Barcelona has always held a special place in my heart. Perhaps inspired by the iconic Blaugrana football team managed by Johan Cruyff, the visual aspect of the 1992 Olympic Games Diving competition and the overall revolutionary nature of the city. It was odd then that it took me nearly forty years to actually visit the place.
A friend of mine moved to Barcelona a few years back so I chose 2018’s Half Marathon to visit him and do a bit of running tourism also. Held in the aftermath of the independence referendum where voters had been beaten out of polling centres and pro-independence leaders imprisoned or exiled it was clear that revolution was once again in the Catalan air. Yellow ribbons and Catalan flags decorated people’s clothing, buildings and the road surface.
I enjoyed it so much that when I could I immediately booked on for 2019 and was soon joined by PAC club mates Vicky and Louise. It wasn’t until track night last week that I found out that 2/3 of the Greggs crew, Rach and Bernie, had also signed up. A small PAC European away weekend was in the offing.
Rach and Bernie arrived on Friday night whilst Vicky, Louise and I joined them on Saturday afternoon and we headed straight for Plaça d’Espanya to pick up our numbers at the Expo in the old bullring (bullfighting is now thankfully illegal in Catalunya). Following a spot of lunch we all went our separate ways. Rach and Bernie headed out for a run chock full of photos, Vicky and Louise got caught up in an Iberian Devil-inspired parade whilst I got steadily borratxo as the drinks flowed with my old Instituto de Cervantes Manchester pal Charlie.
On race day we arranged to meet up at the baggage area at 8am. We then made our way to the start area bordering the expansive Parc de la Cuitadella to corral in to our time pens after a Rach-inspired group selfie (no smiling Mike) for the 0845 start. Poor Vicky was injured and couldn’t run so was on PAC support duties.
Bang on time the race started with a blast of confetti and the individual waves set off in five minute intervals. The kind of rectangular route first went along by the port toward the statue of Christopher Columbus who unhelpfully pointed in the wrong direction. He may well have been the first European to get to the Americas but he’s one crap race marshal. Ignoring Columbus we turned up the wide thoroughfare known as Avinguda del Paral-lal (it runs parallel to the Equator).
After 4km the route about-turned and sent us back in a northeast direction along Gran Via. After turning back toward the start/finish area with the sighting of the Arc de Triomf in the rising sunlight we then started a 5km tour around some of Barcelona’s less aesthetically pleasing residential architecture, Gaudí-inspired it was not, and arterial roads.
At 12km we turned right and the glistening Mediterranean came in to view but also the warming sun now hit the unsheltered runners. It was a stark contrast for those PACers that ran in the bitter cold at the Blackburn Winter Warmer 10k the previous Sunday. Following this there came a 2.5km out and back section along Avinguda Diagonal that I hated last year and still hate this year. There’s something about faster runners headed in the opposite direction that demoralises me a wee bit. Must be more mentally strong.
Between 16 and 17 kilometres we arrived at the coastal section of the race. To have the Mediterranean and Barcelona’s city beaches for company was fantastic and did a good job motivating the runner on the last hard bit of the race.
We turned left onto Carrer de la Marina and as we approached 20km Gaudí’s awesome but still unfinished Sagrada Família came into view. What a sight to behold and with one final left turn we were on the long finish straight. One thing I warned the other PACers about was to ignore the first eight inflatable overhead arches and just keep concentrating on running until the last of them, the finish line.
I originally thought I’d managed to best last year’s time by the finest of margins, 1 second, however on checking up the official results rather than relying on Tom Tom/Strava data my official 1:34:38 in fact was over by 1 second. Bollocks! Rach and Bernie achieved 1:54:37 and 1:57:21 respectively whilst an injured Louise valiantly limped home in 2:25:40. Only after looking at the results on Tuesday did I find out there was a fifth PAC runner out in Barcelona also, Helen Berry who finished in 1:55:10.
We all had a thoroughly enjoyable brief running sojourn in Barcelona. It was a real cosmopolitan affair and were proud to show the Prestwich AC colours amongst all the European running clubs in attendance. The support was fantastic with Vicky being ably assisted by tens of thousands of supporters with their ‘¡venga, venga, venga!’ (come on) shouts. There was also a great variety of live music playing along the route. The €25 entrance charge compares favourably to the exorbitant fees charged at our local half marathons in Manchester and together with the medal, t-shirt, poncho and as many bananas and oranges as you wanted proved great value.
Barcelona was great host city for our PAC away weekend and we have brought back unforgettable memories. Can we get it on the road championship calendar for 2020 Jo? Please?
¡Visca PAC i Visca Catalunya!