Tuesday 10 January 2012

Ultima Frontera 160km, Spain Oct/2011

Where to begin!? Well I first heard of the race early in the year, stumbled across the website, only later during the year I decided to enter, yep why not?! The pictures of the area looked great and I hadn't been abroad during the year yet, so made it my holiday. It was organised by Paul Bateson and I thought he and his team did great and would love to go back to do the event again! The event came in 3 flavours a 50km, an 80km and a 160km (2 laps of the 80km course totalling just shy of 5000m ascent)

Friday morning I bumped into Richard Weremiuk (fairly easy to spot a runner in those 'big toning shoes' in an airport it seems?) behind Beyond Marathon at the airport and we grabbed an average tasting breakfast! Although for airport standards it was a culinary delight! Nothing to eventful then until arriving at Malaga airport in Spain where we met Annie Garcia (aka Anniegizer ihavetoooomuchenergyfornormalsports Garcia ) and got our ride up to Loja with Antonio, nestled away in the hills. The afternoon we spent eating double meals and taking it easy around our hotels saving the much needed energy.
In the evening I ventured down to the race HQ, a large sports hall and collected my number and had some more food  before getting an early night!

This was the 3rd time I ran 100miles during 2011, it was the course with the most elevation (about 5000m) but I found it the easiest, partly because I had imagined it to be incredibly tough, therefore was pleasantly surprised and partly because I had researched the course as much as possible and trained specifically as possible.

During september I found a few races between the 40mile and 60mile distance in the Peak District, including Bullock Smithy and HP 40 and used them as a hilly long run doing 1 each weekend. I aimed at what felt like a relaxed pace and cruised around them to attempt to replicate the pace i planned to complete UF160. Bullock Smithy being a 56mile event starting just south of Stockport and also finishing there. I did manage to get lost a few times and took a pack big enough to do the Gobi Challenge, but rolled around in 11hours 14min  in 10th position. This had roughly half the elevation of UF, and with 14 LDWA style checkpoints was never going to be fast (is it possible not to stop for a hot soup in a barn in the middle of knowwhere? or a stone cottage, with a strong smell of gas, midway down a muddy descent, for some cake?
Anyhow so based on that, I figured I could happily complete UF160 in under 24hours.

On race morning myself and Mike Papageorge (a great guy he was really helpful and also 3rd place in the 50km!) headed down from our hotel to the race HQ. Everyone busily attending to their gear and packing kit and drop bags. I chose to run with my Salomon bottle belt style thing until the drop bag point where I would collect my 3L backpack with night gear in @48km (and run with both from there).

There was a bit of confusion at the start although all was under control, we all walked about 1km back up into the town for a 'more scenic' start. There was around 100 runners between the 3races all following the same route until CP 2 @35.5km where the 50k runners headed S whilst the rest of us head N. We started shortly after 09.30 running on the narrow streets for around 1km before getting out of town onto a trail heading over into the hills. It was hard to tell which runners were doing which race, though it didn't really matter to me I set out trying to just run with how I felt. It was warming up and after a couple of k's climbing quite steadily (first 20k was largely uphill)  the runners began to spread out a little. I had been passing people during the climb having started somewhere I guess around the back quarter of people.


The course was pretty good underfoot for most of the time, I chose my trusty Saucony Triumph 7s (a neutral road shoe), we weaved mainly on mountain tracks with some sections on surfaced roads too. I caught up to a runner Chris Goodacre, who won the 50km and we ran together on a gradual climb to CP2 where he was to turn off heading 15km back to Loja, I continued with 45km to go before I would hit Loja marking my halfway point. I hit 42km marathon distance in about 4hours 40mins. I steadily past a few more people before reaching a loop where we descended into Montefrio CP3 48km where drop bags would await us. I arrived here in less than 5hours 30mins from the start, about 90mins ahead of schedule, not having paid much attention to my Garmin watch until here. I had left my night gear here expecting to be about an hour or 2 before nightfall, which now would turn out to be nearly 4hours before dark. A minor thing but it meant carrying the extra bag for about 35km before I would need it! I restocked my waist pack with a couple more Zipvit bars and continued on, not the fastest of CP stops.

There was 18km until the next CP which seemed to take a while but a nice single track trail took my mind off it and kept me entertained and it was trending downhill. I didn't see many people here it was relatively straight forward apart from one section where I knew a right turn was approaching, there was some paint on the road pointing down a track that had been spray painted over in a very similar colour to that we had been following.... Had someone local been having a joke trying to redirect us for a laugh? I spent about 5mins looking around but decided to carry on for a couple of minutes which paid off! About 1 minute later there was a bit of spray paint for our route, so I was safely on course! Shortly after I saw one of the organisation team driving past with a quick wave. I crossed the road and continued on track into some sort of tree plantation which looked like something from the Wizard of Oz! A quick step over a ford via some stepping stones with feet still dry! It was a straight flat road for a few km until the small town Huetor Tajar with the 67km CP (last one of the first lap). Quite swiftly through the CP and moving well I hit the last 200m climb of the first lap and my body started to feel heavy and slow. I found it quite amusing how everything began to ache all of a sudden with no particular cause, I checked the watch looking good to complete the first 80km lap in ABOUT 8hours 40min. Also still daylight meaning I could have left my backpack at the halfway point (also the start) and saved carrying it for 4 hours, I wasn't complaining seeing as I was feeling good and running well within my 12hour first lap expectation.

