Acaba el verano en Madrid, y las fiestas populares dan sus últimos coletazos. Unas de ellas, quizás poco conocidas pero muy tradicionales, son las fiestas en honor de la Natividad de la Virgen del Puerto. Lo que todo el mundo conoce como las Fiestas de la Melonera. Una fiestas, que ya que hablamos de ellas, que se celebran del 13 al 16 con actuaciones, atracciones, bailes y demás eventos típicos de fiestas en la zona de Madrid Río.
Pero queríamos hablaros de algo más sano: la Carrera Popular La Melonera, el XVII Trofeo Hipercor. Como veis, una carrera ya tradicional del calendario que sigue convocando a corredores fieles, a la vez que crea nuevos aficionados. La Melonera es una carrera de 10 kilómetros urbanos que tendrá su salida en el Hipercor de Méndez Álvaro, recorrerá Madrid Río hasta un poco más allá del Calderón recorriendo el Manzanares, cruzará de orilla y regresará para finalizar en el Paseo de la Chopera en Legazpi. Un circuito atractivo por una de las nuevas zonas verdes de la ciudad.
Si os interesa la Melonera estad atentos y rápidos porque el plazo de inscripción se cierra el jueves día 13. La carrera será el sábado 15 por la tarde (OJO), con la salida prevista para los mayores sobre las 18.30. Habrá avituallamiento a mitad de carrera y la tradicional degustación de melón en la meta. Las inscripciones cuestan 6 euros y se pueden realizar a través de este enlace o en la planta de deportes del Hipercor de Méndez Álvaro. Más información en este enlace.
We stayed in the Meloneras area of Grand Canaria in the Canary Islands. The islands are only about 60 miles from the coast of Morocco, and geographically seemed African: dry, airy, old; while culturally they were fully European.
Being remote, but still continental, was a good mix. It was like getting the best parts of European culture, without the heat, cold or crowds.
Our resort was nice and calming with lots of colonial-style architecture,
Cozy wifi spots,
And Spanish flourishes.
One of the fun things we did after the run was a camel ride through the Maspalomas sand dunes natural reserve.
Who knows if I’ll ever get to ride a camel through desert dunes again, so I wanted to take the opportunity, despite it being touristy.
We also did a double-decker bus tour of the Las Palmas historic district.
We liked seeing and learning about the city, which dates from 1478, from this sunny vantage point.
My mom and I remembered doing one of these in New York, but Las Palmas is so much older, more compact, and balmy that the feel was vastly different.
I liked seeing my favorite shops from high school trips: El Corte Ingles and Mango.
We also walked along the beach boardwalk, put our feet in the ocean, and saw the iconic Maspalomas lighthouse.
And enjoyed hazy, breezy, evening strolls on the promenade.
My mom and I checked out the resort’s thalasso (seawater therapy) spa, which was super different and healing on my sore legs. It included a hydrotherapy pool with seawater, an anti-gravity saltwater pool (like the Dead Sea or being in space – so cool!) multiple steam baths with aroma, sound and chromo (color) therapy, crystal and herbal integrations, a sauna, ice room and several other unique sensory experiences.
We also spent some relaxing time in the sun by the various pools.
Nadia proposed a race abroad to celebrate my 40th on the proviso there was sun and it fell in March. The grandparents/babysitters were in town. Only two races fitted the bill: Antiparos 100km - a lap race around a Greek island; or North Face Transgrancanaria. I didn’t have a qualifying time for the former and while the latter was full, being the third leg of the Ultra Trail World Tour, it’s shorter sibling, the Advanced course, had spaces. At 85km and 4800m ascent this was as big an undertaking as I had faced and once registered I hastily got to work running up and down hills to get elevation experience in my legs after a lethargic start to winter.
First views of Gran Canaria’s volcanic mountains on the flight in. Roque Nublo is just visible in the centre of the image.
