March 5, 2013

Race Report: Sevilla Marathon (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

After the rousing melody of Gangnam Style over the speakers (apparently this silly song is crazily popular in all countries, not just the US), and a slew of race announcements in Spanish, the race began. But it wasn’t even Gangnam Style that kicked off the start – but the very odd choice of “Highway to Hell” (yes, with lyrics in English). Interesting. In my very first marathon, I listened to “If You’re Going Through Hell (Keep on Going)” to get me through some tough parts at mile 20, but I was a little surprised to see that the race organizers were starting us off with the implication that this race was going to be hellish. Wasn’t Sevilla pretty flat? Wasn’t today the perfect weather for running? The answer to those questions turned out to be yes and yes, and this was one of the least hellish races I’ve ever run.

We began running down a flat, wide road, with cheering crowds on either side. In the middle was a divider, but we were able to run on both sides of the road – and the divider had palm trees on it! Wow. I felt like I was running back in South Florida, where I trained to run my first mile back in 2006. How far I had come now, to be able to run 26.2! I was so psyched.

It quickly hit me in the first few miles, though, that this was going to be kind of a lonely race for me. Sure, there were plenty of spectators encouraging the runners, but since I didn’t speak Spanish, that didn’t really help me. I got “guapa” shouted to me a lot, which I thought a friend had translated to me from the BGood Boston menu meant “fat” or “pig” (come on, bacon + ranch?? It makes sense!), but apparently it actually means “pretty.” Obviously, my communication was quite limited, but I really wish I had known at least that word while I was running. At least I got to feel special after the race when I learned the truth… thanks, guys! 🙂

Around mile 3, an older guy ran up to me and started chattering animatedly. From the hand motions he was making (and from having this comment made to me in English at many U.S. marathons), I figured out that he was laughing about how my ponytail bobbed up and down while I ran. I just kind of laughed back, since he was very amused by the spectacle… and that was the one and only time I talked to another runner in the race. Not at all normal for me!

We circled around a fountain, passing the bridge to Isla de Cartuja around the 10K mark. It was so different for me to see the race measured with kilometer markers instead of mile markers! I knew ahead of time that would be the case, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the race went by so quickly when measured that way. It was so nice to only run for 25-30 minutes and then find out you went FIVE units instead of just three (if it had been measured in miles). I know that’s such a small mental trick, but it honestly did make the distance fly by 🙂

The course had a ton of twists and turns, and I hadn’t really studied the map to know exactly where I’d be going throughout. I really liked that the course doubled back on itself so many time, because that mean that the entire course was right in the city of Sevilla, because it . However, while some parts of it looked similar, you actually never ran the same part twice! I thought the course design was really ingenious  And, best of all, it was almost completely flat, with the only hills being two under-ramps, kind of like in the DC Marathon. Definitely not too tough at all! I spent most of my time eyeing the scenery and looking for more fun tapas bars to hit after the race 🙂

Another pleasant surprise was just how many spectators were out to cheer. I didn’t know what to expect beforehand, but it seemed like we never went more than 100 yards without someone cheering us on! The female spectators seemed especially excited to see me pass, probably because there weren’t many of us out there. In fact, I made it kind of a game with myself to see how long I could run without seeing another female runner, because sometimes I could run for five minutes and only have male runners in my field of vision! As I mentioned in part 1, I was really surprised at how unbalanced the field was from a gender perspective. I was really looking forward to seeing the actual number of male vs female finishers after the race, but unfortunately, MarathonGuide doesn’t aggregate or publish international results, and the official results don’t have an easy way to see the male/female breakdown. The best I can tell you is the data point that for the men’s under 35 age group, there were 1221 finishers… but for women under 35, there were only 90! That’s 7% females, 93% males – wow!

