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Barcelona Half-Marathon Race Report

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First up on the race calendar this year is the Barcelona Half-Marathon.  We had targeted a race earlier in the season, aimed primarily at ensuring that I’m progressing nicely towards later-spring marathons.  Looking at the schedule, Barcelona was spot-on timing-wise, mid-February and in a slightly warmer locale than Paris typically is this time of year.  A month from now is the Paris half-marathon, but we were too late and missed the cut-off by…uhh…a few hours.

So, Barcelona it was!  Given it’s only a 75 or so minute flight, it’s an easy hop for us, and the flights are always super cheap down to this beach town.  Which, btw, looks like this:

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And this past weekend – we had perfect weather to match!  Climbing to just under 70°F for the non-race times.  Woot!

With that intro out of the way, let’s get on with the event!

Packet Pickup:

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Packet pickup was held near the start of the race, in a beautiful old building that would double as the bag drop the next day.

In actuality, if you lived nearby you could have picked up your packet the same morning (up till 45 minutes before race start).  But we preferred to not worry about it race-morning.  Also of note is that you could have registered up till the day before the race – as they were doing registration at the event.

Inside, packet pickup took approximately 12 seconds.  Perhaps 14 seconds if you count both of us.  No lines, and without question the fastest packet pickup of my life.

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Inside the race bag there were a few flyers for other races, and then a t-shirt I didn’t think to photograph.  Though, I’m sure it’s shown in some of the photos below.  We’d see many folks committing flagrant violations the race t-shirt rule of wearing the finishers shirt the day before the race (running/walking around), as well as the same bad-luck rule of wearing it during the race (though, we’ve found such rule is much less strictly adhered to in Asia or Europe).

Pre-Race Warm-up:

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After taking care of business, we headed a few hundred meters over to the starting area – which was astoundingly empty.  Just beyond it though was a really pretty park, which was all of 5 meters from the entrance to our corral.

This would make for the perfect location to complete a warm-up run.  A nice big 5-6 minute loop at pace.  So I did two of them, slightly shortening the second one to make it work-out time-wise.  The first was nice and easy, and then on the second I slowly brought my heart rate up to race intensity.

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With that completed we headed back to the starting corrals.  Where…I found this (the below).  Yes, it’s a video.  Yes, just watch.

Yup, they were doing loops…in the corrals.  I’m actually sorta impressed.  I’ve never seen such circling before – kinda like watching fish in an aquarium.

After evaluating the flow situation, we headed on in…and kept out of the way.

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Here’s us, preparing to go.  There were a couple of corrals, and we had signed up for the 1:20-1:30 corral.  After saying goodbye, I left The Girl hanging out towards the back of the corral, while I headed up a bit further forward and got ready to head out.

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The Race:

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Despite how far I look from the start line, somehow things compressed and moved forward, so by time the starting gun went off, I was basically just a few meters back of the line.  I’m not quite sure how that happened, as I wasn’t really planning on being there, just got pushed along.

With absolutely zero fanfare (as is customary for every race we’ve run in Europe), they counted from 5 to 1 (in Spanish), and off we went.  Except, unlike all the races we’ve done they shot off canons with confetti.  An impressive amount of it.  Was kinda neat looking back, like New Years Eve in Times Square.  Also neat to see everyone starting their watches as they cross the timing mats.

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With that, me and 10,000 or so of my friends headed on out.  Of note is that there were multiple inflatable banner thingies at the starting line, just to keep you on your toes.

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There was no issue with folks being seeded far out of pace place.  Unlike the US, folks are really good at it here.  You don’t see walkers in the first corral (not that this race permitted it, it only had a 2hr 45m time limit).  And, like most races here people run really damn fast.  Keep in mind that I finished in only 689th place…remember that when you see my time at the end.

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My pacing strategy was based purely on heart rate.  We switched that up from the pace-driven one we used in my marathon back in November, in part because this way I don’t have to think about whether I’m doing poorly and have it spiral out of control.  So this way, I merely need to run harder/slower to keep in my HR zones.

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My coach had basically divided up the race into three sections:

Miles 1-5
Miles 5-11
Miles 11-13.1

As I progressed through the sections, my target HR range slightly increased.  Ultimately, this would basically keep my pace constant at about 6:25-6:30/mile (3:59-4:02/KM) throughout the race (minus the last few miles, which I’ll cover later).

The course was fairly flat and fast – so flat in fact that during this very race today a woman set the new women’s half-marathon world record (1:05:12).  About the only thing that slowed me down was the water stops, not because they were inefficient, but simply because I slowed down a few seconds a mile to take in gel and water.  With the aide stations spaced every 5K, I took in one gel and about 1/3rd a bottle of water.

