Friday, 17 March 2017

Transgrancanaria race report

It’s a course that notoriously chews up and spits out the most hardy and experienced of competitors.      Even with 10 years of ultra-distance running under my belt, I was stepping into the unknown.  With a climbing equivalent shy of Everest across 125km of unforgiving terrain, it was very much out of my comfort zone.  

I had trained specifically for this race for the previous for three months, so had every intention of giving it my best shot.  I had no major aspirations other than finishing with a performance I was happy with.  And preferably in one piece.

So my first Euro mountain adventure at Transgrancanaria found me in starting pen in the harbour town of Ageate behind some of ultra-running’s finest athletes.  On what is believed to be one of the toughest courses.  My initial thoughts were everyone looked so fast and svelte, and so very sponsored.  There wasn’t the same mix of of sizes and ability you find in UK races. 

Ageate to Tamadaba 9.8 km (4767ft)

The atmosphere was electric and everyone seemed so happy, although slightly shivering from cool air and fear of what lay ahead.  Tightly penned in listening to the call of the elites, the Gran Canaria song and then the countdown.  And we were off.  I ran along with Johnny Fling, through the town and then up the track.  I lost Johnny.  It wasn’t a decision to push on,  it was just really busy and I didn’t look back. 

It was eerily silent.  Until the poles came out.  I’m sure there was something in the rules about poles not allowed during first few kilometres.  If that was the case, it wasn’t long enough.  It was far too busy and cramped for flying poles. 

I was pinned in a four way of pole owners who had a blatant disregard for anyone around them.  I tried to push away but just using up unnecessary energy.    Before long we were on a narrow hill track and things settled into a groove.  I was trying to eat early in the race, but ended up nearly choking on a sandwich. 

Following the long single file of runners, we turned around the hilltop.  I looked up and saw a vertical line of headtorches. It looked liked plane was dangling some christmas tree fairy lights  My first thoughts were: Feck that’s high; Feck that steep;  And how did they get up there that fast?

Stuck on a dark narrow path, all packed in, it was hard to see where I was placing my feet.  I was so busy looking up at the daunting headtorch line that I tripped and my right arm hit a rock.  I couldn’t do anything but get up as quickly as I landed or I was danger of being trampled on.  Or thrown off the hillside for stopping the traffic.

My arm hurt and felt dead at the same time.  I hadn’t really broken the skin, but I was concerned I’d broke the bone (drama).  Although (no shocker) I have broken both my arms in the past so knew it wasn’t that bad, just not something I wanted to happen four miles into a long race.

The route zig zags up, so the climb was fairly easy.  Other than a few sneaky overtakes when it was safe to do so, I kept in line.  No point burning up unnecessary energy to shave off a few seconds or minutes.  I got poles out and my arm started to ease.  I figured by daylight a bruised arm would be the least of my worries.

Johnny Fling said when you hit the trees you’re nearly at the top.  It was a couple of miles of running/hiking, but I could hear the cowbells in the distance.  I passed through the timing mat, then the aid station and met Marco a short while later.  Thankfully Cairn was sparked out on the backseat.  He doesn’t like to miss anything, so I had fears he would stay awake all night. I picked up some Tailwind and Shotblocks and pushed on. 

Tamadaba to Tirma 18.8km (1423ft ascent)

It was pretty blustery and fresh at the top - it was after all nearly 5000ft up - but I was still comfortable in my vest and arm warmers.  If I was to stop though, I would chill down real quick. 

The descent was pretty steep.  I had been warned that the first descent can make or break the race, so I was trying to keep everything in check as not to destroy my quads too early.  Although the initial descent was on a wider path, it soon narrowed and we were back in single.  Didn’t want to feel under pressure to go faster, but the pace was dictated by the line and I didn’t want to step off or upset the flow of traffic. 
The trails were amazing and I know I was missing out on some spectacular views.  Although flicking my head torch down, I know I was also missing out on some serious drops, so maybe ignorance was bliss.  One false move on the narrow path and it was a long way down.

After a fairly arduous descent, my legs felt like jelly.  I scoffed a Trek bar and some Shot Bloks.  After seeing some of drops I least wanted to keep my brain alert. 

