Race Report - 2019 TransGrancanaria 128K

2/23/2019 11:00:00 PM

One of the highest points on the race course and the third highest on the island, the famous volcanic rock Roque Nublo.
The TransGrancanaria 128K has been on my bucket list from the very beginning. It is one of those iconic European mountain races, but not in the usual alpine setting. Instead, it takes place on a volcanic landscape on one of the two largest islands in the Spanish Canary Islands. The race course features 128 kilometers and 21,000' of vertical gain as it traverses the island of Gran Canaria mostly along the high ridge lines. The elevation profile can be deceiving as is indicates a slow 85km climb before descending for 43 kilometers. The climate on the Canary Islands is subtropic and desertic. Desert sand is often carried across the Atlantic from the nearby Saharan desert of Africa.
First views of the race course once the sun came up on Saturday morning.
I was lucky to be able to attend the race as my work had me for meetings in both Switzerland and Spain, so I was able to hop on a direct round trip flight from Barcelona to Gran Canaria for the weekend. I managed to reserve a room in Las Palmas, the largest city on the island and the location for the race start of the TransGrancanaria 128K, which would make race day logistics fairly simple. I split the room with friend of mine from Germany, who had signed up to run the 64K race. 

I didn't reserve a rental car as I did not believe I would need it for my stay, but other than that, all travel plans had been prearranged. I was ready to go out there and participate in another fantastic adventure...or so I thought.
As I was sitting on the plane on the tarmac in Barcelona waiting for our flight to take off, I scrolled the TransGrancanaria website for some last minute info. As I came across the start list, I searched for my name. To my surprise, my name did not come up. WTF!!! How was thins possible? I had registered and my name had been on the initial list, so why had it been removed? There I was sitting on a plane about to take off on a 3 hour flight not knowing whether I was even going to be running this race. What a bummer. Most anxious flight I had ever been on.
Upon landing, I went straight to baggage claim to get my bags before even trying to figure out what to do. I'd have to take a bus or taxi to the race expo and HQ , which was at the other end of the island, so I could see if there was any hope at all of me running the race the next evening. As I was waiting for my bags, a fellow runner I had met at Barcelona airport joined me. I explained my dilemma. After locating my runner file online on my mobile phone, it became evident that either my registration fee did not get registered or my medical certificate did not get processed properly. I'm not sure of the mistake was on my end or not, but I do know I never received any further messages after finding my name in the original list of starters. Regardless, I had to try to get back into the race. As luck would have it, my new Spanish friend not only had a rental car offering to take me to race HQ and assisting as interpreter, he also happened to be a medical doctor and offered to sign a medical waiver for me, if necessary. Wow, pretty lucky how some things work out sometimes. Now we just had to hope that the race staff was willing to work with me as well. 
After a 30 minute drive, we arrived at the race expo and quickly notified a staff member of my problem. Jesus, who also happened to be a fellow 2018 UTMB finisher, explained the problem to the race staff and they were quick to assure me that I would be able to race. I just had to pay the regular race fee and they would get me a new bib and race packet. Phew! I really dodged a major bullet there and I cannot thank the helpful race staff enough. They truly went beyond what I could have expected. All was well now and I could focus on enjoying myself as I got ready for the race.
Jesus and I checked out the race expo for a while, but other than a coffee mug, I didn't splurge on any additional swag. I did, however, manage to get a pic with US elite runner and fellow Altra fan Hayden Hawks, who had just finished an interview and was one of the favorites to take the overall win on the men's side. After getting back to the car and quickly prepping both a drop bag for the 85km aid station and a finish line bag with some warm clothes, Jesus and I headed to Las Palmas, where I was staying in a hotel and he had rented an AirBNB nearby.
It was nearly 9PM now, so I checked into my hotel very quickly before finding a local vegan restaurant a mere 5 minute walk from my hotel. Score! After a rough start, this weekend was just getting better and better.
I was back in the hotel and ready to turn in for the night before my buddy Oliver arrived from Germany. He'd taken a direct flight from Hamburg and was registered to run the 64k race, which started at the halfway point of my race exactly 10 hours after our 11PM Friday night race start. Such a late race start meant that I would already be tired and ready to go to sleep before the race ever even started. Well, I'm always ready to face new and unknown challenges.
The next day (race morning), Oliver and I headed out to find ourselves a spot that serves some healthy food options on the beach. Earlier in the day, he had gone to pick up his race packet while I checked out my race start area for the first time. The race start is located at Playa De Las Canteras, a famous beach and promenade in Las Palmas. Oliver and I found a great smoothie and wraps restaurant right across from the beach, where we could relax, refuel and people watch all at the same time. The temps were in the 90s, so after we finished our early lunch, I headed back to the hotel to try to rest ahead of an early dinner and the actual race start at 11PM.
