Itera World Series Adventure Race – Wales 2014

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Walking into Caernarfon Castle for the start of the Itera world series adventure race brought memories flooding back. Nicola MacLeod came over and we tried to remember the last time we were in the castle; at least a decade ago? No it was actually a little under twelve years. Nicola and I were then finishing the first British adventure race championships; a three day expedition race starting in Porthmadog. My lasting memories of the race was running around this crazy village called Port Meirion and paddling against the tide through the Menai Straights to the finish. I had come into the race under tough circumstances. Having done a lot of running with my dad (Richard) when I was a junior and in 1998 we discovered ACE races and our adventure race careers had begun. We made a father and son team with good map skills we were competitive in male pairs events. I went off to University late in 1999 and drifted in and out of competitive sport for three years. In my final year the first British adventure race championships was born and my dad volunteered me for a team; I think he would of loved to do it himself but knew he was not too well, so I jumped at the chance. In  June my dad had passed away suddenly, so when the championships came round in September I was not really physically or mentally in the best place. The memory of the adventure and the joy of reaching the finish line must of stuck somewhere in the back of my mind as a little seed waiting to germinate. I then went on a long path of self discovery for a few years which lead away from adventure racing until, in 2008, I entered my first Open 5 in Dalby Forest and the spark was reignited.

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In 2014 I had decided to join the Adidas Terrex adventure race team and was selected to race in the Itera expedition race in Wales with Nick Gracie (Captain), Chris Hope and Sally Ozanne.

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The route – Eddie Winthorpe

On arrival in Cardiff on Saturday morning we discovered the route of the race starting in Caenarfon and finishing in Cardiff using the main disciplines of kayaking, mountain trekking and mountain biking mixed in with a few special activities.

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Where are we going? Eddie Winthorpe

A lot of race time can be saved with careful planning and organisation of kit, marking routes on maps, and working out food requirements and your race strategy. We spent plenty of time on these activities pre race.

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On the Saturday there was a prologue as a little warm up to the main race. This was a 10 km flat road run around Cardiff bay where the time lost to the winners would be multiplied by 3 and served as a penalty in the main race. In the middle of the run was the excitement of a run down the whitewater course in inflatable kayaks in pairs relay before you could finish the run route as a team.

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The prologue went well and we managed to come away with the win and no race time penalty. It was also a fantastic way to relieve nervous excitement for the journey to come.

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The race started on the Monday morning at 8 am with a couple of laps around the streets of Caenarfon to split the field before stage 1.

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We were first onto the water and the race position we were to successfully hold all the way to Cardiff. We got to paddle the Menai Straights with the tide in our favor and a following wind made for some exciting wave surfing. The wind was too strong to complete the paddle to Conway, so we biked there from Bangor instead.

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On arrival in Conway we had the first special activity of finding controls around the town walls and castle. The walls were surprisingly steep and this was a real pleasure to share this Welsh historic site with the on looking public.

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Stage 2 was a bike from Conway to Ogwen cottage with a real trouser filler on route; with the lightening fast zip wire flying over a disused quarry. I could not fail to enjoy this minute long thrill giving me plenty of adrenaline to pedal the last few miles to Ogwen cottage.

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Sunset from Ogwen cottage – James Kirby

I’ve always enjoy arriving in Ogwen with such stunning mountainous views and this time it was for the start of stage 3. This stage was a long mountain trek including the scrambling ascent of the north face of Tryfan, the Glyders, Snowdon, Yr Aran, Cnict and one of the Moelwyns. This was a real highlight of the race for me; high mountain terrain in day and night.

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A large part of  how well you do in adventure racing comes down to how efficient you are and this includes in transitions. I was now in the team who are one of the best in the world at efficient transitions and yet again fast transitions were helping the team build a gap on the opposition. Stage 4 was supposed to be a kayak to Barmouth with a stop in Port Meirion for an Orienteering stage, but the wind was still too strong for a sea paddle so after Port Meirion crossed the estuary and biked over the hills to Barmouth.

