Sunday, 22 March 2015

Carlsberg Don't Do Marathons.............

.........................and they probably never will.
After running my first marathon in Dublin in 2006 I came to Barcelona in the spring of 2007 to prove that I could do better, but more importantly to run a marathon that would not cause me so much pain and suffering (The last 4 miles in Dublin were as bad as it gets) - in search of that finish line high that most first time marathoners talked about.  That spring marathon in 2007 proved to be one of the most enjoyable marathons I ever ran, crossing the line I almost broke into tears I was so happy - the last 2 miles were the only painful ones and only moderately so compared to Dublin. I could have broken 3:30 on that occasion if it had been my priority but I was over the moon with my 3:33:49 PB.
In 2010 I returned to Barcelona to have a crack off my first serious sub-3 hour attempt, but an injury leading up to the race, which reared it's ugly head about 9 miles in, put paid to that. My partner in crime on both those occasions was my friend Adrian and who better to partner up for the hat-trick return than him, although he'd be running his first marathon (or indeed any race) in 5 years. This year we were joined by Liam aka "Puds", who is more familiar with a bike than a pair of runners, having last togged out for a marathon (his second in all) way back in Dublin 2006 where he ran a very respectable 2:57 and was in the car on the way home by the time I crossed the line 50 minutes later. To top it off seven of my Eagle AC club-mates would be running the marathon - Tim and Sandra heading for sub 3:30 & 3:20 respectively -Kevin, with a first time marathon PB of 2:59, not giving much away in terms of a target - Finbarr aiming for sub 4 hours, Damien running his first marathon and Nora and Edwina (recovering from an injury). 
We overnighted at my brother in law's in Dublin on Friday night, rising before 5 on Saturday morning to catch the 0640 flight to Barcelona - and they say that the most important nights sleep ahead of a marathon is two nights before! Landing at 1010 hrs local time we got a taxi to the Expo and very quickly picked up our race numbers. While I had packed a soft shell flask in which to carry a homemade gel I was not sure that I would be able to get the black strap molasses for my receipe and decided to pick up some GU Gels at the expo for insurance - 3 ought to do it. We had booked an apartment about half a mile from the start/finish and were lucky enough to sign in early and get a few hours of R&R before heading into town to meet up with the Eagle gang to watch Ireland's narrow defeat to Wales in the Six Nations Championship. Then it was back out to base for more carb loading and a quite if not early night, watching the skiing world cup and the Tirreno-Adriatico on German Eurosport!
Adrian was up first at 6:30 for his porridge as he needed to eat early in order to avoid gastro-intestinal issues during the race. I rose at seven as I was only planning on taking on some coffee to get the bowels moving, but had to add a few carbs to help them on their way. The sky was clear and the sun shining, with the temperature cool - it was going to be a perfect day for running. I left first for the 0800hrs scheduled Eagle AC photo-shoot outside the bag drop area - although when I arrived there were (understandably) about 10,000 others at the rendevouz point also so needless to say the photo-shoot wasn't an entire success - although 4 of the eight managed to meet. I met up briefly with Nora and Edwina and wished them well before heading to the sub-3hour section where most of the runners were running around in a tight circle - not unlike the horse enclosure before a race meet. I joined them for a few "laps" but quickly cottoned on to the futility of jogging around at 11 minute pace with people cutting in front of you every few strides.  My heart rate was in the 90's standing still and shot into the 120's when breaking into an easy jog - I hadn't known that I was that psyched!!!
Shortly before the gun I met up with Kevin, whom I hadn't known had entered as a sub-3 hour runner - dark horse Kevin. We decided to hang at the back of the corral and let the front of the sub-3:15 group stream past us as the barriers between the corrals were lifted with a few minutes to go. The 2:45 and 3:00 pacers were well up in front. I kept an eye out for Puds (who had signed on as a sub 3:15 runner) but could not spot him.
As I had no pace band and my only real goal was a sub 3 hour finish I had targeted 21 minutes for every 5 km (coincided with the timing mats), which would take me to 2:48 for 40 Km, leaving me a good cushion to get under 3 hours - in fact 21 minute 5ks would get me home in 2:57:12 which was roughly in the territory where I thought my body was capable of delivering me to. Only time would tell.

