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Trail Sierra Nevada Race Report

Updated: Jan 7

Distance: 60km

Vertical Gain: 3,700m

Vertical Loss: 2,300m

Time: 5:54:59 CR

Position: 1st

Shoes: Nike ZoomX Zegama

Pack: Inov8 race belt

Poles: Leki

UTMB Index: 884


Build up:


Once again the impact of endurance training and racing took its's toll. After a week of easy training post Trans Gran Canaria I started building back up including a 100 mile bike ride in early March. It's been an insanely hot and dry spring in Andalucía, and temperatures hit 28c that day. A dried up water fountain on the main climb meant finishing dehydrated, and that evening I got food poisoning from steak! Although I felt recovered after 2 days, it seems the bacteria then infected my gut resulting in gastroenteritis. The graph below shows how racing hammers my HRV with about a 2 week+ recovery period afterwards.

HRV close to getting back to pre-covid levels (90's), but racing brings it crashing back down again

With my bike out of action for April, I was only running. I placed a great focus on the high intensity sessions, anticipating the 60km race to be that much faster than my usual 85km+ races. Despite managing to build up to 196km/20hrs per week of running, the underlying infection wasn't going anywhere. I found myself having to take naps almost daily to combat the fatigue, particularly after the race. I am happy to say that a course of antibiotics has now cleared everything up, but once again I'm not sure if my average heart rate of 166bpm over the 60km trail race was a sign of fitness or illness, or both!?

Getting back to 20 hour running weeks!
Consistent gym work this year. 3hrs/week unless tapering, recovering or ill

I had a friend, Keith Wigley, come out to join me for the week and the race. A few days beforehand my mother and her fiancé also came to support and help with logistics, so it was a fairly busy "taper" week. Keith and I ran the first half of the course on the Monday, which meant close to 42km in 28c heat! Keith wasn't particularly heat acclimatized, and I fell on the descent, so we both finished the day a little worse for wear, with only 4 days before the race to recover. A few easy days of running and a day at the beach had us both feeling relatively rested though before the race on Saturday morning.



Race Day


0330 alarm...for Keith. I snuck an extra 20 mins in. A quick bowl of porridge and in the car by 0415, and round to the start on the North side of the mountain by 0515. We had some time to wait in the sports hall where we had registered, did our last nervous visits to the loo, and made our way to the front of the starting pen.

Go bold, start cold!

We set off at 0600, and I went out quite hard. I can push harder when the conditions are colder, and I wanted to get some space before we hit the narrow and rutted single track that made up the first 10km. After 5km my heart rate was at 184bpm and I could start to feel a headache coming on from lactate. I could also hear two voices some 20m back not sounding completely out of breath. I decided to reduce the effort level without giving up the lead at any point. As we came through the first checkpoint I made a beeline for the aid station to fill a bottle, but in doing so missed the timing matt in the dark. I heard two beeps behind me as the next two (Alejandro and Alvaro) came over. I doubled back and crossed it to be safe, just as Gvido Kalnins (last years winner came over). As I retook the lead, the effects of the gastroenteritis meant I had to pull to the side of the trail and drop shorts, then work hard again to move back up to the front.

Springier step after lightening the load!

As it started to get light, a trail runner from one of the other distances was standing at a trail junction with ticker tape used to mark the course, wrapped around his head and waist, pointing us in the wrong direction. Despite knowing the course and realising this guy had lost his mind, I stopped and once again my lead disappeared. As we came into the second aid station around 20km, Alvaro didn't stop to refill his bottles and gained 30 seconds on Alejandro and I, who left together. It took about 20 minutes this time to for me to close back up, and we pushed each other on coming into Penos Genil at 36km. We came through in 3hrs 12 mins which was 7 minutes below course record pace at that point!

Once again Alvaro was fast through the aid station and I lost a minute trying to find my bag with pre-mixed bottles in. In my attempt to catch him again I fell twice, reopening the cuts on my knee and shin.


Pity party for one

As the sun came up the heat and cramping started, and my determination wavered, thinking that maybe the win had slipped away. Once again the moto of "do what you can" came to mind and I continued to work up the steepest section of the course.

Back in

With 2km to go from the top of the climb I finally saw Alvaro, and given how quickly I closed and took the lead, I realised he was cooked. In the last 10km I increased my lead another 5 minutes, and set an unofficial course record by about 6 minutes.

I crossed the line with my mother cheering me on, but a little confused, as there was no banner being held up.



"You talking to me?!"

Aftermath/Analysis


I had seen that the Spanish National runner Mario Olmedo Sancha had set a time of 6hrs and 1 minute in 2021. I thought I might be able to run 6 hours dead, but I knew it would be tough. On my pace calculations I needed to run the first 36km with 1850m+ in 3 hrs and 19mins. Myself and Alvaro had gone through 36km in 3Hrs 12 mins with Alejandro a minute behind. I ran the last 24km with the remaining 1850m+ of elevation in 2hrs 43 mins, 7 minutes faster than Alvaro and 19 minutes faster than Alejandro. Despite my best efforts in the first 36km of the race to drop everyone and constantly surge off the front, I almost blew up and didn't seem to effect the guys behind me. It wasn't until the the steepest section of the course and the higher altitude that I seemed to excel over the competition. The same was also true at Trans Gran Canaria where I almost caught back up to the front at the top of the island, only to then lose time on the descent. It seems that longer races, that are steeper suit me better, but equally I need to work more on my descending and flat speed.

Second times the charm

UTMB Index Score

I got scored 884/1000, which I am really happy with. My overall index is now 857 and places me 13th in the UK, and 272nd in the world. It's still relatively early in the season with my two biggest races to date coming up. Long covid is on the run, the gastroenteritis is gone and I'm back to 30hr training weeks, so I am feeling optimistic that the best this year is still to come!

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