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Showing posts with label Transgrancanaria 2017. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Transgrancanaria 2017. Show all posts

Monday, 5 March 2018

Transgrancanaria 2018, fantastic course, mountains and organisation, but definitely hate the stones.

Oh no, more stones, when the hell does this stop? It felt like I had been struggling through this dried riverbed for hours. Stones everywhere, of all sizes and none of them lying stable. Every time the path turned I would get hope to run on some better surface but it would quickly turn back into the stony area.... It seemed never ending: I was stuck in this hell after having run about 115 km of the 128 km course. Stopping here was not really an option, even though all of my body was begging for that and I seemed completely alone in this dark and stony valley. But let's go back to the start.

This is Transgrancanaria 2018, a 128 km trail race that starts in the north east end of Gran Canaria in Las Palmas, passing all the way down the mountain spine of the island to conclude in the south at Maspalomas. Something like 6000 vertical meters are included, even though the organisation claims it exceeds the 7000 vertical meters.

Transgrancanaria 2018 race profile

I ran it last year, but my approach to the race was very different this time. Last year I thought that it would be my last ultra trail, which instead turned out as a too great race. And my ultra trail running life was extended. This year, with the UTMB 2018 bib waiting for me in Chamonix, I was sure this would not be my last race. Rather I increased my ambition level and wanted to do better. However what is 'better'? The course is different than the one I ran in 2017. Based on the race profile I made a conservative plan, resulting in a finish time of 27 hours, however a small voice in my head whispered that a finish time below 24 or 25 hours would be fantastic. So 'better' got defined that way.

The start this year is in Las Palmas, which is very different from Agaete, the small town in the north west of the island, which was the 2017 start location. I love Agaete for its small town charm, so was not too happy about the change. But Las Palmas was actually very nice as well, though much louder and bigger. The buses with the runners, and me in one of them, arrived 2 hours before the start, and I killed the time trying to sleep on a bench and watching the band's and carnival parades. It was quite a party. A lot of tourists looked like they had no idea what was going on. 

The day before and even during the bus ride it had been raining quite a bit, but it nicely stopped when arriving at Las Palmas. Also there was no rain during the entire race despite the warnings: quite a relieve. Half an hour before the start I moved into the startbox and I positioned myself right in front of the second box behind the elite runners: I had plans for a fast start. Faces around me were rather tense and so was mine, knowing it is going to hurt rather badly. Counting down and off we were. Normally I hate running on sand, but knowing the first 3 were the only kms which are flat (except the last two), I went out very fast. Fireworks in the sky, crowds three layers deep, what is not to like?  Passed the 3 km mark below 15 min...on sand... Hmm, for a 128 km race maybe a bit stupid, but one never knows what is possible if one doesn't try.

Right in front of the second startbox just after the elite runners

After 3 km we turn left, and a little later we hit a dirt road with the slope getting increasingly difficult. As I am rather in front of the field everybody runs, so I run as well, whereas normally I prefer walking most the inclines from the start. However my speed is rather low, so I get passed by many people here. Happy to see some people walking at the steepest part, as it allows me to do the same. 

First hill done and down we go. However the path is a bad surprise: stones of different sizes, hardly runnable, but now I am stuck in the 'running snake'. If I start walking I will cause a queue, so I follow the runners in front of me as good as I can. I reach the first depot, which is at 16,5 km in little less than 2 hours, which is more than an hour gain on my conservative 27h schedule. This was my hope and worked well. At the depot I refilled my bottles and took off to the next depot in Teror, while eating one of my clifbars. To get to Teror another climb and downhill. I don't remember much except for a lot of barking dogs in the dark. Reached Teror ahead of schedule, now having 1,5 h in the bank. I must say that I deliberately make my schedules easy in the start to create the positive flow of being ahead of it. In this case I made it easy until Teror, so now the goal was to keep as much of the time gained in the remainder of the race.

In Teror quick refill of my bottles and off again. In the following climb, I started to suffer. Legs felt tired and every time I went a bit too fast in the steep parts I went into the red zone. That's a bit early, but on the other hand I had already covered 30 km in rather few hours, so I kept positive. I also kept moving rather ok, as I reached Fontanales still 1,5 h ahead of my schedule. Here a ham cheese sandwich saved my 2017 race (see here), and they had them again ! So ate one, while changing batteries in my headlamp, and took another one with me. As always when tired real food helps and I moved more positively out of the aid station. Right after the aid station I followed two Swedish girls, where one was just running in a short-leave top, while I was wearing about all clothes I had with me, and yet it felt not that warm. While wondering about how can it be she is not freezing, I did not look at the course markings and we got off course. We made a quick return and after 100 meters we were back on the right course. This next section includes a very steep and technical downhill, but it also started to become light, so my spirits were rather high. I reached Presa Perez 1h15m ahead of schedule. Beautiful place, where we could see the cave houses, this area is known for.

