Fearless

And everyday is the right day… It was just before 8am on the steep upward slope of Calle de Volcanes in the small town of Los Canarios, a young girl was ushered forward by her mother. She stood there shyly half holding out a clenched hand unsure of what to do. Her face lit up with excitement, as ‘Todmorden’ reached down to gently tap her hand with a grinning “Gracias”. Her mother squealed with delight then joined in with the shouts of ’”Animo” and “Vamos” as the girl ran back to her arms.

After the water station, the crowd funnelled in towards the top of the climb, Tour de France mountain style, with just enough space for one runner to squeeze through the deafening yells. The pavement plaques commemorating every male & female winner of the Transvulcania Ultramarathon hidden under hundreds of feet.

Surging forward up a quieter path, still climbing, a beautiful woman picked out his name from his race number with her dark sultry eyes. Her lips glistened in the early morning sun, as she quietly urged him on “An-i-mo Ri-shad An-i-mo” barely louder than a whisper but firmly penetrating through the noise of the crowd below. He breathlessly hesitated as their eyes briefly locked, but then pressed on, remembering this was the race report for the Transvulcania Media Maratón not the opening lines of a new romantic novel, 50 shades of volcanic black! IMG_8084After following the spectacular Transvulcania race on the Canary Island of La Palma since it started in 2009, I finally dared to enter the fun run version. At 24.1km (or 26.8 pre-remeasurement) it was longer than I had ever raced before, but 2014 had been a good year… up to 10 miles (16k).

A winter of viruses did little to help preparations in upping mileage but 2015 would be the year of half marathons, with 5 completed in the lead up, including 3 in 3 weeks in April. In March I’d also notched up only my 2nd ever long fell race at Heptonstall, a confidence boosting well-paced effort over 24 km, but with less than 1000m of height gain, the Mediamaraton had more than double the up.

Arriving on the Thursday evening before the race was a shock from the cold British spring, only a week since I’d last touched snow and now straight into 80′ near tropical sun. To make things worse the chest infection that I had for a couple of weeks morphed into a cold just days before. Apparently flying with a cold is a bad idea as it makes landing very painful and affects hearing & balance, I googled queasily later.

Friday was a busy day, hiring the last spare car on the island, crossing the mountains (more ear problems) to Los Llanos to collect my race number and pick up some souvenirs at the runner’s fair. Down to the southern tip of the island for a 5k acclimatisation run, then check out the hairpin roads to find the finish, so that Myra knew where to pick me up after the race, hopefully. WP_20150508_014 WP_20150508_074 I laid out every item of race kit ready, checked, double checked, and went to sleep. Maybe not, too excited. Browsed Transvulcania tweets for a bit, and finally got to sleep just after midnight. The alarm went off at 3am. The hotel had kindly laid on a ‘runners breakfast’ between 2-3am but I wisely decided an extra hours sleep to be preferable.

At just after 4am we were on the road south, which was in the midst of major roadworks and regularly involved driving off the now non-existent road. By 5am we were parked on a windy volcanic cliff just 700 metres from the start. Having heard tales of freezing winds I was pleased to find it was actually relatively mild, to me, nice for now but meant it would only be hotter later.

At 6am the Ultra marathon was underway and the river of ~1500 lights made its way around the Faro de Fuencaliente lighthouse and up along the path like a reverse pyroclastic flow. The speed of the frontrunners was incredible, only 73km to go for them. WP_20150509_004 I then made my way down to the starting pen for the Mediamaratón, loud rock music & a manic PA guy battled the crashing waves a few feet below. A giant green countdown clock was projected on the rock face. I resisted joining the extremely athletic looking crowd toeing the line with 30 minutes still to go and attempted a warmup jog between the back of the crowd and the 3 portaloos at the other end of the pen. So glad I had skipped breakfast and had no need for them!

The others warming up looked like serious athletes, all matching kit, poles & everything Salomon. At least I looked the part with my matching Lafuma shoes, shorts and bag teamed up with a cheeky glimpse of a Tod vest peeking out from under my Transvulcania gilet – this was no fell race in a farmer’s field, this was a proper continental fashion race!

With 10 minutes to go, everyone was bouncing to Rage Against the Machine and Metallica. I reflected that 20 years ago I was actually probably doing the same thing to the same songs in the early hours of a Saturday morning in May, but with a day in bed with a hangover rather than 24 dusty kilometres & a hot sun to look forward to. As Thunderstruck literally shook the foundations of the island, this was it DIEZ-NUEVE-OCHO 413 starters SIETE-SEIS 24.1 dry and dusty kilometres CINCO-QUATRO over 100 volcanoes to run past or over TRES-DOS-UNO… VAMOS… this was Transvulcania bebe!!! DCIM100MEDIA I resisted the urge to sprint the first hill but still rocketed off as though it was a 5k near the back. After a crowd pleasing loop around the lighthouse it was onto a narrow volcanic sandy path and up. 1800 metres up in the first 18km to be precise. There wasn’t too much queueing to scramble up the rocks with only a quarter the runners of the main race and within a km I was settled. It was hard going but I was getting the hang of picking out the bumps in the volcanic sand. I grew up playing on Formby beach and dunes, so instinctively knew the secret was always to place your foot on sand sloping away to gain a bit of extra purchase.