I passed quite a few runners on the hike up to the small village of Tirma.   Even though it was a mostly downhill section, there was still 1500ft of climbing.  I arrived at the aid station in Tirma with one of their local runners, so there was a massive noise and lots of cheering. 

Tirma to Altavista/Alterera 33.2km (4868ft)

I picked up some water and left Tirma pretty sharp.  Along the wide track, I overshot the route and got shouted back.  It was only 100 metres or so, but I had a stern chat with myself about paying attention.  Although the course was well marked, my mind has a tendency to wander.

Another pole frenzied long hike commenced.  I side-stepped a girl projectile vomiting, thinking it was pretty early on for that, and then runners sitting down.  I stopped to ask if everything was ok and if they needed anything (in my best broken English) only be told they were just having a rest.  I know if was my first Euro race, but you are doing what?  Sitting on a hill have a “little rest” Weird that.

Again I was caught in a line of traffic.  Mentally I was removing UTMB from my bucket list.  Already a few hours into the race and it was so busy and not breaking up.  It was ok on the hikes, I accepted that.  But when they continued to hike on the flat I nearly lost the plot in my head I was screaming “IT”S FLAT.  F*CKING RUN”. At least I hope it was in my head.

Heading down into Artnera, we dibbed in at a timing point - even though it was obvious from the first checkpoint my timer on my race number wasn’t working.  Thankfully everyone had a second chip which they had to attach to their backpack.

On the way down - with a few more ups for good measure - I was toing and froing with a chap in Inov-8s.  In a race that involved cautious foot placing, you become quite acquainted with people’s feet.   For the best part of a hour, I used up all be courtesy/civil Spanish … Hola, Gracious, Bravo...I knew.  Hey, I’m British and therefore as ignorant as f*ck.  I’m not even sure Bravo was relevant, but it sounded pretty universal. 

So when Inov-8s and I got lost heading into the town of Artnera, we were communicating in some kind of grunted sign language.  I asked him he spoke English.  “I am English.  I’m from Leamington Spa”.  So Inov8s became Rich from Leamington Spa.  We chatted heading into the town before he stopped to pick up supplies.

Arnera to Fontanales 42.5km (1450ft)

After dibbing in, I ran straight through.  Up the road, along the track and round the hilltop.  I hit the road and just kept going.  I could see headtorches along the bottom of the valley, so presumed I was heading in the right direction.  And there were headtorches behind me, so all ok.  After about half a mile I realised I hadn’t seen an signs, but kept looking. 

Coach Paul had told me if you think you’re off course, you are.  Go back and find the last post.  The chap following me checked his GPS and confirmed we’d gone off course.  We heading back up the road (of course it had to be up!) and picked up about four others who followed us.  We’d missed the post on the left down to the valley.

I passed a few runners who’d got a ahead on my detour and then caught up with Rich again.  We chatted for a few miles and I really enjoyed the company.  There were a few really muddy descents and some sections, which explain the mandatory red flashing light on backpacks. 

I lost Rich on the last long mudslide into Fontanales - thanking my lucky stars I’d chosen shoes with grips and not the Salomon ruby slippers. 

This was the start of the 80km race at 7am, so I was glad to get a 30 minute head start before the speedster stampede.  I picked up some supplies from Marco and headed into the checkpoint.  I saw Gav and Noanie waiting for their race start.  Gav went into for the high-five and I realised my arm and shoulder hurt more than I thought.  It was really frantic at the checkpoint, so I was glad to make a quick getaway.

Fontanales to Vallesco and Teror 56.2km (2420ft)

Even with a 30 minute head start, it didn’t seem that long before the speedsters caught up.  I side stepped to them passed and cheer them on.  Jesus they were fast - even with all the mud!  And very polite too.  Even when I stepped to the wrong side and hit Sebastian Chaigneau with my poles.  Didn’t do him any harm though, as he went on to win it. 

The sun was up around 7:30 so it was great to take in some of the views.  Shame to have run the length of an island and miss most of the it, so I intended to make the most the daylight scenery. 

