In the two years this website has been up and running, we’ve had numerous race reports submitted by club members. Some have been hysterical (like Simon Pryde’s report published earlier today) while some have told of the despair runners often experience when a race ends in failure. However, the one below has it all, despair, laughter, tears (plenty of tears) and a message to fellow runners to never give up on your dreams.
Barcelona Marathon Race Report by Aimee Cook
At the height of his career, Bill Rogers famously remarked, “the marathon can humble you.” That Rogers was four time winner of both the Boston and NYC marathon, a world record holder to boot, and yet still had a respectful fear for the distance is telling.
Flash back two years ago, and I was in the business end of training for my first ever marathon. I’d reached about 18 miles in long runs until one particularly sunny day, running around the periphery of Victoria Park in Glasgow with a friend I couldn’t deny the burning pain in my right knee any longer. I was injured, and I’d ignored it for sufficiently long even to completely side-line myself. I was devastated, and more than a little depressed. Marathon date came and went without me and I didn’t lace up my trainers gain until a move south to the NE prompted me to join a little black and white running club in the hope of getting me started again. Once bitten, twice shy and I was extremely hesitant about starting marathon training afresh. But this time was different. This time I had the backing of a club, structured training, a very sensible approach to injury prevention, incremental increases. As the weeks passed I became more confident about the marathon this time round, and particularly confident that I’d come in under 4 hrs. I finished my last 22 mile run in 3hrs 25 and felt, to all intents and purposes, it was a Done Deal. After all, I was starting my taper. I was high and dry…
Three days into a three week taper and I started to notice a small twinge, hidden deep within the lateral shin area of my left leg. No problem, I’m tapering, how can I get injured now? I eased off some more. Within four days I was wrapped in ice, barely able to walk without limping. Suspected tendonitis, at best a myofascial knot. As days ticked by without any pain free walking I felt my marathon slipping away from me for the second time. Every day was a fascinating rollercoaster of all 5 stages of grief, and I became a veritable joy to live with as I veered from placid acceptable to banging my tiny fists in frustration and bewailing the injustice “it’s not FAIR!” Talking it over with supportive friends I decided running on an injury was not sensible. One final session of physiotherapy and acupuncture on the Thursday night and as we flew out from Newcastle on the Friday morning I had resigned myself to not running.
I consoled myself as best I know how with liberal amounts of whisky and petulance, but being surrounded by all the pageantry of the sports expo and pre-race build up, I couldn’t deny I was absolutely gutted not to run this race. At this point in the story, the Deus Ex Machina arrived in the form of the Breakfast Run, the day prior to the marathon. The 4km fun run was an egalitarian warm up affair that winded it’s way up the hill through the 1992 Olympic park. There were runners in national flags, families and even a remarkably well-behaved pair of Dalmatian dogs with run numbers, all plodding up hill in the sun to the strains of Dancing on the Ceiling by Lionel Richie. We tacitly decided this would be the make or break point. I steeled myself and ran 11 minute miles. By the time we ran through the entrance tunnel and a single, victorious lap of the Olympic Stadium the endorphins had convinced me that I had to give it the old College try, and so less than 24 hrs before the race, it was on.
Morning of the race and the weather conditions were good; 13 degrees, a very slight breeze, plenty of cloud cover and light drizzle. Some of the Southern European runners had full glove, hat and fleece sets on. Heading for the starting gate is where things started to get odd. I fully expected finishing a marathon to be an emotional event, but given the three weeks I’d just been through, and the nearly thousand miles of training I’d put in over two race attempts, I was suddenly a bit choked up at the thought of being at the starting lane. Completely mortified at this point I started pretending my imaginary contact lenses had gotten stuck. As we set off I was absolutely euphoric at simply being able to run, unburdened by having any time goal other than making it round with no serious pain – much like the euphoria I used to get in early races. It wasn’t until about the 5km mark that I realised I was actually humming out loud to myself, mumbling what certainly became the theme tune to this race, Public Enemy’s Harder Than You Think, including my own sound effects for the brass section. Just like that.
The 8:30am start, meant the streets still had an eerie early morning emptiness about them – in fact at one point we passed a group of girls, barefoot, doing the Spanish Walk of Shame. But as supporters started to head out into the streets, and out on their balconies the support round he entire course was fantastic. A few St. George’s Crosses and Saltire which provoked cheers, and of course plenty of Irish flags. I was perplexed that I seemed to be drawing a lot of cheers in French until I remembered my name was on my bib. I hated to disappoint so pulled some faces and poses I hoped looked suitably Gallic.
Through the first 10km and the roads were undulating with wide sweeping corners – we passed Camp Nou (something I managed to miss by looking on the wrong side of the road… a theme to be repeated in this race.) Locals played music from their shop fronts, and – as I later spotted in one of the video highlights – an elderly Spanish nanna (or “spanna”) is a long flanette goonie spiritedly waving a Catalonian flag over her balcony whilst dancing to the steel drum band. What a trooper. Some of the more interesting people I passed along the route – a very chubby looking Messi in full kit, carrying a Barca flag over his shoulder (that slapped me repeatedly in the face with every cross wind); also, particularly galling, a man running at my speed who dribbled a basketball for the entire distance.
