Going David LANEY | Part 3 – TGC

IMG_5789

My training prior Transgrancanaria (TGC) was hampered. It’s because I had twisted my ankle few times and couldn’t precisely follow the plan. You can imagine how one feels when something restrains you from doing what you really love. In normal conditions I would take some rest and let my body recover. However common standards are not for ultra runners. What is said is done. I shouted at my tired body, “Shut up!”, taped the traitor foot and got back to training. No excuses!

Being already in Gran Canaria and counting the days until the big day comes, I still felt pain. It made me anxious as I was not sure how it will go from there. Finally I decided to give my feet last chance to prove if they are worth anything. I am a man of habits and every time I go to TGC, I do training on the same course. It gives me an answer where exactly I am: if I need to rest, train more or simply pack the stuff and go home. Sort of last check up before the race. I didn’t want to make an exception this year so I decided: I’ll kill my ankles for good or make them loyal again. I think they got the lesson. My standard run from Agaete to Artenara was great, actually the best one in recent years – it boosted my confidence and from that moment I knew the race would be just great!

Ultra Trail World Tour venues are good occasion to meet friends and runners from all around the world, people who share the same passion. Although I like challenging myself during the races, the time spent with them on the trails prior the running events are no less important and even more fun. Each year TGC brings more and more talents to the island and this time field of athletes was impressive as well. This naturally formed the question, which persecuted me all the time: – “do I feel pressure?”

Coping with pressure is one of the keys to success. So, another task for me before TGC was to get rid of tension. I still remember the painful lesson I received at Gran Raid Reunion, but what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. And this is exactly what happened to me. I found a remedy that made me immune to stress – my family! As long as they are next to me, nobody can get under my skin. This time they were with me, so I felt secure and serene, ready to make TGC my day.

I believe family is the best dope ever invented (should I be disqualified for using my closest ones as illegal substances?) as it boosts your motivation, self-confidence and lets you fly from one aid station to another. Basically this is what happened to me this time as well. My family’s presence added me wings, which carried me kilometer by kilometer closer to the finish line and further from my rivals. I felt amazing, my feet were finally tamed and didn’t create much problems. The entire run went at lightning speed and I was able to sustain this crazy pace till the finish line, improving my TGC time once again. Although I finished second I am so thrilled to be back on track – the future looks bright!

Going David LANEY | Part 2 – HK100

IMG_5728

This was my second time in Asia and I have an impression that trail running becomes more and more popular over there. Especially it is the case of Hong Kong which has an enormous population and wonderful trails which are easily accessible from skyscrapers backyards.

I have never run such a long race at the end of January, a month that is usually dedicated to recovery, therefore suddenly started gamble looked as prolonged and never-ending 2015 season.

I was told that Hong Kong is a great place with no winds and warm all year long. Hence, coming from deep winter back home, I put just few T-shirts and shorts in my luggage and expected to sweat a lot consider humidity of China’s special administrative region. Oh boy, how wrong I was! It seems that European runners brought cold winter to Hong Kong along.

Vibram Hong Kong 100  (HK100) started with very low temperatures and super strong winds, which made waiting at the start line almost as challenging as upcoming race itself. I don’t know how other Europeans felt at that moment, but for me, even coming from -25°C winter, it was icecold. However, I notice that sometimes feeling really bad before the important event doesn’t necessarily mean that competition itself would be shitty. So, with my messed up mind and frozen body I was praying for a miracle.

HK100 is notorious for its steps and concrete trails, but after few running sessions with local runners prior to the race, I felt confident and kind of comfortable there. HK100 is a fast race and – speaking about speed – François and Long Fei come on the scene. Two different and very strong runners, who almost certainly are the winners, no matter the race. Anyway, it made my planning easier, since now I knew whom to stick with. I followed them almost to Ma On Shan and was pretty sure that could keep their pace till the finish line. However, when “flat” part of HK100 ended, they showed great ascending skills and literally disapeared, leaving me alone. Running third seemed to be a good option for early season so I focused more on keeping my place rather than hunting them down.

