Barcelona Marathon and City Guide Part 1: The Day(s) Before!

Barcelona Marathon and City Guide Part 1

Welcome to part 1 of my Barcelona Marathon and City Guide! This installment will share a few tips and tricks for race weekend, including transport, the race expo, and things to see and do the day before (that won’t ruin your legs!).

Whilst planning my trip to Barcelona, I stumbled across the best, most informative website EVER: barcelona-tourist-guide.com. I hope you find it as useful as I did, and that my runner’s guide to Barcelona helps to fill in any marathon-specific gaps!

As always, if you think I’ve missed something, or have any questions, you know where to find me! 🙂

Before the race
– Getting around

Barcelona was a super easy city to navigate. The airport transfer was straight forward, everything was extremely central, and the metro was easy to use.

There are a number of options for travelling between the airport and the city centre, depending on your preference:

  1. The Aerobus goes from outside T1 or T2 and will take you to Plaça Espanya or Plaça de Catalunya, where you can then join the metro. Tickets cost €5.90  for a single and  €10.20  for a return (ticket valid for  15 days). You can find timetable details here.
  2. The RENFE overground train, which stops at a few places including Passeig de Gràcia (a town centre station that joins the metro).
  3. The metro. A new line – L9 – has recently been introduced, which links the city centre to the airport (T1 and T2). A single ticket costs €4.50.

If you’re going for a long weekend, I would recommend the HolaBCN travel card. This card is valid for 2, 3, 4 or 5 days (we paid for 5, which was only 28.80€ each) and includes the RENFE airport train. The card can be used for UNLIMITED travel on the metro, bus (TMB), urban railway (FGC), Montjuïc funicular, tram (TRAM), and regional railway between the hours of  5h00 and 23h00. We booked and paid for our cards online, and picked them up at the Tourist Information stand at the airport on arrival. The L9 metro ISN’T included in the HolaBCN card.

You can find out more about the HolaBCN card here. Information on other types of metro tickets can be found here. There are also information boards in the metro stations, which detail the types of tickets. The ticket machines are available in English and are really easy to use, too.

– The Expo

The great thing about Barcelona Marathon is that the expo, start and finish are all in exactly the same place: Plaça d’Espanya. The expo building is directly outside the metro:

Barcelona Marathon Expo Building

And the start/finish line is directly next to it! (See below, between the 2 towers).

Barcelona Marathon Expo

You don’t need a medical certificate for Barcelona, which is a definite plus. You just present your passport and confirmation email, and you get your race packet! The pickup area is really simple – just one long table with the numbers displayed above (they split them into a few groups to spread people out).

Opposite this, before you head into the main expo hall, is a second table where you can pick up your technical race t-shirt. This is split up based on size, which you would have selected when you registered. Just present your race packet (they’ll scribble on the packet so you can’t claim more than once) and they’ll hand over your top. The top colour matches your corral (pink, in my case) which is quite cool on the day – as you can easily spot others in your pace group, and follow them to your start area! (And of course, it makes it easier to pick them out on the course, too).

I chose not to wear mine on the day, so as to stand out for my boyfriend to spot me – but lots did! 🙂

– The Day Before

As you can imagine, there is TONS to do in a city like Barcelona. I’ll admit, I was quite disorganised and didn’t really plan too much beforehand, but it turns out that for loads of places you can book tickets online, and just present your ticket on your mobile when you get there (rather than having to print them out). So if you haven’t pre-booked, don’t fret!

A few things were recommended to me by friends: the Sagrada Familia, which is in the city centre and super easy to get to; the Tourist Bus tours, which follow 2 different routes in March and take around 2 hours for a city tour (though I didn’t end up doing this, it’s on my list for next time) and of course, Barceloneta beach. This gets wildly busy in the summer, but amazingly it was quite peaceful on marathon weekend! (This isn’t the only  beach in Barcelona, but was the closest one to the expo and we didn’t fancy travelling further afield!)