A quick bite to eat as I organised my gear and found my bag in the huge sports hall. I guess 10mins passed at the CP. I set off feeling good again, the brieft tired spell passed as quickly as it came, though at the time i forgot about it. Climbing to the first CP was great, a nice sunset and a relaxed pace, I began to think. My pace was slowing, I felt good but I was becoming lazy?! I knew to get a sub 24hour time I could take it easy (15hours to do another 50miles?! Nearly half the speed of my first lap I thought) . I had a bit of a discussion with myself and as a result decided that I could try sub 20hours leaving me about 11 hours for the last 50miles which sounded a bit more challenging but also very realistic!

It began to go dark somewhere around ermmm.... 95km. I got the headtorch on but didn't really feel it necessary to put any extra layers on and stuck with the shorts and a Tshirt. There began to be a bit of light rain nothing much but enough to dampen the ground. I think this was the first rain of the season? I couldn't really be bothered putting a jacket on as I would have been too warm.

 Just as i got to the 100km checkpoint 2 other runners were heading down the route having just left. I was swiftly through the CP grabbed a bit more water, passing one of the runners who was sorting something in his pack and catching the other a few minutes later. It was Richard Webster, who I met briefly the day before at the hotel. He has an impressive CV of races and i look forward to running with him again soon! We ran and chatted along a steady section along a surfaced road for a few kms which was a great break from not seeing anybody aside from the wonderful CP staff for a long time. Just before the next climb I pressed on ahead and reached the next turn off feeling great. I remembered the route from the first lap and I was anticipating the left turn in the next few mins which in reality was actually closer to 25mins! It hadn't seemed far on the first lap and I kept stopping to check I hadn't missed it! Eventualy it arrived and I followed the track. With it being dark it became hard to judge the gradient and although I ran this section on the first lap I was cautious not to push too hard. A couple of cars emerged in the distance coming down the track, you can only imagine what they thought. Someone running up the trail into the back of beyond, I stepped off the track for them to pass and spent a moment choking on the dust. Heading into the darkness I suddenly came across the CP where I had a quick glass of coke and a handful of JBs before continuing the 7k climb. Just near the top I noticed a sign reflecting off my torch in the distance, as I approached there was something in Spanish with a picture of a scary looking pig and then as if by magic an intense rustling in the nearby bush started, I continued very swiftly to the next CP (back in Montefrio 128km and drop bag location) arriving here after about 14hours running. I was quite quick here and turned down the offer of some hot food, by the time I would eat it and have it warmed it could have been a 20min stop (thinking back to Bullock Smithy)!

Out of the CP a short uphill section then onto the single track which was now sticky with the rain, as I ran the soil would build up under my feet for about 5 steps then flick off in big clods throwing me totally off balance. This got old pretty quickly and slowed me down quite significantly over the however many kms it was (about 5km perhaps) didn't really see much to note for a while until back to the stepping stones where the river had risen slightly covering the stepping stones! I sacrificed the right foot and hopped across (literally) I popped the headphones in and picked up the pace a bit for the 4km to the CP and ran it under 21mins.

Paul was here we had a quick chat for a couple of mins and I departed, My time now looking more towards 18 hours 30mins so that became my new target! The last climb was just as I remembered it and I slithered along at a medium pace. Before the end there was another sticky mud section only for about 5-10 mins this time which was annoying and difficult to run, very much what I imagine those ridiculous toning shoes you see advertised in the gym would be like!

I began the gradual descent back into the lights of Loja knowing I was within a few ks of the finish I got a bit keen and ran pretty fast down through the town passing a runner about 1-2km away from the end to arrive 10mins ahead  in 18hours 13mins around 3am. This gave me a top 5 position which I was very surprised about, having considered myself relatively inexperienced at that kind of distance compared to some of the other runners, though I don't tend to worry about other runners and focus on challenging myself.

After finishing I stayed awake the rest of the night waiting for Annie and friends to finish. She arrived in under 24hours around 8am if I remember correctly, but I used the time inbetween to eat as much food as I could get within reach! Annie being 2nd female after an impressive year of some incredible ultras

The expected time I had and my actual time were greatly different but in a good way at least. I recognise that by having a time in my head not challenging enough I became lazy and had to alter my goal to combat this.

I ran with 2x600ml bottles and estimate that I drank between 6-7L with no energy powders added only the occasional nuun tablet.
Foodwise i had 200g of JBs
A couple of cokes
4-5 Bananas
A handful of crisps at most CPS
1 small muffin and 2 dates
2 oranges (just seemed refreshing?)
and about 4 zipvit bars

Major balls ups on my part... predicted time, drop bag planning, not pushing myself as much as I could have, I also didn't have a small enough pack thus the waist belt and hydration pack with the bladder removed, although this worked ok, I now have a small pack which is just the job! I started far too casually.

All in all I would love to get back next year, it was a brilliant event, good value and well organised, Paul, Eric, Michelle, Barbara, Antonio and Juan and anyone else involved in the tea, making us all feel welcome and looking after us! Next time I would be confident to have the number 16 in my finishing time!


  1. Great report Charlie. Really good to read more info about this race and see the photos. Nice one.

  2. Cheers Steve, I didn't take the camera during the race so only snapped a couple with the phone!

  3. Great write up Charlie. I have entered the 180km this year and it's really helpful to have such a detailed account of your run. Well done on your top 5 place.

    1. Cheers Wayne! I'll be there too this year. Have just come back from Beskidy Ultra Trail in Poland 220km at the weekend so Spain should feel like a breeze in comparison! Blog up soon!