Running Transgrancanaria Marathon
I completed my first trail marathon last Saturday – the Transgrancanaria marathon, Spain. It was an awesome yet very tough mountain marathon!About Transgrancanaria Marathon
The race is a trail marathon which, with c.1200m ascent, c.2700m descent, and being measured at 45.4km (over 28 miles), is touching on being an ultra-marathon (although not in the context of the two ‘actual’ ultras running the same weekend – the 83km and the headline 125km – a beast of a run, from all accounts I have heard and read).
Preparation for Transgrancanaria
I arrived in Gran Canaria with no preconception of how well I would do, let alone knowing whether I would be physically capable of finishing. This was mainly based on having never run further than 28km before. The last time I ran up to c.28km was the Dorset coast path trail marathon, which I dropped out of in early December.
Ideally I would have done this in the months building up to the marathon, but this never happened due to (a) me disliking running in the cold and wet, which meant most of November/December/January being low mileage months, and (b) being away for two key weeks at the end of Jan/early Feb with limited running potential. Lesson learned: think about when you will realistically fit in training before signing up to a bit early-season (i.e. March) event. What I did do, however, in those winter months, was a fair amount of strength training, particularly core/lunges/squats. This gave me more leg strength and has, so far, prevented ITB niggles (stronger glutes!).
Ali and I stayed in Meloneras, which was convenient as it was only a 10 minute walk to the race expo for check-in and for getting the race bus up to the start line on the Saturday morning.
The Expo included stalls where runners could buy last minute kit, branded Transgrancanaria T-shirts and collect information on other races in the Canary Islands and further afield. We checked in on the Thursday night and had to queue for about half an hour. We did, however, get to see some of the pro athletes being announced, including Anton Krupicka and the awesome Nuria Picas – and, other than check-in being slow, the event seemed very well organised and managed.
One point for future reference (which was unclear to us but may be normal for other similar events) is to bring bag drop contents with you to leave at check-in. Ali and I made a big mistake in assuming we could drop it off on the morning of the race. We arrived for the 8am bus to the start line with drop bags in hand (containing jumpers, snacks and flip-flops), only to find that we should have dropped them off the previous night and there was nowhere to leave them. We very nearly carried all that stuff (at least the clothing) with us on the marathon, but Ali gambled on the bus being late and having enough time to run back to the hotel to drop the bags off there. Luckily, they needed several buses to transport everyone and so he was back just in time for the second bus’s arrival. What’s an extra 2km when you’re about to run a marathon?
Race day – my Transgrancanaria experience
The bus took a surprisingly long time, 1h30, to get to the race start in Garanon, so when we got there we only had about 20 minutes to use the loo and warm up before the start. We ended up quite far back in the start pen, but weren’t that bothered as there was a whole marathon to make up any time…
The atmosphere was party central, with banging music and a big crowd to see us off – the prevailing shout being ‘ANIMO’! Straight after the start was the first climb, c.250 metres up to the highest point on the island, Pico des Nieves. This meant that, as we were near the back, we had around 20 minutes of pretty-much standstill until I could get moving very far up the hill. In hindsight I would have started further forward as this bottleneck was rather frustrating when I knew I would have slower sections and could have done with going my pace in the first 10k segment without too many long waits.
My race plan
I had broken the race down into 4 segments (i.e. between the three water stops) which were roughly 14k, 14k, 10k, and 9k (Ali’s GPS said 47k (29 miles) not 45.4k by the end). I knew the second section was going to be toughest, as it had around 500m of climbing and ended with what looked like on the profile to be a very steep descent, so I was keen to get section 1 under my belt with minimal effort to save energy for later in the race. I knew deep down that if I could get to the second checkpoint at Arteara in one piece then there was no reason why I would not finish the race. I set no time target, though the facts were:
- last year’s average time was around 7hrs
- this year’s race was a few kms longer than 2014
- I had definitely done a ‘less than average’ amount of training and never run that far… but
- on the plus side, I was going into this in good physical health i.e. no niggling injuries
So I figured around 8 hours would probably see me finish – and definitely before sunset (at 7.20pm).
