Race Review: Media Maraton de Ibiza

Looking back to the Ibiza Half Marathon – a big thumbs up and a definite for 2019

A fantastic race with excellent organisation, plenty of freebies, and an entry fee that won’t break the bank 

Before I begin, a confession: I bloody love this race. I have barely a bad word to say about it. If this race was a person, I’d be buying it flowers and expensive gifts. It’s fantastic. And – unlike wining and dining a paramour – you don’t have to spend much of your hard-earned cash on the race entry fee with bargain basement early bird entry prices of just €15 and loads of additional freebies. In fact, this race is so good, entering it is like being taken out and treated yourself. So, if you’re looking for options for Spring races next year, this race should be near the top of your list. Take a look at the details:

  • Race: Media Maraton de Ibiza
  • Date: 28 April 2018
  • Surface type: road / tarmac
  • Course type: fast, declining linear route
  • Approx. temperature: 15-20°C
  • Cost:  Early-bird entry fee of €15 rising to €20 and €25 for later entries
  • Amenities: shuttle bus to the start line, bag drop, regular water stations along the route, free massages and medal engraving for finishers
Ibiza Course Profile
Long lineal route beginning in the hills and finishing in Ibiza Town

Ibiza is known for a lot of things. A lively nightlife, sandy white beaches, a pleasant climate and – away from the clubbing and the parties – pine-clad hills and quaint little villages up in the island’s hilly interior and along its coasts. Ibiza is not, however, necessarily known for its running – but perhaps it should be. Late October sees San Antonio’s Ibiza Trail Marathon (with accompanying 21k and 10k), which showcases the Balearic island’s stunning scenery, while April sees the annual Ibiza Half Marathon – a fast, linear, road race which begins up in the hills in the south of the island and ends on the beachfront in Ibiza Town.

The course
Start line
Start line

Given that the start line is up in the hills and the finish line is down on the coast, it’s probably no big surprise that there is a lot of downhill running in this race. This is certainly true for much of the first part of the race. The first mile (1.6km) or so is up and down before climbing to just over 200m above sea level. From this peak, however, the course is pretty much solidly down hill until just after the five mile (8km) point, as you can see on the course profile.

After plenty of downhill, runners are confronted with a pretty savage steep climb around about the 6 mile / 10km point. This is one of the steepest hills I’ve encountered during a race and so it was a bit of a shock to the system feeling like you’re treading water for a couple of minutes before you reach the crest.  The elevated heart-rate, burning quads and calves, and general loss of breath takes maybe a mile or so to shake off but, happily, there are no more real noticeable ups or downs for the rest of the course – rather the race undulates gently, without being totally flat, from this point until the finish.

Ibiza Half Course Profile
The course winds down from its hilly start to finish on the sea front

In terms of crowds, until the very end of the race, there are none to speak of really. Because the hills of Ibiza are pretty sparsely populated, this is not too surprising. The London Marathon, this ain’t – so if you’re one of those runners who feeds off the crowd, you’re going to be disappointed. If, like me, you tend to zone out in a race or (like a runner, who shall remain nameless, that I know well) you get irrationally annoyed at shouts of encouragement from spectators, then you can keep your head down and focus on your splits. Having said that, the race organisers – clearly mindful of the demoralising effect the steep hill mentioned in the paragraph above was likely to have on runners – arranged for a troupe of drummers to be stationed at the top of the killer incline to boost morale. On top of that, once you reached the race’s finish along the coast in Ibiza Town, crowds of holiday-makers and locals enthusiastically cheer you over the finish line.

On the course
Run along Ibiza’s country roads
Pros and Cons

Let’s start with the cons. There aren’t many. In fact, I can think of only one. And that’s the fact that, because a lot of this course is downhill, it’s not the easiest race on the legs and joints. You will probably feel this race for a little while afterwards, especially if you’re a heavier, taller runner with a lower running cadence (steps per minute), because of the likely heavier impact of each stride. Those of you who are a bit more spritely and run with quicker, lighter steps will get off a little easier but not be spared entirely. I spent much of the last racing season trying to develop a higher cadence and become more light on my feet but I still felt the toll of all the downhill in this race.

