Written by Jeroen Wigard - http://jeroenwigard.blogspot.fr
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.
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.
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 :-)
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.