This is a story that starts and ends with a dream.
It’s a late evening on 25th of February. For the last two hours I have punished my body in several different ways – my abs are sore, my thighs are burning but my arms are heavy as lead. Physically i’m empty but the hardest part is already behind me. It is the last and my most favorite part of the practice session – relaxing. There is a soothing music in the background and I am laying on my exercise mat. My eyes are closed, my breathing is slow and I allow myself to dream a bit.
In a dream I see myself. I see myself running smoothly across mountain tops, I see myself going aggressively on uphills and going aggressively on technical downhills, I see myself smiling to volunteers and supporters and I see myself on the finish line as one of the top10 finishers. I don’t know if it will ever come true but I believe in this dream and when I rise I have a completely different mindset. Tomorrow I’ll go to Canaries, after a week I’ll be on the starting line for TransGranCanaria 2016 and one day after that I’ll be at the finish line – with wide smile and happy with my result in TransGranCanaria 125km distance. I’LL DO IT!
Getting ready for TGC is not that simple. At the end of the August I start to get different injuries in my left leg and after Sigulda Mountain Marathon at the beginning of the October it is clear – I need to rest. I still have a time before my 20 weeks plan kicks off and I give myself ten days off. Unfortunately my left knee doesn’t get any better and 20 weeks plan soon becomes 16 weeks plan, then 12 weeks plan and finally 10 weeks plan.
First few weeks in the training plan are tough. Extra weight, high heart rate, low endurance, sub-zero temperatures and snow are all factors that I have to live with. During the fourth week of my training I try myself in competition mode but doesn’t even get to finish line. While running in quite easy tempo I get very tired on the tough terrain and have to quit after 2/3 of the 24km distance. It’s tough but I don’t loose my faith and instead I try to work harder – more running, more exercises and better nutrition. At the end I’m as ready as I can get in ten weeks – my speed is mostly back, my endurance is partially back but most importantly my confidence is back.
At first we end up on the wrong island. I personally want to go straight to Gran Canaria but my travel companions convince me to visit Tenerife first. As soon as we land it is clear that it was a right choice. Tenerife is beautiful and there are also some challenging mountains. As soon as I’m on the island I try to use every opportunity to run some uphills and downhills. That’s something that I can’t practice back at home. My most favorite training is 2.5km descent with 800m vertical drop on mount Teide. Even though there are moments where I end up waist deep in snow and there are moments when I’m unnecessary close to season or life ending injury, I absolutely love it. It gives me energy and I feel alive.
Few days later we are already in Gran Canaria and we go straight to test some parts of the race. Unfortunately I have been lazy and I don’t have gpx file in my Suunto watch. My hopes that trails will be marked turns out to be vain. Without any real understanding where I’m going, I try to get familiar with the first ascent from Agaete but instead I get very familiar with a cactus. Fun fact: If you happen to run into a cactus, there are great chance that you will not only get acupuncture therapy but also some quite beautiful bruises. Luckily my encounter with cactus doesn’t leave any long term consequences and instead of injury I get few holes in my leg, bruise on my knee and valuable lesson – don’t run into cactuses.
Later that day and also during the next few days I try to visit different places of the race. I get very familiar with the later stages of the race. There are a lot of descents and that being my weakest part I want to get familiar with them. Most important is my hiking trip one day before start. During this 3 hour meditative walk from Ayagaures to Maspalomas I do my last mental preparation and create my final strategy for the race. It’s actually quite simple:
- I’ll start slowly and will later adapt based on my strenght;
- I’ll only compete with myself;
- I’ll be positive and won’t look back.
Start of the 125km long distance is at 11PM local time in a small harbor city of Agaete. During the day I have tried hard not to mess up my stomach and I hope that I have succeeded. Together with me is my very inexperienced support team and they look worried. My nutrition plan is for 19hours but I think that I can finish anywhere between 16 and 20 hours. Back from home with me is my most realible nutrition from Dion but in Gran Canaria I also have bought some white chocolate sports bars, black currant bars, different nuts with raisins and also Haribo bears.
Compared to last year Lavaredo Ultra trail, I manage to get quite close to the starting line and I even manage to hide from cold wind. Final moments before start are quite emotional. There are uplifting music and announcers are introducing public with elite runners. I recognize most of the names and quietly hope that some of them I’ll meet on the trail.
First kilometer for me is deliberately slow. A lot of runners pass me but based on my strategy, I shouldn’t care and I don’t. Very soon we arrive at the first ascent and even though I still try to be very conservative, nobody passes me anymore and instead I start to pass others. In places where trail is very narrow, I’m patient and I wait for better opportunities to pass without extra effort. Soon enough I’m in very elite company. Right in front of me is last year women winner Nuria Picas. I follow her for quite a while and don’t dare to pass her but after a while I realise that I’m not putting in any real effort. Instead I’m looking around, enjoying very long line of flashlights right below me and even start to get a bit cold in my bones. Bye, bye, Nuria, you’re too slow for me!