Up and Down
Plenty of up and (thankfully) down along the course

If I were being a bit picky, I’d say that the obligatory race t-shirt was a little bit budget – definitely not one of the lightweight, breathable pieces of kit that sometimes get handed out and the design wasn’t the greatest either. But this does feel a bit picky, so…

Ibiza Half Marathon
Action Shot: Water Grab!

Onto the pros. Well, firstly, the flipside of the point above about course elevation is that, while running downhill means more impact for your legs to deal with, your heart, lungs and muscles in general are going to find it a lot easier to deal with. If you’re looking for a fast race and gunning for a PB, the Ibiza Half Marathon is a good bet.

Finish line
Finish line with obligatory medal

Secondly, the organisation of this race is really well done. The fact that the race is linear with a start line away from any of the main towns on the island has the potential to cause a few headaches. Not a problem in this instance. For a nominal fee, shuttle buses ferried runners from the expo centre / finish line in Ibiza Town up to the start and the bag drop (with drop off at the start and pick up at the finish) worked like a charm.

Thirdly (and this is definitely the best bit), there are a couple of nice freebies thrown into this race. Crossing the finish line, I picked up the (usually) standard medal (but see My Worse Race for an instance of medal disappointment) water and snacks that greet finishers of most 21km races these days. After catching my breath, I spotted a row of massage tables where a team of professionals trained in the art of muscle manipulation were doing their thing. “How much?”, I asked. “Gratis.” Result! I have seen post race massages an average races in the UK costing around €15 or €20 so to get a good massage for free was a nice touch.

Ibiza Race Shirt
One of the few cons: slightly ropey race t-shirt

Fresh off the massage table, my legs having been skilfully (and just the right side of painfully) pounded and rubbed to take the edge off of the achiness that would surely hit home later, I spotted another queue: for medal engraving. Once again, those sweetest of words – gratis – were uttered, and within seconds my name and time had been etched into the back of my race medal with a high-tech laser. Everybody loves free stuff, but what’s more remarkable about this race is that the entry fee is already ridiculously cheap (€15! Yes, €15 for early bird entrants!). How can they afford to chuck in all these freebies? Who knows, but I’m not complaining…

Medal engraved
Free medal engraving was a nice perk

The 2019 edition has now been confirmed for 28 April 2019 and you can enter here. So, what are you waiting for?

My Worst Race

The dilemma of what to do when you get in trouble mid-race – whether it’s injury, exhaustion or ‘other’ – and the thoughts that go through a runner’s head. John@RunBarca recounts his worst race…

My first race in Spain and I’m bent over double at the side of the road in pain. I’ve hit the stop button on my Garmin and dozens of runners are streaming past me about 9 miles (15km) into a half marathon. I’m done. It’s the second time in the race I’ve pulled over and started to walk back towards the start line, GPS watch turned off. But this time it really is over: I feel dizzy, faint and in pain. I’d trained hard, was in good shape, and the race conditions were good. So how did I get to this point? To answer that, we have to roll back the clock a few days… weeks… months… etc… etc…

Not feeling 100%? What do you do?
Blessing in Disguise?

23 June 2016 was a significant date for me. It was the day on which a chain of events began that would see me completely changing my life, leaving London, my old job and friends, and winding up living and working in Spain as a running trainer. Some in the UK have called the 23 June 2016 ‘Independence Day’ but for me it was the date that would eventually lead to me becoming part of what has been termed the ‘Brexodus’. For this was the day the UK voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. This was particularly bad news for me as, at the time, I was working as a lawyer for the UK government meaning that, almost overnight, my job was affected by – and ultimately became – Brexit.

To cut a long story short, the turmoil in the UK made me think about what I wanted to do with my life, what my priorities were, and how and why I had got to where I had thus far. No longer content to sit in an office for hours on end, I began to take my hobby – distance running – more seriously and started taking coaching courses with England Athletics. My job made me acutely aware that UK nationals were likely to lose the rights that they enjoyed as EU citizens – including the right to live and work in other member states – once the UK left the EU and so I began to make plans to move abroad.

I eventually settled on Barcelona and what an amazing city this is. The culture, the architecture, the climate, the beach and, of course, the thriving running scene make Barcelona a fantastic place to live. Having left the UK to escape from the results of a populist referendum, the timing of my move (I arrived in Barcelona at the beginning of October 2017) was somewhat ironic with the city dealing with the fallout from Catalunya’s own vote, but that’s another story…

But enough with politics; let’s talk running! One of the first things on my agenda as a new arrival in Barcelona was to look up the local race calendar. I was delighted to see that there was a half marathon in nearby Castelldefels only two weeks after moving to my new city. I was already race fit, having run a half marathon just before I left London, so I signed up eagerly.

