The North Face Transgrancanaria Advanced 2014

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I decided to open the 2014 season with the The North Face Transgrancanaria Advanced 82km, 4500mD+ (having also participated in the 2013 edition) as it’s very early (March 1st) and also was the first race in the Spain Ultra Cup 2014. Participants almost doubled compared to 2013 and I knew it would be a very very strong field to vest preparation of the last few months against.

I arrived on February 25 by a comfortable one hour charter flight and checked in for 7 nights at Suite Hotel Jardín Dorado in Maspalomas to be close to the main race venue and finish line (aka “la meta”) in Meloneras. I travelled with another runner I sometimes train with, Leonardo Diogo, who opted to stay up north, in Las Palmas with a Spanish friend. The weather was great, so I decided to head to Playa del Inglés to catch some sun and get some work done before dinner.


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26 February

Woke up early for a light running session on flat terrain which thankfully was in abundance along the coast. I kept glaring up towards the mountains, with Roque Nublo out in the distance. A famous landmark for this race and one I didn’t get to see very well the year before due to some sketchy weather conditions before El Garañón. After a several thousand calorie hotel breakfast, I made my way down to Meloneras on foot, which was a few kilometres alongside the dried up river bed we’d be running along to the finish line at Meloneras Beach. Didn’t exactly look like fun to run in when fresh and well rested, so can’t imagine what the last bits on Saturday would feel like 🙂 Dropped that thought immediately. Picked up some last minute items from Shopping Boulevard Oasis – Immodium as SOS, a good waterproof sunscreen for the drop bag at El Garañón and negotiated a bunch of sealable small plastic bags on the side for keeping essentials during the race. Spent the afternoon migrating between several coffee shops, shipping a few hours of work. Bed. Early.

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27 February

Stepped out for a morning jog and the sun was already pretty feisty at 08:00 – the time we set out on Saturday. Strolled towards ExpoMeloneras again and got registration and bib collection out the way before noon – fast and efficient like the year before. Decided to scout the Trail Zone exposition area first before dropping my halfway bag in case of any missing required or “nice to have” materials. Resisted well and left only with some brochures 🙂 Left my drop bag, went for a walk along Boulevard El Faro and settled for lunch at an admittedly risky Chinese buffet, which eventually worked out pretty well. Met up with Leonardo later the afternoon, had dinner at ExpoMeloneras, attended some of the briefing and got a ride back to the hotel.

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28 February

Final gear check after breakfast, went for a reflexology massage and made my way towards the beach again to decompress and work until mid afternoon. Picked up water, Nutella and other items for “breakfast” @ 05:30 the next day. Napped a few hours before dinner, which was mostly high carb, lean protein and some fruit for dessert. Managed to doze off well before 21:00 and slept like a rock until the alarm went off @ 05:00.

1 March

Showered, dressed, applied some kinesio tape to a wonky area on the right lower leg and ordered a cab from reception to be on time for the bus departure @ 06:00 from ExpoMeloneras. They were a bit late, but the atmosphere was super with a lot of folks tracking the primary 125km race, of which a large chunk already passed our start location at Fontanales. Had some more water, a sugary drink and food on the bus, but also slept another 30 minutes on the drive amongst a really animated crowd. Definitely worth doing – getting on the group busses – especially when running abroad.

Fontanales -> Valleseco (7.5km)

Due to the slight bus delays, we arrived very close to the departure time of 08:00. Most runners went for a quick coffee or scouted for bathrooms, checked in and lined up with a really nice and loud ambient. We were off at 08:04 with a huge group of around 30 up front, which soon split up about 3km into the race. It was a nice rolling section, with fast and technical downhills and then some climbing. I was in position 10 to 20 for most of this leg and felt very good, although my heart rate was on the high end, which is normal from adrenaline at the start of any race. I kept the heart rate mostly in check and my legs responded well, so I stopped worrying too much about it as it would just make things worse. There was a lot of slippery rocks and mud, but thankfully no crashes 🙂 I arrived at the next aid station, Vallesco, around 40 minutes after departure.

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Vallessco -> Teror (13.6km)

Mostly a downhill section, went down at a nice rhythm and didn’t force very much. My legs felt good although heart rate was still high. I bumped into another Portuguese runner, Ester Alves from the 125km race, just before Teror, we exchanged some words and then parted ways. Probably the fastest checkpoint of the course – just grabbed water and some fruit and consumed along the way.

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Teror -> Talayón (20km)

Well. “Teror” – should have known 🙂 A nasty nasty climb up! I started to control my heart rate better – climbed at a comfortable pace, with heart rate just below anaerobic threshold.  Was passed by a few guys on the way up – they were breathing very heavy, so I didn’t follow. I missed a signal, climbed 100m the wrong way, realised I was off course and had to go back down and reconnect the route. Took in more liquids, fruit and some really really sweet tea at Talayón. I was still feeling good and strong, legs were responding well despite the heart rate.

Talayón -> Tejeda (28.2km)

More climbing in the forest – with some really really high gradients. The descent was quite nice and runnable, but I noticed it was going to be a hard day on the quads. Descended with a lot of confidence the whole day and only once lost a position on the way down. The sun started to beat down pretty heavy on areas without much tree cover. Regretted choosing the black thermal shirt for the first half.