Once at the top, the trail gets more or less flat and through the fog I can hear voices from first checkpoint. I’m still passing everyone but inside I’m already worried. First few food doses have not settled very well and I can feel that my stomach is not working properly. During checkpoint, I try to eat some banana, but that doesn’t work well either. Good news is that I’m in better position than I thought. I am sure that I’m outside of top100, but actually I’m 69th. Bad news? I’m already 13 minutes behind leaders.
First descent is a nightmare. From the first metres down I’m very insecure. I can’t see any markings through the fog and I struggle to find places where I can run with decent speed. Other runners starts to pass me and soon enough I hear a request to pass from a woman’s voice. Nuria Picas flies by me like I’m standing. Back to planet Earth you overconfindent fool.
A moment later I notice that nobody uses hairpin turns, instead everybody just runs straight down the mountain. With my self esteem at the lowest I slowly weave through the pins till the moment I get passed by another woman. My bucket is full. I jump on the tail of French woman and join the “straight down the mountain” group. Turns out it is much easier to follow someone and my speed increases significantly. Emily in front of me runs like crazy. One moment she’s down on the ground, next she’s already up and runs like possessed. I’m concentrated and don’t even blink. I’m not only afraid that I’ll loose my savior but I also know – one misstep can cost very dearly.
Once down, I allow myself few blinks and I’m happy to see an aid station right in front of me. Here, in very comfortable environment I spend more time than it is really necessary and when I leave my company is already gone. Next 8km are uphill and I’m trying to slow down and rest after the hard descent. Even though I’m resting I’m still passing other runners on the ascent and in the next time control I’m already 64th but 5km later in Artenara I keep the same position.
While closing on Artenara I start to feel more and more uncomfortable. Every time I try to eat something I feel sick and for this reason I start to eat less frequently. My only solution to fix this issue is to digest more salt. It helps but I don’t leave Artenara with smile on my face. It just doesn’t feel like my kind of day.
Soon after Artenara I start to recover and I feel much better in the next checkpoint in Fontanales. Here at 7AM will be a start for TGC Advanced runners but my goal is to be here by 5AM. I’m precise to the minute but not really happy about that. Few moments before village I get lost and I spend several minutes looking for the trail. Luckily next runner behind me has gpx file in his watch and soon I’m back on the trail. Since Artenara I have lost 4 positions and now I’m 68th. That doesn’t come as a big surprise. Since Artenara I have spent some time in bushes, I got lost for a bit and I have changed batteries for my headlamp. That last job sounds easy but it takes quite some time for me. It is easy to get batteries out of headlamp, it is also easy to get extra batteries out of my pocket but it is way harder to remember in which hand I have which batteries. Soon enough I’m so confused that I have no idea how many new batteries I have in the headlamp but judging by light it produces probably only one out of three. It’s fine, soon there will be a light and spending another night on the trails is not in my plans.
After Fontanales I’m getting more and more optimistic. I pick up some speed and I manage to eat. One thing is clear though – white chocolate is definitely not working for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love white chocolate, but it takes a lot of time to chew and that really bothers me. While I’m considering all the pros ans cons about a white chocolate I notice something very dissapointing in front of me. I catch up with a runner who is clearly in pain and I’m sad to see that it is my savior Emily. She’s injured and will quit at the next checkpoint. I offer her my help but she turns it down and promises me that she will reach the next checkpoint in Valleseco on her own. This serves me as a reminder, in this sport your good day can turn into a bad one very fast.
I love Valleseco. Volunteers in this checkpoint are very friendly and even speak some good English. I join two very tired runners on the bench and comfortably drink my cola and eat my banana. I feel so great that I throw some jokes at volunteers and even ask if they are feeling good. They are, all of them are smiling and after a while they encourage me to move on.
On the way to Teror, life is great. yes sure, I still can’t find my speed and I’m tired but that’s fine – that doesn’t bother me. I have even found some compromise in my nutrition plan. Instead of eating every 20minutes, I eat every 30minutes. To get down that sweet rubbish at first I get some salt in my mouth and only then I add that terrible sweet stuff. It’s not restourant quality but together it tastes surprisingly good and works till the end of the race.
