Just completed the Ultra Trail Barcelona and finally on my way back home. My legs are just trashed and the quads really hurting. Still a bit jet lagged from recent business trips to Asia, but slowly recovering. My knees and seem to be OK. Some blisters, not too severe and some pain in feet an let knee, but I believe this will subside in the next few days. In the end I finished 22nd out of 183 that finished. I believe 350-400 signed up, but surely there were some no-shows and a lot of DNF:s. It took me 14:13 minutes, which is 3.5 hours longer than the winners. This is not acceptable I think, but so difficult to prepare for this kind of race. An annoying thing (for me) it the name Ultrarunning. I believe it should be Ultrawalking, if you don’t get along faster than 6 mins/km as average, even though the conditions/trail are so difficult that it is difficult to achieve.
Dont miss my own in event film, the film from UTBCN organisation and the photos below. There are some great videos already, If you want to get some understanding about the race – have a look at them far below. also some pictures from the organizers here:
While running the ultra – I found myself thinking about the driving forces of these insanities. After all, we consider ourselves the most intelligent earthlings, the most developed species on Earth (even though us participating individuals may not be the most intelligent…) – so why do we drive ourselves to this extreme level of discomfort? Is it the finisher t-shirt?
In my case, part of the answer lies in earning some stupid qualification for the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc – which is probably several times harder.
The communities around us surely don’t give only positive recognition, but also sometimes question why we do it. Staying fit and participating in a local half/full marathon is naturally good but beyond that? So I don’t believe it is any external recognition that is the answer.
Old Maslow thought about these issues in his pyramid, but surely these kind of events are far above the self-esteem he was talking about.
We all have answers that may be part of the solution, saying that “I want to seek my limits”, “because it’s there” and so on, but there must be some other driving forces.
Maybe it’s just so simple that the life of the modern human is so well organized and safe that some of us wants to get the thrill of extremes – in one way or another – may it be skydiving, endurance events, driving fast or whatever suits you.
Well, well – during the 14 hours of racing a lot if things go about in your head.
Starting from the beginning, we attended the pre race meeting on Friday evening. Spanish organization, and my friend did not get his bib, but was to collect it instead on race morning. The meeting was of course in Spanish, but boy if I was surprised when some of the most critical details were translated to English! I actually became a bit nervous during the meeting, as the weather forecast was rain and cold during the whole day, and the ONLY thing the pre race meeting was about was explaining how steep, particularly difficult or how hard every section of the race was. My friend had decided (due to some cold) to run the 79 k Long race instead of the 115 k Ultra. The difference was the hardest part of the route, a loop of 36 k and 2000+ incline. We nicknamed it the “penalty lap” (from Biathlon).
After the pre race meeting the rain had started. It was pouring down and we understood that the trails would be very muddy.
Before an Ultra, it doesn’t really make sense with carbo loading, so race morning I had some avocado, cereals, salmon and other nice food. The race started at 10 am (which does not make any sense as it pushes almost all racers into running in the dark. I would have preferred to start at 7, so I would have minimized the dark.
We were a bit late, but came to collect my friends bib an hour before the race. Total chaos. The line with racers that wanted to sign up for the different races was well over 100 meters long. Somehow, my friend managed to arrange his bib with 15 minutes before the start. Still there was a very long line of people – most of them would not be able to make it to the starting line in time….
So we just barely made it to the start in time. The rain was pouring down. I was cold, but trusted that I would soon be warm in the inclines. I was wearing the best kit available: Fusion running tights, Fusion triathlon top, Fusion jacket, a buff, socks from GoCoCo, a Perfecta hydration belt with some mandatory equipment and 5 water bottles, and Icebug Anima shoes. But the best equipment of the day was actually the somewhat too small “spiderman gloves” from XXL for 1€ that I decided to wear just before the start – it was great to have some protection for the branches and bushes along the way. Ready to go.
I had prepared a drop bag which I could access at km 30 and 66 with extra clothes, shoes, headlamp and nutrition.
We started in the middle of the pack. There were racers in 4 different competitions starting at the same time – about 2000 people. I really hate this concept as it always makes me start too fast. I pace myself with the people that are running 21/45/79 kilometers instead of pacing myself with the Ultrarunners.
Quite soon, I lost contact with my friend, we became separated by a few hundred meters. But when the trail started to be just a bit technical and steep, the train of runners came almost to a halt – it was so slow up the very slippery muddy trails. During this part of the race it was like running through a rain forest, with bushes and very high grass on the sides.
The race went on, I ran quite well. Of course you some confidence when you pass the marathon guys, but somehow I understood this wasn’t optimal. It was better when the half and full marathon guys had taken their respective routes. The two things that I feared most in this race was the downhill running and blisters. Surely all the rain and constant running in wet shoes would make the risk for blisters high. In fact – I quite easily develop blisters so this can be a problem for me.
The downhill running is another great concern. 5000+ meters incline on this race also means 5000+ meters decline. Living in an almost flat area it is almost impossible to develop downhill running skills and stamina. Uphill is of lesser problem – its more about power and endurance. This proved to be the case quite soon. Compared to my fellow runners, I was stong uphill, but I had to take it very gently on the downhill. The constant pounding just kills your quads if you are not used to it.
After the main checkpoint at 30 km it was only the ultrarunners in the penalty loop. We would return to this checkpoint again after 36 k or so. We were not that many, but I had some nice conversations with an Italian, a Dane and a Spanish guy. At every checkpoint I tried to get a lot of nutrition down, mostly nuts, nutella sandwiches, soup and other light stuff provided. They also had some pasta, but I declined that.
I did perform quite well 3 weeks ago in the Ursviks Ultra 75 k (came in second – the Ursvik is run during the night and on snow and ice) as well as Sandsjöbacka trail marathon (second), but this Ultra trail Barcelona is very very different. Ursvik is all about going fast, there are some hills, but nothing similar to here. The trail was, by all standards, very very technical in various ways. Sometimes the vegetation was so thick that it was nearly impossible to get through, and only way was to double fold yourself. Sometimes we were running ins old riverbeds with only loose rocks in fist sizes and bigger – very hard for your feet. Sometimes the downhill was so steep that it was almost impossible to break and limit the speed– it could be very rocky or very slippery due to the constant raining. Sometimes the uphills were not only extremely steep and difficult to negotiate, but it could also be some difficult drops which required you to catch your breath for some seconds in order to make a surge to get up.
“Running” on these parts of the trail was not an option. I was, on some of these sections, pushed down to a pace of 15 mins /kilometer.
Halfway through the race the rain started to go away. Still the trail was muddy. I came some particular mud which stuck to your feet like under ill-prepared cross country skies where you get 5 cm of snow underneath them.
I got a report that I was in 16-17th place – which felt good – out of about 350 runners.
When I came back to the main 66 km checkpoint, I was in no good shape. Very very sore quads from the downhill pounding, and blisters between my toes. I spent some time to get some important nutrition. Finally I also decided to change socks and shoes which I did. I was a bit tired of the slippery trails so I changed to my Icebug Anima with hard metal spikes, hoping they would give better traction. When running on the trail, the metal spikes are just positive, but it feels slightly awkward when running on asphalt. These shoes are slightly heavier than the other Anima, but I calculated that the benefits would outweigh the negatives. Also nice to get dry socks and shoes.
So this stop took some extra time, and most likely I lost several positions here. It did not really matter to me at this point. Now it was more about getting to the next checkpoint, and the next checkpoint and so on.
But it became harder. The trail wasn’t too difficult, but my body was in worse and worse shape. I developed a strange cough and there was some blood every now and then. My right knee started to be very painful on the uphills, and my left knee was hurting on the downhills – together with the quads. I got into this negative spiral of thinking, and now it was nothing about racing or performing, but only about surviving and finishing. But you have your ups and downs, and after soma 10 k or so I was (mentally) feeling somewhat better. But then it got worse again.
I learned that they had shortened the route by 9 km due to severe conditions. In my case, this was no disappointment. After the checkpoint at 77 km, I was then expecting the next checkpoint at 86 km. Section by section I was getting to the finish line. At 85 or so I took a gel and I drank the last of my energy drink, as I was soon at the next CP. No reason to carry too much weight from CP to CP. HOWEVER, there was no CP at 86, nor at 87. Or 88, or 89. I started to get very angry and sometimes worried that I had missed the route. I was now in a downward spiral. Very few people that I saw, I passed a couple of Long runners (who had run about 35 k less than I) but surprisingly no Ultra runners overtook me. I got some information about how long it was to the next CP, but they were all wrong. At 91 km I took my very last gel, just to try to get some small energy boost again. But then I was completely empty with no more energy. Now it was dark and since some time I was using my headlamp.
The next CP came at 95 km. That is a section of 18 km (in my case unannounced) at the end of the race. I think it’s unacceptable that no proper information was provided, ensuring that I (non-Spanish speaking) understood that there was no CP at 88, but only at 95 km due to the overall shortening.
I was mad and devastated but it would only cost me additional energy to argue with the kind people at this checkpoint. I hydrated, ate and took on a thin long sleeved shirt.
After this CP it was only 10 k to finish. But the shorter the distance, the longer it feels that it takes. So this section took forever. Eventually I approached Sitges and the finish line, just as the rain started coming again. Finally done after just over 14 hours. Very sore quads, but happy to have finished. I hang around the finish area for several hours waiting for my drop bag from the main checkpoint, Beges. Spanish organization at its best – “it will be here in 10 minutes” – and it took 2 hours…
During the race I carried with me 4 gels, 1.25 litres of energy drink (refueled a the checkpoints), salt tablets (I had about 20 of them).
My clothes from Fusion worked flawlessly. In fact just perfekt. The triathlon top (with great pockets for the gels) was super and no chafing. The jacket was very good, and combined good ventilation and high water resistance during the whole run.
My two pairs of Icebug Anima worked fine during the whole race. Maybe it would have been a better choice actually to wear the version with the metal spikes for the whole race (which would have given me better traction), but I am not certain. I did get some blisters between my toes, but this was not due to the shoes I believe, but rather my delicate feet….
During the race, and after, I now have a very big respect for the even longer Ultra runs. I believe I would actually perform well on a flat ultra run (if I could live with running 6/12 hours around a track), but these Ultra trail runs are hard – especially if you are not used to the difficult trails and downhill running. Ultra Trail Mont Blanc will be a mother of a challenge. If I dare…
I have a friend who just completed the Ultra Trail Mont Fuji in Japan, 161 km and almost 10.000 meters positive gain. That is respect.
In general I am, however, quite enthusiastic about the Ultra Trail Barcelona. I would definitely recommend it. It can be combined with a nice visit in Barcelona or Sitges, and given the several distances, a whole group of friends can join the race. During normal weather, I believe the views are magnificent. Its easy access via budget flights to Barcelona and laid back. Just too laid back (for a Scandinavian that is). Very limited information in English and during the race you are happy to get any information in English (such as the update re the shortening of the course and new checkpoints).
And racing abroad is always very nice and gives stronger memories.
Vaya Con Dios.