Ultimately, the wonder happened and I finished third. Moreover, it turned out that I am among only six runners ever to conclude the course under the time of ten hours. All this caused that after HK100 I substantially rebuilt my confidence. I knew it is high-time to forget OTS, over-racing and other bullshit worries. Because it is not for me!

Going David LANEY | Part 1

 

IMG_5720

Time

I’ve been keeping my blog nearly dead for quite some time now. It’s not that I don’t like to write anymore, it’s simply that I found less and less time to do so. ‘Time steals time’, my good fellow told me once. And he was damn right!

Life is so dynamic and goes so fast, sometimes too fast. If I wanted to run, race, dream, develop new projects and of course do my regular office job I had to sacrifice something, which really means a lot to me. My family. Nothing new in our society, but it still hurts. Moreover, my too much structured life, obligations that have no sense at all, office job with no real value, all these self-enslavement activities were absorbing me. I felt that I was going against everything I believe in. I lost the peace of mind. I got frustrated.

Feelings

I was lucky in few races and running community started to believe in me. Knowing how ultrarunning evolved in the last few years and how many new talents are joining the sport make such expectations ridiculous. So, all this pressure started to influence me and led to the “volcano eruption” in Reunion, where I totally lost control of my mind. Finally Diagonale des Fous  was a disaster, which I never would like to repeat.

Did I suffered from overtraining syndrome or had I been racing too much? Was it the end of my career, as it happened to many trail runners who wanted to compete too much and too fast? This is how I felt and those were the demons that I fought at the end of 2015 looking towards 2016 with horror.

Plan

In such moments I prefer either retreat or completely destroy myself. This time I didn’t want to listen the whim of traitorous body and I chose adventurous self-destruction. I decided to jump in some Ultra Trail World Tour  race ASAP. After all, dying without fight is not in my blood!

I divided 2016 running season in two parts with recovery period in between. My final racing plan looked like this:

  1. Vibram Hong Kong 100  – A race. Do my best and check if I am not too fat after the winter. Transgrancanaria – B+ race. Play safe and try to repeat last year’s success.
  2. Enjoy the life, 3R (Rock’n’Roll, Recuperation) and come back to training strong with no injuries. Spend some quality time in Lithuanian mountains J – nope, but anyway somehow do vertical training.
  3. Lavaredo Ultra Trail  – B race. Check if I’m on the right track with my training and spend some cheerful time with friends from Trail Running Team VibramUltra Trail du Mont Blanc  – A race. Avoid blisters so early in the race, sleep till Gran Col Ferret and then go 2015 David Laney (can read crazy fast) to close the gap and finish strong. Last but not the least, go for a ride with Gintare and boys on @vibram sole factor’s truck. Grand Raid Reunion – A+ race. Fly to the island earlier and have fun prior the run not to be distracted by its beauty during the race. Less media, FB and other socials – proper rest and clear mind is priority, so no buzz as well. Put all in – revenge!

SAMURAI SPIRT AND TRUE LOVE

12063653_1133035080044440_3217225044604257068_n

UTMB (Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc) was my biggest trail running nightmare to date. Nothing went to plan. After almost 100 miles of running I found the courage to drop from the world’s biggest trail race. I told myself it was a valuable lesson learnt but in truth my confidence was totally destroyed.

I had to pick myself up and found fresh motivation in the form of curiosity. To satisfy that curiosity, I decided to take a risk and, for the first time in my life, travel to my childhood dreamland, Japan, the land of ninjas and samurais, to race the UTMF (Ultra-Tail Mt Fuji). I knew I hadn’t fully recovered from UTMB, which was four weeks earlier, and my quad muscles hurt like hell, but I thought ‘it’s better to die trying than not try at all.’ And so, after more than 12 hours in the air, I finally stepped foot in the land of brave ultra running warriors.

Carbo-loading in Japan is not a problem. Rice is served everywhere and with everything – a bit like French fries in many parts of the world. The food in Japan is amazing, so it was a joy for me to try and gain a few additional kilos prior to the UTMF. I ate lots of miso soup, sushi and grains, all of which probably played a vital role increasing my glycogen storage.

