top of page
  • Writer's pictureDarren Last

The Road To Barcelona - Ironman

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

'I had the perfect dream' – is the first lyric in Freddie Mercury’s song 'Barcelona' with Montserrat Cabelle, so did I back in 2019. That dream was completing Ironman Barcelona the following year, that year was supposed to be 2020.

It was a dream I had dreamt for years. Since completing my first triathlon in 2014 and getting the bug. To push and test myself for the ultimate challenge. The 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle and the marathon, 26.2 miles, at the end of it all. What sane person wouldn't want to do it? Actually, don't answer that :). Over these years I have raced countless sprint, standard and middle-distance triathlons, but had not had the right 'life moment' to enter the full. That was changing, the excitement was rising, this was starting to happen.

In October 2019 it started to come together. A couple of mates had just completed Ironman Italy and were planning the next, which would be Barcelona. Perfect timing. This was it, the right time, the right 'life moment’. I discussed with my wife and we were all good to go. The idea was that all the families would go together, make a short holiday out of it. The kids are all of similar age, and most the wives know each other. It would be amazing. Barcelona was a goer, Barcelona, 'with its beautiful horizon' (another nod to Freddie 😉).

The dream was real, the dream was happening.

I put together a race plan for the year that would build me up to October. It was exciting, I was already in for London Marathon in April so first phase would be building up to that with a local half marathon in February and an off-road trail run just before.

Following London, I was in for number of triathlons, a sportive and a couple of half marathons that I would use to cycle to and run off the bike through May and June.

A middle distance/half-ironman in July that would propel me into 'peak' stage of training and on to October nicely. All going well I would be in tip-top condition going to Barcelona.

It started great, completed 35km of the Ranscombe Trail challenge ran a PB (1:32:20) at the Headcorn half marathon in February. I am a member of local triathlon club, Medway Tri, and had been attending a fantastic track session on a Monday night and was massively starting to see the benefits.

Vin and I after a very wet and windy Headcorn Half Marathon

In late Feb/early March I was running 80km+ a week with a number of long runs over 30kms. I was flying, I had never been in better shape and then CRASH BANG WALLOP, it all collapsed in an instance. One word.... COVID.

It was March and Covid hit hard. It had been brewing but I don't think any of us thought it was going to hit us like it did.

Everything began to fall like a pack of cards in a matter of days. Mikel Arteta (still having some bad luck 😊) and a couple of footballers got covid causing matches to be cancelled. I mean if the Premier League and football is cancelled then we have a big deal. The next day, unlucky Friday 13th March, the London Marathon was cancelled, or deferred to 3rd October (which I would not be doing due to a clash with you know what). A week later we all went in to lockdown and ordering excessive amounts of supplies (and alcohol online).

There would be another time to do London but it was gutting. Clearly there were far more important things going on with a global pandemic, human life at stake, hospitals being overrun and livelihoods going to ground. I had been training with my mate, Steve, who was running London for the first time. We were both bang on form and couldn't wait, we were peaking perfectly. Now it was over and the uncertainty was there. Even at this point, I never doubted Barcelona, some 6 months later, would be not be happening. How wrong was I.

As the lockdown continued through the spring, and then restrictions in summer. I started crossing off all the planned events. Come early August, Ironman Barcelona had still not been cancelled. Ironman state they give 50 days notice of a cancelled event but it was not forthcoming. I had kept the training up and about to hit the peak phase when it was clear there was no way this was going ahead. We couldn't wait for the cancellation any longer. We deferred to 2021. The dream was paused.

The 2020 race plan which became a collection of 'crosses'

Again, I was gutted but this was not a bolt out the blue, it had been obvious really that there was no way this, or any mass event, was going to happen.

I continued training as I do, mainly running, swimming with a bit of cycling if decent weather (yes, I am a fair-weather cyclist). I actually ran more throughout Covid as I had more time without travelling to work etc. Running became a saving grace in all the lockdowns as it was one of the few things you were 'allowed' to do with someone else. Seeing as this was a large part of my social life with friends anyway I got regular interaction a few times a week as friends and I ran more and longer.

I did manage two sprint triathlons that summer at the local Ocean Lake Triathlon. It’s a smaller event but magnificently organised and they managed to put them on in a Covid friendly way. Although none of it chip timed (I'm never going to win) it was great to be doing an event amongst other triathletes.

A few pals and I ran the newly created 'Medway Marathon' AKA the 'Virtual London Marathon' in the October which was great fun. Who would have thought 6 guys would have so much fun running 42.2km or 26 miles on a horrible wet and windy October Sunday morning (turned out it was the wettest day of 2020).

The last few km of our virtual marathon. We enjoyed it that much we did it again on 1st April 2021.

Then in November we were back in lockdown. Again. FFS. I needed a challenge here as lockdowns clearly suck. A mate, Steve (a different Steve, I actually have 3 Steves that I run with), had ran at least 10km a day for 50 days in the first lockdown so I decided I would give this a go. It actually wasn't too bad. I think there was one or two days where running was a hardship, but otherwise it was all great. Amazing what the body can do.

It was all getting grim as we moved in to 2021 but regardless I was optimistic Barcelona would be on come October. I mean we couldn't do this forever......right?

Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day I made another plan of events to build up to Barcelona on what would now be Sunday 3rd October 2021.

My first race was the deferred Milton Keynes in early May. All the way through February and March this was going ahead. All the authorities were happy it would be covered safely inline with Covid guidelines, Other events had happened, the country was coming out of the winter of 'Covid-discontent'. What could possibly go wrong? The lockdown started phasing out (very, very slowly) in March and sports events had started up again.

I got through all the big training runs (yep, back in the high 30km+), the communications from Milton Keynes race organisers were all very confident with approvals expected from England Athletics and local councils. I was about to start tapering and BOOM there it was, email saying it was cancelled. Bollocks, a bit of a surprise given everything but always likely.

Barcelona is the big one so that will be ok surely? Its October and everything will be open. All restrictions ended by June (not sure if anyone really believed this), so Boris says (hmmm).

Training is a way of life so I carry on with the plan, I even tell myself, and others who will listen that I will do the distance at home on my own if it's deferred again. I just want it done. This would be ridiculous and later realised that this would a stupid idea.

I entered the Centurion Virtual Slam which entailed running 400 miles throughout February and March. Medway Tri track sessions had started up again in April. As mentioned earlier the second Medway marathon. Headcorn half marathon was completed in mid-April with a new PB (1:31:46), I was in good condition. My eye was on Barcelona and I had had a mammoth year behind me where I had trained than ever.

Well deserved coffee at the end of second Medway Marathon. Neil W, Steve P, me, Steve L and Vin.

Milton Keynes Marathon was deferred to end of June, 3 weeks before my warm up Ironbourne middle distance triathlon. I was unsure on whether to run this as I had built up my marathon condition and needed to bring back down, to then bring back up. It was impossible to keep running 30km+ each week for the whole period.

Milton Keynes went ahead and I was there. I had concerns it may be too hot to run a decent marathon if we had a hot summers day, but as is the story of this summer (and the typical British weather) it was overcast and no sign of sun or heat. In fact, it was quite chilly and some light drizzle which made for perfect marathon conditions. It was another Covid friendly event with staggered starts. It had a strange feel as there was nowhere near the number of people that would normally be racing and the route had been changed to go through parks rather than roads. It all worked our excellently and everything was paying off as I managed to get a marathon PB (3:22:30). I was delighted especially given the 'stop-start' nature of the training.

This is all good for Barcelona. Travel is opening up, things are improving despite the clear uncertainty about how governments deal with Covid and the 'return to normal'.

Mid-July and my middle-distance warm up, Ironbourne Triathlon, is on, and completed. I'm moving into peak training now and this race could not have gone better, I felt great throughout. Pace, nutrition, everything had worked out well. It was a scorching hot day which made for better crowds, a mill-pond swim, a decent ride moving into a steady run.

However, the heat did make me wonder how the hell I would manage full distance as I was well-spent come the end.

A glorious morning at Eastbourne for the Ironbourne Triathlon, the sea was just perfectly still.

It was now August and everything was pointing to the fact this was finally going to happen. The social sites were full of other athletes confident it would be on. Ironman themselves were giving positive vibes. Even the people of Calella were adding their two-pennies worth of reassurance.

I upped the training and added an aquathlon and a sprint triathlon (both Ocean Lake Triathlon events). I enter the sprint triathlons every year and my time this day was considerably better than anything previously. I was peaking just right. It has to be this year......

So here we are now in September, last week Ironman sent out the Athletes guide and it’s all guaranteed to go ahead (as much as anything can be given the last 18 months). I read the 64-page athlete guide, and then I read it again and again to try and take in the overload of information.

We booked our flights, accommodation and transfers. Next thing is to try and navigate the logistics of covid tests. This on top of the all the equipment, nutrition, and all the other things needed for the race itself is like another Ironman (I suspect).

Training wise I have peaked and am now starting to Taper down (and sort out all the logistics).

I am excited, it's actually going to happen after 2 years of planning and training. I am nervous, this is going to be fecking tough going. I question if I have done enough training?

Is my nutrition plan good enough? Will the sea be choppy? Can my legs cope with running a marathon after after 180km on a bike? Will the bike even survive the travel? I am useless at bike mechanics.

All these things now going through my head as the dream starts to become reality. The questioning thoughts are natural, 'Trust the plan' I tell myself. I am in the best condition I could be in. I have put in the hours and the hard work. The build-up events and the stats suggest everything is on track and in-shape. I am ready.

Now, back to where this awfully long blog began, and another of Freddie's lyrics 'Now my dream is slowly coming true'’s exciting stuff. All I have to do is the rather daunting task of actually completing it.

Recent Posts

See All


Sep 15, 2021

So we’ll done Darren, great reading, I also learnt a lot about what goes into training for marathons, triathlons etc. I wish you every luck in your Ironman quest and have no doubt that you will complete it. So proud of you. Auntie Gill ❤️

Sep 15, 2021
Replying to

Thanks very much Auntie Gill 😘


Sep 14, 2021

Great read its never a straight path. Your gonna smash it. Its a great race, a great course, great location. If i could get through it in 2019 anyone can. Brst day ever, enjoy Karen

Sep 15, 2021
Replying to

Thanks Karen. Glad you enjoyed it. I appreciate the comment 😀

Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page