I ran this race back in 2019. I didn’t really enjoy it. I took a battering from the terrain and referred to it as the ‘Rocky Bastard’. I never had any intention to go back and do it again. Then Darryl and Paul happened. They signed up and the rest is now history. 4 years later and I was going back to Gran Canaria…
I did well to rebuff the idea for a while. Quite a while. Then, whilst laid up with the broken ankle, idle thumbs gave in as time passed by. I admit I did become a little curious. Curious as to whether I’d enjoy it more having experienced other, harder races. Back in 2019 this was only my second mountain race (and the first time I’d ran over 100km). So to some degree I suppose I was looking forward to it. Just a little bit. For comparisons sake.
In summary though, I thought it was shitty in 2019 and I still think it is shitty now. Possibly even more shitty. Early on, through the first night I was enjoying it. Possibly more so than I previously remember. But that was probably more for the company and laughter of having friends with me. Possibly also knowing that neither of the others wanted to do this section (they had dropped down a distance after first signing up, then hopped back up to the full Classic route when I signed up!).
The night section can be a bit of a drag. A midnight start followed by a few km along a beach and promenade before a slow steady climb into the wild. There are some annoying river beds to navigate in the low light as you weave around some small villages. Later in the race, as you’re further from the coast, the landscape and scenery is beautiful. Lush dense forests and fields surrounding small mountain towns. There are some incredible views to be had around the towns of Teror and Tejada.
From there the route becomes a little less enjoyable underfoot as the rocks begin to take over and the barren, rocky mountain landscape dominates before the second night draws in. The finishing 10km along the infamous riverbed isn’t something to look forward to after a day of running! Neither are the two 1000m descents over harsh rocky terrain that lead up to it! The course changes since I did the 2019 version, whilst maybe necessary, certainly don’t enhance the route or experience!
From an Organisational view, the set up was as good as I remember and the volunteers and marshals were great. The course marking is impeccable and the pre-race runner’s ‘swag bag’ was a healthy one. The food at aid stations was plentiful although sucked a little bit as there was little variation between aid stations (with the exception of paella at the final aid station which was tasty and warm) and there was ‘soup’ that tasted like dirty dish water. That said, I never felt particularly ‘hungry’ so, for me all, was good. The El Garanon aid station setup confused and frustrated me with the hot food, the drinks and the drop bags all in separate buildings (the drop bag being a few mins walk further away). It made no sense to me and we got very cold walking between them at at night. All you want is to get your drop bag and some food and sit down with it all and make your way through your ‘to do’ list. Anyway…
On to the race itself, our experience…We started off and ran well for the first marathon with a good 8 hr time (including a decent stop at the 42km mark aid station) ticked off. That was a good pace for a target time around a 24hr finish. We, or at least I, enjoyed the night, the dawn of morning and the (fairly) runnable trails we covered. I was a little surprised as to how little I actually remembered. I recalled the quarry after the beach early on and the riverbeds but that was it. Apart from a small section this was predominantly the same route and I couldn’t remember most of it.
The ‘middle’ marathon quickly went downhill and our mood first started to dip when on the climb to El Hornillo as we were merged with the lead runners from the Advanced Race. All fresh and trying to run past on the narrow trails which made for a very stop start climb and chaos at the aid station. That mood was worsened with some of the route changes (since the 2019 edition) making for a far less enjoyable descent into Tejada. It felt longer and steeper, although it probably wasn’t. We took some ‘back tracks’ weaving through some housing and stayed away from the flatter main road which I previously used. The climbs were mostly behind us now as we navigated towards Roque Nublo and we tried to calculate how much longer we’d me out for. We were slower over the second marathon for sure, but nothing drastic.
The ‘final’ marathon can only be described as a slog. Moody and depleted, it was nothing more than shuffling along cursing the terrain with sore legs and raw feet. Almost 30km of rocky terrain and steep descents was pushing us into the depths of darkness. Tiredness and fatigue only added to the mix. A real slog. Arriving back into Maspalomas, the finish line walk was almost shameful as we made little effort to appease those spectators or the MC who were cajoling us to run at 05:00 in the morning. We had no interest. It didn’t help that each of the final few kms seemed never ending and we had another km walk back to the accommodation to make. We grabbed our medals and gilets and left pretty sharply!
