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.
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.
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)
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!