The UTMF race itself is a 105-mile loop around the iconic Mt Fuji and while I felt confident in my ability to run a solid 100k (62 miles) so soon after UTMB, there were a lot of unknowns as to how I would cope after that distance. With that in mind, I decided to take it easy and let the race develop naturally. That, however, is not an easy task when you have crazy Norwegians like Didrik Hermansen and Sondre Amdahl racing! It meant that my first kilometers were probably a bit faster than I’d promised myself they would be, but ‘what the hell’ I thought, I felt fresh and full of energy. For a good part of the UTMF I was running with Didrik, who was extremely fast on downhill sections, so every time we began to go uphill I worked my ass off to try and lose him.

We chatted as friends but at the same time both knew we were fighting for position and to beat one-another to the finish line. At one point the trail hit a big, constant uphill and my Norwegian mate fell back. It was a real shame as the comradeship we shared on the trail was wonderful.

Even more wonderful was the love I felt at UTMF aid stations. Indeed, I’d even say I was in love with the aid stations. Weird? Not really. Knowing the love of my life and support crew, Gintarė, would be their waiting for me, I ran like the wind into the aid stations. Gintarė, as always, fed and watered me and provided the motivational boosts I needed to run such a strong race. Sometimes, like at UTMB, she is cruel and brave enough to stop me from hurting myself. She knows best. Gintarė is my true love and without her the trails wouldn’t exist. In Japan she became my code of Bushido.

I left the aid station at 55 miles to enter the dark on my own. The rain continued to pour but with a full stomach and a scent of love, I started to think that a UTMF win could be possible. I convinced myself that such an idea was stupid. Then suddenly I noticed race leader Arnaud Lejeune up ahead on the trail. He looked drained. Bloody hell, perhaps those thoughts of a race win were not so stupid after all!

I pushed myself hard in a bid to show my rival who was the boss. It seemed to work. What I hadn’t taken into account was the course, which then took me by surprise with some brutally steep climbs. It was really tough, especially in such wet conditions, but the grip of my X-TALON 200 shoes gave me an advantage.

There was now so much rain, mud and technical terrain that the race began to remind me of Grand Raid Reunion, which I did almost a year earlier. Suddenly I felt suspicious about everything, especially my pace. Is it good enough to win? I feared the Frenchman (Arnaud) would sprint from behind and steal my victory by few seconds. I was passed in the latter stages at Grand Raid Reunion. No way was I going to let that happen again and with the spirit of samurai – a mantra I kept repeating throughout the race – I forced myself to the finish line. Banzai!

There was now so much rain, mud and technical terrain that the race began to remind me of Grand Raid Reunion, which I did almost a year earlier. Suddenly I felt suspicious about everything, especially my pace. Is it good enough to win? I feared the Frenchman (Arnaud) would sprint from behind and steal my victory by few seconds. I was passed in the latter stages at Grand Raid Reunion. No way was I going to let that happen again and with the spirit of samurai – a mantra I kept repeating throughout the race – I forced myself to the finish line. Banzai!

I kept repeating throughout the race – I forced myself to the finish line. Banzai!

TOP10

11666088_1089885514359397_7359390290187094882_n

1 Go Schwarzenegger

You think elite UTMB runners don’t go to the gym? Think again. Combining your running with strength exercises such as squats, deadlifts and walking lunges increases endurance levels. I’m not a big fan of weights but try to use the fitness room as often as I can during the cold months to prepare my muscles for the summer challenges ahead. During race season, I do strength exercises at least once a week, including key work on my legs and core. The gym will never substitute the mountains, but it should be used as part of your training. Trust me, you will be thankful of strong legs on some of big UTMB climbs!

