The North Face TransGranCanaria 2015: rock and roll
As a first objective for the 2015 season I chose the 125km TransGranCanaria after having participated in the Advanced 83km in 2013 and 2014 perspectively. The build up was pretty much perfect in terms of training, logistics and arriving ahead of time and settling in. I also knew the last 85km fairly well as it was the same course as 2014 Advanced. From here onwards, I learnt 3 things fairly early on:
- The additional 42km and the night makes a lot of difference
- I understood why this particular race has a “SERIES” classification on the World Tour
- This island has a strong capacity to “eat up” participants (and 200+ it did!)
Challenges / variables
As with many mountain ultras, there’s always a large set of variables beyond prior physical and mental preparation. These were:
- An earlier 23:00 start which translated to navigating 8 hours at night VS the usual 00:00 start time with 7 hours of darkness.
- Strong winds predicted during the night, up until the 42km mark at Fontanales.
- A dust cloud during Saturday, which complicates breathing and can also raise temperatures.
- The afternoon is known for soaring temperatures in the thirties without much shade.
- Micro climates – pretty much anything goes and weather forecasts may not be accurate.
- An adjusted course which translated to 127.5km actual distance
- 8666m of positive gain, with around 7000m just up until the 82km mark. That’s 90% of UTMB total elevation gain over a much shorter course.
- A gazillion rocks 🙂
The start – Agaete
Shared a taxi to the buses at Expomeloneras with two Brazilian elites that stayed at the same place, Manu Vilaseca and Chico Santos. The ride was pretty quick and we arrived in Agaete around 21:30 – lots of wind and a much lower temperature than in the south. I went to have coffee and bumped into Nuno Rocha, who I started the race with.
Agaete -> Tamadaba | 9.8km
The challenging climb of 1200m positive gain over 9.5km went very well. I stayed at a reasonable heart rate and didn’t care about placement as it was a convoy of runners up a single track with little margin to pass. Noticed the strong winds as we got to the end of the steep climb. Just grabbed some water and oranges on the way through the food station.
Tamadaba -> Tirma | 18.9km
After a short flat section, we diverted to a forest area during which I started noticing my head lamp changing intensity under the influence of branches and lights of other runners in front and behind me. The dreaded realization that it must be in “Reactive Mode” (adjusts intensity via a light sensor) and not “Constant Lighting” (constant output, drains batteries quicker). I didn’t bother to stop as the trail seemed to not be too technical, yet suddenly I crashed down pretty hard on my left side with trekking poles flying. Rock and roll. Got through the rest of it without further scrathes, but found it difficult to use the left thumb and also had minor lateral movement restriction on the left leg.
Tirma -> Artenara | 33.4km
I continued with this section alongside or just behind Brice Jacquot from Team Hoka, whom I met a few weeks ago in Madeira. I recall a group of 15 runners just rolling along. Fell again somewhere here, but the context is still unknown 🙂 My focus was to get to Artenara, where a friend (Emanuel Freitas) would have some medical kit handy where I could clean my hands. None of that happened and I didn’t spend too much time – opted to stock up on food and liquid instead.
Artenara -> Fontanales | 42.8km
Rolled with a small group and we made our way to Fontanales relatively quickly. I caught up with the Portuguese runner Ester Alves just before the food station, but decided to stay a bit longer and have some salty snacks. This is where the Advanced race started last year. At this point I was with this weird sensation of water staying a very long time in my stomach and usually salt and some sugar helps the absorbtion process along. In theory. I left just ahead of Fernanda Maciel.
Fontenales -> Valleseco | 50.3km
Weird Deja Vu doing this section at night and was pretty much alone, with Fernada a few hundred meters back. Got lost with 2 others for a few minutes before the climb up before Valleseco and wound up doing the last kilometers with Fernanda. She appeared to be having a hard time, being still in recovery from an Aconcagua record attempt a few weeks earlier. Grabbed some liquids and was out.
