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 (

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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