Weak areas in my running:
- rough terrain
- staying awake for 24 hours
Characteristics of Transgrancanaria
- rough terrain
- staying awake for up to 30 hours
- ascending (positive elevation 8,500m / 27,890 ft)
ANTONIA 0480 - check out the race profile at the bottom of the bib
Transgrancanaria race profile (from website)
Ascending? Did anyone else read that? I like going up hills. Sounds like a good race. In 2014, when Keith Hughes and the gang of Incredibles entered I wasn't tempted in the slightest. Way out of my comfort zone. But then Johnny Fling mentioned the race and practically begged me to come. He's like that; pushy. A race at the beginning of the year sounded good as I was going a bit crazy after having had 2014 off. And by off I mean that I got fat. There was a race in Cornwall but that's a bit dull. Plus, Gran Canaria is easy to get to. Simples decision really.
Upon returning to the nation mid January, there was the small issue of plantar fasciitis. With this on the mend, I had a new visitor in the form of ischial bursitis. This visitor stayed, likely because it tore a bit of bone off. I've always attracted odd sorts. You should see the state of my ex boyfriends.
No one thought it was a good idea to start, including myself. But hey, life's for living, not following an injury intervention plan. So to registration I go, only to have no clue what my number is and to stand in line for an hour. A man in the line next to me pushes in which sets the tone for how European men are going to treat me for the first few hours of the race. Although, just before we start being to kind to the Scottish men, I'll have you know that Paul Giblin made his mum walk for an hour in new sandals to get to registration...
Transgrancanaria race registration
A week before the race, in an attempt to get myself pumped, I bought a new red T-shirt. It was actually orange. Who looks good in orange? Not me. Although initially devastated, I came round to it. Then I'm hit a low blow when I find that the race shirts are also orange. And we've been given black visors. My father has got me a black visor for my birthday (don't panic if you missed it, I accept late gifts and will only hold a slight grudge). Outfit disaster. This race is not meant to be.
Sorting kit in the sunshine
Braving the orange
I bravely decide to run anyway. Heroine. With the race starting at 11pm I have loads of time to sunbathe and drink too much coffee. Drinking three litres of Osmo margarita preload probably wasn't the best idea. Let's just say I spent the day with stomach cramps and a fondness for the bathroom. The instructions may not have said to drink that much. But hey, what you lack in training, make up with preload right? The luggage allowance was tight which means there's only that one outfit option and no stuffing about is required. At about half eight Johnny Fling picks me up and we drive the hour and a half to the start in Agaete.
I worry about my lack of training, the terrain, my injuries and the casual approach that I have taken. The cut offs will be tickling my bottom the whole way. Thankfully David Simpson posted a photo the night previously of himself having some beers. And he was drinking red wine on the plane. Some of us just roll that way.
Pre race lassies
We can hear the start before we see it. A party apparently. There's quite a crowd and we're not sure how to get in. An official gives us a wave and we push through. The announcer is saying something excitedly in Spanish and suddenly there's a load of photographers snapping photos of me. I'm not sure whether to smile or not so just stare in bewilderment unsure how to get to the back of the start line I am now facing. I get a shove from behind and its one the professional female runners. It's her arrival they were announcing. Those poor photographers; they'll be getting the sack now.
I get herded on a path so that I can get to the back. There's a load of commotion as the professional runners all come towards me so they can nip to the front. This would be cool if I knew who they were. I have enough trouble paying attention to my own life, I've no chance of keeping up with anyone else's. There was one fella with chick's hair though. Bet he was jealous of my long braids.
Before I enter the starting pen I have to turn on the red light attached to the rear of my bag. Scott has to do this for his Maraton distance too. When he asks why he needs to turn it on in broad daylight, he's informed that it is in case he falls off a cliff. Comforting.
Then, with a hoot and a cheer, we start. Antonia versus giants with poles. I've been told that there is half a mile of flat, then some wide ascent before a single track ascent. Typically I start slow but I don't want to be stuck behind a bunch of slow folk going up a hill for two hours so I go for it. Most people are doing the same. Most have also got their cheating sticks out already and we've not even started on an incline. The wide track is stressful as we all push to pass each other. It's a relief when the single trail starts and we're stuck in position. The pace is comfortable without being frustrating and other than the occasional stray getting dropped we move up peacefully.
