Since 2009, I’ve been running 1 to 3 marathons per year. This streak was broken in 2017 when I unexpectedly DNF’d at Marine Corps Marathon due to a foot injury, then in 2018 I suffered health issues that forced me to rest from running long distances to allow for full recovery.
To say that 2018 was a tough year for me would be an understatement. It was the most difficult year in my 42 years on this earth. But, when I came out of it alive, I was wiser, mentally stronger, and, last but not the least, crazy hungry to race again.
Jane Jane and Drew, friends from Cebu with whom I’ve run NYCM, CIM, and Florence with, had registered for Barcelona Marathon. I decided to join in on the fun and begged them to adopt me – yet again – into the Ong family for the trip.
Since it was almost like starting from scratch with my running, I was conservative with my goals for this marathon. I just wanted to reach the finish line healthy and injury-free. My A-race could follow later in 2019. Barcelona would be about celebrating the opportunity to run again.
My training was unstructured, which was so unlike the OC planner I’ve always been. I registered online for McMillan Marathon program, but rarely ever followed it. I trained based on feel and listened to how my body felt. I ran 3 to 4x a week and cross-trained with 3x a week of weights and an occasional bike trainer session. My longest training run was a back to back 26k on Friday and 16k on Saturday. Based on my Florence experience, I knew this would be enough for a decent sub-5 finish. Simple goals, right? I didn’t know I’d surprise myself on race day.
Event: Barcelona Marathon
Date: March 10, 2019
Race start and finish: Avinguda María Cristina, Barcelona, Spain
Cut off time: 6 hours
THE EXPO.The expo was held at Fira de Barcelona, Recinto Montjuïc near the Olympic stadium, which was conveniently also the race start (at least we didn’t have to practice how to take the train from our hotel anymore.) We arrived at the expo on a Friday surprised to see how empty it was which was a good thing. Redemption of race kit was quick and easy without any lines at all. The expo was filled with just a few familiar brands, such as Asics and Garmin, and the rest were European brands, which were new to me. Official race merchandise by Asics was great. I purchased a shirt and printed my name on the back within minutes for free! At the end of the expo, we claimed our official race shirt, which was pretty good too.
RACE ASSEMBLY AND START. Race assembly was at Fira de Barcelona, Italian Pavillion. It was such a picturesque and spacious area that allowed runners to move freely or choose a spot in the park to relax while waiting for gun start. The vibe was calm and light and I loved it.
BAGGAGE DEPOSIT. Barcelona Marathon does not give plastic bags for baggage deposit like other bigger marathons so you’re free to use any bag on race day. Just rip off the tag on your race bib and attach to your bag. Baggage deposit was very well organized. There were neither long lines nor waiting.
PORTALETS. There were enough portalets at the assembly area but there was approximately a 15-minute wait. First time I saw these portalets for men which made the queue for the portalets significantly shorter.
WAVES. The race starts at 8:30AM in waves based on the PR you provided in your registration form. We sort of had an idea about how strong Spanish runners are because of the waves. The first 4 waves were designated for 3:00 to 4:00 hour marathoners and the last wave was gray for 4:30 and above. Just one wave for all of us 4:30 to 6 hour marathoners?!
[ THE RACE ]
RACE START. From the Italian Pavillion, one just had to walk nearby to the race start at Avenida de La Reina Maria Cristina where all runners entered their designed waves.
WEATHER. The weather could’ve been slightly cooler, but I wasn’t complaining. We were quite comfortable with 12 to 15 degrees. I wore a shirt and packed my arm warmers into my bag seeing that I wouldn’t need it. I mistakenly wore tights when I think I would’ve been better off in shorts. A cap and shades are a necessity because it can get sunny out there later in the race.
HYDRATION AND FOOD. There were 16 hydration stations and was approximately every 2.5km. Drinks provided were water (handed out in bottles which was convenient for pouring on the head to cool off) and Powerade. Beyond 10k, bananas, oranges, and trail mix were handed out. Etixx energy gels were also provided at some stations.
PORTALETS. Portalets were every 2.5km as well. Good thing the lines were not very long with about 1 to 3 runners in line.
CROWD SUPPORT. There were a few locals who came out to support us and offered food sometimes but not as plenty as other bigger marathons like New York or even Tokyo.
COURSE. Barcelona Marathon was an out and back course (“Sortida” or leaving point and “Arribada” or ending point is the same). The race started at Avenida de La Reina Maria Cristina and headed out towards Plaza Espanya offering a beautiful course that ran through the landmarks of the city: Camp Nou, Dona i Ocell, Casa Batllo, Sagrada Familia, La Rambla, Forum, Torre Mapfre, Plaza Catalunya Catedral, and Monument A Colon. Was this a tour or a marathon? I’d say it was both!
The organizers announced that this was the first time they were using this new course, which would be flatter and faster. This led me into thinking the course would be flat, but it definitely was not. They probably meant flatter than last year!
I loved the hills though! I trained for hills and none were too steep anyway, so the ascents and descents offered the legs variety rather than tedious and boring flat courses.
As for my run, I decided to run based on feel and walk or pause only at hydration stations. I didn’t have a target pace nor a target time. I ran at a steady and comfy pace without pushing hard at all. Thing is, every time I’d glance at my watch feeling like I was running an easy 6:30 pace, my actual pace was much faster at around 5:50 min/km. WTH?!! Is this for real?!! I was astounded and, I must admit, pretty excited about the prospects.
I consistently ran at a good pace until Km30. I felt so fresh and strong. By this time, my brain was buzzing with excitement. Could I run a sub-4:30? Better yet, could I possibly PR without even training for it?!!
At Km31, cramps attacked both my quads. They hit me like a bolt of lightning. I slowed to run-walk pace. The cramps would go away when I walked and return in full strength every single time I attempted to run. It was maddening, frustrating, and, for the first time in a race, I teared up in anger.
At Km35, I chanced upon a convenience store and stopped to purchase Mountain Dew. In Ironman 70.3 Cebu 2017, when I had cramps, I had devoured salt caps and gels to no avail, but was instantly saved by a few gulps of soda. Who would’ve thought sugar could combat cramps, right? I hoped that it would work again this time. It didn’t. I tried eating oranges, bananas, gels, and gummy bears on the course but nothing worked.
I was in so much pain I couldn’t believe it. I repeated this mantra over and over in my head: “I am stronger than I ever was.” which I believed with every ounce of my body and spirit, but it did nothing to alleviate the cramps; it just gave me the will to run a bit even if I wanted to collapse.
I made it to the finish line at 4:42 and collapsed into the arms of a race marshal. I hugged him tight for a few minutes because I couldn’t move. Hell, I couldn’t feel my legs. While in his arms, he looked down and asked me: “Can I let go now?” I whispered back to him: “Five more minutes, please?” He then pointed to a woman walking towards us and said: “That’s my wife coming.” His wife arrived while I was in a tight hug with her husband and I apologized for the scene. I opened my arms out for her and said: “Come join our hug. We are family!” and we all burst into laughter.
MEDAL. The medal was handed out a few hundred meters from the finish line. It was small and light. Nothing too fancy. No Finisher’s Shirt was provided.
POST RACE. After receiving our medal, we were given bananas, oranges and nuts. There was one small food truck selling food items for runners to purchase. The race area empties out quite quickly. It’s as if the runners just come in, run, and leave immediately for home. No fanfare or partying at the post-race area here, but the vibe was still fun and celebratory.
Overall, I loved this race. It’s relatively small and convenient to get to, the race course is picturesque and challenging enough but not too difficult, weather was just right, and, last but not the least, it’s held in a fantastic city with great food. What more can you ask for?!