I’ve always looked at the elevation chart before a race but the numbers don’t normally sink in as let’s face it I’m hardly a mountain runner, so when I was studying the finishing times of Transgrancanaria (TG) and the high amount of DNF’s I did start to wonder what on earth I had signed up for this time. Not content with signing up for the Advanced version of 83km I had of course signed up for the big daddy, all 125km with 8,500 of ascent, climbing the height of Everest!
TG is part of the 11 races that make up the Ultra Trail World Series and billed as being one of the main highlights on the world stage it didn’t disappoint.
We chose to stay in Las Canteras in the north of the Island as we had a few days before hand as well to relax and it was close to the bus pick up point at La Fuente Luminosa that would take us to the start at Agaete. We had sorted accommodation in Maspalomas for the finish to save having to travel back up far after the finish as we were concerned about how we would get transport back up in the early hours of Sunday morning. Dion had come along to enjoy the local trails for some running and acclimatisation before he heads out to Marathon Des Sables in 3 weeks time, and was undecided whether to race or support me in the race. Las Canteras was a beautiful spot with great beaches, full of local culture, some great local trail runs and well away from the cheesy, garish Maspalomas.
Not a checkpoint unfortunately, but some tasty fried calamari pre race
The race expo at the aptly named Expomeloneras was well organised with brand stalls for runners to buy last minute kit or get enticed to other races that were also being advertised. The registrations were clearly marked with queues in lines of bib numbers for each race, I had no queue time but heard mixed reports from others. Find your number on the wall join the queue, show your ID, and you are sorted. No kit or mandatory kit checks so you don’t need to come or bring all your gear. On registration you were given 2 drop bags (one for Garanon 82km in and one for the finish line). Tip here is to bring your kit for the drop bags with you so you don’t need to come back later that day or next. In my Garanon bag I had a change of shorts, long sleeve top, socks, beanie, spare batteries and some more food (mainly gels & perpeteum). My finish bag consisted of a fleece jumper and chocolate milk. I had grand plans of hooking up with a number of twitter chums that were running the various distances but with the 2 days worth of registrations and 4 different time slots to come along it was difficult to co-ordinate with everyone, I did manage to hook up with Daniel Rowland and Cat Simpson for a chat over some chilled water. From the registrations which commenced on the Thursday through until the finish line in the early hours of Sunday there was a party atmosphere.
Pre race catch up
The race starts at 11pm on the Friday night so it’s imperative that the day be spent doing as little as possible, eating, keeping hydrated and lazing around trying to get a few naps in. I did this pretty well, had a tasty big bowl of pasta and pizza at about 7pm and felt alert and ready to go at the start line. The bus takes about an hour from La F.Luminosa so I had packed a roll to eat before the start as well to keep the tanks topped up. It was Carnival in Agaete at the start so there was plenty of interesting characters and loud music to build the atmosphere.
The elite runners were being introduced as I made our way to the start line and squeezed in a bit too near the back as I’d left it a bit late to make my way into the holding pen, but it’s a long race right?!
And we were off! A bit of a jog uphill through the village, no need for head torches yet and then we hit the first long climb up. Trying to avoid all those bloody poles tripping you up, people swinging them around in all directions, who uses poles anyway? Only about 98% of everyone at this race….I wondered why? Switch back trail all the way up for 9km to the first checkpoint which took me 2hrs to reach, it was a steady hike up, there were only the smallest of sections that you could run. It was a sight to behold to see the long train of head torches and flashing red lights snaking up and down the mountainside in the moonlight.
The next 2 checkpoints came and went in the dark, I took the uphill slow, and had to take some of the downhill even slower as I am terrible at descending and the terrain was so technical that without a pole (bloody poles) it was hard going. I had read prior to the race not to use the down hills to make up time, but to use it for recovery. Good tip. When I reached the 3rd checkpoint (33.5km in 7.5hrs) Artenara, I found Cat sat at the checkpoint, crying about to pull out. I don’t know if it was the fact that dawn was breaking or I just had to help a runner in need and I became Miss Positivity, cajoled her into coming along, at least until Fontanales the next CP, and we ended up keeping each other company until just before CP8.
Cat & I along the way
It was brilliant to watch the sun come up and the villages come to life as we climbed up and up these mountains. The climbs were brutal and I started to think that even the downhill’s on the route description were actually uphill’s as well. There were some nice runnable sections along the way, but the legs were broken so running is a loose term! The CP’s were mixed, very friendly of course, but in terms of food I am glad I wasn’t relying on them, bits of cheese & cold meat along with some bread sticks that had dried out in the wind and some dried fruits that didn’t look too appetising. The highlight was the cola and strong espresso’s they were offering with about 3 sugars in them, rocket fuel! At Cruz de Tejeda the 7th CP I scoffed what was remaining of some salted crisps which were heaven sent.
