Friday 17 July 2015

Al Andalus Ultimate Trail race 230km - 5 days

After having such a fantastic experience in 2014 I simply had to come back for another run. My only reservation was that I had the Dragon's Back race with only a week between. (300+km with 16000m ascent across the mountains of Wales) After umming and ahhh-ing and thinking it over for about... 5 seconds, I'd made up my mind and there I was on the start list.

The organisation and logistics of the race are fantastic! If you'd like to read more about how the race works then you can jump on the blog I did last year HERE. In summary it's 5 days with days 1, 3 and 5 being 38/39km, day 2 48km and day 4 at 67km. The terrain is a mix of good trail, like dirt roads and some single track and trails through the woods. The area around Alhama de Granada isn't known for being flat but there is nothing resembling rock climbing or the likes! The route markings are incredible and support staff are amazing too. Another thing to mention this is Spain and also summer... this year we experienced the local towns record temperature of 42C (in the shade) A thermometer in the sun near the finish line was showing 53C!

IF YOU JUST WANT TO READ ABOUT THE RACE AND DON'T CARE ABOUT KIT DETAILS ... skip down a little bit to the next image :)

In terms of kit, I should have reread my notes from last year as this would have saved me packing some things. Here's what I took and in ***s are things I would NOT TAKE next time

CAMP stuff

Snugpak sleeping bag (comfort rating 7degrees) never needed to zip it up ***would just take a liner
Thermarest - would be pretty uncomfortable without one!
Inflatable pillow *** could just use backpack for pillow but takes up little space
Towel - Microfibre one - just dried myself in the sun after showering and swimming though
Tooth brush + paste + suncream + aftersun
 Shoes for around camp - some road trainers incase I fancied wearing them *** would take flip flops or smaller shoes
 Shorts, long sleeve Vest and Berghaus jacket for at camp. never used the jacket but had long sleeve on to save being bitten by bugs once or twice

RUN stuff

Blister plasters, adhesive tape - basic first aid things, never had to use any of it.
Elete electrolyte 
Vaseline - Small tin ... Stops things rubbing, worth carrying though I never used it
1 pairs of injinji socks (washed all kit after running so wore exactly same kit each day)
1 pair of run shorts
1 9bar team vest
1 hat about £1 from Teneriefe a couple of weeks ago... broke on day one but pinned it together... you get what you pay for!
1 pair of Berghaus vapour claw Trail shoes - perfect
Salomon Xt wings belt - bottle holder belt with an extra couple of pockets for first aid and camera.
2 x 600ml bottles, usually only had 1 to drink between CP's but used the other for tipping water on myself on longer days - worth considering how long you'll be between cps some people who were slower runners were going through all the water before the cps...
Camera phone for piccies on route also has inbuilt torch for around camp at night
Garmin 310xt gps watch, record the data and keep an eye on things if you want to
Sunglasses - The usual Oakley's

Food wise I took....
3 x Dehydrated meals, the Decathlon ones which were nice enough. Day 1 finishes literally at a bar so I bought food there. Day 5 finishes in town so went to the supermarket. The other days I had this about 3 hours after finishing.
8 x Breakfast 9bars (2 each morning although on Wednesday and Friday I only ate 1)
4 x recovery shake... .Had this soon after finishing 
3 x SIS Go carbohydrate sachets ... handy to carry and mix into water if needed. Used 2 of them during the week one on day 2 and one on day 4
4 x protein recovery bars. had between meals or before bed.

Not really much that I could cut out that I packed. I didn't use the first aid stuff but I wouldn't run without it. If you get something causing a blister  during a stage and don't stop to tape it, a couple hours can soon make your race uncomfortable. Didn't have a mark on my feet at the end. Sleeping bag was too hot to sleep in again. The waist pack was fine for the running, most people had race vests but if I can get away with a small waist pack instead I will. Most people had much more stuff than that (or at least much bigger bags) 
I personally think the less stuff you have to mess with the more simple it is. 

Less decisions = less stress perhaps? Also less stuff is less to organise. I've done a lot of races and multi day runs now and have a pretty good idea what I will use and need. If you're doing your first one you might end up taking a bit of extra stuff. 

Anyway on to day 1!