I shook hands with Kevin and as the gun went off we shuffled down the Avenue Reina Marie Cristina, taking nearly a minute to cross the timing mats. We ran between the brick towers that frame the start/finish area, which we would not see again for another 42 Km. Crossing the Placa d'Espana, I turn to say something to Kevin and he is nowhere to be seen - I look in front - no, he's not gone ahead - it's a bit early to be dropping off the pace particularly as it is still only building up - strange! nothing I can do but run on alone.
Placa d'Espana - Les Corts (0 - 5 Km)
The first 5 km towards Camp Nou is a net uphill. That, coupled with the congestion over the first few kms and my desire to ease into the race makes for a relatively slow start, with the Garmin showing a 7:04 opening mile along the 2+km straight section of Carrer de Sants. There are quite a few long straights like this in the marathon, which can be quite impressive, seeing the field of runners spread out in front of you - unless you are the leader of course. The average pace on the Garmin comes down to 7:00 with a 6:56 second mile. I'm finding the going a bit tough during these opening miles, more so because I am off my target pace than anything else. I'm not too concerned as it always seems to take me 3 or 4 miles before the engines are fully warmed up. My heart rate has climbed into the high 150's, which is a bit alarming as I only saw these figures in training when I was pushing hard during speedwork sessions. I ignore the data as I am running at a relatively comfortable pace that I feel I can maintain. I cross the 5 km timing mat in 21:33, over half a minute down on target. The 3 hour pacers are well out in front, but at least I can see them - time to reel them in.
5k Time - 21:33 (Projected finish - 3:01:52) 
Position 1,317.
Les Corts - Enteca ( 5 - 10 Km)
After rounding Camp Nou (7 Km) we pass the highest point on the course and turn right onto the Avenue Diagonal for 2 Km, which is the start of a long gradual descent, where my pace picks up and I gradually reel in the 3 hour pace group as my mile splits reduce to sub 6:30, without any additional effort. I am generally ignoring pace and running by "comfortably hard" effort.
The water stations, spaced about every 2.5 Km, are excellent - advertised 100m in advance, with  bottled water on both sides of the road handed out over a section at least 100m long with 20 to 30 volunteers on either side - so there is plenty of time to move into the side to collect a bottle, which is no harm given the volume of runners. Likewise the support is fantastic ,with crowds of supporters lined out along the route, concentrated at intersections and live music every few Kms - the drumming groups are the best as there is something very primitive about the rhythm that keeps the adrenaline flowing. I am at the back of the 3 hour pacing group approaching the 10km mark and wonder how I am going to get through, with 4 pacers spread out across the road there is no easy route - however as we approach a water station the crowd parts in the middle and I manage to slip through the most congested section, crossing the 10 km timing mat in 42:02 - more or less back on track, covering the second 5 k in 20:29.
10k Time - 42:02 (Projected finish - 2:57:22)
Position 1,104 (213 places gained)

