Sunday 10th January 2016
The Vertical Kilometre is a particularly tough start to our Spanish ‘racing season’. Starting from the edge of Gandia, a town south of Valencia, it runs through the campo, through orange groves and pine forests on rough tracks, before heading straight up the mountain, with the finish line on the summit. This 13 km race does exactly what it says on the tin, 1000 metres of ascent, with most of this in the last 4 kms.
Both Neil and I were planning on slow races, as we were both nursing dodgy ankles. Neil was still recovering from injury, with corresponding lack of fitness and I had stupidly sprained my ankle on the journey down to Spain, tripping on a kerb! I was fortunate to meet a lovely lady who had moved to Spain 13 years ago so had good company and conversation until we got on to the really steep stuff, then all talk ceased! Neil had Phil Hodgson from Todmorden Harriers for company, but not for long as he disappeared off up the hill ahead! Needless to say both Neil and my times were unimpressive, but we achieved what we set out to do, which was to finish without further injury and kick start our winter race season. Neil finished in 2.01.27, 85th Veterano, 233/712 and I did 2:28.31, 32nd Veterana, 526/712.
Sunday 17th January 2016
Ice? In Southern Spain? Surely not?
But yes, there it was, plastered all over the wind screen of our tiny van. Not a tempting sight when we knew we had to get up and race. We had slept over-night in a side street of Barxeta, a small, traditional town in land from Valencia. The idea was to save us a long drive early in the morning, but suddenly it didn’t seem like such a good idea and it took a couple of cups of tea to tempt me out of bed in to the cold. However, the 5th edition of the Trail La Malla Serralades de Barxeta was waiting for me and since I have competed in the previous 4, I didn’t really want to miss this one.
However, if I was struggling with the cold, imagine how the Spanish runners felt! The mantra ‘be bold, start cold’ was going through my head as I shivered my way to the plaza mayor, but it clearly wasn’t something that anyone else was considering. Never have so many hats, scarfs, buffs, jackets, and gloves graced the start line of this race before. Once we were crammed into the square with friends from Todmorden Harriers and 850 other runners, body heat soon warmed me up. The build-up to the race didn’t disappoint; loud music, excitable tannoy announcements and animated chattering leading up to cinco, quatro, trez, doz, uno, Vamos accompanied by fireworks and a band playing in the narrow streets.
The 21 km route wound through orange groves before heading up towards the mountains on rough farm tracks. Eventually gaining a ridge, the run down was more technical, on rough limestone. There were two ‘stings in the tail’ though, as the route turned back up steep hills not once, but twice, before eventually joining a country road 2 km from the finish line.
We both just wanted to get round safely, enjoy the atmosphere and the scenery and in this respect we were successful. Neil finished in 2:22.06, 113rd Veterano A, 361/866 and I did 2:39.41, 12th Veterana A, 608/866, both pleased to arrive at the finish line intact! Our friends from Todmorden also really enjoyed the race, all finishing in respectable times.
Sunday 24th January 2016
Our third race was the 22km Ocaive mountain race from Pedregeur, a small market town just 30 minutes up the coast from us. This is definitely the toughest of the mountain races, with the most ascent and the roughest descents. It has three separate ascents that really eat up time and it also has a particularly technical descent from the summit of the mountain, straight down the limestone ridge, without a path but with big drops on one side to spice things up a bit. On top of all this difficulty, a sparkling sunny day dawned, with temperatures of 20 degrees, making for a very sweaty race.
The technical descent was my only saving grace on this route, allowing me to overtake and leave behind quite a few runners. Unfortunatley this left me running completely by myself on the relatively good trails on the ombria, the shady side of the mountain, so didn’t have anyone to spur me on when I could have made up some time. The final long descent was particularly rough and my dodgy ankle was complaining by the time I hit the town centre streets for the final ‘sprint’ uphill to the finish line.
Neil finished in 2:54.01, 26th Veterano B, 124/215 and I did 3:12.38, 4th Veterana B, 168/215. This was our toughest race yet and took us some days to recover from!
Sunday 31st January 2016
The Castell D’Axia 20 km mountain race is our favourite of all the mountain races. It starts in the village of Lliber just 20 minutes away in the Vall de Pop and is a lovely friendly affair. There is the choice of 12 km, 20 km, or even a walker’s route, all starting from the tiny plaza mayor. For some reason the 12 km is always twice as popular as the longer route, but of course we prefer the longer route. Neil and I have both had some success previously in this race, both having won age category prizes, but in our current form were not expecting any such honours this year.
I set off conservatively, with the intention once again of using the race as a training run and protecting my ankle. I found myself fairly well down the field and often running on my own, until we came to a steep hill and then I found I could pass others fairly easily just by walking with a bit more ‘purpose’ than they were. The steepest and longest ascent follows a water stop at the Font D’Axia at 13 km and again I was surprised to pass people on the way up to the summit. I briefly lifted my head long enough to take in the amazing views of mountains, coast and sea before plummeting down the other side. It’s about 4 kms of descent back down to Lliber, with just a tiny little hill to finish. I’m not renowned for speed uphill but things appeared to be working in my favour on this day, as I overtook yet more runners. I joined Neil and friends in the sunny square, enjoying pizza, beer and enough cakes to sink a ship! Neil had also had his best run yet, feeling a bit fitter and with his ankle coping better with the rough terrain
Neil finished in 2:24.20, 13th Veterano B, 51/117 and I did 2.46.35, 3rd Veterana B, 83/117. I was pleased to be awarded a trophy for 3rd in my age category; it was good to get back on to the podium this year! Roll on February!
2 photos courtesy of Somesport.com