Race start excitement
After about two hours we hit the top and the first checkpoint at Tamadaba, 10km in. Everyone stops and stands by the tables of food. I don't know what I'm doing so just copy. And I take a piece of orange. Because oranges are nice. As I continue through the checkpoint a man with a microphone announces me and wants a quick chat. Who am I to deny a fan? I'm dazed as the experience is a bit surreal and probably shout New Zealand too loudly in the microphone when he asks where I'm from as he doesn't recognise my flag. The rain jacket comes off. It's well warm.
Next we go down a big hill for ages and I spend forever jumping off the trail to let herds of head torches fly by. I'm pleased I can't see the drop off the cliffs otherwise I would have clung to a tree and cried until I could be rescued. One guy skids and slams his head into a boulder. I nip on and off the trail, trying to run bits without holding anyone up. Courteous runner of the year award would go to me. At one point there's a rope to get us down a boulder. I hang on and still manage to scrape down on my arse and lead a line of head torches the wrong way at the bottom.
There's a drink station which confuses me as its not a checkpoint. Then I get a break from the fear of constantly having runners behind me and climb a hill. The view behind is a brilliant string of head torches. I catch Johnny Fling just before the another checkpoint, about six hours in. Six hours? I've barely eaten! I strut through the checkpoint like I own the place... And less confidently back out the other side as I don't know anyone. There are already runners heaving up on the side of the trails. It's going to be a long day and night for some of us.
Where am I?
It's about 5am. The sun will rise at about 7am is my guess. Until then, I step aside when going down the hills and get annoyed when others don't do the same for me going up them. I'll tell you where you can shove those poles. Before Fontanales at the 44km mark I can hear an announcer and loads of cheers. Sounds like a fun place to be. But when I get there, nothing. Turns out the Advanced race (85km) has just started. This is exciting at first as it means I get to pass a few people going down a hill! It's good for the ego. Off come the head torches and we all waddle on.
There are a few sections of short but brutally steep road which at one point I see a man crawling up. He's a no poles man like myself. We're the minority. I'm still out-stomping the pole men though. It's karma for cheating you see. By the next checkpoint I've lost count of where I am. The race profile and checkpoint distances are printed on our race numbers so I hold my arms up and someone points to where we are. Not very far.
I am very hungry. In my bag I've got chews, waffles, gels and dried fruit. I am not only eating too few of them (I won't get any more until my only drop bag 80km in) but there's also not much at the checkpoints. The oranges are the most appetizing due to the heat but my breakfast is well overdue. There are chunks of banana but rather than grabbing five chunks like I should, I have a tendency to just grab one or two. Carrie Craig has thankfully warned me not to take one of the jelly cubes as they are actually meat. This leaves stale bread as the only alternative. I shove a piece in the outside of my pack and spend the next mile dropping crumbs like Hansel and Gretel. Save me. Follow the trail...
Still enjoying this walking / running thing
With a belly full of a whooping two pieces of bread, I head strongly up the next collection of hills. I pass Johnny Fling, who had passed me earlier flying down a hill. The runners in the Advanced race are annoying me now as they are clogging the trail as they struggle up the hills and don't step aside. Some of us have been going for a while now and don't appreciate the extra work having to pass you and your poles. People are surprised at my lack of poles. There are pointing gestures and smiles to indicate this. But I don't need poles. I've got talent instead. Probably in the form of mega thighs and a Beyoncé bottom.
I tackle the switchbacks with a Flemish runner, one of the few runners who speaks to me. Language is quite a barrier with most. With each checkpoint I get more and more confused as to where I am, even though the marshals are very helpful with their pointing to various points on the race profile. It's important to know if there's 7km to the next checkpoint or 15km as that's the difference between 1. 5 hours and three hours.
A cup is part of the compulsory kit. I didn't put too much thought into it and packed Scott and I the only plastic cups we had in the house. They happened to be red plastic cups from my hen do. Complete with attached straws. Yep, straws. And if you are privileged enough to have a straw attached to your cup, one must use that straw. And when the other runners looked at me while I did so I knew it was with a mixture of admiration and jealousy. Class and commitment. When I come in to the checkpoint I take my cup out of my bag and get it filled with cola. Sickly sweet cola full of sugar. Or so I thought. Apparently it was sugar free. Ahhh, what? No wonder I soon start to feel terrible.