Once in the Teror I get a big scare. Very close to me I hear an angry dog growling and I jump few metres in the air. Luckily the dog is behind the fence and I’m not in any real danger. Speaking of dogs, they are quite popular here on the islands. From what I have seen, normal person on the islands owns on average three dogs. If you are new at the islands or you’re not a dog person, you probably have less but behind some fences I have seen even five and more dogs. That’s not surprising if we take into consideration the fact that Canary islands have got their name because of dogs.
In Teror I’m already in 60th position. Once I meet my support team I start to unload my white chocolate reserves. They give me strange looks as I’m throwing chocolate on the street, but I don’t care. If I will have to eat another white chocolate bar, I’ll jump off the cliff. I spend some extra time in Teror because there are two massive climbs ahead of me and I want to be ready for them. Also I inform my support team that my right knee is a bit sore but it doesn’t bother me too much. I’m confident that it will get better on the ascent because for now I only feel it on the downhills.
Next 9 kilometres I’m climbing. My speed is not great but I’m still passing other runners. While climbing, I’m good, but every time there is a flat section and I have to run, it’s hard. Slowly I start to loose strenght and my good mood. Once in Talayon checkpoint, I go straight to the chairs under the tent and sit down. For the first and only time during this competition I don’t want to continue. Luckily this is not a very attractive place or time for such a decision. Temperature is only few degrees above zero, there is depressing fog all around me and this checkpoint is located basically in the middle of the nowhere. I’m sure that I would have to wait a very long time before somebody would come to rescue me. That doesn’t sound appaeling so I convince myself to rise up and move on.
It turns out I’m not at the top of the mountain yet. I’m 3/4 done but few last kilometres of ascent are especially steep. It’s fine though, nature around me is extraordinary beautiful and there are few supporters and photographers who cheer me on. I not only successfully reach the top but after a short descent I also reach Tejeda checkpoint. Even though I have struggled a lot I have managed to move up into the 54th position.
Ahead of me is a huge climb which includes two highest peaks of the island. It is very tough for me but it looks that everyone around me is suffering more. We are slowly approaching El Garanon. Here at 10:30AM TGC marathon runners will start their adventure. Through the valley I can hear announcer speaking enthusiastically and that somehow makes me move more faster.
First part of the climb ends at the second highest point of Gran Canaria at Roque Nublo. Here I meet a guy who scans bibs but behind him I can see a poster – 50km to finish. I’m shocked! It should be 45km to finish and I am most definitely not in the mood to run extra 5km. I’m positive that it is a mistake but you can never know. Good news is, I’m already in the 50th position.
Soon after Roque Nublo I’m back on familiar grounds and that brings up my spirit. I know that El Garanon is very close and that soon enough I’ll have to start an uphill battle with hundreds of slower runners who have left El Garanon just a half an hour before me. Last year in Lavaredo Ultra Trail it was a breaking point for me. At first I slowed down to mix in the crowd but few kilometres later I had to quit.
In El Garanon I meet up with my team. I’m not very talkative and I don’t want to spend much time here. This checkpoint serves as a point where runners could send their extra equipment. While the guys I’m competing with are checking if nothing is missing I decide to move on and leave them behind.
Next few kilometres are tough. I know that we have to reach the highest point of the island Pico Nieves but I have already done it in practice run and it wasn’t that hard. What I don’t know is that I did it from the wrong side. Turns out that in order to reach Pico Nieves from the correct side, you have to tackle quite a climb. It’s a nightmare. I’m practically not moving and my speed is terribly slow. Here I run my slowest kilometer in the whole race and it is over 17 minutes long. The good news is that the hardest part is already behind me and the rest of the track will be mostly downhill. Besides I’m still moving up in rankings and now I’m already in the 40th position.
First few kilometres down are fast but then my knee starts to bother me again. I try to ignore ir but after a short while I get a sharp pain and I’m forced to stop. I decide to take some painkillers and I’m ready to walk if pain in the knee will continue. I’m confident that even with walking I can manage to finish in 19 hours and that’s not bad. Luckily painkillers help and I can continue to run.
Soon after I meet someone who is doing even worse. One of the best USA runners Tim Tollefson is walking right in front of me. He’s not doing well but he says he will get to the finish line. I’m sorry for him because he looks like a nice guy but competitor inside me is smiling – at least for now, I’m in front of one of the best known trail runners in the world.
Once I pass Tim and slowest marathon runners I start to calculate. If I push myself a bit, I can manage to fit into 17 hour finish. All I have to do is to run rest of the 35 kilometres below 7min/km. I know that there will be some technically tough places and that I still have some short uphills left but overall that doesn’t sound too bad. My knee is not bothering me any more, my nutrion plan is working and I still have some power left in my legs. I decide to risk a bit and increase my speed.
