I signed up for this mid-afternoon race sometime in early spring when it was blowing a gale and still rather chilly out. But the weather has changed quite remarkably since then and so it was with some trepidation that I lined up along with 100 other runners under the blazing mid-afternoon sun in 37 degree heat for a 23km race through the montes blancos in the Monegros desert just outside of Zaragoza. This is the first edition of this race and includes 50km, 23km and 10km events with each timed so that the majority of runners finish close to 7pm. Luckily the organizers had arranged access to the municipal outdoor pool for before and after the race so I managed to laze by the water for an hour or so beforehand to keep cool in the lead up to the start. But with 20mins to go for the race to begin, while lining up for the kit check I was already sweating profusely and starting to feel nervous at what lay ahead.
At 5pm on the dot we set of from La Puebla de Alfinden, crossed under the road to Barcelona and immediately started the short 100m climb into the hills. This part of the race was quite fun, weaving round bends in the trail, up and down steep wee hills – it makes for great running. Yet after 3 km I was zapped of all energy, dry as a stick, my heart rate was racing and had apparently stopped sweating altogether. To make matters worse I then dropped my water bottle had to stop to tie my shoe at the bottom of a steep 50m high climb and upon reaching the top was ready to throw in the towel as my legs felt like spongy pieces of cooked meat, unresponsive to anything I asked them to do. At 6km there was a water station, where I refilled my bottle, followed by a steep downhill section for temporary relief. The hot wind began blowing at this point, covering us all in chalky earth. However, I was caught by another runner and we ran together for the following 6km, helping each other along in silence as we gradually picked up the pace to reel in those in front. I dropped my friend a km before the second and final watering station at 15km where I drenched myself in water, filled my bottle, took an energy gel and prepared to attack the last part of the race. Oddly enough by this point in the race I was starting to feel in good form, was running well and felt quite comfortable. I pushed on passing 3 other runners and then battled with another who wears red compression socks (that I seem to catch near the end of a lot of races here) on a fantastic long and very runnable downhill section. Every 3km during the entire race I’d be gasping for something to drink and had to faff about to get my bottle out of my bumbag which was extremely annoying and slowed me down a little bit each time (I really need to get some sort of better kit with an easily accessible holder for a water bottle!) But apart from passing some of the 50km contestants struggling their way through the final stages, I didn’t manage to catch anyone else during the last 4km. Seeing the village again in the distance was pure relief and the notion of a cold beer and jumping in the pool were spurring me on as I kept on picking up the pace, making the most of the last down hill sections of the trail. We were all met at the finish line by the race organizer who handed us a trophy miniature of the iconic black Osborne bull and shook our hand. He also informed me that I was 5th in a time of 1h52min which made it all the better. Then it was a short walk for a bottle of water and a couple of cans of cold beer – bliss!!
All in all it was a really enjoyable race and one of the hardest I’ve ever done, simply because of the heat. The scenery is dusty hills peppered with harsh rugged bushes and plants cut up by stony paths: it’s not a patch on running back home but it’s beautiful in its own way. I regularly run on similar trails on the other side of the city but never in such conditions and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it! Weighing in before and after the race informed me that I lost just shy of 5kg while running, despite taking on somewhere in the region of 2L of water! Certainly an awesome experience and probably won’t be the last for this summer