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Barcelona Marathon Race Report by Grainne Breen

I stand on the Av.Reina Ma Cristina under the Montjuic Palace and the beautiful Montjuic Fountain and looking at the Plaça d’Espanya and the two large Venetian towers which I will be passing through in one moment to start my first marathon.

I’m listening to Freddy Mercury and Montserrat Caballe singing ‘Barcelona’ over the loud speaker: this song has been in my head for the past sixteen weeks. Fountains are blasting water into the air either side of all the runners and when the music stops we will start the race.

This day has been a while coming. I ran the last half of the Dublin Marathon in 2007 with Jennifer. It was inspirational. I vowed to come back next year and do the full. I was so enthusiastic that I trained too hard and spent a lot of time injured last year. I had to let go of my hopes of running the Dublin marathon, but never gave up on my dream of running a marathon soon. I eventually healed, with the help of Jane-Anne and Catherina and enjoyed the Amsterdam half-marathon in October. There, my sister Debbie and friend Oonagh completed their first marathon, which fuelled my desire to get this done and as soon as possible. I checked out www.marathonguide.com and picked Barcelona. The reviews mostly very positive and I had sixteen weeks to train.

Montjuic Palace

Montjuic Palace

This time I needed a training plan with a difference. I found a book called ‘Run Less, Run Faster’, with the revolutionary first training program. It involved doing three quality runs, including track repeats, a tempo run and a long run plus two aerobic cross-training workouts, such as swimming, rowing or biking. All the runs were done at a pace to suit my ability based on my 5km race time. I bought a wetsuit and swam in the sea on most calm days all winter. I cycled once a week on a mountain bike for one hour. I found it difficult to only run three days a week at first and did wonder if I had made the right choice. I didn’t believe that it would be possible to run a marathon with only three days per week running but I had seen Debbie and Oonagh do it. Those doubts soon evaporated as I could see and feel the improvements each week. All the niggling injuries disappeared completely. So with fingers crossed and well wishes and prayers from friends (thanks), I made it through the sixteen weeks, missing only one day’s run and a couple of cross-training days.

The music stops and we wait for all the elites and faster runners to start. Then we are off: me and all these men and the four-hour pacers with the white balloons. I start my Garmin, (or should I say Mark’s Garmin - 40th birthday present) as we cross the mats and tuck in behind the four-hour guys. I ran behind them for the first two miles but found it a little congested. When the balloons started coming back down on my head I decided to go ahead a little faster to buy myself some time for a loo stop or perhaps a walking break.

The first few kilometres flew by. We had a very light mist and the temperature was 13 degrees. According to the training program, I was to do 8:53 pace per mile. I glanced at the watch a few times it showed 6:05 pace then 7:57 then 8.35 and back to 6.05. I wiped the rain drops off it and decided that it was losing the signal or that the rain must be affecting it or that my eyesight was failing. This was going to drive me nuts so I made the decision that I am not going to get wrapped up in time and I would just run with how I feel. I have heard that advice so often from the masters. I stopped looking at it and ran comfortably, never out of breath and enjoying receiving ‘high-fives’ from the children on the route. I high fived a Tibetan Buddhist monk! Boy was I floating after that. I could feel the energy run from his hand into mine and all the way down to my feet.

Grainne Breen - Marathon Runner

Grainne Breen - Marathon Runner

On and on we moved knocking off the kilometres. I went through a rough patch from 10km to13km. I just didn't feel good and was hoping it was 13 miles and not 13 kilometres. “It’s too early to feel bad” went through my mind. I stopped for a toilet break around 15km - I had to wait for a guy to come out first. I spoke to an English girl in the queue. I walked through the water station and re-focused. Maire Treasa's mantra helped a lot - "I am getting faster and fitter, I can do this, I can" - and I got back on track. I enjoyed the next few kilometres and was conscious of the sound of other runner’s foot steps. Twice on the route we met the faster runners on the other side of the dual carriageway heading in the opposite direction. I was pleased when I saw the blue stripe on their numbers, all 3:00-3:30 group with a few yellow numbers like mine amongst them. It’s great to watch the runners like this. They look so fast and fit.

The pace slows as we move up the line and nearer to the turning point on the road. Then I have the chance to see all coming behind me, moving steadily along but slowly. I passed the 22km half-way mark but never looked at my watch. I had forgotten about it by now. I started to look forward to meeting Mark at 25km just outside our hotel on another one of these dual carriageways with the 30km point on the other side. I look at the watch to see how far I have run - 15 miles. I am disappointed as I feel like I am at 20miles. ‘Oh f--k it’, I tell myself, ‘Things will get easier when Mark joins me’. I just focus on that and on all the names on the backs of the runner’s shirts. I recognise the street and just start to look out for Mark when he bounds in beside me with a gel diluted in a bottle of water. I had taken three so far, all diluted in the water. I forgot to drink some water out of the bottle first on one occasion the gel just over flowed out of the bottle – a lovely caffeine one wasted!