Enteca - Diagonal (10 - 15 Km)
After the 10k mark we turn left heading back towards the Placa d'Espana continuing on a very gentle descent with my "Garmin" pace continuing to be below 6:30. There's still a steady stream of runners in front of me as we turn left again along the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, where our apartment is located - another 2 km long straight. With the even grade it is quite easy to maintain a steady pace/effort with my heart rate between 157 and 160. I continue to slowly move through the field in front of me, hardly noticeable except for the fact that I do not form associations with any of the runners around me the way I would in other races with those running the same pace as me.  Just before Km 14 we turn left along Passeig de Gracia for 1 Km with is the start of a gentle rise for the next 2 Km - the free ride is over. This is where I became a cropper back in 2010. No such problem today. I maintain a reasonable pace in the 6:40's and cross the 15 km timing mat in 1:02:44 - 16 seconds ahead of target and 20:42 for the previous 5k.
15k Time - 1:02:44 (Projected finish - 2:56:28)
Position 786 (318 places gained - including passing the 3 hour pace group)
Diagonal - Fabra i Puig (15 - 20 Km)
After the 16 km mark we pass one of Barcelona's most famous landmarks, the incomplete Sagrada Familia, spectacular no matter how many time you see it, although I have no time to take in its splendour and it is soon behind me as we head for a 4 km long out and back section along the wide Avenue Meridana taking us to the turnaround at Km 20. Here we get a clear view of the front runners coming against us on the opposite side of the road. I spot the leading female, cocooned within a group of male runners, after passing through the half way point with the time coming up to 1:15. Further back are the 2:45 pacers with a group of 30 to 40 in their wake - the Spanish take their running seriously. The website advertises pacers from 2:45 up to 4:00 only, despite the fact that over one third of the field finish in over 4 hours.

Eventually I reach the turnaround and cross the 20km timing mat in 1:23:30, increasing the margin on my target to 30 seconds.

20k Time - 1:23:30 (Projected finish - 2:56:14)
Position 709 (77 places gained)

Fabra I Puig - Besos (20 - 25 Km)
I get a great buzz from running close to the steady stream of runners coming against me over the next 2 Km. Puds gives me a shout out - I reckon he is about half a mile behind and not far off the 3 hour pace group - biding his time until the halfway mark I guess.  I cross the halfway timing mat as the clock approaches 1:29, with the Garmin bang on 1:28:00.
Halfway Time 1:28:00 (Projected finish 2:56:00
Position 697 (12 places gained)
Next to come past is clubmate Kevin a few minutes behind Puds, followed by Sandra, who is looking very comfortable. and gives me a big shout out. I had planned to take my first gel after the halfway point but decide to defer it until Km 25 (15.5 miles), with the second scheduled for 32Km and the final one for the last 5 km or so. As a mid-foot striker who skimps on cushioned soles I tend to be quite noisy, with the effect that I turned quite a few heads as I approached runners from behind, disturbing the relative peace and get them wondering when I am going to pull off the course with an injury as surely all that slapping can't be good for me.

With the out and back section behind us we head east. The Garmin shows 15 miles completed in 1:39:xx but it is over 1:40 before I pass the 15 mile sign (in addition to the km marks, every 5 miles was also marked). We turn south-east heading for the coast and cross the 25 Km timing mat in 1:44:00 - 1 minute ahead of target and another 5k in 20:30. I take my first gel here as I can feel my pace slowing relative to a few runners around me.

25k Time - 1:44:00 (Projected finish - 2:55:32)

Position 659 (50 places gained, 38 since halfway,

Besos - Selva de Mar (25 - 30 Km)
At 26 km we turn right along the Avenue Diagonal for a 2.5 Km out and back section towards the Torres Agbar. I manage to maintain a reasonably consistent pace with those around me. I see the 2:45 pacers coming against me on the opposite side of the road - still with a considerable group of runners with them. There is always a steady stream of runners in front of me, so I am never alone, unlike some of my previous sub 3hour marathons. Eventually we reach the turnaround and head back east along the Avenue Diagonal towards the coast. Approaching the 30km timing mat my lower intestine begins to show some activity, probably due to the gel I consumed at Km 25. Thankfully it is only gas and I am able to run on without having to seek out a portaloo. However I decide it is best to avoid taking any more gels in case it promotes further unwanted activity. I cross the 30km timing mat in 2:04:33, now nearly 90 seconds up on my 2:06:00 target ( i.e. 6 x 21:00).