I tried to take an actual nap, it just never happened and before I knew it, it was time to grab a light dinner to allow myself to digest the food ahead of the race start. I convinced Oliver to eat at the same vegan place I had discovered the night before. After a quick bite, we headed back to the hotel and while Oliver rested, I got my race kit ready. I was getting excited to get out there and discover the island on foot along with 800 other runners. I met up with Jesus to walk to the race start about 45 minutes early. The beach and promenade were packed with runners and spectators and music was blasting on loudspeakers. There were life performers and a DJ was working the crowd. The excitement was building. The atmosphere was very similar to UTMB as runners lined up behind the starting line, the elite coral in the front and the remaining runners behind. 
Even the global ultra running community seems small after you've traveled to a few races. I ran into multiple friends at the race start. There was race photographer extraordinaire Ian Corless, whom I'd met at the Everest Trail Race in 2017, there was Denys Tkalich from Ukraine, whom I'd met at the Ultra-Trail Barcelona 100K race in 2016 and who'd been on the island vacationing with his family. He and I along with a couple of other runners had gotten hopelessly lost during the race in Barcelona, which made for quite the adventure and as a result, had stayed in touch. Finally, I got to meet some of the Altra team in Spain and Europe, who were extremely kind in offering their support during my race and stay in Gran Canaria. Thankfully, I never did require outside assistance other than my drop and finish line bags.
The race started at 11PM sharp. Just before, we were treated to a live rendition of the Anthem of the Canary Islands followed by a pre-race message getting runners hyped for what lay ahead. The actual race got kicked off by large fireworks over the beach and the ocean.
We had to cover the first 3 miles of the race on the actual beach before entering some natural rocky canals leading us out of the city and into the mountains. The race course and terrain stayed very technical for most of the race. I started out at a fairly conservative pace and felt pretty good through the night. With that many runners around you, it can often be challenging to run your own race and pace. As such, you must be willing to pass runners or get passed whenever your pace is jeopardized. Otherwise, your own race plan will no longer be your own as you end up running someone else's race.
I settled into my own race very quickly. Checking the splits following the race, it shows that I ran a very steady and even race when compared to other competitors, slowly gaining in position without losing many spots. The only split were I lost a few positions was at kilometer 85, where I spent more than 45 minutes to retape my feet and change socks and shoes and to refuel.
In truth, I knew the heat would get to me, if I did not dial back my effort considerably throughout the day. Even so, I still started to struggle a bit with nutrition. I never felt dehydrated, but I did run out of water after reaching the top of Roque Nublo. Luckily, one of the trail heads along the course featured a mobile kiosk offering ice cold drinks and icecream to weary hikers. I'd never been so happy to be required to carry emergency cash as part of the mandatory kit. I purchased a large bottle of water along with a can of ice cold Coke. It was heavenly. I refilled my bottles and shared the remaining water with runners following on the trail behind me.
For nutrition, I had been carrying 10 gels. They should get me to the halfway point, where I would switch to other snacks and solid aid station foods only. That plan worked, but because some aid stations only carried water and no electrolyte or carb drinks, I believe I still ended up calorie deficient. To address it, I started to take more and more time in aid stations starting at the halfway point to try to regain those calories lost.
It is nearly impossible to carry enough vegan calories when traveling to far away races and I've had more than one bad experience when trying to sustain my energy levels on fruit and gels alone. Therefore, I decided to allow for a more accommodating vegetarian diet during big races way from home. It is the only way tog et enough calories in some of these events and it removes another stress factor. I ended up eating lots of pasta and even some amazing vegetarian paella that had been cooked at one of the aid stations. While this extra time in aid stations did cost me my goal time, it did ensure that I actual reached the finish line.
While I had hoped to make up some time on the downhills on the final third of the course, the steepness and technicality of the terrain prevented that entirely. However, the views provided all the reward I needed in exchange for the pain the descends caused my legs. The climbing proved much easier than the descending, which is a problem when you're trying to make up time on the descents. Thankfully, I was moving fast enough to complete the last major technical descend in the daylight. I wasn't so lucky for the final challenge of the race, an extremely rocky 5 kilometer river bed section that provided no discernible trail, but only large river rocks to hop across. I could literally hear runners crying in dismay as we continued to be lead in and out of the river bed on our ay closer to the finish.
The final stretch to the finish had us entering a manmade canal for most of the final 4k to avoid the busy streets of Maspalomas as we made our way to the finish line in front of ExpoMeloneras. When I finally crossed the finish line, 23 and a half hours had passed and the winner had been relaxing for over 10 hours. I guess I just got to enjoy the course more than he did:-) Mile for mile, this was one of the hardest races I've ever done. In fact, I still cannot think of any race that was harder. Do put this race on your bucket list, but be ready for a challenge. I promise, it will be worth it.





















Glad to have finished this beast in less than a day:-)

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