We found a package tour for a long weekend, flying from Birmingham, and staying at the H10 on Playa Meloneras just a 10 minutes walk from the Expo centre where the race registration and finish would take place. The grandeur of the event was apparent from the outset as celebrities of the ultrarunning world convened on the small resort. Before we even left Las Palmas airport I had introduced myself to Talk Ultra’s Ian Corless who just happened to be stood next to me at the baggage belt. His voice had rung through my ears on countless long runs as I plugged in to the de facto ultrarunning podcast so it felt surreal putting a face to the voice and I will admit I was a somewhat starstruck as I fumbled my introductions. Not without taking heed of Ian’s warnings of the technicality and difficulty of the course I would face. The press were based in H10 so we got many more opportunities to chat running with Ian as well as spotting Nuria Picas, Brendan Davies and a few other big names from the sport at the Friday morning press conference.
Friday lunchtime I jogged over to the Expo centre to hand in my drop bag while Nadia made far more sensible use of the sun’s rays to top up her vitamin D. A chance to acclimatise to the heat of the day perhaps. Ten minutes in and my back was dripping with sweat. The air temperature was around 24 degrees and there was little breeze. The Expo was buzzing with anticipation. There was no queue and I regretted registering the previous evening when Nadia and I, both exhausted from a 5am journey, had queued amongst a throng of Spaniards for 30 minutes to collect my race number and timing chip. The Advanced race formed part of the Spanish Ultra Cup hence seventy percent of the field was Spanish. The organisers announced that athletes from 71 countries were taking part across the five races that formed the weekends challenges so despite the Spanish dominance it was certainly an international affair.
An afternoon sat poolside in the shade ensued. Having come from an English winter, I didn’t want my race curtailed by sun stroke! Dinner was a sedentary affair at the all you can eat buffet for fear of food poisoning and by 10pm, thanks to a cerveza and house red, I was, for once, actually sound asleep. Thanks to several weeks of early morning commute reciting my race day routine I had expectations of a smooth affair. Surprisingly, despite a lack of caffeine, the 3am start went well. Awoke to the ringing chimes of Major Tom; scoffed a Lizi’s granola (just add water); contact lenses applied to squinted eyes; 10 minutes lubricating; 5 minutes applying sun block; another granola; teeth brushed; donned kit; checked pack; jog to Expo for 4:10am coach…
I was drifting in and out of sleep as the coach came to a sudden halt and we were ushered on to the dark streets of Fontanales. I had shared the journey with Martin, an English runner currently residing in Norway, who had chosen this event as his inauguration into ultra running. The chit-chat had been interspersed with brief spells of reflection. The last time I ran Spanish mountains was Montgo’s rugged pathways. I was excited at the prospect of visiting similar terrain and bringing some of the expertise I had developed there to this challenge. The start was still an hour distant and time drew slowly. At first I composed myself in a dark corner of the village nibbling at a Chia Charge bar mentally reciting my strategies. The air was cool and I huddled under both my Montane marathon jacket and Minimus smock, being the only two layers I chose to bring.
For the past few weeks, as usual, I fastidiously studied a map of Gran Canaria and virtual fly overs of the route on Google Earth. I had a broad idea of the main challenges and where opportunities to make up time would arise. Simply stated the course was an uphill marathon followed by a downhill marathon. The contours gave clues to a few hurdles over the second half. The main unknowns would be: the terrain and the sun. The longest I had previously run under a Spanish sun was twenty miles but that was self supported. Most feed stations here were close together. There was, however, a long ten mile section on the back half of the course we would face in the heat of the afternoon. My plan was to eat solid food on the long climbs, try and eat a hot meal at the half way point and turn to shot blocks and gels on the more arid back half. I would keep drinking regularly with a mix of Nuun (calorie free) and High5 (calories). There you have it - a plan of sorts.
I reconvened with Martin for a quick coffee at an overflowing café. Before converging on the slow-moving queue for the toilet. We made our way down the steep hill to the start and as our reckoning drew closer time accelerated. The sun was just starting to pierce the blackness of night. A relief as I chose to leave my Black Diamond head torch tucked away in the bottom of my Salomon pack. Huddled towards the back of the five hundred strong field the countdown begun.
Ready and raring to go
Cinco… cuatro… tres… dos… uno…
Fontanales to Teror(752m ascent)
The hooter sounded and we were off. Well, the elite athletes were off at a sprint back up the steep road. We had several minutes wait before finally shuffling under the starting gate, to the pulsating thump of the DJs music, past the throng of cheering spectators and off into the hills.
