TGC 2019 - A LONG VERSION OF EVENTS….
I’ll start by saying, what an experience! I’m overjoyed, on a massive high right now and truthfully I’m so proud of myself.
I write how I speak, sorry about that.
A little bit of background from me before going into the race details.
I came from hating running, didn’t enjoy it in the slightest. Did the GNR in 2016 after 4 months training on around 40 mile a month, an absolute joke really. Did a 1:43, and absolutely hated my life. Not even a bad time considering. (my cycling/football background definitely helped in mental toughness and aerobic capacity) but I told myself and everyone I was never to run again. ‘Couldn’t think of anything worse’ were my words. I didn’t train at all for a whole year after this. Nada.
Cut a long story short, I signed Kim up at the gym, she told me about ultra-running. I remember immediately searching google and delved into it. Fascinated by it, I would ask her tonnes of questions and explained how much I hated running, But admired people who could run.
‘I’ve cycled pretty far a few times.’ Her eyes lit up.
‘You could run far then.’
‘Don’t be stupid.’
She flew back home to Dubai in September and I thought maybe I can try a run.
I went out and did a half marathon in September 2017 on zero training in 1:53 and ached for about two weeks. Not even joking. But there was something about not putting yourself through the lung busting pain that seemed to have more appeal to me, so I continued on.
‘be a turtle’ I call it.
Fast forward a little on and I began to fall in love with running, I’d continue steadily through Oct/Nov/Dec. I’m so injury prone so I generally pick up quite a bit, I still run through them but it is what it is.
Kim comes back in December 2017 enters me into Waterway 50K for the January. I’m shitting myself but I manage to squeeze in the Top 20 having only run 20 miles once. Bit daft, but I’m always game for a challenge. I was so buzzing after.
Next month we enter the CTS Northumberland Ultra 56K – Manage top 20 just, body breaking as per usual. Had a bit of a rough time there, i’m a complete novice lets be honest. But I’m really enjoying running. I keep feeling the need to continue testing myself.
Anyway trainings continuing on, I’m having a blast. It’s April 2018. Kim entered the Tyne Trail 140KM and I pace her the last 55K, she wins the female category by over 4 hours and 2nd overall. Outstanding, I can’t tell you how much I loved seeing and helping her through it.
It had me thinking someday I’d love to be able to run that far!
And what happens next, June 28th. I come across TransGranCanaria on Instagram. I find out a bit more information about it and I blast across an impulse entry. (I’ve not even been running in the lakes or on hills ever at this point) and I’m here signing up for a 128km race with 23000ft elevation.
Some would say I’m a fucking idiot, others maybe more loving a challenge… There’s a fine line…
So that’s how it came about. I started training, doing a little bit in the lakes etc. No I can’t read a map but GPS hasn’t failed me yet. I like hills, and I like to run. Don’t judge me.
Finally persuade Kim to enter this race with me. She hates hills and has parental duties so that was always going to be a tough task. She signs up in December and it’s absolutely on. Flights and apartment booked etc. I’m running through a slight injury at this point, Stuart Scott fancied me to do a daft 100K challenge for ULTRA X over Christmas. I failed. 72K and I hadn’t eaten for 5 hours. That really opened me up however I took the positives. Imagine if that had happened in the race when I had no idea I had an eating issue, so super thankful it happened when it did. On the other hand it really made me doubt my ability. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for it.
That didn’t last for long, a couple of days moping around. TGC always on my mind. I’m absolutely bricking it. From there I’d carried some groin/hip injury so I really had to cut my mileage even going into the last month with only one XC on my strava activities. Embarrassing but I’d never let it stress me out. What will be, will be. My training was essentially done, it was just a question of how much grit, determination and fight I had in me.
A fucking lot I can tell you.
We arrive in Gran Canaria on Wednesday evening with the race beginning Friday evening @ 2300hrs. We’ve got the Thursday daytime spare to sort our kit, have a shake-out run & head to the expo to leave our drop bags for the 85k checkpoint at El Garanon and pick up our race numbers.
Friday was making sure you’ve remembered to pack everything then catching the bus to the start line.
Oh and plenty of nerves. Fuck loads of nerves.
The organisation, the marking and general management of the event is top notch. If I could change one thing though it would be getting to the start line later. The bus ride up is 8pm, meaning you’re sat around on the coast for 2 hours just mulling, waiting to start. Back and forth to the bloody toilet. Yep you know the one.
