The race began at Piddledown common just off the drive way to Castle Drogo at the top of the steep Teign valley. The race would take us down to the river where we would then snake through the beautiful wooded hillside in a loop before returning to where the pain began. 7 of the 14 miles have positive ascent and 7 have more descent then ascent. This equated to around 2,400ft of elevation gain for the course. I actually enjoy a hill usually but the length and severity of what we were faced with really took the power from your legs, then your thighs got thrashed on the mad dash down. Unfortunately it takes twice as long to get up them, so the feeling of forever running up hill couldn’t be descended from.
I had this race scheduled months ago but due to the whole tree falling on my leg fiasco I cancelled as I didn’t think I would recover in time. However I managed to start running again, albeit gingerly 2 weeks ago so decided to reenter and run anyway with no expectations. Having said that I also felt good on the start line so thought I would try to hang onto whoever was in the lead for as long as possible. This turned out to be a great tactic until we reached the first hill and the eventual winner Lucy Mcalister stormed on, with two other men in toe and I knew then that they were beyond me. After that realisation I just tried to concentrate on putting in some serious effort and to just assess how I felt. Where the tree landed on me is sore when I run and to a much greater extent when I race, it feels like someone has kneed me really hard in the side of my calf, but I don’t think it limits me much, that came purely from not being in the same class as Lucy and the others.
The whole Fingle woods area is truly stunning, and if you are going to suffer for a few hours blowing out of your arse running up and down hills it does soften the blow substantially when you are surrounded by such natural beauty. I finished in 6th place in 1:54 with the winner finishing 5 minutes ahead of second in 1:43. When considering the less then ideal build up to this race I was happy on reflection of my time. I found my major weakness to be speed. I kept overtaking the guy who finished 5th on the uphills and would always be overtaken on the down and unable to keep pace on the flatter fast sections. So I need to start to incorporate some speed work into my training if I want to compete at these events.
It was a very well organised event. The registration was seamless and the marshals who are so integral to these events were encouraging and ensured I didn’t run down any wrong paths. And for those who like these things the medal was a bespoke little number that is one of the nicest I have seen.
My friend Oli and I are both passionate runners and both of the companies that we work for shut down over the Christmas period. We thought that as we had enforced holiday over this period we should use the time to head to warmer more mountainous climes to get in some quality runs before we began our training plans for our 2017 races. We had a quick think and I suggested Gran Canaria, primarily because I knew it would be warm and I assumed if Transgrancanaria was such a popular ultra, contested by some of the best runners in the world then there must be some epic running to be found.
We stayed in a town called Moya in the north of the island situated in the mountains. We organised an Airbnb and this was the perfect spot to be the base for our trip. We had to hire a car so travelling around the national park would be easier, and it also gave us more flexibility in our route choices. We did four runs whilst we were there and covered around 40 miles and 14,000ft of ascent. As previously stated on the blog I struggled for the last few months of 2016 with shin splints so didn’t enter the holiday at the fitness level I would have liked. I found every run we did challenging but not unmanageable, and really felt like I got some great training in. Living in Devon my experience of running lots of ascent is from Dartmoor and the South West coast path and although you can achieve lots of elevation, (such as the Endurance life marathon that came in at over 4,600ft) it is usually accumulated through lots of undulation. Gran Canaria though was a different beast. The run pictured below had over 2,000ft of ascent in the first two miles, there aren’t many places in the UK where you can replicate that. And we both won our first races of 2017 on the 4th of February so all that running up mountains must have done us some good.
We used the Gran Canaria tour and trail map, including the rambling roger routes to plan and navigate our runs. I would say that being used to OS maps I don’t think it is quite as accurate, and for one of our runs we planned to park near La Culata and follow a narrow ridge path marked on the map up to the highest point on the Island Pico de Las Nieves, but after climbing through sharp bushes and scrambling for 1000ft up the side of the mountain we had to concede there wasn’t a track there and aborted, got back to the car and parked on the other side of the mountain so that we could finally run up Pico de Las Nieves. I have to admit that although getting lost and having your legs scratched to pieces is never fun, when you are on holiday with no time constraints and the day stretched out in front of you to explore and run until your heart is content it is the most enjoyable way to get lost.
To all my non running friends and family, the idea of spending the money to go on holiday to run around in the mountains is absurd. But hopefully if you are reading this blog you too have a love for running and a keen sense of adventure. As a destination Gran Canaria was pretty perfect. The island has lots of opportunities for beautiful challenging runs and also has the infrastructure to make accessing them easy, because it is a popular holiday destination. If you stay away from the main hubs such as Las Palmas and Playa del ingles then you will be amongst the locals and be able to find some great places to replenish your energy of an evening such as Locanda el Roque, where the food and service was amazing and is the perfect antidote to a day running in the mountains.
Overall it was a really relaxed trip that incorporated the perfect amount of physically testing mountain running with the relaxation required to push yourself again on the next run and to also feel re energised for the new year back at work. For anyone wanting a running holiday in the sun during winter I would definitely recommend Gran Canaria and believe you will not be disappointed with the views, and the opportunity to push yourself up some great peaks.
Runs we did and would recommend
Agaete to Mount Tamadaba and back 15mi 4,500ft elevation
Cuevas Caidas up to Roque Nublo and back in a circular route 11mi 3,300ft elevation
Presa de Los Hornas reservoir to Pico de Las Nieves and back in a circular route 7mi 2,000ft ascent
San Pedro to Montana de las Presa and back circular route 10mi 5,000ft elevatio