Arriving in the town of Vallesco, I couldn’t find Marco.  We agreed that if he wasn’t at a checkpoint then I would just push on in case he was having travel issues.  On the hill out of the village I phoned Marco to just make sure he knew I’d gone through to discover he’d got there just after I left.   He may had mentioned once or twice that the journey was a bit cumbersome and time consuming - he chose more colourful words.  Of course Coach Paul - running the 80km - chose the moment to pass me when I was walking.  Of course I had to be walking. 

There was a long hike through some lush green countryside and I chatted to Gerard from Germany for most of it.  He had a pretty impressive race CV, so it was nice to mindlessly chat away the hike.  I lost him on the descent and caught up with a chap from Barcelona.  It wasn’t long before the speedy ladies passed us.  It was lovely to see my ever-smiling Beta Running teamie, Sophie Grant.  There were three ladies packed in tight going up the hill.  Sophie in third, like a little fierce terrier not willing to let go from the two in front.  It made me smile seeing the sheer determination on her face.

With daylight it had started to heat up a bit.  Barca guy joked about me being in a vest and skort and he still had his jacket, gloves and buff on as he found it really cold during the night.  I knew by noon he’d be in his comfort zone and I’d be falling apart though. 

I met Marco just before Teror checkpoint and picked up a bit more, as I’d missed him at last support point.  Stupidity I forgot to give him my headtorch.  Of course I could have put it in my pack but I didn’t.  Just wore it for about three hours after sunrise like a total pleb.

Teror to Cruz de Arinex 64.3km (3320ft)

Teror was a bustling little place with lots of people out supporting and cheering. Well, maybe a few hundred so not quite NYC marathon standards, but it was nice to see.  I, again, just pushed through which caused the marshals mass confusion.  NB:  Must learn “I don’t need anything.  I have my own support” in Spanish.  Even with two seasons of Narcos, all I learned was “Rata” and then discovered it wasn’t even the right Spanish. 

Then the next hike began.  BIG hike number three.  Three of four.  The rest were just big hikes. I had been warned that Arinez never seemed to end and it was indeed the gift that kept on giving.  Every corner there was more.  Every peak there was another peak.  Even when I got to the hill with massive cross thinking that would at least signify the top, there was even more.

When I passed the aid station, there was more up, and weather had started to close in.  Grey, cold, foggy, blustery and damp.  Others runners were piling on the layers, I just pulled up my arm warmers.  Even though I was cold, I couldn’t be bothered to get my jacket out and hoped we would be heading out soon.

Cruz de Arinez to Tejada 71km (958ft)

Climbing through some forest trails until I reached a road which I assumed was a visitor point, I passed two guys in the 80km race and exchanged some mutual encouragement.   At the time, I didn’t realise I would see that same two guys on and off until the end. 

The views down to Tejada were simply breathtaking.  I nearly broke my own rule on taking photos during races, but I didn’t.  Kinda wished I had now though as I can’t put into words the beauty of the course.

Tejada to Garanan 81.7 (3605ft)

Leaving Tejada it was starting to get warm and I was kicking myself for not picking up extra water.  Rationing was not something I wanted to do, but I had to if I didn’t want to die on my ass half way through the section.

On the initial ascent of Roque Nublo (BIG climb number four), I was chatting to a Spanish guy - who I think just came out the local pub - dressed in a kilt and see-you-jimmy hat.  Definitely a bizarre moment.  Then I was hiking alongside another chap who kept farting.  I think he felt the need to excuse himself to me in the best English he knew, so every time he farted he said: “bless you”.  Mate, my pelvic floor is not what is used to be.  Quite literally nearly wet myself laughing. 

This was by far the hottest part of the race, but the most amazingly breathtaking views.  Everything around was massive and beautiful.    Near the summit, it flattens out before the final ascent.  I was admiring the view when my foot hit a rock and crash.  Skinned hand, knees and elbows.  I really wanted to cry, but the two aforementioned 80km guys came to rescue and I tried to hold it together.  They were being really helpful, but I ushered them on as I just needed a moment to compose myself. 

I was pretty dehydrated at this point and was almost tempted to ask some tourists for water, but didn’t have the brass neck.  I knew I was nearing the top, but I was starting to drag myself. 

