Race Review : Barcelona Marathon

Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Pretty sound advice really, from Lewis Carroll,  for anything, a marathon more so and it would be my race tactic at the Barcelona Marathon 2017.  Barcelona would be my third marathon in three months,  and the second for Pancreatic Cancer UK.

The King

Spain is not among the 70 or so countries that I have visited in my life, but Barcelona has always been one of those places I had wanted to go to, but never quite got around to it. It was always second to somewhere else, somewhere more exciting, or was vetoed by someone who had already been there. But when putting the 2017 race calendar together this was pretty high up the list. Matt Bodkin had run it last year and liked it, and, as I was looking for a Spring and an Autumn overseas marathon I thought what the hell.

As an aside, something confusing about the Barcelona marathon, is that it is sponsored by Zurich insurance. So everything you get through email or online is listed as being the Zurich Barcelona Marathon. Just seemed odd to me every time I saw it.

That aside I was quite excited. There would be a few of the UKRUNCHAT crowd there (MikesEUMaras, AudreyBubbles, Abrahams1985 and _Jen_Mo) with the aim to EXPO, meetup for food and drink, mara, medals and meetup, and visit the Sagrada Familia and Las Ramblas etc.

Little known fact is that it is made entirely of chewing gum discarded by tourists

The aim, as I think I mentioned in the Open Letter to myself, was to run as much of the way and get as close to my PB as possible, with the aim of shining a light up the tunnel and praying for progress. The aims, as you should always list several are:

  1. Finish (obvs)
  2. Finish well and healthy (again obvs)
  3. Finish having run most of the way
  4. Finish having run ALL of the way
  5. Sub 5 (it may sound easy, but given the muddy, hilly, difficult marathons I have run since November, it is not)
  6. Within 20 mins of my PB
  7. Within 10 mins of my PB
  8. PB
  9. Sub 4
  10. All of the above

The Route

As I am not familiar with Barcelona, other than I know the sea is to the south east, the route is pretty abstract to me. I was staying near the start/finish and just down the road from the EXPO, but other than that, this could be the map of Middle Earth for all I knew.

From the Shire to Mordor

The hotel in London was bad.  I had decided to head down the night before rather than endure all that travelling from London, as well as the journey to Barca and all the shenanigans there. The food at the Premier Inn A23 Gatwick was perhaps the worst I have ever eaten. It tasted how you imagine those plastic foodstuffs at the Fisher Price grocery store would taste if you actually had to eat them rather than pretended as a kid.

Where Premier Inn sources all it’s produce

An early flight the next day (barely an hour and ¾ in the air) and we were met at the airport by Cesar (my driver) and, oh my god, it was actually warm. Sure, the locals wore jumpers and coats but this was t-shirt weather all the way baby, the first time I had worn one to go out in since Athens back in November (excluding my Maldives trip in December).

Meet Cesar. He used to run but has two small children that he is using as an excuse not to.

The hotel was well situated barely a 15 minute walk straight down to Placa de Espanyol, a large roundabout where the start and finish would be and where the EXPO was situated, at the Fira de Barcelona, across from the former bullring (the Cataluynians had a referendum and decided to stop bullfighting recently – yay!).


The EXPO, let me tell you, was superb. I have been to big and small EXPOs, in many countries and this was one of the best. Unlike the multiple queuing system of Berlin and the utter clusterfuck of Athens when people turned up without a clue about their number I was the only person at my desk, quick show of the number email and my passport and I had my pack and was up for the photo ops, of which there were many – you took your photo with your number in front of the sponsor banner (Zurich Insurance), you took your photo  in front of a backdrop of last year’s winner, or in one of those cardboard Instagram frames, or, my favourite, with a guy dressed as Popeye

He may have the bigger forearms, but I am definitely winning the Guns battle

And all this AFTER the Asics show where you could get your photo taken jumping in the air in front of a green screen upon which they superimpose the sights of the city. Asics, if I haven’t mentioned it before, was the kit sponsor and TBH I really don’t have much in the way of their kit. We perused the offerings but in the end just collected our race tees, which I really like, and headed out for tapas and booze.

The Race

The race began at 8.30am at Placa de Espanyol to ticker tape rain and music, which is a little early if you ask me but if the sun is out you don’t want to be running in it. The bag drop was a joy to behold (are you listening Manchester Marathon?), and the drop was seamless, as was everything else. The start, however, was a bit of a buggers muddle. I was in the grey wave and Jen and James in the pink wave. But as we made our way along the pens the crowd trying to get into the grey pen was so large it was obvious the pens were overcrowded and I would not get in, and so I not only joined the pink wave (not a metaphor), we went to the back of the pen, as there was no other way to get in.

