Oct 12, 2014

Ironman Barcelona Race Report

Barcelona, Spain—Sunday, October 5, 2014.


The morning started out with a torrential downpour, thunder and lightning. But the race conditions were perfect—nice temperature, not too hot, which made for a great race. I finished in 13:17.

Ironman Barcelona was my replacement for Ironman Tahoe 2014, which was cancelled due to heavy smoke conditions. Barcelona was flat, at sea-level and warm—basically the inverse of IM Tahoe, which I had completed the year before.

According to Garmin there are 1800 feet of rolling hills over the bike course and virtually no elevation change on the run. I enjoyed the course, although I found the bike course to be a little boring compared to Ironman France and Ironman Lake Tahoe.

This is for two reasons. Much of the course goes straight along the coast with minimal turns or hills until you get back near the start. As a result, there is not that much to look at—buildings on one side, ocean on the other! For lying on the beach it is perfect, for pedaling six hours, not quite as much! Also, there is not much elevation change. That means you really are riding nearly the entire time—unlike Tahoe and France where you climb climb climb and then rest on the descents. But these are very, very minor complaints—the roads were well maintained and the course well marked.


I flew into Barcelona from Moscow, where I had been for the previous few days. My bike arrived intact but my stomach and digestive system did not! I would eat or drink and within 20 minutes it was off to the bathroom. Not pretty and I was worried about how I was going to deal with nutrition and hydration come race day. The days leading up to race day I didn’t eat much more than some bits of bread, ham, eggs and chocolate.

Wednesday night after pulling my 23 kg bike case from the oversized luggage conveyor belt at BCN, I took the airport shuttle to the TRYP hotel near the airport. $130 for a decent room and full breakfast. (I’m including the costs of things in case it may be helpful in planning your own IM Barcelona trip.)

There was some excitement fitting the case into the back of the hotel shuttle—the wheels kept causing it to roll, but after we flipped it over onto the no wheel side it was fine. At the hotel, they stored the case in their luggage room so I did not have to lug it up to the room. I was overjoyed the case had arrived—I had been worried the entire trip with multiple connections that it would not make it. The temperature was just right—mid 60’s and I immediately fell asleep.

The next morning (Thursday) I woke up and did a few miles on the airport treadmill. My legs were feeling good but after eating a full breakfast, my stomach was still not cooperating. I headed back to the airport, bike case in tow.


At the airport I purchased a 30 euro Vodafone SIM card good for 900 MB of data and 60 minutes of calling. The apartment I had rented in Calella did not have Wifi, and the SIM card turned out to work perfectly—good reception and high speed data, akin to being on a Wifi connection.


I found the airport bus from BCN to Calella, where the race was taking place. The bus was a nice 7 euros 10 each way. Calella is about an hour north of Barcelona. It’s a scenic seaside town, with plenty of sports stores and full size supermarkets. At the bus terminal I met a nice Brit who was doing his first Ironman. We chatted and talked about the challenges of maintaining a relationship with non-cyclists—if there’s one topic that is sure to come up in an Ironman discussion other than which races someone has done, that is it!

The apartment was about 3 blocks from the bus stop (the second stop in Calella), and had a lift that made it relatively easy to get the bike to the apartment. It was the perfect base for the Ironman—a quiet bedroom to sleep in, full kitchen and outdoor patio, and a few blocks from the beach.


Thursday evening, the bike setup people I had coordinated with over email arrived just after 8:30 to setup my bike. I had done the same thing in Nice—arranging for a bike setup at the apartment. Great peace of mind and it worked perfectly. Within an hour my bike was setup, I grabbed a few CO2 cartridges from the setup guys, and I was ready to go. I was excited my bike had arrived intact and had no issues. On course, both the shifting and braking worked well. There is something incredibly comforting about having your bike setup while you wait—you can test it out after it is setup, ask for any needed adjustments, and you have the peace of mind of seeing it up until you bring it to transition.


Friday morning I took my bike out for a very short ride just to make sure it was all working. The shifting and brakes both felt good. After injuring myself on a pre-race ride just before Ironman France, I had no desire to do a heavy ride. I rode a few blocks, tested the shifting and headed home.

