Race Review – Rock ‘n’ Roll Madrid Marathon

London Marathon Weekend

“I ran a marathon..”

“What London?”

“No, Madrid.”

“Oh, how far is that?”

You enter the ballot, with the half of the universe that Thanos did not wipe out with a click of his fingers, and you might get in, but I doubt it. I didn’t get in in 2014, or 2015 and so I was cheer squad in Wapping, 2016 I didn’t get in so did Manchester and Copenhagen instead, 2017 I ran it (finally!) for charity, 2018 I ran Vienna Marathon on the day and this year? I am running Madrid. It is on the same day. And yes, it is the same distance as London.

Rock N Roll

The now defunct Rock n Roll Edinburgh Half in 2013 was one of my first halves (my 5th actually) but the weather was so bad the whole RNR atmosphere wasn’t there to see. I ran the RNR Dublin version in 2014 and the family run with Marty Ewers and then the RNR Liverpool half in 2016, before the 5K and marathon at RNR Liverpool last year. In short there has been a whole lot of RNR in my race calendar since the beginning. Originally there was Dublin, Edingburgh, Liverpool, Lisbon and Madrid in the European leg of the RNR tour that now spans the world but then Edinburgh went the way of the dodo and so did Lisbon and now I just have Madrid to complete the set.

In honour of the full set I got a series titfer

And this is fine with me. I do like running in Spain, having completed Barcelona marathon and Transgrancanaria. Valencia is a firm favourite with most people I know, and San Sebastian too, so with those on the TO DO list for the future, we are off to Madrid. Olé!

Ball Ache

Something that turned into a bit of a ball ache was that suddenly a snap election in Spain was on the cards. As this would mean that Madrid would be a tad pre-occupado the race could be cancelled. We emailed as soon as we saw the news. Whilst hotels could be cancelled, changes to flights would cost money. We waited with anticipation. And then the update. They would be holding the race now on the Saturday and not the Sunday. This meant that the carefully planned after work flight on Friday, then EXPO Saturday plan dipped from view and was replaced with an £80 rebooking to an earlier flight Friday, a whole day booked off work as holiday, and then straight to EXPO from the airport. A lot less fun if you ask me. All for the sake of politics.

Art

Contrary to popular opinion (maybe, not sure) I am actually an art lover. The walls of my home are adorned with pieces from all over the world and I once, in 2007, as part of a New Year’s resolution, spent months compiling a list of my favourite artworks, and then spent the year travelling the world trying to see as many as possible. I couldn’t make it everywhere though, and many pieces were in private collections. One of the few art galleries I didn’t attend was the Prado.

2019 marks the bicentennial of the National Museum of the Prado, and at each KM marker for the race large reproductions of the most popular works in the museum will grace the route. Can you imagine sharing strides with Velázquez, El Greco or Goya? Well, to be fair, they are all dead, so I may actually beat them on the hilly, hot course, but it will be something unique for this race. The representation will be an allegory of the moment of the race I’ll be living (so mostly pain – I wonder if The Scream is in the collection).

Forty-two kilometers and now forty-two masterpieces that build on the emotions of the marathon. A backdrop of Rubens, or more likely the effort shown in Sisyphus of Titian, a nude dude carrying a rock. I guess works of art have finally come to running. And, no, I am not talking the Reebok ATVs.

The EXPO

10K from the start/finish and, most importantly, my hotel. With the ballache of having to book an earlier flight to stand a chance of getting there due to the race being brought forward a day, I am not a fan of EXPOs way outside the city. Berlin does this, London, as does Athens, and I seem to recall Copenhagen was a hike too. Barcelona gets this right by having it all in one place. Still, needs must and all that.

The EXPO was a bit of a hike as I said. The reality, as I arrived in Spanish rush hour (3pm Friday), was that I could not simply Uber there and back. Instead I had to take the 10 train to the 8, then take the 8 all the way to the EXPO. I met up with Ashley on the way, someone I probably spoke to 5 years ago and has since removed himself from the craziness of Social Media. Totally bizarre that he recognised me. And then after a loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong walk to the actual EXPO, it is in room 10 at the venue, I got my race number with no problems, a race kit bag including a baseball cap (much like Athens to catch the rays), then the free tee and then walked around.

It is a pretty small EXPO in a large space. As ADIDAS is the partner they were the only large vendor there. The Rock N Roll Series had a stall for tees and hats, and hoodies, but the rest was made up of small brands, most of which I had not heard of.

My bib was the 4+ hour wave, the last wave!!! Yeah, I checked that out. The other 7 waves are from 2 something to 4. 2.15 to 30, 30 to 45, 45 to 3 hours, 3 to 3.15, 15 to 30, 30 to 45 and then anything over 4. Hopefully wave 8 is massive or I will feel terrible, esp when the race has a 6 hour cut off.

The Night Before

Having a swift pint or two of Estrella with Baz and Kaya in the hotel lobby an amiable French chap waiting for tea and milk from the kitchen came over and asked if we were running. He was doing the half like Baz and Kaya and I said I was doing the full. He then informed me that it was tough. And then he angled his hand up 45 degrees at the wrist and said “the last 5k.” This does not bode well.

The Route

No idea on whether the route is good or bad at this stage, as I have never been to Madrid. The start/finish and my hotel are central and it hits both the Athletico and Real stadium and, I am guessing, the Prado.

