THE Barcelona Marathon gets off to an absolutely spectacular start.

I was among the tightly-packed record line-up waiting for the 8.30am sortida, or beginning, of the marató on the Avinguda de La Reina Maria Cristina.

It leads out between two commanding 47-metre high Venetian Towers to the picturesque Plaça d’Espanya. 

This was my 44th marathon, fifth in Spain and second in Barcelona, the cosmopolitan capital of Catalonia.

Its 1.6 million citizens make it the country’s second most populated city. An estimated 300,000 were shouting encouragement at the start/finish area and waiting to greet us around the testing and colourful course.

It was beautifully sunny with an occasional, slightly chilly breeze that gave way later to rising temperatures.

This was the 38th running of the event, with entries edging over 20,000 for the first time.

The starting area was overlooked by the stately National Museum of Art high on Montjuïc hill. Just behind the excited throng of runners was the Magic Fountain, or Font Màgica, and even more spouting fountains lined each side of the street.

Spectators crowded into every available space as inspiring music blasted out.

The race was started in phases to ease congestion. 

Each one related to the colour of vest numbers, which were based on predicted time. 

Blowing machines sent out thousands of pieces of different coloured confetti-like paper for each start. I was in the second section, which saw blue shapes exploding skywards.

Freddie Mercury singing Barcelona (inevitably!) sent the veritable river of humanity on our way north-west past the former bullring, which has been turned into a retail centre.

Like all continental marathons, Barcelona is measured in 42.2 kilometres rather than 26.2 miles.

The first 10k is undulating, including up to Barcelona FC’s magnificent Nou Camp stadium at 6k, the first of many landmarks on the roughly circular course. There was nae sign of Neymar or any other star players, unfortunately.

A marathon is a mental as well as a physical challenge. Mentally, it’s easier and quicker to click off the passing kilometres in your head. Only trouble is, there’s a lot more kilometres than miles.

Onwards and upwards and downwards we ran, grateful for high buildings providing shade from the sun.

There were many rises, including a longish one towards the end, but that was still a wee bit away.

We went up Passeig de Gràcia, one of the major shopping and business avenues, towards Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi’s La Pedrera (the stone quarry) apartment building at 14k, followed soon after by his cathedral masterpiece Sagrada Familia, both of which are Unesco World Heritage sites.

Drumming bands kept the runners entertained as we continued north-east to reach 20k and turn south towards the beach, the sun-kissed Mediterranean and the Port Olimpic, which hosted the sailing events for the 1992 Summer Olympics.

We passed the distinctive Torres Mapfre skyscrapers and headed north again at 35k up the side of the Parc de la Ciutadella, which includes the zoo, and through the Arc de Triomf, built as the main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair. 

My legs were struggling, but I ploughed on along with determined runners from around the world as enthusiastic spectators yelled  ‘animo’ and ‘venga’ — ‘keep going’.

Another kilometre north-west took us to the Plaça de Catalunya, regarded as the centre of this vibrant city, and then we veered south again to the 60 metre tall monument to Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, dominating the port at the lower end of popular tourist street La Rambla. 

The final two kilometres were north up Avinguda Paral·lel on a steady incline towards the arribada, or finish. I relished a boost at 40k — suddenly my favourite theme from my favourite film was booming out: Vangelis’s ‘Chariots of Fire’. It would bring a tear to a glass eye.

Plaça d’Espanya was a thoroughly welcome sight ahead, and I reached it inch by inch, before turning left on to La Reina Maria Cristina for the final straight of around 200 metres through the towers. 

This is one of the most exhilarating finishes in any marathon. 

Tremendous music, massive, cheering crowds on both sides, shooting fountains, crazy commentators and the backdrop of Montjuïc produce a gloriously winning combination.

I crossed the line, sporting a relieved and grateful grin, on three hours 42 minutes six seconds, in 6,190th place.

Barcelona is brilliant!