After building for 17 weeks towards my first ever marathon, the time had finally come: I checked in at the airport and was headed for Barcelona. Things were getting real pretty fast and I was ready for it.
I spent a lot of time training, doing long runs that exceeded the 30k mark regularly and pushing trough temporuns and mile-repeats at the track. Bike and swim sessions were used as active recovery and to get in even more training time without the harsh pavement pounding. Everything went according to plan: week after week I was getting stronger and faster without getting injured. Being quite prone to injury, it felt so good to be able to push trough all those long trainings without having the feeling something is going to catch up with you.
When you tell people you’re training for a marathon, you’re just bound to get the big question: what’s your time goal? At first I told myself that running a sub-3:15 would be within reach and that should be my goal. But hey, if you’re not going to push you limits you might aswel stay at home right? So a few weeks later I felt like I had to go for a sub-3, I just owed it to myself.
Right, so there I was on a Friday night.. headed for Barcelona after a one-and-a-half week taper feeling rested and ready. After arriving I caught up with my every supporting best friend Matthieu who arrived earlier that day. In search for a nice high-carb meal, we ended up in a Japanese restaurant, binging on the best sushi I had ever had!
We had planned to see some of the must-see sights but decided it wasn’t worth the wait or the money (20euro entrance, seriously?) to actually visit the Sagrada Familia, Park Guell or anything else really. So we ended up just lurking around Barcelona enjoying the nice weather. In the afternoon I went to pick up my bib and spent some time at the expo before I went back to the appartement and decided I had deserved a nap.
Fast forward to Sunday morning: I woke up at 4am to chomp down my breakfast (oh yes, that’s dedication!) and went back to sleep until 6. Then, finally the moment had come to get myself dressed and ready to race at 8.30. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of early race starts like that, but hey.. what are you going to do about it right?
8.15 and I was warming up in the 3.15 penn, looking around, observing the largest group of runners I had ever seen: 22000 people were getting ready to suffer trough 42.195km. Seeing everyone around me being equally as nervous and focussed on the task ahead had a strangely calming effect on me.
8.30 the countdown began, Freddie Mercury’s Barcelona was screaming trough the speakers, confetti canons spewed their load in the air and suddenly the mass of people started moving forward. The time had come to get those legs going!
The first few kilometers I couldn’t really believe that I was actually in Barcelona, running a marathon and doing it at a 4:15min/km pace. As soon as the pace started to settle in, my I started going trough the race step by step in my head, keeping everything in check. I decided to go hard on the downhills – reaching a pace of 3:30min/km at some points – to shave off every bit of time I could.
Soon I found another runner that “matched” me and I spent the first 15km using him as my pacer before I decided it was time to push the pace a bit more and I dropped the guy. By the half-way point I took a brief sanitary stop, after which I glanced at my Polar and saw that I was still 50 seconds ahead of my goaltime. My legs were feeling great and I had gained a lot of confidence during the first half, so I decided to check how far I could push myself.
The saying goes “it’s not about speeding up, it’s all about not slowing down”, but I knew that there was going to be a drop in pace during those last kilometers. I just figured that if I was going to slow down, was going to be better to slow down from a 4:10min/km pace to a 4:15min/km pace instead of dropping from a 4:15 to a 4:20. Great logic right?
By the 30km mark I wasn’t flying on automatic pilot anymore, there was some effort to be done but I was still feeling alright and my pace showed it. It took a full 38kilometer to put me in the hurthouse. And when it starts hurting, it hurts bad.
Those last kilometers were grueling, my pace dropped to 4:30min/km and I had to push myself to give it all I got. My death march began and but I was still 1 minute ahead of schedule so I couldn’t really care all that much about the drop in pace. Suddenly the distance marks at the side of the road stopped corresponding with the distance recorded by my Polar GPS. At mark 40 I had already run my 42.195km according to my watch, which was just the kind of mindfuck I did not need at that point.
Having used the Polar GPS on the track and other races, I know that it is as accurate as it can possibly be. I knew making your way around groups of other runners could increase the distance you run quite a bit, but I didn’t expect it to be a full 2kilometers! Anyways, I finished with a recorded distance of 44.320 kilometers in 3:07 with a 2:58 for the 42.195.. which gave me a bag of mixed feelings; I was disappointed about the official 3:07 and wasn’t quite sure which recording was the right one?
Alright, you could argue that I finished the course that had been drawn up to be 42.195 kilometers when taking the shortest route possible in 3:07. But then again, a marathon is 42.195km.. which I covered in 2:58. After checking the accuracy of my recordings during a few other trainings, I decided to accept the 2:58 recording as my finishing time.
So suddenly that was that.. I crossed the finish line and everything was over. Weeks of preparation had al come down to this moment. After getting my finishers medal and walking trough the chaos of the finishing area, I stopped, looked around and couldn’t help being overwhelmed by emotions. It was only when I caught up with Matthieu that I couldn’t hold it anymore: tears welled up and I cried like a baby.
At first I told myself never to run a marathon again. It just took to much out of me. But I have to admit that it is one hell (no pun intended) of an experience and I might go at it again in a few years. But for now, I’ll happily focus on three sports again.
P.S. A big shoutout to the organization, they did an excellent job to make this a very memorable experience