I'm a bit off a daydreamer. I seem to have dreamed that I've got about 45km to go. This is a gross misjudgement. I'm hanging on for some decent food. I really need to get a substantial amount of fluid in too. It's now something like midday and although the sun is not beating down due to the clouds it is still very warm. I take my foot off the throttle. I need to slow down. Johnny Fling comes flying by. Only because I slowed down obviously. I see a sign which says 60km to go. Are they having a laugh? My mental breakdown begins.
I stumble into a checkpoint and then sulk up a hill. My Osmo sachets are finished. It's a long race to be self supported and hard to judge supplies when I'm so new to this. My vision is totally shot and I am starting to get really emotional. The scenery is stunning but that just pisses me off. I can't be bothered taking a photo. My lens is covered in sticky cola and chews anyway. Bring on Garanon. I spend the section visualising wobbling over the finish line, bursting into tears and being rushed into an ambulance. Drama queen.
Trekking through the woods
As we reach the top of a hill there is a track that veers right. We'll be taking that soon but first there is a cruel rocky detour to Roque Nublo. On my way up I throw myself at John who is headed down. I waffle something incoherent but my face says it all. I'm in a bad way.
Eventually, although miles too late, Garanon appears. My jog is slow but slow I jog, weaving between the wooden cabins. There's loads of support here, with people screaming out my name as it's written on my number. As I reach the door of the temple that is the checkpoint a man cheers and gives me the thumbs up. I burst into tears. To my right are the drop bags. A man is having his kit checked. I have all my compulsory kit but I can't handle conversation right now and my fine motor skills have gone kaput so I avoid that table. I line up for my pasta and stumble to a camp chair. People and kit are everywhere. No one is in a hurry.
I manage to eat over half my pasta competently before I fall asleep and fall off my chair. I must have slid very delicately off as no one seems to have noticed. I am conscious not to draw any further attention to myself as I don't want anyone questioning my mental state and ability to continue. I lay down on the floor for a quick kip. You can never rule out a sleep with me in a run. I don't have a good record for staying awake.
After a while I decide that it's leave or bust and bust I will not. For some reason it has got suddenly cold. I am worried that it is my body shutting down on me but thankfully others seem to be putting on extra layers too. Antonia! A voice calls from the haze to my right. Incredible; my name is not even showing. It's John's dad, Matt, come to save me from this blurry nightmare I am currently in. Noanie is down at the car park having had word from John that I wasn't looking my usual gorgeous self. I get fed Red Bull, sugared nuts and a banana and once Noanie is happy with the intake I sway on. Once I leave, John's parents finish the Red Bull and get a better buzz than I did. At this point John's parents worry that I won't finish and although Noanie tells them I'll be fine she later confesses that if she had been a marshal as opposed to support she would have pulled me out. The lesson from that story? Always hide from the marshals.
Ascents are good to me. I've got a hill climbers bum. I thank the chocolate. Some say that what goes up must come down. I'd prefer it if what went up got to enjoy the view with a beer and then get a helicopter lift back down. Hey, maybe I could even get a shot at flying. I will be honest and admit that I found the start of this incline rather steep. There may have been some hands on knees action. But don't tell anyone; it'll ruin my reputation. I realise that after 16 hours I've only been to the bathroom once. I may have a dehydration issue.
The descent off the hill is cobbled. Then there's uneven slate. I worry that Scott had to run down this and hope he didn't break anything. I walk down after being denied a marshal's bicycle. The rocks are constantly jabbing into my blisters. I am gobsmacked when I see the 40km to go sign. I've only done 4km since I left Garanon. The trail is not as crammed now and a wee bit lonely as those who pass do so quickly. They want to know what's wrong since I am walking down the hill. My vision is blurry and I fancy a nap but other than that I am ok. They see my blue bib. The bib of the hardcore folk. And they show me some respect. Not by bowing as I would have liked though...
|Cobbles when Scott went down|
And when I went down
And then, emerging in the distance, is a miracle. People. I am catching other people on this treacherous descent. I ask them what is wrong. It turns out that it is a group of four guys leading a blind man with a pole. They are part of the TransAbility race. Massive thumbs up to them. A massive shame on me.