It also took 25 minutes to get over the start line, which nullified the toilet break I had taken back at the hotel over an hour before. Note: there are toilets but they are away from the pens and with the crowding you wanted to get in. It did mean though, as we got underway to the dulcet tones of Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé singing, yes, you’ve guessed it, that I was already thinking about the loos.


Now, as you will discover, I did not use one of the portaloos that were at each water stop on the route and, given the descriptions of the state of them given later by my compadres, I am glad I did what everyone else did, and peed in public. I have never seen such public urination at an event ever. Both boys and girls took every opportunity they could to anoint the city’s parks, dumpsters, doorways, trees, children’s play areas and football stadia with urinae. I took my chance early after a few fast KMs to make the most of a local park but it was at Camp Nou where the waterworks really started. Honestly, do these people really LOVE or really HATE Barcelona FC? Either way, they got their message across loud, and clear (depending on how hydrated they were).

I’m melting!

It was getting a little hot and, one of the many things to love about this race, there were plenty of water stops. After the first 5K and then every 2.5K thereafter you had water, blue Powerade (Smurf piss), gels, bananas, oranges and a nut/raisin mix and two runthrough showers in the latter half.

This was the first marathon I had run without a hydration pack or vest of any sort, and only had 4 Mint Creams on me as fuel, so I am glad it was so organised. I made use of most of the stops for a drink and one extra… Yes, as I was running along with my name on my Bib attached to my LONDON A-Z vest I got all the British tourists shouting encouragement. At one bar (Barcelona has these corner bars that have chairs behind topiary and under umbrellas) a group cheered me. I gave some bantz back re them drinking beer and me running and next thing I know I have run back and joined them for a swift half. The vest was popular (although it did cause nipple chafe). I got a shout out a few blocks later asking if it was “the knowledge”, but as it doesn’t cover the whole city I had to shout back “only half”.

Running whilst trying to put phone back into back pocket and THERE! THERE! the photographer captures the moment! FML!

And so to my co-runners. I started, well, in the pens at least, with Jen who I knew had been training well for London with her Reebok trainer. She would be off to a flyer and, being a lot more consistent than me, would finish 25 mins ahead of me. At KM 30, on one of the two there and backs that I enjoyed as they were long enough to add some real distance to the run, I was joined by James. A poke in the back, or a tap on the shoulder and a fellow UKRUNCHAT twitter runner and I finally met in the real world. James did an amazing 30 marathons last year and will be plodding through a lot more in 2017 too, and I shall see him at Brighton.

Me and Tony

I was then joined by Tony, who sidled up to me and said something along the lines of “we are travelling the same pace, care if I stick with you a while?” And we did. Tony was a little older, had run a lot of the same races (both in the UK and internationally) as I had, and was suffering from lack of preparation due to a couple of dodgy knees, which were pretty heavily strapped. We fell into his pace, rather than mine, of walking 100 yards and then running to the next KM marker or water table (whichever was first) and this worked out well for about 6 KMs, or until he just couldn’t run anymore and told me to run the last 3KM myself.

And that I did, having taken in a route that included Segrada Familia, the grey Gherkin, almost the waterfront, Camp Nou on a Scorchio! Day, and I was now on the very very long straight back to Placa De Espanyol at a comfortable pace. And, and this was always what I wanted from the Zurich Barcelona Marathon, I did feel comfortable. My PF has been responding well to slowing down my pace on the dreadmill in training, and sleeping in the Strasbourg Sock, and it was ok the whole time – just a slight ache more than the limp inducing pain I experienced at Beachy Head and Athens. But back to the race.

There was an inflatable arch a long KM in the distance and I ran to it, spying running physios (who wore flags like pacers) on the route helping people, and that is when it all went Pete Tong.


The end was a disaster zone. The crowds were encroaching and more. They ran onto the course to join their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, whole families from grandma down to babies in pushchairs avoided the marshals and police and completely fouled up the finishing straight. As I turned onto it a huge crowd of parents and runners with kids in pushchairs had pretty much shut down the race. Along with another runner I had to run around them to the perimeter, climb over a felled advertising hoarding and then, as we got to the line, the race photographers there were too busy photographing the mob behind us to care about us. I think this photo of me coming over the line does sum it up pictorially. And thanks to David for this – it can be expressed in the words of HG Wells “this was no disciplined march; it was a stampede without order.” And I have to console myself with this photo, because there isn’t the normal “me looking for where I parked the car” photo in the very disappointing and yet still 40 euro race pack from Marathon-photos.

A stampede without order

And it was without order, and it did annoy me. As did the next bit. Once across the line there are no medals. You have to go through channels, taking water and more blue juice, then more channels and taking oranges and bananas, before finally picking up your medal. But, as I said, the finish line nonsense did not take the shine off what was otherwise a sterling race.