2 Be a family guy

Make sure the race doesn’t just become a celebration of your own ego. Whenever possible, include those closest to you in your UTMB bubble. Even better, make the UTMB into a family vacation. The Alps is an amazing place to spend time together, so share the experience. Having somebody you trust by your side can also be invaluable at a race like the UTMB. That person will likely know exactly what you need pre, during and post-race, so lean on them for help, support and crewing, and avoid the common mistakes that are made when tiredness kicks in. Remember, your family loves you and wants not only to celebrate the ups but help cope with the down as well.

3 Train hard
You’re highly motivated, right? But obviously that’s not enough for UTMB. The truth is there is no substitute for hard training. With long UTMB points qualification races already under your belt, you will be in a strong position and likely know how to adjust your training to prepare for the main event. For me it’s quite simple, the more time spent training means the more fun and rewarding the UTMB itself will be. I know that if I put the hard work in during the build-up, the race itself should be a celebration of that enormous effort.

4 Set benchmarks in the build-up
Register to race in a few smaller events leading up to UTMB. This can act as a substitute to a long run, or be seen as a tempo training session; it’s totally up to you. Incorporate the races into a training plan but don’t taper before them. These events are nothing more than scheduled training runs/sessions, the only difference is they are in a fancy race format. Remember, winning benchmark races is not your main goal!

5 Get good at planning
Good planning holds half the key to a successful UTMB race.

Recce – Knowing what is ahead of you is vital, especially for those participating in the UTMB for the first time. If you can’t travel to The Alps don’t worry, just study the map really carefully. If you don’t know how to do that… it’s probably a good time to learn! Good knowledge of the trail/terrain provides a huge advantage at the UTMB, as it eliminates a lot of the unknowns.

Pace – Plan your speed… and don’t start crazy fast! Control your excitement and endorphins, because you don’t want to burnout in the first hour. My advice is to go for the classic approach and start steady. This is what I did last year and then gradually worked my way through the field. Keep in mind that this is a beast of a race, which actually only really starts from the climb of Grand col Ferret at around 97km. Be patient and you will then have the chance to push your limits on the last uphill at Vallorcine.

Power hike – You will have to power hike certain stages of the UTMB course. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Believe me, even the best of the best sometimes hike. There are benefits to hiking versus running during sections of the UTMB – it uses less energy, provides a slight rest, makes the best time for nutrition intake and uses different muscles so taking some of the strain off already overused running muscles. Be warned, however, after a long hike it is really tough to switch back to running. The temptation is to carry on hiking. Switching gears between the two is crucial and should definitely be practiced before the race.

Experience – Read race reviews and speak with other trail runners who have already taken part in the UTMB. If you don’t know them personally, don’t worry, just make the approach and you will find many runners more than happy to share their experiences, be that in person or via social media. Don’t be shy… just ask! This is exactly what I did before this year’s Western States 100 and gained invaluable insights by doing so.

6 Become a tech geek
Reading kit reviews is important, but choosing and taking the proper gear into the battle is a must.

Weight – each gram matters in the long run. Maybe it’s not as important in short races, but remember you have to carry your pack for 168km. Any unnecessary additional weight will slowly kill you on your journey to the finish line.

Poles – I’m not a big fan of poles, but if your legs are not strong enough then it’s a good idea to have some extra support. The UTMB has almost 10,000m of climbing, so if you think poles will help, carry them.

Pack – It’s your second skin and best friend for many, many long hours so get the fit right and practice using it.

Headlamp – Run blind or get the best lamp you can afford, that is your choice. The more light you have at your disposal the less tired you will feel, as it requires less concentration and vigilance. Don’t get me wrong, running during the night demands a huge effort anyway, but with the proper headlamp you will have a longer reaction time to the obstacles. Ok, it’s not an obstacle course race, but be sure that the UTMB involves a lot of jumping, running around and finding other ways to avoid stones, tree roots etc. These are kind of obstacles, right? Remember to carefully read the UTMB regulations and pay attention to the mandatory kit list, as it is checked randomly and getting it wrong could cost you a time penalty or worse, a DNF.