We’re in a café, having a last minute coffee. I leave Kim for 2 mins, she starts chatting up Damian Hall. Crikey. Fan boying or what! I strut by Pau Capell and Luis Fernando (1st & 6th) as they come in to use the toilet. Pretty sure Pau would have beat the bus to Maspalomas in the time he did. My days. There’s a strong field of elites here!
Kim’s a massive faffer so by the time we get to the start we’re right at the back of 800 runners. No dramas though, cause I just want to complete this race. There’s fireworks going off, some bloke on the mic going nuts. Everyone jeering. It was unbelievable and made for the best start! 11pm ticks by and we’re through the start line.
It’s a beach. 3km of the bitch. How did that slip me by, I’d been out here in November to Recce some of the course and I’d never even thought about the start. At least we were on fresh legs ey. We’re right at the back, just picking our way through trying to find a bit of space. Red flashing lights stretch along the beach and up the first climb. I’m not even kidding when I say we got to the bottom of the first climb after 15 minutes and the top flashing light must have been about 2 mile in front, at the top of the climb. It looked a nice steady one so we kept plucking away. Getting into a rhythm was suprisingly quick. Normally takes me a good while if i’m honest. We climb out of Las Palmas and all I remember was hitting the bloody riverbeds early. Pebbles upon loose pebbles. Pitch black. Just asking for a sprained ankle. It went on for some time, but it stayed fairly flatish up to checkpoint 1 (16km) in. Took on some pepsi (why no fucking coke?) and off we trotted straight into the next climb.
Km’s ticked by along with the elevation… Straight out of that checkpoint at 650ft we climbed up to 3050ft over the next 8km. I briefly remember Kim saying if her knee didn’t substantially improve she’s be forced out of the race, and I had a feeling she didn’t wanna see me when she did. Some pretty sharp climbs and people out cheering on folk made it that little bit easier. I made sure to eat every 30 wether that was a gel/clif blocks/chia charge bar. I just had to make sure I was eating and hydrating. This has been an issue of mine, So it was one thing I kept a close eye on. Steady descent and we stroll through checkpoint 2 (27.3km) 3hr 40.
From here on out to the next checkpoint was a bit of blur, I had a fall on a narrow track which I cut my knee, then I remember climbing, and climbing some more, up some super steep trail with pine needles everywhere. 3400ft of it over the next 11.9km into Checkpoint 3 (39.2km) 5hr 38. I’d already decided before hand this was when I’d take on some hot food and fill my bottles/bladder. I was using tailwind nutrition, simply for the electrolytes & calories per serving. I picked up some soup, sorted my bars out. Took on a lovely nutella-like chia charge bar. Sorted me right out.
Kim was itching to get out of the checkpoint and I was unsure why, her knee was hurting, was she wanting to DNF without me being there or was she gonna run hard? I knew she was climbing really well and she’s got a mind like no other, so it was probably going to be the latter. I told her to go. ‘You’ll catch me on the next climb anyway’ she said. I’d out climb her most days, but I knew today wasn’t that day. I just kinda hoped she’d see me finish whatever the case.
I moved out of that checkpoint about 5 minutes after Kim, Started the next climb pretty well, got into a good rhythm and moved past a few people. It was a fairly long climb and it went into a technical long descent, almost rainforest-like if that even makes sense (4km long and 1600ft or so). I really started hammering down it, passed 15/20 people and still all the while wondering where the hell Kim was. There was a 400ft climb before checkpoint 4, and I was starting to look forward to some more hot food…. I hit the checkpoint. It’s basically a 3 man tent with some nuts, fruit & fluids, but no hot food. Shit, I misjudged that one. with 13k to half way & the next pit stop this put me on a bit of a downer. It was windy in there, and started to feel a little cold. I took on a chia charge bar, and got my phone out to check where Kim was. She’d checked in 12 minutes before… I knew by this point she was going to push the pace cause I didn’t take that last part lightly.
Straight outta checkpoint 4 (50.8km - 7hr 45 / 10000ft climbed) and there was a 1700ft climb over the next 3km or so, I really wanted that hot food, and I started to feel a little bit ropey, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from ultras, as long as you’re not in too bad condition you can eat/drink your way out of a situation. Just gotta give yourself a bit of time… It was a slow trawl up that climb, and after a few km more I recognised where I was. I’d been here previously for the recce in November. Now i’m not sure if that was a good or bad thing, because I knew what was to come for the next 40km. If you look at the graph at this point it looks like a small climb before heading into an equally small descent into the Artenara aid station. I can assure you it wasn’t. Graphs lie people, they lie so bad! It couldn’t be any more wrong.