There I made a major mistake. I just refilled my bottles and drank some coke. No food... before one of the biggest climbs which was next. This I realized half way during the climb, hanging in my poles trying to more or less crawl up the 1000 m climb. Negativity all over in my head. I will not finish, why the hell don't I have a normal hobby (I could take care of the garden at home as a hobby? or buy a mountain bike? ) and I definitely should give up that UTMB bib ( I know this is like cursing in the church and if I had spoken that out loud, some other runner may have just pushed me in that ravine). Somehow I however kept moving and I reached the top and got down again to the next aid station. Only lost 30 min on the schedule to my surprise. I ate some food, trying to correct my mistake, called my wife on the way out of that aid station to warn her I would likely drop. She just listened to my complaints and told me the split times looked good. Just after that call I realized I may have worried her, so called back to say that I would continue and it would go ok (split times were looking good, I was ahead of the schedule, so nonsense to say it was not going well). So that phone call made me commit to finish.

Next stop was Tejeda, one of my favorite places; this also added to the renewed energy. Was needed as this part of the route was cold and very windy. We were running on the edge of an old vulcano crater, which was supposed to be beautiful, but as we were running in the clouds not much was to be seen. When arriving at Tejeda the sky cleared and it got rather hot. Still 45 min ahead of schedule. As the next major climb to Roque Nublo was ahead, I ate plenty, changed to a dry shirt, and left with Rammstein in my ears. I was reborn. The climb was still tough but felt easier than last year. Great to see the Roque again, especially as it means most of the uphill is done. 

Reached Garagnon nicely, where I had some terrible pasta, which I made worse by putting extra salt on. When almost finished, somebody from the organisation went around asking who wanted to join the bus to the finish. Did he really asked that out loud?  I quickly got out of the aid station. Last year after Garagnon there was a terrible short extreme steep climb, which I feared a lot, but I had heard some runners earlier mentioning that that part had changed. I did not dare believing it, but hoped it severely. Very relieved to see it was true and down we went to Tunte over the very bad 'cobblestones road'.

The 'cobblestone' road

Last year I could not run this part, but this year I did it. Key was now to get as far as possible in the daylight, as my night sight is not too good. During the way to Tunte I met a French guy, Maxime, and we run together. I could not follow very long though. So I reached Tunte alone 2 hours before my conservative schedule! This aid station was great. Loud AC-DC and was welcomed with high fives from all volunteers. A girl asked if she could fill my bottles and they had ham cheese sandwiches. Only some Prosecco missing 😀. When Maxime, who I met again in the aid station, left, he asked me to join. Getting a bit too relaxed in my chair that seemed a good idea, so we went off together. 30 km to go. We had a good chat on different runs and training. Good distraction up to the next hill. He left me shortly before the top and intended to run the rest down, which I would not be able to. He did well finishing an hour before me. The downhill went ok for me, but when it got dark, my eyesight is simply limiting me. I started kicking many stones. My toes felt completely blue (afterwards this was only true for my big toes), so it got rather painful, but I reached Ayagaures 2h15 ahead of schedule. Another great aid station: got a plate of the best paella ever, said no to the offered beer, even though tempting.

Last climb and then the infamous dried riverbed. I struggled in the dark, kicking stones everywhere and moved very slowly. No option to quit here and I knew I would finish. A sub 25 h seemed feasible in the last aid station, but when I passed the '10 km to go' sign at 22:45, I was far from sure I would make it. It was like being stuck in a bad nightmare, it felt like running in circles in the dark, twisting my ankles over stones...... But finally we got out of this valley and I could run again. 4 km sign with one hour to go. YES! The last 4 km I ran and walked and I finished in 24:36. Sub 25h!, first time I do a mountain ultra faster than 5 km/h ! I felt terrible, everything was hurting, but was and am damned proud of this one!

