Thursday, 17 July 2014

AAUT part 2

PART 1 was more information about the race and the kit I used, this is PART 2... More along the lines of my account of the whole experience (which was fantastic!)

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Stage 1 : Loja to Alhama de Granada, 39km

Total Ascent : 1330 m / Total Descent : 976 m
3 hours 27 min

WE all gathered around for the 9.45 start on the Monday morning literally outside the hotel. The daily routine of waking up 7- 8 ish eating a couple of breakfast 9bars and guzzling down a litre or so of water began. I didn't really have any kit to sort out, literally a case of get dressed in the usual running attire, fill the water bottles up and slap a bit of sun cream on. Easy!

For the first 3 days we all started at the same time (9 am on day 2 and 3) and for day 4 and 5 there was an earlier start group at 8.30 and the remaining faster runners at 9.

A group photo on the line before the big countdown and we were off... following 2 Police motorbikes... not sure how fast they were expecting us to set off but we kept up. My main plan was just to ignore the pace of other runners and just do my own thing.... there were 5 days of running after all, it didn't make any sense to me to be battling over a minute or two here and there and I just went on enjoying the route. The first 11km is a steady climb before CP 1 and myself, Sonia and Franck moved on ahead of the pack, by now the only clouds we saw all week had cleared and it was HOT!

10km day 1 looking back at Sonia and Franck

 There was a long steady track downhill after the cp and I moved on ahead, Sonia caught up at a gate that was tied shut and we ran together to the next CP enjoying a chat and passing through the early miles at a good pace. After the cp Sonia edged ahead and we continued on following the markings and weaving along the tracks. The scenery was fantastic and before I had finished gazing around the mountains in view I was running into CP 3. I grabbed a bit more water here and had a quick chat before running on, I was a bit too quick to get a cold towel but was feeling fine at a steady pace, just starting to get hot. Next was a gradual descent and suddenly we turned to approach the town and the final km into the finish of day 1 where a refreshment table, bar and pool awaited.

Paul had a good vantage point for day 1 finish

Typically at the finish this was my routine....
Finish: I'd get a cold towel and start replacing fluids for the first approx 30 mins
+ 30 mins a recovery shake
+35 mins a shower/ bath/ swim
+ 45 mins Continuing to drink and eat juicy stuff like watermelon and bananas still using elete electrolyte too. + 90 mins Continuing to drink I'd have a dehydrated meal + chill out in the shade for a bit.
+150 mins A recovery protein bar and some salty crisps
+180 mins By now hydrated drinking as usual and would continue to eat as I felt hungry.

The thing about stage racing is that the faster runners (quite possibly are better trained and recover quick) are finished sooner giving them more recovery time than someone who has been out for longer and perhaps isn't as conditioned to the distances. I think it's phenomenal achievement no matter how you finish such a race...

In 2010 The Gobi Challenge was my first race (similar 140 miles in 6 days except across a desert and carrying all gear) I didn't have the fitness to run it all (not even close) but that wasn't my intention, I wanted a once in a lifetime adventure/ challenge which at the time it was! With the right mindset I could complete it, just by keeping going. I had less recovery time than the ones at the front and carried more stuff, spent longer in the heat and did get achy legs and tired feet, but I made it to the end! AAUT is a tough event and might seem light-years away to some aspiring runners right now, I think that depends how you want to do it, how much you want it and what kind of experience you'd like to get. Definitely there is no need to be elite level and run every step, but if you're planning to hike it and do bits of running now and then (like I did in Gobi Challenge) be prepared for the longer days out on the trail.

Each evening there was a briefing for the following stage giving a detailed overview of where the cps would be and how many mountains there would be etc and dinner provided along with prize giving for the stage winners (which turned out to be myself and Sonia each day)

The tents had been set up in a large sports hall for the night, very warm. Easy peasy, ready for .....

Stage 2 : Alhama de Granada to Játar, 48km

Total Ascent : 1640 m / Total Descent : 1500 m

4 hours 37 min

Alhama gorge. Stunning!