There was a nasty climb, but made better with the sunrise. I kept thinking i’ll take on some more food at the top of this climb, but sort of seemed to forget just how long it went on for. So I took a pugh on a chopped down tree and ate a sandwich from my pack. Fuck it, 10 mins here would make the next 90 mins a hell of a lot easier was my thought. Had some great bangers on the headphones so I whacked them on as a bit of a pick me up and cracked on to the checkpoint. Honestly check that sunrise, crikey!
I couldn’t be arsed to get my phone out and take photos, Just prayed that Kim had hers. Knew I could rely on her!
Trudged into checkpoint 5 (63.8km - 10hr 40 / 13200ft climbed). This was essentially the half way point, Big aid station with loads of food. I was feeling sick, so I took a good 20-30 mins, grabbed some soup/bread. Refilled, took on a gel and a bar. Text a couple of friends. Cheers Stuart ‘keep eating’ and drinking no matter what’. Appreciated the constant flow of messages. KimTracker was on - she’d gained 50 mins on me at this point, and was moving up the ladies field very smoothly. I knew it was pretty viscious outta here and into Tejeda for the next stop in 12km time. I’d gone regularly between these two when I was here previously. So I made sure I took my time, didn’t do anything stupid trying to rush the climbs and just tried to soak it all up. After the first 2k outta here I started to feel really good, really really good. Almost on cloud 9 just coasting up the climbs, having a whale of a time, music was on, I was happy. Watching the k’s tick by on my watch I never thought i’d say that and I knew you should always make the most of feeling great in ultras, because it can turn the other way so rapidly. It was a 2300ft climb followed by 2700ft of descending. A fairly nice descent in fairness, but the trails were starting to gather more traffic from the 64km race. It was midday by this point and the day was starting to heat up. Kim gave me a great tip of wearing my buff during the day to keep my neck from getting burned and overheating. There’s a freebie for yas. It definitely helped! I pass a fair few folks down past the mountain hostel I once stayed in and knew it wasn’t long before the Tejeda checkpoint.
Checkpoint 6 (75.2km - 12hr 20 / 15500 ft climbed) There was a band playing, the atmosphere was good. Lots of people sat in chairs hanging out their arses mind, I thankfully wasn’t one of them, but I sure as hell knew what they were going through. A major error in this one was just filling my bottles and not my bladder. Roque Nublo was coming up (5000ft+ altitude) and I don’t know why I seemed to think i’d survive on 2 x 500ml bottles & a little bit of what was left in my bladder. Idiot. I’d climbed it twice before, both times on fresh legs in around a 80 minutes. What was I thinking. At least I was familiar anyway, that helped for sure. It just meant I had to be really clever with my fluid. Not ideal, but you just get on with it. The sun was baking down, i’d say 25/26c and there was no shelter. It was a 2700ft climb which involved scanning your number then going back on yourself to the next part, among the 64km race too. It’s a tight passage down there so it was taking a little longer than i’d have liked. Once I made it to the top the guy had told me 2.5km to El Garanon (85.3km checkpoint) where the drop bags are located… Yet again race volunteers lie, don’t ever trust them. It was about 3.7km, but you know when you’ve prepared yourself for 2.5km and not a single foot further. That was me, and I was thirsty. I had a fanta limon in my drop bag and my sights were on it!!
There was a little bit of climbing into Garanon and a lot of people out cheering which is a massive pick up. ‘Vamos Renwick, Vamos’ as I climbed up the last part towards the checkpoint. It was kinda like a load of glamping huts and a big hall area which resembled a scene of zombies from the walking dead. Checkpoint 7 (85.6km - 15hrs - 19200ft climbed) Everyone knew there was a marathon left, and we’d all heard about the dreaded river bed at the end. The chairs were full of people with their heads in their hands, suffering. I got my drop bag and sat on the floor. Bad move. Fanta Limon was out, I had a pan au chocolat in there aswell, that went down a treat. I had a full change of clothes, but decided it was so painful to change, I only took my socks out. My initial starting socks (injinji long socks - best around for free little toes) had served me well, however I had some nasty blisters forming from the brutal terrain. I put a compeed on my little toe and a fresh pair of socks, left the other five blisters hoping they’d just go numb on the next part. It was painful just to lace my shoes up again. I went over for some pasta, looked a bit oily for my liking, but I knew it would help! Refilled everything to the max, ditched a few bits I wouldn’t need out my pack to lighten it up, took an extra 10 minutes and left.
