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? 🙂

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A bit of winter running motivation

A few months ago, I signed up to the Runners World daily motivation emails – and there have been a few absolute gems. Unfortunately, I tend to read them and then just store them away; which means that by the time I need a bit of inspiration, I’ve completely forgotten them. So I decided to pull together a few of my favourites, and share them with you!

If – like me – you need a bit of a kick up the bum, a bit of a confidence boost, or just fancy a few happy thoughts for your next training run (especially at this time of year!) then take a read. And if you like these, then I’d definitely recommend signing up to the Runners World ‘Quote of the day’ emails – there’s pleeenty more where these came from 🙂

Running Motivation 1

Running Motivation 3

Running Motivation 4

Running Motivation 2

Running Motivation 5

Running Motivation 7

Running Motivation 6

Running Motivation 8

Running Motivation 10

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How do you motivate yourself to get out there in the cold and the dark? Do you have any tips or tricks?

Why running is about the journey, not the end goal

It’s really easy to lose motivation sometimes. Things get busy at work, you end up going to bed later than you planned, you hit the snooze button once and suddenly you’re 2 weeks down the line and have barely worked out at all. (Or is that just me?…)

When you get yourself into a bit of a rut, it’s easy to lose perspective on things. You find yourself stressing over pace (note to self: positive splits are NOT THE END OF THE WORLD!), and wondering why the heck you’re struggling at 10:30/mile when you were feeling comfy at sub-10 just a few weeks ago!?

At this point, everyone around you seems fitter, and faster, and you’re convinced that everyone’s finding this running thing easy peasy and you’ve become some lethargic, heavy, uncoordinated ex-running slob who will never EVER get back to their old pace and oh, forget about running a marathon ever again… (Or fitting into those marathon tights, for that matter!)

Today, I headed out for a lunchtime run with a couple of friends. We did our usual 5k loop (well, their usual – I haven’t done it in weeks!). We hit the first mile at 9:27, and then it all went wrong. I slowed right down, my breathing wouldn’t settle, and at points my friends were literally running circles around me.

Predictably, I began to freak out a little. But then something in my brain switched. Like, dude – CHILLAX. The old you would have killed to be able to run that far, regardless of the pace! You’re actually pretty damn awesome! Remember when you couldn’t manage a mile without a walking break, and 5k seemed like the moon?

At that point, I definitely couldn’t, so I dug through my old Tweets and I stumbled across this little gem:

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsBack in 2011, I was super excited to have run/walked over 2.5 miles. So excited, in fact, that I shared it on social media and then for good measure, I messaged my parents to let them know. (I was on my placement year in Spain at the time). And damn straight, the old me was proud! That 2.6 miles was AWESOME! Back then I didn’t care about pace, or weekly mileage, or whatever the heck everyone else was doing. I just ran for myself; because I enjoyed it, I loved the challenge and I loved pushing myself that little bit further each time. Case in point:

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsRunning isn’t about the races you enter and the medals you hang on the wall (though I love both of those things, and they do have their place!), or your finishing times. Sometimes you get so caught up in the details, that you don’t realise quite how much pressure you’ve put yourself under. Remember – running should be FUN. You’re choosing to do it, after all!

Leave the pressure at work. Let running be your ‘you’ time. Let it be a stress reliever, an excuse to explore new paths, a way to make new friends, and an excuse to buy more pretty things (you’re welcome 😉 ).

After all, bad runs are bound to happen every now and then. Just means you’re due a good one next time!

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Why do you run? Are you training for anything, or are you just doing it for fun? Ever find yourself lacking motivation?

 

Meeting Chrissie Wellington at the 33 Shake Event

On Thursday evening, I ventured into central London for the 33 Shake event at Paddington Recreation Ground. Chrissie Wellington has recently become an ambassador for their brand, so we were treated to a fab talk from her as well as a chance to try out their chia seed gels!

Did I mention that I got to meet her afterwards? Sooo awesome!

cwevent

I’m new to brand events, and wouldn’t normally go (I feel a bit out of place, as I’m not a huge blogger and don’t really do product reviews etc.) but this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up! I read Chrissie’s book ‘A life without limits‘ last year, and I loved that even as a world champion she’s completely down-to-earth and has an amazing perspective on things. One of my favourite quotes has to be:

If there is one thing I have learned, particularly in my life as an athlete, it is that our limits may not be where we think the are. And, even when we think we’ve finally reached them, the next time we go exploring we often find they’ve moved again.

The way she talks, she really makes you feel like you can do anything you set your mind to – and I’m pretty sure that she could persuade anyone to try anything once. (Especially me – I’m easily influenced!) 🙂

cwtweet

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She’s as unfailingly positive in person as in her book, and her enthusiasm is infectious – her talk was wonderfully funny, informative and inspiring. Just as you’d expect!

I can definitely see why she’s chosen to work with 33 Shake. They seem to be a really great brand, and their chia seed gels are something else! You can find more information on their website, but the highlights are:

  • 100% natural ingredients. This means no additives, no preservatives, and nothing man-made.
  • These ingredients offer a simple blend of carbs, proteins, Omega-3s and antioxidants.
  • 90 calories per serving.
  • Natural anti-inflammatories.
  • All natural and low-GI sugars for genuinely sustainable performance without the energy-sapping spikes of traditional gel.
  • A natural electrolyte blend including Himalayan Pink salt.

