"The goal is to become the unique, awesome, never to be repeated human being that we were called to be." -Patricia Deegan

Monday, June 18, 2018

B is for Beast (Animal): The Mágica Tenerife Bluetrail

This was my first Spanish race. I've raced in other countries with Spanish competitors and spectators and the one word I heard was "Bravo!" (or "Brava!" for the feminine). Which means brave or good or courageous. But what I found out running in the Canary Islands, an autonomous region of Spain, was that a far more popular word of encouragement on the trails is "Animal!" This is Spanish for... yes, you guessed it, animal. But it's also Spanish for beast! The important thing is to get your Spanish pronounciation right - ah-nee-mahl!

Happy Animal, somewhat bewildered that I actually did it!
My nickname in Australia is "B" (they tried Berni and I had to nip that in the bud by giving them another option). One running friend decided that "B is for Beast." Well, the Spanish agree :) I must have been called a beast 100 times over the 17 hours and 55 minutes I was out on that 102k course, with its 6800m of climbing.
Go up 60k, go down 40k. Roughly.

Going into the event, I had beastly training, managing to tally 150-200km weeks with up to 9000m of ascent. And I did it all in the Perth hills! Unfortunately, the stress of preparing to go abroad for 4 months left me frazzled at the end of May. I arrived in Tenerife, one week before race day, feeling burnt out. The idea of a race sounded awful. I couldn't even begin to convince myself I was looking forward to it. I wasn't. My mental batteries were low. My race sheets for fueling and crewing weren't done. This animal needed a hibernation.

It was time to pull out the "Fake it Til You Make it" and "Act as if" mantras. I kept remembering back to when I had first found the race online - a race that ran almost all uphill for 60km, to the top of a volcano! A journey from sea to sea, from the south of the biggest Canary Island to the north, from beach to pine forest to Spain's highest point (Pico Teide) down to rainforest and then to the sea in the north.

I simply kept going through the motions of preparing. There was no passion, only practicality. But I held space for movement, for change to happen. I acknowledged and accepted my current feelings of stress and lack of interest in racing come Friday night, but didn't let the feelings dictate the future. Ultrarunners know the adage that things change during a race. Well, I knew things could change before a race, too :)

Animals like bananas.
Thursday morning we drove to the capital city to collect my bib. I was hoping to slip through without attention, and purposefully had left my "daggy" adventure clothes on, as we'd stayed at the volcano hut at 3250m the night before. I reckoned by going in all smelly and grungy, I'd encourage myself to bolt through quickly.

It didn't work. I was greeted warmly and enthusiastically and asked to do an interview. Well, at least I had a a clean Bluetrail race shirt in my swag bag!

Thankfully, Friday was a pretty quiet day and I was feeling at least a bit of enthusiasm for the 11.30pm start. So, to the pounding of drummers and the beachside fireworks (everyone knows bears don't like loud noises!), we took off at a frantic pace along the promenade. One guy dropped his mobile phone and when another tried to pick it up, it just about became a game of human dominoes.

I passed a few girls, but had no idea of my position. Though it didn't really matter, as I knew it was at least a 15 3/4 hour race for me and there was no point trying to chase or outrun any other "beast" this soon.

The temperature was mild (~20C) but with humidity (~84%) it was fierce. My face was red and dripping sweat. My watery eyes were at an all time personal best. We climbed into the cloud and mist layer at an altitude of about 700m. There's a Star Wars 'warp speed' effect with a headlamp on in mist. At times, we'd all have to pause at junctions to try to search ahead for a flag, the air was that densely whited-out. My nose was running so much I gave up wiping it and just let it run down to the ground. Animals don't care about snotty noses.

I passed a girl on a climb and she gave chase. It made her breathe heavily though. Too heavily. She made a distinct effort to look at my bib. She let me go but caught me on a short flat. At the next rise, I created a gap again. We did that a few times, but on a sustained climb, I was ahead for good. She remained in my mind. She seemed strong on the flats and downs and the last 40km of the race are mostly downhill. That's where I was really going to have to work, I figured, to hold whatever position I had.

I met Rolf at the third checkpoint, Ifonche. My ETA was 3hr15 and it was 3hr08. Rolf told me I was third. He asked if I was having fun and I said, "I'm not sure." With the initial crowds running at a silly furious pace and then climbing into a cloud, running on rocky technical ground with watery eyes and a snot nose, it was hard to say if I could call it fun. But it was an adventure. That much I could say! I had enough experience of the island to know there was every expectation we would be poking out through the top of the cloud band at some point and it would be lovely. And the crowds would continue to spread out over time as people settled in to their own paces.

Mt Teide behind me - leaving Parador Hotel for the summit
I came in to Vilaflor at 4hr57, 15 minutes ahead of estimates. Six more scoops of Perpetuem with a scoop of Fully Charged (love that taste combo), some water, and I was off. Definitely in my happy place.

Rolf drove the narrow mountain roads in the dark up to the Parador Hotel (~2100m) in the big caldera below Mt Teide to wait for me and sunrise. Sunrise was stunning. I was well above the puffy white cloud layer. The sun came up near Gran Canaria island off to my right. The sky slowly lit up pink and the hills to my left became more defined silhouettes. The ground in that section was crushed stone and black. I came around the corner to my first view of Teide and began the descent into Parador. 8hr02min on the clock. Still 15 minutes ahead of schedule, but I figured I would lose time on my overly optimistic projections for the high altitude stuff to come - up the volcano to 3,555m. Suncreen, more Perpetuem and Fully Charged, pack the headlamp and pick up sunglasses.