Barceloneta Beach

As well as the Sagrada Familia, you also have Gaudi’s other projects on La Diagonal: Casa Milà, or “La Pedrera” and Casa Batlló are both worth a visit. We chose not to go inside, as entry is pretty expensive at over 20e, and they’re spectacular enough from the outside! Make sure you check them out during the day and at night, as they look vastly different.

Another of the Gaudi must-sees is Park Güell – but NOT before race day. My boyfriend picked this one for the day directly afterwards, but kept very quiet about one little teeny detail: the climbing. (Thanks, James).

Park Guell Stairs 1

Stairs, and more stairs…

Park Guell Stairs 2

I played a game of spot-the-runners. Hint: all of us were hobbling about and gripping the handrails as if our lives depended on it!

Park Guell Stairs 3

Whilst the views were stunning, I did stop a couple of times and question my life choices slightly. (For example, I may or may not have needed help getting down from that rock. #runnerproblems).

Park Guell View

If you do fancy it, it’s well worth the effort. Park Güell is about a 15-minute uphill walk from Lesseps metro stop, but luckily for the worst of the climb there are escalators (though not, as I soon realised, for the way down!)

– Carb Loading

Barcelona Marathon Expo Goodies

Collecting my Asics pace band, and some free bread from the expo! Carb loading FTW!

There are loads of places to eat in Barcelona. However, I would recommend checking out the local restaurants online before you travel. I forgot to do this, and ended up eating at the hotel the night before the marathon. A couple of good areas for food are Barceloneta (mostly paella and tapas places, but SO GOOD), and on/around La Rambla (huge variety). We found a couple of really nice Italian places as well.

One thing to keep in mind is that the Spanish tend to eat later than we do here. 9pm is a completely normal dinner time, and lots of restaurants won’t open for dinner before 8pm. If you want to have an early meal, stick to the touristy areas, as the restaurants and cafes here are more accommodating and serve food for most of the day.

– – –

Stay tuned for part 2, which will cover race day itself! 🙂

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Race Review: Barcelona Marathon 2016!

Barcelona Marathon 2016 Race Review

Barcelona was marathon #3, and I had high hopes! I’d heard nothing but brilliant things about the city and I knew that the marathon had to be pretty epic. I also had my sights set on a sub-5 finish, which was pretty exciting (and nerve wracking), too!

On the morning of the race, we set off from the hotel nice and early, and within 20 minutes we were at the start area. (Thanks, Barcelona metro!) I left James by the start line, and made my way up to the bag drop. I was in and out in minutes (though there was a bit of congestion at the entrance) and the corral was easy to find and not too cramped. If only the run was this simple!

An added bonus was that the pens weren’t closed off as strictly as Paris, so no elbows were needed this time 😉 It might also have helped that there were about 20k runners in Barcelona, as opposed to 40k in Paris! Big enough for a good atmosphere, but small enough for plenty of space before, during and after the race. Ideal!

There weren’t as many loos as I was expecting though (I found a row of 4, and I think there were a couple more rows elsewhere), and there were quite a few non-runners in the queue; not what you want with less than 15 minutes to the starting gun! But I managed to get into my corral about 10 minutes before the front runners set off, which gave me plenty of time to stretch and mentally prepare for the day ahead. Barcelona was my second attempt at a sub-5, so for once I actually had a pace plan to stick to – nothing too strict, but a bit more structured than my last marathons. Gulp!

Luckily, the conditions were absolutely perfect. It was sunny, about 15 degrees, and there was a nice cool breeze (quite chilly in the shade!). After nearly frying at Paris last year, I certainly wasn’t complaining!

Barcelona Marathon Start Area

Putting on a brave face before heading off to the bag drop…

There was such a party/festival atmosphere at the start, with music playing and everyone looking fairly excited (with a touch of ‘AAARGH what am I doing!?’). There was a wave of cheers each time another corral set off over the start line, which made me smile! I also recognised the lady doing the announcements as she did the Paris Marathon ones, which brought back memories and added a touch of familiarity to the whole event (and she’s brilliant!). Definitely helped with the nerves!

