Ironman Barcelona Race Report

The quest for 12 Ironman finishes continued in Barcelona Spain. If I complete 12 I get to enter what they call the Legacy Lottery where 100 mortals get a chance to toe the line at the World Championship in Kailua Kona Hawaii with over 2,000 of the world’s most elite and fastest triathletes.

Ironman Barcelona is actually held in a town called Calella which is an hour and ten minutes north of Barcelona by car. If you’re arriving during rush hour the ride will be double that in traffic. Taking the train from the airport is a much better option if you don’t mind schlepping your bike case around. I booked this race through Nirvana Europe and they provided transfers to and from the airport. Unfortunately Endurance Sports Travel doesn’t service this race. If they did I would have used them because they provide a superior experience IMHO. But they did get me into this sold out race after I needed to bail on IM Italy so I’m thankful.
Calella is a beautiful beach town on the Balearic See (aka Mediterranean). There is a large amount of hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and everything you would expect from a popular destination European city. I would return with my family just to holiday here. I arrived on Thursday and took the opportunity to visit Tossa via a nice 2 hr boat road. Taking the tour just to kill time, I was very pleasantly surprised by the medieval castle and awesome beach that I found while exploring around. Really great place to visit. If you easily get sea sick take the train as the boat ride is VERY choppy.


Ironman Village and the finish line is set up on the beach in Calella. This must be one of the largest races as it had 3,400 athletes registered from 83 countries. I got to registration shortly after it opened at 4 PM on Thursday and it was mobbed. The Swim start and Transition (T1 & T2) is set up about 1/2 a mile up the beach in another area.  No big deal on a regular day but it was raining and cold when I finished and I had to hustle to recover a bit, eat something, get into dry clothes (morning clothes bag is available at the finish), warm up, and get to my bike before they closed at 12:30. Be prepared to get very muddy on this walk if it’s raining during your finish.
Cutoff for this race is 15:40 instead of the usual 17 hours. That’s because sunrise is not until 8:00 AM which is when the pro’s start, it takes a while to get all the age groupers in the water via a rolling start and they want to finish the event by midnight. This is a flatter course than most so a shorter cutoff is reasonable.
The weather was a perfect 80 degrees (26c) with not a cloud in the sky for 3 days leading up to race day. That all changed on Sunday when a storm rolled in. Getting to the starting line during an all-out downpour was interesting. Transition bags are stored in a huge tent so at least nothing in them got wet.
The rain stopped (for a while) during the start but the sea was not calm blue serenity everyone was hoping for. The condition were so bad that I heard several people say Ironman was considering canceling the swim portion of the race. The course is a one loop 2.4 mile (3.8k) rectangle. Getting into the chop and swimming out for the first few hundred meters to the first turn buoy was very hard. Several people needed help and got pulled out of the water and their race came to a sad early end.
After the first turn we swam with the current so the swells didn’t affect me too much. As rough as the conditions were, the water was crystal clear and you could see the sandy bottom about 20 ft below. No fish, except for a few Jelly’s. At the one mile mark my watch said I was averaging under 2:00/100m. That was all current and was about to change. There was a bit of traffic but it wasn’t too bad in terms of the usual impact with others in the water but I did get kicked right in the eye really hard. The kick didn’t knock my googles off, rather pushed them right into my eye socket. It really hurt for a bit.
After the second and third turnaround is when it got really hairy. We were swimming against the tide at about a 45* angle with large swells. It reminded me of the swim from Alcatraz where there were hundreds of swimmers around me but the water was so rough that I couldn’t see anyone.  I must have swallowed a good half dozen mouth fills of salt water and kept having to stop to clear my fogged up goggles. I went from really enjoying the swim to being pretty miserable and impatient for it to end. 
After the final turn buoy I was ready to leave my breakfast out there. A lifeguard on a board asked if I was OK. I guess I didn’t look too good. Getting from there to the swim exit was really tough. There were volunteers on the beach yelling at swimmers to watch out as giant waves were crashing on them behind their back making it really tough to finally exit the water.
