The Key to Achieving Your Running Goals? Have an Incentive

One writer shares why booking a springtime race in Barcelona was the best motivation to keep her logging kilometres.

Running is the sport I always gravitate to for its low-maintenance (have kicks, will run) and accessible (open door, go) nature with high-impact returns. Plus, I’m a sucker for instant gratification (thanks, virtual checkmarks) and the on-demand feedback that I can access (via my running app, Strava, and fitness tracker) with each run to help me improve my game. (What’s more, it’s an excuse to have a little me-time.)

One of the first things I do when gearing up to train for a race is to plug the race date into my running app. Then, it spits out a weekly training schedule, outlining the type of run (tempo, speed or long) and distance I need to complete each week.

But, I’ve always been more of a fair-weather runner. So, when Saucony invited me to run the eDreams half-marathon in Barcelona, I quickly said, “sí!” A springtime race was just the incentive this winter-adverse runner needed to continue logging miles through a frosty and flurry-filled season. And a trip to Barcelona was the icing – or more like the crema Catalana.

The Challenge: Train All Winter

The half (21.1 kilometers) has quickly become one of my favourite longer races – and the preferred distance for many other runners, especially women with the number of female entrants doubling their male counterparts in most races. (Interested in taking on the challenge? See everything you need to know about running your first marathon.)

With my running schedule mapped out, my playlist primed and my favourite shoes both for short and long runs flat-laid at the front door, my training schedule was set. (Check out the running gear our editor relies on for marathons.)

spain half marathon
Photo Credit: Grace Toby

The Setting: Beautiful Barcelona

I was excited to return to Barcelona, the largest city on the Mediterranean, where I had fond memories from previous travels to this area. A few years back while staying in the Poblenou area (new town), I was struck by the wide-open promenades and avenues – a dream for runners – and I instantly regretted not packing my kicks.

During this trip, we stayed on the western side of the shore at the W Barcelona, known as the sail hotel for its glistening shape which seems to rise out of the harbour. With a beach-front boardwalk that takes off at the foot of the hotel, this made it the ideal spot for beachside runs, as well as being close to various race events and the big run.

woman on bike in spain
Photo Credit: Grace Toby

The Pre-Run Agenda: Biking and Race Prep

We arrived in the city on a Friday afternoon giving us ample time to settle in and acclimatized to the new time zone before Sunday’s race. With a desire to play tourist while sparing our legs, we took an electronic bike tour. Along with being a great destination for runners, Barcelona is a bike-friendly city. Our biker gang cycled through the buzzing city and up the steep Montjuïc (which means mountain of the Jews) mountain and through the tranquil garden of Jardins de Mossèn Costa I Llobera, which houses the largest cacti garden in Europe. Once we reached the top, we were rewarded with panoramic views and watched the cable car sweep across the city, high above the rooftops. Then, we rode through the Olympic Ring, with the Torre Calatrava (the iconic telecommunications tower) that was built for the 1992 Summer Games.

We rounded up our day with a joyride through Parc de la Ciutadella (Barcelona’s Central Park), the city’s biggest and oldest park. The sprawling and idyllic park includes a zoo, the monumental Cascada fountain (on the same scale as the Trevi Fountain in Rome and was designed by a young Gaudí), and a lake dotted with rowboats.

Later that day, we picked up our race kits from the Arenas de Barcelona, which was formerly a bullfighting stadium until the practice was banned in 2010. It now houses a six-floor shopping mall with a rooftop terrace that offers a scenic (and free) view of the city. At the Saucony booth, I had my running gait analyzed by their experts and learned that I favour one foot, pronating inwards. Armed with this new information, they helped me pick out the best pair of shoes to wear.

Since it was the night before the big day and we needed a good night’s sleep before our early wake-up, we decided to have an early dinner (well, early for Spain) at the restaurant in our hotel. We feasted on a carb-heavy meal of paella that was chockfull of shellfish and chorizo, and of course, ordered dessert, too.

marathon runners
Photo Credit: Grace Toby

The Race: “Anybody Can Run if They Put in the Time to Train”

On race day, we were rewarded with a warm and sunny 21-degree day – a stark contrast from my training days back home. Running alongside more than 19,000 runners (it was sold out) from every corner of the world, our all-female Canadian crew made up of women of every age and with varying race experience, from a first-time race-goer to seasoned pros who complete several marathons a year. It reaffirmed my belief that anybody can run if they put in the time to train. (Read about how a marathon helped one woman take her health back.)

The flat and fast route allowed for speed and the opportunity to spot landmarks, from the Arc de Triomf at the start, through the old town with balconies trimmed with the Catalan flag and then along the eastern portion of the modernist Eixample district and down by the beach, ending near the Parc de la Ciutedella. I used the crowd’s energy to propel me with each mile, until I reached the finish line. I was so proud of our group as each of us made it in the top ten among fellow Canadian runners.

Gaudí’s Sagrada Família
Photo Credit: Grace Toby

The Reward: Food, Views and Pride

Following race day, it was time to reward and indulge ourselves with sleeping in, a massage and a few pitchers of sangria. We spent the rest of our time sightseeing, visiting the Sagrada Famiglia, and strolling through the various unique neighbourhoods, such as the Gothic Quarter and Las Ramblas, and of course some time beachside.

I packed up my luggage full of new memories and deeper connection with this group of women, and proudly wore my medal – my prized souvenir – home.

Next, learn how a BH editor managed to work a 12-week marathon training schedule into her hectic mom life.