Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Transgrancanaria race report

Below is my account of the race. I rarely write race reports, so it may be of no interest. And sorry, in English only this time.
(désolé, cet article sera seulement en anglais)


So this year I'm having a go at this ultra running thing. It seems to be pretty fashionable at the moment, and after all you should never judge something until you've tried it! And that includes funny looking vegetables kids! Perhaps the image I had painted of ultra running as being a bit long, slow and painful was a rash judgment? Prove me wrong?! Hence my plan to take an inside look and have a go at some "proper long" races in 2016, to see how they go, whether they're enjoyable and also to see how competitive I can be at them.


Round one of the 2016 ultra testing plan was to be the Transgrancanaria. It seemed like a good choice since it has a reputation of being a magnificent A to B route, traversing the island and its high-points, the distance is long, but not silly long for a season kickoff, and finally it had announced a top quality lineup of international ultra athletes - a good opportunity to test the legs against some confirmed experts in the discipline.


So how did it go? The honest answer is "not entirely as I'd have hoped", but at the same time there are definitely a bunch of positives to pull from the experience. Basically the start was Spanish style: Loud music, crowds, excitement, Highway to Hell. And the rest. I quickly checked with Seth that it was just like the Western States. Once through the initial mayhem, I sat in the pack before working my way through to the front of the race by the time the rhythm had settled down to something that felt vaguely sustainable. So by around 50km I was running with Gediminas and Diego, a minute or so behind an enthusiastic and later-to-explode Aurelien Collet. I was feeling really very good and quite positive about pulling off a good one. But then all of a sudden, at the sixty kilometer mark, my quads completely went to pieces and started cramping up massively. In no time at all I was restricted to walking on terrain where a minute earlier I was comfortably running. So this was a bit massively frustrating at the time and I probably shouted out loud to express my annoyance, to be heard only by the onlooking wildlife of the dark Canarian forest, who were probably already totally baffled by the unusual appearance of a never-ending stream of headlamps working their way up through their normally peaceful territory, in the middle of the night? They probably also wondered why these "ultra trail people" had white lights at the front and red lights at the back. Do they sometimes move in reverse? I can respond on that point to say that that it certainly feels like you're moving in reverse towards the end of the race, and so perhaps it really could be a precautionary measure to reduce the risk of collision. But we're going off subject. The lamps are just a race rule.


Once the cramping and wasted quadriceps had become a part of the picture my race switched from a competitive challenge to a survival exercise. It was a shame, but the reality of the situation. For a while I wondered whether I'd get round the whole thing. Forty miles is quite a long way to run with cramps, I thought to myself. So I plugged on, and decided to see what might happen. Three guys over took me almost immediately, but then I was surprised to find that it was not for another hour or so that the next runner, Jonas Budd, caught me, putting us in sixth and seventh position. And when Jonas did catch me he wasn't really moving much faster. And this is part of the magic of ultra running you see. You can have totally messed up cramping legs and actually you're not necessarily much worse placed than your competitors. No one's bouncing along like a kangaroo after seven or eight hours of running like! So a simple way of describing how to win a race such as this is to master the art of getting as far into the race as possible before blowing a gasket. And then when the gasket does eventually blow the trick is to shuffle along as best you can for the remaining kilometers! Voilà, simple no?


So the final six or so hours were really a bit of a controlled plod. Moving as smoothly and as fast as possible whilst in a state of muscle-mess. I left Jonas behind me at the beginning of the long cobbled downhill at around 40k to go. I even had vague hopes of perhaps catching other blown gaskets up front - you never know. Finally I was only to pass Aurelien who led for much of the race, before blowing big time and subsequently walking it in. So I came fifth. Disappointed, to not have sustained "race mode" for longer, but happy to have got round the damn thing :-)


My legs blowing up early (mid-race) and the cramping, was most probably down to a lack of recent big mountain running. Not enough up and down and therefore not strong enough legs to deal with 7000m being thrown at them. Coming out of the winter is not perfect timing for preparing an early season race, and a slightly dodgy Achilles tendon since Christmas has affected my training too. So I'm treating the TGC as a solid season warm up and a reminder of what needs to be worked on before my next race, the Transvulcania in May, which incidentally should feel nice and short and fast in comparison.



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