But putting my wonder at the gender discrepancies on hold, I realized it was a gloriously beautiful day – blue skies, white puffy clouds, and enough sun to make it pretty but not enough to make it hot. Woo hoo! As I approached the 20K mark, I was excited to be nearly halfway done – and also very happy to be feeling good and still running an excellent pace. How was it possible that I had stayed out eating tapas and drinking Spanish wine all night, but was now on track to run a sub-4 marathon? I hoped that it wouldn’t be another race like Charleston, where I thought I was going to make it and then fell short by just a few seconds. This time, I was determined to go sub-4.

I crossed the halfway point in 1:56, which felt like a pretty auspicious first half for a sub-4. After all, I could now go a full eight minutes slower in the second half and I’d still finish sub-4… and instead of feeling tired like I did in Charleston, I felt great. I knew that great feeling would end at some point, since I fully expected to get tired at some point in the race, but I hoped that I could get a lot more miles under my belt at a nine minute pace before then.

The 25K and 30K marks passed by pretty quickly, and I soon found myself eyeing a beautiful park on the other side of the sidewalk. Might we be going in there? Yes, indeed – and the lush greenery and beautiful architecture was so nice to see. There were lots of spectators who had obviously come to cheer on their friends/family at this “wall-hitting” part of the race, and I was honestly a little bummed to be flying solo. Still, the energy was contagious, and plenty of spectators were cheering me on!

When I entered the park and knew that I had less than 10K to go, I got a big grin on my face. It was a gorgeous day, I was running by a beautiful palace (the Plaza de Espana), and I was in EUROPE running a marathon! I was thrilled to no end, and within a few miles, my face actually started to hurt from smiling so big. This was the experience of a lifetime, and I was actually getting kind of sad for it to come to an end. What European race could I sign up for next, I started wondering? Right now, I’m strongly considering the Warsaw Marathon – my whole father’s side of the family lives there, so it’d be neat to have them cheering me on. Plus, Warsaw is such a gorgeous city!

But for now, I enjoyed the fountains, greenery, and architecture of Spain. After we came out of the park, we took a few turns onto a cobblestoned road (yikes, I hoped I wouldn’t trip), and then I found myself on a walking street with trolley tracks through it. (The trolley seemed to be not running during the race, so I didn’t have anything to worry about there.) It was now afternoon, and there were plenty of Sevillans and tourists out and about – many who probably didn’t realize there was a marathon going on until they found themselves in the middle of it. But then I heard my first English of the day, from two girls who were clapping for everyone: “Look, that girl is SO happy!” American accents!!! I was already past them by the time it registered in my brain, but hearing my own language/accent made me smile even bigger still. Yes, I was indeed VERY happy!

My great mood stayed with me for the next few miles, even as I finally started to fatigue. Luckily, the runners around me actually seemed even more tired than I was – so I got to do a lot of bobbing, weaving, and flying past people. While some runners might be upset at having to cover extra distance this late in the race, I was actually getting quite a high from passing people. It felt so great to be at mile 23 and still going fairly strong!

But after we crossed the bridge over to Isla de Cartuja, my energy waned. I knew that I had less than two miles to the finish, but I was starting to get so tired – and there were very few spectators in this area. While I kind of knew the route from when I had taken the bus over to the start, we ended up taking the long way around, essentially passing the stadium and then doubling back. Wah – I wanted to be done! Where was the finish?? At this point, even the 40 kilometer marker didn’t cheer me up – that was still more than 1.2 miles to go!

But finally, finally I began seeing the crowds as we circled the stadium for our approach. I knew it was going to be a glorious downhill to the finish when we went down the long tunnel into the stadium field, and I was pumped for that extra boost of speed. Plus, looking at my watch I could see that I was well under 4 hours – in fact, I was looking at a 3:56 finish time! Amazing, especially considering my antics of the night before.