After that I walked to the expo, registered, and bought a race belt to hold my number, since I had forgotten mine. Check in was quick and painless. But here is where I learned the news that Special Needs bags were not provided by the race. If you wanted to have a special needs bag on the bike or run, you would have to give them to someone who would then hand them to you near one of the aid stations along the course.


I probably could have found someone to give a bag to, but the logistics seemed like more of a hassle than they would be worth. Also, I didn’t want to have to rely on the bags being there only to miss someone or find out the bags were not there. I changed up my strategy and decided to bring all the food I would need with me on both the bike and the run. This meant that my bike jersey was a little heavier than usual, and I did not have as many bottles of Perpetuem as I would normally have. Instead, I relied more on the on-course food and hydration. All the bottles on the bike course were bike-cage compatible, so that worked out fine. I ended up loading my bike with two bottles of Perpetuem with an extra scoop, one bottle of Gatorade. I used one Perpetuem during the first half, one during the second, and swapped in and out the Gatorade bottles as I rode. Had it been a hotter day or a tougher bike course, I’m not sure this strategy would have worked, but for the Barcelona course it worked great.

In the afternoon I headed to the beach and went for a swim in my wetsuit. It was pretty choppy but after I got going, things felt fine. Although I had swum in Aquatic Park in the San Francisco Bay many times, the water in Calella was a lot saltier. I could feel the burn in my nose and throat and it reminded me of Nice—although not quite as clear. But the temperature was perfect, not too warm, not too cold. During the race, I did see one athlete without a wetsuit, but it would have been a little cold not to wear one.

On Saturday, I went to the race briefing and learned that I would need to take my swim cap with my to bike check in. Other than that, I did not learn anything new and probably would have saved myself the walk. I headed home and then brought my bike and bags down to check in. Veterans will know that it is a lot easier to put your bags in the provided backpack, which I did, than to carry them and try to maneuver the bike at the same time! There was quite a line for bike check-in and I forgot a bottle of water and my iPod, but the time went quickly and my bike was soon setup. They had a bike mechanic on-site who was able to fix a clicking noise on my back wheel. I wrapped my seat with a plastic bag in case it rained and I hung my bags in the bag/changing tent—which was huge, at least 4x the size of the IM Tahoe changing tent. It was great, as you could change right near your bags during the race.

Race Day

The morning of the race I woke up at a civilized 6am, since the race was not due to start until 8:30! Sunrise didn’t happen until around 7:15, so it made sense, but during the race I kept feeling like I was running behind due to how late the start was. I managed to get three eggs down.

Just as I was about to head out, I heard the thunder and saw the lightning—huge streaks. The sky opened up and it was pouring down. A torrential downpour. Having just had a race cancelled two weeks earlier, the thought crossed my mind that I might be headed for another cancellation. I put it out of my mind. A few kitchen garbage bags with holes poked in the appropriate places for neck and arms did the trick as I headed down to transition. After filling my tires and putting the bottles on the bike, I headed into the  transition tent and ran into another athlete from San Francisco and one from Seattle, both of whom had also been to the cancelled Tahoe race. The SF athlete was easy to spot by his Sports Basement water bottles!


I put on my wetsuit and then walked the 1000 meters or so from the transition tent to the race start, clothing bag in hand. It was still pouring, thundering and lightning. I wore my swim cap and a garbage bag over the wetsuit. It was warm enough—but wet. I hung up my clothing bag. There was an ominous feel in the room, with people wondering if the race would be cancelled or converted into a duathlon. The race director kept announcing that they would be making an announcement about their decision soon. We all stood around in the tent, waiting. Outside the wind had picked up and it was cold and gray.

Then they announced that there would be a full Ironman—just with a 30 minute delay. I was relieved and overjoyed. I hung out in the tent another 50 minutes and then headed down to the beach. I warmed up in the water for a couple minutes and then went into the queue for the staggered swim start.

(As a side note, I am not a huge fan of swim starts staggered by age/gender. I would much rather have the start staggered by expected finish time.)

The swim took me longer than expected, 1:36. I saw one jellyfish, but other than that it was simply wetsuits and water. It had been a while since I had swum in choppy waters but the course was well marked and I felt good coming into T1. The sky had cleared and it was sunny and bright. I had a feeling things were going to go well from here. T1 went smoothly, I stayed in my same shorts and headed out on the bike course. The first couple miles are through town over speed bumps and grates so I didn’t push it. Once out of town I settled in.


