In the shadow of the UK’s airline disruption, I was reminded of how the same time last year travel was only just vaguely beginning to return. In 2021 I walked into the airport with papers anxious for the approval to proceed, yet, this year the terminal appeared to be no different to pre-2020. Less than 30 minutes after leaving my car, I was through security heading to buy snacks and bottles of water for the flight.
Last year I arrived the day before the event and departed early the day after, primarily due to the limited flights and cancellations due to flight consolidations. This year, however, there was greater flexibility so I was able to have a full rest day before embarking on an entirely new course that on paper presented quite a challenge to my ability, 44 Km with 2635m of ascent.
I had my own personal fan club, aka my wife, to support and experience the event – the lure of the sun and warmer climate I’m sure had nothing to do with it :-). Joking aside, most of my bigger challenges I’ve not been able to share with her and while it’s fine to run through the photos after an event and chatter inanely there’s something special about having someone there in person in the lead-up and to pick up the pieces after crossing the finishing line – my wife is incredibly supportive of my mad ideas.
Waking fresh on Friday morning in Puerto de la Cruz I had nothing more on my mind than heading off out first thing for a 5km shake-down run, eating breakfast bathed in the early rising sun then collecting my race number. Carb loading also featured at lunch and dinner and no surprise that pasta and bread featured heavily.
In the late afternoon, I gathered my pack, clothes, snacks and drinks ready for an early start.
The alarm chimed at 04:55 and all I needed to do was fall into my running gear, eat breakfast, bid farewell to a snoozing wife and exit the building with a laden pack. The shuttle bus was due to depart at 06:10 from town. Walking down flights of stairs and through small walkways, the air felt cool and the town was very firmly asleep. A small queue has already formed and the coach doors were opening just as I arrived, I grabbed a seat up front. While boarding a runner asked the driver something about our destination, Candelaria, to which much chatter back and forth ensued. I don’t speak Spanish but managed to establish that she thought she was driving us all to Santa Cruz and that definitely wasn’t the plan. By now the coach was at capacity and before setting off the driver got out and put her phone to her ear and I clearly heard the words Santa Cruz and Candelaria. The people opposite me could hear and understand what was being said and were laughing amongst themselves. She hopped back into the driver’s seat and off we began.
The route out of town is narrow and winding and she did an excellent job of negotiating the tight turns. Only a few minutes into our journey a man stepped forward, spoke to the driver and sat on the steps by the door. She pulled over, opened the door and he dashed forward for a pee. It was still dark so he stood in front of the coach using the main lights to see, the lady driver made a frantic movement and grabbed her phone to avert her gaze. All this and it was only 06:20. The coach joined the motorway and the windscreen wipers came to life, light rain soon turned into heavier rain and the noises from the runners behind me echoed their awareness. I was pleased I’d packed a jacket.
First light wasn’t far away and the rain was soon replaced with gaps in the clouds. The further we headed away from Puerto de la Cruz the mood changed and chatter became more upbeat. Arriving in a sleepy Candelaria at just after 07:00 we disembarked and headed towards the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Candelaria. Our coach was the first to arrive and nothing had been set up.
The coastal wind was keen so I took shelter in the Basilica. Other runners did the same but completely disregarded the respect for a place of worship. I’m not religious but I do hold myself to certain standards. I wanted to take photos of the interior because it was stunning, but I didn’t. I didn’t use my mobile to chat with others or gather in groups and babble away loudly. Anyway, all that said, I took time to compose myself and run through my ideas of how the day may pan out as I was a little nervous and just wanted to get started.
The sun soon shone and the square around the Basilica came to life. The start line had now appeared with an inflated arch to signify our day ahead while music blared out from tannoy speakers. A local drum club occupied one corner chanting rhythmically. I gathered with the crowd as time was now approaching 08:00, our official start time.
