It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog. The reasons for this are endless and probably don’t need to be spelled out. Perhaps I will attempt to write about my 2018 races (Trail World Championships, Lavaredo, UTMB etc) in reverse chronological order, but don’t hold me to that! My life over the past couple of months has been hugely different to the pre-UTMB period. My exam (the MRCPCH Clinical for anyone in the know) had significantly curtailed my training, I was sleeping less and was probably fairly miserable to be around. When I was revising I wanted to be training, and when I was training I wanted to be revising. I almost craved being at work so I didn’t have that internal conflict. But all the way I had the excitement of my post-exam ‘holiday’ at Eurafrica Trail, which is the subject of this blog.
I heard of Eurafrica through Raidlight who sponsor the event. The concept is simple; the first intercontinental trail race. It comprises 3 races as follows:
Stage 1: Vertical Race, Gibraltar
Stage 2: Alcornocales 50km, Spain
Stage 3: Belyounech 25km, Morocco
The intended base camp for competitors for the first 3 nights was a field on the edge of the Alcornocales National Park. It could have been idyllic, but thanks to the biblical weather conditions the field was already half underwater when we arrived the night before the first race. No big deal though, the organisers swiftly came up with an alternative and the all the Spaniards cheerfully marched off to sleep in a sports hall in the nearby town. I decided to remain at the camp and erected my little tent on the driest piece of ground I could find, assuming I’d sleep better than sharing a bedroom with 200 or so others. I insisted it was only a bit of rain and it was just like camping in England. From then on I became known as the crazy and brave Brit who not only won the races, but was stupid enough to sleep in a flooding field. Fast forward 24hrs, when I returned to the camp after the first stage, my tent had been blown over and my entire bag of kit soaked through. I decided to follow the Spaniards to the sports hall after that!
The vertical race was 3.8km, 400m+ from Europa point to the top of the Rock of Gibralter, with runners setting off at 1 minute intervals. After a kilometre or so of tarmac at the start the course ascents the Mediterranian Steps through the nature reserve to the summit. It was still raining and visibility was poor, but I did see some forlorn looking monkeys. Having never done a vertical race before I found it very difficult not being side-by-side my competition. How do you know how hard to push? It turned out I pushed just the right amount.
The prizegiving took place in St Micheals Cave, an enormous amphitheatre with coloured lights amongst the thousands of stalactites and stalagmites. Very cool.
The 50km was shortened to 40km because of weather difficulties of the last few days, but today we had sun! This took place in the mountains of Algeciras and Los Barrios and largely comprised of tiny paths through forests and over scrubland, with occasional views of the Strait of Gibraltar. It was that kind of engaging and playful terrain requiring uninterrupted concentration. Unlike the previous day, I had a reasonable lead therefore could relax and enjoy the trails and rhythm I found myself in. So far, 2 stages, 2 wins.
I really enjoyed the running in these few days, but what made this race so special was actually the time spent not running. It was a very sociable affair and, having come on my own, I was hugely grateful to everyone for welcoming me into the Eurafrica family. Despite my patchy Spanish, it was wonderful to hang out with a group of such friendly and generous individuals. There were a few other token Brits from Machynlleth– thanks Andy, Andy, Andy, Kameron, Gary, Peter, Sue for entertaining me! We had a rest/ travel day after 40k which involved the ferry across to Morocco and a tour of Tangier. I didn’t quite feel like a deserved a rest but it was fun nonetheless.
“The descent will be neutralized as it is too dangerous. No running, no overtaking”
Really? Bring it on!
The Morrocon stage involved the ascent of the iconic (but rarely climbed) Jbel Musa mountain. The terrain was rough and the existing trails were used only by local farmers and the military. There was a large military presence in the area which I presume is due to the town’s proximity to Europe therefore being a smuggling hotspot. It turns out they weren’t doubling up as race marshals as I originally thought. The technical descent turned out to be a steep scree slope which was a little risky due to the danger of falling rocks. I have a few bruises to show for it but manged to avoid being stretchered off the mountain (such was the fate of 3 competitors!). I was chased by Raidlight team mate Ester Casajuana all the way but managed to take my 3rd win of the week.
So much about this race is unique. It is a beautiful concept that the organisers have nurtured and are truly passionate about. This race rejunivated me physically and mentally, but I’m not quite done with 2018 yet. The final blow out will be a Scottish winter FKT attempt with a certain Damian Hall. Watch this space!