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The race had a handful of music acts performing along the way.  This one at the 10KM marker, seen on the stands behind.

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And this one a few miles later:

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There was a bit of a head wind coming down this one stretch around the 7 mile (12KM) marker for perhaps a mile.  For whatever reason I got in a section where there was nobody in front/back of me by a few dozen yards.  Except this guy.  What was interesting was observing the impact of drafting behind him.  I determined that drafting behind him slowed me almost exactly 1 second per mile, but, saved me 2-3BPM in heart rate fighting the wind.  Clearly, a well worthwhile tradeoff for a mile.

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Soon, I found myself nearing mile 9-10 and the beach.  I’d point out that when it says 15K marker, it’s a bit of a mind-job.  In my head, 15K means that I’m 5K to the 20KM, which is almost, but not quite the finish.  In reality, the finish is 21.1K.  Thus, when I think only 5K left at the 15K marker, mentally I think that about 30-40 seconds later I’d be in the 2.9x mile left category.  In reality, that’s not true.  It’s really like being almost 4 miles to the finish.  And that’s a huge difference compared to 2.anything miles.

Just sharing my thoughts.

Oh, another thought: This little couple meter rise felt like a mountain after an other-wise flat course.

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Here I am, around mile 11-something (17KM), cruising along with the beach off to the side.  I had actually slowed a little bit around the mile 11 marker, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.  Just losing a little bit of steam, about 10/seconds a mile (6/sec KM).

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And here we are at the 20KM marker.  Which, my mental-math will point out is very different from 1KM to go, since it’s really 1.1KM to go, and that last 97.5 meters actually matters (and hurts).

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As the finish line came into sight I pushed about as hard as I could, which, I found, wasn’t actually all that much faster than I was going when I wasn’t pushing as hard as I could.  There just weren’t any gears left to switch into – having me top out a whopping :10 seconds/mile faster than I was going in the previous kilometer.

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Still, despite my apparent lack of ‘final kick’ gear, I ended up with a rather nice official time of 1:25:35 – or an average pace of 6:31/mile (4:04/KM).  While it would have been kinda nifty to have been sub-1:25, I don’t really see where I could have found the extra 35 seconds.  Obviously, if I could have maintained the higher heart rate the last 2 miles, that would have done the trick, but that wasn’t to be.  For those curious, I’ve posted my race file to Strava for more of the laps/splits/HR detail.

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I wasn’t quite sure if this was a PR or not, I new it was sorta close, but turns out I was about 50 seconds shy of my current half-marathon PR.

Finish Area Goodness:

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After catching my breath for a few minutes I puttered around waiting for The Girl, who’d show up a couple minutes later.  While doing so I noticed there were stretchers handy.  Thankfully, unlike a few people that came in – I didn’t have to use them.

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Soon, she came in.  Unfortunately, out of the three photos we took together, one her eyes were closed…one mine were closed, and this was what was left.  Obviously, we didn’t bother to check said photos before leaving.

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After having our timing chips removed, we headed over to pickup our little medals.  They were in tiny plastic bags all sealed up.

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So, since nobody put them on our necks, we put them on each other:

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From there we grabbed some oranges (from Spain), and bananas (from a box).  My only suggestion to the race organizers would be a tiny bag.  With two bottles of liquid given (water + sport drink), a medal, bananas, and oranges…we sorta ran out of hands to hold things.

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Afterwards we went over to the gym to grab our bags.  We’re loving how many races we do in Europe where they’ve taken over gyms as pre/post-race staging areas.  Even better was that the volunteers were actually running back and forth.  Seriously.  The line had zero people in it.

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With that, we shuffled back to the hotel to relax a bit (ok, we didn’t relax at all, but that’s a story for another day).

Without a doubt we’d definitely do the race again – perfectly cool weather for it, fast course, and great volunteers.  Oh, and a great city!

Thanks for reading!

48 Comments

  1. If the first lady broke the WR what time did the forst man do? Was it also quick?

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      A mind-boggling 1:00:52. Full list of insanely fast times here: link to mitjabarcelona.com

      Reply
    • Mike Richie replied

      Wow, the Girl did 1:34:23. That's 4:28 / km. Was that a PR? (By the way, you put in your last name as Ray and first name as Maker for the race)

      Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Yeah, it was a whole bowl of confusion. They tried fixing it at the race, but I'm pretty sure it made matters worse. :)

      Not quite a PR for her either...but close.

      Reply
  2. Rick W

    Ray,
    Great race report. I really enjoy the site and plan to run my first half marathon this April. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  3. Hugo

    That's an awesome time. I've a lot of difficulties in doing 4x1K at 4:10 min/km and you do faster for an half-marathon :-) Awesome!
    Keep going.

