And so I take up the story for part two of Al Andalus Ultimate Trail 2014.
By the middle of the week, all runners are jaded, some are nursing blisters and injuries, but the tiredness draws everyone together as we pool resources and help each other out with ‘menu’ ideas when dehydrated food and energy gels get all too much. I’m sure this is reflected on other stage runs and for me this is part of the attraction – the camaraderie is unsurpassed. And now, back my own challenge….
The ‘easy’ stage of Day 3 ends with a paella meal, dished up al fresco on the campsite. In previous years, this was cooked on site but for 2014 a pre-prepared meal was brought in. It made for an earlier meal and the opportunity for everyone to get bedded down in preparation for the long day. During the night, our camp was raided by foxes. Luckily, most people had heeded the organizers’ advice to pull all their kit inside their tent or store it in event van. I think the tally of stolen kit was pretty low at two running tops and one pair of shorts. Previous years have seen runners searching surrounding woodland for their shoes.
Even though I’d done it before, the 67km of Day 4 is still daunting. The sports masseuse had done a great job and my legs felt okay, the balls of my feet were asking questions but they’d have to suck it up. A staggered start saw the main field head out at 8am, we were due out at 8.30am. The standing around was chilly, and nerves built as we were all too aware of the heat to come.
Heading out of camp, the route follows a riverbank, sometimes dried riverbed trail, to a stepping stone river crossing and the main trail. We weren’t able to follow this exact route last year due to high water levels but with ankles well battered on the stones, we were back on the 2013 route and climbed for a couple of km before crossing a newly ploughed fire break and joined a technical track. I had to drop back as I was slowing others down but as soon as the track widened I was able to surge alongside.
In and out the village stop of CP1, the field started to string out as we headed along the road to a well-trodden track around Lake Bermejales. Hubby Steve and I were aiming to clock some miles before the heat of the day kicked in. I left him at about 15km before hitting CP2 and heading out across the dam and the first real walk of the day and CP3. The faster boys overtook me walking up the hill and that was pretty much the last I saw of them for the day.
From CP3, the route drops across farmland and then winds around the top of a hill before a fast descent to CP4. I did get a fleeting glance of the last guy out of CP4, but then I was on my own.
A hot road section led to a river crossing – not done last year due to flooding – and I again removed my shoes. The river was pretty fast flowing and a definite glute worker thanks to the power of the water. Putting on dry socks, I headed on to the next hard ascent and a long walk to CP5. I made slow progress from CP5 to CP6. This bit is perfectly runnable, if you have the energy, unfortunately, there were only limited supplies of energy available and it was a lonely time. I attempted to cajole two wandering dogs into accompanying me, but they headed home after a km or so.
Running out of CP6, after making sure my hubby and Qatar-based friend were still in on the volunteers’ checklist, I hit the downhill I always struggle with. It’s steep and my quads just don’t like it! Skirting move olive groves, the course wiggles steeply downwards to the road and El Motor campsite. Day completed in 8:22:34 (2013 effort in 9:21:12)
The final day and I met it with mixed emotions. My legs felt good (thanks again to the trusty masseuse and a dip in a swimming pool) but this would be my last run in enjoyable surroundings. I’d head back the steamy heat of Qatar in summer, where outdoor running is nigh on impossible and I’d rest up for three weeks anyway. I wanted to savour my last run.
A staggered start again saw the main field depart earlier, with the top ten or so of us hitting the trail through Alhama gorge some 30 minutes later. Again, the aim was to get some mileage in before the heat kicked in. Saying farewell to the town, Steve and I were pretty much together as we wound through farmland to rerun a track we’d run on the first day, but now in the opposite direction. I was concerned about him as he looked tired, hadn’t had a great night’s sleep and his stomach was gripey, but he was keeping up.
We hit CP1 at about the same time as we hit the last few runners in the main field. Some of these were truly battle scarred and courageously pushing on in the way only ultra runners know how to. With plenty of cheery shouts, we started to hit the first climbs of the day. Shuffle hopping up these, I left Steve behind before pit-stopping at CP2 on the top of the last proper ascent of the race. Another in and out and the trail levelled out as I came face to face with a herd of 70 or so goats. Dropping to a walk, I let them pass – I didn’t want the responsibility of them turning, bolting, and knocking the shepherd behind them off his moped.
Trail became road and I dropped downhill, before more trail and a level section through more olive groves. I had to have a walk as my heart rate was notching up. I think that this was a sign of tiredness since I hadn’t had this problem over the previous few days.
Lingering a CP3 – the last CP of the whole race – I knew it was just a quick downhill on the road, a trot through the village of Salar, a bit of trail leading under the motorway, and back to finish at the start.
Mission accomplished, but I was truly sad that is was all over. Yup, I was exhausted and couldn’t have run the next day, but I was upset that a great race, brimming with camaraderie and support, had come to an end. I parked up on the finish line and cheered on other runners as they to hit their goals and finished the event.
Day completed in 4:28:50 (2013 effort in 4:47:16). Combined event time of 27:42:22, 2nd woman and 5th overall.
Thanks to Tim Harman for the great photos.