Stage two was fantastic running! Starting with a run through the gorge which was shaded and really nice to visit, before some easy tracks to cp 1. There were fantastic views into the mountains ahead and after a couple of km on trails we diverted on the road briefly up to cp 2 where I was treated to a cold towel to cool down before an awesome bit of running into the mountains on perfect single track!

Into the mountains day 2. My favourite!

 If only the whole route was like this, temperature was starting to rise and the sections on white sandy rock reflected the heat back at you. A couple of small streams to cool off in before climbing up further into the trees ready for a long gradual trail descending to cp 3 at 35 km.

You can make out the long descending track

After this about 6km on was a ford so water up to the knees which felt awesome in the heat, a good splash about in there next to the final cp where I had a cup of cola before hitting the road and ascending over two small hills on the way up to Jatar which we ran through and about 500m further to our overnight camp which had an awesome stream running through it which some of us lay in to cool off.

How we cool it down!

The finish refreshment table and awesome crew!

After that it was time to start the recovery process once again and do some clapping for some fantastic performances that day although day 2 seemed to catch a few people out. Stage briefing for tomorrow indicated the 'easy' day basically flat and short apparently, not everyone seemed to agree with that ;)

Day 2 camp terrace

Dinner was in town a couple of mins walk away and after my own pizza and chips I managed to help out a few others with their's... followed by some rice pudding for afters. Yum Yum.

Stage 3: Játar to Jayena, 39km

Total Ascent : 980 m / Total Descent : 1035 m

3 hour 14 min

Typical start

Day 3 is on paper quite easy although for most the two previous days have given the legs something to worry about by now and so whilst being quite an easy day, still needs some effort to get round. The day begins with just under 11km on the road to cp1, before a gradual climb to cp 2. I had chewed through the early miles quite easily and hit 14km in 1 hour as I glanced at the Garmin, this felt good to know as I jogged up the hill and reached the cp in what felt like no time. A brief hello before carrying on back into a more shaded section through the woods on good trail before another small climb which I can't remember much about. 

Looking back at cp 3

After that it was basically 10km downhill to the finish including a short single track section a mile from the end, I turned a corner and saw Paul the organiser who was just finishing marking the route out.... I passed him as he frantically dashed to get his vehicle and just kept following the track down to a dirt road... With no idea where to go I looked around for a moment before randomly picking the road to the left and then hit yet another junction which left me completely confused I stopped and could see Paul coming in the distance so after a couple of moments he passed and I followed him into the camp, that was the only problem I had route marking wise... partly my fault for running too fast perhaps ;) Sonia was in not too long after along with the rest of the field throughout the next couple of hours. A fantastic camp once again with stone picnic benches that made great sun loungers combined with a Thermarest, and also a nice river to lie in and cool off. Same recovery process which was becoming routine and the fantastic crew were always on hand to help out. 

With tonight's camp being slightly out of town a local restaurant made a huge amount of Paella for us and it was brought to camp for all to enjoy. I waited until later to go to bed tonight after dark sometime when the temps had dropped and was able to get straight to sleep unlike previous nights where I was lying uncomfortable due to the warmth still. Good plan and also got to see the stars and some nocturnal wildlife rustling around camp, rumour has it there is now a fox that also has it's own Salomon waist pack which was left outside with food in it! 

Stage 4: Jayena to Alhama de Granada, 67km

Total Ascent : 2031 m / Total Descent : 2083 m

6 hour 4 min
Day four was the 'long one' I'd been looking forwards to something a bit longer and especially after hearing of the scenery and the big lake we got to run along. A really nice start with a gentle climb and a long winding descent to cp 1. Shortly later we hit a road before picking up the lakeside track through the trees all the way along the lake, the fantastic clear blue waters looked very inviting but I didn't want to hang around today. 

At the far end of the lake was the next cp which was full of energy and smiley crew, as much as I would have liked to stay and chat I moved along and up over the next bit of a climb that weaved along to cp 3 about 30km. I think I had a cup of coke here before running on and enjoying a long 10km descent to a small town and around about 40km where cold towels and icy water awaited, the only problem with being at the front is that sometimes you catch the crew by surprise but they were fantastic and within a moment water was topped up and I was on my way to a river crossing. 