As the road quickly gave way to trail I learned the value in jostling for a position on the start line. We hit a severe bottleneck. It was single file traffic at best on a gradual incline and pace was very slow. Worryingly the pace hardly picked up as we went downhill!
So for the first few miles I struggled my way past runners at every opportunity sometimes squeezing by on the inside with an expressive gracias, other times making use of short sections of road to run fast. It was gratifying to finally stretch out the legs after several weeks of tapering but Dave’s words at the RAT the previous summer still weighed on my mind and I was wary of exerting my quads so early in the race.
The first long descent was a sharp collection of switchbacks underlaid with smooth boulders. I threw caution to the morning breeze on several tight bends opting to leap over boulders simply to gain a position eager that I might free myself from the procession. But to little avail. The trail bought us into a desolate village and the first long climb of the day. Barely a spike on the profile yet on the ground it felt long as we weaved up the lush wooded valley in the shadow of Mount Lentisco.
Looking back at the line of runners I estimated I had moved into the middle half of the field. The exertion of the ascent had me sweating heavily and I was relieved I chose to run in just a mesh vest and arm warmers. I tried to keep focus in the moment but couldn’t prevent my frenetic mind wandering to the much bigger climbs to come beyond Teror. At least the legs and the back showed no sign of tiring at this early stage and once over the summit it was more downhill queues into Vallesco and the first feed station.
A crowd of runners were gathered around the water/coke vats in the village and I saw little need to stop as I switched my handheld to a full bottle from my pack. So I ran straight through the feed station and hit the next small climb.
As the long descent to the first checkpoint began I hit more bottlenecks and this time it was far too narrow to overtake. We weaved through some fairly dense and lush vegetation on the easy going trail. I heard a frustrated shout in English from behind as we moved very slowly down hill, limited by the pace set by those in front. Descending is my strength and I too began to feel exasperated as the minutes seemed to slip away. Unfortunately, as trail gave way to tarmac and the road widened, I continued to neglect my quads and ran fast down the steep tarmac slopes into Teror.
Entry to the feed station in the town square was lined with a bizarre collection of giant inflatable cartoon characters. From the Simpsons no less! Yet far more impressive it stood in the shadow of the Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pino - the cathedral to the patron saint of the island. A marshal stepped forward and scanned my number with a high tech looking, but oversized, laser gadget while a young helper kindly filled up my water bottles. Tables were lined with nuts, crisps, cheeses, fruits and meat cuts. Conscious of my heavy sweating I grabbed a handful of salted nuts and set off on the first big climb of the race.
I would like to have explored this pretty little town if only there had been more time!
Teror to Cruz de Tejeda (1275m ascent)
Specificity! I hear it all the time but repeatedly fail to apply it to my training plans. Besides, how can you train for a 1000m ascent in Cornwall? Eighty metre hill repetitions just aren’t the same. I learned this in 2014 running the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons. That realisation was about to reach a whole new level as I set out from Teror on the first major climb.
Teror seems a fitting name for the town at the base of 4000 feet of climbing that would take us past El Penón at 1640 metres. The tarmac road gave way to steep steps. I was moving pretty well amongst a group of runners and felt comfortable with progress at a steady pace. We briefly joined the GC-42 road and then bore right onto a track lined with eucalyptus. Simon Darmody, fifteenth at last year’s Lakeland 50, came up alongside me. He was that frustrated English man but embarrassingly noted that the runner holding us up had in fact been running the 125 km course. We chatted briefly. I started to feel the lactic acid building in my legs and a slight sensation of cramp in my quads so, as Simon jogged on I bade farewell and resigned to power walking. We passed Cruz de la Hoya Alta and I took a few moments to take in the sweeping view back down the valley before continuing the climb.
The two crosses, one wooden and one metal standing proud over Teror.
We took a rolling path along the mountain ridge. The climbs short and steep with numerous switchbacks interspersed with brief descents. Two steps up, one step down!
