Friday, 15 May 2015

Race Report : Transvulcania 2015

Warning: get a cuppa of tea now....this is a long one!

"Ah Balls". 

No, not a political statement about Ed (although I did smile when I heard he didn't quite make it), just my annoyance at collecting a[nother] DNF!

I knew if would be tough, 45 miles around a beautiful volcanic island with a minuscule 4200 metres of vertical ascent and probably more cruelly, a similar amount of decent. There is no doubting that Transvulcania is a beast and now I've had time to linger on it, it's a beast I plan on taming in 2016, hopefully with the help of a friend or two.

The alarm woke me at 2am, although I really hadn't managed any kind of sleep, tossing and turning and constantly jumping up thinking I'd missed my alarm and throwing the covers off to realise it was only 34 seconds since I last performed this stupid bedroom dance. Why I needed to be on a bus at 3am for a 45-60 minute journey for a race that started at 6am is anybodies guess. Better early than not at all and after scoffing some yoghurt and peanut butter, Nikki very kindly dropped me off and returned to the apartment to continue her beauty sleep.

The bus journey was uneventful, mainly because I slept the whole way much to the amazement of the Spanish chap sitting next to me. In fact I was a little groggy upon arrival which made him chuckle more. The start of the race is at the most Southerly point on the Island, Faro de Fuencaliente, a beautiful lighthouse and a very cold breeze awaited us as we disembarked. The buses appeared to have dropped us 5km from the start (aka 800-1000m), so we got to "enjoy" the downward slope down the sandy trail to the start line, where our 2 hour wait would commence.

I found a spot to curl up out of the wind and concentrate on not getting too cold. Luckily I had a drop bag with me, which would be transported to the finish and I wrapped myself in the clothing I had for an hour or so before taking on some of the extra water and food and then covering myself in P20 lotion to protect myself from what I expected would be a hot day of climbing. After dropping my bag off I made my way down the final decent and in to the crowd, after saying hello to Rick Ashton (who was right at the front, again) and then huddling like a [insert collective noun here] of Emperor Penguins on the ice. we were off! Or not as it was in my case. The start is somewhat congested and only those right at the front could really make any headway and get themselves into a prime slot before the single/double track started 500 metres up the hill. I have never liked being pushed along at other peoples pace and so had made the decision to hang back, let the miles roll by and not get worried about things taking a long time.

Sometime later I looked down at my watch, 35 minutes (or thereabouts) in, everything going well.....wait a minute, I've only moved a mile? Jeeze, this is hard work hanging back.....must get a grip, keep calm, everything is fine, it's a marathon not a sprint. After the first few miles, the trail opens up a bit and I started my little trot up the hill, overtaking a few people who were clearly puffing having been pushed hard up that first sandy climb. At this point you maybe asking yourself, why can't you overtake? Well you can but you will sink in the sand more than you do on the trail and you'll end up carrying a shoe or two's worth of black sand with you until you can find the time to stop and remove it...yes even with gators on this happens.

Sunrise over the mountain
We got to experience a beautiful sunrise over the mountainside (see picture), before heading into the first aid station. I took a cup of water but didn't fill up my bottles, I was only 1 hr 15 mins or so in to the race and still had about a litre on me. Note to self, it's only in hindsight that I should have realised this was the start of a bad day out, drinking little and often is better than gulping it down when really thirsty. Although Nikki had planned on being at this aid station, we'd not agreed it 100% due to estimating my arrival timing, so it wasn't a shock not to see her as I quickly carried on up the trail.

The climb to the next aid station was uneventful, so much so that as I write this blog, I can't picture it in my mind at all. I do remember topping up with water and eating a nak'd bar at this point before pushing onwards and upwards. The route isn't crazy steep at any point but it's still quite soft underfoot with the black sand giving way to a larger, more gravel like, trail. The breeze that had been making us cold at the start had all but gone and the sun was rising in to the sky with the views out to sea fabulous with the clouds inverted and sitting well below us. Today was going to be....schorchio!

