To tell you the truth, one day removed from this race I was full of uncertainty. I had a cold, a hamstring niggle sustained during an over-enthusiastic training session a few days previously, and a grumbling foot problem threatening to become a Morton’s neuroma. All minor (except the cold), but there isn’t a lot else to think about whilst sitting around in an empty holiday complex waiting for D-day. Aside from the niggles, training had gone well enough despite all long runs being in the snow and undertaken in quadruple the layers I’d be wearing during the race.
I have never been to Gran Canaria before so the course was terra incognito. I was excited at least for some warm(er) weather and to be somewhere I could speak the language (although a grasp of Spanglish proved to be more than enough). As it turned out, as race day approached there were mounting concerns regarding the forecast. A ‘storm’ was approaching and the organisation were ‘concerned for every runner’s safety’. Did Gran Canaria do storms? Hardly. There was a little rain which was enough for the marathon race to be postponed by 24hrs. It subsided before the 125km race start and we experienced what could be described at most as drizzle, but more accurately, ‘wet air’.
The start was a relatively laid-back affair on the beach. It seemed that the usual 10km pace start was off the cards, as what looked like 3km of deep sand stretched before us. Luckily, we could soon run closer to the shore line where the sand was more compacted and the usual insane pace was resumed. A very runnable 16km followed and I was keen to hit some more gnarly trails. I was leap-frogging Caroline Chaverot, Amy Sproston and Ekaterina Mityaeva (the Russian who eventually took 3rd) for the first 50km. I kind of wanted to hang back and let them get on with it but somehow I wasn’t able to. My pacing seemed to work out though as I remained in 5th/6th for almost the entirety of the race. The night was relatively uneventful; just picking off the miles, waiting for daylight to signal the real start of the race.
I experienced two moderate low points during the race, around 50km and 80km. They were undoubtedly nutrition related, despite me being super vigilant with calorie consumption, but there is so little margin for error when trying to race competitively. The second low point coincided with Roque Nublo, the iconic 67m tall volcanic tower of rock. We were taken on a little out and back to the rock which was the first real opportunity to gain some accurate information on the whereabouts of the competition. I learned that Fernanda Maciel was 5 minutes ahead and Eva Sperger worryingly close behind. In my glycogen depleted state, holding off Eva became the primary goal. A few miles later, having made up the calorie deficit I’d found myself in, I was feeling back in the game. Then Eva flew past me, absolutely hammering the downhill.
And that was the turning point.
A few months previously I had come 6th in Diagonale de Fous, a race on par with Transgrancanaria in terms of UTWT points, and I wanted to improve on this. I wasn’t coming 6th again. It just wasn’t happening. The panic button had been pressed and I could feel my cortisol levels increasing, my liver and protein energy stores being tapped in to and subsequently my pace picking up. Looks can be deceiving, and I passed Eva again a few hundred yards down the trail. It was nothing personal. In fact, I have gotten to know Eva a little and have a lot of time for her. I was convinced that she would catch me again and I remained in fight or flight mode right through to the finish. Along the way I caught Fernanda, who I had almost forgotten about, and presumed to be unreachable.
We’ve all been told that racing is 90% mental. And I agree that even to finish a race requires a certain amount of willpower. But this is the first time I genuinely feel my body set performance limits that my brain simply did not agree with. Usually it is the other way around, for me at least, as our brains hold us back from pushing past a certain point. I know you can train your brain to overcome the limits it enforces on the body. I’m no expert on this. But sometimes it just happens.
So with relief I crossed the finish line in 4th position. What a race! Whilst the perfect race seems more and more elusive, this was definitely a step in the right direction and a big confidence boost for the rest of the season. Moreover, my foot problem that had been giving me grief on a daily basis, remained completely silent during the race. The mind (and body) is a funny thing. The most important thing I learnt is the importance of staying fresh early in the season. I’d had none of the really big mountain days that would usually be my staple training and didn’t seem to suffer as a consequence. Now, 9 days on, I’m rolling into my next training block feeling as breezy and motivated as ever.