I have lots of experience with the UTMCD course and it’s been a bit of a nemesis for me. I have finished the half twice, the first one being my first ‘ultra’ trail distance where I struggled massively with energy and learned the importance of proper race fueling. There were some rough moments in hypoglycemic stupor with high wind and vertical sleet coming in my face at higher altitudes. That race also taught me some respect for the mandatory gear in these races and I was very happy that the organization had added some extra gear due to the difficult conditions. At the start line, I was still thinking it’s ridiculous that you have to run with all this stuff when it’s nice and warm. The second finish of the half race was when I had injured my ankle and somehow struggled to the finish. Last year was my first attempt at the main 90km, 4,500m+ distance, which ended in Mont-Ral at km 68 after stomach problems that had prevented eating and drinking properly from very early on. I also completed the course over three days last year with a Finnish friend and there were some challenging moments running at night in freezing rain …
In reality, the course is really not that hard as long as you are prepared and don’t do silly mistakes.
Getting ready before the race. Photo by Jordi Santacana.
The going-in position this year was also a bit tough. I have been injured since the Cambrils half marathon, where I did do my personal best time of 1:17:03, but destroyed my achilles tendon in the process (might have been the last road half I do…). Just when I got back to some light running, I got sick with the flu and all this combined meant that there was almost no running for three weeks. I then had one proper training week before this race and just wanted to get the legs back to it and focused on getting some kilometers and vertical in at low intensity. Finally, 3 days before the race I did a “fitness check”, running my usual route from the house to the Hermita de Puigcerver, exactly 5kms and 470m climb or so. I was 1 min 15 sec off my record from last year, which is about 4%. This, in a 11h ultra race would mean a loss of about 26 minutes. Last year’s winning time was 10:57, so I calculated I could maybe manage 11:23 .. the ballpark I had in mind was that I’d finish between 11 and 12 hours. The main objective was to finish the race and time and position were completely secondary.
I started the race nice and slow running and chatting with Gerard Anton. We were quite far back in positions and just kept going at a consistent and conservative pace. This was really pleasant time and the first 30km flew by fast. There were some other runners with us every now and then and I thought that some of the group was going a bit fast for me and I held back a bit and focused on eating and drinking. I felt like I was struggling more than the others in the climb to Siurana and I was worried the group might completely drop me. Things changed in the next downhill, where I was a bit faster than some of the others and lost contact with Gerard.
Start, Gerard Anton on my right. Photo by Blanca de la Sotilla.
After Siurana, there is quite a long uphill, not too steep, but tactically challenging as the gradient is not clearly one that you’d run up or walk. So I did a bit of both while some other folks around me mostly ran. I didn’t really lose that much time and by the time we got to the aid station at the top, the two guys I was in contact with were there and I actually passed them after filling my water bottle a bit faster. There was a longish downhill after this and after 20 seconds of the downhill I didn’t hear them behind me anymore and did not see these guys for the rest of the race. This was around km 36 or so and the start of the ‘high moment’ of the race, where I was feeling very good and was catching up with other runners. There was a small strategic section after this with a dirt road of slight uphill for several kilometers where I knew that a strong runner could make up a lot of time, so I used the good feeling I had and kept a good pace. I passed two more runners, before starting the downhill to the big aid station half way into the race. I arrived at the aid station about the same time as last year and almost exactly at the time I had expected. I was still in good shape, so I thought the race was going quite well. I was somewhere near top 10 at this point.
One of the most beautiful parts of the race early on, close to Siurana. Photo by Jordi Santacana.
I had a drop bag at the aid station, with my special salmon soup which I gulped down hungrily. I also added the extra mandatory shirt into my pack and left my gloves (mistake). I also changed shoes here, from Salomons to Inov 8’s, hoping to get a bit more extra space for my swelling feet (another mistake).
Fooling around, just arriving to the half-way aid station in Vilaplana. Photo by Blanca de la Sotilla.
The hardest climb of the race was next, with 650m+ in 3,5 kms. However, I live 6km from this place, so I have done this climb a million times and know that you just need to be patient and take it easy. It was time to put on some music and just keep going. The uphill went well and I passed another runner. The sun was now out in full and I did notice that I was quite dehydrated. I drank my main 600ml water bottle in the first km after the aid station and soon had to stop and take out my backup from the backpack. This one also was gone in the next few mins and I had to stop eating anything until I get more water. There was an aid station at the top, where I drank another full 600ml bottle. I drank about 1,5 liters in that 3,5km section. It helped though and I was soon able to eat well again and the worst thirst was gone. I knew I was still dehydrated, so I paid a bit more attention to drinking and also stopping to cool down in the streams and fountains that I saw. In the next downhill, I passed this one guy that I had already passed once in the previous downhill, but he was faster through the aid station. I didn’t expect to see him again in the race.
