2019 Palma Half Marathon Race Report

On Sunday, October 13, I participated in the Palma Half Marathon, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain 🇪🇸. I’ve long had a goal of participating in one race abroad per year, but most years something has gotten in the way.

Motivation

As I’ve said, it has long been a goal to race abroad. Also, this trip was meant to celebrate both my graduation from college (after nearly 30 years, this was another life goal and worthy of its own lengthy post) and my girlfriend’s passing of her certification exam.

However, why Mallorca specifically? I was choosing from a list of a few races that were to be run on October 13 (all other dates were off limits due to various commitments): Munich, Krakow and Palma. I’d mostly settled on Munich, however I was swayed by the international nature of Palma and how much fun it looked on the race videos. I really liked the idea of a race that was mostly people from elsewhere. Sort of like a destination wedding, but running. There was also the promise of knowing I would be able swim the sea immediately after.

Training

My training for this race was very good. I averaged nearly 33 miles and 5 runs per week for 10 weeks, which is more than I’ve ever done for a half and just barely shy of my totals for my only marathon to date. I also had no real bad weeks in there. I didn’t do as many workouts as I’ve done for other races, but I did plenty of long runs. I even got a few runs in the heat to prepare for Mallorca weather.

Taper

As I’ve said in other race reports, I’m never too clear on how to evaluate my taper. For this race, I was a bit less conservative in the taper. However, the last three days prior to the race only included a 2.2 mile run 3 days out, no runs last two days. I also flew 9 time zones away, and, this being vacation and a celebration, had a bit to drink in there (though nothing night before). Also, by this point, I’d already known the weather would not be conducive to a ‘heart runner’ running a decent race and merely wanted to enjoy myself both during the race and, more importantly, after.

Expo

This was a very small expo. Registration came with the option to buy the official shirt, which I did, and also a free pasta lunch. Free, mass served pasta is probably never good, and this was not an exception. But, it was nice to sit in the shade at the expo.

There was a very small number of vendors there. However, one of them was selling Palma Marathon tech shirts that were much nicer than the official ones, or at least more understated, so I bought one of them. After that, we walked around the city for a while.

Race Prep

The night before, we had pizza and prawns on the beach and then we went back to the hotel to get ready and sleep.

Getting up in the morning was not a problem, despite jet lag. We were also able to sneak into the breakfast buffet before it opened to get some pre-race food.

I’d already decided that taking the bus to the race would be too stressful with respect to time, so we had a cab come pick us up. What was meant to be a 10 minute wait took at least 30 minutes, so we were cutting this close. There was another woman at the hotel also waiting for a taxi and we told her to just ride with us. I suspect she would have had a real problem if she had waited.

This was the 2nd closest I’ve ever cut getting to a start: if I did not have someone with me I would not have made it as the bag drop was far from the start line. As the 10k started 45 minutes after the half, my girlfriend was able to drop both our bags.

In the rush to get to the line, I forgot to get 2 things from my bag:

  • headphones (not a problem)
  • body glide (this would become a big problem)

One of the things I really liked about this race was that they put flags on everyone’s bib (see above kit photo). So, while in the corral, I was busy looking at flags and listening for languages/accents. No surprise that german was the most frequently spoken, but I was surprised that I did not see/hear a single American (this held true for most of the 5 days in Mallorca, with the exception of our first night). It’s possible we were the participants who traveled the furthest for this race (or near enough).

Race

This was a hot one. I never really intended to push the pace, so I started further back than I normally would. That being said, I still ended up stuck behind a lot of large groups that occupied the entire width of the road.

As an aside, one thing that is very different about running in Europe vs USA is the prevalence of teams. In fact, I almost felt like it’s the easiest way to spot an American runner: the one without some form of team kit.

I did a fair bit of weaving to get around smaller groups. However, at some point, I found myself stuck behind a large group that took up the entire street. I suspected, and later confirmed, this was a local military unit. It was cool to see them all running together but it really did cause some traffic jams. This was confirmed again after the turnaround (more on this in a bit) and I could see space in front of them and a crowd behind them.

The layout of this course is that you run the first half as an out and back along the sea (which is actually the entire 10k race) and the second half runs up into the city and back down. So, the first half was mostly flat with the exception of a hill near the turn around, almost totally exposed to the sun, and HOT. There wasn’t really much very interesting in the first half. It’s nice to be along the sea, but I don’t really remember enjoying it that much. Also, there wasn’t a ton of crowd support. Note that the full marathon is simply two loops of the half.

Another difference between this race and most USA races is that water bottles were given. This was actually pretty nice: since the support was pretty sparse, or at least it was for such a hot day, it was great to be able to carry water. After the 1st water stop, I was never without a bottle in my hand. I split this between drinking and pouring under my hat.