The sun hadn’t yet risen but there was enough dawn light to see, I left my torch on as the light spot on the ground made overtaking easier by alerting those ahead. After the noise at the start, it was quiet, eerily quiet, very little talking just breathing. Thirty minutes in and I was still gaining places. I used a steeper slope to walk, drink and swop headtorch and the freebie gilet for a cap. The sun was still hidden behind a volcano but it was already warming noticeably.

After a decent section of dusty track, the approach to the town of Los Canarios and the first water station was up a steep winding path. For the first time it felt like I was working flat out as I struggled for meaningful traction in the deep loose sand. Onto the road by the visitor centre and around a corner the sun came into view, as did a steep climb. I ran it. I didn’t mean to but there were lots of people encouraging us on and I felt guilty to walk. Most others obviously didn’t, as they walked. Then I went round the next corner and saw the real crowd! The whole town was up and had been cheering for nearly 2 hours. I kept running and smiling. [6.1k Split 98th – 1:01:55]

Arrived at the first of two water stations in good shape, for some inexplicable reason I ignored my planned hydration strategy. (i.e. drink lots). I had two 0.5l bottles for the race but one had leaked so I ditched it before the start. I’d started well hydrated and had drunk a third of it but forgot to top it up. I drank just 1 cup at the water station, and 1 poured over head. I only had 11km ish to the next water station so should be fine. I often have run longer with no food/ water in a morning. But not usually under a sub tropical sun, up big mountains, on tough sandy terrain, in a big race, oops! DCIM100MEDIA The next 3-4km was still difficult running, much harder than the first section, and harder than I had expected here. Despite the addition of pine trees to the landscape the soft deep sand continued but I was still progressing up the field, probably now into the low 80’s position wise and on for a sub 4 hour time. Sometime around 10k I started feeling different and had stopped picking off places. DCIM100MEDIA On a particularly steep climb I had eaten a cake bar and had to wash it down with water but was now down to about two mouthfuls left. The uphill was relentless with only brief flats or even downs, the only other relief when the deep sand occasionally alternated with more rocky sections. The relatively new volcanic rock (less than 400 years, with the last eruption in 1971) being very sharp and grippy demanded 100% concentration every step, a fall would not be pretty.

After a big climb past the impressive San Martin volcano we reached a hellish hot open section of black sand that seemed to drain every drop of liquid in my body straight out of my feet. Surely it wasn’t far to the next drinks station? It was. I’d switched from race mode to survival mode, the two mouthfuls of water reserved for if things got serious. It was five or so of the longest hottest hardest kilometres ever, down to over 20 minutes for 1km on the steeper sections, struggling for grip, sand slipping backwards, sun getting higher and hotter. One of the hardest mental battles I’ve had to stay positive and focused on just keeping going.

Finally, after a few false hopes, what I thought was the final climb before the water station came into sight and I decided I had to drink half my water as I was overheating and losing my head. Still saving a mouthful in case of real emergency. A slight down allowed a rare bit of easier running and as I rounded a corner a big white tent thingy full of drinks appeared before the climb like a magic oasis. Orange, water, energy drink, water over head, repeat. Oh! go on, then just another cup. 2 litres later and I think I was rehydrated enough to know I wasn’t hallucinating! [16.5k Split 131st – 3:09:29] DCIM100MEDIA Despite the refreshment and the knowledge this was the last climb, it didn’t make it any less steep or easier and more places were lost before I reached the top as I was struck with cramps at the back of my knees. As long as I didn’t lift them it was bearable, not easy on a big hill. For the first time I could also detect the effects of the altitude, subtle but definitely less oxygen, about 20% less. DCIM100MEDIA Finally, it was all downhill now, almost, there were still 3 climbs within the down. At least the paths were getting rockier in places, although I did delight in a long sandy/ loose rock descent taken at full effort. More and more places gained and also catching back markers of the Ultra who still had over 50km to go.

Increasing amounts of trees and I knew the finish couldn’t be too far. The question was how far, as there seemed to be conflicting race information as to whether it was 24.1 or 26.8km that I didn’t resolve until afterwards. The excellently marked GR131 trail signs didn’t help either as it appeared there was some kind of re-measuring exercise going on and the two sets of marker posts gave different distances as well. DCIM100MEDIA It didn’t matter, I was running again, I was racing again, and I was really enjoying it so the more the better. At that point I’d have kept running the whole island if I could have. Music started filtering through the trees, then shouts and cheers so I knew I was getting close. Hit my fastest km of the race. Managed one last overtake on the final twists and turns and then there were people, lots of people and a huge orange banner appeared. Completely forgot about my planned triathlon style hi-5 weave finish as I saw the clock and sprinted straight across the line in 4:14:21 and 124th place (16th male vet). IMG_0110 My first overseas race was an amazing experience, I expected hard and it was so much harder. Good lessons learnt. 90% of me would do it again tomorrow, but 10% remembers the hell in the middle and thinks never again. It’s probably that 10% that will see me back on La Isla Bonita with its wonderful people and scenery sometime soon though! IMG_8195 IMG_8305 IMG_8071

Advertisements

Handle With Care

Been beat up and battered ’round
Been sent up, and I’ve been shot down

The problem with having a target goal, is that once you have achieved it there’s a sense of what next? Plan B isn’t needed so it’s time for a bit of downtime before a new target.