Next few kilometres are awesome! Turns out that I still have enough strenght and stamina left to run faster. Slower marathon runners not only doesn’t bother me but they actually help. Every time I pass one of them I have my next target in my sight. Once I’m on the narrow paved road I start to get more confident and more aggresive. For the first time I start to pass my competitors on the downhill. It turns out that running downhill can be real fun.
I reach Tunte checkpoint with completely different mindset. I’m already in the 36th position and I feel fantastic. I spend only few seconds in the checkpoint to replenish my water reserves and then I’m gone. For the first time in 95km I want to know in what position I am and I want to compete. I take out my cellphone to contact my suporters back at home and soon enough I receive detailed information. My mission is clear, I want to be in top30.
I run as fast as I can. I have to pass hundreds of marathon runners and to make process much easier I learn local etiquette. Every time I catch up with some slower runner I say paso, paso but once I’m already past I give short gracias or thank you. This works surprisingly good. Slower runners not only let me pass but also give me an encouragement. I hear famous vamos and not so famous animo. There are also other forms of encouragement in different languages but it’s not always easy to comprehend what is said.
Soon enough, for the first time in my life, I reach 100km mark and few kilometres later I’m already at Ayagaures checkpoint. There a horde of people here and in their midst is also my support team. I shortly inform them that I don’t need anything and that they can drive to finish. I spend only few seconds in the checkpoint to replenish my water supplies and I’m off again. Only 18 kilometres to go and all of them will be on a familiar ground, I did my meditative walk here less than two days ago.
At first 2.5km up and then 15km down. At the start of the climb I catch up with one of the best Spanish runners Jordi Bes. While we are both walking, I’m much faster but every time Jordi decides to run he passes me. It doesn’t bother me, I continue to climb in my own pace while sending out text messages to my supporters back home and at the end of the climb I’m far ahead. I’m happy about that. At first I tried to encourage Jordi but in return I received only some ugly growls. I don’t like it when people are growling at me and at that point I decide that my side mission will be to finish in front of this guy. Spoiler alert – I will succeed.
Last 15km are fast. Big crowd of marathon runners is already behind me and road ahead of me is almost empty. Trail beneath me is almost flat and it is much easier to run. I use one of the 86km distance top runners as my pace maker and that allows me to set my fastest kilometres yet.
Once we are in the city of Maspalomas, I’m confident that I’ll keep my current position in rankings. From my support team I know that runner ahead of me is more than ten minutes away but my side mission is far behind. These are the reasons why I allow myself to slow down a bit and I run my last kilometre with ease. 125kilometres, 16 hours, 32 minutes and 27th place at the finish line. After crazy 35km long sprint finish I’m very tired but I’m also full with joy and happiness. I have done it!
It’s a late afternoon on 5th of March. For the last sixteen and a half hours I have punished my body in several different ways – my abs are sore, my thighs are burning but my arms are heavy as lead. Physically i’m empty but the hardest part is already behind me. It is the last and my most favorite part of the race – relaxing. There is a soothing voice of announcer in the background and I am laying on the pavement. My eyes are closed, my breathing is slow and I allow myself to dream a bit.
In a dream I see myself. I see myself running smoothly across mountain tops, I see myself going aggressively on uphills and going aggressively on technical downhills, I see myself smiling to volunteers and supporters and I see myself on the finish line as one of the top10 finishers. I don’t know if it will ever come true but I believe in this dream and when I rise I have a completely different mindset. I’LL DO IT!
Few negative facts:
- In comparison to first place finisher, I finished 2:50 hours later. That’s a lot. That’s 1.5min/km;
- One of my secret goals was to finish in front of all women runners. I didn’t do it. One of them finished in front of me and there was no chance that I could catch her;
- My downhill running skills are terrible and I have no idea how to improve them while living in Latvia.
Few positive facts:
- If we look at I-TRA ratings before the race, I was 96th best runner in the field but managed to finish in 27th place. No runner lower in ratings managed to finish before me;
- If we look at Top50 finishers, three biggest surprises come from Baltics. Me (rating 96th, finished 27th), Lithuanian Vaidas Žlabys (rating 65th, finished 8th) and Latvian Romāns Evarts (rating 90th, finished 22nd). I’m happy that runners from countries without mountains can also finish in good positions;
- On ascents I’m already quite competitive;
- Last 40kilometres my speed was almost the same as speed for guys from top10 (with exception of first two runners).
- My plan was successful. I started slowly and at the end it paid off;
- No big crisis during the race;
- I managed to finish in front of few well known runners. In their midst is Jordi Bes Ginesta (UTMB CCC 2013 winner, UTMB TDS 2014 3rd place); Cyril Cointre (UTMB TDS 2015 2nd place, TGC 2015 5th place); Tim Tollefson (UTMB CCC 2015 2nd place)