Transgrancanaria 125km – 1st March 2014
Some months after I have registered to the Transgrancanaria with a couple with other Danish friends, I had an overuse injury in my right foot (plantar fasciitis). That was in September 2013. It took me quite a while to recover and it was just some months ago that I was able to start running. Although I was able to run, I still didn’t trust my body 100% and I could still feel a bit of pain after every run. I has been many frustrating months… In the last 2-3 months before the race, I did many long runs, but I could feel that my shape was not where it should and could have been.
So I started this trip and placed myself in the start line with many questions in my mind: “Will I be able to complete this race? Is my ground shape good enough to carry me through 125km across the mountains with the limited amount of training that I had done? Should I at all have signed up for a 125km race as my first mountain race? Will my foot be able to stand 125km? …”. I was nervous, excited and uncertain. I had dropped any expectations about completion times and my one and only goal was to complete the race in less than 30 hours. If I could do it in less than 24h, it would be awesome; if not, it would not matter much.
Even though I had read about the race and looked at the profile, I didn’t really know what to expect. It was my first mountain running and I had never before ran in the Gran Canaria island.
We took the bus from Las Palmas to the start line around 21.45 on Friday (February 28th). When we arrived, I followed with Moses Lovstad (aka Trailøberen), Pia Sørensen and Nicolai Lillesø to the start line. We placed ourselves in the front, since the course started with a steep uphill and we didn’t want to be stopped in a bottleneck.
The race started and Moses and I had the same rhythm, so we followed. It was a cold night and a very long and steep climb, followed by very long and steep downhill and a very long and steep climb. In the first steep downhill, my shoes were to tight in the top and too loose in the bottom (close to the toes) due to the speed-lacing system. This made that the top of my feet got really pressed against the shoelaces and got hurt. I couldn’t really find a way to arrange the shoelaces so it would not hurt and I just had to accept that pain for 100+km. Apart from my foot, everything was going good. Moses and I had a comfortable pace and the sun would start raising soon.
I have really no experience in mountain running and Moses has run a bunch of these races. I was sure that at some point I would just fall back, but it gave really a lot of energy to follow together. Moses was also enjoying to follow and since none of us really had any big expectations about completion times, we decided to continue the race together and wait for each other.
The sun came up and when we reached the start of the TGC Advanced (43km). I thought that we had been through the worse part of the race. We had been through 2 big and steep climbs and I thought it would get easier now with the sun. I had no idea of what was coming…
After the TGC Advanced started, there was so many people at the course that it was at times annoying. Many of the runners running the Advanced were running faster than we were and we had to stop and let them overtake in very narrow trails. This broke our flow many times. The terrain kept getting harder and harder, there was all from mud to big and loose rocks. The weather was very foggy at start of the morning but it them is slowly cleared and we started to see beautiful landscapes, but it got quite warm at the same time (nothing is for free in this race, I tell you :-)).
We were quite surprised with the amount of pavement and concrete that we have ran through. It was quite tough to run through some sections of concrete, since they were really steep downhills and the hard concrete really beat up the tired legs…
There were 2 hard climbs left until the dropbags (at least that’s how it looked in the race profile that we have printed in our start numbers). Around the middle of the race, there were some good downhills and the ground was not so rocky. Per Olesen, which was also running the 125km, met us on the way and we followed together. Moses was dreaming about a runnable downhill and we got that in the way down to Tejeda. A quite nice downhill where we felt fresh and ran almost all the way. The aid station in Tejeda was quite nice. They had oranges pieces in ice, which was one of the high points of the run for me. It was quite warm and those cold oranges were awesome :-)!
Generally speaking, the aid stations were quite good. There was water, cola and a very good energy drink as liquids; and varied food such as sandwiches, energy bars and fruits. Quite nice for my taste.
The run started getting tougher for me from Tejeda and I didn’t really had a lot of energy in the next uphill to Garañon. Moses was much more fresh than me and he could probably had run faster if he had done the rest of the race alone from there, I think. But he waited for me and helped me getting over the crisis that was setting up on me.
When we got to the top of the hill we were hoping that the depot was close, but again the distance of the aid station didn’t match the one of our watches. There should be 500m, but there was actually 2km uphill. We were tired and stopped for a small break. Since there was a small kiosk beside the course (in the course almost) and it was warm, we decided to get a cold drink. As soon as we sit down, 2 officials came to us asking if we have dropped the race, saying that it was not allowed to use any facilities but the aid stations and that they had to note our race numbers. Well, I do not see this as external help, but anyways, the rules are the rules, and if we broke them we were as well punished (more later). One thing is for sure, we had no intention of cheating at all, there was no reason to it. We had plenty of water/energy drink to run 2km to the next aid station.
This was a huge downturn in our race and we both got quite angry. What was supposed to be a pause to replenish the energies, became a source of concern. We would maybe have done better without that stop.
Arriving at the Garañon, we quickly took our dropbags, ate some pasta and moved on. We met Per again here. We were not really following with him anymore – he had a bit more energy and decided to run his own race. The uphill to the highest point was an very very steep climb and was death march uphill. Reaching the top there was a long downhill. We were both relatively fresh there and we ran this section quite fast. I started having problems with my right foot again in the more technical sections. The ground was really tough with a lot of big rocks and I couldn’t really run through that because my foot was hurting (I could feel it wasn’t not an injury, that is why I continued).