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Tejeda -> Garañón (39.2km)

MORE climbing – I remembered some of this section from the year before, Roque Nublo etc., which wasn’t very visible then due to bad weather conditions. Not a particularly easy section with perfect weather either 🙂 Started to feel the altitude slightly towards the top –  heavier breathing and it was more difficult to maintain a high heart rate. There were some stairs to climb, but was not too bad and nothing like we have back home in Madeira 🙂 I remember El Garañón with huge crowds in 2013, but it was very very quiet and not too well signalled for a halfway point this year. I spent 10 minutes here – changed clothes, applied sunscreen, had some pasta, other solid food, hydrated well, swapped gels etc. but had a bag check that took almost 3 minutes, evening opening the frontal to see if it had batteries! Took in some additional salt, about 5 hours in.

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Garañón -> Tunte (51.7km)

We had a short climb up to Pico de las Nieves and it was already pretty hot out, despite being at the highest peak in Gran Canaria. Rocky, but runnable descents. Started feeling a lot of muscle damage in the quads and first signs of light cramps / contractions in them. There were some soft terrain, but the rocky terrain had very high impact, probably even more so than on street and pavements. Had a lot of liquids during this section – 1.5l from water bottles and additional fluids from my camelback reserve. It was 14km long and the sun was very very hot. Again was confident and descended well without anyone passing. Started feeling 2 big blisters on the balls of my feet. I decided not to look – sometimes what you don’t know, don’t hurt / harm you 🙂

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Tunte -> Arteara (65.8km)

Interesting food at this aid station – typical small Canarias potatoes, with salt and some fairly hot sauce 🙂 Had a few of them, other food and refilled water bottles, one with water, the other with isotonic. Steep climb out to the mountains and had some cramps in the right leg – quads – dissolved some more salt / electrolyte supplements in my water container. My mp3 player also kicked the bucket before the climb – totally awesome, especially for the last section. Lots of “gentle” up and downs and then what Leonardo would call a “goat trail” of a descent into the next checkpoint. Stayed a minute or 2 longer here and for the first time started to take in a few cups of Pepsi. Coke / Pepsi is really good for getting back into gear when a bit washed out, but not the best choice on downhill sections as pretty quick you’d have a washing machine effect in your stomach and could spend more time off, than on, the trail. Ate a lot of fruit and had a lot of water in some shade.

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Arteara -> Machacadora (76.7km)

Started feeling the hamstrings getting a bit tight, most likely from a compensatory action for the quads getting hammered on the downhills. Took in some more salt and kept a nice rhythm ticking over. Mixed with a few runners from the Marathon distance. It wasn’t as hot anymore, I looked back and didn’t see anymore from my race so I just continued in my stride.

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Machacadora -> Meta (82.2km)

Quick stop, just refilled isotonic, had more Pepsi and a few pieces of fruit. Felt comfortable and pushed through @ 12km/h again without much difficulty. We entered the dry river bed section about 5km from the finish which was quite runnable, but one had to pay very careful attention to some rocks sticking out. I could hear music and talking in the distance and just focussed on El Foral (the finish line) after getting out of the river. Epic reception as with most Spanish races and was nice having some drinks and words with Fran Godoy, a Vegan runner from Tenerife, who I went back and forth with for most of the race. 27th place out of 344 classified in 10:11 (Movescount)

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After effects

Besides an almost immediate “penguin walk” (or “andar novo” in Portuguese), my feet were pretty fubar from the heat, lack of prior protective measures and super thin “racing socks”. Never. Again. All in all, it went pretty well with minimal damage. Even avoided any serious sunburn 🙂

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2 March

A few of us met up at Meloneras Beach for the prize giving ceremony and then made our way back to ExpoMeloneras for lunch and isotonic, also known as BEER. Sunday afternoon was spent lazily, a recovery run of 30 minutes went south because of my feet and a group of Portuguese met up in the evening for dinner. We. Walked. Ssslllooowwwwllllyyyyy 🙂

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3 March

Naturally slept in, but timed it as such to still make breakfast in time before 10:30. Went to the beach area again and walked a U shape from Playa del Inglés to El Foral and back to the hotel. Pro tip: if you walk past the dunes, mostly look left, towards the water and waves 🙂

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4 March

All good things come to an end. I had a spectacular time at this years 2800 athlete headcount event: made many new friends, got to explore sections of Gran Canaria I didn’t yet know on foot, had great food and got to run alongside and talk to idols such as Timothy Olson, Seb Chaigneau, Scott Jurek and many many others.

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Lessons learned

  • Thou shalt respect thou feet. Wear proper socks and apply lubricant liberally in hot weather.
  • Eat well at aid stations before hills – you’d have time to digest well. It’s easier going up than downhill with a bunch of food in your stomach.
  • Careful with heart rate early on in the race – you’d pay back dearly for dipping too much into anaerobic zones.
  • Consume food and liquids in small amounts. Bites and sips here and there works best.

Recommendations for this race

  • Arrive a few days earlier – there’s a lot of things to explore and it would be vital to acclimatise to the heat especially when from zones with a harsh European winter.
  • Use the bus transport options – they’re well worth getting into racing spirits.
  • Definitely try to stay near the “meta” – you’d be close to event registration and it’s easy to clean up and just crash when finished.
  • Buy isotonic drinks and other sport specific items a few days prior – 2800 athletes seriously dents that market and item availability 🙂
  • Train in heat where possible. 2014 was a particularly hot race, but 2013 however was quite different …
  • Book hotels and other transport early – there’s some really good deals about.

Thanks for reading and happy running!

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