The black sandy trails
My pace felt comfortable, I wasn't getting overtaken and I certainly didn't feel like I was being pushed upwards by the other people around me. We'd been caught by the very fast front runners of the half marathon, which followed the same course to aid station 3 but they set off an hour later. Those guys were storming it!

Dropping in to Aid Station 3, I recognised the trail from a video I'd seen of the race in 2014 when Anna Frost ran through the wooded aid station which I believe is also the start point of the marathon. I grabbed a top up of my bottles, took on some of the lemon juice on offer but I don't remember eating anything (duh!). Seeing Nikki was a real boost and I stopped and chatted for a minute before departing on the next climb. 

Topping out above the clouds
By this stage it was hotting up and I'd thrown too much liquid in to my stomach in a short space of time at the aid station and so I felt a little bloated on the climb out of Refugio de El Pilar. The trail changes around this point and the loose gravel disappears and the trails become more rocky and dried & dusty, to the extent when the wind blew, you'd end up with a drier mouth if you weren't careful. The next stop was about 7km up the mountain and I made a conscious effort to try and push on as best I could to this point, running what I could manage especially on the bits of downhill.

Having been bloated leaving El Pilar, I'd only drunk half a litre on arrival at the next aid station but I was feeling ok. I topped up my bottles and took on some watermelon and some dried apricots before continuing upwards. The big signs, yes two of them, were telling everybody it was clearly 12.7km to the next aid station where there would be food and water available. 

It was now very hot indeed and the climb was relentless. I was getting slower. I was having to stop in the shade, not to catch my breath but to get some shelter from the relentless heat. I was drinking more and more, although ever worried I would run out, I kept a little bit back in reserve, just for a rainy day. For those of you who don't know me, I drink a lot. I've always drunk a lot, to the extent my friends mother tested me for diabetes at the age of 18 (or so) worried with the amount of fluids I needed to consume. 

That means having to eek your water out doesn't work well for me, it makes me want more water and it was a constant battle telling myself to not drink when my lips & mouth were dry and it was so bloody hot (hitting 32C according to my watch). I did my best but it wasn't good enough and I was soon out of water but I didn't have that far to go to the aid station, or so I thought. Up ahead I could see a building, it looked like a refuge of some kind and there were people there with water bottles. It felt like I was saved, I'd made it, my sorry ass was going to rehydrate and I'd be on my way again.

The view from the highest point on the course
Upon arrival at said hut, I was informed the water wasn't drinkable and it was only for cooling runners down. Ed Balls to that....I needed water and so I filled up my bottles, covered myself in water and headed on my way. It was so sweet, the water was just perfect and I drank what I could, not wanting to bloat my stomach again. Within what felt like only minutes, my shirt and buff were bone dry and I was baking again but I had full bottles and I was informed it was only 2-3km to the aid station at Pico de la Nieve. I could manage that with a litre of water, no problem.

I came over the top of the hill and I saw the timing equipment and the little tent, I'd made it and I rewarded myself with the final few sips of water from my bottles as I crossed the mat and my time was recored at 14:36, that's 8 hours 36 minutes into the race and only 38.5km of the 73km distance! 

Where was the aid station? It's about 5km further on the guy said, or I understood from his broken English. What? Another 5km? But I didn't have any water and there was now no shade whatsoever as we were pretty much above the tree line from this point onwards. Crap or words to that effect were used. Sit down, take stock and go again....this became the repetitive nature of the next 5km as I battled every increasing levels of thirst and the feeling like I was going to burst into flames.

Around this point I met a couple of Americans from Texas, who had both been at Rocky Raccoon in January. I forget names at the best of times so forgive me for not remembering them 9 hours into an ultra, so for now I've called them "he/him" and "she/her" . Anyway, *he* was going through a bad patch, as was I and we were both being shown up by *her* who was shouting at *him* to get up and keep moving etc. I did nothing to help *him* quite happy that somebody else was sitting down as often as I was. Then it dawned upon me that perhaps I should man up and show *her* that at least one of us was a man who could climb a mountain in the midafternoon heat. 