We shuffled forwards, and reached the start line about 20 minutes after the gun. The organisers surprised us with a brilliant treat as we set off – we were showered in an explosion of confetti! (Pink, to match our corral colour). Looking at the ground, it seemed that each pace group got the same treatment. Such a brilliant touch, and really set the tone for the entire day! Other marathons, take note – setting off through a cloud of confetti is SO MUCH FUN!

I’d heard that the Spanish are brilliant spectators, and I have to say, the crowd support was the best I’ve ever seen. Within about 11 miles I’d already lost count of the people that had cheered me on by name, and I was getting high fives every couple of miles, too. Our race numbers had our names printed really clearly, which meant that people could easily spot them as you passed.

In a long-distance race there’s nothing better then catching your name and seeing someone smiling and clapping for you. It’s lovely and makes me all warm and fuzzy inside 🙂 At one point there was a row of students who all held out their hands for high fives – about 5 or 6 total! Such a lovely crowd!

Barcelona Marathon Arc de Triomf

Passing the Arc de Triomf, about 36k in… And mentally listing all of the tapas and paella I was going to eat inhale once I was done! 

The route was fairly flat, with a few little inclines in the first half (not steep, but some were a km or so long). The route took us right the way through the city, and past some brilliant landmarks – the Sagrada Familia, Arc de Triomf, and even a beautiful stretch along the coast. There was also a loop through a lovely park in the last 5k. However, there were also 2 long out-and-back bits, which I always find really tough; one at 18km and one at 26km. They went on for a few km each, and you didn’t see the turnaround point until you were almost on top of it, so they felt much longer than they were.

For the first half I felt pretty good, clocking mile splits of 10:30-11:00 (a bit faster than planned), with a few speedier bits on the downhills. I tried to pace myself, but I always forget how easy it is to get carried away at these events, and had to keep slowing down! Amazingly I didn’t take my first walking break until 11/12 miles, which is far better than I’d done in training. I hit half-way with 6 minutes in the bag for sub-5.

The second half had less shade, especially along the seafront and the bigger, wider avenues. It was lovely, and there was still a breeze (and a big shower to run through at about 21 miles, which always seems like a GREAT idea until I then can’t catch my breath due to the shock of cold – d’oh!), but I definitely missed the cooler early miles. I started taking quite a few walking breaks, but managed to get myself running every time the pace slowed towards 12:00/mile.

One point I will mention is that there are basically no mile markers on the course; it’s all done in km. (This quite surprised me, as I had expected a mix of the two). I was given the heads-up by the guy at the Asics stand when I went to pick up my pace band, who suggested I use the km version. I think I saw markers for miles 10 and 20, but that was it!

As I reached the 41km mark – where I belatedly remembered that the last 2km were up a very slight incline – I started to hurt quite a bit. My Garmin put me ahead of the km markers, so I had no idea exactly how far away the finish line was and how long it’d take me to finish. Things definitely got a bit tough here.

Luckily, lovely James was just up ahead to cheer me on (for about the 5th time – such a legend!), and when he saw my face he jumped in – jeans, satchel and all! – and ran a couple hundred meters with me. Before he left, he made me promise to keep running – so I did!

Shortly afterwards (before the 42km marker), my Garmin hit 26.2 miles, and read 5:00:26. If it was closer to the course markers, I probably would have felt more inclined to speed up for a sub-5; but as it was, I still had a good way to go, relatively speaking. But when I saw (what I though was) the finish, I sped up and clocked a sub-11:00 mile – which at that point was the marathon equivalent of a sprint finish 😉 …

… Only to turn the corner and remember that I still had another 100m to go. The second sprint finish was slightly less comfortable:

Barcelona Marathon Finish Line

Right at the finish… I was seriously hurting at this point. (Though apparently not as much as the guy behind me!)

I had to just grit my teeth and keep going, because who slows down on the finishing straight!? (Note to self: don’t speed up until you SEE the finish line. Ooops).

