top of page

The best way to run Barcelona marathon ~Rob Kenny

The Barcelona Marathon – in which we learned what a Bestia Parda is


Eight months before race day, Kerry started to assemble a gang to run the Barcelona marathon – in part as a memorial for the husband of one of the group.

Some of us knew each other from before, but to make further intros Kerry marshalled us into a WhatsApp group. This took on a life of its own in the following months, covering everything from breaking up swan fights to how to smuggle gel packets past Spanish customs.  Every now and then – I assume inadvertently – it was also the source of useful advice: on kit, training, nutrition and what to do when you have a crap run. In January, it became a cheer squad when Kerry did her little 268 mile jog on the Pennine Way. We also got together in person to share some of our long slow runs.

On the Friday before race day, ten of us headed off to airports across the UK to converge on Barcelona. Kerry – still recovering from her rash Pennine outing – came as team manager, overseeing nine excited runners. We were a mixed group: older / younger; fast / not so fast; experienced / first timers; and diligently trained / me.

Saturday – pre-race day - provided steady rain throughout. This was hopeful, as it would clearly favour the visiting English team over the hydrophobic locals. Even better, there was an enormous queue to get into the Expo, again ideal for the visitors. With race bibs collected, we headed off for tactical naps and/or patchily streamed Six Nations rugby. Dinner called for carbo loading, and a restaurant serving 80cm pizzas fit the bill perfectly.

Sunday morning had unhelpfully reverted to Spanish sunshine, but cool temperatures made it perfect for a marathon.  We shuffled off to our starting corrals, which were the usuals mayhem of bin-bag wearing people warming up, taking selfies and asking each other where the toilets were.

Soon enough we were off, winding our way through 42km of Barcelona. It’s a flat course on wide streets, and mostly not too crowded. The support was generally enthusiastic. One lady had a sign saying “Sois unas bestias pardas” – you are a brown beast. Later googling suggested this meant ‘a person or thing strongly detested or avoided’, which seemed not very motivational. But apparently it can also mean ‘someone who has done something very difficult needing a lot of strength’. We’ve decided to believe she meant it that way.

The scenery is generally pleasant rather than majestic, though the Sagrada Familia (the new cathedral) at 14 km was spectacular – lots of runners craning their necks upwards as they went by.

The refreshment stations were mostly good, though some of the early ones did run out of water. Manchego cheese was offered as a substitute.

The course map had an annotation at 37km saying “the man with the sledgehammer appears”. This turns out to be the Spanish for “hitting the wall”. The man with the sledgehammer certainly paid me a visit, rather earlier than this, but I plodded on happily enough. I was far enough back in the pack that I had good company for my occasional walk break.

The finish line was under the Arc de Triomf (decorated with the bat emblem of King Jaume I, as everyone knows). We staggered on to collect our medals, and then were met by Kerry, who provided dry kit and congratulations.

Some of our group had put in truly impressive races, and everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves. We reassembled at a hotel bar to compare notes. One later arrival announced “I feel fantastic – I want to have sex with you all!” This showed impressive stamina after 42km, if limited discernment.

Sometimes running is about PBs, and HRs and mins/km and a dozen other numbers, and that can have its place. But at its best, running is about having adventures together, making new friends, sharing joy at triumphs and sharing laughter about debacles. Our trip to Barcelona was undoubtedly running at its best.


bottom of page