Rolf told me I was still in 3rd place. I expected it was two younger girls up front and was happy I was probably 1st veteran (40-49yrs). Rolf seemed more optimistic than me about my abilities, as he was focussed on the gap between me and 2nd place (just 25 minutes, he said). I was more concerned about who was chasing me down! I asked for some "intel" on how far back the next girl was and ran for the volcano.

In the summit area

My lack of altitude training (two measly days) showed. The only animal I think I was emulating was sloth. I struggled to take in food. 10hr50min total lapsed to reach the highest point of the race. That 10k took 2hr50! The slowest 10k of my life, that's for sure! But I was only 10 minutes behind projections. (And I was just 3 minutes slower than the 2nd place girl over that 10k, I found out later - so much for my altitude training excuses.) The checkpoint staff offered me a chair, food, and hot broth (it was freezing in the 40kph+ wind up there), but I said no thanks. You don't finish a race by sitting down. The sooner I got moving, the more likely I'd stay in front of any approaching girls. And the sooner I'd be down to a more reasonable altitude where I might be able to digest food better. Just a marathon to go. Next section was 13.6k+98m-1743m!

On the other side of Pico Teide, short gentle-graded section, heading in to Recibo Quemado. 

The boys started passing me on the descent. I realised I was in a bit of a "lazy" unenergised state of mind and body. When the next boy passed, I was determined to allow as little gap as possible to open up between us. I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone more in the crazy technical rocks. I was pleased with my pace pick-up but still came into the next checkpoint, with Rolf waiting, having 12hr55min on the clock. I was now 55 minutes off projections. Only half surprising, as I'd recce'd the top bit of this section when I stayed at the volcano hut and it was way too technical for me to run the projected 6min/k pace I'd forecast. The last bit of this section had seen a transition from basalt/lava rock to pine forest. It was lovely - the smell of pine is always "Canada" to me and incredibly comforting. The aid station was in a beautiful location. And they had watermelon, which I tried to use to help reset my slight nausea. Rolf told me I'd lost a bit more time on 2nd place, which didn't interest me. I knew I was unlikely to catch a girl on a descent and far more likely to be overtaken by one coming up from 4th place.

Overly cautious beast with quivering quads.
From Recibo Quemado to the Base del Asomadero continued to be dramatic downhill. 12.4k+396m-1811m. Almost right after leaving the heat of the pine forest aid station, where I had been sprayed down with water and sunscreen, I ran down into the cloud layer. It started drizzling. And then I hit the rainforest. The steep clay/mud was treacherous and I had no quads and no beast mode, despite all the encouragement from any passing spectator. This video shows green-bib racers (20k event), who I think were just 2km into their race. With fresh legs, they were having way more fun than the ultramarathon runners who came through later with 82km in their legs, on trails that had become even more slick over the course of the day. I would have been laughing my head off if I'd had just 2k in my legs, too, at that point! In hindsight, I should have changed from the Terraclaw shoes to the Inov-8 x-talons at the last checkpoint.

The flora in the rainforest was stunning and included things I've never seen before - cool flowers growing straight out of rocks on cliffsides - wonderful for the eyes. But the ground was not so wonderful to my 49 year old tired and inflexible legs. I arrived at Asomadero at 2.06pm, 14hr36 lapsed on the clock, and now 1hr20 behind projections. I knew it was going to get worse. Another rainforest section next.

Uphill nearly 700m in under 3km and downhill slip-and-slide 900m over 5km to Tigaigo. I had found out the next girl had fallen back to 45 minutes behind me. The slight nausea finally started to abate near Tigaigo. I had been drinking tons, which seemed to help. Perhaps it was a combination of dehydration at altitude plus the lack of oxygen to help digestion that had triggered it. I was two hours behind projections now. It felt like a disaster, but it was the best I was able to do. I was in pretty good spirits about my adventure and ready to head for that finish chute.

The last 3km of the run into Puerto Cruz went through town, mostly along the foreshore. Spectators and tourists shouting "Ah-nee-mahl!" and clapping, three "false" gantries where announcers called out details of the runners passing by. The word "tercera" (third) was one I had added to my limited Spanish vocabulary by that point.

Finally, I ran up into that the final gantry. 5.25pm. 17 hours 55 minutes. Two hours behind projections, with one hour of that due to slower-than-anticipated descent off the bouldery technical mountainous terrain and another hour due to the slower-than-molasses descent in the two rainforest sections. A spectacular event with incredible organisation. A one of a kind experience. One of the best sunrises of my life. A highly recommended adventure for all Ah-nee-mahls. Just be sure to get loads of elevation in your training.

Mágica, as they say.

Overall (Absoluta) - 1st: Azara Garcia de Los Salmones Marcano & Yeray Duran Lopez (ESP) 2nd: Nadezda Surmonina (RUS) & Sange Sherpa (NEP) 3rd: me (CAN-AUS) and Juan Antonio Gonzalez Rodriguez (ESP)

Veteran A class (40-49 years): A Canaussie with the Spaniards. 1st: me with Yeray Duran Lopez (ESP) 2nd: Ana Belen Martin Gonzalez (ESP) & Juan Antonio Gonzalez Rodriguez (ESP) 3rd: Carmen Martinez Saez (missing - ESP) & Arcadio Araujo Gopar (ESP)