Dusty Runner in Spain…what I’ve learned so far!

It’s official, we’re set up in Spain and Ultra Trail Spain Running Holidays (http://ultratrailspain.com/) is up and well, running in Moclin.

Of course, we’ve had a house here in Spain for nearly 3 years and been running here as regularly as we can, however there are few things the last couple of weeks has reminded me about the fun to be had running the trails in Andalucia.

Great view...hill to run back up though.

Great view…hill to run back up though.

1) What goes down must go up. When you run downhill for several km, you invariably have to run back up at some point. Reserve enough energy to do so.

Walnuts...home to earwigs.

Walnuts…home to earwigs.

2) If you’re going to scrump figs from trees on the trail sides split them open before popping them into your mouth. There might be something inside (maggots!).

3) Even in October the sun burns. Wear sunscreen. Cue the idiot who scorched the back of her neck.

4) It doesn’t just rain on the plains. We’re in the mountains and it seems to be able honk it down satisfactorily here too.

5) Don’t expect the wildlife to hang around for a photo. The ibex will wait until you’re fumbling around in your pockets to hop and skip out of sight.

I can't remember it being this steep!

I can’t remember it being this steep!

That’s it for now, what would you add?

That moment when you realise the rain has washed your bridge away.

That moment when you realise the rain has washed your bridge away.


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The case of the stolen 500m

Own up, who’s nabbed 500m off me? If anyone finds it please do return as I’m sure I’ve not slowed down that much in the last six months 🙁

Every so often, two or three times a year, I put myself through a 20 minute time trial. It’s easy, warm up and then run as quick as you can for 20 minutes. Simple. No counting laps, no aggressive cornering on the track, no trying to hold a set pace, it’s literally ‘boom’ and off you go.

…Except I seem to have mislaid a full 500m. The whole lot has just vanished. Where did that go?

Well, I’m blaming the increase in humidity for a start.

In the dying weeks of our time in the desert, I was hopeful the weather gods were smiling and summer was nearing an end. But sadly after five days of low humidity, it’s become apparent those deities weren’t happy with us sand dwellers, and we are back up to 85 percent plus humidity.

Not only will the ibex get a giggle at my mountain running skills...they be laughing at my speed too!

Not only will the ibex get a giggle at my mountain running skills…they’ll be laughing at my speed too!

I use TTs as a measure of fitness. Following Ultra Sierra Nevada, I had a full month very easy, letting my ankle settle and my body generally recover from a year of running. Mid August I started to build some distance back into my legs; nothing of any great mileage as it was too darn hot and humid but enough to start to feel fit again a couple of weeks ago.

For the Eid break I fixed myself a challenging week’s training to see where I’m at. The results, well as seen, I’m not where I thought I was! My heart rate is about where it should be, my legs feel absolutely fine after some fairly big km’s so let’s hope it’s the humidity and running on uneven pavements at night (street lamps don’t work) which stole my 500m…although I was blowing pretty hard at the end of 20 minutes.

Next TT will be in Spain. Here’s hoping that maybe my missing metres will have been returned!

I'm sure runs here will help me find my missing 500m!

I’m sure runs here will help me find my missing 500m!

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Dusty Runner heading out of the desert

The countdown is finally on towards Dusty Runner in Doha becoming just as Dusty a Runner in Spain.

As many regular readers will know, I’ve been backwards and forwards to our home in Spain for the last couple of years establishing our running holiday business – Ultra Trail Spain  – http://ultratrailspain.com/

Well now the countdown is finally on and in less than 30 days Dusty Runner will be kicking up the trails in Andalucia for good.

I’m not going to lie; I’m certainly not going to miss Qatar’s summers. Attempting to run in the aggressive heat and humidity isn’t easy. I can be thankful for the lessons (more often than not learnt the hard way) it has taught me. Thanks to the desert climate I’m a bit of an expert on hydration, core temperature control, running slowly, heart rate monitoring, and stimulating fat metabolism – a happy consequence of running slowly it appears.

Coping in the extreme heat certainly helped me to become a better runner and disprove Noakes Impact of Temperature on Pace which reckons you’re on your own past 29C. If it were gospel, I’d be an Olympic marathoner since we don’t run in temperatures below 29C anytime between May and November! I’m certainly no 2hr 20 marathoner so I reckon his research needs updating to accommodate natural heat adaptation.

And it’s thanks to Qatar I became an ultra runner – a place where it’s difficult not to get swept along by the many dedicated and excellent endurance runners living here and passing through. When you have to travel to access trail races you tend to make the journey worth the while and do a long one.

I will of course miss this crazy band of people – many of whom are already dotted all over the planet – as people came and went, ran and walked. We remain friends wherever we may be.