I flew past the spectators lining the chute that headed to the stadium – this was it! I had a huge grin on my face, and I was now quite excited that the race was mostly men – it made it more fun to be secretly proud of passing so many people at the end 🙂 I entered the tunnel and was thrilled by the steep descent, but dismayed at how many people were still casually jogging down it. Come on, everyone, we’re nearly at the end! Take advantage of the downhill and fly! However, I didn’t let myself get too carried away. I remembered from running the Akron Marathon several years ago that when you run downhill into a stadium and then have to circle the track, you lose a LOT of momentum when it flattens out. This time, I was mentally ready for that, and not too dismayed that there was another quarter mile still to go!

I was very surprised to see many people walking on the track – come on, you’re so close! – but since I didn’t speak Spanish, I couldn’t cheer them on. As I passed the far end of the track, I started picking my own pace up. This was Olympic Stadium, after all, and I wanted to finish like an Olympian! (Well, if an Olympian would ever finish in the stadium – sadly, it was built for an Olympics but Sevilla has not yet won the bid to host the Games.) As I came down the home stretch, a runner next to me picked up the pace to sprint to the finish as well. Oh no you don’t! I matched him, and then overtook him to finish in 3:56!

After getting my medal, though, I discovered that my rapida time wasn’t without consequence – but I was sore in a completely unexpected place. I must have been tensing my shoulders up while I was running, because they were so incredibly sore that I couldn’t even lift my hands up to my head in order to put on my medal – I had to ask a volunteer to do it! I didn’t know what was wrong with my arms, but go figure that they would be sore while my legs and feet were totally fine. It took about thirty minutes of painfully attempting to roll them before they finally loosened up, and it required a good night’s sleep before they got back to normal. What the heck?? But apparently I’m not the only one with this affliction; if it’s ever bothered you, check out this Runner’s World forum thread for advice. Obviously I’ve been neglecting the weights for a while!

Getting back to the race itself… I am so very proud of my time, and especially proud to do so well after not really preparing at all the night before. I am so happy that my carousing in Sevilla didn’t turn the marathon into a miserable experience, because it allowed me to both experience Sevilla and run the marathon. In fact, it was one of the most fun marathons I’ve ever done! I would highly recommend the Sevilla Marathon to other runners; beyond the marathon, the travel destination turned out to be top-notch as well.

Speaking of which – I only had one day left in Sevilla, and there were many many tapas bars still to explore! Off to La Bodega, to repeat the round of bars I had hit the night before. This time, though, I was proudly wearing my medal to show that as a woman, I had done what many apparently could not 🙂

Race stats:
Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 3:56:28
Pace: 9:01/mile
Overall place: 3943/5959
Age group place: 46/91


8 thoughts on “Race Report: Sevilla Marathon (Part 2)”

  1. The gender differences in distance running is even more pronounced (is that even possible?) when you study the ‘quality-performances’ of elite Africans (notably the ones from Kenya and even Ethiopia). Based on the number and success of Kenyan males, you would expect that there would be many more female Kenyan (and Ethiopian) athletes than there are.

    Your experience in Spain, the conditions in many African nations, without even considering other parts of the world, makes me even more proud of the equality and freedoms of the United States of America (even if we are screwed up). The freedom of all peoples (irregardless of gender, ethnicity, race, creed…) still have a long ways to go (amazingly considering we are in the middle of the global information age).

    Nice race report (but I still want to know the March Challenge!!!)

    1. Thanks, Dane, for pointing out my lazy American-English speech. In all seriousness, I actually do appreciate it. I am trying to improve my everyday grammar by eliminating mis-used words and phrases as a means of being more precise in my communication.

  2. Danny, REALLY interesting – I hadn’t thought about that aspect of things! And don’t worry, you’ll hear about the March challenge today 🙂

  3. Wow Laura!

    Congratullations !!

    Reading your post has really sent me back to last february and I felt like runing besides you…

    It was my first Marathon and many of my feelings were similars to yours…
    I was born in Sevilla but live in Madrid and i wanted this special city to hold my first marathon!…

    I am coming back next year and hope to see you there… you can try to speak english to the racers as many of us can actually understadn it…

    It was great to read your post!

    will follow you on…

    you are a role model for many women and men….


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