A Weekend in Catalunya

The last 10 days have been great in terms of training, racing, exploring new places and re-visiting old favourites & friends. I’ve gone from Barcelona to Seattle to Reno, with a bit of work squeezed in between. I’m lucky to work for a company that gives me the chance to work in a global environment and supports travel to visit the key people I work with day in day out. In Part I, I share some thoughts on Barcelona and mountain running the Llagostrail.

I’d already planned a weekend in Barcelona before my US work trip was planned. I studied there in 2005, and I’ve been back annually ever since. I love the mix of culture, football, food, music, sun and scenery. This time I was visiting old haunts in Barcelona, as well as signing up for a mountain running race north of Barcelona.

What a view from Montjuic, looking down towards Port Vell

What a view from Montjuic, looking down towards Port Vell

Catalunya had been in the headlines this month for it’s pseudo-referendum on the right to independence the week before I arrived. The 9N movement, which had started out as a Scotland style referendum, had been deemed illegal by the Spanish courts, so it was downgraded to a show of support for independence. While participation wasn’t high, it did send a message to the government in Madrid. However no matter where you went, it was all over graffiti on walls, in the newspapers and online.

Mercat del Boqueria - the shellfish were so fresh ,they moved

Mercat del Boqueria – the shellfish were so fresh ,they moved

I love Catalunya for many reasons, not related to independence. Strolling around the streets of Barcelona, you see the diversity of it’s people and culture. Areas such as El Born, with it’s recently re-opened Mercat del Born showing the history of Barcelona, since the 1714 independence war and siege of the city. A morning run around Montjuic, past the Olympic Stadium and other venues is always special. I’d love to swim or dive in the Olympic pools, with surely one of the most stunning views of any pool in the world.

Mercat del Born, now a museum on the city siege of 1714

Mercat del Born, now a museum on the city siege of 1714

Food is always top of any trip to Spain or Catalunya – and this time I checked out Mercat de la Boqueria, which is a sensory delight. The fresh fish, of every size, shape and disposition awaken your senses. Same with the cuts of meat, or displays of fresh fruit and vegetables. Fresh coconut juice for €1, yes please. A bag of mixed nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, cranberries, macadamia nuts) yum! Fresh creative food was available all round the city – festivals such as Tapantoni in Sant Antoni, or Ruta del Vi del Raval, offering great food for under €3.

Crossing the finish line in 4th place at Llagostrail Riduara

Crossing the finish line in 4th place at Llagostrail Riduara

Llagostrail Riduara – mountain run

Most people don’t decide to run a 28km mountain race on their holidays, but then I’m not most people. I’m me. I like exploring new places. In this case, I did a bit of research and discovered lots of trail walks, road races and a few mountain races in Catalunya that weekend. I wanted something longer, in a place within an hour of Barcelona on the train or bus. Llagostrail Riduara fit the bill – I could get there via train and bus from Barcelona.

The race involved 28km over a 7-8 peaks, with over 1,000m of climbing. I signed up with a few mates and was delighted once we got there. It was a first time race for the organisers, with a few hundred doing the 28km or 12 km races.

This race was good training for cross-country. The weather would be 15-16C with sun. No huge climbs, just lots of smaller steep climbs around rural trails. I thought I could do well, since the field was small. From the gun, I was off and in the lead. I led for 9km, until I was joined by a local, Toti Bes from Girona. We got talking, until he passed me with a clubmate of his. I couldn’t keep with him on the descents and they pulled away. I was still 3rd and enjoying the competitive battle.

The course was dry through wooded areas and mountain trail roads. After half-way I heard footsteps. I was being caught. My descending couldn’t keep another Girona runner off me. My legs were getting heavier on the climbs. This race was tough. Eventually I settled for 4th, hoping 5th place wasn’t flying. I really enjoyed such a beautiful course and had fun battling from the front.

Strava map/route >>

Race photos >>

Afterwards, people were so friendly. One guy came up to me, so happy he had finished the 12km race. He told me a year ago he’d weighted 15-20kg more, so this was a big achievement. Other guys I spoke to (they spoke in Catalan , I responded in Castilian) explained it was a tough race. Toti Bes I learnt was a former Skyrunner who had battled with Kilian Jornet. Food involved a typical Catalan butifarra (sausage) sandwich and beer or soft drinks. We had the best lunch of salad, squid and cheese cake to celebrate in the sun at Hostal El Carril. If only all races were like this!

The church in Llagostera

The church in Llagostera

Next: Part 2 –  Working in Seattle & Exploring Reno/Tahoe

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