Spurred on by my new found friends and the fact that *she* was very kindly letting me drink her vaulable water, we continued up the trail, step after step, stopping when I could to pinch a bit of rest in some shade but not wanting to let *her* get too far ahead as my only source of water (and English conversation). At this stage of writing, I've decided *his* name was Drew but I'm too lazy to go back and correct everything, so you'll have to make that link in you head, he/him = Drew from now on.

Drew had dropped off from us and *she* was setting a pace I couldn't manage for much longer. We passed a lot of people on the sides of the trail with medical assistance being provided, or on their way to them. There was a helicopter evacuating one person (lucky git) and other people manhandling a stretcher with some poor guy covered in a foil blanket (he can't have been cold!). Then, as we came over the top of the next climb it was another false summit but it didn't matter, there were medical people running down the trail stopping at the runners heading up and giving them a drink.....oh please God, don't let them drink it all before getting to me.

The guys were running out to some injured person so couldn't hang around but promised us the aid station was close by, 10 minutes maximum. Around the next corner was another person, who promptly told me the aid station was 20 minutes away. This was getting crazy, how much further is this bloody place!

Finally I crested a summit and there it was, the white tents covering an army of people who would bath me in ice cold water and mop my brow and tell me it was going to be ok. Well, maybe not, but it was certainly a sight for sore eyes, as I plonked myself down in to the first chair and shoved my bottle into the hand of the nearest volunteer. I subsequently discovered that this aid station had been moved 5km further up the trail yet nobody had been told, meaning that it was 17-18km between aid stations which with the heat was probably too much. It's not an excuse for me not carrying more water, I know personally I think for this type of event I need to carry 3l but it is a factor in my demise during the race.

Cold water hitting your lips is wonderful when you are so hot and haven't drunk much for the passed two hours. When it hits your stomach, it's not quite so nice and if you aren't careful it tends to bounce. Luckily in my case it didn't otherwise there would have been more mess to clean up than just the empty water bottles and melon peel. I was in a hole and I wasn't sure I could make the cut off at the next aid station (11 hours) which was another 5km away. I needed to sit in the shade and sip water slowly, rehydrating over 10-15 minutes rather than attempting to neck a load of fluid.

Views during the big decent
Nikki popped up at this point and I think perhaps was a little taken aback by my appearance, needless to say I wasn't looking my best. She would later say to me that I wasn't capable of stringing a sentence together, I was a little withdrawn and my eyes were sunken into my skull...all in all I was generally looking a bit shit (cheers love). 

Just seeing Nikki helped me decide that I should get in the car and go home, I was done in and there was no way I could get 5km in 50 minutes. Part of me had secretly hoped she'd be there and when I saw her I knew it was time to quit but the bigger part of me wondered whether I could make the cutoff or not and it was somewhat better to be told you were out, rather than quitting of your own doing. 

Balls! That's it, I'm out! The watch was turned off, the officials informed and I was helped by Nikki to the car. Now just what I need is a 90 minute journey to get back home, why didn't you bring the time machine wife?

A DNF at Transvulcania is not what I came here for but it is what I'm going home with, along with experiences which I'll use in the future and especially at this event next year. I came here to challenge myself, to push myself out of my comfort zone and to see if I could handle the heat. In 2015 it turns out, I couldn't manage it but as my coach pointed out to me post race, it's only two years ago, almost to the day that I ran my first ultra (NDW50) and look how far I've come so just imagine where I could be next year (maybe we could be millionaires Rodney!).

Muchas gracias to my wonderfully supportive wife Nikki, giving up your valuable holiday time to watch me almost kill myself must be such a hardship. Although I'm just not sure you should be carrying around the life assurance policy with you at these events, it does look a little dodgy darling! Love ya!