What makes these gels unique is that they’re delivered in dry form – it’s up to you to add water before use. (I might have ended up with some on the floor, though this was mainly because I was standing up at the time – they’re actually easy peasy to prepare, and can even be done on the go using your water bottle!)

This means that you can adjust the consistency to suit your personal taste – a huge plus, after the trial and error I’ve had with other gels. As an added bonus, if you don’t fancy adding plain water you can up the electrolytes with coconut water, or add some more carbs with fruit juice instead – meaning that you can order a pack of standard gels, but make them whatever flavour you fancy! Once mixed, the gels last for up to 24hrs in the fridge, so you can prep them the night before your training session or race. We used plain water at the event, and they tasted fab.

How do you fuel your training? Would you ever try chia seed gels?

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5 handy tips for big training sessions

When it comes to marathon training, I’ve pretty much sussed out the weekly long run – the route, the kit, fuelling and hydration and pushing through the tough bits – but I’m still a fairly novice cyclist, so when the reality of my upcoming 100-mile cycle event hit me, I might have freaked out a little. (Ok, a lot).

I’m cycling the Prudential RideLondon 100 on August 2nd, to raise money for the Devon Air Ambulance Trust (an incredible organisation that saved my Dad’s life a couple of months ago). When the magazine came through the door, it still seemed a looong way off, and I registered without thinking too much about it. Since then, I’ve managed a few cycle commutes (14-mile round trip) and I’ve done Guildford to Brighton (42-45 miles) twice on the hybrid.

100 miles is a bit further than that.

I should have started building up my distance on the road bike weeks ago. But if I’m completely honest, the idea of heading out on a long cycle – solo, and on unfamiliar roads – scared me.

Finally, after weeks of procrastinating, on Saturday I finally bit the bullet and set off on a 100km solo cycle through the Surrey hills.

60-mile Surrey cycle

And you know what? I survived. In fact, it was actually quite fun. Yes, I got lost (multiple times – the route above was meant to be a neat loop!). And yes, I completely failed on the nutrition front and hit the wall massively at about 50 miles… But on the plus side, I didn’t faceplant instead of unclipping from the pedals; I didn’t accidentally end up on the A3; I didn’t get hit by a car; my phone (i.e. Google Maps) didn’t die on me, and I made it home unscathed (albeit with crazy tan lines). Result!

Whilst they didn’t stop the nerves completely, I found that a lot of the tips and tricks I’d picked up during my marathon training applied just as well to a long bike ride, and really helped me to feel a bit more confident about the whole thing:

1) Prepare, prepare, prepare!

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, right? (Or yknow, something a little less melodromatic). If there’s anything I’ve learnt over the past couple of years, it’s this: You can never be too prepared! Sort out your kit, and lay it out ready to go; plan your route, and print off a map if you think you might need one; work out your fuel and hydration (not just what you’ll eat and drink, but also how you’ll carry it with you) and add it to your kit pile. The last thing you want is to be running around like a headless chicken trying to find your socks when you’re meant to be heading out the door!

2) Plan your route carefully

If you’re attempting a new distance, it can be a bit daunting, and you might want to break it up into smaller sections. ’15 miles’ sounds a lot tougher than ‘2 10ks and a parkrun’, for example! And when it comes to planning a route, the options are endless: Out-and-back? Big loop? Small loops? A-to-B? Whilst this is really down to personal preference, it’s worth thinking about the logistics: if you want to stick closer to home, repeating a smaller loop is a better option than a long out-and-back slog. And if you fancy the A-to-B option, how will you get to/from the start/finish? Will friends be joining you along the way?

3) Pick your time wisely

If you have plans that afternoon, you’re going to want to get it out the way first thing. Equally, if it’s going to be a late one the night before, chances are you won’t be heading out at the crack of dawn! And that’s fine – schedule it for a time that works best for YOU. That said, if you’re training for an event with an early start, it’s a good idea to schedule some of your longer sessions for that time of day – breakfast logistics are as much a part of training as the session itself, after all 😉

4) Accept the worst case scenarios

Fact: Things WILL go wrong at some point in training. We’ve all been there! Whatever worries you have – getting lost, hitting the wall, kit malfunctions, tummy trouble, mechanical problems, chafing – make a list, and then think about how you’ll work around them. Whether that’s getting familiar with Google Maps; planning a route via shops or loo stops; learning how to fix a puncture, or packing some vaseline – trust me when I say that you’ll overcome it in training, and you’ll overcome it on the day!

5) Avoid time goals

When it comes to longer sessions, don’t stress about the pace – especially if you’ve not covered the distance before. If you need to slow down, walk, stop and stretch, make a pit stop, throw a bit of a wobbly – do it! Leave the finish times and mile splits for race day, and just focus on getting the miles in your legs (or wheels). It might feel counter-productive if you’ve got a time goal in mind, but trust in the training and you’ll be amazed by how much the adrenaline, crowds and taper will carry you along on the day!

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What are your go-to tips and tricks for getting through the big miles? I’d love to hear them!