7 Dare to dream
A few days before the UTMB begin to visualize the race itself: the peaceful scenery, the magnificent Mont Blanc massif, the single trail… and yourself flying on it. Picture in your mind each stage of the course, the pace at which you will be running, the approaches to the aid stations, when and what food or fluid you are going to consume, the maximum effort you will give the last uphill to La Tete aux Vents and, of course, crossing the finish line with your loved ones cheering you on. During the race itself try to deceive your mind. Don’t run the whole UTMB course at once, but instead cut it into smaller pieces. It’s easier for our brains to cope with running 30km instead of all 168km at once! Make it an aid-to-aid or crew-to-crew race. Remember, the mind holds the power, so it needs training just like the body.

8 Be fresh
Tapering is very important. When you’re on the UTMB start line you must feel like a bear after the deep winter sleep. You want to feel a bit overweight, but still hungry and ready for the hunting.

9 Go Gourmet
Take your time in aid stations and taste the incredible food that UTMB organizers have to offer at Les Chapieux, Courmayeur and Champex-Lac. However, be aware of the goodies that you haven’t tried on your training runs, as experimenting on race day can cause an unexpected stomach illness. There is always plenty of choice, so you will definitely find something that suits your personal menu. Even at the first aid station it is wise to stop for a while to replenish your food and water reserves, because it will prove to be a big game-changer in the later stages of the UTMB. Don’t forget in training to test all the gels, electrolyte drinks and food you are going to use on the race day. You need to make sure that your body can tolerate it. On long runs or in benchmark races, check if a certain nutrition plan works for you. Remember, long ultra races are won by heart and mind, but with a very strong stomach too!

10 Be killer!
If you want to race then evoke killer instincts and hunt everybody down, step-by-step bringing yourself closer the finish line. This kind of mindset is really useful when fighting for the podium, a certain position, or just simply trying to improve your previous time.

10 Be killer!
If you want to race then evoke killer instincts and hunt everybody down, step-by-step bringing yourself closer the finish line. This kind of mindset is really useful when fighting for the podium, a certain position, or just simply trying to improve your previous time.

Man vs Horse

11009218_1085436544804294_8662235481850608700_n

This weekend I will take to the start line of the Western States 100, the oldest and most prestigious 100-mile trail running race in the world. For the last three years I have obsessed about running the Western States, driven by a desire to proudly own an iconic finishers’ buckle. This year I will get my chance. My journey to the Californian promised land, however, started long ago in North East Europe.

Winter 2012, Lithuania –
How a quarell led to an obsession

I’d just returned home after a quarrel with two running friends and was eager to find the answer as to who was right. With a mug of tea in one hand, I sat down at the computer and loaded up the internet search engine with the following: Who is faster… man or horse?

I found stories of a few races in which men had raced horses, but none of the information satisfied me. The races were too short, too fast or too easy. None of the stories supported my theory that man was faster. Undeterred, I dug deeper and expanded my research. Eventually I discovered something called the Western States Endurance Run (WSER), which had evolved from the Western States Trail Ride, more commonly known as the Tevis Cup or the 100-Mile Endurance Ride. Bingo… this is what I had been looking for!

The human, with their evolved sweating system, running so many miles in such a hot climate was bound to kick the horses’ ass… or so I thought. The problem in my research was that from 1978 onwards the Western States Endurance Run was organized separately from the Tevis Cup. However, given the two events were held only a month apart – and were run on the same trails – I began comparing the results. ‘Not fair’ you may say and, yes, you’re probably right, but I was so determined to win the quarrel that a little bit of bias was always likely to creep into my research!

To my huge disappointment, after digging into years and years of race results, the horses still had the faster times. Ultimately I had to admit defeat. I was wrong. Upset at losing the argument, I went to bed but couldn’t sleep. My mind was obsessed with the Western States. Inside of me, torturing my brain and body, were thoughts of racing against horses. Could I outrun a horse? Maybe not all of them, but surely I could outrun some of them. Still unable to sleep, I kissed my wife goodbye, put on my trainers and went for a run.