I found a dairy milk caramel in my bag too. So I was chomping on that as I started walking for the next 1.5km or so. I knew it was ‘mostly downhill’ from here. Fuck off. Race profile lied again…
After that I finally got my legs moving again, face planted the floor in front of about 10 people. Nightmare, but found the funny side of it, i’d already bashed that knee up once today. Oh well. There was some super nasty downhill from here, and a few sharpish climbs still. It was 15km to the next checkpoint, and I knew it might take some time. The sun was still beaming down, and the terrain here was savage. Super rocky, if you’re a rhythm runner it would have been your worst nightmare. I’m pretty used to it and I enjoy it a lot, so I had to be super careful not to get carried away and kill my legs off.
I picked up another runner named Julian around 90km in, a french cyclist as it happens, and we got chatting. We actually ended up sort of pacing each other over the next 20km after. We were running at a similar pace, and to be honest at this point I felt amazing! It seemed as if I had brand new legs at this stage. A feeling i’ve certainly never come across. I was sure as hell i’d be cramping by now, but nada. I was coasting by, in a really happy place. We chatted about the route, and a 64km runner joined in the convo as we took on what we believed to be a small hill, ending up being a 1300ft climb. The riverbed chat came up again, seemed like everyones favourite! I was looking forward to hitting the 101km checkpoint, I felt like I needed some coke by now and taking the race from checkpoint to checkpoint made life seem a lot easier. This long ass climb into that aid station seemed to drag on for quite some time, unsuspecting looking at the profile too.
Julian was feeling sick so we slowed it down a touch, didn’t wanna screw ourselves over.
Checkpoint 8 (101.7km - 18hr 25 - 20873ft climbed) - Happy to have got into here feeling strong, another refill of tailwind and more coke on board. I took my phone out to check on Kim and I had a voice message. I thought it was going to be along the lines of
‘just leaving the final checkpoint, I’m flying, see you at the finish’.
It was anything but. ‘i’m fucked, i’m absolutely done Sam, totally gutted’. i’d checked her update before and could see she had gotten herself up to 9th female overall in a field of pro’s. She was inside the top 100 too with her predicted time being 19hr 30mins. Exceptional.
My instant reaction was ‘are you fucking serious, what’s going on?’ People who know me, i’m definitely tough loving unfortunately. I swear a lot, it’s how I express my emotions I guess.
‘Yeah i’m done, it’s my knee, I can’t move any longer i’m gutted. I’ve taken 2400mg ibuprofen and it’s not working anymore. I need to stay here until there’s a few more DNF’s then i’ll probably head to the finish’
‘christ almighty Kim, ok well i’m 10km away from you, so i’ll be a little while yet. So I may or may not see you at that station. are you sure you’re done?!’
I know by now if she said yes that meant yes, however if I could get that station I could 100% pick her up.
I had to put my watch on charge in my pack, so was relying on Julian over the next 10km to give me a distance update. I kept my phone in my hand as we ran off out of that aid station down the trail. We had around 3000ft to descend over the next 10k on some horribly rocky trails. It was very stop start.. I was sending voice messages back and forth for an update. All I kept thinking was I can’t let her smash 110km and not finish this race, this is what we’ve been training for. We’ve put so much time, effort and money into this and it would have left me gutted if she hadn’t finished, nor would it be worth the headache of shit myself and her family would have to put up with for a good while after. Kim puts her heart and soul into running and she deserved this.
I sent a voice note back
‘can you walk?’ I thought fuck it, if she’s not running in, surely she could walk to the finish. ‘Have you actually DNF’d or not?’.
‘possibly could walk, i’m not sure, no not yet’.
‘right, ok then, i’ll walk this in with you. Just wait for me there, I don’t know how long i’ll be, but we’re doing this, no question about it!’
I got a bout of messages saying how she didn’t wanna sabotage my race cause I was feeling great etc, and I was, but I just kept telling her to stay there and wait for me. Team work is the best, I don’t care what anyone says. You can be selfish in these races if you wanna be, but that’s not me. I bet you I got a better feeling out of finishing this race with her than the winner got from winning.. My aim was to finish this race, and regardless if I could have went 2-3 hours faster. So what. That didn’t matter.