30k Time - 2:04:33 (Projected finish - 2:55:11)
Position 609 (50 places gained)

Selva de Mar - Marina (30 - 35 Km)
At 31 Km we reach the end of the Avenue Diagonal and take a sharp right heading for the coast. The next 5 kms prove more challenging as there are a few drags and there is no shade from the sun, although it is not hot. Perhaps I am beginning to feel the effects of the effort. Still I maintain my forward momentum through the field in front of me, so at least I am running at least as well as those around me. My heart rate is consistently in the 159 to 162 range so, although it is relatively high, at least I am running at an effort that I can maintain over a relatively long period.

At 34.5 Km we turn right heading inland and back towards the City Centre. The volunteers dispensing vaseline from outstreatched hands in blue surgical gloves prove invaluable as I notice a bit of chafing under my arms from the club singlet, putting up with the mild inconvenience of having greasy fingers. 

I cross the 35km timing mat in 2:25:51 - now 69 seconds up on my target, having lost a few seconds over the last 5 Km (21:18). 7 Km to go and the wheels are beginning to wobble slightly. This is where the mental demons start to kick in

"Sure you're well on for the sub-3 hour and you have a good cushion. So what if you lose a minute or two. It's not like you're aiming for a PB or anything".

Still I push on as, apart from stopping and walking, which never entered the head, there is only one effort that I can churn out and whatever pace that gives will have to do.


35k Time - 2:25:51 (Projected finish - 2:55:50)

Position 533 (76 places gained - despite the slower split my overtaking rate increased)

Marina - Paral-Lei (35 - 40 Km)
7 Km from the finish line is still a long way out and I now have to concentrate a bit more on the leg turnover to stay on pace. I reckon that the longer I can push the pace/effort the closer i'll get to the finish line without conceding valuable seconds. We are now running towards the City Centre, through the Parc de la Ciutadella under the Arc De Triomf and left along Ronda de Sant Pere. The crowds are bigger now and the cheering more intense, which helps getting the adrenaline going. I am counting down the Kms left - passing 37 Km - only 5.195  to go - 21/22 minute of effort remaining. While I reckon I am close to 2:55 for 42 Km I know that the PB (sub 2:54:35) is beyond reach, particularly as I don't have the energy that I though I might have for a final kick over the closing 5 km. It's a long way out to risk everything on a final throw of the dice. Maintaining a consistent steady pace is the best strategy and it placates the mental demons.

We turn left down the side of Placa de Catalunya and into the old city along paved pedestrian streets that feel hard on the legs. I feel my pace is slowing as the effort is beginning to show. We turn right at the bottom of the town and along the waterfront heading for the Mirador de Colom, statue of Christopher Colombus, that signals that the end is not too far away. My flagging energy prompts me to dig into my pocket for one of my GU gels and down half of it, safe in the knowledge that I will be well across the finish line before it hits the far end of my digestive system.

At last we are on the Avenue de Paral-Lei the final straight before the finish. However at over 2 Km long and at a slight incline it is not an easy run in. The fact that you can see the red brick of the twin towers that frame the Placa d'Espana helps in the sense that the finish is in sight but does wreck the head a little as it never appears to get any closer.

We cross the penultimate timing mat at 40 Km, with 2:46:23 on the watch, back to over 90 seconds cushion on my 2:48:00 40 km target, which suggests a sub 2:56 finish if I can keep it going for the last 2 km.   
40k Time - 2:46:23 (Projected finish - 2:55:31)
Position 477 (56 places gained)

Paral-Lei - Placa d'Espana (40 - 42.2 Km)
The last 2 km is all about pushing to keep the pace going. The cheering crowds keep me motivated and the fact that I just have to keep pace with those around me and forget about how much closer those brick towers appear to be getting. The effort remains reasonably comfortable in as much as the end of a marathon can be, no finishing kick here (a testament to a lack of real speedwork in my training - probably not too significant in the grand scheme of endurance racing). Finally the brick towers are looming over me as I turn left along the  Avenue Reina Marie Cristina and the finish line is in sight, not as close as I expected (would have liked) and with the clock turning to 2:56:00 (2:55:xx on the garmin) I had no incentive to take the effort into the anaerobic zone just to eek out a few more seconds, satisfied to cross the line in 2:55:37, in what was, in the grand scheme of things one of the best marathons I have ever run.