At one point I felt someone jostling my shoulder as a brooding Spaniard tried to shove me across the course. Again, being terribly British I tutted loudly and expressed my extreme vexation. “Please move” he said gesturing to the side “Why don’t you move? Goodness! How extremely rude!” Then a man to my left diplomatically intervened and in broken English pointing over my shoulder said “No, his friends, runner, no eyes, no eyes” and I looked back ashamedly to realise I’d been attempting to start an argument with the guide of a team of non-sighted runners who were running with aides holding onto batons. Not one of my proudest racing moments…
We continued down some of the broad late 19th century avenues, passing Gaudi’s Casa Milo and Casa Balto. At about the 10 mile mark we turned out in a square where the landscape widened out. More cheering, more “vingas” and banging of various cow bells, bicycle bells, and saucepans. So focussed was I on absorbing the crowd that here I missed my second major tourist attraction. Towering some 558 ft above and visible from every vantage point across the city – the as yet unfinished Sagrada Familia, Gaudis’s masterpiece of religious homage. Completely oblivious. “Where was it?” I asked Shaun (Brown) at the end.
We then came onto one of the toughest sections of the course – the first of two out-and-back parallel lanes. A mile and a half incline out with faster runners charging back towards you opposite is pretty psychologically draining. We passed through the half marathon mark and I was still feeling pretty euphoric. It was also at this point I started to realise I was drinking far more than I was used to on training runs and that a toilet situation might be creeping up on the horizon…
The next part got tougher, and it got lonelier. Around the 15 mile mark the general peasantry started to quieten down as runners started to entrench. Added to this, the course had just turned into a quiet section of the city. One of the phenomena you notice on popular courses towards the “friendlier” (read: “not as fast”) end of the field is that there’s more of a general air of conversation. On half marathon courses I frequently run for stretches with friendly souls. In a foreign race this proves somewhat trickier. Spotting a club vest up ahead I pushed on to catch her and got chatting to a Plymouth Harrier. We talked for a little bit about marathons, the city and our clubs and she told me I was looking good for a first timer. She also warned me of the well-oiled maxim that the race only begins at 22 miles. Until now I’d been thinking of pushing on a bit, but this timely reminder gave me pause for concern. I never did get her name but she undoubtedly got my through a lonely few miles of the course.
Cue the second parallel stretch of the marathon. As we passed the 26th km marker I paused to reflect that this was now the further distance I had raced. I was also noticing that I was starting to feel waves of nausea creep up, and a mild panic started to rise – I’d been careful to practice nutrition strategies but today either the jelly babies weren’t agreeing with me or the ibuprofen was taking its toll on my kidneys. To quote Kenny Mac “I needed a quieter spot.” For a couple of km I debated with myself – stop and lose minutes, or run 10 miles feeling sick. In the end I decided enjoying the latter half of the race was more important and gave in. I quickly realised why I have never before used a portaloo in a race and can only conclude that there were some very poorly people running this race. Rejoining the race, we turned to run along the sea front at 30km on the worryingly named Avenue Litoral, which I can inform you bought me no pleasure whatsoever. Within 2km the cramps were back and even more panicked I stopped for the second time – so far I’d lost precisely 7 minutes in foul-smelling portaloos. 32km passed – just a 10k to go, easy?
At this stage in the race the number of walkers were starting to increase and the atmospheric temperature was rising. I started to see the first casualties sitting along the course with their heads in their hands. Yet the support was growing along the course as we headed into the final 5 miles of the race. This was the point I’d been warned about, where time itself seems to stand still, so slow were the ticking over of the miles. Stabbing pains in my groin and quads were starting to burn. However, for the first time I knew I was definitely going to finish. The moment I acknowledged this, I could feel myself getting a bit moist-eyed again. We headed up through Barcelona’s own Arc de Triomf and some of the streets narrowed, close enough to read all the handwritten signs of support. A group of school children waving a poster with “There is no wall” in several different languages. Another with “You’re going to finish a marathon!” And of course, one printed A4 sheet with “Yes, you can…” at this point, like a big old girly girl I started full on sobbing. I was still overtaking people but I was also frightening the life out of them with open sobs and whimpers; the stabbing pains and the positive support all a bit overwhelming. I passed a man pushing his friend in a wheelchair at mile 24 at a spontaneous round of applause broke out after he stumbled slightly and then regained himself. More weeping from me.
As we rounded the Statue of Christopher Columbus pointing seaward towards the New World, I realised that we were entering the final leg – the 2km steady incline that signified the return to the starting point. It was also at this moment my breathing start to fall apart and I was gulping air like a dying fish. Shaun had said he would come back down this final stretch to spot me if he could so I veered to the left for the longest 2km of my life. And then suddenly I spotted Shaun ahead, wearing his medal, as Colin (Dilks) approached from the other direction. Like a TBH Venn Diagram we intercepted for one brief moment and then Shaun, like a running Groundhog, jumped back on the course with me. I couldn’t communicate for the hyperventilating and kept repeatedly gesturing to the time on my Garmin. As we rounded the final corner he signalled which of the five balloon arches was in fact the real finish line and for the last 200m I aimed for a sprint. Sadly in the finishing photo I appear to be sprinting like an escapee while Shaun saunters in carrying a bag of beer and a small child in jeans and a parker finishes only slightly behind me. I can assure you I was flat out…
It wasn’t until a good 2 minutes of further hyperventilating and semi-collapsing that I managed to even think to ask Shaun what his time was. Despite his sub 3hr, he seemed far more pleased with himself for having the composure to hobble over to the Spanish physiotherapist in the massage hall and announcing to Juan (for it was he) “Ah, you’re just the Juan I’m looking for.”
A week later and I’m thrilled with Barcelona as my first marathon – it was well-organised, a beautiful city with great support. But the biggest takeaway from the experience for me has been adjusting my own expectations. Four weeks ago I’d have been bitterly disappointed to learn I’d be completing in nearly 4hrs 13, and yet given that two days before I didn’t think I’d start at all, I was over the moon. Running without that pressure actually allowed me to connect more with the race and enjoy the experience more than I had thought I would. I consider myself humbled.
Shaun Brown 2:58:48
Colin Dilks 3:38:00
Aimee Cook 4:12:54