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We arrived in Port Meirion at first light for a run around the little Italianate  seaside town. It was still just as bizarre as twelve years ago and, like then, finding the controls on the tourist map proved very tricky. When we completed this stage we were timed out to enjoy an hours sleep in a concrete ship; this was due to a restriction on starting the next leg before 8am Tuesday morning . The stage recommenced with an incoming tide rushing into the estuary and a battle to make our way up the shoreline, before we were told to abandon checkpoint 21. We then used the flow to ferry glide across the estuary to the next transition. With a quick transition we were away from Haglofs and back on our own; biking towards Barmouth. There was a cracking long descent into the transition at Barmouth. Stage 4 was a big trek over Cader Idris and the Tarren Hendre ridgeline to Machynlleth. The long climb up from sea level to the summit of Cader seemed to drag but once over the top the rest of the trek seemed to pick up.

Once in Machynlleth the biggest stage of the race was to begin a 220km mountain bike ride across mid Wales to Glasbury. The first part through Tuesday night was on some exciting bike trails with a cracking single track descent enough to keep sleep deprived eyes open with some extra caffeine.

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A short special stage in the early hours of Wednesday morning was a trip to see the waterfalls from Devils Bridge, including a 100 m descent on foot down very steep steps and back up the far side. The dawn brought a grey damp day and Sally started to suffer with a poorly stomach which lasted til the end of the race. The journey forward was a beautiful road ride through the Elan valley and a large proportion was downhill to the visitor center; we all agreed this was a hidden gem and would be back to revisit in the future.

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The visitor center marked halfway in distance and the location for a 12 km trail run around a two loop course. The team found this hard with weary legs and heads (with little interest to keep the mind occupied). Due to the large number of time outs in the first half of the course race director James Thurlow had decided to equalise the differences and put the lead teams back into the correct time order on the ground; if you were in front of a team you were ahead of them. For all other teams on full course this would mean a compulsory stop at Elan visitor center; with no time to serve we justed stopped here for a short sleep to rejuvenate ourselves for the rest of the bike.

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Time to recharge – James Kirby

The second bike ended in Glasbury after battling the wind, rain, flooded bridleways, many hills and some lovely narrow single track down a hidden valley. We refueled  in a chippy in Builth Wells, we musted have looked rather jaded as the owner wanted to give us free food, before we toiled on to the stage end. We arrived at Glasbury at 1 am Thursday morning to be timed out until 7.30 am and gain a valuable long sleep off the race clock.

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Stage 7 was a paddle down the gentle grade 1 river Wye from Glasbury to Brewardine. An enjoyable affair after a nice sleep and a healthy lead.

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The stage was interrupted by a short street orienteering stage using ancient maps and a compulsory breakfast at the bakery in Hay on Wye.

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Stage 8 transported us on bikes via the black mountains to Tal y bont on the edge of the Breacon Beacons where stage 9 would begin. A big trek across the summits of Fan y big, Cribyn and Pen y fan starting in the fading light of Thursday evening. Once up high the ground was compulsive to good running with some awesome views on a clear night.

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The first half of the trek went very quickly which then faded into a crawl with my sore feet and Chris’s stomach; deciding it did not want its contents anymore. The special cave activity was great to sooth my sore feet although there was very little crawling for Chris it was an ordeal to be survived.

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Stage 9 came to a welcome end and Chris had chance to recover; I also got some treatment on my tender feet.

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Stage 10 was the final ride up over the Rhigos to descend through the valleys into the finish at Cardiff bay. We left with smiles on our faces and, after some unnecessary diversions, when we reached the top of the last hill we could just keep the wheels rolling into the urban environment.

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We crossed the line to win the Itera World series adventure race across Wales on Friday afternoon in 93 hours 31 mins

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This was an incredible journey across the best of  Wales pushing both body and mind in a test of human endurance. We were lucky enough to win but anyone reaching the finish line had completed something amazing.