Section 1, after the first climb, was my favourite part of the race, lovely single-track through the forest, before descending what is apparently called the ‘quad-breaker’, a steep cobbled series of switchbacks.
Section 2 lived up to my expectations – it was tough, and got so much tougher at about 24km where the trail was steep scree and boulder-filled switchbacks down the side of the mountain. As Lucja Leonard (who finished the full 125km ultra!) put it, “Imagine scree but rocks the size of grapefruits, and tonnes of it, on a hill that is so steep you have to lean backwards to stop from tumbling off”! It was a nightmare – descending on scree is not something I am good at, and this 2.5km section took me about an hour to get down in one piece, especially as I kept stopping to let others go past, including many people running the 83km race. I was slow, but got down it in one piece (thank you, Mountain King trail blaze poles) and avoided any thoughts on how my quads were feeling at that point. No pictures of this as I was too busy trying not to fall off the edge!
A quick refill on bananas and water at the Arteara water station and I set off on the third section. This was pretty uneventful and getting less scenic as it went on, and I had lost sight of most of the people I had been with for the first half of the race, as I had been so slow on the scree and they had moved ahead. This was the first time I had really felt hot during the race, and I was a bit thrown by my Garmin battery dying at 32km – I had been hoping it would last the race, so I could use it to time run-walking in the later, flatter miles.
The home stretch
I was feeling pretty good by the last water station. At that point I knew that I would finish – but equally part of me was a little concerned that part of my body (a muscle, stomach issue, etc) was going to misbehave and let me down before I could get to the end… so I took it easy on the last few miles. Actually, I didn’t much enjoy the 2-3 miles of water drainage ditch into Maspalomas – it seemed to be never-ending and was difficult to run on with my tired legs, as the rocky bottom was uneven – and I missed being able to watch the distance clock up on my Garmin… but eventually I was on the home strait, into Maspalomas, on the beach and then back to the Expo to finish, with Ali keeping me motivated and running for the last 1km; I was delighted to finish comfortably, happy, tired yet injury-free.
It took me 8h41, which was 623 out of around 746 starters – over 9% of which did not finish. This was pretty much where I expected to end up in relation to the rest of the runners – probably a little slower than planned as I reckon I lost at least a half hour on the scree and another 15-20 minutes at the start – but for my first super-hard trail marathon I was happy to finish in one piece before the sun set!
For 70 Euros the race entry was excellent value, covering well stocked aid stations (water, electrolyte drink, fruit, crisps, sweets, cheese, sausage and coke), the goodies listed below, plus two meals – a ‘finisher’ meal and a post-race meal on the Sunday.
We were impressed with the goodies that came with our entry. The race is sponsored by The North Face and Buff and we were given orange technical T-shirts, a Buff and vizor and an Overstim bottle at check-in, and a zip-up North Face waterproof vest on finishing (khaki green for men, bright blue for women). When I signed up online and was asked my T-shirt size, it was not clear whether it was a unisex size or womens’ size – so, fed up of receiving massive ‘small mens’ T-shirts at races, I selected XS… and ended up with some very small tops. Fortunately I was able to swap the T-shirt for a Small, but sadly not my finishers zip-up jacket. Less cake for me for a few months so I can try and fit into it…
Both Ali and I loved this race – everything from the atmosphere (there were people cheering at all the populated points along the route, including a good crowd at the finish), fabulous mountain terrain and views, and weather (around 24 degrees and dry) to how we felt on the day, was perfect. As my first marathon it will always be a special one for me, and I would highly recommend it to others looking for a tough trail marathon abroad.
Kit I wore for Transgrancanaria Marathon
I was delighted with all the kit I took on this race – key items worn:
- The North Face better than naked shorts, t-shirt and visor
- Ultimate Direction womens’ race vesta and body bottles
- Asics gel-Fuji trainer 3 – very comfortable, lightweight and good on hard and soft ground
- Mountain King trail blaze carbon folding poles – a must have for this race
- Buffera Buff with UV protection
- Garmin forerunner 410 – battery lasted just over 6 hours
- Balega socks
High 5 gels were all tasty and the Banana Boat factor 50 sport suncream stopped me burning and did not run into my eyes – highly recommended.