Wet, wet, wet at Ultra Sierra Norte

Hereby follows an apology:

Dear feet,

Recently, I subjected you to horrendous conditions and for that I am truly sorry.

I want you to know this because I appreciate how awesome you are. Where other people get blisters and black toenails, you never let me down. No matter how far we run, you are perfect.

I try to look after you, keeping your nails short, wearing comfy socks which are neither too tight nor too slack, and always wearing appropriate shoes to ensure you get the best conditions possible…but I’ve let you down and allowed you to get wet, wet, wet.

My shoes were clabbered up.

My shoes were clabbered up.

I’d like to emphasis that this was through no fault of my own. You see it rained…torrentially…and you know as well as I do this wasn’t supposed to happen. You see, we read Kirsty Reade’s review of the Ultra Sierra Norte Marathon race on Race 247 and according to her the race is perfect for those seeking some winter sun.

I did indeed ignore all knowledge of northern hemisphere meteorology and somehow believed heading west in a country would mean less rain (thinking Wales V England here) and that despite forecasts to the contrary it would hale sunny come race day. As you know the opposite happened; it streamed down Thursday night, Friday daytime and Friday night. There were puddles in puddles and the 100km ultra race start was delayed 20 minutes as race officials worked out a roping system to get everyone safely across a flooded river at around 25km.

Thankfully the forecast was slightly wrong and the rain stopped for the start, we streamed out of Castilblanco de los Arroyos, Sevilla, and onto jeep trail and within 1.5km – we hit the first flood water at 2km. Step-stoning around the side, most still had dry socks but at 2.5km I decided I couldn’t reach the gate folks were using to balance around racing flood waters without getting wet and simply waded through…you were now wet 🙁

At 6km we hit the first mud on a narrow, rough verge-side track, not so bad, since I was well up in the field. We then enjoyed about 8km of easy running on a wide 4X4 trail, but alas the fog came down thickly and I took you – and two guys in tow – the wrong way across flooded pasture. The water was simply swilling off the fields, I could see no course markings but could hear CP 2 at 16km.

Ready for the startline

Ready for the startline

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The checkpoints were well stocked.

I’d already lost count of the number of flash floods we’d crossed as we hit the first descent. It was slippery and steep and there was a fair bit of grit flying around. I ignored the stone which flipped in the heel of my left shoe and dug under my heel. I’d remove it later I thought to myself, and carried on.

We were now into the Sierra Norte national park. The fog had lifted slightly and the views were pretty amazing, even in the wet. There was a heady scent of eucalyptus – definitely not rosemary as other reports have suggested, although there was plenty of rosemary around – as we bumped up and over wide gritty track descending to the roped river crossing.

Crossing 50m of swirling torrents we grabbed the rope, hung on balancing over stepping stones awash with water. As I neared the far bank, one of the guys assisting shouted ‘primerio’ as I lurched into deep water to grab his hand and get pulled ashore. His reference to primerio I suspected referred to my near-miss dunking i.e. I was the first to very nearly fall in.

Next up a short track of gravel with that lasting sideways drag on the legs feel post trudging through a strong current, we were quickly climbing up a sporting firebreak of hard ascent and the water was squeezing out my shoes but sucking in grit. Not as aggressive, or as long as our Granada province climbs it was enough for me to take a few places.

Onto wide jeep tracks once again in damp woodland, the kms ticked by with more burst rivers rushing over the top of the trails rather then underneath the bridges as they should, I continued to ignore the grit biting the underneath of my heel.

Eventually I decided to plop down on a rock and remove the offending stone for another to immediately take its place. At 30km crossing another cambered firebreak, I was forced to a standstill as another chunk of grit bit into the bridge off my right foot. As you know, I wear hard plastic orthotics and so there’s nowhere for a stone there to go but into you guys. Hopping on the spot and trying not to put my sodden sock to ground and pick up more grit, I managed to get my brand new Saucony Excursions (yes, I know, brand new shoes for the race but I was after every mm of grip I could get) on before turning hard left and dropping down steeply through a pine forest.

There was one near miss as the pine needles gave way and slide down on my backside, pushing my sticks forward to get a grip before we slid into thorns. Washing my fingers off in another handy river crossing, it was uphill again as two guys who’d caught me on the descent tell me I was primero. I said I didn’t know and left them on the up.

