Race report – 119k Trans Gran Canaria

The Apple repair centre confirmed that despite smacking it as hard as possible they can’t get all the water out of my iphone 5. Which means it is broken and the photos of the race are lost forever (and the Go Pro turned out to be useless) (and I forgot to bring the battery for my normal camera). So, a picture tells a thousand words, well I don’t have any, sorry, here are 50,000 words instead.

Time 20hrs 0 minutes and 18 seconds.
Position 65th place out of 286 finishers (381 starters, 95 runners DNF).
Distance: 73miles
Altitude gain: 7300m (up), 7300m (down) – (that’s about 6 times up and down Ben Nevis from Fort William as a comparison!)
Aid stations: 11
Food (not in order): 3Gels, 2 Wheat Protein stick, 4 9Bars, 2 sml Flapjack, 1 Coconut/ Fruit bar, Chocolate covered raisins (taken in one big mouthful in desperation for energy during a climb), 2 packs of Corn/ Quinoa cakes and a IsoProteinEnergyBarThing and pure salt to avoid cramps. Then the aid station foods, which I can’t remember, but mainly the odd small handful of nuts/ raisins and apricot bars. At the 50 mile checkpoint I had 2 plates of Pasta and a piece of bread. They also had coke at some aid stations which was awesome.

The race was 10 days ago and it’s left me long enough to think it through. Whilst I always run as much as possible of every race, taking photos slows me a little and with no photos to take I was amazed to finish in 65th.

My lasting memories
– Meeting some great people, notably Michael, Charlie and her boyfriend Ian. Michael had decided he didn’t want to lose any weight (I think) as he had enough food on him to feed half the villages we ran though. I forgot to ask him how satisfying a cold tin of beans was at mile 50, I’m guessing though that they were probably quite nice, such is the basic level of existance running brings you back to.

– The course runs literally straight up at the start, from sea level to 1200m and by half way up I could see a few lights twinkling at the top which would have been The Frenchman Sebastien Chaigneau (finish time 14 hours, 5 minutes), Oier Ibarbia (14:30:53) and third place Canarian Yeray Durán (15:03:24), amazing they were up there so fast. I had an awesome view looking back at all torch lights weaving up the mountain side, I was really looking forward to this view and it didn’t disappoint. Really an incredible site coupled with the start line music you could still hear echoing around the mountain sides. At 10K, 1200m up was a very very loud checkpoint, the organisers had a competition on ‘who could provide the best checkpoint’ and this one was pumping with music, lots of helpers and awesome smiles everywhere – seriously, it’s 2 o’clock in the morning, mist at the top of the mountain, loud music, food, laughter, fun and sense of achievement already – what an awesome moment. I do think it was the best aid station looking back, although the weirdest must have been the full Shrek outfit someone was randomly wearing at the top of a later peak. I didn’t quite know what to do other than give it a high five. I think Michael tried to hug it, but he was probably a little over excited which seemed to be his way, I don’t think anyone was enjoying the run more than him during the whole event. I don’t know how Charlie felt because no sooner had the gun blown that she was off like the bullet in it, by the time Michael and I were at the top at the first checkpoint she was already 42 minutes ahead. After that first checkpoint the course instantly turned from mountain side trail to pine forest with soft leaf and mulch flooring, lovely to run on and loads of fresh smells. It was at this point I lost Michael, I saw him come out of the checkpoint and called for him but he’d stopped to do something with his bag and so I headed off hoping we’d be running back together at the next hill climb. I knew a downhill was coming soon and was looking forward to flying down it like an idiot.

– By 5am, 5 hours into the race drizzle started and then from 7am for about 5 hours it was rain. It didn’t matter, it was quite refreshing and for at least 3 hours I was running completely alone with course to myself and I was LOVING IT. I can’t recommend enough my HOPE head torch, it had the power of 50 million petzel head torches or something like that and boy did it offer hassle free running, although it was burning the top of my forehead – slight side effect there. Serious note though, if you are going to run all night, get a bloody good bit of kit on your head – particularly if you are a nutter running downhill like me. Top marks to the North Face, the route was impeccably well signed. I had a couple of moments where a group had gathered not sure of the way, one swing of my head torch on full beam and little reflective strips lit the way for about 20 miles – a very proud moment of navigation for me there.

– During the dark hours there were a few small towns we passed, mainly built on steep hillsides with windy roads, held to the hillsides with carefully crafted vertical stone support walling. These areas had a lot of steep concrete descents which were hard on the feet but by twilight/ dawn you could partly see the layers and layers of valleys and hills behind them and it gave a fantastic realisation of how remote we were.