La Rambla

La Rambla

I can relax now, Mark is here. Or so I think. I start to go a little easier and am a little pissed-off that it’s not feeling easier. My left arm is aching as are four of my toenails. I ask Mark for sugar and he runs to find a shop. He rejoins me now carrying a packet of cola bottles and a Kit Kat Chunky - try chewing on that while running! I pass him the Garmin as it feels heavy on my sore arm and I would rather not look at my pace as I am slowing down. We get to 30km point right outside our hotel and I am tempted to go inside for a break but instead take a very short walking pit-stop and chew on a piece of Kit Kat. Off we go again and from here on every step got harder. People were walking and had stopped stretching all around us. It was like a battlefield full of wounded soldiers with an eerie quiet. Mark passes out sweets to the walking wounded and practices his Spanish on a French runner.

Placa d'Espanya

Placa d'Espanya

Shortly after the 35k there was a massive crowd of runners passing me. The streets got narrower and then to my dismay the guys with the 4:00 white balloons passed me.

I did my best to keep with them. My legs felt so heavy. I kept repeating, “My legs feel light”. It did help and I got through another few kilometres. We passed some fabulous buildings on the route. We ran through the Arc de Triomf, down La Rambla and around Columbus Tower. All I want now is the Placa d'Espanya where it is 4km to go. The crowds where shouting 'dale', which sounded like dalay, 'venga' which means go and ‘animo’ which means courage or spirit all the way around. They really gave the women great encouragement. Another 4:00 pacer with white balloon passes. My spirit lifts and off I go after him - even passing him. But, alas, that was all I had and I watched him drift off ahead of me. My race was being run in slow motion at this stage. I could see the buildings around the finish line down at the end of this long street, but could not ‘lift it’. Mark was encouraging me all the way. He still held the watch. I was so thrilled to see how close I was. At last, the finish line appears like a mirage. An English race official on a bike passes me and says, "Well done Grainne you’ve made it!" I had made it! Mark passes me the watch and on I go, over the line. Yes! What joy! I stop the watch and take a look – 4:02:02 and 26.57 miles. Those extra side steps add up.

Arc de Triomf

Arc de Triomf

I pause for a moment and watch the emotion on all the finisher’s faces. Men were hugging and crying. We exchange nods of comradeship. Mark and I embrace and I cry tears of joy. I hear Queen singing ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’. I wished I had heard it a while ago and look up at the fabulous fountain. What a beautiful city! We walk on through the stalls. I look at all the steps up to the baggage area and my legs refuse to move. The pain is fierce. “My legs - the pain - I need to lie down”, I say. Mark says, “Keep moving. If you stop you won’t get up.” I think the thought of him having to carry me freaked him out. Me too! He said, “I’ll get your bag you make your way down to metro”. I crept slowly along cursing the pain. When at last I got to metro I lay on the footpath holding my legs in the air one at a time. The pain disappeared. Lying there on the concrete was one very contented marathon runner.

Thanks to everyone who helped me on this journey, especially Mark, who listened to nothing else for the last sixteen weeks.

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I wish to extend my sympathy to the family and friends of Colin Dunne from Offaly, aged 27, who died while running this marathon.

Geraldine

15 years 3 months ago

Great read Grainne, fair play to ya! Geraldine

martin keane

15 years 3 months ago

In reply to by Geraldine

Great running Grainne though you narrowly failed to beat the 4 hr you certainly got it in the report,By the way did you happen to meet Manuel the waiter there he was from Barcelona

Debbie

15 years 3 months ago

Great report sis........hey you've inspired me to contemplate doing another one! Well done, so proud of you! Debs x

Tony N

15 years 3 months ago

Well done G ,that's a fantastic achievement and a brilliant report ,you are a great inspiration .

Louise

15 years 3 months ago

Wow, well done. Major achievement and great report. Love to be able to do what you did. I'm going to get that book!!!!

Maeve

15 years 3 months ago

Well Done Grainne what an achievement and a brilliant report - I felt your pain. Roll on Dublin for the sub 4

Brid Mo

15 years 3 months ago

Well Done Grainne you were fantastic. I am delighted for you as you worked very hard. Great report. Might be tempted to try it myself some time.

bob reilly

15 years 3 months ago

Well done Grainne. That is an inspiring description. I only wish I had that pace when I was mugged by a load of Romanian women just off Las Rambas last Nov. Still live and learn. Well done to you and your elder coach Mark!

Maire Treasa Beatty

15 years 3 months ago

Comhghairdeachas Grainne. Well done on a brilliant run. Grainne I knew well you could do it. What a great time and your first marathon. Well done again I am so proud of you many many more to come!

Assumpta

15 years 3 months ago

Congratulations Grainne. You're an inspiration to all of us. I felt your pain reading your report. The first marathon of many, I'm sure ;)

jameslundon

15 years 3 months ago

Those long runs weren't total madness after all.

Fair play to you, Grainne.

Sub-4 is the next target. I better get my skates on :-).