A small group of crazy desert runners.

A small group of crazy desert runners.

I'll be leaving the city...

I’ll be leaving the city…


A band of brothers joined by the desert experiences we have shared, the pre-dawn runs we’ve tackled together, the extreme heat we’ve endured looking out for each other, the water and electrolytes we’ve shared, and laughs we’ve had battling one of the toughest environments the world has to offer.

The desert may be short on water but there’s no drought and the camaraderie, banter, and love shared by runners. It’s been an honour to share the roads, trails and construction sites with you 😉

As a parting shot Doha isn’t letting me leave without a reminder of how challenging the summer can be with high temperatures and stupidly high humidity continuing into September. This last weekend has left me crying: “Give me a break, I seriously cannot keep washing my running shoes after every run!”

Such was the amount of sweat washing down my legs after just 10km in the last few days I’ve been leaving squelchy footprints in my wake. Even I got the hint from the usually oh-so-polite petrol station staff about standing outside while drinking my water and refilling my bottle. They’re getting a bit fed up mopping the sweat patches up from me being inside the store!IMG_1207

...for here!

…for here!


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You know it’s hot when…

It’s mid summer here in Qatar, a not so great time of high temperatures and extreme humidity. Simply stepping foot outside the door makes you question your mortality as you’re slapped in the face by the furnace like heat.

An annual meme for Qatar ;-)

An annual meme for Qatar 😉

It’s a time of year only Gulf dwellers can ever really relate to and a reason why I and hubby Steve cannot wait to bid farewell and get set up in Spain permanently operating Ultra Trail Spain running holidays. I’m looking forward to leaving the oppressive heat and intense humidity behind. We feel we’ve done our fair share of crazy hot summers.
As a tribute however, I’m going to try and give those readers complaining about feeling hot but not living in the area an idea as to how hot a desert summer feels to a runner.

Please note what follows is no exaggeration, all of the below have happened either to myself or those who will remain nameless ☺

You know it’s hot when:
1. Your weekly long run starts at 1am in an effort to beat the heat. Problem is it’s still only just teetering at a low of 32C and it’s plus 60% humidity at best.
2. You’re convinced your handheld is leaking…only to discover it’s your sweat running down your arms and dripping off your water bottle.
3. You can only get to 7km before you start to squelch in your running shoes and leave little wet footprints in your wake. There’s so much sweat running down your legs it overflows the tops of your shoes.
4. Your heart rate flat-lines when you’re still warming up aka walking.
5. The elastic holding your shorts up fails! The weight from the sweat you’re producing simply pulls them down (and is probably the main reason why it’s never good to go commando in this part of the world!)
6. Your long slow run pace is a full two minutes per km slower than your equivalent cool weather pace.
7. Your post-run pee is the colour of creosote.
8. Your long run consists of running the same 50m stretch, backwards and forwards, past a big hotel that leaves its doors open and has brilliant air con.
9. You’re downing 800ml of fluid every 8km and still thirsty.
10. A puddle appears immediately you stop. Yup, that much sweat is pouring from you.


Over to you desert dwellers; what would you add? Comments please.

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Sweating it out in the desert

It’s been a case of back to Qatar with a bump…well more of a sweaty puddle really.

While I’ve been away, the temperature has racked up and the dreaded humidity has arrived. Added together they make for pretty rubbish running, not that I’ve been doing any just recently. I’m on recovery for a few weeks following Ultra Sierra Nevada to give chance for my rattled joints to settle back down.

It's that time of year again when dusty, gives way to sweaty!

It’s that time of year again when dusty, gives way to sweaty!

I’m a big believer in active recovery. My body was designed to move, and if I sit still and veg for more than a couple of days stuff starts to fall apart. My back namely. So I’ve been implementing a moderate regime of walking of an evening. This also serves to preserve any heat adaptations I’ve accumulated. I’m hoping this will also help to ease me back in more readily when I start running again. (Treadmills are a no go for me, so there’s no chance of training indoors.)

As the desert is out of bounds at the moment due to the extreme heat – been there, done that on my own, and nearly didn’t survive – I’ve been poddling around the city trying to catch the slightest air movement. The high humidity really is the challenge and it’s amazing our ability to literally boil-in-the-bag at this time of the year.

I know there’s plenty of research going on at the moment right here in Qatar into the effects of heat stress during exercise on the body, so it’ll be really interesting to see the results and how we can use these to improve training methods.