I was quite surprised how powerful it was as I jogged through, after 3 or 4 steps I decided I was going for a dip to make the most of it which felt fantastic. Now for a quick few mins on the road and a long steady ascent to cp number .... ermm 5 I think? That section seemed to take a while but we did gain a few 100 m of elevation. Just some water, a cold towel here and off I went. The next section was exposed and followed a track, ever so gradually climbing for what seemed like a long time, I was feeling pretty hot along here so backed off the pace and kept dribbling water onto myself, next the cp crew passed me and I would find them about 1km further on making a rather rapid set up job to get ready for us coming through. 


I stayed a bit longer than normal here (probably 3 or 4 mins) to cool off a little and get a cup of coke and some ice in my water. Sonia was coming into the cp just as I was leaving as I'd been lingering around a bit so I put a bit of effort in on the downhill and managed to build the gap back to 5 mins in the last 7 or 8 km to the finish. As I was descending I could see the town we would finish in and a glance at the watch looked like I would be well within the 6 hour 1 minute course record until suddenly the markings turned left back uphill! Not a particularly big hill but just enough, a tricky descent down to a road crossing and a bridge before the final 400m of single track into the finish, another picturesque campsite! 

67km no worries on day 4

one of the pools we finished at

Tonight's dinner and swimming pool was about 15 mins walk away from camp so runners were being ferried across in cars to enjoy the sun and the refreshingly cool pool. A great dinner and really really good food, only the biggest piece of chicken I've had at a restaurant was accompanied by a tiny portion of chips. In hindsight I didn't get enough food in this evening at the meal compared to other nights, usual recovery process went on though. A few of the runners were looking a bit tired by now but it was great to spend yet another evening with such fantastic company!  

The day being a longer one led to some quite late finishes so once ferried back to camp most went straight to bed ready for the final day! 

Stage 5: Alhama de Granada to Loja, 37km

Total Ascent : 1120 m / Total Descent : 1500 m

3 hour 8 min

The first group starting final day!

I was up pretty early (7ish) and had a wander round camp before the usual breakfast of 2 Breakfast 9bars and a litre of water but somehow I forgot to eat the 2nd. I found it in my pocket after the stage. It felt like I was putting a little more effort in to run the uphills at a good pace although looking back at the garmin data I don't think I was running any slower than the previous days. There had been a staggered start with a group setting off 30 mins sooner today so it was nice to see other runners out on the route and say a quick hello to each of them as we all edged closer to the finish. By cp1 I'd just passed all the earlier starting runners and was enjoying the views as we weaved our way around the hillside. The second cp was equipped with coke so I had a cup and enjoyed the long descent over to the final cp, THE FINAL CP of the entire week! I stayed a couple of mins whilst cooling off with a cold towel and had a look back along the valley to see if I was being followed before heading off on a fast section of the route down through a small town. There was a small hill in front I walked along looking around and taking it all in for a few moments before the last 5km down into Loja. We crossed under the main road to find a 2km to go marker and then out popped 2 police motorbikes to escort me in to the finish outside Manzanil.... and there I was Winner of Al Andalus Ultimate Trail 2014 230km in a time of 20 hours 32 minutes...

Paul and myself and a smiley Holly and Sam in the background!

First and 2nd! First female Sonia a fantastic runner!

What a fantastic week. Nothing but great things to say about the organisation, the crew, the route, the area, all the other competitors. It was awesome to share the week with you all and some really inspirational performances at all kinds of levels. The fact that people just keep on going back to the race shows how good it is. If you like trail running, want to meet some fantastic people and have an experience of a lifetime you definitely want to check this race out! Tim Harman sorted out the official photos and was always cheery out on course! Thanks Tim!

The prize haul! Done pretty well there!
After all that just a big thanks to everyone involved with running and running the event! Can't think how to improve that week except maybe some more hills and technical single track , I'm sure everyone would be in agreement there too... no? Just me then!