I remember getting a message from my brother at 105km asking how it was going, he could see Kim hadn’t moved and was a little curious. ‘Never felt better’ was my response to him. But all I needed to do was get to that next checkpoint and if Kim was there, she was getting death marched to the finish, no question about it.
From 105km to 110km, I got a little frustrated! The sun was setting and there was two technical descents before heading into the checkpoint, the stuff I love and i’d have blasted down if it wasn’t for the traffic. There was about 20 runners in front and i’m not scared to say that some of them were shitting themselves trying to go down these rocks. It was frustrating the life outta me. Julian was also giving me the look as if to say are these guys serious. I remember one going to edge of a rock, took a look behind him and realised how many people were behind him. Then moved off to the side cause he couldn’t get down. It was a joke. I’m getting stressed just thinking about it.
Checkpoint 9 (111.1km - 20hrs 21 mins - 21200ft climbed) I literally walked into here feeling a little pissed off from that earlier descent, welcomed in with open arms from Kim and floods of tears. She’d been here for almost 3hrs. I knew she’d been in a dark place, her dream race had been turned over, But I was here to chew her ear off about all the positives she can take from that. All of a sudden i’m feeling trashed, it was like the aid station full of people who were near the end of their limits, but weren’t quite ready to call it a day. I think me being there had helped lift Kims spirits as she filled my bottles and got me some soup. It was weird. I was pretty sure that’s what I was meant to have been doing for her. Just 5km ago I was feeling untouched. That’s ultras for you. She kept giving me shit about not wanting me to walk it in because she felt guilty. I wasn’t having any of it. ‘Kim we’re fucking walking this in together, you’ll be fine, if need be i’ll carry you. We finish this race’. I think she knew by the tone of my voice that was the last I was hearing of that one. I got more take away soup, slapped my head torch on and the death march commenced!
17km to the finish.
Apparently it was a 3km climb of around 1000ft ascent, then it drops down onto the riverbed for 14km.
I sipped my soup and I felt in high spirits to walk this in, I knew it would take 3-4 hours and there was no doubt it was getting done. Not gonna cut this one short but the river bed was as brutal as they talked about. It was like running across those 6 inch loose pebbles you find on the beach for the majority of it. An ankle roll waiting to happen. I made sure Kim took her time on here, no accidents please, I knew she was just desperate to get to the finish. It’s a long way in the dark and by this point, you’re pretty done with it. We bumped into an english fella who won his race entry in an instagram competition. Huddersfield lad, he had a good bit of banter so that made the time pass a little bit quicker.
Seeing 6k, 5k, 4k markers for the finish line is however brutal and from the previous checkpoint my watch decided to become non responsive. Cmon Garmin, you had one job.
We’d started to head out into Maspalomas, but honestly didn’t have any clue where we were. The final checkpoint was 3.4km from the finish. Just that last push needed now. A take out fill up on coke and the final 2km of flat tarmac to finish off with, runners trudging past trying to give us a last push into the finish. Not having any idea Kim had absolutely stormed it and should have finished 5 and a half hours ago.
We could hear the finish line chants and the commentator pushing people in, Finally.
Finish line in sight, trying to hold my emotions back. It’d been a rollercoaster. A long day out.
Kim: ’lets run the last 200m, we go hand in hand across the line and that’s that’ Yes boss.
And that was all she wrote. 128.7km - 22900ft climbed.
What an achievement, what a race. Ultras are full of ups and down. I’ve learned masses from this one, and I feel like it’s opened up another level I wasn’t quite so sure was possible. You can feel great one minute, and the worst of the worst the next. Never take it for granted. Keep eating and drinking no matter what and I guarantee if you’re not too fucked you can come out of it. Your body is an amazing thing, you’ve all been given this wonderful gift, now go out there and push yourselves. See what you’re truly made of. I promise you it will be worth it!
I suffered like a bitch after this, it was as if the walking had given them time to seize up and realise what they’d been through. If you’d have had a camera on us in the apartment the day after the race, you’d have had the laugh of your life. I was using my sticks to get around and could have done with a chair in the shower. I realised after i’d actually pulled something in the calf through the race and never even noticed at the time. I couldn’t eat or drink properly for 3 days. All part of the fun though ey? Would I do it again for the same result?