But the extra effort was worth it, and I crossed the line in 5:05:28 – which is an 11-minute PB, and 21 minutes faster than Paris Marathon last year!

Barcelona Marathon Medal

Another medal for the collection! (I was too exhausted to clock that it’d been put on backwards…)

I’m SO pleased, and SO proud. It shows that I really have made progress, and have the ability to run a sub-5 (maybe even 4:45…) if I push a teeny bit more! As it stands, I think I actually prefer having 5:05 as my official time rather than 5:00:26 – being so close would have seriously bothered me! 😀

And I’m happy to confirm that I did indeed have my tapas and paella – straight after the race! (Priorities, people).

Barcelona Marathon Paella Feast

Food has never tasted quite so good.

Thanks, Barcelona! 😀

Now it’s another 3-week taper before Rome Marathon on April 10th. Glutton for punishment? Me? Never!

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Are you running any races this spring? 🙂

The dangers of comparing yourself to others

20 Mile Training Run

The big 2-0!

If you’ve been following me on social media (or reading the blog!) you’ll know that I ran my first ever 20-mile training run the other week. And I finished that run feeling so excited, proud, and capable. It took me 3h38, and I kept an average pace of 10:54, which puts me right where I want to be with regards to my sub-5 goal for this weekend’s Barcelona marathon (aaargh!!)

Result, right!?

The following weekend, a friend posted her latest training run (for her first marathon, in Rome next month) on Facebook. She ran 20 miles in 3h05, and I suddenly felt a bit rubbish. Suddenly, my 20 miler didn’t feel so good.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy and excited for her. She’s awesome and she’s worked hard to get where she is – I can’t wait to see her smash her goals in Rome!

But the doubts started to creep in. I started to wonder what I was doing. Why, after 3 years of marathon training, am I still chasing a sub-5 when others can go out and hit a crazy fast pace over 20 miles on their first go? Why do I bother? Shouldn’t I be faster than this by now?

Maybe I’m just not built for running. Maybe I’ll never be any good. Maybe I should give up now, and find another sport…

And then I gave myself a stern talking-to. Reminded myself that I’ve worked bloody hard to get to where I am. That 20 miles is EPIC. That I’ve run 2 marathons, which is a huge deal regardless of the time. That I’ve cut my 5k and 10k times down, have pushed on through injury and illness and reached the taper feeling strong and ready to run on Sunday.

Yes, I’m nervous. Yes, there’s a good chance that I won’t hit sub-5 on Sunday, because 26.2 miles is a flipping long way and anything can happen on the day.

But I’ve trained smart. I’ve gotten faster and stronger and I feel like it’s in reach. At Paris marathon last year, that goal ended up being a bit ambitious, but I really believe that I have it in me this time round.

No, it’s not the fastest time in the world. Should I be faster than this after 2 marathons? Will I ever hit those faster times? Who knows?

But also, who cares?

Running makes me happy. It makes me smile. It makes me push myself past my limits and gives me a sense of achievement and strength that nothing else does. It makes me look at my body in a different light – instead of focusing on my size, weight, or shape I can tell myself that my legs are awesome, because they can carry me miles and miles. My body is strong, and can run for hours. It’s done some pretty cool stuff.

There will always be someone faster, stronger, better. But at the end of the day, the only person I’m competing against is myself. And I don’t need to compare myself to anyone else.

So I’m going to stand at the start line on Sunday, and I’m going to soak up the atmosphere and be proud for even getting there. I’m going to make the most of every mile, because I’m able to run and I’m lucky to do something that so many take for granted (including me). I’m going to listen to the crowds and cheer on the other runners and smile the whole way round (well ok, I’m allowed a strop or 2 in the last few miles!) I’m going to explore a new city, grab a few high-fives from my lovely boyfriend, and I’ll cross that finish line.

Regardless of what the clock says, I’ll have run a marathon. And I’ll blooming well be proud of myself.

– – –

Do you compare yourself to others? How do you keep yourself motivated?