Hello everyone! I will switch to English due to my recent international fame :) No, not really. I just have many friends, from some of my adventures, that will, probably, like to read this as well.
When I last added some thoughts here I said I will never return to Gran Canaria for this race and I guess that is why they say never say never. I decided to return in 2021, after skipping a year, and try , again, to somehow finish this monster decently. The race course is changed every year and I know the time on each year cannot be compared to another year(s) but still. I wanted to feel like I had a great race. After 2 tried, finishing in a mediocre time and suffering more than I should have, I was stubborn enough to try again.
Everything related to these 150+ mile races I did so far I executed poorly. I have to admit Frozen Peaks went by far the most ok of them all and I was really pleased with finishing 5th but still.
List of races I finished: PTL (190 miles with 25.000m ascent/descent, Tor des Geants 220 Miles with 27.000m ascent/descent, Frozen Peaks 190 Miles with 13.000m ascent/descent and TransGranCanaria 18/19 which is about 265k with 13.000m ascent)
Coming back to the race I decided to register when Jean told me he is coming back as well. He had to DNF in 2019 due to severe issues with his feet (blistered beyond recognition) and had to stop at km 200. I was so sorry for him. I know blisters are, usually, genetic. There are people that have them - no matter what they do - and people, like me, that never had one :)
I really enjoyed doing the race together in 2018 and I gained a good friend that joined me for a good part of Tor des Geants as well. We were together through a lot and, because of that, we really bonded and have a special friendship.
I think the 3 months training block went well. I did all of the training with only some minor switched due to health issues I had in the winter months. Thanks Sandi and Sage! Always patient on my usual hiatuses of days at a time :)
Due to the COVID19 situation we had to wait until about 2 weeks before the race to know 100% if the race is a go or not. Travelling in the COVID times is also not easy with RT/PCR tests required by airlines and most likely quartine when I will get back home. But still. I really wanted a 'vacation'. A one week hike in which I can relax and find myself. I know it sounds crazy but this is the way I am looking at these races. Reality is that they are the opposite but you will see that during the next paragraphs when I will try to remember the days and nights that followed after the start.
Race was scheduled to start on Wednesday the 24th of February at 9:30 so I decided to arrive a few days before. Heat acclimation is quite important. I know from previous years that I was dizzy for a couple of day (jetlag or heat) so I landed on the 20th of February and relaxed for 3 days before the race started. Cut the caffeine about 3 weeks before the start and it really made a difference as I am quite sensitive to it. I also noticed that I slept better after so I think I will drop it indefinitely.
A week before the race, when they published the final track, I noticed that we will start on a different island. Well that is new! I was quite happy with this as I knew that the Tenerife island was way greener and I like that more than the rocky terrain in Gran Canaria. The bad part was that it meant starting with a night of just a few hours of sleep because we will meet in Maspalomas at 2:45 AM, get with a bus to Agaete, get the Fred Olsen Express boat for 80 minutes, take another bus for about an hour to the village where the start was taking place and walk another 3km with 400 ascent to the actual start point that was on the edge of the Tenerife coast. That was a mouthfull :) If that was not enough I was woken up at 9PM by some neighbors that were partying so I had quite a bad sleep of just 4-5 hours. I managed to take some short naps on the buses and boat but it was not great. I also had this lack of motivation and a premonition that it will not go well. I did not believe in stuff like this but It was this unfamiliar feeling I had and it felt strange.
Anyway, after all the travelling we started the race and everyone was ecstatic. I was getting passed by everyone but I always start slow and am very cautions. I know that you are supposed to feel greeat at the start otherwise you wont be there :). I also know that we have 3 to 4 days of hikining/running left. No way I am burning this early. Due to the ferry we had to take back we had to strategize a bit because there were only 3 ferries available: 14, 18 and 20. There was a tentative 16, which I was looking at, but got dropped 2 days before the race. The course had 30k with 1800 ascent and getting to the 2PM ferry would mean I should push too hard...