Valleseco -> Teror | 56.4km
Covered most of this alone, but lost a few minutes again going off track just before the turn into Teror. Manu Vilaseca and Lucinda Sousa screamed with directions as they caught up from behind. I again had assistance from Emanuel, but didn’t take anything special beyond an energy bar with. I now knew controlling hydration was going to be tricky because I still had that “washing machine” sensation in the stomach, some thirst despite drinking a lot and also the sun was rising. And two of the bigger climbs of the day up to Talayón and then again to Garañón to conquer. The things we sign up for …
Teror -> Talayón | 62.8km
I tried to climb at a decent rhythm, but it felt like a crawl and the Portuguese speaking trio of Ester, Lucinda and Manu was always a corner or two in front, but I let them to it as the women were having a great day 🙂 Passed a few others and was happy to arrive at Talayón and help myself to a generous serving of potato chips and more water. I caught up with the Spanish runner Pedro Bianco and talked to him for a bit, having Google translated many of his training articles and tidbits from Facebook. He was having an even worse day at the office and said he came to finish, and would do so walking, if it has to.
Talayón -> Tejeda | 71.2km
I started having big difficulties urinating, despite taking in what I thought was more than enough liquid at the time. This didn’t make for pleasant running. Before the long descent to Tejeda, I caught up with Lucinda Sousa who dropped back from the trio and wasn’t feeling too good. We ran together until Tejeda.
Tejeda -> Garañón | 82km
I stayed a few minutes here to take some more food and liquid in. And eyeballed Roque Nublo as one of the last difficult challenges prior to my drop bag at Garañón and the last marathon to Meloneras. Many runners of the Advanced race started passing. Difficulties with emptying the bladder continued and for a while I was wondering how sensible it would be going up to Garañón, which is 11km without much access for any assistance. I pushed along, climbed slowly and eventually arrived at Garañón feeling semi-trainwrecked. But the kind that probably would pass with some recovery window. After the bag check, I asked if it was possible to speak to a doctor as I was getting worried about not being able to urinate. They checked blood pressure, blood glucose and oxygen levels, which was all reasonable. I had the option to accept “soro” (IV therapy) and being forced to stop, or stick around a while, attempt to rehydrate and then descend at own risk. I stayed 45 minutes, ate well, took a few glasses of water and about 6 black teas with sugar and informed the organisation I’ll continue.
Garañón -> Tunte | 94.5km
After the short yet steep climb to Pico de las Nieves I noticed the big blanket of dust and the rising temperatures on the rocky descent down to Tunte. My main goals here was to try to get to Tunte without sweating too much, which is like asking a baby to never cry. I slowed down further as I thought it was still possible to arrive at the end in under 20 hours without pushing too much.
Tunte -> Arteara | 108.6km
As in 2015, someone was responsible for dropping buckets of water on those willing to accept. Marvelous! I took several cups of water and some fruit in. Also discovered ice amongst the orange pieces and helped myself to a few of them too. I left here walking the small hill unil the road and called my coach to explain what was going on with the hydration situation. He recommended to take it very easy, try to finish, but if it gets worse, to reconsider. The climb out of Tunte went fine and I wanted to finish the 1.5l of water I had with me before the next aid station, 14kms away. The hot as hell dirt roads and zig-zag descent was just as demoralizing as in 2014. Again focussed on getting water and salt right here. The situation didn’t get better, but also didn’t get worse. It was controlled.
Arteara -> Machacadora | 119.5km
The Swedish runner Elov Olsson caught up with me and we decided to roll at a rhythm of 05:30 to 05:00 minutes per km until the end, which meant sub 20 hours and a nice buffer to spare. I started feeling bad again just before Machacadora, slowed down and told him I’ll seen him at the end. Stocked up on a little more water for the 8km stretch to the end. I was very much motivated by a 1L shandy with ice, even though I don’t really like beer very much.
Machacadora -> Meta | 127.5km
About halfway into the river, 19:15 since departing Agaete I saw the familiar frame of Chico Santos in front of me. He wasn’t feeling good and had difficulties in breathing from the dust cloud. As we say in Portuguese, “mais coisa, menos coisa” – at this point, neither time nor placing matters and we did the stretch to the end together, mostly walking and reflecting on the night and day. We crossed the meta in 19:55. Happiness!
I consider this race more difficult than TDS or Madeira Island Ultra Trail and worth every of the 4 UTMB points. It’s fairly early in the season and even with 2 to 3 months of preparation, still very violent right off the bat.
Organisation was excellent as usual. I heard some random complaints about course markings and the food stations, however it’s the same for everyone. Par for the course. It’s an ultra marathon after all and uncertainties are to be expected. It’s how you deal with them that matters most. Rock OR roll!