Açores Trail Run

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Mid February I noticed a buzz on Facebook regarding an upcoming crossing of Faial in the Açores and promptly registered for the Ultra Trail Faial Costa Costa after getting clearance from my coach. Due to an unexpected participation in Gêres Trail Adventure  in addition to the planned TransGranCanaria and Madeira Island Ultra Trail , accumulated racing stats on April 27 were: 2 months, 3 ultras, 304km, 18600m vertical gain, 9 points UTMB. A lot of load in a short time when factoring training blocks in as well. I met the race organiser Mario Leal in Madeira and also in Gêres where we talked about the possibility of going there on May 24 to participate, given I haven’t made any travel plans yet. We worked something out and I was looking forward to a shorter race (48km and 2000mD+) to test the engines.

21 May – travel

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Flew out from Funchal with Nuno Gonçalves, via Ponta Delgada and arrived in Faial late afternoon and transferred via courtesy bus from the organisation to Hotel Horta. Spectacular view of Pico, the highest point in Portugal at 2351m.  Had a late dinner, or rather, we picked a place that was pretty slow with service – 3 hours for soup, a plate and coffee 😦

22 May – acclimatise

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Woke up early, had a really good breakfast with perhaps too much cheese, but still healthy nonetheless 🙂 Around 11 we headed out running along the marina area for an hour, bumped into Desafios a Dois and then had a pretty filling lunch. Mid afternoon was spent at the Botanical Gardens of Faial with a large group of runners. Most from the North of Portugal arrived today, with another flight expected for the 23rd. Afterwards we planted some trees at Ribeirinha and took a group photo. Had dinner with friends from Porto and an early night.

23 May – leisure

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After a morning jog, spent most of the day working and intermittently ducking out for important things like registration, bib collection and the briefing, which I missed while having coffee in the lobby. Happens 🙂 We had lunch with ArmandoIvone and a local friend of theirs. Got clothes and gear for the next morning ready. I decided to just use a waist belt and a single 500ml water container and leave the backpack home given aid stations were fairly frequent. At 20:00 everyone had dinner at the hotel where I observed Luís Mota‘s trade secrets – to serve oneself at least three times 🙂 Ducked for bed early around 21:30.

24 May – all systems go

Woke up at 6, showered, applied vaseline to all the important bits and then made my way up to the breakfast area which was already an ant’s nest of activity. The plan was to keep the morning meal simple, but it escalated into a mega serving of eggs, copious amounts of cheese and a large bowl of cereal. Three cups of coffee. Check!

Ribeirinha

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The buses dropped us off at Ribeirinha where more coffee and other goods were available. We talked to a bunch of people and there I met Johan Holmgren -a Norwegian commercial diver who happened to be in port on race day. He arranged an inscription the day prior and decided to test his legs after having been out at sea for almost 20 days in a small yacht. The start was animated and we were off at 09:00 – a very fast start with an almost immediate descent back down to sea level. I felt good and decided to stick with the front group, around position 7, with Anna Frost and Carlos Sá chasing. We climbed up to a lighthouse and then went through a couple of technical ascents and descents before arriving at the first aid station, where I refilled water and had a handful of raisins. Heart rate was above target, but I felt good nonetheless.

Aid station – 10km

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This section was quite rolling until the 14km mark, which was a “water only” spot. Beautiful landscape views and some runners even bumped into cows here. I continued with my rhythm and could almost always see Luís Mota’s fire red t-shirt out in front. Nobody chased, but I suspected Frost and Sá to not be far behind. I think around km 14 or 15 we started with a zig zag climb up towards the volcano crater. Once about a kilometre into that I looked back and could see Anna and Carlos – he shifted gears and passed me just before the aid station at 19kms.