It was cold and dark outside, but while running I kept envisaging parts the Western States movie footage I’d just watched. Suddenly I was not alone. Horses and trail runners were all around me and the hot Californian sun was burning my skin. I was in my own little Western States bubble. My obsession had started.

Summer 2013, Poland –
Discovering a Lithuanian trail running monster

I moved to Poland in 2013. With its mountains and huge trail running community, I was excited by this new challenge. My running too was in a transitional period, from road to trail and from flat to mountains. Despite this, I never neglected the trail running community in Lithuania, where the sport was up-and-coming.

Lithuania was offered the chance to participate in the IAU Trail World Championships but our small, enthusiastic group lacked the numbers to make up a strong team. It was then that I took to the internet in a bid to find ‘undercover’ trail runners in Lithuania.

During my search I came across the name of Dalius Kumpa. According to his records, he was the most experienced Lithuanian runner on the trails. He already had iconic races like Way Too Cool, American River, Miwok 100 and Tahoe Rim Trail under his belt. But the most fascinating fact for me was that he’d finished Western States and, having completed the course in under 24 hours, owned a prestigious silver finishers’ buckle.

Wow, there was a Lithuanian trail running monster living somewhere and nobody back home knew anything about him. I had to contact him, so I did. As our friendship evolved, he encouraged me to visit the US and try to gain an entry for Western States. For Dalius, everything looked so easy. ‘Hey, it’s time to visit the US and run WSER, believe me you are ready,’ he told me in one of our chats. ‘Just simply apply and the organizers are sure to accept you,’ he added.

I wasn’t quite so sure. The Western States is a hugely popular race and is always oversubscribed. They also have a lottery system to select runners. Dalius, however, remained confident about my chances. I decided to give it a try.

Summer 2014, Italy –
Mixing it with trail running royalty

I’d just finished the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Italy – held on the same weekend as Western States – placing third behind Anton Krupicka and Mike Foote. Hanging out at the finish line with these two greats of ultra running, I couldn’t really believe what had happened, what I had achieved. It was surreal. I was in dreamland. A couple of days later I started thinking… could I do even better? Could I get even closer in a race to a legend like Anton, the American hero who I’d seen in the run the 2010 Western States in the film Unbreakable? (Watch film trailer above). Maybe not now, but in the near future, probably yes.

That performance in Italy gave me the confidence to go on and survive the longest, hardest, but easily the most fruitful, running season of my life. More importantly, a third place finish in the Ultra-Trail World Tour strengthened my chances of being accepted an entry for Western States.

Spring 2015, Spain –
Reaching the unreachable

Hooray! My application was successful and together with Julien Chorier and Francois D’Haene, I was chosen as foreign consideration for Western States. It’s a bit scary given I have climbed such a long way up the trail and ultra running ladder to reach what I thought was unreachable and, to be honest, upon receiving my entry, I started to question myself. To prove to myself that everything was under control and training was going well, I went to race the 77-mile Transgrancanaria ultra, which includes 8,500m of elevation gain. I ran really well, winning the race in a new course record time. It proved that I was on the right track and filled me with the belief that I could do well in the US too.

Summer 2015, USA –
Western States 100 – the time is now

I arrived in the US two weeks prior to Western States. My tapering has gone well and I’ve eaten lots of carbs, including the American-style pancakes! Despite all the research, what I’ve actually found is that I knew very little about the Western States course, which includes over 5,000m of elevation gain. It has me concerned that I haven’t done enough specific training and maybe my legs have too much racing in them to perform well on this speedy, runnable and hot course.

Checking out sections of this epic trail in my X-TALON 200 shoes, I have been left surprised at how unpopulated the trails are. Even though some places are partially civilized, the trails are full of savage animals, such as black bears, mountain lions, coyotes and, of course, wild horses.

So, my Western States journey that started in the local pub with friends has brought me directly to the roots of the quarrel. Western States is, I guess, the best place finally to find out the answer to that question – who is the better runner, man or horse? Actually, it doesn’t really matter anymore. The three-year journey I’ve made to get here is what matters. It’s a journey that has seen me establish new friendships, travel the world and immerse myself in a sport that I’m passionate about and a style of living that I love. Thank you, Western States.

