Sunday 30 October 2011

Ultima Frontera 80km

After a good weeks training including some solid speed work I got an 8am flight out with Ryanair.  I’ve somehow managed to avoid flying with them before, and won’t be rushing to repeat the experience for more reasons that I can list.  I met up with Charlie Sharpe at Liverpool airport and we flew out to Malaga  for the Ultimate Frontera race.  At Malaga we met up with Annie Garcia.  Team Axaraport had kindly laid on a shuttle for the three of us, to take us the hour long ride to Loja.

Loja is a good sized rural town in Andalucia, not an obvious tourist destination as such.  It has a few hotels and plenty of restaurants.  We got dropped off at a hotel and ate (a hearty) meal.  I’d love to tell you it was an organic feast of wholesome food, but in fact we ordered two main meals each, consisting of large hamburgers and chicken burgers with Mojo sauce, each with a side order of fries, and an extra plate of fries for the three of us to share.  We did a very good job of demolishing it.  Even the petite Annie, did an admirable job.  There were some other runners from the UK at a nearby table; two other Richards, Paul, Ross and a few others from the EU.  We chatted to them, and they were all fast guys with impressive races behind them.  All 2:45 marathoners, and had just completed the UTMB, and Paul had a few ago completed Spartathlon; as I say, very impressive.  Charlie had just won the Ultrarace Nottingham 50k in a record time, and him, Annie all of these other guys were doing the 160km (2 laps of the 80km race).  Realtive youngster Charlie ended beating all of these guys by quite a margin, coming in 5th overall in 18:15 mins for 160km. Very impressive.

I sat and had a good laugh with everyone for a few hours, then went and got some dinner with them in the town after registering for the race; picking up our numbers, tshirts and tming chips etc. The waiter at the restaurant we all went to managed to convince me I really didn’t want a 'family size' pizza that I tried to order, demonstrating the bin-lid sized dish it would come served on.  I agreed it was a touch excessive, and downsized to what still was a huge pizza.  I managed to sink it all, though to be fair I did remove 90% of the cheese.  I may be after calories but I wasn’t too keen on a full-scale cholesterol fest.  We ate over a few hours and got back to the hotel about 10pm.  I shared a room with one of the Richard’s, and we both got a fairly intermittent sleep until we got up at 6:45.  There was a hotel full of evangelists (I’m told) singing their way through the whole weekend.  I wasn’t wholly impressed with them singing outside at 4am, and they were almost on the receiving end of a carefully aimed running shoe.

Speaking of running shoes, I decided that I was going to wear the Hoka Mafate shoes, as I expected hard packed trails and road, and figured the cushioning would be just right.  It turned out to be a great choice I think.  I ran in CWX compression leggings, and my usual Railriders long sleeve ecomesh shirt and OR Sahara cap.  This event was to be a dress rehearsal for Nepal’s long day for me, rather than a race in its own right.  I packed a 5kg pack, laden with unnecessary clothes and supplies, which would emulate very closely the weight I should carry on day 5 in Nepal.  So I was sporting a ridiculously large backpack in comparison to 90% of the field who were there to race, carrying waist belts or small hydration packs.  They must have looked at me and thought “he has no idea what he’s doing with a backpack like that!”

At 8am 7 or 8 of us crammed into a small car/van, 2 of us in the boot.  Amusingly a police car pulled up behind as we were all climbing in the boot, they stopped, then just drove on.  Needless to say, if you did that in the UK you’d be on the end of a stern talking to!We drove a couple of miles down to the local sports stadium for the pre race briefing.
You can get a close up, or download the full route into Google Earth from this link on the Beyond Marathon website.

Afterwards eventually walked half a mile into the town centre.  We were told that it would be a “soft” start from the town centre, to allow the mayor to start the race and for pretty photos, then the official start would be from the Stadium. 

A lot of us took that to mean that we would have to run half a mile and then stop for another start. 
So, bang off goes the gun and I barely break into a slow jog, saving my strength.  So, I saunter down to the stadium pretty much at the back of the pack and see everyone disappearing into the distance.  Damnnit, soft start confusion!
After a few hundred metres the town ends and gives way to the first climb, a winding trail that leads up and around the closest mountain. 

 The weather was clear, sunny and warm, and it looked like it was going to be a warm day around mid 20’s degrees C.  That first climb was broken up my some flatter sections that allowed running, before steeper sections where I decided to save my strength and walk, as did most people I could see.  After about 40 mins we crested the hill and there came a long welcome descent.  There were small finca’s and homes all around, and the entire area was filled with olive trees, that I was told take a lot of tending.  They were all planted in immaculately straight lines.  Soon the descent ended and there was another long climb up to around the 8 mile mark before we turned onto a 1k of road, then more trail, and finally the last couple of k on road into the pretty town of Zagra. 