The 2nd half of the race got more interesting as we turned up the hill into the town. However, part of this was on open roads and the air quality sucked. Normally I would dread the hills, and I did here as well, but there was a real benefit of running in the tightly spaced, narrow streets of Palma: no direct sun! At first the cobble stone streets did not bother me, but they got worse after a while and I started to tire of them. There was a decent amount of music and some crowd support in the city, which was nice.

Also notable in the second half was seeing and hearing evidence of runners needing medical assistance. I saw two runners requiring assistance, I saw some paramedics running to someone, and I heard ambulances. This was somewhat worrying as I was really not feeling great and, well, I’m a heart runner. However, I was never really at risk and made sure I had plenty of water (note I did not take in a single calorie during this race, which was probably a mistake but I think the heat just really discouraged me from doing so). During some of these miles, I slowed down considerably and had a hard time with leg turnover. However, I did get back to average pace by the end (net downhill).

Also, my failure to apply body glide before the race really started to become a problem in the 2nd half of the race (or maybe even before? I don’t remember). Not only was I sweating quite a bit, I was also dumping water on my head, which obviously dripped down onto my shirt, really weighing it down. Fortunately my shirt was a color that did not show that I was bleeding, but I was. I was tempted to take the shirt off but did not. My shower and jump into the sea later was interesting.

I was very happy to have finished this and not stopped due to heat. However, despite knowing this wasn’t going to be a real race for me, this was by far my slowest half marathon, including my 1st half marathon after heart attack/CABG, where I really was worried about finishing alive, and I was disappointed with that. I’ve run training runs faster than this. It’s worth trying to figure out which of many variables contributed to this. Not because I’m interested in beating myself up over it, but I will some day want to do something similar to this again.

Note: I did not attempt to take any pictures during the race, and, as I learned after the race trying to operate my phone, I was too sweaty and would not have been able to anyway.

Post Race Thoughts

Overall, I’m happy I ran in Palma despite my performance. I got what I wanted, which was a fun, social event in an amazing location. I also really enjoyed my post race drink and swim in the beautiful Mediterranean Sea!

Would I do this specific race again? That’s tough to answer. I probably would because I love Mallorca, but I would prefer to run somewhere else and get a different experience.

Random Mallorca Thoughts

Mallorca is beautiful and I recommend a visit. However, areas seem to be hit or miss. This trip, we stayed away from the town for budget reasons, which had pros and cons. The areas near the airport are not particularly nice, but you end up staying right on the beach and the beach can be beautiful. We ended up in two different hotels: after 2 nights we had to move because the first hotel lost all of their customers due to the Thomas Cook bankruptcy. This moved us from a more interesting location, but a smaller, not as nice hotel, to a beautiful hotel right on the sand, but in a relatively tacky location. However, both places are well served by buses and it’s easy to get to Palma. Next time I might split my time between a beach hotel and a city hotel.

We went to a few restaurants that were just OK, but we also had two amazing meals, including a return visit to one to get amazing sea bass.

Bonus Vacation Runs

I did not run again in Mallorca, though we did rent bikes the day after the race. I also was in the water every day, which was amazing despite being very close to, or after, end of the season and really helped my legs.

However, our vacation did not end in Mallorca. We flew to Frankfurt, Germany, and then traveled to one of my favorite places, Baden-Baden. I’ve been there many times, but I’ve only run there twice now. The only run I know there is to run along the river that flows through town.

This is a beautiful run through town, away from the road, that starts at a shallow incline and gets progressively steeper until you’re really climbing at 5k, which is where I turned around. You can see the incline building in the below picture. By this point, you’re running on the road and it’s not quite as safe and pretty.

After the turnaround and when the downhill becomes a bit less steep, it’s really easy to cruise. This last section I’d picked up the pace quite a bit.

After Baden-Baden, we took the train to Munich. Munich is one of my all time favorite places to run, and my favorite place there is the run to and in the Englischer Garten. There’s a ton to explore there and despite having run there a few times I’ve only seen the lower half of the park.

The run from my hotel to the park goes through Königsplatz and by several really nice museums. You can see Lenbachhaus, my favorite, below in this picture. It is the yellow/mustard building on the right in the background. To my left and right, out of view, are the Alte and Neue Pinotek museums.

After passing through this area, you run through Odeansplatz and the Hofgarten before entering the park.

Englischer Garten is my perfect running location. It’s beautiful, away from cars, there are countless paths to take, there are rivers, lakes, animals, there’s even a biergarten. Also, it’s perfectly flat!

All in all, this was a pretty successful running vacation despite only running three times. I had a nice race, two beautiful runs in Germany, and am now recovered and ready to figure out what is next. Marathon #2???

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