    Reply
  4. Hu3ain

    Good effort. It seems like a well-organized race. The beautiful city is a bonus. I'm excited to do Challenge Barcelona in May.

    What camera did you use for the photographs?

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Thanks!

      All the shots are with the VIRB, except packet pickup and the beach shot, which are with the iPhone 5s. Enjoy!

      Reply
    • Oscar P replied

      Hey Ray, are you holding your Virb in your hands through out the entire race? Or do you use the wrist band mount or something of that sort?

      Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Yup, hand-hold. I had a SpiBelt on if I wanted to stash it, but I honestly have gotten so used to holding a camera in my hands over the years it doesn't even phase me anymore.

      Reply
    • pete replied

      Is there a reason for using the VIRB over your normal camera?
      Looks like a lot of fish-bowling using the VIRB compared to your normal shots.

      Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Sometimes it's as simple as lack of battery being charged. For product shots while running I've gone back to using my point and shoot.

      But in some of these events I'm finding I get a bit more clarity with the VIRB in most cases than my little point and shoot. Also, it's easier for me to charge (via USB) than having to remember yet another camera battery charging block thing. One might be surprised with how much stuff I constantly carry around, and chargers add up.

      Reply
  5. Sebas

    Nice one!
    I'll be running the marathon there next month, let's hope the conditions are gonna be that good!

    Reply
  6. Suzanne

    Really enjoy reading your race reports. I'm always amazed at how your photos taken post race look like you've just been on a Sunday stroll! I'm a newbie runner, did 4kms today, with a couple of walking breaks and resembled a beetroot after!

    Reply
  7. J.Griffin

    Nice report!! As always like to gain your insights.

    What/which running watch were you using?

    Reply
  8. Pedro Costa

    Wow Ray, I went to Barcelona and when I was reading your report it was like I have felt exactly this yesterday!

    Reply
  9. Koen

    Damn that's a good pace. Hopefully I will be able to do it in 1.25 sometime in the near future as well.

    Reply
  10. frank d

    Well done on the race to you both!

    And, great pictorial and commentary.

    Reply
  11. Mikey

    How is drafting viewed? I mean I think it's kinda cruddy to draft off someone then not share the drafting duties. Not that it's a huge deal in running.

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      I've never seen any formal (or unformal) thoughts on drafting while running from an etiquette standpoint. The challenge is that it's tough making most runners aware of it. So even if I did cut in front of them, most wouldn't really get it. And I'm sure not about to waste breath trying to explain it.

      I think it would probably be more obvious if it were really gusting out, but for just a steady medium head-wind, not as much.

      Typically you'll see most faster runners moving from runner to runner as they move up - just like cyclists will.

      Reply
  12. driedees

    Very nice pace Ray, cool report as always! As a fan of metal music, the first thing that came to mind viewing the warm up loops within the starting corral was: CIRCLE PIT!!!

    Reply
  13. Matt

    hey Ray, the video doesn't seem to be working...or it might just be me.

    Reply
  14. Dave

    Awesome, so detailed, like if i just was in your place running! even felt tired after reading it (ok no, super fun and good pics)!

    ps; i saw you have your phone attached, why?

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      I had contemplated enabling Live Tracking for the event (with the FR620), but didn't really think it through much and decided against it after I had already done bag-drop.

      Reply
  15. Kyle Polansky

    How do you see all of the extra analysis on Strava? Using the link you posted, I only see basic stas (time, distance, calories), a map, 2014 stats, Top Achievements, an elevation profile, and mile splits. I don't see any heart rate data or a graph that looks like the one that you posted a picture of. Are those stats only available to the uploader?

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Yeah, it's only shown to the uploader (or maybe only shown to Premium members?). Either way, never understand why others can't see it - seems silly to me. Since I'm paying for Strava, I'd like my data to be seen the same across the board.

      Reply
    • David replied

      Actually the details show up for me only if I'm logged into Strava. I'm not a premium member.

      Reply
  16. Tom

    Hi Ray - great report thanks. What's the thinking behind getting HR up to race pace in the warm-up? I'm trying to run sub 1:30 for this distance (need to shave a couple of minutes) and race HR is similar around 172-174bpm. However other than light jog and stretch I don't do much of a warm-up so as to conserve energy for the race. You find it's beneficial to have the heartrate up to race HR and then back down again before the gun goes? Thanks, Tom, Auckland NZ

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      It's mostly to reduce the shock to the system that occurs early on in the race when you often ramp up pretty quickly - either due to swerving around folks or going from zero to race pace near instantly.

      For me, we've found the most success getting my warm-up up to race-pace for at least a couple minutes (1-3 mins). This makes it feel more normal when I do it a short time later in the race. It's sorta like how if you go off and do intervals, the first few always suck the most (well, and the last few).