Finish in 24:36

Far from perfect though. I can do better on many points, which is another positive outcome. And definitely I need to work on the following points before UTMB:

- Food. I need real food and need a good strategy for this and stick to it.
- Shoes, as getting blue toenails are a limiting factor at some point. But how do I test shoes on steep hills in Denmark??? Any recommendations as alternative to La Sportiva Ultra Raptor? I like the stiff sole but I feel I would need a softer top.
- Running glasses for the night. I use glasses normally but run without.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Transgrancanaria 2017 - saved by a ham cheese sandwich

The week before the start of Trangrancanaria the thought set in that maybe this would be my last long ultra trail race. I was simply not sure I would be able to do it, still having my DXT 2016 failure in my head.  Yes, I had trained quite well and was in quite good shape, but mentally DXT2016 had given me a big blow. The question 'why am I doing this', which visited me many times, was hard to answer.

Now a week after the finish I can give the answer to that question :-). Within the 25,5 hour the race lasted for me, I had seen so many beautiful mountains, villages, landscapes, climbed a lot of steep hills, ran down on them, cursed all those stones over and over again,  met another of my hero's (more on that later), had the greatest ham cheese sandwich ever and experienced many other things. The best word to describe the race after finishing was 'WOW!!'. But lets go back to the start. 


Transgrancanaria is a race over 124 km including 8000 height meters, starting in Agaete on the north side of the island and finishing in Maspalomas on the south side. The organisation took care of transporting us to the start, where we arrived 1,5 h before the start, which would take place at 23:00 on Friday evening. It had been rather nice and warm in Maspalomas but the North side of the island is always colder and so was today where it was very windy and cold. Happy to dive into a bar for a coffee and afterwards pack myself in some extra clothes and sit down just in front of one of the bars, which were packed with runners. I was calm, tried to sleep, not wasting energy to everything around me (one big party with music, very engaging speaker, lots of anxious runners).

30 minutes before the start I moved to the startbox after removing my spare clothes. Fortunately the startbox was so packed that it was hard to freeze. Turning on the obligatory red backlight, checking if everything was right and ready for some major suffering. Still not looking forward, but no way back now, even a bit curious about this adventure. Some more music, some very cool speech in Spanish: no idea what it was about. And finally counting down. 3,2,1,go The adventure starts!

The first km is comfortably on a road, but then the first big mountain hits immediately. A climb of something like 1200 meter within 10 km. My strategy was simple: to get through the night in good shape without injuries, such I could start moving up during the day and not waste time in aidstations. So I settled in a comfortable rhythm on this rather steep climb. The path was pure single track most of the time, so there was no real possibility to pass or be passed. Still at occasions runners were passing, wasting precious energy by moving through more difficult terrain without much gain. I stayed nicely were I was, enjoying the view of all the white lights in the back and red ones in front of me, forming a large 'lightsnake'.

At the top there was the first aidstation; with great help from some of the volunteers who filled my bottles I made it faster than a formula 1 pitstop and left within 15 seconds :-). What followed was what I was warned about: a very technical steep downhill, where many runners typically end their race. Fortunately it was getting less crowded. Indeed technical, and indeed very very steep. I took it easy, and was still being passed once in a while. A cute looking girl came flying by and jumped into the group just in front of me; then she changed into a mountain goat and accelerated. 'You can be cute, but you are not leaving me in the dust....', so I changed gears as well. She knew what she was doing, so I tried to copy every move and was now racing down the mountain, taking all the shortcuts she was taking. So far for good intentions of taking it easy.... I even managed to pass her, but then had to stop suddenly for a queue. This was a section were a rope was used to get down a wall of 5 meters. ca 50 runners in front of me. A quick estimate based on the about  20 seconds per runner it took to get down the rope, warned me this was going to cost me 15 minutes. So I looked for an alternative route. Another guy just had found that route, I followed and passed a lot of runners in one go. This brought us down to the second aid station. Bit more than 15 seconds, but I still left within 2 minutes. I had passed 76 runners on the way down the mountain and was now in the 400th position. 

Now the second big climb was in front of us. I  settled in a rather low speed, as I felt tired and it again was very steep (yep, one pays the price for racing down a mountain....). Looking around me showed I was not the only one: this looked like a scene from the walking death. Even though I was slow, I kept passing people, but was also being passed. The fact that I was about 45 minutes in front of my own target schedule made me feel rather good. After the top it would be about 10 km of rolling terrain until the next post, Artenara at 33 km. It was getting rather cold with hard winds while we were running in the clouds with little visibility. Fortunately the route was very well marked. 