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I feel really privileged and proud to have achieved this success so soon after my Lakeland 50 win. It was also great to race with Team Adidas Terrex. Thank you to all our sponsors, who help make this possible.

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After some good recovery I’m now starting to focus my attention towards the Adventure Race World Championships in Ecuador in November.

You can follow the team @ https://www.facebook.com/teamadidasterrex?ref=hl

 

 

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The Lakeland 50 – British Athletics Ultra Trail Championships

Haweswater - James Kirby

Haweswater – James Kirby

Today my duty manager at Outward Bound Tony announced I was British ultra trail champion; it was a dream come true. Last year I attempted to race the Lakeland 100 which ended after 30 miles as I suffered in the heat and became ill; I wanted to come back and make amends. This year at work I also really wanted to run a classic 3 week adventure course for 15 -19 year old students, which meant I could only have one day off a week. The Lakeland 50 was my only option and Ally entered me while I was at the CCC. I could not afford to enter the UTMB this year so it was also to be my target race of the year (especially as it was announced as the British Athletics ultra trail championships).

With some good form in early June at Ennerdale fell race, a good block of training and a taper I was feeling confident I could perform by the time I was standing on the start line at Dalemain. With a goal of top 3, and listening to Mark’s briefing, I wasn’t too bothered about the time, I was there to race. My plan was to go with the pace at the front, stay as cool as possible, and fuel and hydrate early and often then see what happened. Looking at the start list;  Ben Abdelnoor was missing due to injury so there was no stand out favorite but six guys with winning pedigree and, on their day, a chance to win. These were Stuart Mills, last years 100 winner, Lee Kemp, reigning British Champion, Danny Kendall, star in the Marathon des Sables, Martin Cox, international mountain runner, Marcus Scotney, course record breaker at several ultras this year, and myself.

Cockpit - James Kirby

The gun went and, as expected, Stu took up the lead setting a good pace but one I was happy with; Danny and Lee came too. To my surprise Marcus decided to take a steady start in the heat and, after a steady start, 3 miles in Martin was with us at the front. After Stuarts early pace setting both Danny and Lee took up the reins and seemed comfortable setting the pace, and Martin and I just sat in. Stu dropped back as the tempo increased on the first hill to the Cockpit, which continued at a fast pace down to the Howtown checkpoint. I turned the checkpoint around quickly. I was first away so I could take it easy and save some energy. By this point I had started my keep cool strategy; after racing in the heat in Transvulcania and feeling the difference cold water over the head could make, I took every opportunity to dip my cap or pour a bottle over me. This strategy was a winner (I have fairly often in the past failed to race well in the heat).

Fusedale would be the first real test of climbing strength and where Martin made a strong move late on up the climb and, although I struggled to cover the move, we had put 10 seconds on Danny and Lee by the top. We were caught on the way down to Haweswater but as the slope steepened I decided to take the lead and use my downhill strength to test the water and set the pace. I wanted to keep it steady along Haweswater as this was the windless heat trap so I let Lee to take up the reigns but a short distance later he stepped aside and was gone. I was then back in the lead coming into Mardale checkpoint so, with Martin and Danny following, I went for another quick turnaround.