More wide track combined with off piste firebreak up and overs and we rolled into CP36 ish. The chaps again told me I was lead woman. I wasn’t so sure, removed more grit from my shoes, put my jacket on as it was raining (once more), and headed out onto the track. The guys were right a km or so later a lassy from the Ukraine came bounding by. I picked up pace, a little relieved that I was no longer the hunted, and kept her in sight.

As I was now boil in the bagging in my waterproof jacket, I wasn’t feeling so great. I took off my jacket before stuffing plenty of food down my neck. Hitting the next CP, I attacked the ham sarnies and banana chunks before heading out onto slate track. Focusing on stuffing a Nakd bar in I missed a left spur up a wide firebreak not realising until I’ll trotted 2.5km into a crossroads with no markings. Scanning the horizon I could see tape fluttering in the distance on a hill. Cue turnaround and go back to find where I’d gone off track – that’s an extra 5km for the mathematically challenged 🙁

Back on route, trail eventually became track and I was into the 56km checkpoint and drop bags. My coconut water caused some interest among race officials. I downed a coffee, removed my waterproof leggings and changed my socks. Yes, feet you were to enjoy 8km of feeling dry.

Back out and there was a steep camino uphill before an equally steep trail descent and then a groundhog day firebreak which just went up and over, up and over for mile after mile, with a nice little stream in the bottom of every valley. Into the next CP, I was pushing on conscious that it was late afternoon.

More flooded track as dams had burst, another CP and a firebreak ascent before a moderately tough descent. The light was fading and I wanted to get down before fishing my headtorch out and lighting up. My watch read 80km. Heading through game park in the dark, there was definitely something snuffling and snorting to my right – I wasn’t hanging around to find out what as I hit the official 85km checkpoint.

“No more technical!” I was told. It hadn’t been particularly technical so in my naivety I thought we’d fly home…in reality I was heading into the Somme. Running alongside a fence, with the road the other side, we trekked though plough, rocks and flooded fields. The earlier marathon runners had turned the ground to quagmire and progress was slow.

Feet – you were sodden and now covered in mud. Myself and a pair of other runners ping ponged taking it in turns to take the lead through the mire. Worse; the fog came down. The glow stick markers were increasingly difficult to see as we ploughed on.

Popping out onto the road through a hole cut in the fence we hit another checkpoint. The guys were looking jaded and I just wanted to get finished so I took the lead and pressed on…back through the fence and off the road, cursing as odd cars whizzed past hooting as I tackled km after km of mud, dropping into streams as water flooded off the fields. Eventually I emerged at CP12, just another 5km and I’d be done.

Crossing the road, I traced through trail we’d run earlier in the day but with 200 plus runners now through, the narrow track had turned to soup. I slip-slid through, relieved as I turned onto hard trail breaking into a run. Time to get this done! I could hear the finish line – a cheer as another runner finished – another 10 minutes and I was there being interviewed by Chito Speaker as the 2nd female. It turns out the runner heading over the line 10 minutes earlier was the lead woman. If I hadn’t added an extra 5km, I lamented, but such is trail running.

The race was completed – 14 hours 8 minutes and 22nd across the line.

I felt fine, ate a hot pork roll, and headed back to the sports hall where we’d spend the night. I showered, amazed at how great you guys looked. I was expecting blister on blister thanks to the grit; toe nails hanging off…but there was nothing. I suspect I have damaged the second nail on my left toe and there’s a small rub mark on my right foot – but that’s it.

My right hammy had been nagging from 8km but that’s nothing new and aside from that, nothing. I feel fine. Seems like the terrain we run over in organizing Ultra Trail Spain running holidays makes for ideal training 😉

Thanks to my feet, we bagged a 2nd place and some delicious honey.

Thanks to my feet, we bagged a 2nd place and some delicious honey.

So please forgive me feet, it seriously wasn’t that bad was it? I wasn’t one of the crazies stood on the start line shivering in lunas. Would be interesting to know if they were two of the 114 finishers out of the 221 starters or if the mud sucked their sandals off at 90km.

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