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!