Freddie Mercury was right, and it is a beautiful horizon too. But for me the attraction of Barcelona lies in the hills and mountains that surround the city, and on Saturday 25th March the small village of Begues was the setting for the Ultra Trail Barcelona (UTBCN). Comprising of races ranging from kids to 100k there was something for everyone, and I choose to do the marathon distance. With 1750m ascent it was certainly no “Mickey Mouse” option (despite what the ultra runners at my club might say- you know who you are), but the highest peak was about 600m so there weren’t any monster Alps-style climbs to deal with in one go.
One thing I was expecting was the weather to be fairly hot, conditions I don’t exactly thrive in to be honest, so imagine my delight when it was thunder and lightning the night before with torrential rain! It didn’t suit everyone though- rumour has it the weather put my fellow traveller off taking part in the 70k (strictly rumour).
Come race day the usually arid, dry and dusty ground was sodden, with mud and impromptu streams and deep puddles lining the first half of the route. My ideal conditions then, and not exactly the weather most of the Catalan, Spanish and other European runners were used to. I saw ski jackets and gloves not just at the start but during the race too (!), and plenty of poor souls slipping and sliding in their “Speed”cross. As usual the ever trusty Inov-8 Roclite 295’s (the greatest running shoe ever made?!) held firm on the variety of terrain, but even they were tested on the polished unusually wet rocky descents. If anyone has ever done the Three Peaks fell race and remembers the last section of wet slippy limestone through Sulber Nick, it was a surprisingly similar experience- quite technical and not particularly easy.
For many parts of the route you have views of the Mediterranean, whilst weaving in and out of the Parc del Garraf, which gives a real boost to tired legs. The halfway point was at a spectacular old monastery at Palau Novella, with support from a few locals plus Becky and Andreas who had mountain biked up. At this point the 70 and 100k routes turn off down towards the sea and the marathon route continues into the mountains. It was at this stage approaching midday when the sun was fully up, really quite warm and the ground had dried completely. My mild advantage of being from cold and wet Northern England had quite literally evaporated, and it was a bit more of a sweaty slog to get around the last 13 miles, through plenty of spiky bushes and copious amounts of rosemary. That said it was still a joy to run, and having had just 9 days of running training prior to the race following a month off with injury, I was making the most of being out in the mountains, tired but pain free. The slower pace did also allow me to take a couple of seconds of rest by messing around with my Go-Pro……
Knowing the major climbs were over as I approached the lower part of the village of Begues down an excellent and fast (but quad burning!) trail my pace had picked up and I joined the 22k runners for the final stretch to the finish. Crossing the line I felt great- finishing in 4hr18m in 20th place overall and 1st Brit.
Looking at the results I was really pleased to be only 39 mins off the winner and 5 mins ahead of the first woman in what was actually quite a competitive series of races (World Skyrunning champion Luis Hernando won the 22k race, to illustrate this). I think I could have shaved off 20 minutes if I hadn’t been hampered by injury in the build up, but who cares, it is about enjoying the race (and holiday), doing as well as you can on that specific day, and ultimately staying injury free.
The barren but beautiful hills of Barcelona were a joy- bring on the London Marathon and Three Peaks double in four weeks time!