According to Noakes' research we should be at a standstill with temps of 35C+

According to Noakes’ research we should be at a standstill with temps of 35C+

It’s been a little while since Dr Tim Noakes published his Central Governor Model which reckons that your brain will make changes to slow you down and stop you overcooking all on its own. That research only went up to 29C…our temps in Qatar won’t get that LOW at any time of day or night until October…so we’re sort of into unchartered territory  and it really is a case of steady, steady or risk succumbing to heat exhaustion on every outing.

Effective training in the heat

  1. I’m now training to time. Rather than set a distance to reach; I’ll aim to spend X amount of time outside in the heat. This means there’s no pressure to reach a certain distance target and I can just go as far as the weather allows me to on that day.
  2.  For me it’s all about being flexible; if there’s literally not a breath of air movement and I’m feeling the effects of the heat within 2km, then I can slow the pace (walk even) and back off. As long as there’s consistency to my training, then I can still maintain a level of endurance capacity.
  3. I’m creative with my speed work. The spin bike can be a useful way to the heart rate up and cadence high, nice and cool while indoors.
  4. It’s time to try new things. The summer is a great time to try new classes at the gym which build strength and endurance.

We’ve also been busy building Ultra Trail Spain running holidays online. It’s a hectic time, but we’re looking forward to welcoming you all to Spain shortly.

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Surviving Ultra Sierra Nevada – part 3

Buckle up folks, this is going to be a bumpy ride for the final installment of my epic 103km Ultra Sierra Nevada 2016 blog.

The race has so far seen me tackle challenging trail under the cover of darkness, trudge through inferno temperatures on exposed mountainsides, and now  there’s just the final push to be made. A 5km straight climb from Pradollano up Veleta to 3,200m elevation and back down again. Easy!

Part 3 – The final ascent

So despite my dodgy leg, I’m pretty sure I can hold on for the last push and finish this beast of an ultra within the 25 hour time limit. This doesn’t stop me being nervous, well downright scared if I’m honest, of the trek up Veleta and back down again. I’m not sure what will happen at that sort of altitude. Qatar is flat or below sea-level; our greatest elevation is a miserly 103m – I’m about to head over 3,000m higher than this.

Will I cope with the oxygen deficit? Will I feel faint and keel over? I just don’t know.

I’d trotted tenderly on the road into Pradollano, up the steps to CP8 and the feast laid out by the Granada Integra crew. One thing was for sure, they weren’t letting anyone tackle the big one without sustenance, as a plate of rice was pushed into my face. Opting for the salami sandwich option, I was ready for the final push – the ascent of Veleta and 1,000m up in 5km.

Before heading back out onto the trail, I nipped to the loo, conscious that with cable cars rocking overhead there wouldn’t be any chance of going behind a bush should I need to do so 😉

Easing my weary legs back down the steps of the aid station cabin, I passed Robert (the guy from number collection and one of the few other Brits tackling the race) heading into the CP. I was soon back out on to the trail, through the gate and onto what will be the end of the ski slope come January. The terrain was very different to that of the Sierra Nevada foothills. I’m no geologist but the outer hills and mountains seem a bit more frayed at the edges, and made of looser, crumblier limestone/ sandstone, whereas Veleta thrusting up higher is composed of harder more rugged stuff.

The first section from the 90km point followed MTB tracks with cable cars swinging above, before we hit the harder, steeper shale and scree as we climber higher and higher. I passed a few struggling runners, shared more of my trusty jelly sweets, and ploughed on.

Nearing Veleta's summit.

Nearing Veleta’s summit.

Trekking on.

Trekking on.

I’m not going to say it was easy, but it wasn’t as hard as I was expecting. I guess the extreme heat and humidity, as well as the high levels of air pollution, of Doha mean I’m used to there not being a lot of free oxygen in the air to breath. I definitely was not having as much trouble as the male runners around me…a happy bonus of being a woman and therefore not having as much muscle mass to feed with oxygen!

As I neared the summit of a lunar like landscape, passing mountain streams, cattle grazing on summer grass, and leaving the end of cable car track far behind, I got told by one guy the altitude was killing him as I passed by. Hitting CP9 a couple of hundred metres further on, I explained to the Al Borde de lo Inconcebible mountain team, who were manning the aid station, to go help the runner in trouble.

Refreshments at CP9.

Refreshments at CP9.

A snow trough at the top of the mountain!

A snow trough at the top of the mountain!

Taking the opportunity for quick sit down I was glad to muster some energy for the descent – when my dodgy right leg would really be put to the test. Thankfully we descended via much gentler tracks, mainly MTB trails and a km or so of road around the top of the ski slope.

I’m not going to say it was easy descending, I had to gingerly tap my foot to the ground and watch on as the guy who’d been ‘dying’ at the top of Veleta whisk past me with a quick ‘sorry’ as he descended.