In Zagra there was a stiff climb up the hill into the town itself, then headed out along a winding road and steady climb to the next town Ventorros de San José at CP1 (20km).  I’d been struggling with a rough stomach and had to use the loo fairly urgently; it was fortunate that the CP was adjoined to a bar!

So, I had to spend about 5 mins sorting that out.  I put on my waterproof jacket as we were now at a higher elevation and I was feeling a little cold now the sun was covered with heavy cloud.  The humidity was high but the wind was quite sharp at times.  I’m fairly slim at the moment due to all the recent training so I’m really feeling the cold.  I headed out of the CP and high fived lots of kids on the way out of the town.  The next section was all downhill on the road for about 5 miles and it wasn’t long before the coat came off again. 

 I was very pleased I was wearing the Hoka shoes for the luxury cushioning, and bounced down the road happily.  It had taken about 2.5 hours to cover that first 20k so I wanted to pull back the average speed to something respectable.  At the bottom of the valley there was a brief un-surfaced section where some local joker had moved the route marking.  Sadly some people before us had gone the wrong way for a couple of miles.  Lucky I was thumbing the map, and knew the turning was here.  A member of the organisation came riding up on his bike and moved the marker back and went chasing after those who were misdirected.  It was very annoying for the organisers as well, but there’s not much you can do to prevent it.  The route markings were generally plentiful and excellent.
I ran with a guy called Mike for a few miles towards CP2. He was doing the 50k race and ultimately came 3rd I think.  It was mostly road up to 30k and then a sharp left turn onto track.  I asked Mike for the average pace so far and it was over 5mph, so the long road stretch I much have been running a good pace for pull the average up so far.  My tummy was telling me I was hungry, so I slowed to a walk and ate a Powerbar Ride, which is my bar of choice at the moment.  You can just see Annie Garcia in Front, she came 2nd in the womens 160km race.

One consumed I picked up the pace for the last 5k up to CP2 (at 35km). Just before the CP, Ross from Scotland came running up behind.  He’d been one of the people who was misdirected and was running hard to catch up.  I filled up bottles at CP2, added some electrolyte and headed out just behind Ross.  It had been raining for about half an hour, just gently, but I was wet and after soon slowing to a walk for many sections of the next very long climb of 550M over about 5 miles.  I put my waterproof jacket on as the rain got heavier, had the hood up and trudged up the hill.  I was surprised at all the road, but the organisers told me after that section was not surfaced when they set the course, and a group of olive farmers had got together and decided to pay to have it surfaced.  See new shiny tarmac below, where once was trail.
So there was a lot more road on the course than anyone expected.  Ross’s long legs meant he shot up the hill ahead of me and out of sight, but 2k before CP3 I caught him back up.  The terrain had levelled out, I was running at a good pace again.  Ross was hobbling.  He explained he’d ripped his calf, an old injury apparently.  He had to pull out at CP3. Get well soon Ross!

The last 2k were mostly downhill on a trail into the very pretty town of Montefrio at 48Km.  It was a very pretty town, I should have taken a better photo really.

 So, that was more or less 30 miles down.  I had eaten a couple of bars but was very hungry, and my waterproof jacket had ceased to be waterproof anymore after 3 hours of rain.  The CP was excellent in a hotel courtyard with a patio heater running.  I stripped off my wet jacket and left it to try, and took off my ringing wet shirt and replaced it with a long sleeve windproof top from my dropbag, which was at this CP.  I also made a decision to make an extended stop and eat an freeze dried meal.  It would give me chance to get a large amount of calories down, and avoid any fuelling issues.  I had caused the serious groin injury the last time I ran 50 miles (in the Atacama Crossing) and didn’t want a repeat.  So, I ended spending probably 30 mins or more at that CP, but managed to eat an 800 calorie meal, washed down with 2 chocolate milk energy drinks I had picked up from a supermarket the day before.  I left my wet shirt in the drop bag, but added my waterproof trousers into my rucksack as well as another dry Tshirt.  I didn’t need either but it was comforting to know I had more clothes.
My waterproof jacket hadn’t really dried out but it had stopped raining finally.  I tied the coat around my waist to try and dry it out then set off up the hill out of Montefrio.  It was a climb on a narrow trail for 1.5k, then headed into a valley for a long downhill section of about 5 miles. I’d taken in about 1100 calories at Montefrio and it sat fairly heavily on me for a while but I knew it would pass .   It was a really nice, rough narrow trail which I really enjoyed; probably my favourite part of the route.

