Transgrancanaria - "TGC" is part of the famous "Ultra Trail World Tour". Many of the world’s greatest ultra runners enter but not all of them finish due to the technical and brutal nature of the TGC. I first heard of this race whilst listening to "talk ultra" hosted by Ian J Corless. The second time I heard about TGC was whilst running the "South Downs way 100 mile" in the UK, one of the runner’s I spoke with told me it's awesome and there’s no need to enter via a lottery. I made up my mind there and then, one day I would enter the TGC. Little did I know it would be so soon.
AGAETE START LINE
Making my way to the start line of TGC, I enter the elite area at the front of the pack, my names not in the elite list, so I have to sneak past security. There are over 80 listed athletes ranked by the ITRA - "International Trail Running Association", these runners are on the TGC’s website as favorites. I’m pretty sure I'll finish within the top 80, so positioning myself in this area is brave but I'm sure I can do it (finish in at least the top 80). Part of the mandatory kit is cash, which I do not have plus I can’t find an ATM, so before entering the start I rush to a particular backstreet coffee shop and find Maria the owner. A few days earlier I brought a sandwich after a training run at her shop, we got chatting, she’s a friendly lady. I tell her I need €10, Maria doesn't hesitate to give it me along with an espresso. Adrenaline and caffeine rush through my veins, I'm now ready to start TGC. We set off at a good pace, I'm in about 60th position, 100’s of people on the street cheer us as we pass by them.
TAMADABA FIRST CLIMB
Along the road up a path and straight into our first climb towards Tamadaba. Sea to summit with about 1450m positive elevation. No more street light’s just the beam from out head torches, looking up I see the leaders are not that far ahead. I feel comfortable with my effort and know I can sustain this pace up to the top of the mountain. My Leki micro trail poles are a real help as nobody on this uphill section is running so hiking with my poles save me valuable energy. About halfway up the mountain I turn to look back down at the snake of glittering head torch lights below, the view takes my breath and I soak up the amazing sight before turning to look ahead and continue with my progress. Finally we reach the top, surrounded by pine trees I feel like I’m in America at Western States 100. I’m feeling great. The atmosphere in Tamadaba is really cool, I fill one soft flask, as the other is still full. I'm loving the smiles from the checkpoint staff they are so supportive and encouraging. Leaving Tamadaba cowbells ringing we begin our descent. The group I'm following disappears into the cold mountain air. Time to react, I accelerate towards them down the rocky path at break neck speed. It's scary but awesome as I follow the single file group of about 6 runners in front of me, the runner directly in front is a female runner.
Disaster strikes as my left foot gets caught in a root, I'm propelled forward, flying through the air time slows down. I look at the rocks ahead of me wondering which one I will smash my teeth on. I don't know how but I manage to get my left leg back into position in front of me and so don't land on my face. In doing so my left calf muscle cramps up momentarily. ***** it's all over, my mind is filled by nightmare memories of cramping up in Thailand. 3 weeks ago I was in Thailand running the TNF100 - "Thailand North Face 100k". I finished 3rd position but paid a price by experiencing severe dehydration and cramping after the race I spent 22 hours in hospital. I feel traumatized but continue down the trail chasing the woman ahead. The pace is relentless so no time to think. By the time we reach the bottom I've mentally recovered from my trip and mini cramp, my body feels fine in fact I'm feeling confident. I now have company behind me. Feeling part of a group I settle into the rhythm of running the trails. Our next big climb is from Tirma.
TIRMA CHECKPOINT 2
Getting to the second checkpoint I'm ready with my soft flask open, one of the checkpoint staff take it from me to fill. There are many people here and they are cheering and singing the runners who enter and leave. with all the fun going on around me I forget to eat fruit from the table My nutritional strategy is 200 calories per hour via a Gu gel and 500ml of ultrafuel plus a salt tablet. I'm also eating what ever fruit is available at each checkpoint. So leaving Tirma I know I've rushed and not followed my plan but I don't worry as I still have all the following checkpoints ahead to eat fruit and this is what will count towards staying energized and able to finish TGC. Leaving Tirma I'm cheered and applauded by the large crowd. We run a short while on a flat dirt road before the climb up to Artenara which will give us 1500m of elevation gain. When running this section in daylight I was rewarded by seeing the large ridgeline of the mountain ahead of me, now in the dark with only light from my head torch I take pleasure in knowing the beauty of the landscape to come. I've passed the female runner who had been ahead of me all this time, but not because I’m running faster, just because she's slower on the flat. I turn left onto single trail the gradient soon becomes steep and I catch up with “Tim Wortmann” an athlete from the German “Altra” team. I met him before the race, he’s a friend of Matthias Krah the other German Altra team member. I met Matthias on my first training run here on the island. We all drove in my car to the start leaving Matthias's car at the finish this way we were independent and didn't need to take the coach service.