Classic rock tunes filled the air, Highway to Hell and Eye of the Tiger to name but a few. Announcements periodically were broadcast counting us down to the start. The plan was to start at 08:00 when the bells tolled however, at 07:59 we were told it was now less than a minute and within seconds the bells sounded – someone’s clock wasn’t quite right. The countdown (in Spanish) began 5-4-3-2-1, cheers resonated as we set off. This was it. I was now where I wanted to be. I no longer felt anxious or apprehensive, I was going to do this.
All 800 of us (or thereabouts) set off through the town. People cheered us from their doorways and balconies. The road was easy and perfect for warming the legs up. People found their pace, darted around each other, found their friends all to the sound of pounding feet on the tarmac – that rhythmic cushioned sound is peculiar to hear and only experienced in group events.
A brief deviation off the road onto the beach literally ground everyone to a halt.
A small snaking line formed as we negotiated narrow rocks which subsequently set the scene for the next few KMs, it was now time to head into the foothills for what was going to be an uphill journey for quite some time.
The route was narrow and we weaved our way in turn through the rain channels and gullies. At points in the tighter corners we’d spend minutes waiting which was fine but at the same a little frustrating as I just wanted to keep moving. We all had the same problem and everyone just rolled with it.
The rough terrain was soon replaced with smaller access roads, the gradient requiring more walking than running.
We were heading to the hills in the distance and they seemed so far out of reach. The roads meandered through the local residential areas and they were brutally steep. All the fun banter and chatter from the other runners earlier on had dissipated now replaced with heavy breathing and clacking of poles on the roads.
An hour in and we were off the narrow streets and onto a fire road. A single banging drum and trumpets from conches could now be heard. The drum beat was slow and akin to something you’d hear in a tribal village where a person has been condemned to death, it wasn’t entirely uplifting. The second person with a conch I noticed had skin from a dead animal made into what looked like a backpack. I’m all for supporters and cheering but this was something I had never expected.
The gradient increased significantly and soon turned into volcanic rock. Looking back down the trail the height gain was surprising, the coast now somewhere in the distance.
The randomness of volcanic rock continued. The pack of runners I’d fallen into had begun to spread out and I happened to find pace with a runner from Gran Canaria. We chatted and soon found ourselves arriving at the first aid station, 8 Km in with 1 hour & 25 minutes passed. I felt good and took the time to grab a drink and a banana.
A local group of musicians provided a soothing and calming atmosphere with their down-tempo music. After a short break, I returned back to the matter at hand. This town also had ridiculously steep (and narrow) roads and it wasn’t long before the rough trails returned, oh and they were steep too.
For quite some time the trail switched back and forth. The clacking of walking poles could be heard, and the chatter that was abundant at the last aid station had now receded. In one section there was a man on the floor with his leg air while another runner pushed vigorously on it, cramp clearly the problem. As it transpired the person doing the pushing was the lady from Gran Canaria I was chatting with previously. I looked away as this was early in the distance and I didn’t want to think about this happening to me.
Exposed paths periodically were replaced with pockets of trees with a random connecting fire road and a remote farming property. As we neared the main tree line a small pocket of meadow appeared, seemingly quite out of character.
The trail plateaued briefly where an emergency services vehicle happened to be parked, the team chatting to a runner about something. Official signage now appeared marking the route, PR TF 25, moments later the steep terrain returned.
The shade of the trees was now becoming a thing to appreciate as the sun had been on me from the outset and while not that powerful early on it was now beginning to ramp up the intensity, all the while also shielding me from the valuable cooling breeze on the exposed open slopes. The forest floor delivered a powerful aroma of dried pine needles too which indicated a change in route.
The first official camera person loomed into view just before the next aid station.
I had now been on my feet for over 3 hours mainly climbing and was in need of a small break and refuelling. I gorged on some melon and water and then continued on my way. The official timing text message chirped on my phone once I’d passed the timing mat, 13.8 Km, 3 hours & 7 minutes.
The route ahead was surprisingly wide and relatively flat.