Day 1
I had run about 50 miles the week after Dragons Back and a bit of cycling and climbing. The legs were feeling ok though I hadn't done anything hard or intense with them so opted for a gentle start on day 1. It felt hotter than the previous year and I remembered feeling a bit hot towards the back end of the first day in 2014. From the start there were 2 guys in the lead and pushing a good pace towards the first hill and the climb up to cp 1 at 11km. Mauri a local runner and Carlos from Brazil. Then myself and a group of 4 or 5 runners a little bit behind. As the climb started to kick in I pulled away from the group aside from Belgian Jochan who passed me and we caught up with Carlos moving into 2nd and 3rd as we climbed toward the first cp. I actually felt like I wasn't working as hard as last year but hit the cp within 60 seconds of my time last year.

The next 10km is generally down hill with a few little climbs here and there and I moved on at a comfortable pace slowly gaining on 2nd. Aside from my hat breaking and trying to tie it together pretty it was all fine and I was happy with the legs as the temperature started to climb. A quick refill cp 2 then off along the undulating road to cp3. I was feeling the heat a lot now and didn't really have any shade or a hat which seemed to make a big difference as I didn't feel quite as hot on the other days. I was glad to refill my water and get a cup of coke at the 3rd cp then it was home straight back to Alhama de Granada where I held a coaching holiday in February so I knew exactly how far it was to the finish. I felt like I was getting cooked and dropped the pace over the last section to arrive in 3rd, very warm but feeling physically great and made the most of the pool and nice food available throughout the afternoon and evening.

My post race routine was basically to get hydrated as soon as possible**
I'd have fluids with some elete water post race for the first 30 mins or so. Whilst I was cooling down. Then a recovery shake and milk where possible.
I'd continue nibbling on watermelon and sipping away at water before having a feed about 90 mins post run and again about 90 mins after that. Basically when I wasn't running I was drinking water, eating and lying in the shade or splashing about in the pool. Generally I was going to bed around midnight when the temps had cooled (hardly) and waking up 30 - 60 mins before the start time... Yes you might say cutting it fine but I was on my holiday and wanted a relaxed week of running :)

**I used no electrolytes on day 1 just to see what would happen and whether they were making a difference. It took me until almost 6 hours after the race to get properly hydrated again. The other days I continued to use Elete water after running in a couple of my drinks until I was hydrated which was generally 2 or 3 hours. In the race I was averaging 800ml per 10km of running and probably drinking about 8 - 10l per day of fluids maybe a bit more

Day 2 
I woke up feeling fresh and ready, basically I would guzzle down about 500ml of water then my 9 bars, clothes on, bag packed, quick mobility routine and on the start line.
For day 2 I was feeling good knowing the legs were ok and that the Dragons Back Race hadn't done any damage. I love the gorge at Alhama de Granada and the route sets off straight though there and out onto some undulating tracks before hitting cp 2 and the start of the single tracks (those on the coaching weeks with me will know what I'm talking about! Awesome trail through there!!) Me and Mauricio the leader were running together for most of this day and we moved through the trails together seeing deer and wild pigs. Just before 40km I found a stream and got myself in there to float around for a few minutes and cool down. 

Mauricio continued on ahead and maintained a lead somewhere around 10 mins I think from memory. The last few miles felt quite comfortable also as we climbed into Jatar and into the camp with the cold stream!! Despite me spending time floating about in 3 or 4 different streams and a trough I still ran quicker than last year. For the evening meal we walked about 500m into town where a local bar had prepared our food. I had plenty and polished off a good amount of leftovers too (thanks guys!) not sure if they were trying to weigh me down or help me out but thanks!!

Day 3
Although the middle day of the week is one of the short ones and relatively quick going it doesn't really feel like half way though when you speak to most runners... For most the main concern is the 'long day' Day 4 which is just over 40 miles 67km. If you can get through the first 3 days feeling reasonable then you can have a good long day and just give whatever you have got left for the final day. I set out at a decent pace but not quite as quick as last year whilst a group of runners set off for a fast start, I left them to it. Generally when I run I ignore any other runners pace and unless it's going to make a difference to the final positioning in the final miles I wouldn't usually alter my pace. As tempting as it was to tear off down the road with them I sat on my comfy pace around 4 mins per km (just under 7min mile pace)

After the initial undulations the route really starts to ascend about 13 km. A pretty good climb over the next 10km passing checkpoint 2 near the top. This section is almost on a plateau and you can maintain a decent pace. I was really feeling the heat again in the sun as there was very little water on the route to cool off with (no streams) but it wasn't long until I reached the 3rd cp and was ready to start descending down towards the finish. The white dirt tracks reflected the heat but descending gave enough breeze to take the edge off through the odd shaded patches. I had a quick dip in a little trough of water not far from the finish then it was into camp and time to relax before the paella dinner! 