There was little protection from a building Saharan breeze on the crests and this added to the challenge but kindly kept the temperature bearable. The sun was obscured by an omnipresent haze. The calima I later learned - a rare annual event that sweeps dust in from the African desert. Unfortunately it looked like visibility would be poor today and the colours of the mountains a little desaturated. So with my sightseeing plans disrupted by meteorological anomalies I buried my head down low, pushed hard on my thighs and soldiered on.
It felt alien having so many runners in close proximity well into the race but gave opportunity to gauge my progress and everyone appeared to be moving slowly. I occasionally glanced at my watch as the average pace rapidly fell from 12 minute miles to 15 minute miles. My heart sank a little. This was well outside my projections for a finish in daylight. There were distance markers on the course every 5 kilometres and it felt a very long time since I had seen one. Contemplating this I came upon the feed station at Talyon. It was bustling. There were a few runners sat in chairs. This was enticing but before the temptation consumed me I hurriedly topped up my electrolyte infused bottles, grabbed another handful of nuts and took flight.
Just down the road the 65km sign finally came into view. It was scant consolation knowing there was still so far to go. With all this climbing my cup was certainly half empty today. Negativity was having a big impact on my confidence and my performance.
Great only 65km to go!
Then the climbing returned in earnest. A really steep slog weaving through a desolate landscape of felled and scorched trees. My speed through the feed station saw me break away from the group of runners I had been with but now as my inexperienced legs grew weary I was reeled in. If I pushed hard up hill I felt pangs of cramp again. I put this down to the salted nuts and vowed to stay clear of them for the rest of the race. The track briefly joined road where a small crowd of spectators had gathered. The atmosphere was exciting and this gave me a brief lift amidst exclamations of vamos and animo. Then the climbing just got worse under the shade of a pine forest. As the straight path became further switchbacks my pace slowed to a crawl. Twenty runners must have overtaken me on that stretch. Nearly all of them, bar a couple of ladies, using poles.
It was a lot steeper than it appears! Or at least after nearly 1000m of climbing it felt a lot steeper.
The focus hides the pain I was feeling inside!
Finally, after 10km of almost continuous climbing we hit the summit. It took a few minutes to feel my legs again and I eased into the descent aware of the exertion my quads had already undergone and very aware of the steep drop off the narrow path (were one to trip). Not being a feed station the checkpoint, and another large scanner, came and went.
Cruz de Tejeda to Roque Nublo (917m ascent)
The next two miles were easy going rocky trail as we plummeted into the Tejeda caldera. A chance to pick off runners that had bettered me on the climb. Legs restored I felt comfortable with a little gravitational assistance. The panoramic mountainous terrain reached into the hazy skyline. The Spanish philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno, described the region as ‘a tremendous upheaval of the entrails of the earth’. Rock formations spewed out across the landscape and holding court the monolithic Roque Nublo. An impressive basaltic plug majestically rising 80m above the plateau. The landscape truly was a ‘Petrified Storm’ and I was excited at the prospect of visiting the rock. Although it looked another very long, big climb!
Looking up to Roque Nublo with El Fraile (The Monk) the smaller volcanic neck on the left.
Arriving at Tejeda feed station my thoughts turned to nourishment. I was hot, thirsty and hungry but reluctant to consume more salted nuts. So I turned to large quarters of fresh, home grown, oranges. They hit the spot as I consumed two whole oranges worth, sucking out the juice and discarding the pith and skin. Not sure this would greatly benefit my calorie intake but it tasted succulent and was readily digestible. I had been struggling for some time to eat Clif bars and flapjacks which were all too dry. There was a queue for water and I found myself having to stand firm to hold my place in the bustling pack. The route continued downhill on tarmac as we battled an incessant wind whipping through the valley. One sudden gust took my cap off which fortunately landed in the face of a runner on my tail rather than blowing clean over the edge into the valley below.
Fortunately the unforgiving tarmac was short lived and we were back on a gravel track which gave way to more steep rubble strewn switchbacks as we took a trail up the valley and around the western side of the Roque Nublo plateau. Sheltered from the wind the temperature quickly rose. I struggled to eat a Chia protein bar - too dry also. Again the same runners were overtaking as my pace became sluggish.
Even an elderly man just out for a walk moved faster than me up the steep ascent! This at least made me chuckle and I texted the fact, along with my progress, to Nadia.