So I took it easy and really enjoy the course. The weather was perfect - cloudy with about 20C outside - so I decided to get to the ferry about 1h 1/2 before 6 so I can rest and eat something so I did. Got there at 17, ate some machine sandwiches (the one that last forever :) ), and got on the boat in time. I planned to sleep on the boat but it was too early and it was way too loud to do it. I just relaxed and ate again as we received food from the organizer. We were back to Agaete in what it seemed no-time. The boat is pretty fast going 70km/h. I put my backpack on and got ready for what will be the first real stretch of the race with 44km with 3000m ascent during the night. As soon as the boat opened its doors we started running slowly. I wanted to try to run the flat parts and descents and on this first stretch there were plenty of runnable areas. The bad think is that when running with 7-8kg of gear/food on your back the physics of it change a lot. Going too fast, especially downhill, will reduce your quads to a bunch of gummy bears early in the race and will suffer a lot later on. So I took it with a grain of salt and easily (really easily) and with a more than enough cadence started to run. It turned out that this part will be quite easy with not a lot of technical terrain but with its share of climbs. I felt great so the first 30k went on quite fast. I usually feel better at night due to the optimal temperature and to the fact that you usually see the track better. Well not here as we need to follow the route on the GPS and it is quite windy and have to look at the device quite often. When I was about 20k from Terror, the next base, I realized that I made the same mistake I always do: not take enough food for the first stretch. I always think that I will not eat so much but it turns out I do and here I am 20k with about 1000 ascent left and only 2 gels left.
I take one and hope that it will be enough but when about 10k were left I started feeling a bit dizzy and my stomach was doing these strange noises so I had to take the second as well. At this point I was looking for food everywhere and ate some lemons out of a tree on the side of the road. I know. No calorie intake. But it worked psychically as it seemed it did something.
Right when I reached Terror I saw Jean so we grouped and decided to try to sleep for 1h here as we were quite tired (75k with about 5000m ascent). Sleeping during these races is the hardest task for me as I am a light sleeper. It takes me half an hour to manage to get to sleep and I waken up by the lightest sound so I always use earbuds that isolate the external sounds as much as possible. We ate quickly and asked for a bed but we were quickly welcomed by some mattresses on the floor with a strange typhon thing that we were supposed to put on them. This was due to covid. Also no blankets and not pillows. Great! The room was super cold and all my clothes were soaked as I ran 75k in them so I could not sleep. My mind was racing and everyone around me was either snoring or farting, people were coming in and out. I was watching people go in, lay down and snore in the next 20 seconds. Amazing...
So, after and hour or so we left. Jean slept for about an hour so he felt fresh. I did not but felt pretty good as it was still early in the race. The next stretch, Terror to Valsequillo, was the shortes of the race with 38km and about 2000m ascent. We started on a cloudy morning at 8 AM and were going strong. Lots of runnable parts but on the first part. After about 1 hour we hit some technical trails and slowed down considerably. Stopped at a small village bar and ate some sandwiches with no idea what was in them but they tasted amazing. Went on a had a long stretch of up and down asphalt which we tried to slowly run. People were looking strangely at us but we received some bard from a pharmacy lady and they were quite good. It was raining on and off but just a drizzle mostly so no need to panic (yet...).
We started climbing to Caldera de Bandana, a volcano that looked breathtaking. At this point it started to rain and the wind was quite strong. We still though that is just a short drizzle and be stubborn enough to not stop and put our rain gear on.
When we reached the top it was so windy we could barely walk. We quick tried to descent and at this point it was raining cats and dogs. We finally put the rain gear on and slowly advanced as we could not see properly due to the fog/rain in front of us. What followed was quite technical and long and the strong rain and wind did not helped at all. We reached Valsequillo just before sunset making this stretch way harder that it should have been (we spend almost 12 hours on it).
We were soaking wet and we could not wait to eat some warm food and try to sleep as we knew the next stretch was quite hard with some ravines and river beds where the GPS reception was almost non-existent. Valsequillo to Terror ws a 45km with 3000m ascent stretch but here these stats are irelevant. Its not the distance or elevation. Its the terrain. The terrain is comprised of rocks and more rocks. Its like someone planted rocks on purpose. Everywhere. And they are so hard that they cut anything: soles, feet, hands and anything that stands in their way. A hard thing on these islands is the way the climbs and descents are because of the small distances and condensed relief. Climbs are never more that 7-800m which compared to Europes Alps its a short warmup but they are short (30-40%) and the descents are killer as they are through a minefield of rocks of all shapes and sizes with, of course, the same percent of declination.
