El destino Santa Cruz, el camino Anaga. My Santa Cruz Extreme


"Sometimes you just do things!"

[Scott Jurek – Eat and Run]

Anaga, 12 October, 11:30am. Fast driving on winding mountain roads is one of those simple joys of life. Just like running all out down a technical, dangerous slope. No time for musings or what-ifs. It's just here and now.

En la guerra, como en el amor, todo vale y siempre queda un perdedor

Normalmente, pierde el que quiere mas, al igual que en una mesa de blackjack

A local radio plays a song I know. Again it reminds me of something, but I just floor it and overtake two cars on an uphill bit where I get some better visibility, swiftly moving from one turn to the next. I'm about to meet my friends for a wee yomp in the hills. We'll end up scoring over 20 clicks along wild trails, partly on the course of the race that awaits me in a few days.

* * * * *

Western slopes of Teide, 13 October, 9:45pm. In the dark I can only discern the mounds of loose volcanic clinkers. A longer while ago I lost the sparsely marked trail among rocks and low vegetation.

Earlier, in the late afternoon I scrambled a seldom-used unmarked rocky trail to the edge of the Pico Viejo old crater. Then I reached the main peak at 3718 metres just on time for sunset, when the park rangers already descended by the last cable car, as I obviously couldn't be bothered to get the summit permit. I ran downhill already in the dark. Having lost the trail I didn't feel like spending the night here. Using the compass, I roughly set my bearing on the moon and stars. Rocky bumps to scramble down on all fours were still quite alright. Further on however began the solidified lava fields from hell.

The hillocks of pumice-like, razor-sharp rocks are a few metres high and slide under my feet. I take two falls in a short time, but those scratches on my hands and feet won't make much difference – they will not be the last ones at this trip. More than an hour later I finally hit the trail parallel to the road and after 11pm I reach my car. Again I've learnt something about myself, or just recalled what I'd already known. When push comes to shove, I don't sit down and cry but just push on.

That day the altitude of Teide significantly slowed me down. Thin air and short breath took their toll. Two days later I will start at the parking bay at 2380 m to reach the summit by the eastern trail in 2hrs and 12 mins. That's the way to catch red blood cells, loads better than EPO. Third time on Teide this year, and fourth at the top cable car station. The body will quickly recall what it learnt here in June and then in August in Turkey. Again I'll just make it for the sunset. Did you know that Teide casts the longest shadow that can be seen on Earth? Its length is about 200 km!

* * * * *

El camino Anaga

Playa de las Teresitas, 21 October, 8:00am. I don't speak Spanish but on holidays you always pick up a few words. Destination Santa Cruz, the way is Anaga! – shouts the announcer as we cross the start gate at dawn. Golden sand-covered Teresitas brings back some snapshot memories, seemingly from the past life. There's gonna be a few more of them today.

Anaga is the eastern peninsula of Tenerife. The mountains here just exceed 1000 metres a.s.l., and the Santa Cruz Extreme Maratón course never goes above 900 m. The race however is called Extreme for a reason. Over 49 km it officially gathers 3860 vertical metres. To make it within the 11.5-hour cut-off, according to ITRA one needs 440 points. I have just exceeded this threshold after the race of my life at Aladağlar Sky Trail last August...

There, you had the whole hour more to negotiate 47 km and 3900 m+. Yeah, thin air at 3700 metres a.s.l., technical course and stuff. But Santa Cruz Extreme gives you two clicks more and ain't no piece of cake either. No random folks run here for sure.

Straight after leaving the beach, together with some 250 marathoners I turn right, while over 300 of 26k runners go to the left. The first 2 km is a tarmac road with hardly any incline. Then it becomes an ever narrower and steeper path. We are still densely packed, and traffic jams form at stream crossings and steeper bumps.

I started way back in the field. Still, at the first of the day's highlights, a less than 2 km section with some 30% incline, I have to push on really hard to keep up with the group. The aid station at the top involves a slight turnoff. As many others, I skip it and only take my own gel and water. I'm here in an hour and 15 minutes, with 1h30 cut-off. It only confirms you've got to be pretty fast right from the start of this race.