Noanie has arranged for the café at the next checkpoint to make me a coffee. I have it sitting in. She's told them my name and showed them my picture. I am like an international celebrity to them. If you are next in Tunte, ask them about me.
Tunte coffee makes me happy!
Two checkpoints to go! How hard can it be? Something like 31km. Don't work out how many hours that is going to take, that'll be depressing. Walk up hills, jog the flats, quads hurt on the downhills. It's all pretty straightforward. Which is clearly boring.
Sunset is about 7pm so I hit the disaster zone at night. If I'd known the course I would have given all that I had to get past this zone before dark. It's a rockfall descent. Loose rocks. Big rocks. Small rocks. Sharp rocks. Rocks that are laughing at me. They call it scree like it is something fun. It is not fun. There are no reflective strips to mark the way. The first half was very well marked so the guy doing this section clearly preferred the local pub. I'm having trouble with my head torch. It's making everything look white. A runner suggests I hold it. This helps although having one hand engaged does not help when falling on such scree-ful rocks. There are some tears. There is a lot of path guessing. There are some errors made.
I am lost. By myself. In the dark. On the side of a cliff. Surrounded by rocks. After running for about 20 hours. I can see other head torches. They are not near me. I try to get to them but am well off course. I constantly fall on my bum. There are bruises for days to prove it. Hysteria has set in. Do I stay still and hope someone finds me in the morning? It's not cold but I might get quite cold if I stop moving. Do I keep trying to get down? It's likely I'll fall off and break something and not be found until morning. It's an easy story to skim over now but at the time I totally thought I was going to die. Try being rational after that length of time on your feet!
After much howling and calling a group of Italians rescued me. I bawled that I had been trying to get down for hours. They shone their head torches before me and were forever patient as I tripped and nose dove my way down. Without Carlos R and his buddies there is no way I would have finished the race. We walk into the next checkpoint with 17km to go. I am shell shocked. I send Scott a text so that he doesn't panic that I have taken so long on the last section. He says he'll head to the finish line. Not yet! I'm still four hours away from the finish!
Carlos R asks if I want to walk to the next checkpoint with his gang. I very much do so. I cannot function on my own. So we speed walk the next section. Thankfully I started treadmill walking last week. Yes, I looked like a tosser. I struggle to stay awake as I spend two hours staring at the light of my head torch on the back of their legs. I worry we're pushing the 30 hour cut off.
Finally, the homeward stretch. Scott text me to say that the next part is easy to navigate. I could walk and still make the cut off. Phew. We're joined by a Swedish guy who speaks more English so keeps me company until the dry river bed outside Melanores. It is now after midnight and my body decides to get a bleeding nose. How inconvenient. Baby wipes are not as effective as tissues. I hang about, bot wanting anyone to snap a photo of me with blood everywhere.
Whip up some steps and we're on the flat. A cruel wee jaunt along the beach and the homeward stretch. It felt like there were hardly any runners left but I am passing loads as they are walking into the finish.
Scott's beach finish. He had the pleasure of doing the last few miles with a Spanish friend.
Grinding it out along the road
My in-laws have made it to the finish for me and they started on the celebrations early. There is the finishing arch. I've been visualising this for days (literally) and so I just go for it; triple somersault, backwards walkover and a cartwheel to finish it off. The finishing video didn't quite capture it but I definitely remember it.
Finish line! Note the cartwheel.
The next day I find out my time and think that they've got it an hour too quick. It's only when my sister sends me a screenshot of me coming under the finish line (mid-flip obviously) in 25 hours and 50 minutes that I believe it. I was very confused when I looked at the clock when I finished, thinking it said two hours something. Pleased to have finally gone more than 24 hours, even if I still required a nap! With a drop out rate of 43% I am proud to be a finisher.
Mission completed. Tackling a race outside of my comfort zone has been a goal for a while. If you like hiking up hills and tearing down them then this race is for you.
Three days later with the swelling subsided, my two besties plantar fasciitis and ischial bursitis have returned with a vengeance despite not bothering me the slightest in the race. The body huh? It's a confusing thing.
I need to thank my mind, for helping me get through the race after not running for a month and not doing any work on hills. Thanks to my in-laws who ran after me in the days surrounding and let me have the room in the villa which required no stairs after I finished. Thank you to everyone who screamed out ANTONIA in beautiful Spanish accents as I waddled past. Your looks of concern will not be forgotten.