Here, in Valsequillo, is where I managed to sleep for one hour. The conditions were great (my own bed :) ) and the room was quiet so I napped like a baby. My blouse somehow dried in that hour (they had a dryer) so thinks looked great. We left the checkpoint at about 10PM looking good and forward to what would be a quite difficult 45k with 3000 ascent (again!) to Santa Lucia. I knew part of this stretch from previous years. Due to the rain that took place in most of the day the terrain was muddy which was a first for me here. Its usually dry and hot even during the night. We went down into a river bed and moved quite fast to what will be a deep ravine full of bambusses, fallen trees, climbing plants and not full of GPS signal. This was making navigation at least a challenge. This race does not go on marked trails and it is not marked at all. I forgot to mention this as it seemed so natural. You often have to go through bushes, prone so you can pass fallen trees, cactuses or aloe vera. My legs are usually a mess after this one: bruised and scratched. This part of the race was really really hard. The lack of sleep was getting to us as it already was our second night on the course, and we started to get into zombie mode for hours at a time. If that was not enough at some point a extremely cold wind started. It was so cold I could not feel my hands so I was getting my hands out to navigate once every few minutes. The fact we were still wet from the 2 days of raining did not helped at all. I put everything I had on me: 2 blouses, 2 pairs of trousers, the jacket, the rain poncho, the wet gloves. Was still cold as the wind was so strong we almost could not stand on our feet. We found an abandoned garage on the side of the road and decided to go inside for some time until (maybe) the wind will stop for a bit and will allow us to continue. Getting inside we noticed there was already a party there as another 4 people had the same ideea as us :)
So here we are, during COVID times, 6 people stuck in maybe 4 square meters , 4 on the ground directly and 2 on old chairs. There was no door so it was not great. We waited for about an hour (maybe) and we tried to sleep but it was too cold and we were too tired so we left. The wind was the same as before. We hurried on the next climb to get warm again and during the next descent to Santa Lucia the wind was even stronger and it started to rain again. It was so cold that we ran because we were cold and afraid as the wind was pushing us in all directions. I started having some kind of hallucinations because at this point I was towards the second night on that hour of sleep. I was quite surprised as it never happened to me before. I was looking down at my feet so I will not fell in the rock field and I was seeing all these common objects that were comprised of the rocks: famous people, objects, cars. I could realize it was happening and I was 100% convinced that these were the shapes there and was proud I could fit the rocks and plants together so I can form them in my mind :) Interesting experience to say at least.
We managed to get down enough so the wind was not so strong anymore and the rain stopped. The sun was just rising so we decided to cut the zombie walk short and try to nap for 5 minutes in the bushed. I already know that this fools my brain and it gives me 6 to 8 hours of awake time.So we did. I managed to get asleep instantly as it was quiet and not so cold anymore. Woke up and felt good. Got a Roctane as I already started to get into caffeine since the previous night.
We were at km 138 and there was a huge climb coming up:
I was feeling strong and I climbed quite good. I looked back and Jean was slow. I waited for him but then decided to take advantage of the good time I had and pushed further. The wind was still there but it was sunny so we did not feel it so badly as during the night. Next stretch was on a side of a mountain with no trail at all and a few hundred feet of falling if you stepped the wrong way. Great. If that was not enough it was full of small bushes that were blocking 'the path' and making it even more difficult to pass. I moved like a snail as I was tired and taking a step wrong will mean a bad thing. I finally got to Santa Lucia but was super tired again. It was afternoon (3 or 4 PM) and it was chilly outside. Km 160 here so 2 more marathons and we were done with this monster. We had decent food here so I ate as much as I could and tried to sleep for an hour but got about 10 minutes out of it. I was so tired that I could not go to sleep. Also caffeine did not help at all. My heart was racing and my mind was bombarded by all the thoughts about what is coming next and the fact that we still had 80k left was not helping. Woke up, got some water and waited for Jean but, after checking with the staff I realized he wanted to sleep more. It was chilly outside and I could not wait so I decided to ask another team if I could join them. Found 2 guys that said yes and told them I will follow them in 20 seconds as I needed to get an extra blouse from the drop bag.