My relationship with Trans Gran Canaria began in Autumn 2014, shortly after leaving my cushy engineering job at Siemens. I moved into a hostel workers room in Elterwater, deep in the heart of the Lake District, got myself a coach and began training full-time. My first goal was Trans Gran Canaria in late February, well-timed to work towards though the dark, wet winter months.
That race ended in disaster and to this day remains the most humbling, suffer-laden night and day on two feet I’ve ever, and probably will ever, experience. My enthusiasm about my new life as a full-time athlete more than got the better of me on the first climb whilst amongst the front runners, and blissfully ignoring my heart rate monitor which was displaying numbers starting with 19. I went with my instincts, excited by my new surroundings amongst the world elite of ultrarunning.
Plummeting down the first steep descent with similar vigour, as I reached the bottom my quads were completely destroyed, a mass of fibres pulled apart from the eccentric loading forces that I had failed to adequately train against during the preceding months.
Despite the pain, with each step feeling like a butcher was taking a tenderiser to my thigh, I persevered and crossed the line in under 20 hours, resolving to one day return to lay rest to my Canarian demons.
Fast forward two years and I find myself on the start line of the shorter 82km ‘Advanced’ race, still on the prowl for my first international top-10. This time with a far more wise and experienced head atop my shoulders. I feel relaxed and in control, knowing the route ahead and benefiting from having spent a relaxing few days with old friends on the island, seeing sights and enjoying their company.
I block out the familiar European rigmarole on the start line with some music from my iPod and we’re soon off into the darkness. On the horizon: a second chance to redeem myself over the island’s harsh topography.
The early mile’s slip by smoothly. I feel very strong, but this time let the front runners go, reigning in my competitive urges. Over the first 10 miles or so I find myself running with ex West Highland Way race course record holder Paul Giblin and GB international orienteer Hector Haines. A lull in the pace coincides with a patch of weakness for me after passing through Teror and Hector pushes on ahead. As we start to climb again I pull away from Paul and start to run alone. I do so for most of the race, hoping those ahead will wilt from their earlier pace in heat of the day.
I start to increase my effort on the ascent to the distinctive Roque Nublo and on the brief out-and-back stretch make eyes with Hector, now in a podium position. I myself am being closely pursued though and rush through the Garanon aid station, with now a mostly downhill marathon between me and the finish. My glutes are sore but everything else is holding up well and I’m able to really attack the next descent, picking off two competitors and grateful for my footwear of choice in comparison with that of two years ago.
I make a slight error leaving Tunte but soon gather my bearings and on the next steep switch backed climb spot several runners in my race ahead. It’s getting late in the race now and I know their pace will only increase as the vie for podium positions heats up. I count a bouncing Hector to be about 10 minutes ahead of me and as I top out of the climb realise catching him will no longer be on the cards.
I find it fascinating that as the next descent begins, so too my frame of mind and shortly after my body. Cramp in my hamstrings and a stitch stop me in my stride. I do my best to navigate the situation and after a short respite can push on to Ayagaures, though notice I am no longer attacking the descents as I was. I keep checking over my shoulder to see no one and accept holding my 7th place may be the best I can manage today.
Negotiating the horrendous riverbed section as best I can, I pass several 125km race runners before hitting the final road/drainage section. A quick glance behind and I spot someone with a green number. My heart sinks. I’m determined not to return to old apathetic habits and resolve to fight until the finish line. I run hard along the uneven drainage riverbed and hold our gap at maybe 50 metres, if that. I keep checking but his distance doesn’t change, unwilling to yield to my increase in effort. Bastard!
I run straight through the last checkpoint, kindly declining the dried sausage or whatever was enthusiastically dangled in my face and commit myself to holding my 7th place. I realised after leaving Tunte earlier that from then on, the course has been altered since I was last here and didn’t bother to recce the last few miles. My naivety soon catches up with me and whilst in my fraught state of mind, I emerge from the second drainage riverbed unable to immediately spot a course marker. I run off course until I see a couple of spectators waving me in the right direction, soon followed by my nemesis rival casually trotting past at the same unrelenting pace.
8th it is then, or so I think as I then spot another runner in my race coming into focus. ‘You must be joking?!’ I almost laugh before once again winding up into a desperate fight for forward momentum, arms flailing all over the shop to keep our distance at maybe 70 meters. I manage to extend it slightly over what is the most awful last kilometre of ultra I’ve ever endured and just about manage to run up the finishing ramp (who’s idea was that?!), fling my hands in the air and keel over, arms on knees panting like a dog, trying desperately not to overheat. It’s amazing what depths a competitive instinct can push you to.
A few hours pass and I’m back to a stable condition to watch my friends finish before heading home, not before Tim carries out his ultra puke routine by the roadside. Poor lad! The next couple of days are a write-off, but I’m more than happy to enjoy the sights and sounds of our little spot up in the hills. On the last evening, Pete, Hazel and I set off up to Roque Nublo and savour one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever admired. A fitting end to the trip and an evening I’ll remember for many years to come with a smile, now happy to have settled my debts with this island. Now, about that 125km race…