MADRID, SPAIN — The Competitor Group’s Rock N Roll Marathon series has made its debut in Europe. With its first new races in Scotland and Spain, the series of marathons that has brought big marathons to cities around the United States and Canada has landed on the Continent in style.This weekend’s inaugural Rock N Roll Madrid Marathon showed that the popular format that includes rock bands, post-race concerts and smooth race organization can be transplanted to other parts of the world. The most notable impacts to the 35 year old Maraton de Madrid were a large increase in foreign competitors, from about 1,000 last year to 4,000 this year as well as a steep increase in the number of women competitors. Female participation in the event grew from only 8% in 2011 to more than 25% in the re-flagged 2012 event.
Rock N Roll Madrid drew approximately 19,000 participants across the Marathon and 10K distances with about 12,000 in the marathon and 7,000 in the 10K. Athletes from 78 countries took part in the event.
One notable difference between the Spanish event and many American marathons was a strict six hour time-limit for the marathon. Many races in the United States and Canada offer up to eight hours or more to finish, giving them wider appeal among first-timers and walkers. As Scott Dickey, CEO of Competitor Group told an audience on Saturday evening, “this is a race, not a run.”
Tough but Beautiful
The Rock N Roll Madrid Marathon route was routinely called “tough” by competitors afterward. The course sports nearly 20 kilometers of rolling downhill in the middle and a tough uphill section over its last eight kilometers. As one runner told me after the race, he recalled thinking to himself, “oh yeah, this thing goes up at the end,” when he hit the final long series of hills. Another simply told me it was “a real meat grinder.” A number of runners compared the course to the New York City Marathon, known for its tough bridge ascents and descents.
Although tough in terrain, the course is one of the most scenic anywhere in the world, winding its way through the streets, squares and parks of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. “How many times do you get to run past a palace,” one runner commented to me.
The late start at 9:00AM likely has more to do with the late-night culture of Spain than typical marathon planning which would like to see road re-opened as early as possible. The marathon field didn’t seem to even start arriving until almost 8:00AM, making it seem eerily quiet in the start corrals compared to American races. But the field did show up and got rolling promptly in a mass-start right on-time.Out on the course, aid stations were well stocked with small bottles of water and energy drink on the 2.5KM marks. It would be this reporter’s hope that the marathon would consider moving away from using plastic bottles in the aid stations. Countless thousands of single-use bottles were being cleaned up and headed for land-fills as I made my way along the course with the rear guard of the event.
A number of participants complained about a dramatically low number of portable toilets at the start, finish and along the course. Competitor Group told me that they had increased the number of portable toilets, but that their numbers were still much lower than at comparable races in the United States. One participant who had unfortunately not been able to hold his bowels had told me sadly that he “just couldn’t find a place to go.” His accident forced him out of the race at the in the 15th kilometer.
Success in Europe With More to Come
The Rock N Roll Madrid Marathon was proof positive that Competitor Group can partner with top race organizations around the world to bring the now familiar format to other countries. For fans of the format it will mean more destination travel events and opportunities to visit cities around the world in conjunction with their running.
Competitor Group’s Scott Dickey said Saturday that two more European events were in the works, in Oslow, Norway and Nice, France respectively, in addition to four more stops in the United States. Mention of the new Nice event brought cheers from the audience of American and Canadian runners who had traveled to Madrid for the race. For those with a love of travel and running, the horizons look like they will continue to brighten.
Reporting from Madrid, Spain
Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
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