TRANSGRANCANARIA 2015

IMG_6716

Background

Last years Transgrancanaria (TGC) turned out to be my worst race of the season. Being a planning enthusiast and disappointed with my result last year, I started to analyse what went wrong and what crucial mistakes I had made. I was shocked that my tactics, pacing and overall plan worked just fine. So, where was the problem? I couldn’t understand how I had run well in the Lavaredo Ultra Trail, UTMB and Diagonale des Fous, but failed during TGC?
I figured that knowing Szczecin, Poland and Vilnius, Lithuania (countries where I reside) it is not difficult to notice that these places are totally flat and both had harsh winter conditions. Both those factors had an enormous impact on my preparation for the 2014 TGC and I came to the island with huge expectations, but sadly undertrained and wasn’t prepared for the type of terrain.

So before the 2015 TGC I tweaked my training plan by adding more vertical kilometers, on the only one “hill” (ascent up to 70m) that I can find in my locality also I introduced heat adaptation by using a sauna. In my mind this was supposed to eliminate both failures from the last year.
To check if this really worked and if I didn’t need any further tweaks to my preparation, I flew to Gran Canaria in January. A week long training camp on the island proved that all my training was going to plan, I got too excited and I returned back home with shin inflammation, which meant I couldn’t train properly for a couple of weeks. As you can imagine I wasn’t happy!

I’m not a professional athlete and have full time job working in an office and each day closer to race day I felt more and more tired, trying to work hard both at my hobby and real job. So, it came with no surprise that I got sick with just three weeks before the race. Luckily I was back to it pretty soon, but I panicked and something was definitely wrong with me. I lost self-confidence as my brain and legs just didn’t feel right. Being tired and running like a lunatic I was loosing focus and motivation, but then I read on the inov-8 blog Ben Abdelnoor’s, article “Think positive run faster”. Such an incredible and motivating story with so much self-assurance and optimism to make me think, I was on the right track once again – committed!

I deliberately flew to Gran Canaria one week in before the race to let my body adjust to the changes and more importantly to have time for recuperation. Sleep and proper rest are very important ingredients in a recovery cocktail. Early in 2015 inov-8 sent me pair of x-talon 200’s, which I found the finest shoes produced by the company. I do like the x-talon 212 (which I was racing in all of 2014), which is an excellent shoe also, but having a wider toe box, a 3mm drop and being lighter at 200grams, this finally became my shoe of choice. I had run more than 900km in my first pair of x-talon 200’s, but then I noticed that they were a bit worn, so luckily my friend from Poland was flying to the island and brought me a pair from the inov-8 Polish distributors. This could have been risky to wear new shoes before an ultra event, but I had no choice. They were more than perfect!

Agaete – Artenara

This years TGC had a stacked field of elite runners. I wasn’t at all worried or concerned as my main aim was to improve upon my 2014 time and position (16hrs 11mins,11th place) and hopefully have a good race with the top runners along the course. I was happy to meet my inov-8 team mate, Brendan Davies, where we chatted for hours, a typical conversation of runners, sharing running secrets and trying to predict possible winners, which does help me reduce any pre race nerves. I had no doubt, that with all the elite runners that the start would be super fast and if I tried to keep with them it would finally kill me and this could ruin my whole race. I chose the classic approach, which has played well in my previous races – start slow and if i still have the power, then case everyone down later in the race.

When unleashed, all the runners went crazy and ran very fast kilometres up to Tamadaba, using up more energy than i would have liked at the beginning of an ultra race. I tried to run clever and chose to stick with a group consisting of Antoine Guillon, Anton Krupicka and Freddy Thevenin.

Approaching Artenara I started to suffer cramps. I wasn’t ready for it so early in the race, but such is life and every movement I made by muscles would spasm. I couldn’t stop, as this made the pain worse. At the aid station I asked my wife, Gintare, to help find some salt pills and luckily Nadine Davis (Brendan’s wife) was prepared and had some spare – a lifesaver!