  I had to make an enforced toilet stop with some urgency again, but felt a lot better afterwards.  I had no Imodium meds, but I was getting by ok and staying well hydrated.  .  Another guy came running up quick behind me as I rapidly redressed and shot past. 

A  few miles later when we were on a flat section he eased back up to a walk and he was doing the 180k and so probably wisely saving his strength.  As I passed he took a photo for me.

..and I took one for him. After that I wished him well and headed off for the last 7 miles which was a mixture of road and trail through Villanueva Mesia. 

Strangely I quite like the long flat road sections.

As I crossed a main road, a bunch of teenage kids tried to misdirect me, but I was keeping a close eye on the map and just ignored them.  The next section went through these very pretty trees and then crossed a small river. 

 There were some stepping stoned but at some wired angles which I managed to slip off, dunk, one wet foot!  Just after that was a tarmac trail around the 65k mark where I caught up with these 3 lovelies. 
They are clearly a lot faster than they look, as it had taken me 65k to catch them up! The tarmac trail lead into the town of Huetor-Tajar where pretty much all of the route markings had been ripped down.  Again I was thumbing the map so I knew where I was, but I understand a few other people got a but lost in the town.  Paul, from Team Axarsport was pretty annoyed about it when I got to CP4 where he was.  I had been running very happily so far, and wasn’t needing to stop for any walking breaks.  I’d lost a lot of time at CP3 deliberately, but that was a strategic decision which I was happy with as I hadn’t felt hungry again, and in fact didn’t eat anything else at all.  They said I looked strong as CP3 (67k) and I certainly felt good.  There was only 13k left.

The first 2k were on the road before crossing a railway bridge and then turning right onto trail.  Paul came driving up and parked in front and took a couple of photos of me, then headed on to the finish.  The trail was initially very runnable despite a slight incline, but I then walked the slightly steeper sections as it wound its way among the farms and up to the road.  I’d caught up with a couple of other 160k runners quite quickly by the time I got to the road which gradually climbed still. 

 It was the last major climb.  The people in front did run some of it, I think maybe they thought I was doing the same distance as them.  I took it easy until I got to the top of the hill, leaving 5k left, pretty much all downhill or flat.   Spot the rainbow?
At that point I opened up and headed past them, telling them the distance left and they realised I was doing 80k and I think were happy to let me go. There was a short 1k trail section which people said was muddy but to be honest I didn’t think it was compared to what I run on in the UK and ran down it at a good pace.  I crested another small hill and got these great views of sunset over Loja. 

It was great to see the finish just before sunset and know I would finish in the fading light and not need a headtorch.  The muddy trail gave way to the outskirts of town and I saw another competitor walking about 1k ahead.  I thought he might be an 80k runner, so increased my pace further.  He saw me when I was about 400M behind and started to run, but I managed to catch up to him pretty quickly.  He was also doing the 160k, so I slowed up and jogged alongside him through the streets of Loja for the last couple of K to the finish.  I finished just as the last light of the day was fading.

It was great to finish and know I wasn't going back out for another 80km lap in the darkness. I felt ok, but I was there for 80km as prep for Nepal and everything had gone well. It had taken me 10:32 mins, about 4.75 mph and 2500M of elevation. Not bad I thought.

My left Adductor Magnus muscle was sore, hopefully just strain but I’m stuggling to shake it. The area where my surgical scar is (right side groin) was very sore, and still is a week later. I had some food at the finish, included in the cost and supplied by the adjoining bar, then got a lift up to my hotel and had a great nights sleep. The journey back was a bit of a disaster. Me and another competitor had no idea you had to phone up and confirm return trips on the local bus service, and so the bus turned up full and we got stung for 130 Euros taxi trip to the airport. Ouch. Hurt almost as much as my groin did.

Thanks very much to Paul and Team Axarsport for a well organised event, really enjoyed it and hope the event goes from strength to strength.

In the last few days I've done some altitude training, but the adductor hurt so I pulled up and walked the last 10 minutes of the hour session Tuesday. So I just sat down and had a passive altitude session on Wednesday and just walked for an hour on Thursday. So I took it easy generally, hoping the aches and pains would go away. For the weekend I had planned a 2 day Snowdonia extravaganza. My girlfriend was running in the Snowdonia Marathon, so I was going along to get some hills in my legs on the higher stuff, as well as provide some support and encouragement at points along the way.

I'll post what happened next in a day or two. Let's just say it involves, all day driving ran, gale force winds (on the tops), getting a bit scared, getting through 3 sets of waterproofs and clothes and still getting wet (all within 4 hours), and accidentally running the last 8 miles of the marathon to boot, complete with rucksack!

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