Mixed Fortunes at Mallorca Kilometro vertical & K42
On Saturday 19th March I got my season underway at the Kilometro Vertical on my home from home, Mallorca. After missing several weeks with a calf tear I was really looking forward to racing again and there's nowhere better to start the season than the Tramontana. The race starts at Finca de Galatzó and finishes at the summit of Galatzó, 1000m above. Runners set off at 30 second intervals time trial style which makes things interesting as you have no idea how you've done until everyone has finished.
Unlike other VKM races, the first 2.5km of this race are fairly flat before you reach the start of the climb. I ran this section nice and steady to arrive at the foot of the climb as fresh as possible. The first section of climb is really runnable, a series of switchbacks climbing between the 2 main peaks in the area, Galatzó and S'esclop. Then you reach a really technical section, fairly flat but across really sharp rock and thigh high grass, it's a good chance to catch your breath before the trail kicks up again. The next section of the climb is 1of the most stunning kms of trail I've ever ran, a nice steady gradient of around 10% with views down to the Mediterranean Sea on the North of the island. I ran this section pretty hard just to gauge how my legs were feeling for the k42 the following day.
The final few kms are much harder, steeper and much more technical, with some hands on knees power hiking and some scrambling towards the summit but the views from the top are well worth the effort. I was really happy to win the race and with how I was feeling going into the following day's race.
Sunday was the K42 race in the same part of the island, the first half is very mountainous and technical followed by a much flatter and faster finish in the coastal town of Peguera. There are 3 main climbs, Galatzó, S'esclop and Ses planes before the dreaded torrent, 5k in a very rocky riverbed, then some easy trails and road sections to finish.
I knew that the main threats for this race would be Pau Bartolo who has won a lot of massive races like the CCC and Transgrancanaria and Manuel Anguita who had a great year in 2015 winning several high level ultras in Spain. Unlike most races I've ran in Spain the start to this one was really slow,a nice surprise as I hadn't had time for a warm up. We rolled out of Finca de Galatzó at a really easy pace and after a km or so Pau, Manuel and myself eased away from the field. By the time we arrived at the bottom of the climb I had a very small gap of 10 or 20 meters but as we started to climb the gap began to grow. I wasn't trying to open a gap at this stage but just running within myself with a really controlled effort. Unlike the previous day when the sun was making this section really hot we were climbing into fog which kept things a bit cooler and made things feel a little easier.
It wasn't until we had crossed the first technical section that the fog cleared and I could see back down the trail, Manuel and Pau were close together probably a minute behind. It wasn't the start I was expecting but that's racing! I just kept pushing on with a steady effort and eventually reached the summit with a 3 minute lead. The first section of the descent is back down the way you have just came so you are running into the oncoming runners. The overnight rain had made the rock really slippy so I was taking it very easy to avoid mistakes knowing that the next section was really safe and runnable. As I was approaching the end of the technical section another runner was coming towards me, head down, I pod on, completely oblivious to anyone around him. I was shouting trying to get his attention but he didn't hear me or see me until the last second then panicked, stepping right in front of me. The result was a slip, a badly twisted ankle and effectively race over. I tried to run it off but after another km it was obvious I couldn't continue. Really gutted considering the circumstances. Who knows how the rest of the race would've unfolded but I would've loved to have found out.
On the plus side, I was really happy with my form and the changes I have made in training are paying off for sure. The race was eventually won by Pau so at least it was another Compressport runner with Manuel taking 2nd. I'll be seeing a lot more of Manuel this summer at the Alpinultras series, it was first blood to him!
As always Mallorca was great. Massive thanks to Belén, Antonio, Borja, Antia, Angie, Xavi, Pau, Javi, Elena,Esther & all of the race officials and volunteers. Team Mallorca!!!!
Unfortunately the HK 100 was a DNS for me this year. A calf problem prevented me from taking to the start line and I spent race day supporting my team mates instead. There were some great performances from the Compressport team with Gediminas Grinius 3rd, Pau Capell 4th, Yeray Duran 5th and Elisabet Margeirsdottir 5th female. Pau Bartolo and Arnaud Lejeune both started but had to drop out with problems.
Despite the disappointment of not being able to race I had a great week in Hong Kong with my team mates and the whole crew from Active Brands Asia and Escapade Sports. It was great to work with photographer Lloyd Belcher again in typically Scottish weather conditions along with Icelandic trail star Elisabet Margeirsdottir. Pictures can be viewed here.
Thanks to everyone who came along to my Q&A night in Escapade Sports, it was really good to meet everyone and hopefully you found it useful. Special thanks to Stefanie Ross Hemshall, Tiffany Yam and Lo Wai Kin. See you guys soon.
Another real positive to come from the week was a successful meeting with Martin Cai and Lorena Compean, organisers of The Green Retreat, an exciting new training camp taking place in Thailand in March, more details about this to come soon. I rounded out the week with a catch up with Tim and Fenny from AMO Sunglasses followed by a great night out with some of the local trail running community and runners from around the world. See you next time Hong Kong.