11:39: “an old man is going up hill faster than me now! x”
I allowed photo opportunities as a means to catch my breath and let the legs rest convincing myself that once on the plateau it would be a short run to the hot feed station at Garañón where I could recuperate. Despite the haze the views were inspiring. There was even an occasional eccentricity. High up on the mountainside, a green wooden door cemented into the hillside!
There be hobbits living here
Slow ascent on rubble switchbacks
In the shadow of the rock we passed through more pine forest with rock and root strewn trails.
Looking south-west Mount Aserrador rises out of the haze
The last part of the climb was gradual and I found my running legs. The terrain dramatically changed from root laden wooded trails to a bizarre volcanic amalgam of sharp protrusions and rounded boulders on the plateau.
It was a short diversion to the timing control under the rock. Once my number was scanned I asked the marshall to take a photo for me. I had studied Roque Nublo on Google Maps with my daughter, Olive, and here was proof that I had succeeded in my climb.
Roque Nublo to Pico Nieves (492m ascent)
The track descended quickly off the plateau followed by some undulating woodland trail before dropping down to the impressive Los Hornos dam. Crossing a reservoir of cool water was a cruel twist when feeling so parched. Around this point I started feeling decidedly queasy. I stopped to drink some electrolyte and moved on slowly.
The heat of the midday sun was getting to me, despite being 5000 feet above sea level. I tried to convince myself it would soon be downhill all the way but the foreboding climb to Pico Nieves and another marathon of distance was overwhelming. I had already ascended and descended the equivalent of our highest Welsh mountains twice - this felt like more than my legs could handle. One more short climb and I stumbled into the feed station at Garañón to a large supportive crowd. Several people called out ‘Animo Tom’. At first I was confused how they knew me until I twigged the letters T.O.M. were engraved across my number around my waist. I don’t know if it was hydration or not enough calories but my mind was confused and I really needed to sit down.
Collection of my drop bag was efficient, I found a spare chair and took the weight off my legs. My bag had a change of clothes, a USB battery cell to top up my Ambit, some food (mainly gels and shot blocks), more Nuun tablets and sun cream. I helped myself to a bowl of pasta with a few new potatoes and observed those around me.
The hut felt a little like a war zone. There were beaten up bodies everywhere. Some runners were on mats in the corner stretching. A few nursed bloody wounds, others had their heads buried in their hands groaning. A few were packed up ready to get a lift back to Meloneras having volunteered their own DNF. Tempting! But the pasta was an instant hit and I shook myself out of this malaise. We had flown 1800 miles to be here not accounting for the road miles at both ends. Considerable time, effort and money had gone into my entry. My family were following me at home on the live tracker. They would have seen me go past Roque Nublo. I owed it to them to continue. Olive would be asking why had I not reached Pico Nieves yet. After all it was only 5km.
I stood up with determination, hurriedly doused myself in suncream and smothered block on my nose and lips; discarded my wind jacket in the drop bag and grabbed some spare electrolytes; handed in my drop bag; topped up my bottles and bladder. Reinvigorated I departed Garañón ready to tackle whatever the island dished out.
First up, the steep climb to Pico de las Nieves, the highest point on the island at 1949m. Once again the path was lined with pine trees the track littered with woodland debris which at times made grounding quite challenging in my deep lugged Roclites. Having spent twenty minutes at the feed station I found myself surrounded by new faces and everyone was taking the ascent very slowly. My legs appeared grateful for the rest and took to the challenge with some aplomb. We climbed 250 metres in just over a kilometre. Finally 6 hours 52 minutes since leaving Fontanales I stood in the shadow of a giant golf ball at the top of Gran Canaria. This time there was no handheld scanner, we just ran through a gate that registered the chip embedded in our numbers.
Relief flowed through me. I had reached the highest point of Gran Canaria. Now a chance to test my mettle against the technical descents.
I fredags hade jag och Serina roomieday! Vi hade en hygglig eftermiddag i Meloneras med lite shopping sen en supergod middag vid strandpromenaden. Kvällen avslutade vi med godaste glassen! Måste bara säga att jag har en ganska fantastisk roomie! Min lilla dansk!