There were a few people feeling a bit uneasy about the 'long' day

Day 4

The fourth day is 40 miles and is made up of some undulating single track over the first 10km, a fantastic lakeside trail over the next 10km before hitting a couple of good climbs through the hills and small towns on the way to the 50km checkpoint. From there it's a little bit of undulating on an exposed track before the final cp and descent down into the finish just outside the Alhama Gorge.
I literally rolled on to the start line filling my water bottle up as the countdown struck 0, there had been an earlier start group (30mins before) and I woke up hearing their countdown. A group of 3 set off at the front with a small gap to me and then quite a large gap to the rest of the field as we twisted around the hills, we spread out more and more and it wasn't long before I could see nobody infront or behind. Just before cp1 I began passing runners from the earlier start group and before I knew it I was heading along the lake. Pretty shaded and good trail though I didn't feel like I was moving that fast I was running well and seemed to get stronger and stronger as the day went on.

After the 2nd checkpoint on the dam there is a decent climb and a few undulations on the way to the 3rd cp. Progress was good and I remembered the next section down into the 40km checkpoint being quite good running. I was getting pretty warm by now and made some good pace and must have been fairly close to my time from last year. There is a river crossing at 43km which I didn't take advantage of... this year I lay there and drifted about for a few moments... It felt great and over the next climb I felt pretty fresh and reached the cp comfortably. Topped up the bottles and headed off for the final cp having done most of the ascent and ready to enjoy the downhill (ish) finish. This section for me last year was probably the hardest of the whole event as I got caught in the heat and guzzled through my water in no time. This year it wasn't quite so bad and there was an intermediate water point along with Graeme and Orla out on route. Soon enough I hit the final cp and descended well on the good tracks to the finish (there's a little bit of a hill sneaked in at the end there which caught me out last year) I arrived in not too far off last years time which I was happy with! There was time to chill out in the shade for a bit before heading to the local pool and restaurant (about 1km away) where we all caught up and relaxed before dinner before our final day! 

Day 5
It was a little sad that today would be our last day of the race. I was enjoying the trails and the sunshine but most importantly the atmosphere and being part of such an enthusiastic group that were all keen and motivated (well mostly, even if there were a few sets of achy legs ;) ) to get it done! The route for day 5 is fairly good going with a couple of climbs, though nothing too epic. The gap between myself and the front two runners and the 4th runner on the overall standings meant that in reality positions were unlikely to change unless there was some sort of incident. I took my time on the last day and ran a slightly more relaxed pace and tried to chat to all the earlier runners that I passed by. Everyone seemed in good spirits and the guys at the checkpoints were as always, super supportive! 

After reaching the final cp it's majority downhill and I managed to pass the final couple of guys who'd taken the earlier start times and rolled over the finish line in 3rd overall a total time of 21  hours 21 mins for the 230km. What a week! 

Although about an hour slower than last year overall (most of that on day 1) I had a fantastic run! I had a slightly more relaxed approach than last year as I was expecting to have felt some effects of the Dragon's Back still. I don't usually like to go back to the long races for a second time but this is definitely a race I'd make an exception for! Whether you really want to push yourself to the limit and run it as fast as you can or whether simply dragging yourself over the finish line would be a dream for you this race is definitely worth a look! You'll be well looked after and gain an experience of a lifetime! There's a strong possibility I'll be back next year! I like the area so much I held a trail run coaching holiday there in February! If you'd like to get some more details on the next one just jump on my coaching site 

Huge thanks to everyone involved with organising the event and looking after us for the week! Also a big well done to everyone who signed up and took part! I know there were some amazing shows of determination and strength through the field! Same time next year?


  1. Hi Charlie

    Great race report! Found the race kit, nutrition and hydration info really interesting, as well as the post race routine which is often under-emphasised.

  2. Great report, informative as ever.Well done on 3rd.

  3. Great! Hated that windy concrete road down into Loja last year, especially as my knees had given out. :-)