Artenara – Teror

Getting lost is becoming my trademark, which I’m not proud of. Being absent minded doesn’t help at all. On the ascent to Valleseco I took a wrong turn and went off course. On a positive note with so many times getting lost in a race, being able to control yourself in these situations does help. I felt something wasn’t quite right, the runner that had been in front of me just disappeared. I turned on my GPS and navigated my way back on the trail, loosing several minutes. I was frustrated as I was behind runners who I had previously passed, but I paid the price of loosing my concentration and not following the markings. At the same time it is the beauty of ultra running, as it means nothing – there is plenty of time to close the gap once again, while in shorter races making a wrong turn could be crucial.

Teror – El Garanon

From Teror on I was trying to keep up with Swedish runner, Johan Lantz, who seemed very strong on the ascents, but was struggling on the descents. We passed each other several times and then he eventually finally he left me behind and I thought that our fight would last till the finish line. Reaching the top, of what seemed a very long uphill, I sprinted on the asphalt road trying to close a gap between us. Suddenly I noticed somebody lying on the road. Still approaching I recognised that it was Johan. In moments like these you must become human again and forget about your hunter instincts. I had no doubts that I must help him, even though I knew that there were other athletes that could appear at any moment. At first I tried to work out what had happened and when Johan replied that he had broken his leg it I couldn’t believe this. I tried to move him out of the road, but this was too painful. I adjusted his head torch so that he would be visible for any approaching cars. I assured that he would be ok and then I rushed for help. Only a short distance away I stopped a car and with some luck he was a local man who could speak good English, so I explained what had happened and that he would take care of Johan. My rescue mission was complete and from that moment I could focus on racing again.

El Garanon – Arteara

I arrived to the aid station at El Garanon and being in second position I was totally in control of myself, no cramps and still a lot of power in my legs. According to the plan the race supposed to start here. Good news was that just in front was Yan Long-Fei, but there were a lot of quick runners stepping on my heels. Leaving El Garanon I spotted Iker Karera just behind me and thought that Yan Long-Fei had left just a few minutes before me. There was no time for relaxing, the race for the podium had just started. I was now sure that I could make the podium, maybe not first, but a top three position for sure. Feeling fresh I power hiked to the highest point of the race – Pico de las Nieves. People at this point informed me that I was in first position. Wow, it was a huge surprise for me, as I was sure that Yan Long-Fei was in front of me. I was now questioning whether he was out of the race, or just taking a short rest?
Having known from last years experience that from Pico de las Nieves to Arteara is a very long technical descent. I had trained on this section trying to familiarise myself with every stone on the trail. Last year I was absolutely broken on this part, but now I was confident and running was very smooth.

Arteara – Maspalomas

In Arteara the real hell started. The temperature jumped up to 30 degrees, but there was no time for slowing down. I had to run the fast as the terrain allows for this, but after already running 110km, this is not an easy task. I was now worried about Yan Long-Fei, as he is can run the marathon in 2hrs 14mins, which means he can run fast, extremely fast. With such speed he would be able to easily close the gap even if he was 10 to 15 mins behind me. I decided that I would make it more difficult for him to catch me, so I started to speed up.

With the finish line drawing closer, I noticed that my time was good enough for the course record. With 8km to go I adjusted my plan once again and I started to race for the record. The final part of the race is difficult; running through dry channels, sandy beaches, passed tourists and all on my mind was the course record. No matter how hard something is, the job must be complete. I usually tell this to my children and in the race I found myself repeating this over and over. I was so happy to not only win the race, but also set a new course record of 14hrs 23mins and 41secs.

P.S.1. Johan wrote a thank you letter, explaining that he had broken his thigh bone.

P.S.2. Yan Long-Fei and Iker Karera were my bogymen, as I didn’t know that they dropped in the race.

P.S.3. Interesting fact: Sondre, Didrik and I were training together in January and didn’t even imagine that all of us would make the top 5!