Stage 5: Alhama de Granada to Loja, 37 km:
The final day. I packed my things up for the last time, now with military precision, foie gras’d myself with porridge, filled my bottles and camelbak, and waited to start. We were now starting in 3 groups. I was in the last group so starting an hour after the first group. It was hot already.
Today I could feel all the effort of the last 4 days and 4 nights of sleep deprivation had taken their toll. I was feeling slightly hypoglycaemic by checkpoint 1 and had to force myself to eat on every climb when I was walking. Tim patiently kept at my pace, even though I knew he could have gone much faster. I had absolutely no energy to run, downhill or no downhill. I would find any excuse to walk. I also felt slightly confused and knew I really had to take in more sugar. I even contemplated my emergency gel – which I keep for these moments. Then we got to check point 2 and they had coke! Again I pilfered as much as I could, and suddenly felt much better! Conveniently this coincided with a long downhill so we made up for lost time by running most of it. Fred was occasionally behind and in front of us, saying, ‘Are you still talking?’
The coke effect eventually waned. All my fluids had heated up to 40 degrees. I could not bear another mouthful of electrolyte solution (and may never be able to drink it ever again!). We were getting closer to Loja and the finish, but those last 2 km may as well have been 42 km for the way I was feeling. I let Tim go on ahead as he was faster than me and still had some energy. I looked around for the statue of a mermaid at the entrance to the town (I think it was a mermaid?), as I remember Daniel saying that when you see that statue, you are near the finish. I couldn’t see the finish line at all. Then I saw the statue. Still no finish line. Only one thing to do – and at this stage one can still get confused about this! – and that was to keep moving forward.
I crossed the finish line with mixed emotions. There were finishers’ medals, finishers’ T-shirts, photos with Paul, one of the organisers, a large cup of coke was thrust at me which I gulped down gratefully. I sat for a while, incapable of doing anything else, chatting a bit to whoever was in the vicinity, watching more finishers come in. I felt strangely tearful. It hit me that the destination is not always as you had imagined it. The road to get there is what counts.
We had a gala dinner and prize-giving that night. I hadn’t mentioned this previously but somehow I was third female (mostly by accident, Forrest Gump style, as some good runners had dropped out or gotten lost) and won a set of walking poles!
My learning points from the week:
1. Simplify your packing: Eliminate having too many choices about what to wear – this is not Paris fashion week. Everyone looks like shit and soon you will too. In fact, many runners wore the same clothes every day and just washed them in the evenings.
2. Post race routine is really important: I had no idea about this. You are exhausted whenever you finish a stage, and it is important to get as much rest as possible. But first things first! You have to eat (ASAP) and keep hydrating, as well as shower and organise your stuff for the next day. Once that is done, then you have more time to relax. If everything is organised for the next day, you have more time to sleep (if you can sleep).
3. Vaseline is your friend. I caked my feet in this every morning. It feels so gross when you put your socks on but you will be grateful at the end of the day. You can never have too much vaseline. I only had two blisters at the end of the week and both of those I got on the last day.
4. Shoes: I ran in Asics Gel Enduro. These are lightweight, neutral trail shoes, with plenty of cushioning for the hard trails and gravel on this terrain. They also have a wide toe box which will preserve your toenails. I usually lose most of mine but so far they are all still in situ…;)
5. Backpack: I use Salomon S-Lab running vest. For me it is the perfect fit, you can carry 1.5 L in your camelbak as well as two 500 ml bottles in front. It fastens across your chest, and you carry the bulk of the weight between your shoulder blades, so there is no pressure on your abdomen or diaphragm.
6. Remember to thank the support crew: They are the unsung heroes! Without them a race like this would be a far different experience. They spend just as long as you do (if not longer) in the sun, waiting for you at the checkpoints. Many of them are camping with you and getting as little sleep, if any.
7. You will meet some incredible people and hopefully come away with some friends for life.
8. Use the Scouts’ toilet (er..unofficially and surrepticiously).
9. Use every bit of water and every bit of shade!
This race is awesome! Be more Nike and Just Do It!