There is something quite satisfying about starting a race at the beach. The noise of the sea is very calming and can mask the trials that might lie ahead. This same beach was also the finish point and would be a welcome end to what was going to be a pretty epic run/hike. The Volcano Teide is I believe is one of the biggest in Europe, at 3,718m it is the highest point in Spain and the 10th highest island in the world. I have never been over 3,300 meters before and so was in for an altitude challenge. The race was simple, to run from the beach to the top and then back again.
I say "race" - I got a message a couple of months ago from Steve Worallo who asked if I wanted to fly out to Tenerife to capture some promo footage for a race he was planning on organising out there. "Yeah we'll just hike up there and take some action shots and try and build up some enthusiasm for the race". Then about a month later Steve was told that there were one or two locals interested in doing the event too, well actually 150 locals. So instead of being some jogging about on some hills and having some photos taken it was going to be a race.
It really felt like a race too, 150 people gathered at the sea front at midnight about to be set loose into the wonderful trails that will see us climb up way above the clouds and the tree line. There were an number of "international" runners there of which I was one. There were about 6 pretty good runners from Spain, 3 national standard mountain runners from Holland (Yes they have mountain runners) and little ol' me. In chatting to these runners the Dutch guys mentioned the likes of Jez Bragg and Ricky Lightfoot and I said that my nationality was the same as them but my running someone different. Just call me Jimmy Fatfoot.
The race started and immediately we were climbing on steep roads from the beach into a small town near Puerto De La Cruz. We were on the north side of the island where typically the more relaxed holiday makers go rather than the south were the Brits Abroad go. The streets were lined with people cheering and it had that big time atmosphere that you get in some of the Alpine races, at least for the first couple of miles. Soon we are on trails meandering up into the sky.
The midnight start is to allow runners to get to the top in 8 hours as there is only permission from the National Park to open the summit for that long. The total distance of the race is 64k of which there is an aid station each 16k. 16k might not seem like a long way to run between checkpoints but when it is all up it can take a while, and it really is all up. In the first 10 mile section that took us to about 1600m we went above the clouds and I can only remember a short section that was not uphill.
The trail in the first 16k was not too tricky, the usual dusty trail. I managed to forget to charge my headtorch and it ran out after an hour and then had to use my phone to light the way. When covered by trees it was ptich black and at some point I lost the nozzle from my camel pack and had to wait for another runner with a light to come and help me find it. The first checkpoint arrived in about 3.30 hours and was just above the clouds and the trees. After this there was a large open plain section (still uphill) where I could see so many stars, the milky way and at the side of me the menacing shadow of the huge monumnet we were going to spend the rest of the morning climbing.
The path was marked quite well though I was making mistakes with my lack of light. It really was spectacular and eerie to sometimes be on the side of a volcano with no other human or light in sight and only have the stars to look at. There was no wind today which was very fortunate as it was starting to get chilly. There were some mandatory kit including a jacket which I put on here. The path was only slightly uphill but sandy for the next few miles which made it hard work. After this section we hit the rocks of the next big climbs.
For some reason I was expecting the sun to rise a lot sooner than it did, it didn't come until about 7am. All this time we were climbing without any real sense of how high we were going but then when the sun broke above the sea it made for a pretty spectacular sight. With the first light of the day I looked back from the volcano and saw a carpet of cloud covering all the low ground, then as the sun rose up through this carpet it made the volcano glow a spectacular orange. I doubt my crappy photos will do justice to just how magnificent it was. I urge you to come and to this race next year just to witness unique experiences such as this.
The climbing got really hard, false summit after false summit. The light made it a bit easier to see where I was going but I started to choke on the altitude. There was a point where I estimated I must be at about 3000m and then saw a sign that said I was at 2400m. Bollocks. My legs were not hurting too much and I was really pleased that my recently fractured toe was not causing any problems but this kind of climbing just felt alien, I could not lift my legs over the rocks and my breathing was not great.
Around 3000m with little end in sight you then see this bizarre looking golden peak just start to pop out from over the hills you are scrambling up. It's like someone put one of the Egyptian pyramids right at the top of a mountain, it looks out of place. This volcano is still active, last went off in 1909 I think. I could finally see the end even though there was still a lot of climbing to get there.
However I didn't get to base camp in the 8 hours and was not permitted to climb the remaining 150m to the top of this thing. I was disappointed but not going to beat myself up too bad. I don't like to make excuses but if I had not been out of action for the last three months, if I had not got a masty virus the week before, not picked up a neck injury from a Ryanair flight and if I had charged my light I am certain I would have made that cut off, I missed it by about half an hour. Some hill running wouldn't go amiss in preparation for next time too.
It got warm at the top and had to take my jacket off as the sun had direct access to the side of this rock. I filled my water and started the descent which I hoped would only take half the time it took me to get up but unfortunately I descent as badly as I ascent (I don't do flat very well either). I found the down really tough, fell a few times and oddly managed to turn back on myself and start going up again, I am not sure how I did this but was diverted back by another runner who was coming down too. I asked the stupid question "Are you coming down?" as he was coming down and I was going up. I was not sure whether I was going up to go down though.
The descent seemed to take so much longer on the return, the chap I was running/walking with pointed to behind a mountain and said that the CP was there, it looks miles and miles away. The heat of the day kicked in and started to do it's work. It wasn't that hot but coming from the UK it was the first time I have been exposed to over 20 degrees for a while and the sun was reflecting from the rocks.
I thought maybe that the CP was closed as I was pretty near the back of the field now, there was a single section of uphill just before the CP which I choked on.
The last 16k were fairly straighforward downhill and I managed to do some actual running, finishing the 10 miles in around 2 hours. It was really nice heading back under the trees, it felt like green Arizona that I enjoyed running across so much in the States.
So in summary it took about 8.30 to get up, about 5 to get back down again. I was near the back of the field.
So, about this race....
This was a "test" event to see whether this will work as a race. It most certainly does and I think the ambition is to increase the field from the 150 of this one to over 1000 in the future. Having (almost) completed the race and with a sense of unfinished business I really want to see this race do well and can think of dozens of you guys in the UK (and elsewhere of course) who would love this. I have never quite done anything like this.
A word of warning, it is f****g hard. I think a really capable runner could run most of it (the winner got to the top in 4.22) and in better shape I could run most of it, much of it is gradual incline. Next year it will be in June so the Sun might be more of an issue.
Tenerife is absolutely amazing, I had never been before (I have run in Gran Canaria and Lanzarote). It is going to be a great place to go for a holiday, with some sun lounging, some nice easy trail running and then a nails race.
What you need to do in the meantime - is to email firstname.lastname@example.org to get on a mailing list that will keep you updated and also join the facebook page of ultrarunningltd.
Oh, and Ultrarunningltd is also organising a JOGLE race next year that I am very very tempted to do. It looks like a good deal with hotels and food included and the mileage in the first week works well so that you don't have to kill yourself in the first few days.