Finish 2:55:37
Position 451 (26 places gained)

Within a minute of finishing Puds came across the line for a 2:56:xx PB finish, which included a 7:58 toilet break mile 10. So we may well have crossed the line together if he had avoided that pit stop. A few minutes lying down with the legs raised against a barrier and we were good enough to hobble the half mile back to the apartment, having to negotiate our way across the river of runners coming in towards the finish line, including cheering clubmate Tim on his way to his sub-3:30 PB. Well done Tim.

After a quick shower and a bite to eat at the apartment Puds and I headed to one of the outdoor cafes for a celebratory beer in the warm sunshine where we were joined by Adrian on his return from the finish line. Adrian had a tougher time out there, going through the half in 2:00 and finishing in 4:30, having done the minimum of training, and effectively using Barcelona as the kick off to his training for Ironman Wales in September. Still he joked that Pud's toilet break mile was a full minute faster than his fastest mile.

The beers were followed by a few more beers in town (although I had to ease back on the pace and reverted to coffee - I just hadn't the training put in). We rounded off the evening by joining my Eagle clubmates for dinner and a few more beers, where we all recounted our days struggle. In addition to Tim's PB there were some great results out there with Sandra running to a 3:18 PB (22nd Woman and first Irish Woman), Damien running his first marathon in 3:43 and Finbarr running his first sub-4 hour in an impressive 3:48. Kevin, my running partner for the first 100 yards, decided to do a bit of sightseeing and eased back to a relatively comfortable 3:14 finish. Nora and Edwina topped their day off with 3:57 and 4:00 finishes. We all agreed that it was a fantastic event, superbly organised and one of the best marathons we have run - well worth the trip.


  1. One of your best marathons and one of your best marathon reports. It's day's like that will live long in your memory

    1. Cheers Cathal - certainly one of the good days!

  2. I really enjoyed reading that Grellan. A fantastic race report and a great race. You trained smart and ran smart not an easy thing to do. I haven't been so close to my marathon PB for years, it must be a good feeling!

    1. Thanks Scott. Here's to a great day in Boston next month. Hopefully i'll get on the other side of my PB before I get too old ;-)

  3. Terrific race, and what better way to recover than in the bars and restaurants of Barcelona. My wife and I were just saying yesterday how much we would like to go there. I wonder if they have a Half.
    And thanks for your comment on my blog.

    1. The half was on last month Bob. A clubmate of mine ran it. It's a fast course as the Woman's HM records was broken there.

  4. An impressive piece of work gradually making your way through the field, and a pretty damn good time. Congratulations!

  5. Great report Grellan. Well done again and I have to say it was one of the best races I have ever done and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

    1. Thanks Tim and congrats again on the PB.

  6. Congratulations Grellan - great report - enjoyed reading it. Beautifully paced race. 2:55 is a fantastic time - must be great to be running in PB territory. Before the next one, only one change to make: more beer drinking training :)

    1. Thanks Ewen. Yes great to be in PB shape. Long may it last.

  7. What a race for you Grellan, inspiring, and perfect execution, a great start to your 2105 race plans, my best wishes going forward.
    Love the position improvement on the race stat sheet, the only way to do it.

    1. Thanks Keith - lets hope the rest of the year is as good.

  8. Well done - it was great to read the review as I had hoped to run it a couple of years back but have a good excuse for not (Justin Bieber playing the night before and a very excited child!)
    Great time!! Jacqueline

    1. Thanks Jacqueline. Best of luck in Prague and lets hope Justin Bieber doesn't show up.

  9. 2:55 on no speedwork. bloody heck. great running grellan

    1. Thanks Marty - although I must admit I did do some speedwork - just not enough.