TIM + MATTHIAS GERMAN ALTRA TEAM
I sense Tim's not feeling good. I ask where Matthias is, Tim say's he's behind us. Tim tell's me to go ahead because by now I have slowed to his pace. I push on feeling energetic. At the top the terrain becomes runnable so I do just that. Running along the mountain ridge I come to the section where I saw wild goats on my training run only days before. Here I begin a love affair with the trail as it zigzags through trees, just for a moment I stop turn off my head torch and look up at the sky full of sparkling stars, I’m humbled. I'm protected from the wind this side of the mountain, I feel safe in the wilderness away from internet and the madness of society. I continue the gradual downhill running easy my heart rate drops to 116 beats per minute. Leaving the dirt trail and onto a tarmac road I enter Gran Canaria's highest village "Artenara" the road becomes cobblestone as I pass many cheering people to enter a building in which hot food is served.
ARTENARA CHECKPOINT 3
This is checkpoint number 3, eating a small amount of pasta, I'm asked if I’m okay, it’s pleasing to be able to say yes I'm fine. Around me runners whom probably set off too fast sit on chairs looking tired and worn out. I've climbed to 56th position. Filling my water bottles I leave and head up the steep tarmac road to exit the village. Next check point is at Fontanales, this is the start of the advanced race. Including TGC there's a total of 6 race's, the Promo/family 17k, Starter 30k, Marathon 42k, Advanced 85k, TGC 125k and finally the Trans 360 265k. Up till now I have run marathon distance. Running in the dark with a head torch is really cool, but before starting I was nervous and apprehensive, but now I grown use to the dark. The trail to Fontanales crosses three valleys, lots of ups and downs along rock-strewn trails. Here is where I experience my first competition. 3 runners pass me when going downhill then I catch them up on the uphill, this continues for a while.
Each time they pass me an internal voice tells me this is a race against yourself and the way you react to being passed on the downhill is a measure of your focus and character. One guy is impartially faster than the others and as he passes me on one of the downs he turns looks me in the eye and says no more ups for 6 kilometers, I take this as an attempt of intimidation. I have been passing him on every uphill so I think he wants me to know there are no uphill’s for a while. Knowing I shouldn't, I follow him down the dark twisty trail keeping close behind him, navigating the rocks at speed. It may be the worst thing I have done up till now. So far I've stuck to my own pace but chasing this guy I've lost my focus. I'm sure it won't be long before I pay the price. Eventually he gains time on me and I no longer see him ahead. I travel along a small tarmac road before turning right over to a slippery narrow decent, on the road I catch up with two guys one has stopped and is questioning if this is the correct direction. His friend shouts out to him yes it's this way. I know it’s the right way having already run this in training, a huge confidence boost for me.
Down the slippy trail I'm on the tail of the runner who was unsure of the direction, from behind he reminds me of an American runner the way he is dressed, trucker hat and knee length shorts awesome trail fashion. I feel good but slip and land on my bum getting up I wipe the dirt from my rear. This part of the trail travels in between giant eucalyptus trees, smelling the strong aroma of these trees takes me back to Ethiopia. I take time to appreciate the pleasant smell of eucalyptus and memories of running in Ethiopia flood my mind. At the bottom I stop off for a quick toilet break. At Fontanales checkpoint I eat fruit, fill my bottles and am out running in less than 60 seconds leaving other runners behind, Im now in 51st position. Valle Secco comes and goes without me noticing, except this is the point the sky actually starts to change. I notice color and know it won't be long before sunrise. At Terror checkpoint I eat fruit and fill bottles, chatting with a French runner as I leave. The whole time up till now I have been eating and drinking as planned. Feeling strong I pass two runners on the relentless climb to Cruz de Tejeda.
CRUZ DE TEJADA NEVER ENDING CLIMB
This climb seems to never end. I begin to enter my first big low of the race. It starts as a small voice in my head, are you sure you can finish this race? I am also cold and so put on my running gloves. Like a machine my mind drives my body up this cold windy mountain. At the top is Arinez checkpoint, for the first time I take out my waterproof jacket putting it on I now feel warmer. I pick up some fruit and eat it, and then I see a large piece of salty pretzel on the table I bite into it like a wild man. The checkpoint staff have a good laugh at me. The next part is uphill through a pine forest, which at the top literally passes the drive to the mountain cabin I've been staying in for 3 weeks, this is my biggest test so far. Thoughts of entering the warm dry room in the cabin laying on the bed and covering myself in a warm blanket corrupt my mind. Just before the top a runner goes past me making eye contact, I can see that he can see I'm having a ruff time, he gives me a look of sympathy and leaves me behind. At this point I ask myself how I would feel waking up in that cabin nice and warm in bed knowing I'd quit because the race was tuff, I'm not ready to quit this race just yet. I reach the top of the climb where the forest trail meets the road, right in front of me is the drive up to the cabin, I turn right and continue running along the road leaving the warm bed behind. The quit and sleep in the cabin thoughts try to pull me back but I'm too strong and solider on.