My preparation undone in one lunchtime

As the race date grew closer, so did my confidence. I was loving my new running city, regularly hitting the beachfront and getting in some hill work at Montjuic. I was getting fitter and was a little lighter than in my previous race too. All was going well, and then…

Race Number
Well prepared – I even had a cool race number!

The Friday before the race my housemate suggested we try the menu del dia at a restaurant he’d walked past earlier that day. Fine, I said. The restaurant was pleasant enough and the food tasted good – particularly the prawn and escargot (that’s snails to the uninitiated) salad I had for starters. This was the first time I’d eaten snails. Let’s just say that I probably won’t be eating them again in a hurry… Because by mid afternoon I was throwing up, sweating, and spending an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom. There was no mistaking it: I had food poisoning two days out from race day.

Not wanting to give up the race for dead, I started popping the pills immediately and by the time I went to bed later that night, things were no longer desperate. I was, however, still sweating a lot – and I woke up on Saturday morning wet with the kind of cold sweat you only get when you’re feeling rough as old boots. Still, I thought to myself, better than yesterday!

I always find it funny how the mind operates in the days before a race. If you are anything like me, you’ll have experienced moments of quiet – sometimes even supreme – confidence followed almost immediately by waves of self-doubt about how the race will go. Any little ache or niggling pain suddenly becomes a subject to obsess over. Then you tell yourself that you’re in shape and start thinking back to that training run you did last week when you felt strong and quick and running felt effortless and start to believe again that you’ll put in a good performance. Well, my mind was firmly in this kind of flip-flop mode of thinking, fluctuating between definitely not going ahead with the race (you know, on account of the food poisoning and all) to feeling like I could brush of my illness on account of my fitness (and it was true, I was pretty damn fit at this point).

Race day rolls around and I’ve decided to run. I wake up in a sweat but, again, it’s nowhere near as bad as the day before. I’ve been drinking plenty of water on account of the dehydration that accompanies this kind of illness but I’m not so worried about being dehydrated. I’m much more concerned with my achy limbs and throbbing joints that were acting as a constant reminder that I was still recovering from a pretty rough bout of food poisoning. But by this point, I’m in the zone and the positive voices in my head have managed to drown out the negative ones. By the time I was warming up at the start line in Castelldefels, I had convinced myself I was going to have a good race.

Disaster in Castelldefels

And things really did feel like they were going alright for about the first three miles (5km). I’d maintained a steady but not fast pace from the off and had settled down into a relaxed rhythm. I kept my breathing deep and steady and the aching in my legs that I had felt earlier that morning was gone. Yeah, this race was going to be fine! And then it hit me. Around the four mile (6.5km) mark I felt all the energy start to drain out of me. You hear a lot of runners talking about hitting ‘The Wall’ – a feeling of deep fatigue experienced when the body depletes all its glycogen stores – around the 20 mile point in a marathon. Well I’d hit The Wall with 9 miles (15km) left in a half marathon. I knew that this was not gonna be fun from here on in.

How did I know? Well, believe it or not, this was not the first time I’d done a race recovering from food poisoning. A few years before, I’d got sick a couple of days before the Gran Canaria Half Marathon (I suppose I’m just unlucky!). I’d blocked the memories of this race from my mind but suddenly they all came flooding back. This kind of psychology is familiar to most runners. Even experienced marathon veterans tend to forget how bad the last few miles of a full marathon feel. It’s a bit like getting kicked in the balls, a retch-inducing whiff of dog dirt hitting your nostrils or (I imagine) going through childbirth. You remember it being bad – really bad – but until you experience it once again, you can’t truly grasp how absolutely awful it is. I was in this kind of place mentally.

How I Felt...
How I felt…

Worse was that the course was a double loop starting and finishing at the Canal Olímpic de Catalunya – where the rowing events had been held during the 1992 Barcelona games – and the half marathon was running at the same time as 10k race. As I reached halfway – feeling by this point like I wanted to collapse – I had to fight soooooo hard not to jack the race in there and then as I was right back where I started. It would have been really – temptingly, conveniently – easy to stop at this point, pick up my bag, jump on a train and head home. These sort of thoughts were made all the more tempting by seeing runners in the 10k field cross their finish line, some with arms in the air, some with smiles on their faces, others grimacing – but all of them had finished. And this was what I most envied them for: they could stop running.

