Monday, September 20, 2010

Cursa de la Mercè 2010

I’m still waiting for the City Council of Barcelona to issue a statement admitting that yesterday’s course was short. Back in June, I ran a very disappointing 10k so I was wary of being over confident going in to this race. Truth be told, and despite that June disaster, I had reasons to be cautiously confident: my August runs—alone and with my father—felt fantastic, and, just last Wednesday, I did a long run at a very decent pace. Yet, I was concerned that the long run may have tired me out, that the first week back to work wasn’t the best time to do a race, and that a 12,000-person event with lots of “fun runners” was not the best place to try for a PR. Still, my plan was to try for a 57:30 finish, a slight improvement over my previous PR of 58:45.

Saturday evening I did some math and decided to aim for a 5:45/km pace. Then, I organized my race playlist, something I’ve never actually done before and which ended up being very beneficial. (Envisioning how you’ll be feeling at every km and what music you’ll need to push you through works wonders!) I got to bed early and was wide awake at 6:30 am. By 7:30, I’d managed to get down two cups of coffee and an apple, but I wasn’t hungry enough to eat anything else: I was excited and jittery and ready to go.

Now, it’s important to note here that I had made a conscious decision to run this race alone. There are people I could have called last week or even Sunday morning in order to meet up with them with at the start. In fact, I even turned down meet-ups with a few other runners. (I was polite and honest, but I’m sure those girls still think I’m a big weirdo.) I needed to run this race alone-- to be selfishly focused and determined. Does this ever happen to you? Do you sometimes not want to share that (mental) racing space? And yes, it was lonely at the beginning. Catalans are such group people--all decked out in the official race shirt, singing and taking pictures and generally being friendly and jovial. But, though I’ve been here for ten years, I’m still very American in my need to be an individual-- a pensive, lonely runner. Sure, all alone at the massively monumental Plaça Espanya, I had some weak moments and thought about texting a runner friend and begging, last minute, for a meet. But then, I would have had to make small talk, instead of staying focused on my race and other, deeper thoughts: my homesickness after a month in the States, discontent at the workplace, and my lack of enthusiasm for my thesis. I stayed strong—checked my cell phone with my bag, reflected on those big life questions, and talked to strangers in the spot-a-pot line instead of people I’d have to commit to staying near once the race began.

It took ten minutes just to get over the starting line, and I ran that first crowded kilometer in 6:12. In order to keep a 5:45 pace, I had some time to make up! Some runners were spreading out onto the sidewalks along the Gran Via in order to get ahead, but that seemed slightly dangerous to me: the scenario of tripping over a tree root and breaking my ankle flashed through my head. But, once I spotted a guy wearing an easily distinguishable green hat and knifing through groups four or five abreast, I followed him through km 4. I used his trailblazing and then passed him, crossing the 5k mark at 27-something! I was psyched! Thank you, Green Hat!

Since I was carrying my own water I didn’t have to stop and get caught in the 5k-water-shuffle either; I just tuned in to my tunes. Families spilled out onto their balconies, old ladies were cheering and I had the rumba catalana carrying me along. At the 8k mark my watch read 45:01 and I actually clapped my hands. Just stay focus, I thought to myself, you have this in the bag. The last two kilometers weren’t easy though—the race ended uphill and the street narrowed, so there was no room and I had little energy left for a sprint. And, I was having trouble concentrating because I realized that I was going to come in under 56 minutes and just couldn’t believe it. Excitement took over. Last year, I did this same race (yes, granted just for fun with co-workers) in 1:05. What a difference, although of course it makes perfect sense: you work at something, you practice persistently, and you get better. But somehow, 55:12 just felt too good to be true. I looked up the race results online as soon as I got home, just to make sure my watch hadn’t been disastrously wrong.

Now, I’m just trying not to get my hopes too high for my half marathon on October 24th, just trying to stay focused on doing what I’ve been doing: running consistently and carefully—avoiding injury and slowly but surely building confidence. So my 10k PR is the good news, the bad is that my goal of running before work is just not happening, but I’m trying not to beat myself up over that. Another one of my (many) goals was to cross-train and except for some swimming in the open sea that just hasn’t been happening either. We’ll see if I can get to tonificación class at the gym this week, although I’ve been fantasizing about getting back into swimming recently. I was on swim team in high school and swimming laps always feels like coming home. Does anyone use swimming as their cross-training? Does it help your running or do you think weights are more beneficial?


  1. Great job on the race and the PR!! I certainly understand how you felt about wanting to run it alone!

  2. Congrats on the PR and a nice one at that! Girl, I am so the same way. Sometimes it's fun to run with others, but most of the time I like to RACE in hopes of a PR. Good Luck with the Oct half.

    I do not swim, but I would like to.

  3. I totally understand needing to run it alone, I definitely have those moments.

    Swimming is good cross training, but i don't do much. yoga and weights have had the biggest benefit for me

  4. Awesome job on the PR! Barcelona is such a beautiful city (although Madrid will always be my Iberian home)!

    I'm a really poor swimmer so swimming is not good cross training for me at all. I do yoga and commute by bike as my main cross training.