The route undulated for a while with short climbs which offered time for the legs to spin through and provide a sense of progress to actually be running. I came across one group that was incredibly jovial and jostling each other. What seemed like fun to them soon became a hindrance to me (and others) as they blocked the path and in one act of stupidity one person who’d split from the group actually stopped directly in front of me to turn around to see her friends. At this moment we were on a downhill section and it was a complete fluke that I didn’t flatten her. Anyway, they were now behind me and I continued on my way muttering under my breath for a few minutes.
At this part of the trail, I grabbed this photo (above) and saw that the man waiting for me to finish my picture was in fact the person on the floor I saw earlier. I offered for him to pass but he insisted I lead. He was English which meant I had someone to speak with and share conversations of our journey so far.
The terrain followed the same pattern for quite a while, slowly climbing and then rewarded with some downs. Some runners flew past me while others fell back struggling to maintain their pace now we’d been out for many hours.
The foliage began to change with moss-covered patches of the likes I’ve not seen in Tenerife before. The tree line began to thin and the sun won its way through more than the leaves could provide shade.
Another aid station came into view and while I rested and refuelled my newfound English friend (Michael) paused too, grabbed water and appeared to be waiting for me. I wasn’t too sure if he was that bothered with me being around as I was keen to chat as I’d had no one to speak with for hours previously, he, on the other hand, remained relatively quiet.
Leaving this fuelling point behind we were about halfway with just over a half marathon to complete. The route now took a change in tempo with speedy descents to which I trod cautiously, nervous of what may be hidden beneath the carpets of pine needles. Occasionally, there were small stones and branches that did briefly unbalance me but nothing to the extent of ankle-rolling, which, was my concern.
Michael had found his flow and was off. The trail narrowed at times and I caught others up, passing some with a wide berth due to flailing poles – seriously, some people have no idea what hazards they are to others waving these metal sticks around behind them.
I was now back on my own occasionally catching people up. I spotted the famous Ironman logo tattooed into the calf muscle of a runner ahead. As I passed him I commented on his achievement to which he proceeded to tell me his next one was in 3 weeks time and that he was crazy. While I chuckled at his self-professed madness and accompanying laughter I couldn’t help but admire his fitness and mental state to be undertaking this Marathon just 3 weeks out.
A short time later I observed a small huddle of people bunched up at a corner of the trail. As I approached I could see a runner on the floor with a leg in the air being pushed down upon by another runner. The person on the floor happened to be the lady from Gran Canaria I met early on and who also performed the same cramp-fixing exercise to Michael.
Arriving at the next aid station my watch showed I’d been out for over 6 hours, the sun was beating down and energy reserves were becoming depleted. I took a break for a short time taking care to top up my water and eat many slices of watermelon.
The course had now reached its pinnacle of height and it was all downhill from here, literally. The official timing text message arrived as I set off over the timing mat, 29.5 Km, 6 hours & 6 minutes.
The narrow trail was replaced with a brief spell of fire road, a little steep but certainly manageable to flow the legs as opposed to fighting the gradient which clearly was ‘in the post’. It was lovely to stretch the legs and get into a rhythm, to feel the air whooshing by and to make progress chipping away at the remaining distance. This was, of course, short-lived as a sharp right turn transformed a wide road into a narrow gully. I use the word ‘gully’ in its loosest sense. It was more like a rain run-off where water would find its natural course. Tight and twisty v-shaped channels cut into the forest floor revealed roots and unearthed volcanic rocks. I flipped my running cap back to front so the peak didn’t block my peripheral vision. Constantly I sought higher ground from these treacherous channels but was pushed back in by tightly packed shrubs and low branches. While I struggled other runners effortlessly passed me. Michael dropped me during this technical ditch descent seemingly not worrying about his speed, random lines, slipping and generally looking like a pinball. I paused to rest my feet on one of the wider sections to grab this photo looking from where I’d come.
For reference, the photo above was from one of the easier sections that I descended. The path began to widen and with an official photographer sign in sight, I knew the section must be due to end.
I look at this photo and muse at how tame the gradient looks – for my ability at least.
The twisting and spiralling technical section was now over with the non-stop dense view of trees now replaced with shining sunshine and coastline. The trail exited to a steep mountain road. When I say ‘road’ it’s a bit of an exaggeration. Concrete with diagonal lines scored across it for water flow direction with a sprinkle of light dirt in places. The gradient vastly increased and for me, and others, with zig-zagging seemingly being the most expedient way to get down, I wasn’t so much as running but lightly jogging back and forth. At the first corner, I stopped to grab this photo.
In the middle of this picture, you can make out the water lagoon (Lago Martiánez) of Puerto de la Cruz jutting into the ocean. This was the finish and the first glimpse we’d been offered of it.
The zig-zagging continued. It was uncomfortable. Other runners were walking while others just ran straight down resembling derailed trains. Again, I see danger where others see opportunity! Residential properties were looming up with their families hanging over balconies and in doorways cheering us on although I imagine they must wonder what the heck these crazy runners are doing.
I caught Michael back up and we both made our way down into the next local town where the final aid station greeted us. He continued running while I took time to take stock of, my now, jellied legs. The previous 7 Kms had really zapped them.
The road pushed up what felt like furnace-intense heat at me and I was now feeling fatigued. I grabbed watermelon and pretty much inhaled it. I grabbed more and more like a person who hadn’t seen food for days, eventually, I prized myself away from the fruit stand and set off on the final leg of the run.
My watch buzzed alerting me of the official timing text message, 37.5 Km in 7 hours & 19 minutes.
The route headed beneath the TF-5 motorway to the cliff top presenting a glorious view of the coastline and the finish in the distance. Below I could see runners and the route I’d need to find my way down to.
The route descended following stone and wooden braced steps of all manner of depth, width and height. The coastal breeze died and the land reflected the heat off the cliffs onto me. I used the wooden handrail for support as I had little confidence my balance would hold at times. The route eventually levelled out, the breeze returned and I managed to get back into a running rhythm. Another photographer sat comfortably snapping away and not wanting to have a photo of myself in a broken state I reset my mind and form to get something at least credible! Well, I think so 😉
I was acutely aware of what was coming next, a climb. I paced myself slowly and ascended passing a couple of runners. The breeze dropped and the oppressive heat returned. I reached the peak and felt physically sick. Small roads weaved in between banana plantations and I walked for at least a Km hunting shade from the tall walls where I could. Slowing down did the trick and I began to feel normal, well, normal as could be. I picked my legs back up into a rhythm. At the 40 km mark, a local percussion band had perched themselves to one side of the plantation roads. Every runner that approached and passed they burst into life, it was fantastic and lifting.
Rounding a corner the route presented this view of the final challenge. Now, I’ve been to Puerto de la Cruz many times and knew the path and gradient that lay ahead. The path can clearly be seen dropping down and climbing back out again. I’d also caught Michael back up and we both ran together.
I expected that my wife would be nearby as this wasn’t too far from our apartment and the finish line too and sure enough there she was, toward the entrance into the plantation.
Michael and I headed alongside the road descending into the town. As we approached Lago Martiánez the crowds were back delivering an energetic atmosphere, all categories finished here. It was noisy and busy and so uplifting. As no other runners were near us I suggested to Michael that he should go ahead for the final 50 metres to get a photo crossing the line without me ruining it! I dropped back so he could have that moment for himself.
Once he crossed the line I set off and ran up the final ramp over the water, the commentator shouted my name and I crossed the line. I think my face says it all.
Michael, by the way, had never run a marathon before and wasn’t aware of the terrain. I found this out when we were approaching the halfway stage. He also mentioned that most of his friends doubted his ability to succeed and questioned his entry into this race. I made it clear that technically he’d actually run his first ultra – anything greater than 42.195 Km is an ultra. Hopefully, that would quell his doubtful friends.