And so the final day had dawned. This is always a stage I find tinged with sadness as it marks the end of an emotional journey for every runner and supporter, the party must come to an end, and for me a certain flight back to the summer heat of Qatar.
A major element of stage-racing is the time spent between running. Don’t look after yourself properly and you risk not being ready to run the next day. Following the 67km stage, I had refuelled well on finishing. Plenty of recovery shakes, fruit, crisps, pasta, salad, steak…but I had still been peckish in the night. This is a regular for me and I lay out midnight feast in readiness every night. Unfortunately, on finishing Day 4, I hadn’t taken much notice as to the condition of my night’s tent. On inspection on packing up on the Friday morning, it looked like it had been towed behind a rancid runner for the whole week…which probably explained why I’d had the worst night’s rest of the whole week.
Camp site 4 is full of ants who want you out (camp site 3 has its fair few but these seem to be friendlier). I’d not realised there was a foot-sized hole under the zip on my tent, laced with energy gel. Clearly the Belisha beacon of pleasure to insect life!
Settling down to sleep at around 9:30pm, I was awoken pretty quickly by party-animal runners returning back to camp late. Note: if you spot most of the tents around you being moved earlier in the day, it indicates some of your neighbours are not early-to-bed folks and others are aware of this.
The revellers were to be the least of my worries. I could definitely feel movement on my skin as I lay on my sleeping bag. Switching on my torch, it was obvious a fair few ants were revelling in my tent. Another spritz of insect repellent and all was calm. I however, could not sleep. at 00:30 something dropped onto my face. I put my hand out and definitely felt movement of a large creature away from my fingers. Cue, torch on, lots of scrabbling around on my part but no sign of what was in my tent.
Could I have imagined it? Umm, I didn’t think so. Convincing myself I must have, I managed to get a couple of hours sleep.
Feeling the worst I had all week on ‘waking’ in the morning, I started to get my breakfast together. Hang on! There’s something black and shiny moving…if Qatar has taught me one thing…it’s that black and shiny equals one thing (not much lives in the desert and darkling beetles are sort of dry)…it was a cockroach.
Clearly, stunned by the chill of a Spanish summer morning it was moving somewhat slower than its Qatar breathren. Bang! It got squashed by the bottom of my water bottle. I know, I know, you aren’t supposed to squish roaches as it spreads their eggs, but I had to get rid of the thing.
Plenty of shaking out of shoes, sterilizing, baby wiping and hand sanitizing later I was packed up and ready for the last stage of the race. I’d already been pulled aside by several runners and crew and told that with a 90 minute lead I shouldn’t do anything stupid. “Take it steady and don’t get lost,” was the advice, and thanks to the lack of sleep my roach dormitory mate had enforced I’d certainly be taking it steady.
The final day’s route sees us toddle back through Alahama gorge, through the town on market day, before picking up a more winding route back to Loja, via Salar.
In the men’s race, a local lad was vying for first, and word had spread. We were cheered and clapped through every village and conurbation. It even seemed like every farmer with viable transport – horse, goat, sheep, pony or tractor was out on the route to CP1 to bid us well as we passed both herd and vehicle.
CP1 to 2 is probably the last proper climb of the race and where I started to catch the tail end of the earlier starters. I was on the lookout for my hubby, Steve. He’d finally discovered the minimum training required to complete a race like AAUT and as a result spent a long and tiring day on the trail the day before. He’d started an hour before me this morning and wasn’t looking the strongest I’ve seen him, but he was going for a finish and I expected to see him on the route.
Rolling into CP3, I was informed Steve was on great form, had shook of his earlier queasiness, and rocking out some miles. Great! I’d never catch him now with just 7km to go. Putting any thoughts of sprinting aside, I rolled down the hill to Salar, picked my way through the village and continued along the final trail to Loja.
The last real landmark is the motorway bridge 2km from the finish line. I’d passed a few other runners, but still no sign of Steve. Emerging under the bridge the Loja side, I spotted a familiar gait ahead. It was Steve about 400m ahead. I was at the bottom of the hill, he was at the top. We could cross the finish line together!
He turned, I waved, and he promptly set off at a fair gallop. What was he doing? Okay, so I’d have to kick this one. Come on legs, push on. About 600m later and we’re still running hard and I’m not making much ground. Passing a young family cheering from the roadside, I wished they didn’t understand English as I start shouting expletives after my errant husband. He finally slows and stops for me to catch him.
“What were you doing?” I berate him.
“Running to within 400m of the finish, where I was going to wait for you. I want to finish together and I thought you’d just pass me and carry on if I let you past earlier.”
So, with due reverence, for the first time ever, we crossed the finish line together. (Well, I was perhaps a little bit ahead 😉 )
AAUT 2015 complete in 25:47:06
Thanks must go to fellow participants, organisers, volunteers, medics, massage therapists, photographers, videographers, supporters and for anyone else who kept the show on the road. And of course my husband, Steve, for finally waiting for me to catch him up at the finish line!