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Mardale – James Kirby

I dibbed the checkpoint turned round hit the river, poured water over my head, filled up my bottle and then was off. I had a 30 second lead and was steady away up Gatesgarth pass, the gap was not closing so  I ran strongly down the rough track into Long Sleddale. I was now alone and going away from Martin and Danny. I like to think I was suffering the least after the early hot pace of the front four but always on the back of my mind was when Marcus was going to come. I had to use several techniques to keep my mindset positive as I was starting to rapidly slow between Kentmere and Ambleside.  Ambleside checkpoint was a welcome sight as I was struggling, after a head dip, two cokes, water bottle refill a gel and some positive splits from Ben I started to feel good again, setting off in a steady strong pace towards Langdale. Then it happened, bugger, Marcus was on my shoulder moving like a train just before Elterwater about 40 miles into the race. I thought I had blown it but no I was not going to let this one go I was going to fight. I managed to find some inner strength and find another 2 gears, falling into Marcus’s 6.15 min/mile pace. I was holding on and feeling OK I kept eating, at this pace knowing that if I didn’t I would soon crash. We then ran into Langdale checkpoint together re-hydrated, water over the head and off we went together. I started to think I would soon blow but, it wasn’t me, Marcus started to slow and I took the lead and a gap started to form. I kept it steady and strong, ate some more food, pushed up the climb out of Langdale and the gap grew.

Blea Tarn - Jen Regan

Blea Tarn – Jen Regan

I knew this was my opportunity and I gave it my all, I was now running determined to win this race. I had the belief I could do it and gave it my all to Tilberthwaite. The checkpoint arrived and I was looked after well (as I was at all checkpoints), and left with no one in sight. The dream was becoming reality but the ghost of the Marcus kept me pushing all the way to the top of the hill, as I hit the top I knew then I could enjoy the descent into Coniston as I was not going to be caught now. Running into Coniston the emotion started a tear in my eye and the fist pumping began. I ran into the finish to be crowned winner of the Lakeland 50 and British ultra trail running champion.

Coniston Finish  - Adrian Stott

Coniston Finish – Adrian Stott

I would like to dedicate this race  to the memory of my Grandad Tony and my Nanna Pat who both passed away this last month who gave me the strength to fight for the victory and helped make me the person I am today.  Thanks to all the event staff and checkpoint volunteers for making it a great event. Sorry I could not stand on stage and collect the prize but I had 11 students to help inspire to realize their potential. Maybe this will help me live another dream of wearing a  GB vest! We can keep dreaming.

 

 

Ennerdale Horseshoe 2014

 

Photo taken by Paul Dobson

Photo by Paul Dobson

I was ready for this race, I had done some good training followed by a decent taper and I was happy with the route. I came to this event mentally prepared and with the forecast I was hoping for a repeat of the Great Lakes. Arriving early, I registered,talked and went through race preparations but then it was announced the route will be changed due to the weather. The altered route was long but far from having the climb or the rough nature of the actual route and largely consisted of trail. The organiser made the only decision he could with the threat of thunderstorms to avoid the skyline. I was sad initially as I had built up to this race but happy the organiser made this decision to safeguard us and more importantly the marshals who would of been at risk. My chances of a good result had been reduced but as my friend Andy asked “are you going to race this?” I answered “of course”. The course was going to favour the runners with greater flat speed with the long flat run in. This was not going to deter me, I was in good form so I would start with a determined positive mindset to give it my best. At least it wasn’t a scorcher!

On the line, their was clearly some negative vibes around, I took up prime position next to Daz K and followed him across the rough stuff to the track. I was happy at the front setting the pace with a clear view ahead. We turned up the climb onto the fell, I tuck in behind Rhys expecting a rush from behind, it does not really come except for Morgz. Many are playing a patient game, saving energy and following from a safe distance to minimise navigation issues, in retrospect this was probably where I could have saved some energy.

On the other hand I wanted to be in the heat of the battle gaining in confidence from the fact I was near the front. Hitting the track along Buttermere valley floor there was a group of at least ten including all the favourites. I was keeping near the front ready to respond the best I could to any attack over Scarth Gap and not to lose too much ground. The attack came from Rob Jebb as he pushed the pace and I could not live with this burst of speed so settled into a pace I could cope with. This lost its venom as Rob slipped over on the wet slabs and the moment was gone. I recovered half way up and followed Rhys over the hause missing the checkpoint which was not on the revised map as we had taken a more direct line over a shoulder. There was still 8 pretty much all together coming over the saddle. It seemed Joe and I were happy to push on down the hill to Black Sail YHA, so I took on the reins of leading. I saw the line up the river to the checkpoint on Moses trod below Green Gable so I was happy leading setting a rhythm up the hill then onto Beck head. I had not been overtaken I was surprised with all this climbing talent behind me, so I continued around the traverse path to Black Sail pass leading the group.

