Running in the sun has never really been my strength, and so it was with some trepidation that I flew into Barcelona on the Wednesday prior to the Marathon, hoping that I would hold it together in the warmer weather.
Fortunately I had taken the opportunity to spend 3 weeks warm weather training in Valenciana over the festive break, and a weekend in tropical Paris the weekend before the race had also helped me to acclimatise somewhat.
Arriving in Barcelona early on Wednesday afternoon I had some time free, and nothing to do with it as I had finished all my LLB work and left it in the truck at Newcastle airport, and was not collecting Vickie from the airport until around 9pm. So I went for a wee run down to the beach and back:
Although it was hot and sunny I enjoyed this little run, and wasn’t overly bothered by the weather despite not taking any water out with me.
The following day I decided to throw a little hillwork into the mix and headed up towards Park Guell, which I failed to find, and also could not find la Sagrada Familia on my way back to the hotel. If you have never been to Barcelona, believe me, its a pretty big building to lose:
My final warm up run was around Park Guell, which I was pretty sad to discover now contains a capitalist enclave which you have to pay to get into. In any case I did some hillwork, and then struggled to find my wife:
Before I knew where it had come from, it was race day, and a cool 25C. In the autumn I had been routinely banging out low 7 minute miles in training and felt that at Barcelona I would be able to push towards 3h30, which would have been an improvement on my London PR of around an hour.
A bad winter with quad issues and asthma had slowed me down considerably, and so Karl’s plan for Barcelona was to run:walk 14:1, hopefully keep the average mile pace below 9 minute miles, stay under 4 hours, and hopefully kick towards the end for a negative split.
Most of the climb on the Barcelona route is in the first 5 or 6 miles as you climb up towards the Nou Camp. In my enthusiasm at entry time I again found myself in the 3:15 to 3:30 pen, which mean that the field went flying past as I reined my pace in on those early miles. I also managed to spot Vickie in the crowd on this uphill section. I think that most other competitors were somewhat bemused by my run walk strategy, and I got the odd look of concern as I tucked into my cereal bar.
At around mile 6 the course begins to drop back down towards the sea, and I put in a sub 8 minute mile here which brought my average pace down towards 8:40, giving me some good margin to play with below my target for the rest of the race.
For large tracts of the remainder of the race I sat around the high 8 minute and low 9 minute per mile mark taking in the sights, keeping an eye out for Vickie who I did not see, and trying to generally keep my core temperature under control. I was generally faster than those around me, overtaking, only to have to overtake many of the same people after each walk break.
At around mile 20 much of the field around me seemed to hit the wall, and just randomly stop. I decided to kick, putting in miles of 8:35, 8:54 (inc walk) and an especially pleasing uphill 8:07 for mile 22, and it was around here that I spotted Vickie again near the Arch of Catalunyan Triumphs. This wee section effectively guaranteed a sub-4 finish, but the sun was getting hotter, and I was needing to take on more and more water, and dip my cap in the ice buckets more. I reeled the pace back in towards the low 9 minute miles, part by choice, part because overtaking in the field became increasing treacherous and then almost impossible as the field around me gradually ground to a halt.
Eventually the finish line appeared, I really kicked on, overtaking what seemed like several people with each step, almost everybody seemed to be walking by this point. Another couple of finishing lines appeared around the corner which I carried decent pace through of high 6 to high 7 minute miles, giving me a small negative split of around a minute, finishing in a new PR of 3:55:49.
I’m very happy with the performance, it was not what I envisaged when I entered, but it was equally far better than I had hoped for just a couple of weeks earlier. One change that I made in the three days in Barcelona was to switch back out of my comfy road shoes into a pair of INOV8 FLites. I did this because I felt that I had been struggling for good form while running. This made my calves work far harder during those last runs and the race, but my form was better, any heel strike had gone, and as a result I did not mash my quads. I also have to be pleased with my performance in the sun and the heat, to some degree that exorcised a few ghosts from races past.
The verdict: I’m afraid that I much prefer the Barcelona race to London. With 36,000 athletes this is still a big city marathon, the crowd was good, but not as overbearing as at London, which if I’m being blatantly honest I found to be claustrophobic, loud, overly personal and insincere, a bit like going to the circus. I think that London is a race that everybody should experience once, I have, I’m glad that I did, but I’ve no real desire to go back. So next year I will again not be applying in the London ballot, I’m probably heading to Düsseldorf instead for another big city marathon in a city that a love running in and on a route much of which I fell in love with back in September.