On this morning, one year ago, I ran my first marathon. It’s amazing how fast the time has passed and how this one experience changed me.
In my wildest dreams I never pictured myself running a full marathon. In fact, I remember many times during my training for my first half marathon telling people that “this is it for distance races”. I couldn’t imagine why in the world someone would want to run 26.2 miles. Then I crossed the finish line of the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in 2009. That feeling of accomplishment is something you don’t get every day. I was hooked.
My Mom and I had been trying to plan a trip to Spain for years. A co-worker of mine at the time had just trained for and ran the Rome Marathon. After hearing about her experience I threw the idea out there to my Mom that I should run a marathon overseas. To my surprise, she was all for it. We immediately got online, found the Barcelona Marathon and 2 hours later I was registered. Have I ever mentioned I can be quite impulsive?
Over the next year we planned the three week trip to start in Spain for the marathon then make our way through the South of France.
We boarded a plane to Barcelona on March 3rd, 2011. It was still morning when we arrived 9 hours later. Jet lag had been a huge concern of mine so I made sure to stay awake and keep going as long as I could to get adjusted quickly. After settling in from our flight we had 2 days to explore. Barcelona is a huge city and there is just so much to see. We did a bus tour, ate at a few adorable spanish restaurants and shopped.
Our third day in Barcelona was the expo. Those Europeans don’t mess around. This was about the most elaborate expo I’ve ever been to.
Here is the expo hall:
The title sponsor of the race was Mizuno and I recognized quite a few other vendors. It was really neat to see the European versions of products I use. After spending way too much money on merchandise (how could I not?) and picking up my bib and shirt I head back to the hotel to get some sleep.
On marathon morning I had my normal pre-race meal of peanut butter and banana sandwich. I packed half a suitcase full of bread, peanut butter, and Cliff Bars. With my limited diet and sensitive stomach the last thing I wanted to do was try new foods.
The race start was at 8am. It was nice to have a few extra hours in the morning compared to the super early 5-6am US race start times. We caught a cab down to the Magic Fountain with plenty of time.
Why does 42km sound so much more hardcore than 26.2?
After a few pictures and a some encouraging words from my incredible Mother, I made my way to the start line. I think there is some unwritten law among European runners that you must wear neon on race day. Luckily, I fit right in.
Side note: These pictures always remind me of a “Where’s Waldo, Runner’s World Edition”.
With some balloons and confetti we were off, all 15,000 of us. There was no break between corrals at this race, just one big rolling start. It took me a little under 15 minutes to get through the start line.
My Mother had pre-planned a route to see me at the 15k, have a coffee & croissant, then be at the finish. Just as planned, my mom snapped this picture at the 15k. She was waiting there with Gatorade in one hand, camera in the other and vanilla Gu in her teeth. It was like my own little personal aid station. I was still feeling great at that point though and hadn’t used either of the Gu I had on me. I smiled, waived and kept on runnin’.
90% of this race felt surreal to me. The architecture in Barcelona is breathtaking. The course took us through streets of Gaudi buildings, the FC Barcelona Soccer Stadium, parks, and waterfronts.
There were tons of water stops along the course with water and Poweraid. They handed you full bottles of water. I have never seen that at any other race but it was nice to be able to take it and have water with you for a few miles. There was only one nutrition station. It consisted of several volunteers slicing fruit and one of the biggest bowls I’ve ever seen in my life full of almonds. People were reaching their hands in and taking a handleful. I skipped the food on course for obvious reasons.
Around mile 18 my legs became super stiff. Every step hurt and I took a ton of walk breaks. This was no surprise since I’d hit a wall at 18 during every training run leading up to this race. I tried my best to just enjoy the incredible city I was running through and not think about that pain. I kept repeating to myself, “this is what you spent all those hours training for” and “just be in the moment”.
The excitement of the city coming into the finish line was almost overwhelming. There were crowds and crowds of people for the last 2 miles. I started to cry as soon as I saw the finish line.
At some point someone must have put a medal around my neck but I have absolutely no recollection of that at all. The couple of minutes after the finish are all a blur.
It would be absolutely impossible for me to put into words what I felt at the end of this race. Here I am, a full year later, and it still doesn’t seem real. The blood, sweat and tears I put into training were all worth it for that one moment.
The rest of the trip was just as beautiful. It will always be one of my very favorite memories and I am so grateful for having the opportunity.