Since Barcelona was a last minute choice, I didn’t have a real sense of the bike course. I had watched a video but between the distances being in kilometers and not having time to ride the course beforehand, I wasn’t sure what to expect. There are a few rollers coming out of town and then it’s steady going—with the headwinds being the only real issue.


There were plenty of refs on the course, but that did not prevent people from riding in huge pelotons of 30 or 40. I maintained my distance since my goal for the race is simply my own race goals. That said, there are some very narrow parts of the bike course where passing can be a challenge. Outside of a spin class a week earlier, I had not been on a real bike ride of any distance in four weeks due to the IM Tahoe preparation and cancellation. I was feeling good on the bike, although a little nervous about the hydration and nutrition due to the lack of special needs. Fortunately, the course was well stocked and six hours later I was headed into T2. It was already around 5 in the afternoon due to the late race start.

The run is basically flat, with one little hill. Crowd support is great for about three miles of it, and then there are three miles of the 4-loop run course that are pretty quiet. The only outhouses are mid way through the run course. I certainly made use of them—my stomach was begging for mercy. I had one of those “man, does that ever feel better” moments mid way through the run and then I was on my way. I had my mini-water bottle in my hand, which was great as there were not that many aid stations on the run course. Overall the course was decently lit. My only complaint is the lack of real Coke—the “cola” on offer tasted like medicine. The electrolyte drink seemed OK. There were some awesome bands/DJs along the way, which broke things up in a nice way.


Coming into the finish shoot I could not have been more excited. The race director was standing right in the middle with the microphone and the classic “You are an Ironman!” I held up three fingers signaling this was #3 and he said, “third Ironman!” which felt great. I crossed the finish line and headed into the tent where I sat down for a few minutes till I could get up and get some food. I had once again scratched the itch and the frustration and disappointment I had felt coming out of Tahoe #2 was gone, replaced by the exhilaration of completing another Ironman.


From there it was the long walk from finish to transition. Bag and bike pickup was quick and they were good with security. Bike in hand I headed back to my place. The next morning, it was up at 6 to pack. The bike mechanic showed up promptly at 6:45 and had the bike back in its box by 7:30. They kindly gave me a lift to the bus stop, where I hung out until the bus arrived at 8:20. Things could not have gone more smoothly and my bike arrived back in SF and appeared on the oversize bag conveyor belt a few minutes after I got though customs.

Notes for future races:
- It is worth all the hassle to bring my own bike. I had investigated renting a road bike for the race and was glad I didn’t. The Barcelona course is made for aerobars, especially with the wind. There is nothing like having your own bike for a long-form race.
- Bring water bottle and iPod to bike checkin
- Get new sandals for walking around, the flip flops I have scratch up my feet if there is sand
- Work on swim time
- Bring race belt

IM Barcelona was great. I really missed having all my friends and the big SF Tri Club group out on the course and cheering, but I am glad I got a race in while my training was still relatively fresh!



  • If I could have read the report with my eyes closed (??) or listened to someone
    reading it to me, it would have been like a live video, bumps and all. Great going!!
    Vineman doesn’t count as race #2, for Barcelona as #4 ??

    Love Dad

  • Dave,

    Great race report! Killer detailed read, fire and then rain drama, but with a happy ending.

    I am so glad that the lighting and thunder was only a small issue.

    I learned after quite a few IM races, that you can get someone to come by your room and put your bike together. This is a very cool idea for a mechanically challenged person like myself. It is just great they adjust everything and even provided a ride to the train to boot.

    It was perfect timing to get your stomach settled just in time for the race with no big issues.

    I approve of your idea for a better staggered swim start (by time), but have only been in the gang rugby style mosh pit start.

    Sounds like you had a good bike time and experience. It was nice to learn you are not drafting like an European when in an international race.

    Smart call on no special needs bag.

    Good 4 loop run, which seems to get boring, but flat is always good unless you are broke down and walking.

    Dave–Congrats on the IM Barcelona finish!

    What a quick and efficient trip.


  • Hi David,
    great review that makes me think about doing Barcelona this year as a great roundup.
    Great idea with the mechanic, because I am not a great bike-freak.
    Could You send me a hint, who or where to ask? Would help me a lot as this is one of the things I would be very concerned about – besides the maybe bad swimming conditions ;-) ..

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