With a ten metre gap coming to the checkpoint I thought I have to go for this down the hill. So I just ran the descent fairly hard opening a small gap on Joe by the Hut checkpoint and a little more to the rest. I did not need to look behind as I knew what would be coming so I made hay while the sun shined. I concentrated on my form and running hard. It happened about a third of the way along the track, Joe caught me but did not move away. Then a little further came the Karl and Rob Hope train and I could not live with their speed but I kept with Morgz and Joe to the field centre. This was good I had survived the track fairly well, one final gel and onto the rough stuff. I felt Morgz suffering through the forest so I went for it again in Rob and Karl barely 15 seconds in front with a bit of navigational hesitation which also allowed Oli and Rhys to catch. I put my head down and pushed over the rocky stuff Oli came past a little stronger but I kept my head up and even though I was losing ground to the front three I had put a gap on those behind. Nearly there, the rocky bit, I can feel the gasket going. It really is not too far, just keep it ticking over, someone is closing me down, over the river along the trail and through the gate. I have done it, I allow myself a happy punch in the air and cross the line in fourth place just ahead of Andrew Fallas, Rhys & Morgz and behind the quick finishing Rob Hope, Karl & Oli.

I would put this as one of my best performances. I am stoked today, the result helps me keep dreaming with more hard work needed.

“Not sure purple suits him really”

Descending off Latrigg -www.athleteinaction.com

Earlier this year I decided to leave my local club Eden runners after several years in order to join a more fell focused club with the hope my runs could help a club win medals and ultimatly myself. I could of joined Keswick AC with a great team of runners or Helm hill with a great team of young talented fell runners but there could of only been one choice really. This was to join the purple vests of Borrowdale Fell runners. This comes from my first memories of fell running watching my old man on one of our holidays from Tring, Hertfordshire to the Lakes running the Borrowdale fell race. I can remember watching and waiting for dad at the river crossing just before the finish and of seeing those purple vests of the men at the front and sub consiously being inspired. One day I hoped I might be good enough to join and be at the sharp end of races. So In 2014 I thought I better get on with it and join. Now just need to be at the sharp end of a few races! The real first memory of fell running was of the Latrigg Fell race and being amazed by the speed the runners hurtled down the hill. So when I saw I had the evening off on the Wednesday of the Latrigg fell race even though I was fatigued from the tough Transvulcania Ultra I had to go race and re trace my dads footprints, only a little quicker. With two personal ambitions achieved I now hope to do the purple vest proud and then maybe it will suit me better!!

A photoshop mock up thanks to Phil Winskill and body double Lee

My Transvulcania Experience

Tazacorte Sunset

Welcome to La Palma

My Transvulcania experience began the Friday after jointly winning the 61 mile Fellsman when we flew out to La Palma for Ally and I to have some holiday in the sun and a chance to recce the course. Luckily I was feeling pretty good after the Fellsman and keen to get out. The next three days were spent on the course twice visiting Roque Muchachos and the long descent to Tazacorte. The Monday before the race was to be my last long run, although only 42 km it perhaps wasn’t ideal preparation in terms of tapering but  well worth running the caldera and the descent to Tazacorte. It was fantastic to be able to appreciate the views and get a picture of what to expect on race day. What was I going to expect? A very tough day 🙂 over technical terrain at an altitude I’m not too use to and a very long descent with some technical sections.

A view from the top when I could appreciate it.

A view from the top when I could appreciate it.

The rest of the week was spent enjoying the beauty of the island with time spent on Tazacorte beach, hiking, including the first 7km from the lighthouse to Los Canarios and into the caldera, and enjoying the view from our balcony in Tazacorte.