My swim time ended up being 1:41:02. Way under the 2:20 cutoff which unfortunately many didn’t make or called it quits during the swim. So much training and planning and sacrifice goes into participating in this that it sucks to hear that their day ended so soon with a DNF.
After my usual extended T1 it was quite easy to find my bike. Not too many were left on the racks at this point LOL. While the bike course is not as hilly as on most IM courses there is still 2,700 ft (900m) of elevation gain. I’m sure most people never got out of the large chain ring as there weren’t any real climbs. The views of the Med were beautiful and there were many super long very flat sections. I was pumped to have maintained an average speed of just over 17 MPH through the first 75 miles. That’s fast for me, OK!?  A really bad cramp throughout my left leg leading into an uphill section was the end of that. I ended up finishing the two loop, 112 mile (180k) course in 6:54:11. I was pretty happy with under 7 hours considering the mixture of rain, wind and occasional heat out there.
I’ve never needed to reapply Butt’r during an Ironman. Doing it once in the hotel room way before the swim would always last me throughout the entire 140.6 miles (226k). I never had an issue. Not even over the brutal 16 hours it took me to finish Lake Placid this summer. I guess over an hour and half in salt water does make a big difference. I’ll stop with the TMI but hopefully this advice helps others that are reading this. Reapply after a salt water swim!! I am changing my routine after experiencing this awful pain that resulted in my new personal record of 12:34 in T2. Yes, the boys are OK now. Thank you.
The run is a completely flat 3 loop 26.2 miles (42k) marathon course mainly along a scenic beach and train service road. The turnaround is deviously placed 100 yards from the finish so you hear all the excitement and “….You are an Ironman” announcements for others every time you pass and have to go out again for the next ~9 mile loop.
It was relatively dry at first but at approximately 8 PM is started to rain again. It wasn’t coming down too hard but there was a heavy annoying constant drizzle that just wouldn’t stop. With the amount (or lack thereof) of hard training I had no plans of really running the marathon and was planning on jogging it all. My only goal was not to walk, save for aid stations. I was happy to have accomplished that.
There was a multi mile section which was unlit and completely dark with the absence of moon light. I need to get faster and finish during day light or start packing my head lamp. It was really eerie running in complete darkness. No exaggeration. It also became impossible to continue to avoid puddles so with 5 miles to go my socks and sneakers were 100% soaked. At that point it was kind of cool running through puddles even in the lit sections without having to maneuver around them. I couldn’t possibly get any wetter so why not.
It was a long and painful 5:23:26 in the dark, wet, cold. That’s the price I paid for under-training but I finally made it to the glorious finishing chute with a total finishing time of 14:23:02. Far from my PR of 13:01 but also as far from my worst of 16:15 just a few months prior.
I came through the finish line with both my index fingers in the air to get a photo to add to my 1 through 10 collection and the announcer goes “Steven from NJ…..You ARE an Ironman” and continued with “and he’s holding up #2, congrats on your second finish!” to which I of-course needed to respond with “That’s 11!”  Which he shared with the dwindling but cheering crowd.
I already shared my recovery details above. Always have dry warm clothes at the finish. With no one with me at this race I wouldn’t have made it out of there without hyperthermia if I didn’t have warm dry clothes in my checked morning bag.  I saw too many people just sitting there in a comma like state, not knowing when/how they would get back to their hotel.
After collecting my bike and gear bags I still had about 3/4 of a mile to go to get back to the hotel so I did something I’ve never done at the end of race. I rode my bike back. That pain was better than walking for 30 minutes in the cold. Being totally wired from the finish and endless Red Bull’s on the run course I couldn’t possibly sleep so I celebrated at the first open place I found with a falafel and a beer at 1 AM. Any real food is a gourmet treat after an Ironman.
Hope you enjoyed this race report and if you’re considering Ironman Barcelona, I give it a huge double thumbs up! Ironman Arizona is up next for me in November. If (when) I complete that it will be Legacy Lottery time in the spring. Woot Woot!
Click here for an aerial replay of the progress along the course.
Here are some additional pics from Calella, the boat ride and Tossa.