I didn’t stop at the halfway point. I kept running. About a mile further on I regretted this decision deeply. A short (and not particularly steep) incline completely broke me. It was only a few metres uphill but the way I was feeling it might as well have been Tibidabo. I was acutely aware that with every pace I ran on that second loop of the course, I was going further and further away from the start line. Every step I took was a step I would have to retrace when I inevitably – and it really did feel inevitable after that tiny hill – had to give up and walk back. These kind of thoughts got the better of me and I stopped running. Looking down at my watch, it read 7.36 miles. I pressed the stop button and started to stagger dejectedly back towards the start line.

But something made me turn around and start running again. There’s a strong chance that national pride could have come into play. This was my first race in Spain and I’d chosen to wear a Union Jack running vest that I tend to wheel out for international races. There were plenty of proud Spaniards and – given the heightened politics in the region – Catalunyans displaying colours of their own and, as I traipsed past them at the side of the road, I somehow felt I was letting the side down. Ridiculous, I know, but I really do think that if I was wearing a plain running top, I’d have kept on walking in the opposite direction.

So, I’m running again and feeling no better. By this point, I’d worked out that despite consciously trying to keep my water intake up even when I was feeling ill, I was horribly dehydrated. I’m not usually one for taking on lots of fluid during a race but on this occasion I was downing two bottles of water at every refreshment station I passed. I must have drunk three or four litres along the route. This was helping, but I was still feeling weak and faint. By the time I hit mile nine, I’m thinking that carrying on is just stupid, that I could do myself some serious damage and that I didn’t have to prove anything to anybody. I’d also started to get stomach cramps that were making me want to bend at the waist and my running form was all over the place. So I pulled up, hit stop on my watch again, put my hands on my knees and stood there staring down at the pavement.

“Don’t come back without the medal!”

I stayed like this for about a minute. I started to hobble back in the opposite direction to the rest of the field once again. The runners streaming past me couldn’t know it, but an internal struggle was going on inside my head. “Good decision,” one voice was saying. But another voice was telling me that this was a failure, this was giving up. I must have done about three or four 180 degree turns in the space of a minute as I flip-flopped between listening to the tough guy telling me not to quit and the sensible voice telling me that they’re be other races, that I should listen to my body and stop. The tough guy voice ended up winning out, and for the rest of the race it kept up a constant refrain: “Don’t come back without the medal!”

This became something of a mantra for me for the rest of this race. I decided that, even if I had to walk (and walk I did!), I was going to cross the finish line. It was a disappointing day all in all but I’m happy to report that I did eventually cross the finish line. Those last four miles were horrible but the mantra did its trick. My official time came in at 1:46:21 – nowhere near what I had been training and hoping for before I got sick – but it felt like a massive accomplishment considering how I felt.

Post Race
The face says it all. Turns out running while recovering from food poisoning is a BAD IDEA…
The Punchline

So, I’d done it! My mantra had worked and, though exhausted, as I caught my breath and enjoyed the pure, unadulterated pleasure of not having to run any more, my thoughts began to turn to the medal which I had vowed not to come back without. As I milled along with other tired finishers, getting corralled through the finishing area by the marshals, I was handed various drinks, nourishments and leaflets by the race volunteers.

Before I knew it, I had been funnelled out of the finishing area and was back in the open amongst the general public, surrounded by other runners being hugged and congratulated by friends and family. Where were the usual volunteers presenting finishers with their medals? As I looked around at the other runners, none of whom had medals of their own, the realisation slowly dawned on me: there were no race medals. Constantly telling myself not to come back without “the medal” had got me through the race, but in a final ironic twist, I would come back without a medal regardless.

Oh, well… Rummaging through the race goodie bag I had been given after I had crossed the finish line, I found that all I had to show for my efforts was a couple of small bananas, an orange, a bottle of powerade, a packet of sliced chicken and a bag of nuts. Better than nothing; but the real reward was knowing that I had dug deep into my reserves of willpower and made it to the end. And there was always next year (snails firmly off the menu).

No medal, only nuts