I left Scotland for Barcelona at the end of June with the intention of competing in the 2nd race of the Alpinultras series, Ultra Valls D’Aneu, before heading to Mallorca for a week to recover. Unfortunately that plan came to an abrupt end a couple of days before the race when I sprained my ankle badly in the hills above Castelldefells. It was a tough blow to take as the Alpinutras has been my main focus for this season. The blow was softened however after I exchanged a few messages with Mayayo from carrerasdemontana.com and an invite was secured for Ultra Sierra Nevada, part of the Spanish Ultra Cup, 2 weeks later instead. Rather than spending a week in Mallorca relaxing I would go for 10 days instead and spend my days training in the Tramontana, my favourite training ground.
Thankfully, I emerged from the days 10 unscathed with around 250km and 12,000m+ in my legs and fairly well acclimated to the heat. I even managed to squeeze in a race while I was there at the Crono Escalada Bunyola, a 4.8km uphill time trial, where I was shown a clean pair of heals by a few of the local youngsters in temperatures approaching those more commonly found of the surface of the sun!
I arrived in Pradollano, a beautiful ski resort at 2100m in the Sierra Nevada the day before the race. The town lies at the foot of La Valeta, the 3,394m peak which would form the final climb of the Ultra before dropping back down to finish in the centre of the town. A really beautiful setting for a race and a perfect place to relax for 24 hours before the start on Friday night at midnight.
Eventually, 2 weeks later and in a completely different mountain range than planned, I find myself on the start line in Granada ready to race. The music is banging, Depa “la Voz” is whipping up the crowd and boom, we’re off! 103km with 6000m+ ahead of us.
It’s a really nice start, winding through the streets of Granada, past Alhambra, the Arabic palace, all lit up and eventually out of town and into the mountains. The pace is fairly sedate and there’s a large lead group of around 20 runners. It’s still well over 30 degrees so I’m happy to just sit in and conserve as much energy as possible . This was the pattern of things for the first 25km or so as we eased our way into the race. The first tough climb came shortly after the 25km mark and this is where the lead group disintegrated. By the time we dropped down into the checkpoint at km 34 we were down to a group of 4 and by checkpoint 5 we were down to 3, Remi Queral, Alex Fraguela and myself.
The 3 of us stayed together, keeping a nice pace but not working too hard over the next couple of major climbs and after a long night we were treated to a pretty spectacular sunrise over the Sierra Nevada from Alto de los Jaralles. With a new day always comes a real boost in energy and it was around this time that I decided I was going to attack out of the checkpoint 6 at the 70km mark so I ate well and made sure I was well hydrated as we dropped down from 2000m to the checkpoint at 1000m 70km into the race. I collected my drop bag at the checkpoint and chatted briefly with a Scottish woman who said she had heard a Scotsman was in the lead so had come out to support, thanks for that! It would appear I wasn’t the only one who planned to attack from here, Alex left the checkpoint 1st trying to open a gap followed by Remi. I lost about 30 seconds here but caught them before the foot of climb at which point Remi attacked hard, very hard!! I went with him, thinking the attack would be short-lived but this was a sustained attack which continued for several kms. We were close to the limit and anytime we could see back down the mountain there was no sign of Alex or any of the other runners. We took it in turns to set the pace, each trying to break the other with occasional periods of truce while we recovered, it was pretty full on racing for a while, even on the easier forest road sections we were shoulder to shoulder neither of us wanting to give an inch. We would occasionally laugh about the brutality of it as we climbed higher towards Pradollano.
By now the sun was high into the sky and as we hit the road section into town it was pretty hot. We laughed as we passed our hotel, joking about having a beer and lying in the cold water of the swimming pool but unfortunately that would have to wait as we were at the foot of la Valeta, the vertical km of climbing over the next 4km before dropping back into town to the finish line. We hit the climb together, baking under the midday sun and again each trying to break the other, it was brutal but brilliant at the same time, pure racing. We stayed together until around 2400 or 2500m altitude at which point Remi began to open a small gap, I was trying to close it but the higher we climbed the more I began to struggle. My old friend altitude was getting the better of me again. The higher we climbed, the slower I moved and the gap just kept getting bigger. It’s a horrible feeling, my heart rate was through the roof and I was barely moving, just like in Emmona back in May. The climb seemed to take forever and with every step Remi was pulling away and Alex was closing in from behind. By the time i reached the top Remi was out of sight on his way back into town and Alex had caught me. As he moved away on the descent there was nothing I could do to respond. I just kept moving knowing that I would eventually feel better as we got lower down the mountain but by the time that happened it was too late, the damage had been done. I rolled back into town for 3rd place after an epic race. Congratulations to Remi for a brilliant win and to Alex for his strong finish. I really wanted to win but I had nothing more to give on that last climb and when you give your all you can’t have any regrets.
A massive thanks to the race organisation and to Mayayo for making it possible. See you next time!