Aid station – 19km

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Refilled water again, grabbed some cut banana pieces. Anna Frost left a few seconds before me – women being way way more efficient than men as they don’t have that “Wow, omg, FOOD!” reaction 🙂 We climbed up to the crater and did the rest of the course until km 28 together. Spectacular views from the ridges of the crater, especially Pico with what looked like a BUFF of cloud cover 🙂 The ground was very very uneven for most of this section – cow / cattle trail with nasty holes and it gave away quickly when cadence slowed just a tiny bit. Was quite happy to get around the crater, crawl up another technical section and descend down to the next aid station before the very long descent towards the finish line.

Aid station – 28km

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Grabbed some Coca-Cola, a few pieces of oranges and we were out pretty fast. Left Anna at km 29 as she said she was going to take the descent slow and wasn’t feeling her legs very well for going down on the day. After some words, I went out ahead and caught up with Carlos a short while before The Trail of Ten Volcanoes. He went out ahead again on the flat levada section, but caught him again on the descent just before the aid station at 38km.

Aid station – 38km

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Carlos passed, but I stopped to have some more coke, refill water and a few slices of marmalade. At this point we were well interleaved with runners from the shorter distance run, which was fun too. We caught André Rodrigues around km 40 – he was recovering from injury, treated this race as training and his objective was to treat the last section as a warm down. B*tch of a climb up in what was becoming a real scorcher of a day without much tree cover. I continued to grind and saw Carlos maybe a minute behind.

 Aid station – 44km

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I don’t remember this one very well and think we just went right past it – I thought it was a camp / picnic site at the time 🙂 Only real race feedback I’d have is a very clear sign marking respective aid stations as the public presence at this race was so overwhelming it was quite difficult to differentiate 🙂 Another small climb up here with a pretty steep descent after. Expected Carlos to pass, but he didn’t come and just maintained my rhythm  down to the finish line. Saw Sebastien Nain heading towards the finish as I left the last few bushes – too late to chase 🙂

Finish

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Spectacular ambience at the finish line – loud music, a big crowd, lots of cheering and beer. Loads of beer 🙂 And a local somewhat spicy fish dish. Excellent! Watched Carlos come in and Anna Frost shortly behind. I was quite happy with my official time of 04:34 and 7th place in a very strong field, especially given a fairly controlled race and the 3 ultras in 2 months prior. Rushed for my drop bag, changed to shorts and naturally headed to the beach area a few metres away to freshen the legs and clean up a bit. Had to swim with flip flops due to a very rocky entrance and had to swim out a few times to prevent them arriving at Horta by sea 🙂 Nuno Gonçalves arrived about 40 minutes later and we were back towards Horta on the transfer bus about an hour later.

Everyone cleaned up, we started recovery with ice-cream and then a gin at Peter Cafe Sport (aka “Peter’s”) before a multi-course dinner at the prize giving ceremony a few blocks down towards the end of the marina.

25 May – Pico

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A group of us decided to climb up Pico and agreed to have breakfast a bit later and catch the second morning ferry across – a 20 minute ride. We arranged transport up to the official starting point / “trail” at around 1150m altitude. We had to attend a safety briefing, sign in and agree to a EUR 1200 rescue fee if anything happened to go wrong that day. Small price to pay for such an opportunity for the worst case, so we signed with a smile. The “trail” was mostly a set of beacons one needed to track on the way up – some 45 to the top. It took us about 75 minutes to reach the area just before the peak and we did some further rounds before descending back to the base. Bumped into Sebastien and Anna up top. Took road shoes – they were totally cut up from the rocks on the way down.

26 May – recovery and departure

Most of the arranged flights back to Lisbon and Porto departed late afternoon. We had a flight out to Ponta Delgada where we spent the night, with an early flight out back to Madeira the following day. A very different experience than Faial – noted to go back and explore this island.

I’d definitely recommend this race to anyone geared toward entry / middle distance ultra trails and if you’re based in continental Portugal, DO take advantage of the great charter flights 🙂 The organisation was excellent and the program and logistics around the event was very well structured too. 2015, SIGA!!!

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