I was up early — for a Sunday — and was at Plaça Catalunya at nine. I was ready to run the 30th race of El Corte Inglés — together with about fifty thousand other people.
La Cursa El Corte Inglés is an odd race. First, the lenght of the race is 11km. 11 is an odd number — in many ways. In particular since the race is intended to be a kind of fun run. Second, the track runs through Montjuïc — a hill in Barcelona. The race is thus an even more challenging fun run than the distance alone indicates.
Despite the race being a fun run the organizers decided that this year there would be a chip timing for those who wanted. Chips could however not be rented, but could be bought from the organizers. To make the offer more interesting, the runners with a chip could start closer to the starting line than the general fun running public. Since I am more of a boring runner than a fun runner I decided to buy myself a chip. I bought my self a spot on the starting line to avoid traffic.
At 9:30 the race started. Despite having a chip and being able to start close to the starting line I experienced the heaviest traffic I have ever witnessed. During the first kilometer I had to overtake walking people, people running with small children, old people, a family of five who decided to jog slowly side-by-side, etc. There was something odd going on. This situation was precisely the situation I had intended to avoid by buying a chip.
Where did all this people come from? Were they chip people? Could they have passed me on the first meters? I had a big trouble understanding what was going on. After a bit of thinking I realized that those people were the ones who started in front of the starting line. The advantage of having a chip was that you can start close to the starting line. The advantage of not having a chip is that you can start wherever you want.
It took me a kilometer to elbow myself through the traffic. The crowd became sparser and I could increase my pace in the hope to win back the time lost in traffic. After three kilometers and a half I was more or less on schedule — 5 minutes per kilometer.
Just as I had recovered from the traffic the next challenge arrived. I arrived at the slopes of Montjuic. The track ahead lay uphill, downhill, and uphill again to Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys,– the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona. The slopes took its toll. Running the uphill slopes I could clearly feel the force of gravity pulling my pace down. It almost felt like I was running in a nightmare. I ran as fast as I could but I hardly seemed to move at all.
Unlike in the nightmares, the uphill struggle came to an end. I reached the Olympic Stadium. As I ran through the stadium I felt a great feeling going through my body. I was so glad that the uphill part was behind me and I was looking forward to the easy fun run down Montjuic and back to Placa Catalunya. The nightmare had turned into a sweet dream.
At the exit of the stadium the dream was replaced by bitter reality. I realized that since I had run an almost full round of the stadium there was one more uphill slope to go before the nice downhill part started. On the bright side, this was the shortest uphill slope of the day. Before I knew it, the slope was behind me. I had run 7k in 36:30 minutes and was thus a minute and a half behind my schedule. That is, if I had scheduled an even pace. Which I had not. Given the uphill struggle behind me and the downhill delight ahead I decide to conclude that I was on schedule.
The downhill running did not go as well as I had expected. On the first downhill kilometer I only managed to gain 10 seconds. I was not utilizing gravity as effectively as I had hoped. At the 10k mark I had lost the 10 seconds again. After a small sprint during the last kilometer I arrived at the finish line — 56:21 minutes after I started — a minute and twenty seconds behind scheduled arrival.
In retrospect I cannot but be content with my time. After a bit of calculations I concluded that the first 10k of the race were among the fastest 10k I have ever run — despite the traffic and the uphill struggle. Last but not least, it was a fun run — in many ways.