Tony Carter, currently on an internship in Europe, reports from the 2014 Rock ‘n’ Rock Madrid Marathon.
I knew I wanted to do a spring marathon, but circumstances made it hard to decide which one. London was my original intention, as I could have entered for a championship place in January, but knowing I may be in mainland Europe at the time meant I decided against entering it due to financial risks. Fortunately, I was soon offered an internship in Seville, Spain, and promptly looked for a race to enter in Spain.
With the aim of qualifying for Elite Entry into next year’s London Marathon, I wanted to do the Barcelona Marathon, mainly because fellow TBH members Colin Dilks and Richard Jones had already entered, as well as some friends from my Irish club Crusaders AC, but logistical factors, i.e. the race date and the lack of training time put me off it. However, I soon found the Rock ‘n’ Roll Madrid Marathon which took place at the end of April and promptly entered it.
Training for it went well and preparations, including a 10km PB and the win at the Gibraltar Half Marathon, gave me confidence. But with only 4 or so weeks before the race I found Richard’s report from the 2013 event and read just how hilly it was. I then checked the course profile and saw he wasn’t kidding about the undulations. I thought a PB was out of reach but knew I could still achieve the 2h45m qualifying time for London. Believe it or not, I later read they’d changed the course to make it “easier”!
I started to make my final preparations a few days before the marathon, so that by the time I got off the train at Madrid on Friday, I would already know what I was going to do on Saturday, where the hills were located around the course, what their approximate average gradient were and where to find the race water stations. On the train journey to Madrid, it was funny that so many passengers moaned when it was announced that Justin Bieber’s “Believe” was going to be shown on the train. Obviously not a country of ‘beliebers’.
On Saturday morning, I made my way to the race finishing area, Parque de el Retiro, as this was also the baggage drop area and wanted to know how to get there prior to the race. I then went to the Marathon expo at the Pabellón de Cristal at the Casa de Campo, to collect my number, and then onto the pasta party before returning to the hostel for the remainder of the day.
I left the hostel on a very full stomach before 7.30am, just as some people were (still!) making their way home from the previous night. At 8am, I some how managed to refrain from throwing up in spite of the overwhelming stench at the portaloos and was then mocked by a sign near the finish that read “punto de no retorno” as I made final kit and vaseline preps and dropped my bag off.
I wrapped myself up in bin bags and gently jogged to the start-line – via McDonalds and some bushes to make sure I was “empty” before the race. A runner from North York Moors AC recognised the vest and we talked a bit, telling me he was doing the half marathon and he’d also took part in the Sheffield half Watergate scandal. At bang on 9am both the half and full marathon races got underway (the 10km race started 30 minutes earlier), and I could see club vests from around Spain, including a couple from Seville and around Andalusia.
The first 6 km was a climb averaging 1.3% on a wide avenue that had classical architecture leading to the modern business centre, but somehow I blanked out the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. I took it steady initially, running just over 6 min/mile pace, but took it too steady during the 3rd mile after staying with a group, and decided to push back at the pace I was running at.
After a short flat section, I was entering the long steady decent from 7/8k to 25/26k at a 0.67% decline with a few nasty climbs for fun. The start of this section was also the highest part of the course at +720 metres above sea level and you could see snow on the mountains to the north!. I did run a bit faster due to the natural decline, but kept the brakes on knowing how much damage would happen if I went too fast. In fact, I got overtaken a lot during this part of the race but decided to let it happen, thinking I would catch up to them sooner or later.
Reaching 12 km I came across what was the first of many short, sharp inclines along the marathon course. I did manage to get up with ease, including passing a few who passed me earlier, which built my confidence on the climbs. The 13/14 km was a 2% decent and the 14/16 km was a 1% climb (with, contrary to the route profile, some steep parts), followed by a nasty decent after 17km that I took easy as I allowed a couple of runners to run past, not wanting to put pressure onto my legs.
The next few kilometres were gentle rolling climbs and descents, which I spent yo-yoing with a couple of runners, overtaking them uphill and being overtaken downhill. We then went through a shopping area, past the Royal Palace before reaching the halfway point, marked out with a water stop and feeding station. It was at this point I became really shocked/annoyed/upset by someone who was holding out a banana but then very casually pulled back their arm just as I was about to grab it.
I passed halfway in about 1h19m20s (the GPS on my watch indicated the halfway point about a minute earlier) and at the highest point on the course I caught (and passed) a group of four runners from the same club who had overtaken me earlier. At 22 km the course descended – steeply at parts – until it began to flatten at the 25th kilometre. A slight incline was followed by another tough decent, leading down to the Powerbar energy gel station at 26km, still around 600 metres above sea level.
The course went into a part of the Casa de Campo where the next two kilometres were uphill at approximately 2% gradient. I felt extremely strong here and felt like I was gliding past people, before the course went down a descent before a climb similar to the one in the Jelly Tea 10 Mile took me completely by surprise at 29 km. Fortunately, it didn’t last long and there was another decline before flattening out at around 32 km to the lowest point of the course (580ish metres), and was a 1.7% average descent even with that surprising climb!
I had read in the pre-race magazine that most people were likely to hit the wall at 33km, and I definitely felt I was reaching that stage. But it also felt like my shorts were falling from the amount of water I’d splashed over myself during the course of the race, and that brief moment of thought brought me to my senses. I knew this was also going to be the hardest part of the race as there was another 7 kilometres of climbing – averaging 1.7% – up to the 40km marker. It started with another(!) steep and surprising climb before slightly easing off towards the end. And I thought they said they’d made it easier this year!
So finally, after 22.5 miles, around 36 kilometres into the race, I began to slow and struggle towards that damn wall. I was still running, still overtaking runners, including one of the African runners who had come to a complete stop, but I was definitely slowing. Just before reaching Atocha train station at 37km, I noticed a guy playing bagpipes (!) and soon after I could only watch the 10km finishers at a nearby restaurant enjoying a nice cold beer as I continued slugging it out up the never-ending incline. I couldn’t help but laugh, but died inside whilst doing so.
Despite feeling I could stop any minute, I was somehow sticking it out at 6.25 min/mile pace, running past where the race start-line at 38km. 39km up until 40km was unbearable as I started getting even slower, tempted to even start walking like one ‘runner’ ahead of me. I then reminded myself of the time when I dropped out of the Lake Constance Marathon and how walking led to me giving up completely. So I continued to drag myself along.
Reaching 40km was a relief as I knew the climb had ended and there was now a slight decline before leading to the finish. It was an absolute relief getting there, the slight decline giving me a second wind, and helped by the spectators and even a few car horns going cheering me on, I was now back below 6.10 min/mile.
Into the home stretch of the Parque de el Retiro, with runners coming in from the marathon course on the left and the half-marathon on the right, I powered on catching one more person before finishing, raising my hands making “L” shapes as I crossed the line in 31st place, knowing full well my time of 2h38m55s affords me a championship entry at London. Though the course was a bit longer according to my GPS watch which would have gotten me a PB, I was still ecstatic to finish a tough course officially about 85 seconds short of my PB from a flat course, and I wasn’t far off running equal half splits too.
Soon after, I got my bag, and when asked by the person giving it back to me how it was, I simply said two words with “madre” being the second. It took me a good half hour just to get fully changed due to the fatigue, and I was soon off to get some celebratory drinks, talking to a few Spaniards, ex-pats and other Europeans about the race. I was also able to reflect on the race going back to Seville on the train. They also showed the much better film “Gravity” as well!