An international half

Over the past few months I have been training primarily with a friend, she is relatively new to running and is yet to compete heavily. So when the topic of her running her first half marathon came up I thought it might be fun to run it in the snow. That idea was quickly quashed as it turns out it is incredibly expensive to run a snow race – who knew!

A little searching around and we found another half in Terassa, a town an hours train journey from Barcelona. Neither of us could speak spanish but thanks to Google translate and a spanish speaking friend we managed to enter the race. A quick check of the race entrants we noticed we were the only brits, time to represent our country!

It wouldn’t just be a case of turning up and running, we first needed to collect our race numbers and timing chips from Terrassa the day before the race. After 8 modes of transport we finally arrived to collect our numbers and timing chips. This is the first time we noticed there may be a slight language barrier, while a high proportion of people in Barcelona can speak spanish, heading to the smaller towns reduces this considerably. To the point no one at the number collection spoke english, we managed to collect our number, chip, sack and present, we did however, lack any pins to attach our numbers.A prepared runner may have brought their own safety pins, but neither Rachel or I were particulary prepared.

After eating our tea consisting of a chocolate pastry on a bench, unable to find milk in a supermarket ?!?! and somehow even failing to order a meal at McDonald’s, we figured it was time to call it a night.

Waking early we headed to the train station, it was closed… Google maps to the rescue! There was another train station a short walk down the road. As we headed down the stairs we heard the warning beep for doors closing, “*giggling* you don’t think thats our train do you Rachel?”. As we stepped onto the platform our train did indeed pull out of the station. No need to panic though, another train will be along in 20 minutes, it may now be close to make it in time, but we will make it! So we sat down attached our timing chips and ate Jelly Babies as we waited for the train.

Sat on the train we giggled about what a fun story this would make – we only just made it to the race! It would be a great tale to tell. We arrived at the train station, booted up Google maps and we were on our way to the start. We arrived with 15 minutes to spare! We had a quick scoot around the staging area and decided we had time to head to the toilet and grab some pins for our numbers.

There was one portaloo, one toilet, one toilet for thousands of runners. Therefore, the queue ate into our time but it was ok, we were not starting first we would be fine! We hunted around for someone who spoke english and we found a little old lady managing the information stand. We told her we needed pins for our numbers and she gladly obliged. We stood around chatting for a while and heard the starting pistol for the first wave of people. We politely left, but only after persuading her to save all our things while we ran, and headed to the start. We gated with the other runners and set about making sure all our kit was ready to race. It was only then that Rachel noticed everyone elses numbers were a different colour, “you dont suppose this is the 5k race do you?”, “Nah, it cant be!”, “Or is it?”, “Yeah it is, this is the wrong race!”.

Hunting around for someone who spoke english we couldn’t find anyone, convinced marathon was the same in spanish we kept asking anyone in an ear shot where the start of the half marathon was. We quickly realised we were at the start line, we had just missed the start!

Rachel hurridly asked people if we were still allowed to start, we were! So we stood there, with no other runners and crowds of people no doubt staring at us. We began to run and realised we had no idea what the route actually was. We had intended just to follow everyone else. There were a number of road closures but more roads than simply the route had been closed, so we decided the only thing we could do was run fast in the hopes of finding other runners. So with no idea where to go we just started running faster and faster. After asking a few people in high vis where to go we found the sweeper bus. This made us smug with confidence, we were on the right route! We hurriedly sped by as people hung out of the van laughing at the people who missed the start.

We ran off into the distance past roundabouts and barriers, then Rachel noticed we were heading back to the start. The barrier had been moved to account for the 5k race! We had to double back and attempt to find the route. We decided the solution was once again to run even faster, afterall we would surely find someone soon!

After a few minutes we did find someone, the sweeper bus. Yet again shamed by the people on the bus we quickly overtook and headed down the road. This time however, we found another runner. In our heads we celebrated but didn’t want to particularly gloat that we were overtaking a 90 year old man that the crowd who had gathered on the corner were cheering. We continued to run at pace and find more and more people. We quickly decided to settle in to a pace and get on with the race.

Everything was going well until around mile 11 and I began to cramp. This was new to me, in all the races I have run I have never cramped. It hit our pace and we had to slow, we continued to eek out the distance as Rachel – a relatively new runner was putting me to shame. We were approaching the finish! But as as is common in these races it was a false finish, you first had to pass the finish line just to taunt you, then run a further 2k out and back.

A few hundred metres from the finish my leg began to spasm, surely it would hold out to the finish? Thankfully, it did and we crossed the finish line. We had no idea of our time, as I had started RunKeeper a little early, while we gated for the wrong race, but the race clock showed 2h20m. We knew we had definitely beaten that as we were still busy chatting in the race village as the clock started.

After crashing hard after the race, thanks to the last time we ate being 8 hours earlier, we headed back to Barcelona. We celebrated Rachel’s first ever half with a 3 euro bottle of fizzy and handfuls of Pringles. What a race! I wonder when we will find out our result.

The next day we did, 2h20m. It turned out they had turned off the timing gate at the start in preparation for the next race, so our chips never triggered a start, only a finish!

But the race served as a great example of my philosophy around running, its never about the time, its about the experience. We will never forget the moment of panic as we started the race alone, with no idea of the route, or the elation of finding the sweeper bus, for the first and second time. But we would of forgot the time. It’s a number and not a number that affects my experience.

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