After taking what seemed like forever, Pradollano was in touching distance and I was heading over the wooden bridge into the plaza and crossing the finish line behind a 62km runner…which sort of messed up the punching the air photos of me going over the line (I thought it was bad form to whip passed him in the finishing corridor 😉 so held back)

Over the finish line.

Over the finish line.

Al fresco finisher's refreshments.

Al fresco finisher’s refreshments.

Medal over my neck, I took a seat, was offered an ice cream, and was going to wait it out for Robert who I reckoned would be about 20 minutes behind…except the organizer came to inform me I’d won my age group and hinted that perhaps I’d like to take a shower…i.e. you aren’t greeting the dignitaries looking and smelling like that! And so I hastened off to get myself ready for the prizegiving ceremony taking place in 30 odd minutes.

I was quietly chuffed, I’d swanned around on course, taking photos, walking downhill, handing out jelly sweets to one and all, and made it home in under 20 hours. I won my age group (on a technicality – the woman’s winner was technically a lot faster but it seems you’re not allowed to win an overall prize and an age group prize!) and was 6th woman overall – granted there weren’t many of us taking part but nevertheless I’d survived.

My training a la ultratrailspain.com style had paid off. I’d reccied where I could, gone out late on night runs, done reps and tempos, long runs and fartleks. On a good day; well there’s a good 90 minutes for me to save on that course 😉 That won’t get me to the top of the women’s ranks…just a whole lot closer.

A big thanks to everyone who supported me in training, on the day and afterwards. It was an awesome adventure, and I’m grateful to have shared it with so many folks.

It blows my mind however, how the fast chaps run it under 13 hours. Answers on a postcard please? Awesome running guys!


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Surviving Ultra Sierra Nevada – part 2

For those catching up on where we’re at…I’m 45km into the 100km Ultra Sierra Nevada (USN) route. It’s dawn! I’ve survived some tricky technical trail on a gammy leg through the cool hours of darkness. The sun has risen and I’m ready for the next challenge of this aggressive 103km mountain race.

The sun pinks the sky for the day's start.

The sun pinks the sky.

Part 2 – Into the furnace

As sunrise filtered over the Sierra Nevada foothills, the single track got wider and I was making progress down towards Quentar and CP4, winding my way through smallholdings and olive groves, occasionally meeting veteran Spaniards heading out into the campo for the day and probably thinking the runners they were passing were totally loca.

Hitting the village, I trotted on into the checkpoint where the Bicha Trail Club was running the show. With daylight it was time to stash my headtorch, and slap on my cap and sunscreen before heading out. I breakfasted on salami sarnies, filled up my water bottles, and slugged some coke and electrolytes.

I’d later see photos of our top GB runner, Casey Morgan, heading through the CP under the cover of darkness – it’s hard to believe the pace those top guys must  travel at!

Back to my own journey; as the sun broke across the hillside, I was climbing up on track of a surface not unlike our very own gorge walk in Moclin. It had definitely been good training running over our Ultra Train Spain holiday routes in preparing for this race (www.ultratrailspain.com).

The breaks over Quentar

The sun breaks over Quentar.

With stunning views behind of the sun’s rays filtering over Quentar I couldn’t help but take some snaps. (Yes, I know – wasting time – but I was just out for a jolly and enjoying myself.)

Hitting a false summit we rolled around the hillside on wider, runnable track, before heading up through pine trees. On a needle-strewn soft trail, very similar to the famous Heartbreak Hill of the Two Castles Mountain Ultra in Cyprus underfoot, but nowhere near as exposed and not yet as hot, we reached the 50km mark.

Summiting the hilltop, a fire-break opened out to reveal our first glimpse of Veleta – final destination – and another photo opportunity ☺

A glimpse of Veleta.

A glimpse of Veleta.

On the top of the mountain, runners were thin in number, but there were still MTB riding paramedics checking we were still alive and dolling out back rubs to those in need.

Dropping off the hillside – giving the few runners around the opportunity to pass me tottering along on my dodgy limb – we were onto a km or so of tarmac and into CP5 headed up by Deportes Olimpo. Recognizing a few familiar faces, I was in and out, knowing I had a couple of hours trek to Guejar, over reccied course, and the 70km mark where I was planning to stop and pull from the race.

The climb up to Alto De El Calar had been pretty warm when we’d tackled it a few weeks earlier and I was surprised by the number of 62km runners heading past at a fair lick. I hoped they were ready for

The heat starts to build as we wind our way up.