Cat and I parted ways just before CP 8, I wasn’t sure if I was going to see her again enroute but I pushed on to the last final big climb up to Roque Nublo. It was tough too, having been out for about 17hrs already to push through another 1,000m of climbing was hard going but I wanted to push on to get to Garanon before the sunset as that was my ultimate goal as the CP here closes at 7pm, so apart from a couple of photos on the way (it was too beautiful not to) I moved as quick as I could to get there. I made it to Garanon with 10 mins to spare before the CP closed and embarked on a speed eating session of a bowl of oily, salted pasta and changed into a warmer top as it was beginning to get pretty cool again now with the sun dropping. 2 marathons down, 1 marathon to go now right?! 7pm at night and I’d been on my feet for 20hrs.
Selfie at Roque Nublo
Out of Garanon and straight back into a short but very steep hill and at this point I was joined by Luis, a local runner with whom I had been playing CP tag with all day. He had constantly been telling me how tough I must be for doing this without poles and I had joked that a true gentleman would give me one of his which he now made the point of doing, he knew what was to come next and without the use of one of his poles I think I’d still be stuck up there. Luis was good company had done the 80km version before and could describe in detail what was coming next though maybe you are better off not knowing. After a gruelling descent down what the locals call ‘Quad Breaker’ in the dark the wind was now picking up strongly blowing the dust over from the Moroccan Sahara (called Calima by the locals) straight into your eyes and throat making vision difficult and swallowing even more so.
Quad breaker road – photo courtesy of Ali Dixon @alidixon
I was getting texts along the way from Dion here telling me the cut off times of each CP which was differing from the information we were getting at the CP’s, we just made Arteara in time after the worst descending experience of my life. Imagine scree but rocks the size of grapefruits, and tonnes of it, on a hill that is so steep you have to lean backwards to stop from tumbling off. Thank goodness I had Luis’ pole to get down that and if ‘Quad breaker road’ hadn’t done my quads in they certainly were now.
But no time to rest, another text from Dion indicated that I now had to run 9km in 1h15, we thought we had 1.5hrs. Now that would normally be okay but after so long out and having to still climb up another kilometre before some semblance of a road (dirt track with pot holes and big rocks) it was a big call. But I pushed, boy did I push. Laboured breathing, snot pouring out of my nose with my throat gagging from the Calima and everytime I tried to drink water it was coming straight back out. I saw the time slipping away and all I could see ahead was darkness, there was no hope of making this CP……..and then Dion was there on the side of the track yelling and screaming at me to run, run harder! I don’t know how I did it, I couldn’t have done it without him running beside me but I sprinted as hard as I could for the last few kilometres and made the CP with 3mins to spare! Absolutely in ruins I still had 8km to the finish.
Dion knew what was ahead so he kept me in control, telling me that we have to jog gently the next 3km then I could walk for a couple through the river bed, and then I would need to jog again for the last 3km. I couldn’t talk so just nodded and let him lead, grabbing his arm for support now and again as I felt all my strength just disappearing. But sure enough, there was the beach. I could hear the loudspeakers, I was going to finish, actually finish!!! A little jog through the sand to finish off before the home stretch and you could see the finish line and the time. I had just over 20mins to spare so I just cruised it in the last 100m soaking up the cheers of about 20 people still there at 4:30 in the morning on a Sunday and I crossed that line with my arms up high and the biggest smile imaginable on my face! I had done it! Finished! 29 hours 42 minutes.
Transgrancanaria is a monster of a race and I have the utmost respect for anyone that even dares to toe the start line of this beast, let alone can make it to the end. There is a high number of DNF’s (262 in total) including some big name runners and that doesn’t just happen for no reason. Prior to the race I had broken the ‘day’ into three goals, get to daybreak, then get to Garanon, then get home! I had also analysed the finishing times although I had no runner to compare to just looking at how long it was taking runners between checkpoints and how many DNF’s there were it was already in my head that I was going to be out for at least 25hrs, without that being in my head I don’t think I would have mentally been able to handle the time on my feet.
My graph of progress
I loved it! I absolutely loved this race! I would recommend it even as I sit in my chair still a little broken knowing that this is going to take a few weeks to truly recover from it has been a fantastic experience and one where I have learnt more about myself and how strong I can be mentally as well as physically to push my limits even further.
Kit I wore
• Lululemon Pacesetter skort
• Shock Absorber sports bra
• New Balance tank top for the day time
• Lululemon long sleeve run swiftly top for the evening
• Salomon Cap
• North Face FL Race vest
• New Balance Leadville shoes
• Injinji toe socks underneath Run_mummy_run compression socks
• Black Diamond Head torch
And yes, I’ve now bought a pair of those ‘bloody’ poles so watch out for me at Transvulcania swinging them about.
Check out my little video here and the official video here.
Costs to enter – €140 for 125km race early bird price, rising to €160 euro, plus you need flights to get there (we flew Jet2 from Edinburgh) plus accommodation.