      Reply
  17. German

    Hi Ray, great report. Thanks. Just a comment, about the counting, it wasn't in Spanish, that is Catalan, which is a language spoken in that region besides Spanish.
    Ray I am curious about what was the % of HR planned for the different sections (Miles 1-5, Miles 5-11, Miles 11-13.1) that you mentioned in the report. It will be great if you can share them. thx again.

    Reply
  18. "they counted from 5 to 1 (in Spanish), and off we went."

    Since it was Barcelona, they probably counted from 5 to 1 in Catalán instead of Spanish. At least that's what the guy on the mic was speaking when he shouted that there were 6 minutes to go. Although, 1-3 are pretty much the same in both Spanish and Catalán so they're easy to get mixed up.

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Ahh, good point (both Tanner and German), I heard 3-2-1 in what sounded like Spanish, so I assumed the previous I just wasn't paying attention. Nice to know!

      Reply
    • rob smith replied

      haha, i'd be impressed if oyu could tell the difference between tres-dos-un-BANG and tres-dos-uno-BANG!

      Reply
  19. Alfie

    Another excellent report! Just noticed that if you reverse the second and third numbers in your half time (1:25) you will get my best half time (1:52)! I don't think I will ever reach the 1:25 mark but think I could eventually hit 1:40 (Just started running way too late in life and now really well past my prime!)

    As for the circle running in the corral, I just did the Miami Marathon a couple of weeks ago and they were doing a slightly less organized version of that in my corral which I hadn't seen before. I joined in as there wasn't a lot of room outside the corral to warm up appropriately.

    I also love the T-shirt rules! I cringe when I see them being worn pre-race or during the race and immediately know that they are mostly newbies and to avoid them like the plague during a race, especially 5K runs that don't have corrals! They always look to start in the front and then go out really slow!

    Reply
  20. Alice

    Glad you liked the race :), since Barcelona is one of my favourite places on the planet, but I really hope you guys have had some time to see more of BCN, some of the modernist architecture like Gaudi's, etc., because the route of the race did not touch upon the really beautiful parts. The marathon in March has a more spectacular route,(but probably not as flat, though).

    Reply
  21. pritam

    Geat run and love the race report... was wondering what your maximum heart rate is and what your average heart rate (as a percentage of max) was for the race...

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      My max is about 189-190bpm (it's been about a year since I hit that). I don't use %ofMax in any of my training (directly), but my three zones aligned to the sections above were:

      First chunk: 169-172
      Second chunk: 173-176
      Third chunk: 177-180

      Reply
  22. phoros

    As the finish line came into sight I pushed about as hard as I could, which, I found, wasn’t actually all that much faster than I was going when I wasn’t pushing as hard as I could. Well put and soooo well known... :) A great report - as always. Thanks!

    Reply
  23. Gehr

    Hi DC.
    You are now living for so long in Europe. Switch to km and leave the toilsome miles behind! cheers

    Reply
  24. Matteo

    Hi Ray, I was seeing the screenshot of Garmin Connect of this half-marathon in the "Fenix2 preview".
    I was wondering what happen after about 1h05' into the race?
    At that point running dynamics started changing a lot with lower cadence, more contact time and more vertical oscillation.
    Any reason for this? is it normal for you?
    Just curios about these new parameters.
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      I was looking at that as well, as was my coach. It's actually not super-clear why the significant shift there. I could see about a minute earlier (turned into the wind), or a minute later (up a slight rise), but it is definitely interesting. We both picked up on it. It was roughly about the point where I seemed to hit a bit of a wall in terms of being able to put any harder.

      Reply
  25. Hugo

    Love your blog, my go to place for running/cycling/swimming related gadgets. I can't believe I was a few meters behind you at the start! In the 1.30-1.40 slot though (finished in 1.36). Nice report, felt like running it again :)

    Reply
  26. Frank

    I also participated this year’s run and recognize every bit of your story. I was also very amazed by the fast packet pickup. Unfortunately I was stupid enough to forget my own yellow chip. I found out while leaving the pickup, but within 5 minutes I was provided with a new chip!

    Reply
  27. Caferey

    Great RR as always! I never knew the HM route was WR fast. I know the marathon route isn't. If you're looking for a pancake flat HM or FM this fall and want to escape the grey and rain of Paris I can highly recommend Valencia. The first 3 in the HM broke 60.00 a few years back, and it's Spain's fastest marathon course. Weather is still around 20C in Oct & Nov so great for sightseeing, and a world famous paella on a restaurant terrace.

    You're right about faster runners in Spain. When I did the Valencia marathon there was a guy running with a twin baby jogger that comfortably ran sub 3.00! Unbelievable!

    Reply
  28. Gerar

    Great report, hope this will help many people who are thinking to run in Barcelona next time.

    Reply

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