However after Artenara, which I passed in 395th position, I was getting so cold that I finally changed to my jacket. I started to suffer, could not eat anymore from my energy bars and was getting a bit in problems. I was hoping for daylight soon, but that would first come at 8 o'clock. I was very happy to arrive in Fontanales, while feeling like I had to throw up. As I could not, I decided to sit down and force some food in me. I ended up eating a soup and a ham-cheese sandwich. This sandwich saved my race and was more worth than all of the fancy energybars I was carrying. Not sure what was in it, but it delivered me the energy for the next 50 km (must have been the Spanish ham :-) ) . 

Now slowly a new day started, with daylight coming through, but most amazing, the sound of the birds singing. It was fantastic: running on small paths going up and down, passing an occasional house, with cactus and palmtrees everywhere and then the sound of those birds. Not tried anything like it. Beforehand I had feared this point of the day as I typically get very tired at dawn but the great ham-cheese sandwich plus the birds made me feel 110% alive and awake. Enjoying this I made it to Teror at 56 km (moved to position 367).

After Teror followed a long climb to Cruz de Tejeda and then down to Tejeda, where I was looking forward to get, as I had stayed there some days before the race with my wife and son. I found again a good rhythm and moved up yet another large hill. Views were spectacular. Above Teror we could see all the way down to the sea, while when we got above Tejeda I could see Roque Nublo and Roque Bentayga in the same view. Spectacular! At Arinez there was the curious event of crossing a rally race (as in car race!) passing on the same road as we passed. Interesting combination. This is what the red obligatory red light is for?

After the familiar grounds of Tejeda, we would get to the highlight of the course, Roque Nublo, a giant rock pointing like a thumb on the top of a plateau with a fantastic view. We left Tejeda through a familiar route, as it was the same route I had hiked with my wife and son. Now I moved considerably slower than at that time, and while we could see Roque Nublo almost all the time, we had to walk all the way around it before getting there. It was hot and I actually for the first time ran out of water. Started to suffer again, but it could not be far to the large depot of Garanon, I thought. I was wrong. It took ages. While the surroundings were breathtaking, I was more crawling than walking. 

Roque Noblo

Just before reaching Garanon at 82 km, A runner came racing down a hill, where I was going up. He yelled ' You are doing good!'. Just as he passed I realised this was Gediminas Grinius, winner of the ultra trail runner world tour 2016 and one of my big hero's. Nice! After meeting Timothy Olson at the number pick up, I meet a second hero in the same trip. No time for a selfie though this time :-). Happy to finally make it to Garanon, in 318 th position, I sat down, had a large bowl of pasta and a lot of coke.

Meeting Timothy Olson at the number pickup

After Garanon there is just a 250 meter climb left to the highest point, the route profile says. What the route profile does not say is that this climb is covered in very little horizontal distance. They seriously put a path straight up the mountain. I estimated it to be at least 40% steep. Somebody got learn how to make corners and curves in a path please.... but I made it and then the good news is that it is mostly downhill from here.

However there are downhills and downhills. This one was covered in stones, technical and steep a lot of the time. I ran where I could but had problems with all the stones, so while some runners could just race down I had to walk many places. Arriving at Tunte at 94 km I was met with a scary sight. What first looked like a body bag being carried out of the aid station, appeared to be a runner, alive and wrapped in black plastic, having a neck brace on. Hope he/she is doing well. 

Now it was just 30 km left. I could see I would make it to the finish, but at what time was the question. 27 h was feasible but faster would be nice. So I pushed from this point on. Still the path was not very runnable until the last 7 km, but I would run where I could, and otherwise move as fast as possible. I ended up having my fastest 10 km in the last 10 km :-). 

200 m before the finish a runner with a big headlamp came up to me. That annoyed me, as I wanted the finish stage for myself so I even managed to my own surprise to throw out a sprint and finished in 25:33:59 (position 309). Just after the finish a lady, asked me: ' would you like a beer' and found a cold beer for me and even turned off the lights on my backpack. This shows the friendliness of the volunteers during this race, which is not expressed very much in this report, but a big thank you from me! Also big thanks to my sweet wife, who picked me up right after the finish, as walking 2,5 km to the place we stayed would have taken some hours :-)

Passing the finish

Aftermath: I surprised myself. I typically go down at the end of a race. This time I could push the last 30 km. So a big learning there. The race surprised in its beauty and in its being different. Hard to describe, but it is contesting with Lavaredo on my favorite ultra trail now..... And no, this will not be the last ultra trail. Definitely not :-). Would not like to miss this in my life.