the worst part of the race began. I left my wonderful supporters behind and headed back uphill, through the Barcelona Arc du Triomphe which I do not remember at all – but it was on the map so I must have run through it. At this point I mainly remember pain, in the front of my thighs and in my left foot. I also remember noting that it didn’t hurt any more to run slightly faster, and the faster I ran, the sooner it would be over. So I tried to put a little more momentum into it. I also knew 4hr30 was within reach, although at this point my maths was failing me and so was any concept of how fast I could run in kilometres (NB: next time running a European marathon, also note your planned marathon pace in km, not just miles!)
The path came down through the Barri Gotic – the old centre of Barcelona, a supposedly beautiful meander of pedestrianised streets, shops and tapas bars. At this point I was angry. I was swearing to myself in pain and at any pedestrian who attempted to cross the race path. We went through a food station at a point where the race route narrowed considerably. The path was strewn with banana skins and oranges and a woman dropped her water bottle which landed on my foot. I kept running and overtook her with a muttered “careful!” as I did so. Everything was pissing me off. Did I mention how much pain I was in?
Mum looking so cheery in the pink top beside me, me much less so! You also may not think this is “running” but I promise my front foot is slightly off the ground!
With just under 3k to go I ran past my mum again and she joined me, running alongside me and talking constantly at me, telling me how good I was looking, how well I was running, reminding me that two years ago I couldn’t even run 5k. She was super-cheery and helpful, laughing at me when I kept swearing (“where the fuck is the 41k sign?” “why the fuck is it a hill?” “fuck ow fuck” etc) – or maybe she just didn’t hear the extent of it due to selective mum hearing! As you may have gathered – the last bit was up a hill. And due to perfect pacing on my behalf (no, really, see below…) we were passing people all the time. I may have just blocked it out from my memory but I don’t think a single person passed me in the last couple of kilometres – or very few! Not that I was caring about my positioning in the race, but it felt good to know that I was finishing strong-ish. We ran past one girl with a “Burgess Hill Runners” club vest and knew she was from the UK. “Go on Burgess Hill!” my mum said as we ran past (jogged, very slowly, past) and she turned a face to us that was so full of misery, it reflected exactly how I was feeling. I hope my mum’s cheery upbeatness gave her a little extra spurt. It was certainly doing so for me!
Into the last kilometre and mum said goodbye and left me to it. I knew there were several arches to run through so not to sprint for the very first one, but I hadn’t realised quite how far the actual finish was from the first arch! This made me slightly sad but I really pushed myself, spurred on by a shout from my friend, Charlotte, and watching the clock, and crossed the line in 4 hours 28 minutes 47 seconds. Then I cried a little bit as I walked away from the finish line, grabbing my drink and a medal, struggling to lift my foot onto a box so my chip could be cut off. I had done it, run my first marathon, in the time I had wanted, and I was so happy, but also in so much pain.
That’s what I’m most proud of. Not that I finished in under 4 hours 30, or even that I finished, but that I was hurting so bad for the last 5k and I kept going, and even pushed myself to run faster. That is a good thing to know about yourself.
The other thing I’m proud of is my above-mentioned perfect pacing – with 5k splits throughout varying from 30min53 secs (10k-15k) to 32min40 (30k-35k). Indeed, my second slowest 5k (30min38) was the first 5k! Not bad for a first-timer. My fastest mile was mile 9, in 9:38 and my slowest was mile 15, in 11:12. Pretty sure that was up a hill. Do I wish I’d run the first part faster? No – I could have run those first few miles faster, but I had absolutely nothing left in me at the end, and I think if I had, I would not have been able to keep going at the speed I did at the end (i.e. slower than a tortoise but still moving).
I was very disciplined with my fueling, alternating between Sis gels in apple flavour and Shot Bloks (with caffeine) every half an hour. I never felt like a hit a wall or lost energy, I just felt sore…. The FlipBelt was INCREDIBLE and I am ridiculously glad that I bought it after going backwards and forwards for so long on buying some kind of new waist belt. I also alternated water and energy drinks at most of the fueling stations. The water was given out in little bottles which was great as it was incredibly easy to drink whilst running, but also bad as I felt horribly guilty throwing away bottles still with water left in them! But I just couldn’t drink a whole bottle at once. The oranges and bananas were fantastic, although potentially lethal when thrown all over the race path. There were loads of toilets, and although there were queues at most of them, there were never normally more people in the queue than there were toilets. The volunteers were smiley and cheery, and the supporters were great. I especially enjoyed running past long lines of cleaners and/or firefighters, who cheered us all on while they waited for us to pass so they could begin their job/hoped they wouldn’t be needed (in respect of the firefighters!) There were bands and groups of drummers which were incredible, and there was the beautiful city of Barcelona.
There were also my amazing supporters. I don’t know if its usually frowned upon to have someone run with you, but I had read several blogs of Barcelona marathon before where people had supporters help them along for a bit at the end, and there were several people around me running, cycling and rollerblading next to runners so I hope it was okay. I couldn’t have done it without them.
And of course Miles, who was behind the camera in this pic and took most of the pictures in this post. Always nice to have a personal race photographer!