And then, back to enjoying the city. The hotel had a spa and so I spent a good hour in the sauna, steam room, and pool, testing my mettle in the Biothermal Shower (a boiling then freezing water jet experience that is designed to activate your mutant gene and turn you into a superhuman. Note: this is a Deadpool reference, if you haven’t seen it, don’t worry), before heading out and ending up with the team at the 4 Gats restaurant off of Las Ramblas, a bar opened and at one point owned by 5 modernist artists including Pablo Picasso and Ramon Casas.

The art is Casas, the medals could be better, the patatas bravas was the most badass in Barcelona

How did I do?

Well I beat the guy carrying a 12 foot metal Eiffel Tower. But seriously, how did a guy I caught up and past from being 3KM behind him in the space of 15 mins, get to km 20 ahead of me in the first place?

In the end I was only 11 minutes away from a PB, which I am pretty ok with. I did have the issue that, after setting the GPS Fix Rate of my Suunto Vertical to elongate the battery life, it measured the race at almost 2KM more, and I was inside the racing line for a chunk of it too. I will have to reset it to normal for Brighton, London and MK.

The London A-Z vest went down very well (see aforementioned banter with Brits) and Vaseline gladly accepted from medics almost (and I said almost) saved my nips. They definitely hurt in the Biothermal Shower! It could have been a bloodbath.

And I tossed yet another Adidas Climacool hat. I have had 5 of these and I think I have tossed them all at one point or another as they just turn into a soggy mess.

All in all I thought it was a superbly organised race (other than the fiasco at the end and the overcrowding at the start pens). I feel I am back on track in my training and quest to complete Comrades before the 12 hour cut off. I finally have a green on my spreadsheet for the first time since Copenhagen last April. Who would have thought it? All I needed to do was run a mostly flat, sunny road marathon and not a muddy frozen trail marathon with a few thousand feet of elevation.

The Bling

Not as ornate as Berlin or Copenhagen or Luxembourg, this bling is colourful. It has nothing to say it was for the 2017 race other than the ribbon (disappointing). In the 4 Gats later the consensus was that they could have done better.

In Summary

The Barcelona marathon was mostly awesome, with only a few minor things letting it down. I was soundly beaten by the guy with one leg, but did beat the groups pushing the giant statues. The shoddy quality of Marathon-Photo’s work can’t really be blamed on the organisers of the race. So really it was just the pens and the finish that irked me somewhat. The city is stunning, the route takes most of it in. You run past all the major landmarks, you run balconied neighbourhoods on WIDE streets. The whole city comes out and cheers you on. The finish line nonsense is just the families of local runners getting too much into it. I can see why they do, it just annoyed me, as did some random runner who wore rollerblades, and the guys on bikes riding along next to runners. I saw quite a few of them. But, again, what can you do? Run your own race, enjoy the experience and see it as a quirk of running abroad.

As far as the city went, I loved the food, the beer, Park Guell, the Segrada Familia, although not the steps down from the Passion Tower. The beach was great, the weather too. I had ice cream 3 times whilst there and it was always good (dulce de lece (twice), some sort of vanilla and cinnamon cream, and the wonderful pairing of white chocolate, and violet). I love tapas, and sharing plates. I like the relaxed eating and drinking out in the sun. I can honestly say that, after this weekend, I think I fell in love a little with Barcelona and cannot wait to go back (maybe just not to run). And now, as a final thought, to me the Nou Camp now is nothing more than an outdoor unisex bathroom.

Would I recommend the Barcelona Marathon  – Yes, absolutely.

Would I run the Barcelona Marathon again – You know, I probably would.

Oh, and how did I do against my 10 targets? Well, let’s see shall we?

  1. Finish (obvs) – TICK
  2. Finish well and healthy (again obvs) – TICK
  3. Finish having run most of the way – TICK
  4. Finish having run ALL of the way – Nope
  5. Sub 5 (it may sound easy, but given the muddy, hilly, difficult marathons I have run since November, it is not) – TICK
  6. Within 20 mins of my PB – TICK
  7. Within 10 mins of my PB – almost
  8. PB – I wish
  9. Sub 4 – What are you smoking?
  10. All of the above – Crazier than Trump, bigly!

Still 5/10 is not bad at all?

IMG-20170311-WA0019 (1)

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Congrats on the finish! Despite not “ticking all the boxes” you did really well!


  2. Great race and write up Darren. Congratulations, might see you at Brighton.


  3. matttbod says:

    Glad you enjoyed it!! The route seems slightly different to last year, think I would also go back at some point


  4. Brilliant write up and excellent overall review for anybody contemplating it – thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Adam Larner says:

    Thanks for sharing!! I’m running this one in a few weeks. What was the elevation like?


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