Back in March 2016, I ran Barcelona Marathon. Having this year’s London Marathon still fresh in my thoughts, I thought I’d write a retrospective race report about my experience. I’m going to cover why I wanted to run a marathon, how I chose an event and a plan, how training went, what happened on the day, what I learnt, and my advice for first time marathoners (from someone who’s only ever completed the one marathon in a very average time, so please do take it with a pinch of salt, I am by no means an expert!)
I decided to run a marathon as it was the only distance I hadn’t covered yet. I’d only recently joined the running community on instagram, and felt as someone who had been a runner since I was 11, I should really take my place as a marathon runner just as my fellow runners had.
Choosing a marathon and a training plan:
When deciding which marathon I wanted to do, I knew there were some key aspects I wanted it to include: around 15,000 runners on a mainly flat course that had some interesting points along the way. I knew I wanted to do an early spring marathon so I could watch London without making myself feel sick with worry for my own! Barcelona fit the bill perfectly – I entered way in advance, got my hotel and flights sorted and went about getting a training plan in place.
Choosing a training plan was much more straightforward than I’d thought it would be. I knew what format I wanted it to take – a 16 week plan containing 4/5 runs a week with a long run, 2 speed sessions, and the rest as easy runs. I wanted to go up to 20 miles as my longest run (as my training would be very much as a solo runner, and as marathon number 1 I just wanted to enjoy the experience and learn about the marathon). So with that in mind I asked Google for a marathon training plan.
I got on really well with the intermediate training plan from the London Marathon site. It ticked the boxes of everything I wanted, and I could easily tweak it to suit my needs. There was so much out there in the way of support for marathon training, so it could have been really overwhelming if I didn’t know what sort of thing I was looking for.
I started my training in the December before the marathon. Having done a few half marathons before, I knew I wasn’t starting from scratch with my endurance so this was ample time. I think I ended up doing a 14 or 15 week plan all in all.
The first month of training was easy and went by quickly. The distances weren’t too challenging at that point and it was all very new.
Halfway through training the tears came. It felt like all I was doing was running, thinking about running, or worrying about getting round the marathon. The Sunday long runs were getting really long, and I wasn’t enjoying them as much as I’d hoped to. I’d ran 15 miles as my longest run before this and I’d absolutely loved it, I just couldn’t see why the extra 1 or 2 miles was proving so challenging.
As it turns out, my stomach doesn’t use hard food as fuel particularly well during runs. So even though I was processing things like Haribo and Shot Bloks with no problems, I wasn’t really getting much energy from them. Once I’d figured that out, things became much easier. I’d come back from an 18 mile run sobbing my heart out – the final 2 miles had been miserable and I had no idea how I was going to manage 26.2. After I’d calmed down and reflected a bit, I realised that even though I was taking on fuel, I was bonking hard. I switched to liquid fuel for the following long run of 20 miles, and oh my gosh the difference was amazing. I got all the way to 17.5 miles before I was in any kind of discomfort! I was so pleased and reassured that actually I could do the distance, and everything would be fine.
In the week between my 18 mile run and 20 mile run, I did a half marathon as part of my training. It was my third one, and the hilliest I’d ever done, but I got a 5 and a half minute PB. I was in the shape of my life and really confident.
When it came to taper time – a time that most people dread – I couldn’t be happier. The long runs and endless training was over, and just race day to look forward to. 26.2 was on.
It was a 5am start, and I got my porridge and banana down me before putting on my race kit (no spillages today thank you!). I remember trying to use the loo before leaving, but no luck – disaster but tried not to panic!
I’d travelled over to Barcelona with one of my best friends who’d very kindly agreed to come and support me. She got up at horrific o’clock to walk down to the start with me and hold my stuff so I didn’t have to rely on bag drops. This marathon wouldn’t have been the same without her.
I’d never used the race loo’s in my life, but I had to give it one last go to avoid any mishaps. Thank god I did. Everything had gone right on the day, I felt good, there was an amazing atmosphere and I felt ready to run.
I said goodbye to my friend and took my place in the starting funnel. I was in the 4-6 hour funnel, and it took 20 minutes to get across the line. It didn’t feel like that long as we were constantly shuffling forward towards the start and ‘Barcelona’ played on repeat to see everyone through.
The support was incredible. There were crowds cheering you on from start to finish, with on course bands and drummers and singers etc. Up to mile 13 I had the biggest grin on my face – I was actually doing a marathon! Who would have thought this day would come. I made sure to take on just enough water and powerade (it was going to get up to 16/18c and sunny by the end of the run) and checked my watch every now and again to make sure I hadn’t unwittingly speeded up.
At mile 13 I started to feel the effort a bit more, still feeling comfortable but without a smile on my face. Just a metaphorical one at this point. This state continued through to about mile 21 – I remember looking at my watch at mile 16 and wondering how this felt so easy given training had felt so hard. But at mile 21 I felt tired and grumpy. We were running along the beach front and it was hot. Things weren’t as clear and crisp as they had been before and it was stopping being fun.
At mile 23 I’d really started to have had enough. Someone cheered my name (as they were printed on our bibs) trying to cheer me on and I just remember giving them the most sour look back! It was so lovely of this stranger to see me struggling and will me on, but all I could think was ‘of course I’m f*ing struggling I’ve just run 23 f*ing miles and I’m still not f*ing finished! How would you f*ing feel if…’ well you get the idea! Sorry kind stranger.
Miles 24-26 are a haze in my memory. I remember how painful it was and how I was over-checking my watch. And the blisters, they were terrible. But that’s about it, I was just focused on finishing at that point.
I got to 26 miles and thought thank God the finish is nearly here! Then at 26.2 there was no finish – to avoid getting caught in the crowds I’d run round the outside of most of the corners and added 0.27 miles to my run. I hadn’t thought it would make it that much further, and didn’t really enjoy the final stretch to the finish line. I felt done by 24 miles, so that extra 0.27 was heartbreaking.
The final bend I nearly got taken out by a runner who darted out to the side to pick up his daughter to carry her over the line with him. A very sweet gesture, but I wish he’d looked so I hadn’t had to dodge him so suddenly. That really hurt my feet. But there the finish line was. In my head I was crying, but I was physically too tired to do so. I got my medal and wondered up to the fountain to find my friend. We sat there for a while before heading back to the hotel room for a nap.
What an amazing day.
What I learnt:
Very briefly –
Runderwear. Liquid fuel. Good socks. All essential to my training.
I will never forget this experience – I can still recall it so well 2 and a bit years on.
London gets way too much credit. Barcelona was everything and more.
The glory of the finish line is all worth it for the training and hard work.
Advice for first time marathoners:
There is so much I could write down here, but to avoid overloading new marathoners (because let’s face it, advice is everywhere and not all of it good or applicable to everyone) I’m just going to write about the 2 biggest things that I personally took away:
1) Research as much as you can before you enter. Read all you can from lots of different sources, speak to people who have run before, and try different things if one way doesn’t work. I knew as much as I could have done about marathons before running one, and while it really paid off, I had so much to learn in terms of experience.
2) Don’t worry about the time for your first one. There’s always another marathon to improve, so marathon number 1 can be all about the experience and learning. I’d run a 1:51 half in training and finished the full in 4:10:54 – I didn’t have a finisher’s time in mind and just wanted to get round sensibly without walking.
Please do feel free to ask me any questions in the comments as there’s only so much I can put in this update!
Next Wednesday I’ll post about my Manchester Marathon DNF last year, and how it changed me as a runner. I’ll be back on Sunday with another week’s training update. Thanks so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed x