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There comes a time in everyone’s life when it’s unbearable to take one more step, we feel alone, emotionally and physically defeated, our mind and body wants to rest, may be quit, there seems to be no hope…but there is still some more juice for a few more steps! For me personally finishing a 100 miles race/run in mountains is a teaching moment and realization that one gotta keep the faith and not give up! In a wicked way this kind of distance mimics life, it unfolds like lifetime of events…haa!
The following little story peeks into one of those moments of lifetime, I have had that feeling before as well, as this was my 3rd attempt at this distance! This time a few extra miles and about 11,000 feet of more climbing and descend then the hardest run I had done till date!
Ehunmilak Ultra trail is a 168 km race with 11,000 Meters of cumulative elevation gain and loss…(It’s about 104.4 miles and 36,000 feet and some change) in Basque Country, some call it the most challenging race of Europe in its class. It might not be well known outside Europe, but its harder then UTMB for sure. There is a reason it’s a HARDROCK100 qualifying race and will stay on that list! Although it’s not fair to compare two different races but finishing times of a race (And/or the percentage of people who finish) can give you a little indication of how hard it is! There are only a handful of people who have gone sub 24 hours at this race and finishing rate is roughly 50-60%, by that I mean if 100 people start, only 50-60 would finish.
The climbs are really steep that go straight up (Half of them without a trail) and descends are equally drastic….steep like if you are a rookie you’ll slide down on your butt. Basque Country in Spain is very rugged, beautiful and offers a diversity of terrain. Technically the whole North Part of Spain is so so beautiful….States going from West to East are Galacia, Asturias, Cantabria and Basque Country. Its lush green (Almost like Hawaii minus Humidity) with ferns, all kinds of trees, meadows constantly changing, you can hear cow bells ringing throughout the day and night, it’s very peaceful! Not so humid or hot…..I can talk about it all day and it won’t be enough!
The technical part of terrain is so rocky and steep that every step up or down should be considered carefully, if you are not comfortable with that, please don’t bother to run here.
Before I go in details of the Race, I’d like to thank Abel Noe Rodriguez for introducing me to this challenge. He is my brother from another mother and also loves steep challenges! He is responsible for making my stay in Spain so comfortable throughout. He also introduced me to Oscar Puente, who took me in like his family, I stayed at his cabin in Cantabria near Torrelavega in the heart of mountains during my final days before the race, drove me to some pristine mountains, I am glad to have another family in Spain. Below are some pictures before going in the race.
A little training video of me and Oscar having fun in mountains(Timelapse video)
Back to race details…..Well Spain has only this one big 100 miles race, the other one is in Andorra region(Not considered in Spain) These Ultra distance races in Europe are kind of self sufficient, usually no outside supply is allowed except your drop bags at 2 Aid Stations and Food plus Drinks available at Aid Stations. Applies to everyone who starts the race, so no complaining necessary.
Here are some highlights of kind of terrain/trails I encountered during the race
- Flat sections were packed with lot of fresh mud, sometimes thorny plants falling on singletrack trails with countless flies buzzing in ears, I almost lost it, mentally it was hardest for me!
- Steep Meadows that go straight up or down, unmatched supply of assorted wild flowers added to the beauty. Horses, cows and other livestock in abundance along the course…LOVED IT
- The moment it gets dark, it gets foggy real fast, visibility ranges from 5-10 feet…..all you see is light reflecting from course marker, you take a beeline to that marker and look for next marker, well going up was slow and easy to find a marker, but imagine going down when everything is slippery and real steep, especially the little rocks that won’t even hold the sticky rubber from rock-climber shoes…LOVED IT MUCHO
- Same cloudy situation, now it’s very technical and rocky, mixed with slippery grass with occasional mud…LOVE LOVE IT
- All this while carrying your own food and mandatory gear! The only 2 aid stations with drop bags to reload were at Mile 50 and Mile 81, but that was for everyone!
- The last 10km they said was FLAT AND EASY, but we still climbed 350 meters/~1000 ft(EASY??)
For me, race went well initially, I kept my head down, mind my own pace, in and out of Aid Stations within 3-4 minutes, no cramps, no bonking, nutrition on point, all good but after about 90 or 100 km mark I had consumed too much of sweet fuel and I got diaper rash, it was hard to even walk after applying vaseline haha! That was a low point for me and I was running low on calories from there till the end, just surviving on Coke and some solid food from one Aid Station to next. Unlike what I recommend to people to keep it simple, I was being Smartass with too much sweet complex fuel and I paid the price. I wish I had someone to get me the bag of CarboPro from my hotel room, which is not sweet and simply best fuel for endurance athletes out there!
Below are some pics before and during the race.
And Finally here is a video of different distances of Ehunmilak Ultratrail races
Overall to me, the race felt harder than HURT100, because it was more climbing and diverse nature of terrain, very technical, never a dull moment though, carrying too much gear and hence weight in backpack that was mandatory(Sorry I mention this couple of times, but it’s kinda buzzkiller for me, as we are not used to that in US)!
Numerous times I had to tell myself that it was OK to deal with mud and go slow, although it was downhill or flat!
It was OK to go slow on downhill in foggy conditions when I could have easily descended down faster if I had known that part of country.
It was OK to nap for about 25-30 minutes when I was only 19 km from finish line.
It was OK to sit on chair at every Aid Station and eat till I felt better (And drink Coke, which I almost never drink)
….there were so many exceptions and things I “don’t do” at an ultra trail race! I broke most of my rules. As the Legendary Scott Mills says…”BEWARE OF THE CHAIR”…..well that was the first one to get outta the way! And there after all the rules kept crumbling down. I didn’t even sit on chair for my first 100 miler (HURT100), although that was suffering at a different level for 80 miles!
Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time! I thought, If I couldn’t give my best, at least have fun on the course and cherish the moments.
The people are so nice, although they spoke Euskara in Basque country, I managed to communicate what I needed in my poco Español almost at every AS, they’ll start asking me what I need and I had to tell them I don’t speak their language so well, that I am not from Spain and they’d ask me surprised why I came so far to run this race! Eventually at last few AS at least one person knew that I was from California, I even started to get applause “Let’s go” Instead of conventional Venga-Venga or Animo or Aupa…good times!
To conclude, dealing with every adversity positively makes us a better human being, we learn to stay humble. Keep moving forward, upward and downward or whatever direction we are intended to go. Take life as it is and be content with what life has to offer. Always be thankful! I’ll learn from my mistakes and try to make it back again for this race in later years.
Special thanks to my families whom I represent
Ultra Life Team (http://www.ultralifeteam.com/)
I Run 4 Ultra (http://irun4ultra.org/)
Territorio Trail Radio (www.territoriotrail.es)
My finish time was 35 hours 20 minutes and 33 seconds
For the geeks out there here’s my STRAVA LINK of race
I am thankful for the gear I used and brands that helped me to train and cross the finish line.
Shoes: Adidas Raven Boost Trail Shoe(Last100K) alternate with Hoka SpeedGoats (first 70K)
Socks: 2XU Compression and Performance socks
Shorts: TheNorthFace Better than Naked 5″
Headlamp: Petzl NAO
Fuel and electrolytes: Carbopro (Everything) Along with FIG BARs and LARABARs
The volunteers and people all over the course were just so awesome, so kind and giving. My heartfelt thanks. One of the major reasons why I’d like to go back and run this race again. Festak.com for awesome pictures
2017 Race Registration is open now, click this LINK
And finally I’d like to throw in a Muhammad Ali Quote – “Don’t count the days, make the days count” …….I usually switch the word “days” with “HOURS” during a long race and it changes to something like this…..
“DON’T COUNT THE HOURS, MAKE THE HOURS COUNT”
If you are reading this, that means I have bored you enough and I really appreciate your patience.