If you have ever trained for a race– whether a neighborhood 5k or an international marathon– there is a good chance you encountered a few setbacks along the way. Maybe a case of the sniffles kept you off the road for a few days, ugly race day weather caused you to miss out on a PR, or an injury sidelined you from running the whole way. I had my own share of difficulties while training for and running the Rock ‘n’ Roll Madrid Marathon, my second 26.2, but I was not about to let a little knee injury or chilly, rainy weather keep me from crossing the finish line. I adjusted my expectations and made the most of the experience, taking advantage of everything Madrid had to offer in the days leading up to the race and putting forth a strong effort on race day.
Friday– (two days before the race)
Once I arrived in Madrid, I was as excited to visit the Expodepor, the official race expo, as I was to tour the royal palace and Museo Nacional del Prado. Held at the Pabellón de Cristal convention center on the fairgrounds of the Casa de Campo park in Madrid, the Expodepor offered packet pickup along with opportunities to learn and shop from dozens of vendors on race weekend.
The adidas booth had a massive selection of apparel and accessories, and featured treadmills and trained staff performing gait analyses. New Balance was showcasing their current lineup of shoes. Brooks’ colorful booth offered a little bit of everything, and CEP’s fold-up booth which displayed their compression socks, sleeves, and apparel, was topped with a giant-sized compression sock.
I spent the rest of the day Friday shopping along the Gran Vía and studying the masterpieces of the Prado.
Saturday– (the day before the race)
Saturday was filled with modern art at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and the free Rock ‘n’ Roll pasta party, where I took the opportunity to carb load before the race. Needless to say, my legs got a sightseeing workout leading up to the marathon!
I laid out my gear Saturday night and set a few alarms to rouse me the next morning. The race was not scheduled to start until 9am (rather late for a marathon!) but I wanted to be sure I had enough time to get ready.
Sunday– (race day)
After allowing my peanut butter sandwich to digest and applying copious amounts of Body Glide, I walked the half mile from my AirBnB apartment along the Gran Vía to the starting area at the Plaza de Cíbeles, my hat and trash bag shielding me from the morning drizzle.
My bib placed me in the last corral, which lined up in front of the Prado. I was excited to meet three runners from Atlanta while waiting in line for the restroom, and found myself standing next to two Alexandria, Virginia natives (and Pacers Running customers!) at the start of the race! The crowd began to lurch forward and soon enough we crossed the starting line.
The first few kilometers of the course took us north through a downtown area lined with skyscrapers, then west and south through urban residential areas, the hilly Casa de Campo park, and major cultural sights before heading back east toward downtown and the finish line in the Parque del Retiro. Half marathoners ran side by side with full marathoners for the first thirteen kilometers or so, at which point the crowd thinned and the course narrowed. My friend Courtney was a sight for sore eyes as I ascended the hill to the Plaza del Callao around kilometer 18, at the ready with my race day supplies only a block from our apartment.
The rainy conditions and a fairly new pair of shoes combined to give me a pretty sizable blister on my right foot. I can’t really blame my HOKA ONE ONE shoes– I have since run many more happy miles in them– but I didn’t do myself any favors by not breaking them in enough prior to such a big event. I stopped to change my sock and continued on my way, hoping it would help.
The hills on the west side of the course were challenging and I took the first of my walk breaks around kilometer 28. I often found myself with my hands full (literally) with my Strawberry Lemonade Nuun-filled Nathan handheld in one hand and a full bottle of water from an aid station in the other. My race fueling went according to plan, eating half a package of Honey Stinger Cherry Blossom energy chews every 5k.
As the kilometers ticked by, the rain steadily became more intense and the course spectators– few and far between to begin with– seemed to vacate the course completely. I was on my own, but still feeling pretty good. My CEP-sleeved calves felt fresh, and my spirits were up, despite only having trained up to sixteen miles (rather than the usual 20 to 22 recommended by most training plans) due to a knee injury which, thankfully, was a non-issue on race day.
My mood dimmed only slightly as I approached kilometer 39 where I witnessed race staffers removing the sponsors’ banners strung above course as runners trudged toward the finish down below. As soon as I saw the corner of the park ahead of me, I knew my medal (and dry clothes!) were only steps away. It was pouring as I crossed the finish and volunteers placed a medal and plastic sheet around my neck, and I cried in relief that it was all over. Photographers took a few photos before I found my way out of the park to meet Courtney and hop on Metro toward our apartment.
The day would not have been complete without my favorite post-race treat– frozen yogurt— on the walk home! Then, after a long, hot shower and an hour on the couch, we were off to grab a ham sandwich and later visit one of Madrid’s most well-known hot chocolate shops, Chocolatería San Gines, for some porras and churros dipped in piping hot chocolate. There truly is no better way to re-fuel than with comida madrileña.
The next morning, Courtney, my sore legs, and I, boarded a train for Granada, followed by stops in Sevilla and Toledo before flying home the following Saturday. Since returning home, I have taken some time to reflect on my experience in Spain and channel everything I learned into training for my next marathon and have begun casually perusing the myriad options for my next racecation.
Still to come:
Part 3 of 3: Travel Talk: Tips and Tricks for a Great Racecation
By Erica Gminski, Pacers Fairfax