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The view of Tazacorte and mountain from our balcony.

Race day  finally came around and like everyone else I was excited to be racing Transvulcania 2014, however  I was not to know how great an event it really was until the day was done.  Start morning meant a 1.30 am alarm, a 50 min walk uphill to the bus station, 70 min bus journey to the lighthouse and a shiver behind a rock for an hour. They then started letting people into the start, although dashing to get as close to the front as possible I was too late! I wish I had an elite start as I was in with the masses starting back about five deep with a twenty wide start line; then the elite to join the front too. I tried not to panic as it is a long way and  I know I tend to get carried away early. It was a chaotic start with a 300m dash before the sandy single track up the hill.  I spent a lot of energy weaving and dodging as I tried to work my way up the field including taking a tumble and bashing my knee.

The start chaos!

The start chaos!

We were soon on our way and I was running well, if not a little to well, passing Anna Frost on the long climb (I would not be feeling so great when she came past strongly later in the day). Arriving at the first aid station was an incredible experience with the number of people out cheering; something towards what a Tour de France rider must feel when approaching a col. This was just a taster of what to come with a big carnival type atmosphere along the course, with pockets of support and you certainly knew when you where approaching the aid stations. The aid station staff were great, they soon had your water bottle full and a banana in your mouth before sending you on your way as quickly as possible with plenty of encouragement.

Leaving Los Canarios I found my way into a small group, together we worked our way up the forest trails and sandy paths towards the top of the first volcano, at about 1800m, before dropping into El Pillar aid station. At this point I was only about 15 mins off the lead, had I gone out a little too quick too early? I had recced from this point onwards, knowing what was to come, and knowing it was going to be tough. From El Pillar there was around 10km of undulating fire roads, before starting the next climb towards the crater rim, it was here I started to falter. I was struggling to maintain a descent pace losing touch with a couple of Italians before being caught at El Revention by a couple of Spanish including Javier Dominguez and another young lad. I could not keep up with Javier but fell into the rhythm of the other lad as we walked and jogged our way on towards Roque Muchachos 2435m. Days earlier I had been able to run all this but now I felt I was crawling, but I was still moving forward. We were caught and overtaken by several runners who had paced it better, but we also caught a few who had blown. The run around the caldera is stunning and technical, and by this point the day was getting hot.  About 5km from the top at Roque Muchachos Anna Frost comes gliding past, a true inspiration and worthy champion, and then was gone.

Approaching the top. 2435m

Approaching the top. 2435m

I had made Roque Muchachos aid station  in six hours from the start; it was hot and I was wasted. I took the time to take plenty of fluids and fruit in the air conditioned tent. On leaving something amazing happened, cold water, which brought my temperature down dramatically and reinvigorated me. I shot off with renewed enthusiasm down the long decent to the sea; this got a loud cheer which helped to buoy me even more. It lasted for about one third of the descent before the energy ran out and I found I was lacking gels for the final push.  Trying to keep my attitude positive and keep on moving onward and downwards, momentum was certainly lost by the top of Tazacorte zig zags as I was caught by the second lady but I was in touching distance and I would finish this journey.

On my way

On my way

The last six km were tough legs where wobbly and it felts like a sauna, creating a fuzzy head, but I knew I could doit and the feeling of joy starts to fill your body. I managed to do something of a jog up the river bed before the last 400m of ascent into Los Llanos, which was certainly a walk. The last km along the main highway was a pure joy, I was able to run again driven on by the crowds of locals cheering me on, soaking up the atmosphere, high fiving as many people as possible as I could and before knew it the red carpet on the way to the finish in 8 hours 25 mins 28th place. Happy, yes for sure! Perfect race, no way near! Can I do better? I will be back to try.

Happy days

Happy days

Thanks Transvulcania and La Palma. Thank you Ally for putting up with me pre race.