A Pox on both your stadia

Flat lay

Flat lay con carne con queso

How I did

I left Baz and Kaya in their wave (7) and pootled about in 8 (with thousands of 4.01 and above mara runners and 2.01 and above half runners, before running into heartrunnergirl. We chatted for a bit, and as it started to warm I was glad I went for a vest. Some people had long sleeves, one guy had jogging pants and a waterproof long sleeved jacket. I would see him walking from 20KMs.

It was hot, and we started at about 9.20. The start I seem to remember as mostly on 3 lane wide carriageway and a looooooong climb toward a couple of iconic city buildings and some statues. People were stopping here to take a photo and so I did too. The MC at the start described this race as Spain’s “prettiest” marathon. He was lying. It was not pretty, and the further I got into it the uglier it got.

After turning off the main road a few times, along claustrophobic roads of apartment buildings, the sun baking down on us, we crossed back across the first road we’d run up via an overpass. Water stops were every 5KMs and were needed. The earlier stops, shared with the army of blue shirted half marathon runners, were just water. Later, when they turned off and left us to our nightmare, we got blue Powerade (Smurf piss) and bananas, gels, and sometimes oranges. By 1 o’clock all water and Powerade was warm, or even hot when you were given it, and so I went into a shop and got an ice cold can of Coke and then later a bottle of Fanta. They were glorious and came at just about the right times.

Something I noticed in the pens was that some marshals were wearing roller blades. Madrid is home to the other major inline skate marathon in Europe and I thought they had just worn their skates today. But as the race started they went with us, zigzagging in and out of the runners armed with Vaseline and muscle spray. It was a really nice touch and people made the most of them the further we got into the hilly 26 mile course.

Looking back nothing really stands out much other than that opening uphill to the office buildings, the old Athletico stadium (I didn’t even spot the Bernabéu ) other than The Park. It was after the half had long since split off for their last remaining KMs, so around the 30K mark for us. A steep downhill from the road suggested that there would be a steep uphill to get out of it at the end, but once in it, it was horrible. A twisted there and back almost meeting but not quite. You entered and headed right on a long straight. To your left as you started was a water stop, but not for us. Through the trees runners were heading back the opposite direction from their time in the hot, cyclist filled paths of Casa de Campo park.

It was as we exited the park to the left of the entrance, after several soul destroying miles that I noticed runner 1##7 smiling and joking with a cyclist, coming up from the right. I had not seen her before and she was coming from an angle that suggested she came down the hill then went back up it and skipped the whole middle bit, you know, the park. It annoyed those around me and she just laughed and joked, bouncing around and high 5ing people on the way up happy to have cheated. It riled us for a long while as she kept pace with us for the next few miles or until the hills the Frenchman had warned me about appeared.

I am sure I checked the elevation profile, as I always do, and was ok with it. But as he said, the last 8KM was, indeed, uphill.  These are long climbs (relatively speaking) and dead straight so you would look up and see a straight line of walkers all the way to the turn. And when you get to the turn? A dead straight sun baked road going up and up to the next. It was soul destroying now. I was hot, tired, my feet were killing me but “there is no try only do” to quote Yoda. And the KMs were ticking over.
So after girding my loins I ran by the 40KM and 41KM artworks before turning onto the flat finish straight, zigzagged my way through the crowds and finished my 35th Marathon and 4th of the year. And thank the Rock n Roll Gods for that.
Secretly I initially wanted to go for a time. I ran Hanover Marathon 3 weeks before and have been busting a gut at the gym in the meantime and so, I wanted to go for a time. Unfortunately going for a time would have required it to be 10 degrees cooler, a lot flatter, me a lot thinner, in better shape, and rested. But whatevs, it’s all good. That was 100 Marathon Club number 35 in 43 months, so am still on track, and my 4th of the year. Time to celebrate with a Cornetto.

The Bling

It will go nicely on the 100 MC rack with the others. The meat has already gone.

The Scores on the Doors

It would have been higher if I had enjoyed it more, but the route is too hilly, it was too hot, the water in the latter stages was so hot I ended up buying a nice cold, ice cold Coke and then later on a bottle of Fanta. But I think where it sits in the table is a fair reflection of the race compared to the others.

Summary

I was actually a little disappointed with this one. Barcelona was great and, from everything I have heard, Valencia and San Sebastian Marathons are too. This one just didn’t do it for me. It was too lumpy, and too hot, and there was little or nothing to look at for much of the day. I am glad I did it, and I am happy to have completed all the European Rock n Roll events. I am not knocking the organisation. The EXPO was ok, the bib and tee collection seamless, the start and water tables, the timing mats, and finish area, the photographers, the awesome inline skating marshals, the medal, and double goody bag (one at expo and one after race) was all great. Madrid is just not a pretty city in my eyes.

Similar to Hanover in that there was a HUGE amount of Half runners mixed in with us, but different because, unlike Hanover where post split we were left with just a handful of marathoners, here there were still thousands bunched together. Wave 8 had pretty much stuck together and my last 10K was like a zombie hoard from the Walking Dead rather than a trickle of runners like I experienced in Germany.

WOULD I RUN RNR MADRID AGAIN? NO

WOULD I RECOMMEND RNR MADRID? NO, If I was going to recommend one European RNR I would recommend the Liverpool RNR Marathon.

I am glad I managed to tick off two easy marathons (relatively speaking) with May consisting of St Illtyd’s Ultra, London Trails marathon and the big daddy for the year, the Half Fire and Ice Ultra across Iceland. What keeps me up at night? Not Madrid.

NEXT UP: ST ILLTYDS ULTRA

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