Comparing the experience to that of 2019, I stand by calling the race a Rocky Bastard. It is rocky and it is a bastard. It is probably still up there with one of the harder of the events I’ve done. Revisiting it 4 years later certainly hasn’t changed my view on it and to some extent I wish I didn’t get curious about it!
I also reflected back on what I wrote post race back in 2019. It wasn’t all that dissimilar!:
- Pre race anxiety – yep. Still there. Always is. I still get worked up and stressed about the logistics. The travel. The registration. The wait to the start. Until I get running I just can’t relax for the few days leading up to a big event like this.
- Customary lack of structured training – yep still there. For different reasons this time of course. There have been 3 months of leading up to the race and other than a 100km run at the Cheviot Goat and the 50km George Fisher Tea Round I only ran over 20km on one other occasion. Not my greatest prep for an endurance event!
- Back in 2019, the race bus schedule meant I arrived 2 hrs early at the start with nowhere to wait. This year was better and we arrived only 1 hour early and we found a table inside a quiet pub with food and a clean toilet!
- Of course the customary playing of ‘Gran Canaria’ by Los Gofiones welcomed us and started the race. I do enjoy these anthems at the major events. It creates a really special and privileged atmosphere to hype up the start.
- There was no overheating at the start this time either. The cooler weather and a decision to start without a windproof layer was a good one. Although all it meant was that I was a little more comfortable!
- I think I was more aware of my surroundings on the first section to Teror this time. I now remember clearly the beach, the quarry tracks, the trails through the first few villages and the river beds surrounding them. Also the Monastery with large brick walls on the way in to Teror.
- The muddy clay climb was as slippery as I recalled. I can’t remember where it was but I do know it was harder this year with the wetter weather and many runners struggling to climb. The poles were most useful here! I also have fonder memories of Fontanales this time and once again it was a perfect location for a pause, health check and to patch up some minor issues and I found the toilet this year!
- Just like 4 years earlier, the forests were as quiet as before and the foliage as fresh and smelt nice as I remembered. Always a pleasure for nature to cover the horrific ultra runner smell!
- There were some changes around El Hornillo and the aid station, but not something I noticed at the time. This is where I started comparing myself to my younger, fitter self. After getting caught up in the stampede here we didn’t reach Artenara until around sunrise.
- The climb up to Roque Nublo was similar and memorable although I think the initial route from Tejada was different and more scenic this time. Whilst it was beginning to get overcast and the clag was setting in, as we reached the out and back section to the summit the sky cleared up and the sun shone through to warm us up and provide some views. Although it wasn’t as clear as it was last time for me.
- El Garanon was reached in the dark this time and we probably stayed for less time than I did before. With a quicker turn around I didn’t bother changing too many clothes and once again couldn’t face removing my socks and seeing the damage to my feet from all the rocks! Ignorance is bliss. I did work my split of Tailwind better this time and didn’t run out before the aid station and had plenty to restock and see me through to the end this year.
- The Cobble descent was still shit. I think this might be the least enjoyable section actually. Whilst the riverbed is far from enjoyable, it’s only really bad as you have almost 120km in your legs by the time you reach it and are dreaming of it being over. The cobble descent almost comes out of nowhere. It’s uneven and steep. It goes on for longer than you think, as does that whole section. And this year the descent is longer as you continue down to the next town. And after climbing again afterwards, there’s now another large rocky descent to contend with before you tackle the river bed.
- And so the River bed, yeah it was as I remembered. The bushy over-grown reeds and plants at the start, the loose rocks and deceiving little sections where you think it’s over only to be directed back into the thick of it. Mostly though the biggest memory here for me was the mountain silhouette we were heading for that signalled the end. It loomed majestically up ahead at all times. Never getting closer. It’s quite a sight in the darkness. Leaving the riverbed and going under the underpass I was as cranky as I was in 2019.
- Unlike 2019 I walked the finish and was happy to be seen to walk. We couldn’t give a shit about running. It had been a long night and we gave up chasing times the the day before!
- And finally, the post race sentiments remained. I’ve repeated myself multiple times already. I previously said I wasn’t sure if I’d recommend it and that if I’d done a shorter distance I wouldn’t go back for the classic. Well I did go back. My thoughts were cemented. It’s not enjoyable and if I ever think about doing it a third time then there is permission to slap me! Slap me Hard.