Marato d´Empuries 2019: when 42.2km became 21.1km!
Updated: May 24, 2019
Sunday 5th May 2019 Empuries: I was here to fulfill something I would never have thought possible before. Having only ran my 1st marathon 8 weeks earlier, and having such a bad experience, the Paris marathon 5 weeks later made me realise; maybe, just maybe, I could do more. So on a quick google, and enamored by the thought of roman soldiers leading the way to the marathon start line through historic Roman and Greek ruins on the coast of Catalunya, I signed up and became one of the circa 200 people to prepare to run the Marato d`Empuries 2019.
I googled to find other bloggers and their reviews of the marathon, and could only find two blogs. But in them I learnt that the marathon 3 years earlier had been cancelled due to the local wind "El Tramuntana".
I began to watch the weather forecast, and sure enough, strong winds were promised that Sunday. However, from what I could see, it is a windier location than Barcelona anyway. I began to regret running between buildings rather than continue on the paseo (promenade) on windy days in Barcelona.. Hmmmm....not such a great training strategy after all!
By Friday evening, the weather forecast was worsening for Sunday. For sure, a beautiful sunny day, and by Irish standards, it would be the best day of the year. 17/18 degrees and blue skies. But the wind forecast changed from a standard warning to mention "El Tramuntana". And so it was: when I collected my bib on the Saturday, I asked could the marathon be cancelled. Naturally they didn´t know, but I half knew, walking to the start line in the Ruines de Empuries, we had a chance of cancellation.
Bib collection was in a Sports Hall in Escala, a decent walk from Empuries. We drove there before we reached our accomodation in Empuries, and I would recommend, if you are staying in Empuries, to do similiar. There were kids races on the Saturday night, and while we did go into Escala that evening, we had just missed the kids races. If I return next year, I´ll be sure to enter the kids now that we better know our way around the locality. There was a great family vibe around Escala and the kids got the same t-shirts as the Marathon t-shirts.
Pre race nerves were getting the better of me the night before and the usual doubts were surfacing. My kids, 5 and 3, were my motivators that night, telling me "You can do it Mommy" before we all retired to bed. I really doubted my abilities to run 42.2km the next day, and I know part of it was a poor diet. When I don´t take care of one of the 3 fundamentals of my running (training, sleeping or diet), I lose confidence in my abilities when it comes to the race prep. The real problem was my continued intake of chocolate. Ever wondered how caffeine gels work mid-race if you have a sugar habit....well, they don´t! But sometimes you have to learn the hard way before you can see the light, and I was about to learn the hard way!
Standing at the start line at 8.15am, listening to a variety of announcements, a sudden groan of disappointment came from some of the crowd. While I was already chatting to another lady (who had completed 12 marathons in 2018!), neither of us spoke Catalan, so we didn´t understand. And neither did the next guy beside us (a man who had travelled especially from the UK for his circa 105th marathon!). So we asked the pacers who happened to be standing beside us, and they translated that yes, the marathon was cancelled. We would be entered into the half marathon and get an automatic pass into next years marathon.
Well, I don´t know if I was disappointed or not. I´m no pro marathoner, and already knew since earlier in the week there was a possibility of cancellation, so the cancellation did not bring surprise. And hey, I could run a half marathon and come back again next year. Other people were very disappointed for sure; travelling long distances especially to experience the marathon. But the weather was about to show us why we wouldn´t be doing two circuits of the 21km loop.
Led by the roman soldiers from the Ruines D´Empuries at 8.30am, the race started around 8.45am (start time was advertised as 8.30am, so good to know if you are running late!) There were many more announcements in Catalan and it was getting confusing, as it did seem to be more about the cancellation. Were they telling us we could finish the 42km if we wanted? Were we running a marathon or not? At that point, I didn´t actually know but figured we would find out on the course.
And what a beautiful course to run! With the snow capped Pyrennes in the distance, fields surrounding us for miles, we headed out of Empuries for 7km, before reversing back in. The way out was tough - against strong wind - and there was no real way to work in groups to protect from the wind. It was clear a number of people were trying to do so, me too, but the wind was too powerful for it. On the reverse, the wind was on our back and by the time I hit 11km, I needed to stop to take off one of my upper layers as it was so warm!
But if I thought the wind was bad going out the first 7km, then the real wind started to hit. As we reached the top of the hill entering Escala around 12km, it literally whipped me off my feet for a split second. I was suddenly someway frightened, and as we ran downhill into Escala itself, the wind tunnelling between the narrow street was pushing people as we ran. It felt, in that moment, dangerous, and I understood why we would only be doing 21km.
The strength of the wind was really making the race tough. As we hit the paseo in Escala, my water belt literally flew off my waist and both bottles flew across the path. I was going around in a circle picking up the belt then the bottles, which were blown about 3-4 metres apart as I was also getting pushed by the wind! That was a readl "What are we doing?!" moment!
As we ran towards the port, while tough, the race was still going well for me with a steady pace. But at the 15km mark, it was impossible to do very much. In fact, where I might just have resorted to walking due to the wind, I had no choice but to continue running - as the wind was so strong, if you walked you wouldn´t have progressed at all! After that point, I had to stop and get my breath for 30 seconds before taking off again.
I was really not enjoying the run - my legs felt heavy, I had side stitches (pain) and I was telling myself I would never run again (yes, my head was not in a good place after the hell of the 15th kilometer!) The energy gels were not working at all, I had zero energy! But then I rounded the bend at Empuries, for the final 800 metres, and there I could see my husband and kids in the distance. I was not expecting them at all, I had told them to stay indoors, but it gave me the perfect boost I needed. That Sunday was actually Mothers day in Spain, and I could have received no greater gift than their little shouts of "Molt be Mommy! Go Mommy!". Their support carried me the final 800 metres, and crossing the finish line, it was great to receive a medal - one that was hard earned!
And as usual, within 10 or so minutes, I was on a high and planning my next race...the memories of the agony replaced with the ecstasy of finishing another personal challenge! No two races are the same and considering the heavy wind & the change of clothes at 11km, I was happy to finish on a personal best (just by 30 seconds or so!) at 2 hours 11 minutes!
Would I recommend it? Yes, for sure, and I will be back to finish the marathon hopefully next year...without eating the copious amounts of chocolate the week before!
Refuel Stops: It was officially advertised as every 5km, but I felt there were more, and maybe because the marathon was cancelled. There was no shortage of water, sweets, fruit, powerade and coke. All refuel stops had water, then other stops contained the additional parts.
Inclines: There was 2 major inclines. One relatively easy uphill into Escala. But the other side of it, coming out of Escala, against the wind, was tough. There were some other inclines, minor, but with the wind, they were exacerbated.
Course Design: As a Half Marathon, it was a single loop, with a few km overlap. As a Marathon, it would have been a double loop..
Race Entertainment: A smaller athletic race, so not the norm to have race entertainment, and I don´t remember any.
Facilities: There were portaloos at the start line. However, ZERO toilets on the whole course. It is the only fault I had with the course. I didn´t need to use the bathroom, but if it was a full marathon, for sure, with 4.5 hours on the road, I would need to. There was a public toilet at the corner of Empuries car park (@ 10.5km), but it was not associated with the race (I knew it was there as I was staying in Empuries, but those in Escala would not know).