The heat starts to build as we wind our way up.

heat. Reaching the top at a more sedate pace, we followed the rocky ridge on a familiar track. I stopped to doll out water and jelly sweets to a couple of runners who had indeed succumbed to the increasing heat and were now cowering under limited shade, while trying to cool off or await rescue. I was also able to reassure one runner I passed, who was struggling with his footing, that as we switched back onto the other side of the hill the trail would be gentler underfoot.

Topping up at an intermediate water stop, there was just the descent into Guejar, which I knew would eventually turn to sandy track and then road. The heat was definitely increasing but nothing us desert dwellers needed to fear just yet 😉


Footsore and tired, I waddled into CP6 at Guejar with Robert (the Scottish guy from bib pick-up) in tow. Denise and Stuart, my ‘please-rescue-me-crew’, were quick off the mark retrieving my drop bag from the Soy Montana team, sitting me down, and placing a plateful of tomato sauce drenched pasta in front of me. As mentioned I’d planned to pull here, but as I was ahead of schedule and managing the pain in my right leg okay they weren’t going to let me stop while I stood a chance of finishing!

Refueled and revived on chocolate milk and coconut water from my drop bag, I was back out on the trail and pushing on up the hard climb – the Ravine of the Vipers – as I later heard it was called. I nice place for snakes to warm up, the steep rocky climb, radiating heat off the stones. Note: I did not see any snakes.

Marathon runners were now striding past us ultra runners one-step shuffling slowly along. We were knocking 80km and it was starting to hurt. I dug in, ignored the heat that to others was quite clearly furnace-like, and reached an intermediate aid station with Robert again catching me up.

We’d later hear that the heat on the ravine track had easily topped 40C. I just knew there had been plenty of suffering among the ranks. I’d chosen to wear my lightest Saucony run top for the race – heat tested in the Middle East. Others clearly hadn’t been able to try their kit before in such arduous conditions.

Crossing the main road we were soon onto flat, if sun-scorched, track and I made my way to the 80km checkpoint. Of course there is only so much ‘run’ left at this distance in an ultra but I made steady progress.

In and out with a fast ‘adios’ to the Cerro del Caballo CP7 folks, the jeep track soon ran out and I was then tip-toeing on rarely trodden paths, my toes getting battered by rocks and stones, cow dung and sharp sticks. Having to bend double under thorn bushes wasn’t my idea of fun – I’m guessing taller folks were on their knees as this point.

Safely across the main Sierra road at around 85km, I was back onto pre-reccyed track. Up a steep and thorn bush strewn climb and into familiar pine woodland. The course notes encouraged us to push on a little here if we had the energy…but I was saving whatever was left for the last assault – the Veleta climb.

(to be continued)

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Surviving Ultra Sierra Nevada – part 1

Survival, that was always going to be the name of the game for me at Ultra Sierra Nevada (USN) – 103km and 6,000m+ ascent. My biggest challenge to date!

And as this blog is shaping up to be as long as the race itself, I’ve carved up into three parts…just like the run itself.

Part 1 – A technical sleep deprived night run

While Glasgow’s supremo Casey Morgan was battling it out for the GB contingent up front (ending 3rd male, having led much of the way) the rest of us were hanging off the back. USN is part of the Spain Ultra Cup league of races of which Transgrancanaria attracts a strong British team. Sadly, as of yet USN seems to be off the UK ultra radar. Maybe I’m biased, but I reckon it deserves to be up there with the season opener.

Regular readers will know that I have a constant battle with my right leg, which I’m sure actually belongs to someone else who is similarly cursing their left leg. Oscar Arrabal, the osteo who I see here in Spain, had put in some impressive work and got my leg functioning something a bit more like. Feeling pain free for the first time in a long time, I promptly got carried away sailing downhill and triggered an old injury site. Stop laughing, it was fast descending for me, right!

It seems a loose ligament in my right ankle gets upset when I pick up a bit of speed downhill. See, I knew there was a reason why my brain tells me to slow down when descending.

Training was therefore curtailed, I’d limped through a last 20km night session about ten days before the race and that was it. I was laid up, sitting down as much as possible, getting increasingly nervous, and hoping the ligament would settle.

I’d packed in a few fair miles before however over the finest Andalucian trails we’ll be using for Ultra Trail Spain running and training holidays (www.ultratrailspain.com) but really wasn’t sure it was enough. I’d done the 500m altitude hill climbs, the 2km tempo loops on undulating track, and I’d pushed out some quality daylong runs. I could but only trust my running during the weeks’ prior.

The morning of the race day dawned. We were to start at midnight. Eek! I’d managed to get in seven hours of sleep the night before and was hoping to catch a siesta later.

Not so ready for the off!