The summit of Roque Nublo was quite simply stunning.  I would go back to Gran Canaria just to that section again and spend time taking in the views.  Unfortunately that wasn’t going to happen during a race, so I timed in and headed back down - passing runners on the short out and back section to the summit.

The trails and tracks were amazing, but really dry and rocky.  I was super conscious of the fact I was dehydrated and bit woozy, so was really careful on the descent.    It wasn’t too long before I saw Marco and Cairn, when I downed some sparkling water and topped up on some Tailwind and Shotbloks, which I’d finished before I even hit Garanan.

Garanan was the main aid station - where runners had their one and only drop bag.  It was a busy place with runners resting, eating and drinking.  Crew and supporters were cheering some the sidelines and mashals were buzzing around tending to everyone’s needs.  It also the place where you can lose a lot of time.  I know even just dropping a few things into my bag, replacing my bottles and emptying some rubbish probably took about 10 minutes. 

Garanan to Tunte 94.2 (1627ft)

Leaving the checkpoint through the park, I met Marco again who was panicking that I didn’t have enough for the section.  I reassured him I’d picked up my drop bag stuff and had more than enough, but he still went up the the next hilltop checkpoint at Nieves.  Didn’t need anything there either, which I felt bad about. 

By this time my glutes had pretty much given up the ghost and my quads were aching.  Every footstep on the descent was like a shudder. 

The paths en route to Tunte were amazing.  Obviously a lot of time and money had been spent on the trails, but they were still rocky, rugged and in keeping with the surrounding area.  Unlike the UK where H&S come in and bulldoze  and routes and put in ugly metal gates. 

My glutes and quads were screaming at me on the roads into Tunte, but it was nice to arrive there to see Cairn’s standing poised at the roadside.    For once he ran alongside me rather than trying to outsprint me.  I swear he had a look of pride, rather than inconvenience, on his face.  But I was
on the darker side of spaced out. 

I was feeling pretty good and upbeat there.  And was even happier to realise that my goal of sub:20 was still doable - if I didn’t mess around. 


Tunte to Ayaguarus 106.3 (1541ft)

And I was off.  Only one big hill and one aid station to conquer.  I was less excited about the 1800ft climb out of the town, but I knew I just had to keep picking away at it.  It did seem to go on for longer than I thought, with switchbacks and false peaks.  But I needn’t have complained, but the descent was way worse.  My legs were tired, but my head was worse.  I kept catching my toes on rocks and nearly decking it, so I lost all confidence in running downhill.  So it became a slow jogging motion gingerly making my way down.

It was a long way down to Ayaguarus.  You can see the town for a few miles out, but it never seems to get any closer.  There seemed to be never-ending switches and lots of rocks.  Lots of rocks.    It certainly didn’t help I was moving at snail’s pace, terrified I would fall. But emotionally, I was fine.  I wasn’t willing it to be over and I was still gushing at the amazing course, so I was still enjoying it. 

I passed a few runners on the path down and then heard a mighty crash behind.  A British guy, Rob, had fallen hard and cut his head.  I tried to fix him up with a baby wipe and told him it was alright.  It probably wasn’t, but he couldn’t see it.  And he hadn’t broken his sunglasses, so all way well.  I made him promise he’d get it checked at the next aid station.

The dam into Ayaguaras finally came and I crossed into the final checkpoint.  I was going to drop off my poles, but Marco told me there was still another hill as he’d run the course the day before, so I kept hold of them.    Even though the race looked like it was all down for last 20km, I had learned the profile was a little deceiving.  Little bumps that look cheeky little mounds are actually fairly hefty climbs. 

Ayaguarus to Maspalomos 125km (767ft)  Total ascent 26746ft

My sub 20 was looking unlikely, but that was fine.  Too fine.  I didn’t even want it any more.  I was too content just chipping away and getting the job done.

I left over the dam and turned into the last hill - the one that looked teeny tiny on the profile.  A French guy I’d be toing and frong with all day passed me and kept signalling at me to stick with him, which I did for a bit but fell off the pace.  Once you hit the the top the route switches back, which annoyed me because we were moving in the opposite direction from where we should be heading.

Then I hit the notorious dried river bed, which everyone speaks so highly of.  I didn’t think it was too bad, as I’d built it up in my head to be much worse.   Yeah, it was horribly rocky but not too dissimilar to some of the paths in Scotland. 