Climbing … and feeling it. Photo by eSportFoto
Some problems started before the next aid station. I fell pretty hard on an easy part of the trail and landed on my running poles. I heard a little crunch and was afraid that I had broken a pole once again. I also got a massive cramp in my left calf and it took a while to get rid of it. At this point, the runner I had passed in the downhill caught up to me and saw me lying on the ground with my calf cramping rock hard. He asked if I broke my leg :). I told him I’m fine, it’s just muscle and that he should keep going. He took off and my cramp also cleared quickly and I was able to continue. I wasn’t feeling weak or anything, so I wasn’t sure why I even fell. Then I fell again, hard once more only 500m after the first place. This is usually a bad sign and I was getting quite pissed off at myself for not paying attention. It was again on a very easy trail, where I stumbled on the only root or rock that there was… Anyway, on we must go.
It’s always great to have so much support on the trail. I’m quite well known here after some good results and probably also because I stand out from everyone else and have a unusual name. So at every aid station or where there are spectators, they are always shouting my name and giving me support. It must be annoying for people that run with me, but it always gives me a bit of a boost and a reason to put on a smile. This is especially the case with the team C.E. Trail Tarraco and the “manada”. They are often staffing aid stations and it’s a big help. The biggest supporter of all is Vicenz Laiz Marin, who shouts “Come on Kai” about a kilometer away every time he sees me :).
So I get a bit of a boost from an aid station where I see lots of friends and also see the guy I had already passed twice and now did it for the third time. There was again a downhill where I knew I was faster and I was thinking that I really don’t want to see the guy again before the finish. Just to be sure, I put in a bit extra to put some distance between us. There was again a long easy downhill, which can be a bit tough for the legs though because it’s the same kind of movement for many km’s and this can stress the muscles a bit. I started doing some math in my head here, I was about at km 60 so 2/3 of the race was done and I thought that was good. I then looked at the race time, which was something like 7 hours. That meant that I still had 4-5 hours of racing to do. At this point I decided it’s better to stop thinking about such silly things and focus on getting to the next aid station and just worry about each stage at a time. This can be quite an important factor in ultra racing, because the distances and times can sometimes feel intimidating, so it’s better not to think about it.
So I focused on the next challenge which was the second toughest climb in the race and perhaps the hardest, because it is so late in the race. It’s also very long. I have always struggled with this part, so I was a little afraid of how it would go. It started well and I was able to run the mellow uphills in the beginning and passed one runner who had dropped out here and was heading back to the previous aid station. I then caught up to another, who is a friend Eloi Ortiz and I stayed with him for a bit. He was walking quite a lot, so soon I told him I’d move on and kept moving a bit faster. In this hill, I did realize that my pole had indeed broken when I had fallen and the stick was now half useless. I was happy that I had a spare pair in my race bag and Katri was waiting with it at the top of the hill, so no big deal. The rest of the hill went quite well and I was able to sit down a bit at the aid station and eat. The race doctor warned me about the dropping temperatures and it did indeed feel a bit chilly. I was starting to wonder how smart it was to leave my gloves at the half way point …
In the final third of the race… and you can see it. Still going ok! Photo by Jordi Santacana
As I left the aid station, THAT GUY that I had passed three times already came in. I really did not want to see him again. The next section was again quite technical, so I expected to be faster there, so again I pushed a little bit to make sure he doesn’t creep up on me again. There were quite a lot of runners from the half distance and I scared a lot of them by flying past quite a lot faster than some of them. Sorry.
I now had to start dealing with a new problem … I have a problem with my hands that they get very cold very easily and it was now getting quite cold in the higher altitudes and I was worrying about the sun going down too fast. The parts of the trail that did not get sunlight anymore were already very cold and I had no gloves. I did have a buff, so I wrapped that over one hand and my running poles, so at least one of my hands was warm. This solution was ok, I kept switching the buff between my hands every now and then and that worked well enough for now.
I was quite happy, I had already told Katri at the previous aid station that everything is going well and that I am very likely to finish. I was thinking that I could perhaps also catch some more positions in the end since I had been running quite conservatively. It really had been a very pleasing race, with no big problems and no desperation and dark thoughts like I sometimes may have at the end of a long race. I went through the last bigger aid station and had a little chat with the race referees there and then went on my way, hoping to finish before the dark and cold really hit. I still had the highest point in the race to go through and was a bit worried that it would be ridiculously cold there. There was one more climb to do, but compared to the previous ones, it hardly counts as a climb. When I got to the top, the organizers told me I was in sixth position (this wasn’t true). It was hard to keep track of positions because there were now runners from three different distances mixed in the same trail. From this point on, it was 10kms to the finish line, which in an ultra like this is really almost nothing.
The final section consists of a rolling dirt road, with a couple of slightly bigger climbs and semi-technical descent from the highest point into the Prades village and the finish line. I felt good at the finish and did a nice sprint, only to find out I was going the wrong way. They had changed the finish line from last year 🙂
Happy and dazed at the finish line. Photo by Katri (I think)
What was really interesting was that I had estimated my finishing time exactly to the minute based on my test run a few days before. I wasn’t watching my time at all in the race, but hit the exact time last year’s winning time was, but deducting my 5% lack of fitness from it.
All in all, I finished in good spirits and was happy with the result, considering the circumstances.