So much for carefully laid plans! Number pick up was due to kick off in the centre of Granada at midday. I had no idea where the location was in the city, not being good at navigating cities, but had persuaded a friend to tootle in with me and show me the way. With hindsight, I’d still be looking for the number pick up now without her. We arrived to find a long queue tailing back across the square. Okay, no worries, we were early. Unfortunately, there were are few issues with number collection set up and we were to wait another 30 minutes. Thankfully, as it was getting hot stood there, the go-ahead was given and we filtered into the collection.

As is often the way in this part of the world, things were a little chaotic but bibs were eventually collected. While standing in the queue I met Robert from Abderdeen, a keen Ironman Triathlete and Celtman finisher who’d won his race entry in a facebook competition, and would be tackling his first 100km. I and a few more Brits local to the area (we were in short supply) persuaded him poles were the order of the day and he was dually dispatched to Decathlon to pick some up.

Following a late lunch, I realized it was already time to pack up and get myself up to Pradollano, Sierra Nevada, where the race would finish. I’d then catch the race bus to the start-line.

Kit rechecked, I was on my way up to the mountains, spotting waving tape marking the various race courses as they criss-crossed the road. This was starting to feel very real.

After checking into the hotel apartment; literally 100m from the finish line, I tried to catch some zzz’s. Unfortunately, my brain, the sunlight pouring in through the mountain-view window, the high temperature of the room which is designed to keep skiers warm in the winter, and the noisy kids in the neighbouring apartments had other ideas. I eventually gave it up as a bad job at 7:30pm, nibbled some more food, drank plenty of water and started to get myself ready.

After rechecking my kit again, I grabbed my 70km drop bag and headed to catch the coach leaving from just outside my door. With dusk, at around 9:30pm, two coaches pulled up. The runners milling nervously around crowded on board, and we left with military precision at precisely 10pm – ultra running is serious business and we could not be late.

Hitting Granada there were already some local road closures for a 6km urban run going on as part of the event, but as athlete transport we were allowed through, to arrive at just after 11pm. We filed off the bus and headed to the start to hand in drop bags. Race DJs are something of a legend in these parts and our compere for the evening was already energetically geeing up the crowds.

After using the facilities in a nearby pizzeria, I limped into the starting pen. My chipped number was scanned, I wasn’t called

The start line beckons!

The start line beckons!

over for a kit check, and I was ready for the off. But really not feeling like I was ready for the off! It was nearly midnight, I was feeling sleepy, and my leg wasn’t feeling so great under my calf guards.

The countdown started and I was ready to bail, looking around nervously I don’t think I was alone. We were off and the front runners surged ahead, okay I was moving, sluggishly and my shin was decidedly sore. ‘The first six km or so should be straight forward’, I thought to myself. ‘It’s road, my leg doesn’t feel so bad on road because the foot is level’, I told myself. Except the road wasn’t smooth, I’d forgotten it’s around the Albaycin – it’s all cobbles!

Okay, Sarah time to find that place: 1) It’s an ultra you’ll soon be in greater pain somewhere else. 2) It’s an ultra everything is going to hurt sooner or later. 3) It’s an ultra, be grateful for what doesn’t hurt yet. That’s good, my hammies are both sound – now that doesn’t happen very often.

The six kms were soon ticked off, we were siding the Alhambra Palace, through the car park behind and onto single track. Soon, we’d be looking down at the Alhambra and winding our way through the Generalife. Now I’d run part of this in the CXM Nocturna San Juan a few weeks before and there were definitely familiar stretches as we vied for our places. It would be a long night and we’d get friendly with the same pair of heels in front of our own as we bunched up trying to share as much light as we could.

First bum shuffle down – everyone of a certain height had to here – it was an 8m drop down behind the sewerage works – and we were heading down into CP1. Well everyone but me. It was stony technical track and what’s the big thing you cannot do with a dodgy ankle and shin…stony technical track. I slowed, folks poured past and hit the CP fast.

Eventually limping in, the Sapiens Human runner crew had it sorted. Raidlight bottles refilled, slipped back into the front of my Salomon vest, sandwich bag full of grabbed supplies, and I was sent back out on my way whilst everyone else was still messing around.

Yeah, I know mix n match brands. There’s a method to my madness. I ain’t farting around filling soft flasks or bladders. It takes far too long. Plus the larger plastic Raidlight bottles have nifty straws. I don’t need to take them out of the vest to drink which is a must on technical trail at night. I simply turn my head and suck, thereby ensuring I keep drinking and keep hydrated. I knew we had a hot day ahead. Miss out on getting enough fluids in now, and you’d be calling it a day early.