The downhill that follows is steep, rocky and technical. Not much space to overtake, but I stilll do it wherever possible. ¡Paso! This word, picked up from fellow racers, I will be using most often on downhills today. And also ¡gracia!, cos it's always good to be a gentleman. Canarians seem to drop the usual "s" at the end, or that's just my impression.

Stars at noon

A small tarmac road leads to a village hidden in the valley and another big climb, although not as steep as the previous one. The hottest time of the day has just started and it's humid, as if before the rain, which had been forecast for the afternoon anyway. My first crisis has also just started.

Prickly pears, agaves and relentless, open sun. I slow down, often drinking water from my camelbak. A dozen or more racers overtake me. Maybe I did that first climb too fast? Reaching the ridge, no matter how undulated, is a relief. At the 15 km roadside aid station I need a five-minute breather.

On a steep downhill section I try to make up for what I lost. In the dark forest the rocks are covered with mud and fallen leaves. I pass a few fellow runners at a time. I can only realise what's just happened when I lie on the ground and can't move.

The impact was so hard I saw all the stars at noon. Right forearm and hip hurt like hell. I can see a two inch-wide bump next to my elbow. Subcutaneous bleeding or a fracture? Now I can only see blood mixed with mud. I can bend my elbow without much additional pain, so it's probably alright. After a longer while I carefully stand up, preferring not to look at my hip under the shorts.

For several minutes I walk slowly, staggering a bit. I feel dizzy, almost passing out. A few deep breaths allow me to start running again. Just that one thought sitting in my head. Gotta finish this bitch, just for myself.

Soon I reach a village at the main ridge of Anaga. It's Chamorga. The course leads along narrow passages between households, sometimes up and down concrete stairs. The locals give us loud support. We cross the road, there is one more mile along an undulated forest trail, and then starts the long, mega steep downhill from 650 metres to the ocean at Benijo, at the northern coast of Tenerife.

At least it's dry. Rocks, dry soil and low vegetation. The views take your breath away. I'm not trying to play Kilian Jornet anymore, but still somehow overtake every other racer, even taking a few pics on my way.

It takes me four hours and a few minutes to reach the aid station. The cut-off here is 4h35 but the time is measured when we leave. I take a bite and a sip and go to the ambulance to have my forearm washed and disinfected. The swelling has already gone a wee bit. I must be looking not too well, as the paramedic persistently asks me a few times if I'm alright. I confirm, trying to sound convincing, although I'm still felling dizzy. But I haven't come here to be pulled out of the race. Fifteen minutes later I leave the checkpoint. The time measuring device beeps at 4h23. I realise I need a new life to finish this.

I run down to the black volcanic Benijo beach. Snapshots from the past come to me again. We run on rocks, then on the dark sand. Then up to the Almáciga village, next to the bar where we had dinner with friends after a long yomp in the hills. Tarmac road, then gravel and finally a steep path. Again I can run uphill, or walk really fast when it gets steeper. I start overtaking fellow runners. A new life has come!

The rain in Spain...

That little path takes us above 400 metres up to a mirador (viewpoint) next to the road, from where there is an off-path, rocky downhill with a short section secured with fixed ropes. I quickly negotiate this bit and start running down like crazy to Taganana, where another aid station awaits us.

This time it's just a quick snack and drink without hanging around. Half an hour cushion to the 6h30 cut-off. It's over 28 km, well past the halfway point. We're about to climb the highest point of the race at 860 metres. The incline is initially mild but then the trail steepens, leading us into the subtropical jungle. A tunnel of dense vegetation above the path is really impressive. It starts raining, and then pouring. Contrary to what they say, the rain in Spain stays mainly in the hills...

Soon I drop the runners who left the aid station together with me. Running or working hard with trekking poles, I overtake a few more along the whole climb. The force is with me. With my high-altitude training runs a few days before the race I tried to repeat what worked for me so well in Turkey. Looks like I've succeeded.

Past the highest point there is a short road section and then another crazy downhill. In the pouring rain it has already changed into a proper muddy slide. But those conditions are the best for me to gain advantage! I pass a few more racers to tick off at 7h26 at the next aid station at 35 km. Almost an hour before cut-off. Formula One-style pit stop, a few hundred metres along tarmac road, and a marshal directs us to the left and up into a hardly visible path.

