Seeking asylum in the hills & transcendence on the trails

TNF Trans Gran Canaria 2015 – race report

Taking a trip

I’d wanted my first race of the season to be a challenge and it certainly delivered. I somehow had it in my head when I entered months before that it was pretty tough – but maybe just 4,500m ascent tough (with 127KM). I hadn’t fully registered the course profile until much closer to the race – a fairly technical 8,500m of ascent (and returns).

I arrived in GC a few of weeks before the race to get in about 10 days of training before resting up in preparation. As always it was a challenge trying to do it on a budget and I had some interesting experiences in hostels and locations I certainly wouldn’t have chosen if I’d had the luxury. More ‘character building’ in my old man’s terms, and nothing that I would change now. When you’re on your own for a while and have no one around, you just have to get on with it and survive with what you have available. It’s a useful exercise in itself. I know now just how torturous a dorm full of snoring men can be, and I always appreciate having access to food shops right on my doorstep!

First Race of the Season

Day before the race I made my fourth and final move of the trip as my folks arrived. We set up in a small holiday apartment in a pleasant enough complex in Maspalomas. I really enjoyed their company even with the race looming large. 

At registration I was informed that there were no more buses available to get me to the start on the other side of the island. Bit of a shambles from the organisers as there were a lot of people in the same boat. Having been part of the UTMB machine for the last few years, you very much expect the organisation to be of a similar standard. Lesson learned.

Race started at 11pm on the Friday from Ageate in the north-west of the island. My Folks kindly drove us there (about 90mins away) and they headed back to Maspalomas just after 8pm. Some sitting around in the cold and at 10.30 I was on the start line. No elite place for me in this race. I was halfway back being prodded by sticks and elbows and listening to the MC announce all those over on an Ultra World Tour pass.

11pm. Go!

Bit of squeeze to get going and immediately into a climb which eased into an easier road section where I could pass a 60 – 70 people, before tuning onto the main climb. For 1,500m. No point in pretending this was going to be easy.

Sitting around at the harbour had been cold and the wind was strong when it blustered. I was wearing too much but didn’t want to stop to sort it as I knew the trail got narrow and rocky further up and I’d be caught up in the chaos. It wasn’t until after the first checkpoint at 10km (over the biggest climb of the course) I could finally cool off. Humidity in the forest in particular felt high and the light from your headtorch illuminated the moisture in the air.

First big descent was tricky. Not sure if I was just settling in, my headtorch wasn’t lighting things properly or I was just a bit clumsy but I had a couple of almost serious slips which only served to make me more and more angry at myself.

Aid stations were the normal euro affairs. Water, coke, overstims, and where there was food it was banana and orange pieces, cheese, meat, nuts etc. The volunteers were all very pleasant and helpful.

First few hours I wasn’t feeling great but tried to get into a groove and not fall into doubt and negativity. After the first few slips I was being passed on many of the descents then making it back up on the climbs, a pattern that continued for a lot of the race.

By 3 or 4 am, you kind of lose track exactly where you are, what checkpoint you’ll see next and when you’ll hit the next big climb. The organisers had printed the race profile on the bib (a good idea I thought) however the profile wasn’t exactly reflective of reality. Where it was downhill for 6km on the illustration you’d also find 2 x 150m ascents.

By 5am my nao headtorch was causing me a serious headache. Pressed tight against the forehead and catching the top of my neck it felt like someone was squeezing my head. I need a new one!

I was on the 3rd big climb of the day before there was enough light for me to stop and stuff it into my pack. Instant relief.

Big target from there was Garanon – about 83k and the site of the big aid station with hot food and a drop bag if you were doing it unsupported (as I was). They did a very un-rushed kit check before searching for my drop bag (it was there apparently). 5 minutes later it appeared. I decided then it was worth spending some time to eat properly, sort out my stuff and prepare for the last 50K. I chatted with a lovely American woman (Hoka team athlete) who had to withdraw with sickness a few stages into the race. We joked, she helped me sort some food and it lifted my spirits. As they say, good people run.

Heading South

Straight out of Garanon is a pretty steep climb to the highest point on the course at around 2,000m. From there (if you believed the profile illustration) it was pretty much all downhill other than a few short ups.

At this point all other runners doing the shorter distances were all on the course. Nice to see some other people about but at times hard to get past – either running in groups, with iPods or just not willing to yield. Time to ban ipods on courses like this organisers!

On the crazy steep descent to Arterea there were trains of runners clearly not comfortable with the steep and deep rocky terrain and you had to get pretty forceful with shouts to have any chance of passing. I felt really good on the most technical descent and no-one passed me there. Before I knew it I was near the bottom and the penultimate aid station. I heard a shout from a noisy crowd and picked out my mum (they’d managed to drive up). I ran on, my dad handed me some water and I went in to the aid station to refill my bottles. Was nice to know someone was looking out for me.

It was getting hot by this point but I’d stuck with Osmo and solids the whole race without issue so had to pretend I hadn’t noticed the giant Coke dispenser. More fruit and nuts and I was off again to finish the thing.

Shortly after I discovered some more unanticipated climbs. Laughed a bit. Kept drinking. Chewed on some Honeystingers (with caffeine this time).

Nearing the recognisable outskirts of Maspalomas they made us run the 2 miles or so on the dried up river bed. I had been looking forward to some Tarmac. At the dunes it was a right turn towards Faro and then the additional 1.5k they had added to the finish. To top it off, they made you run on the sand as a final test of commitment. Almost funny. Almost.

Looking back

Top 20 finish had been a tough shift and I was a little disappointed. Tactically it was decent. I needed to protect my legs for at least the first half as I couldn’t afford the psychological impact of a DNF. I hadn’t quite felt myself all race but finished feeling pretty strong. It’s a difficult race to train for as its so early in the year and all we have is a cold, wet and windy Scottish winter. You just can’t get enough time in the mountains with anywhere close to the right conditions.

Trans Gran Canaria

I learned a lot however and put my 2014 UTMB DNF to bed in my first race of the season. No easing into it gently. I may be doing this full-time now but there’s still a lot of learning to do. With it brings a little more pressure but it’s where I need to be and I’ll not shy away from putting myself out there – racing with the best in the world and running difficult courses that won’t always play to my strengths.

Lots more to come. Mark these words. The journey continues…..

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high…..Where tireless striving stretches its arms toward perfection”

  • Shoes: Pearl Izumi EM Trail N1
  • Socks: Feetures Elite light cushion
  • Pack: Nathan VaporAir
  • Poles: Mountain King Trail Blaze
  • Hydration: Osmo Active hydration
  • Nutrition: HoneyStinger waffles and chews

CoachingVisit for distance running support.

2 responses

  1. Great read bud and one thing you don’t do is shy away from tough personal challenges #inspirational mate! 🙂 Run like the wind!

    March 26, 2015 at 1:12 pm

  2. Paul, as ever a great race report and you sound so positive,strong and focussed, it’s great to see. You are awesome as the young folk say! 🙂

    March 26, 2015 at 2:37 pm

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