There was more vying for position as we trundled on our way. We could still hear the CP1 fiesta going on deep into the darkness as we trotted through olive groves, touched a short section of the Camino Mozarabe de Santiago which passes through Moclin, home to Ultra Trail Spain, and started to climb. We passed a small group of volunteers clad in track tape, ringing goat bells, and marking off numbers are runners went by. It was past 2am and things were getting surreal. A wide smooth track took as down into Beas, which provided me with an opportunity to open my as of yet stifled gait.

Through CP2 (Photo thanks to Photodeportes.com).

Through CP2 (Photo thanks to Photodeportes.com).

The residents of Beas must be forgiving folks and mad keen on running, not only do they have 100km ultra runners clattering through their town all night, they also have the 62km distance starting on their doorstep at 6:00am. They are generous hearted people and I enjoyed a tasty quince jelly sandwich at their CP.

Back on the road, I had to stop to empty the grit out of my shoes – this was to become a theme and if anyone is considering this race in the future – get yourself some natty cloth gaiters or you’ll be sat fishing stones, thistles and pine needles out of your runners at 3am!

Focus, mind back on the job. Now, I’d read the course notes, I’m not daft and I knew the next section to CP3 was insane. We hit the Parque Nacional on a bed of grit and single track. Next up a steady climb over rocks, no problem. We were all moving together, heading upwards under a truly epic starlit sky. The moon was three-quarters full and we could see fairly well. I forged ahead over a bit of flat sand. No problem for us desert dwellers, opening up some space between me and other runners behind.

Heading right, I spotted a ‘caution’ sign and then, there it was looming up by the light from my headtorch – a wall of dirt! This was it! This was the infamous firebreak. I locked and loaded my poles and dug in. Climbing up on loose soil, literally stabbing in my poles and hoping they held, I really do not know how I got up there.

A male runner went past and signaled to me to keep digging, not to stop (or I would slip, fall on my face and slide down probably taking 20 or so other runners with me!). Summiting we were into rough downhill overgrown trail… and of course everyone went shooting past – again. Slip sliding off the trail, which was back to single track, we were into CP3 battered and some of us slightly bruised. Ably fed and watered by the Illiberis Scouts, who I’m pretty sure were camping out for the whole weekend to look after runners, we were out onto runnable track and road before picking up the trail to Quentar. The next section was to be a longer one and I’d prepared by stuffing sections of banana into my plastic bag as well as jelly sweets and tapas mix (salted nuts and corn) at the CP.

Dawn heads our way!

Dawn heads our way!

With baited breath I waited for my turn to cross the tree branches used to make a temporary river crossing…baited breath as the guy in front tried to balance on the wrong branch which had a bit of spring in it! Disaster averted he was over, I was over, and we were heading up on rocky trail, switch backing up the hillside. Now, I reckoned there would be some easier trail coming up. Why? Because this was a longer section between CPs.

And I was right, a runnable-ish down, another river crossing – this time a sit on the trunk and slide over – and as dawn broke we were onto rolling easy-ish track. The guy ahead – the one who’d nearly taken a bath in the river – was tired but he wasn’t going to let me past despite me being close up on his heels all the time. How could I tell? Well it was just hitting dawn, that famous time for feeling rough when you’ve been up all night, and he was struggling to follow the track which was excellently marked with tape every 50m metres. (I don’t know how many folks it took to mark a 100km course, but amazing job!)

So, when the guy headed off the wrong way once too often, I nipped past and then called him past. Mission accomplished. I was past, he was still on the correct track, and everyone else was now stuck behind. I trotted on alone up easier hills, past a couple of other guys on wider track and then started to descend. The light was breaking across the valley, I could see headtorches still burning on the duller side of the hill as yet untouched by light and it was a special time to be alone in the mountains. I’d done it; I’d got through the night relatively unscathed.

Surviving the night selfie!

A special place at first light.

A special place at first light.

(to be continued)

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Trail running holiday in Andalucia Spain, Ultra Trail Spain

UTS_LOGO_FACEBOOK (1)Dusty Runner is behind Ultra Trail Spain, organizing running, travel, culture and helping you to unwind.

Ultra Trail Spain organizes running holidays, mainly trail based, near Granada, in the south of Spain. There are options to participate in training camps bespoke running vacations designed to fit around you and to be as active as you wish. It’s even possible to include other outdoor activities. For more information, visit www.ultratrailspain.com

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Assessing my form for Ultra Sierra Nevada

In a little over 24 hours I’ll be lining up on the start line of the Ultra Sierra Nevada and most likely staring down the barrel of my first DNF.

Nope I’m not being particularly negative; I’m being realistic about my chances of completing.

It’s all too easy to get on the ‘must have positive thoughts’ bandwagon and then (predictably some might say) fall flat on your face!