After a very wet short packrun on Wednesday and another Run Directing at Watergrove parkrun on Saturday, I was itching to go on Sunday at the Woodland Challenge near Bradley, but legs were still in recovery period from Scarborough so wasn’t planning on a hard run.

After a very steady loop around the streets, I started gaining places but made sure I kept it comfortable for the first km, before building a bit as we headed down into the woods. Everything was going well, picking up the odd place when I got stuck behind a couple of runners, along a narrow path in the woods, took the opportunity for a bit of recovery and dropped back a few paces to get a clearer view of footing.

The woods opened up a little and I could see a drop down to a wooden bridge, instantly accelerated to get past them both before the bridge, at the same moment no.2 moved right to overtake, so I switched left through some leaves.

Just as I drew alongside – Bang! – I was flying upside down? Skidded back to ground and rolled over nearly taking them both out – apologised – and continued the roll back onto my feet. Glanced back to see guy behind shifting a sizeable boulder off the path, so that’s what I hit – thanked him and hared off all in what seemed like half a second.

Over the bridge quickly ran through a body check, foot a bit sore, knee buzzing, but otherwise legs ok. Body felt fine and shoulder felt like it had taken the bulk of impact. Having only been talking about dislocations the day before, I tentatively moved it around to be reassured that it seemed to be moving normally.

Happy there was nothing serious, I quickly closed back in on the pair, still running checks in my mind on everything just to be sure. Finally decided I was ok and shot past them, gaining a few more places before adrenaline shot faded.

The route involved two loops and as we came round 2nd lap it began to feel like hard work, as various aches started making themselves known.

Worked hard to stay with a couple of girls on 2nd lap but on the long climb back towards the finish I wasn’t able to live with them. Glanced down and noticed knee was covered in blood, shoulder had stiffened a while back and with about a mile to go I decided to ease back slightly as things were starting to hurt.

WP_20141019_001 (3)Lost a few places and struggled on final slope, before a token effort to the finish line, for the crowd! Disappointed to find that once I was cleaned up knee only amounted to a tiny scratch and shoulder had a couple of shallow scrapes. Hand was a bit sore, and it was until later I realised it was possibly fractured!

42nd place for number 42 in 45:32 GPS. Decided to give the prize ceremony a miss – which was a shame as they had a wheelbarrow spot prize!

 

I had recovered enough by Weds to risk a packrun, and it turned out to be a long one – 15.2km. Took it carefully as last thing I wanted was another fall.  Fairly certain I have a fractured hand – very consistent with previous occasion – but things seem in the right place so can’t face the ordeal of a visit to A&E.

In the quest for a new goal, decided to go for a long run the next day and clocked up a 28.6km run! Happy that I would manage the distance, promptly entered the mini Transvulcania mediamarathon in 2015. At 26.6km will be a doddle… only 2000m of constant climb in the first 18km before a bit of undulation to finish!!!  May need to get a few long runs and hills in over winter.

preview_ultramaraton

Saturday was a tail run at Watergrove parkrun and dropped plans for Sunday’s Tandle Hill Trail to protect hand – it was tough enough helping out on results so the right decision.

Decided to reduce running a bit and following week was just a 9.8km packrun and then onto Sunday’s Through the Villages 8.45 mile race.

I hadn’t really decided on a plan, had a vague desire to beat my previous best for the course and a lovely sunny day with clear if a little cool air boded well.

After a gentle start, picked up pace on first hill and started gaining places. All to plan until our Watergrove ladies record holder glided past and I decided to latch on and see if I could manage 5km at her speed. It would make the rest of the race then a battle of fatigue to keep going but I was in the mood for a (mad) game.

The climb up past the quarry was tough and lost a bit of ground but reeled her back on the way to Abbey Village and wasn’t feeling too bad at the 3 mile point. Unfortunately it was round then a big hill arrived that I had forgotten about and started to struggle and dropped away.

At the 4 mile M65 turn I was hitting a low, mentally as well as physically and dragged myself back up another hill, thinking that I would be lucky to finish. A well timed water station meant a nice cold cup over my head shocked me out of the negative spiral.

Instantly refreshed, I was back on it and my legs quietened down. It was still tough but I started gaining again. Worked hard to catch another down into Withnell and along the bottom road, to the final big hill through Brinscall. I was sure I was on for a good time and so took it very steady up the hill, before pushing hard downhill as I realised I wasn’t doing quite as well as I thought. A pleasing 56:55 for almost a minute of previous best – GPS.