It is narrow, muddy, with prickly vegetation, and then rocks higher above. The path is hardly visible and becomes much steeper. At least it's well marked with tapes. I drop a runner who is chasing me. Does anyone ever roam here? How have they ever found such a thing? This is one of the bloody steepest sections of a race I've ever seen! I sympathise with those who have to go up here without poles. The rain is chilling but the fast climb warms you up.

Past the end of this climb from hell, I run a milder uphill kilometre and then overtake a few racers on the way down. The next climb is not that steep but the long downhill that follows makes up for it. Here comes the worst muddy slide. Or the best, depending on the point of view. It doesn't often happen to me that I use the trekking poles downhill. In a blink of the eye I catch up with a group that I just saw way down below. There is a girl in it, who passed me on that crisis climb. She is the only one who tries to keep up with me. – You're a good skier! – she calls out in English.

El destino Santa Cruz

The last climb drains my energy. It's not a sudden bonk, just a gradual slowdown. Been pushing on all out for the last hours and here comes the result. At least I don't waste time at the last aid station at 41 km at Los Catalanes. My split is 8h56 with 10-hour cut-off. Soon I'm passed by one runner from that group I caught at the downhill. For a few hours I've felt a pain in some tendon of my left foot, which is now getting worse. There still remains quite a lot to climb, sometimes steeply. Long ago I realised that breaking 10 hours at the finish line is impossible this time.

The final downhill towards the ocean is long and relatively mild. Normally I should be overtaking everyone and gaining time, but not this time. I'm just completely knackered. My whole feet, calves and thighs are bordering on getting cramps. One wrong landing on my left foot and the painful tendon wants to kill me. I can't even run at a moderate speed. Three racers pass me, but I also overtake two other blokes who seem even more dead than me. I talk for a while to an Englishman. He is one of the few foregners running here, although he's lived in Tenerife for years.

– ¡Hola amigo! Come on!– I can hear a girl shouting behind me at the tarmac road leading to the seaside promenade. She's the one I've met at least twice during the race. Now in turn I do my best to keep up with her, despite my legs crying out for help and my heart jumping up my throat. Zuzana turns out to be a Slovak living here for many years. She has a local husband who is waiting for her at the finish. Running down the promenade below 8 minutes per mile, we utter some single sentences in mixed Slavic. Just before the finish line I thank her and let her go a few metres ahead. It was her who paced me the last kilometre after all. The clock shows 10h13:52.

* * * * *

151. place out of 194 finishers and 250 taking part, but as I said, no one came here by coincidence. My legs are completely knackered, but tomorrow I will already walk more or less normally. Training runs and races in the mountains plus exercising have done their job. My endurance was pretty much alright too. Bruises and scratches will heal quickly. My dream result was breaking 10. If not that fall, it would be sub-9 hours, maybe I would even take half an hour out of my time. It must have slowed my run by ca. 15 minutes, and for another 15 I was recovering at the Benijo aid station.

Aladağlar Sky Trail, which I ran in August, can be used as a comparison. I finished it at 10h42. Santa Cruz Extreme has no altitude factor, so I expected to make a faster time. Half of the course in Turkey was above 3000 metres a.s.l., it had one real hard uphill scramble and quite a few technical downhills. I daresay however, here in Tenerife the sheer amount of technical ground was higher than in Aladağlar, and the breakneck mud-covered downhills were even more dangerous. Taking into account my fall and how it slowed me down, my result here may be more valuable than the Turkish one!

* * * * *

TF-5 motorway, 21 October, 8:30pm. The local radio plays a slow song. I drive slowly too, had enough action for today. Just a while ago I had such cramps in my calves and feet that I was not sure if I could drive. Today's snapshots are moving in my head. I did it again, although for a while I thought it was all over. But I had to finish it, just for myself. Sometimes you just do things, as Scott Jurek's dad used to say. Maybe my races just can't be nice and easy. Thanks to it there is always a better story to tell. Adventures seem to follow me wherever I go, and memories will stay forever with me.

A quote from the song "Barbie de extrarradio" by Melendi was used.

Kamil Weinberg

Photos were taken at the pre-race training runs and Santa Cruz Extreme Maratón.


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