We reached 100km in a little under 20h and we thought than that a time within the 24h was realistic, after all “it was basically downhill from here”. We were making good progress, but then a right turn and we reached what, in my opinion, was the hardest part of the run. A very steep and technical downhill single track that was not much runnable for my sake. Big and loose rocks that would move on every step. I really had to watch my step all the time not to fall. It took us long to go through this downhill and we were sure that we could not make it in 24h anymore.
After the aid station in Arteara (~110km), the terrain got a bit more forgiving and we started running again. The goal was getting closer and closer and after the last aid station there were just 2km to town. We ran into town through a dry water channel and then to the goal by the Maspalomas Lighthouse. It was a great feeling to complete the race!
My sweet girlfriend Maibritt was waiting for me in goal at 2:13AM! She has been a great support all the way! Tak skat :-).
It happens that Moses and I got disqualified of the race because of that stop at the kiosk. I think that this is a bit too much and I particularly think that a time penalty would be adequate if a punishment had to be applied. But anyways, if we broke the rules, even without the intention of doing it, it is fair enough. This does not change the fact that we completed the race and had a good experience in the mountains.
Thanks for the company during the race, Moses! It has really been a pleasure to share the 125km with you :-).
I really learned a lot from this race and I’ll certainly be much more ready for my next run in the mountains. As I expected, my shape was not in its best and my finish time is definitely not impressive. However, I am glad that I was able to finish the race. It was my first mountain running and it was a very very tough run in my opinion.
Here is a cool little video showing some of our adventure. It was filmed by Moses and clipped by Thomas Dupont.
Afterthoughts about the race and equipment
I’ve chosen to run TGC in a pair of Hoka One One Stinson Evo. I don’t think that it was a bad choice at all but at the same time I would not run on them again in this course. First of all, if you are planning to use a Hoka on a mountain running, replace the quick lacing by the regular laces. The quick lacing does not work properly in my opinion, the shoes get too tight on top and they keep getting loose in the downhills. TGC has extremely technical trails and although I had no big problems with the Hoka, I think that I’d be more comfortable with a shoes that provides me more control. That does not mean that I want to feel what I am stepping on, definitely not. In this race, I think that it is about finding a shoe that protects your feet from the ground but provides you good control for the technical downhills.
The backpack I used was bought in the day before the race. I know that it is not good practice, but it turned out to be a success. I used the new North Face FL Race Vest, which I found really good. It is an 8L with lots of place in front, so I could balance the weight, and enough place in the back, so I could carry all the necessary equipment and a 1.5L bladder. The vest is made of a see-through mesh that is comfortable and doesn’t warm you up. The backpack was perfect, but my setup was a bit clumsy, I think. I used a 3L drybag inside my backpack, which made the access to my things too complicated and I would rather use bottles instead of a bladder next time. I think that a bladder is too complicated to refill, and if you put energy drink into it, it starts getting sticky because of the sugar and it becomes hard to open/close. Furthermore, it requires that you remove your backpack, which I think is annoying and takes time.
I also used compression calf sleeves from CEP, which I think have an awesome compression grade and are very comfortable; and Compress Sport ForQUAD for my upper leg muscles. Compression in the quadriceps is must have for me in this race. There are so much steep downhills that it is easy to trash your legs (especially your quads) and I feel that the compression helped me a lot .
Trekking poles are an absolute must have. I really cannot imagine going through this race without them. On steep uphills they gave me support and helped me pushing up, and on steep downhills (when my legs were tired) they helped me taking a bit of the breaking force from my legs. I used a pair of Black Diamond Distance FL Trekking Poles (Z Poles) and they worked great. Since I do not have much experience with trekking poles, I have chosen to use aluminium poles. A great tip that I’ve got before the race from Jesper Halvorsen (thanks Jesper it really helped :-)), is to isolate the aluminium with sports tape or duct tape just in the place where you carry the poles when not using them. The aluminium can get very cold during the night, which will give you unpleasantly cold hands.
My nutrition worked perfectly this time, which was great. I used Winforce and Powerbar gels all the way, which worked really well. I carried sports drink in the bladder – it was a very good sports drink they had – and drank cola in the aid stations. Some sandwiches here and there and lots of fresh oranges :-).
Generally speaking about the race, I think that it has a very tough course and if I could turn back time I would have either ran the Advanced (84km) or chosen another race to get some experience before tackling the 125km of TGC. In my opinion, it isn’t a very good first race. The ground, the climbs and the descents, nothing is forgiving in this race.
I have said during the trip that I would not come back to do this race again, but I am not satisfied with my result. Not because I think that I could have done better this time, but because I know that I can do better if I run it in good shape. So I may come back at some point (probably not next year) and try my chances again on this tortuous course.
I had 5 wondeful days in the warm Gran Canaria Island in very good company. We travel in a very nice group of people and we had a very good time in the hotel and around restaurant tables with good food and drinks. It was a big pleasure to have some relaxing time with my girlfriend in the sun and by the pool, and have long running talks in company of nice people.
All the atmosphere around the run was really nice and it was great to arrive some days before to relax and prepare.
We also had the chance to see a talk with Scott Jurek about nutrition and get our copy of “Eat & Run” book signed by him. We also had a short chat with Timothy Olson, who finished 3rd.
Overall the trip was a total success: good company, good weather, good food and I got what I went there for, I completed the race :-).
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