Onwards and upwards for the Mallorca 5000!
With the Hong Kong Trailwalker still in my legs I made the trip to the south of Spain for the Ultra maraton costa de Almeria. I wouldn’t normally race 2 long races so close together but I had been invited by good friends and if nothing else it was a good chance to escape the miserable conditions we’ve been having in the UK.
The race itself was 90km starting from Agua Amarga and finishing in Almeria passing through the stunning national park of Cabo de Gata along the way. At 7am in Agua Amarga the air was cold and sunrise was still an hour away as the race got underway. I was happy to get moving just to warm up. On the first climb I settled into a group with 4 or 5 other runners at the head of the field and was happy just to go with the pace while it was still dark. I really had no idea what to expect from my legs so didn’t want to push too hard too soon.
I stayed with the group until the first checkpoint at 13km at which point the sun was coming up. I got a real boost from the sunrise lighting up the desert landscape and decided to start pushing on. I opened up the gap fairly quickly and it continued to grow as we made our way up over the biggest climb of the day. The scenery here is pretty spectacular, made famous by movies like Indiana Jones and the last crusade and Lawrence of Arabia as well as many westerns.
I was alone from this point onwards until I started to catch the marathon runners who would start further along the course at 10am. I was definitely feeling the effects of Hong Kong with no zip in my legs and just a real lack of energy. I met my friends Antonio and Mar at the checkpoint at 45km and this gave me a much needed morale boost. They gave me my gels and sent me on my way. After another 15km of climbs and descents I arrived at the coast with 30km of flat to the finish, it sounded like a very long way in my mind! I had to really focus to keep a decent pace and was beginning to hurt a lot, my quads were gone. The checkpoint at 75km came just at the right moment, a chance to refuel and a welcome boost from seeing my friends. I knew I could keep it together for another 15km to the finish and I still had something in reserve if I was dragged into a race. Fortunately the last 15km were pretty uneventful but a sufferfest all the same! It was great to win and to share it with the people who had helped me along the way. Massive thanks to Antonio for his organisational skills and all of the Albaladejo family for a brilliant time in Almeria.
Onwards and Upwards for 2016!
It was a video of UTMB 2011 that inspired me to try Ultra trail running, the video featured Kilian, Iker and Miguel all running together and working as a team. I thought it looked amazing, 3 guys in the same team uniform all tapping out the same rhythm across stunning landscapes covering crazy distances, I knew I had to try it. Fast forward 4 years and I find myself in Hong Kong with 3 of the best ultra trail runners in the world, Julien Chorier, Yeray Duran and Pau Capell. Together we made up the Compressport International team for the Hong Kong Trailwalker 100km.
The race covers 100km across the stunning mountains of the new territories and the rules dictate that we must stay together as a team of 4 from start to finish, not easy in this company!
On the stroke of 8.30am we were off but not as quickly as the Nepali team, Ive never seen a team start a race so quickly, literally sprinting for the first 300m, it was crazy. We just settled into our own pace and after about a km we took the lead from an already disjointed looking Nepali team. At the 3km point we came to a junction which was manned by police and race officials, they directed us off the road and onto a trail where we continued to follow the pink and silver markers of the race for the next 6km. At just under 9km with 300m+ we reached the end of the trail and came back out onto the main road right back at the start line. Everyone seemed surprised and confused as to why we were there and nobody could tell us where we were supposed to go, we wasted a lot of time going backwards and forwards trying to work out what had happened but none of the race officials wanted to know. Eventually we discovered that we shouldn’t have been sent down the trail at the 3km point so god only knows why there were race markers down there (someone mentioned afterwards that they were for another race on the same day using the same markers but i don’t know for sure). My GPS file shows that we set off from the start again almost 55 minutes behind the field, we were furious and it was soul destroying to think we had flown all that way for something so ridiculous to happen. We reached the 3km point again where a few choice words were exchanged and that seemed to settle us down knowing now that we were back on the course. We decided just to do what we could and set about the task of reeling in as many teams as possible.
I was really proud of the way we pulled together and didn't let the setback consume our thoughts. We just worked hard and helped one another as and when required.I was so impressed with the strength of Yeray and Pau. Julien was having a tough day and those guys were unbelievable in helping him on the climbs. Pau at only 24 years old has a huge future in the sport.
As the day went on we caught and passed team after team spurred on by our awesome support crew in every checkpoint. We were so lucky to have amazing support in all 9 checkpoints who refilled our water and gave each of us our preferred nutrition to see us through. We even had support runners at a couple of points who would refuel us as we ran. I can’t thank the support crew enough. Eventually we found ourselves in 3rd position but we just didn't have enough to catch 1st and 2nd. The finish line was easily my favourite moment of any race I’ve ever done. To share that moment with those 3 guys and our support team after suffering together all day was just unbelievable. It wasn't the result we were hoping for but after the events at the start it felt as good as a win and so much better than I ever imagined when I watched that video in 2011. Long live Team Xempower Compressport!!!!