Interestingly new research carried out on endurance athletes shows the most successful do indeed embrace and consider the risks of failure. You see ultra running isn’t all plain sailing and there will be some point in every race when the wheels start to jolt, the brakes stick, and you feel like death. It’s how you deal with those situations which determines whether you succeed or fail. Going in fully prepared means you know how to react, get over it, and carry on if safe to do so.

Ultra racers are the ultimate gamble, and I guess that’s why we do them…some are just a bigger gamble than others and tomorrow night is going to be one big game of Russian roulette.

Course reccy and kit check.

Course reccy and kit check.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks working out the odds and I’m almost certain Sierra Nevada is a gamble too far.

It’s 103km with over 6,000m ascent in 25 hours which equates to:

  1. An elevation gain which just doesn’t see possible at the pace I can move at (uncomfortably) over that distance.
  2. Add in the 4,000m descent and I’ve got more issues. I’m slow down steep hills. Great at saving quads over the distance but too slow to cover the mileage.
  3. We start at midnight, aka pitch black trail, aka move even slower on trail. There’s an abundance of single track which while lovely to run is a nightmare for overtaking. Get bottled behind a slower runner and they could well get you timed out come CP1.
  4. An old injury in my right ankle/ shin flared up a week or so ago. I’ve spent the last four days sat on my backside…and the ligament into my ankle is still swollen and painful. The ligament always gets tetchy when I start running downhill for the simple fact is I am immediately overtraining as soon as I step foot on a hill after being in Qatar where it’s pan flat. We’re back to the old scenario… you can train for uphills in the gym but there’s no way you can train for downhills without running downhill 🙁 The osteo has done what he can but he reckons the damage is a permanent reminder of a previous injury – trouble is I can’t remember doing this one maybe jumping off a horse I think – the remedy is to strengthen my ankle muscles and gradually build up downhill work which doesn’t involve running a 100km in the mountains just yet.
  5. Not many have ever finished this one, and even fewer women (around 20 women in the last five years).

To even the odds out:

  1. We go up to 3,2000m altitude…despite training at or below sea level I probably am used to
    At 3,200m Veleta will be an altitude test.

    At 3,200m Veleta will be an altitude test.

    this sort of oxygen deficit courtesy of Doha 😉

  2. Temperatures in the Sierras will easily hit mid 20s or higher. Hot for many but perfect running temperatures for desert dwellers – a little chilly even.




Will I start? Hell yeah! I’m expecting to get pulled at the 70km mark, which will still equate to 16 hours on the trails and from my analysis the half way mark of the race, which takes into account the combined elevation gain and technicality V distance.

It doesn’t take much to calculate that the 1,000m climb up and back down in the last 10km is the sting on the end of a very long tail; but reccying bits of the course and deciphering last year’s notes the Veleta isn’t the main issue.

There’s a meaty 640m elevation gain from the start to the first checkpoint at 12.1km, the theme continues with 545m to the next and then special notes to take care of grave danger and risk of falling between CP2 and 3 at 34km. It seems that we’ve the mother of all firebreaks to ascend and then get down the other side on loose rocky terrain. The advice is to climb up/down the side as best you can, taking great care. Ooo, and just as a little reminder, runners will hit this at dawn or just before…so, remind me, when is the time you’re most likely to have a wobble in an overnight race? Why, of course, it’s just before the sun rises when your body goes: ‘what the heck, I should be catching some last minute zzzz’s!’ Fan-bloody-tastic!

As breakfast rolls around we’ve actually got some easier running with ‘only’ a 522m gain to CP4. Normal service is resumed with a 727m ascent to CP5. On to CP6 and where I think I’ll be calling it a day, or getting told to call it a day as I miss a cut off. I’ve done a section of the route here and it’s going to be a hard ascent and then a flattish track along the top before we drop down to Guejar Sierra at 69.7km. There’s a full feed station here, drop bags, and a bus up to the finish so it seems a sensible place to plan to stop.

If by any chance the biggest of miracles happens and I do arrive in enough time to keep pushing on I’ll enjoy a 954m climb over 11km (around half the steepness of Veleta) to CP7 before a more modest +554 climb to the 88.8km mark and some of the trickiest track I’ve ever had to follow. Yes, I’ve done some reccy work on this and let’s be honest ‘track’ is too generous a description. It’s over rocks, under thorn bushes and through pine trees. It isn’t going to be much fun at 80+km. There will then just be the final up and down for the 103km-ish route.

With 30 hours, in good shape (I’m not), and I reckon I could scrape in, but 25 – no chance. I’ve set up live-tracking via Facebook so you’ll be able to monitor what km I hit before I quit.

So it’s over you – place your bets, how far will I get?


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