Mzansi runners pound the streets of Barcelona
Langa Athletic Club’s Nozuko Matushe recalls her Barcelona Marathon Adventure
Some people travel for shopping festivals. For runners like myself, there is nothing more exhilarating than discovering a new city as you pound it’s tarred and cobbled streets while you meet its people and marvel at its interesting architecture. And that’s what happened to me when love, passion and dedication for running brought me to the beautiful city of Barcelona, something I had not imagined possible at this stage of my life.
On arrival at Barcelona El Prat Airport, I was welcomed by a Disfruta representative who accompanied me to the Catalonia Placa Catalunya hotel, which was my home for the duration of my stay. Some of the things I noticed about the city en route to the hotel was its patchwork of architectural styles displays and its cleanliness.
After check-in, we went through the trip’s itinerary briefly before I took on to the streets of Catalonia for an easy 10km run to familiarise myself with the city. What a better welcome on the first day to run in a foreign country as passers-by smiled at you to make you feel completely at home. On my first run, I absolutely fell in love with the city.
On Friday the Disfruta athletes including myself visited the marathon expo to collect our race packs. Walking out of the metro subway at Plaza de Espana, I was so amazed at the number of people that were outside the expo centre, the vibe was totally electric. As we walked inside, everything was so well organised the collection counter process was on point and I proceeded to the runner’s wall to write my message “Nozuko Matushe the champ 2019!!” to stake my claim. The amazing part was to see the fijadore de Ritmo (fake pace setters) and the reality of running my dream marathon slowly kicked in.
With Asics being the main sponsor, the main entrance of the expo area was covered in red flashing lights leading athletes to the assessment area where everyone was testing their newly launched Metaride running shoe. Like all other sport expos, there were a variety of running gear being exhibited and sports supplements offered at discounted rates. Cadena SER the media partner held interviews with a panel of sports experts, analysing the race, giving tips and advice, and there were even some children representatives on the panel.
With less than 24 hours to go before race day – we joined the rest of runners to a breakfast run followed by a free snack. We covered the last 4km of the 1992 Olympic route which passes Montjuïc and Barcelona’s Historic Botanical Gardens before finishing inside the Montjuïc Olympic Stadium. On the way back, we saw the Olympic park, Palau Sant Jordi sporting arena and MNAC (the National Art Museum of Catalonia).
The day we’ve been waiting for arrived and I woke up early feeling a bit nervous as I didn’t know what to expect of the route. However, the messages and words of encouragement from the Disfruta team and other athletes really calmed me down. We met at 7 am in the hotel’s reception area and everyone looked relaxed and ready to smash the race. It felt late to us because we are used to starting much earlier in South Africa.
On arrival at Plaza de Espanya, we headed for Font Magica for a group photo before going to our seeding pens. The weather was beautiful and the sky was clear – and at 8:30 am the gun went off and the elite runners set off. Our group started 19 minutes later and it included runners who were pushing wheelchairs to raise funds for children with disabilities and it was emotional to see the smiles and joy on the faces of the children in the wheelchairs. We ran past attractions such as Camp Nou (home of FC Barcelona), the skyskrapers of La Caixa, Joan Miró’s Dona i Ocell, Gaudi’s Casa Batlló and La Sagrada Familia, the Calatrava bridge and the 38-storey Torre Glòries. The crowd, entertainment and water stations were on point and at Plaça de Catalunya in the city centre spectators cheered our names, which made it feel as if I was running on my home grounds.
During a long loop between the 15km and 22km marks, I almost messed up my race – it was getting hot and there weren’t any buildings or trees to provide shade. But I pulled myself together by fueling and begun to divide my run into smaller segments to take me to the finish. The last 2km felt long and was hilly, and I felt very emotional when I was running up towards Venetian Towers to cross the finishing line. I couldn’t believe that I ran an international marathon, my first in my long bucket list that I hope to cover in this lifetime. Receiving the medal was a bonus and my spirit was more buoyed when I was told that I have finished in 4:49 minutes, a personal best and absolute triumph for me to achieve this milestone in Barcelona.
Highlights of the trip
As much as it was a running trip the Disfruta team made it a mini adventure holiday by making sure that our itinerary was full of fun activities and in-depth tours to some of the iconic places in between our training runs.
- La Sagrada Familia: I was inspired by the fact that each side of the Gaudi’s breathtaking cathedral depicts different aspects of Jesus’s life.
- Park Güell: This is another one of Gaudi’s masterpieces and is listed as UNESCO World Heritage site. Exploring the park and seeing the results of his flamboyant imagination were amazing.
- Arc de Triomf and Parc de la Ciutadella (Citadel Park): During one of our training runs to prepare for the race, we ran through the park and the Arc de Triomf, its entrance that was built in 1888. The Cascada Monumental, an ornate fountain inside the park, was one of the most impressive sights for me.
- Mount Tibidabo: On the Monday after the race, we did a recovery trail up Mount Tibidabo, which overlooks Barcelona, and toured the amusement park and visited the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor (the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) at the top of the mountain.
- Montserrat: This rocky mountain range half an hour’s drive from Barcelona is a must-see and we hiked to the Saint Jeroni, the highest peak at 1 236m above sea level.
The most important lesson I learnt about embarking on this journey is that it is important in life to follow your dreams, and take a calculated risk if needs be. I left SA on my own to join a group of people I’ve never met before and by the grace of God I was in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. I would definitely do it again.
Follow Nozuko on Instagram – @zuks911
Join us at Barcelona Marathon 2020 – https://disfruta.co.za/package/barcelona-marathon