– 1 degree of temperature difference per 100m of climb is the general rule of thumb. At the high points you could get away wearing just a couple of dry fit tops, arm warmers and gloves, but you’d be cold, the valleys were then an easy 12/15 degrees warmer and the trails very very narrow single trail with very very dense, thick vegetation, cactus and probably unpronounceable plant names, the likes I’d never seen before. One type of plant, a sort of cross between a New Zealand Silver Fern and a UK weed was almost luminous at night and it was great to be somewhere that appeared so foreign.

– 7300m of climb is a lot. It really is. The final climb to the 50 mile drop bag point (also the Marathon race start point) is a single climb of around 1500m and near the top it becomes tight switchbacks of crafted stone paths with crafted stone walls, each turn of the switchback incredibly steep, impressively created. The only other place I have seen such steep tight switchbacks was in the Himalayan 100 race, on the final ascent to Sandakphu at 4000m. half way up this I lost 10 places as I sat down and ate the last of my foods, I was spent, energy depleted.

– This is how the last marathon went for me, downhill was fast and then a struggle to maintain a consistant running pace on the flats. The first 10K of the marathon is mainly downhill which gives a great feeling that the race will soon be over as you quickly tick off 10 of the final 42K’s. NO NO NO NO WRONG WRONG…. The last 30K of the marathon course was pure torture. My memory is a bit fuzzy as exhaustion slowly settled in, 30K to 20K just seemed to take forever, that 10K I swear felt like 20miles. At the 15K to go point I remember wobbling into a checkpoint at about 4pm in a hot valley town and everyone ran up to help me, god knows what I must have looked like but I remember just staring at the floor and mustering a clap to everyone as a way of thanks on my way out! They filled my bag and forced some apricot energy bar things into my hand and pushed me out the checkpoint – I sat on the floor outside on the road for 1 minute and honestly felt my race was over. I think I tried to eat an apricot piece by putting it in my nose (I missed my mouth) my feet felt like they had been hammed with a meat tenderiser for 17 hours and my heel was REALLY sore. Somehow I got going again, such is the way of things. I even managed to run the final 2.5 miles in 20 minutes and do a sprint finish! Nevertheless, those miles between 60 and 73 were awful. James Adams (Runningandstuff.co.uk) had written in his blog about a 2-3 mile section along a dry river bed of rocks/ pebbles. I don’t want to re-live the memory of this bit, just to say it was really awful and I’m sure the organisors put it there just to piss everyone off. Despite my feet I can honestly say that until that point I was really enjoying the event. On a positive, i’ve not mentioned that for the final 20 miles or so I was running with a few Spanish chaps who were absolute legends, they were running the 50mile course but helped run me through the river bed and up the final hill sections.

– Food. Not something I talk about but I did something unusual for me – I dropped all the sugary sweety shite I like to eat and ate loads of proper protein based foods and each time I got such a lift. I’d always assumed protein only helped muscle recovery during sleep but I can’t explain better how it simply kept me going. I understand a whole lot more about ultra running and nutrition after this race I can tell you.

– The Spanish I thought at first were a bit odd, they very rarely came across as friendly almost to the point of being rude, but after 73 miles I realised that whilst they are not as instantly welcoming (annoying) as the English they become very nice once you’ve spent some time with them, about 8 miles of running together was the average point where they would suddenly start to communicate! When they do, they are hugely charitable as I found out whilst struggling with food and motivation in a few places.

– This year was the courses’ 10th Anniversary, so to commemorate it the organisers changed the route to that of the first year. Rather than run the length of the island, you run a wedge of the north (circling around the middle of the islands national park(s)). It was supposedly a tougher run, 4K shorter but a thousand or so extra meters of ascent, which was nice!

– At the finish I showed how I felt, didn’t pose but just head in my hands a let out a little tear – what a pansy. I’d finished though in what I’d call the best result so far. And to think I could have otherwise been at home doing nothing –what a waste that would have been.

Next time I’ll take photos save all this waffle. (some photos to be added later once I’m back on my home computer).

Here are some finish times showing me, the leaders and last place as comparison. Last place – 30 hours (the cut off point), absolute respect.

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6 responses to Race report – 119k Trans Gran Canaria

  1. charlie ramsdale says:

    Put a smile on my face at the end of a rather stressful and depressing day!

  2. smauland says:

    Wow! Congrats on finishing – and thanks for a great report.

  3. smauland says:

    Forgot to say – I made the same mistake as you, forgot to bring the charger for my camera for the CTS Bamburgh ultra, so I’ll be borrowing some of your photos from 2011 to show to my local running group. Three of us ran our first ultra there – and thanks to you we did a couple of training runs on sandy beaches, which helped a lot on the day.

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