Barcelona is a beautiful city. It is renowned for its art and stunning architecture from Antoni Gaudi, and boasts one of the best beaches in the world. Thanks to its warm climate, numerous historical monuments, wonderful food and great tourist infrastructure, it is also a very popular city to visit. Despite the city covering just over 100km2, it is easy to get around on the metro, or make the most of the ‘hop-on-hop-off’ tour buses.
The populous Catalonian capital is also an incredibly popular city to run in, thanks to its scenic routes through parks and along the beaches. The waterfront was redeveloped ahead of the Olympics in 1992 providing well-kept pavements for runners. There is also the Barcelona Marathon which started as the Catalunya Marathon in 1978. The route starts and finishes at Placa d’Espanya and takes participants on a tour of the city around sights such as Camp Nou and the Sagrada Familia.
Running when travelling
Over the last few years whenever I have travelled it has been for a race. It has been good to explore various cities whilst taking part in an event, but also a bit of a shame to not be able to run more and try different routes. Luckily this time I was in Barcelona for a wedding, so I had the freedom to fit in as much training as I could around sightseeing and relaxing on the beaches. Having completed marathons and ultramarathons I feel incredibly lucky to be able to explore places on foot. I tend to find that the miles go a lot quicker when I’m running and looking around (as opposed to worrying about the pace and staring at my watch). And, with big races such as OCC 55k (31/8) and Lisbon Marathon (15/10) on the horizon, I couldn’t afford to have a week (or two) off training.
Sagrat Cor Church
What to see in Barcelona
To get one of the best views of the city you will want to make a trip up Tibidabo, a 512m (1,680ft) high mountain occupied by the Sagrat Cor church as well as a large amusement park. Another must-see is Montjuic in the southeast. At 173m (568ft), it overlooks the harbour, is topped by Montjuic castle and is home to sporting venues that were used for the Olympics in 1992. When in the southeast, you will want to visit the Magic Fountain at the base of Montjuic where there are often incredible light shows. If you aren’t a big fan of heights, Barcelona still has a lot to offer. There are many wonderful buildings to visit including the Sagrada Familia which is nearing completion after construction began in 1882. When you have covered all of the sights, make sure to soak up the beautiful beaches and relax by the harbour.
The running routes
The first route Lorna (my girlfriend) and I decided to take was from Torre Agbar down Avinguda Diagonal and South along the coast. We chose this route because Avinguda Diagonal has a wide path down the middle of the road, allowing us to run at an even pace and get into our stride. Knowing the temperature would rise to around 30 degrees at midday we started our run at 8 am. If you are wanting to complete a tough session or long run I would definitely recommend getting out early or running late at night. When running in the heat it is really important to keep hydrated. Luckily, along parts of the path following the coast there are some water fountains, and as you get closer to the W Hotel there are lots of shops. One of our favourite places was Ice Box which did the best ice creams. We did pretty thorough market research. At 8 am the pavements alongside the beach are relatively quiet apart from other runners and a few cyclists. If you need to hold a certain pace or want to run intervals I would definitely recommend heading to the waterfront.
Route 1. Torre Agbar, Avinguda Diagonal and South - 18 km
See Strava map here.
On our long run, we took it nice and steady, using it as an opportunity to explore the harbour of Port Olimpica and beaches, eye up local shops, and think of places we wanted to visit. Despite running an out and back route, we didn’t get bored as we had the sea to our left and sculptures along the beach on our right. With the sun shining, and it being rather humid, our pace was a lot slower than back in England. Nevertheless, it was good training as I would like to race abroad in the heat more often. At the end of the day you can’t choose the weather on race day, it was tough running the Boston Marathon in 27-degree heat back in April, and I’m pretty sure the Lisbon Marathon will be just as hot.
Magic Fountain of Montjuic.
Route 2. Parc de Candrago Track - 13 km
See Strava map here.
As Lorna and I didn’t want to lose any speed while on holiday we researched tracks in Barcelona and found Parc de Candrago which is in the North-east. It was a 15-minute walk from our hotel, so on our first full day in the city, we arrived at the facilities at 9 am (opening time). The blue track with eight lanes was well maintained, and the nearby swimming pools looked equally as good. If we had stayed in Barcelona longer, we would have definitely returned to Parc de Candrago for further training sessions.
The session we attempted was: 3k easy warm-up, 3k at marathon pace (3mins recovery), 3k at half marathon pace (3mins recovery), 3k at 10k pace. Due to the heat, I ran a little slower than my race paces but it was a great training session for myself and Lorna. Including sightseeing, we walked over 40,000 steps that day. The paella and sangria were well earned!
Top tips for running in Barcelona
- Suitable kit: lightweight breathable sweat-wicking clothing is vital. Shorts with pockets to carry keys, phone and money/card are ideal.
- Places to see: Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Tibidabo, Montjuic, Ciutadella Park, Estadi Olimpic and Camp Nou.
I really enjoyed running in Barcelona - it was a great way to explore and eye up sights that we wanted to revisit via the tour buses. As I normally run in the heart of London, it was also lovely to head along the coast and not worry about pace. It was also great training as I feel in really good shape now that I’m back training in London. If I had more time in Barcelona I would have definitely travelled to Montjuic, Park Guell, and Tibidabo for hill sessions. All in all, I definitely recommend you pack your trainers if you have planned a trip to Barcelona.