The problem was my legs and brain were so tired I kept falling.  I didn’t have the reflexes to break the fall, so I seemed to fall really hard.  My knees hurt so bad.  After my 5th fall of the day (I didn’t count the ones on mud, as they didn’t hurt) I just couldn’t handle another one.  Rob (cut head Rob) picked me up after my last fall.  I think I sobbed something pathetic about not being able to stay on my feet.  He said I was stumbling all over the place and should take a gel.  Genius!  No it really was.  My brain wouldn’t have worked that out.  Five minutes after taking the gel, I was more alert and picking off the runners who’d passed me on the river bed.  

Before we hit the town I decided to stop for a comfort break, as I hadn’t peed for nearly 12 hours.  Again it was bright red.  It seems to happen every race now. Last time was at the Euro 24 hour, I got it checked by the medic who confirmed it was muscle wastage and not blood, but I really need to get it sorted.


I reached the final aid station (Parque Sur)  in daylight.  Only a few miles to the finish at the expo.  I knew the route as I’d walked there the day before.  Except that wasn’t the race route, so ended up getting lost.  Retracing my steps I buddied up with another French guy - I’d just worked hard to overtake - and we got more lost together.  Met up with another few runners and we eventually got back on track with the help of a few dog walkers and a clown.  True story.

The French guy out kicked me at the end, but I didn’t care.  He did.  My boy was waiting… who also out kick me.  It’s definitely his thing. 



The aforementioned 80km guys were at the finishing line. They had passed me again on the riverbed and winced at my knees.   They duly informed Cairn:  “Your Mum is a badass Mother F*cker”  I don’t know whether he looked shocked or proud. 

I finished 14th female in 20:35.  Results tell me I moved up over 200 places from CP1 to the finish.

It was amazingly wonderfully brutal.   I know I’ve harped on about it, but the views are truly stunning and the trails are beautiful.  The course is so well marked, you’d have to be a complete numbnut like me to go wrong.  I simply cannot fault the race, the organisers and the energy it brings to island. 

I don’t really want to go rehashing races to chase times, but I will definitely do this one again.  I don’t really like surprises and that’s why I usually make big efforts to recce courses as it make race day so much easier and more enjoyable.  After taking a few wrong turns, I had to be super vigilant, but if you go 400 metres without seeing a marker you know you’re off.  So knowing the route now, I might just sign up for 2018.  I haven’t told Marco that yet, so keep it under your hat.

Thanks for Marco and Cairn for amazing support on the day.  From what I gather, it’s easier to run the drive, so know it was a tough day out.  Probably not as tough as the apartment I booked having the world’s shittest wifi. But it did have a pool (even if Cairn was the only one there to brave the cold water) and Marco didn’t complain about the hire car - so all in all and pretty successful trip.   Once my bruises healed ;-) 

Thanks to coach Paul for guidance and throwing in the casual “try and hit 10,000 feet” training runs.  Thanks to Renee McGregor for the food plan - I had no stomach issues at all!  And last but not least thanks to Montane, Ultimate Direction, Petzl, Drymax and Scott for all the gear. 

6 comments:

Double said...

Really enjoyed the read. Congrats on the strong result.

Amanda Hamilton said...

Brilliant write up and some great memories. I too almost wet myself laughing at 'bless you'! Proper badass!

robbie drummond said...

Really enjoyed the story, and you looked great at the end Debbie. Proper bad ass. I am definitely doing it in 2018. Might see you there! Robbie

Rob Sanderson said...

A Fantastic read. well done Debbie hopefully one day I will do this race be proud of your achievements in this race . And I do hope that you do take up the challenge again and have a more enjoyable time on your next attempt .

ALAN LUCKER said...

Loved your report. Bad ass indeed, I know how tough it is!
I too feel the need for a return to the full race. I didn't give it anything like enough respect the first time. Already booked the "holiday". Just waiting for entries to open now.

Helen said...

Great write up Debs, hope the bruises have healed by now and you're planning for next year is underway :D Has Cairn told any of his pals yet that his Mum is a 'Badass motherf**cker' cos she is! x