Turning left I now hit the downhill trail. All the way to next check point at Tejeda I run fast and furious empowered by growing self belief after over coming my first low. The sun has risen, I remove the head torch and let my eyes use the light from the sun. At Tejeda check point I dance to loud music that’s played, the staff clap and cheer, they are all women in their sixty's. I feel euphoric after the downhill section and offer a kiss to one lady, she looks at me smiles and kisses the air in front of my face. I quickly realize I must have food and snot all over my big moustache. She is wise not to kiss me. I take soup and try to drink it fast immediately spitting liquid out all over the floor as it's super hot, adding water helps cool it a little. Leaving Tejeda I head towards Roque Nublo the most famous mountain on the island, due to a huge exposed rock standing upright, it's meant to represent a man’s penis. “Nuria Picas” a famous runner told a joke "What do you get if you cross a rock and a *****? a dictator!" My technique up this part is simple, hike using my Leki poles on the steep ups and run everything else. At the top two runners pass me but I pass them back straight away. Shortly after I arrive at Garinon the 85k point and also the start of the marathon. From here only 3 more climbs remain. This is the checkpoint at which runners who do not have assistance are aloud to leave a drop bag. I would have but left myself no time to do so by being unprepared.
GARINON CHECKPOINT 8
Inside the building where the checkpoint is I eat hot food whilst the staff fill both my bottles and add ultra fuel. Three other runners are here as well as me, two are the ones who passed me not long before, they are eating the third is a solo guy with dreadlocks he's doing a full change of running kit, socks and everything. I'm first to leave having been there only 90 seconds. Now it's time for the steepest climb to the highest point on the island "Pico de las Nieves". Up I go, at the top there is a small section of road then it's a right turn onto trail which travels though pine forest, here I'm passed by the same two who passed me before, the guys from the check point. I try following but these dudes are half human, half mountain goat. So I'm left by myself on the trail. The start of my second low, I do my best to catch these guys but it is impossible, the faster I go concentrating on every footstep the more tired I become. A helicopter passes overhead reminding me of when I ran Marathon de sables.
TUNTE CHECKPOINT 9
Finally I have made it to Tunte check point, the big up hills are all done now, just two small inclines remain. Tunte is a beautiful small mountain village, one of my favorites on the island. I leave the village knowing I have a small climb but nothing drastic. I try but cannot run it, It's too late in the race to run hills and I'm too tired. At this point about 5 other runners pass me, making me feel *****. So I try a strategy of 5 seconds walk then 5 seconds run but this last's about a minute. I decide I'm close to the finish and I'll run all the flats and downhill’s but will hike the remaining uphill’s. There's something strange about these runners passing me, they all look too fresh, I can't understand but just accept they are stronger than me, maybe I'll pass them on the downhill. Each time I get passed I applaud the runner. Now the downhill to Ayagaures. I know Timothy Olson had run from Tunte to the finish in 2hrs 30mins during training, this plays on my mind but I tell myself I don't need to complete against Tim.
AYAGAURES CHECKPOINT 10
I relax my breathing and have calm focus, really getting a good rhythm and perfect foot placement amongst the many rocks on the trail. At Ayagaures checkpoint I sit for the second time in the race whilst eating a little bit of hot paella. Only 3 minutes pass before I'm off again towards meta sur the final checkpoint. But first I have one more uphill followed by about 6k through an empty riverbed. I set off the sun is seriously hot now and I have increased my water intake not wanting to end up in hospital like Thailand. I'm now drinking almost one litre of fluid each hour. It's working, I'm staying hydrated. I'm on the edge of burn out but still have power to move forward. The finish is now only 10 miles away but still seem's like a lot and I honestly can't believe I'm able to make it. I keep telling myself Kristian have patience you will get there. The river bed is where “Sabastion Chagnau” passes me, he's a world champion aged 45. I just keep a rhythm through this area of various sized stones. It's amazing what the human body can do when pushed. I keep a constant pace over this part soon reaching the road.
PARQUE SUR CHICKEN LEG
I get a feeling of achievement as I pass a group of cheering people on the first part of the road to the finish. I even get a surprise when I pass one of the two runners who had passed me after Garinon, he's walking using his poles on the flat and look's defeated. I'm now running faster entering the last checkpoint at Parc Sur, I find it funny when someone from the checkpoint holds out a chicken leg for me, I kindly refuse all that matters now is a 3k sprint to the finish. Seeing the finish line ahead I really can't believe I've actually made it, nothing can stop me now. I have done it. I cross the line not before high fiving everyone in the crowd along the final straight. What we can do when putting our mind to it. I said 16hrs and finish in 16hrs 52mins in 39th position. Not one runner had past me from the 125k race, all the runners who past me were from the shorter Advanced distance. Proud of myself I lie down and rest on the grass near the finish line in the shade. It was dreaming of doing this that got me to the finish. Thank you to my sponsor Leki. Thank you to all the people who have helped me in my running over the years