Ok, so I have been procrastinating writing this report half way thru and it's good time to finish this now that I'm done with the IM race last weekend.
So where to start from? I found this race as was looking for something to do while going on summer holidays in Bilbao in 2012 with the family as I wanted to do a long event as a 'warm up' for the 2012 edition of UTMB. I was coming in high sprits, fitter than any other time and with lot of confidence. I had just completed my 2nd 100KM in Hong Kong slashing almost 3 hour from the 1st edition, I was on my way to UTMB and other exciting events were happening to our family (we were on our way to move to Chile) and was being interviewed by the local media (I think there were only 3 foreigners in what is a very local race! and they thought I was some sort of a big shot!!). Back then I didn't know what I was embarking on. I started the race strong keeping a strong pace, enjoying amazing views and camaraderies between racers...to find myself after the first 60KM bumping against a big wall and knowing right then and there I wouldn't be able to finish. My legs were just gone. Stubborn that I am, I tried to continue what I could for the next few checkpoints and DNF'd at 115KM at Lizarrusti. I cried as I was reaching near the checkpoint and it hurt more than the pain from my legs....
2 years fast forward, and I found the opportunity to sign up again as we were going back on holidays to spain. I had set the challenge to do a 100 miler and an IM a year since then and this would be my first real 100 miler (the 2012 UTMB had to be shortened to 100 KM due to very bad weather conditions). So here I was very excited, not with the right level of training as I would have liked as since having moved to New York in January 2014, and living in a pretty flattish area, my hill training so far were 2 50 Miler races within 6 months and the treadmill at the YMCA gym set to the maximum hight. But still, I had learnt very important lessons from previous races, I was now a fully (or practically) vegan diet, and ready for the challenge.
I was counting in addition the luxury of having my brother and sister in law's following me which morally helps big time to know you have people you care supporting you and that you have some sort of debt with them for coming all the way to join you. I had to complete it this time! I started the race very very slow, I did not get hooked into the 'high' spirit crowd in the beginning. I was wearing the Argie shirt (as that weekend was the world-cup finals and Argentina had made it!)..even though I had another Argentinian running the race and prompting me to join and go a bit faster, I slowed down (I would later on pass on him and his friends around KM30).
This time I was in control, I knew the slow pace was working and felt great. I spoke to few people here and there until I bumped into Gaizka, who would eventually be my partner thru pretty much of the race. I did notice Gaizka tried to hold a slightly faster pace, but I hold on and he would stop and wait for me. I believe he knew it was better to go slower. All was going well except for the course itself. Few days before it had rained, and the trail was as muddy as hell if fire was mud. You could literally get your feet inside the mud and you had to pull up your leg. This, I didn't know at the beginning would be a curse for me and for so many other racers. Until we reached half way thru around 7AM , I was doing great. We rested in the 80KM mark, where you have a hot meal (horrible spaghettis and rice) and you had your bag with your dry clothes. I just changed my shirt. I was so naive then, and based on my pace, that I thought I would leave my headlamp there as I would be able to make the rest in the next 12 hours. But something (or because I am just lucky) told me, keep the lights just in case...Oh man, what would I have done without it...Right after leaving the check point, I started to feel some annoying pinching feeling on my right knee whenever I bended my leg. I tried to ignore it pretending that nothing happened. From then onwards it was all downhill.. (pace wise speaking). I met Ainhoa, the kids, brother (Igor, Asier) and sister (Ana) and a couple of very good friends (Ruben, Ana, Irene, Ira) at around 90KM mark, Gaizka went on his own a bit but he also was battling his own demons (something wrong with one of his legs) so me and my family who were pacing me and climbed Txindoki at 106KM mark, managed to catch him and did the whole ascent together. My family also encouraging Gaizka. It's great to have your loved ones talking to you. It just makes it easier as you start talking about day to day stuff...
Once we reached the top of Txindoki, pretty much hiking with Asier and Ana, one of the highest peaks (1345 mt) we would climb, the weather got cold and we had to start descending. This is when I really felt the knee telling the pain was real and I would not be able to run it down as much as I would have liked. The constant pushing and pulling of the feet into the mud had over used the muscles in a totally different way that my legs are used to run on. (At least this is what a doc at a later stage would tell me to explain the pain in the area). I wasn't aware of this then. I just thought, I am done again, but this time I was convinced I would end it even if I had to walk it. I had a cutoff time of 48 hours and I was only on my 16th hour. Time, I had plenty. So as I descended pretty much walking on a humid and cold weather, Gaizka went ahead as he felt slightly stronger, but I bumped into a new friend Aikatz. He actually remembered me from the 2012 edition...!! What a great memory...! (well I was the only asian in the race..)...He was also going thru a similar pain in the knees. But he mentioned he was somehow able to continue. We chatted a bit, and he left me behind to continue. I just could not run so walked all the way to the next checkpoint at KM116 Lizarrusti, the infamous place I had quit the previous time.
All the time thinking and having a mental battle with my inner self, should I quit here and just call it a day. Luckly my family was around and this time Igor and Ruben volunteered to pace me. This would be the longest and slowest 17KM. Oh my God, what a pain this section. Beautiful surroundings as you had to go thru wooden forest, lots of trees, looked like some fairy tale red-hood and the wolf type of picturesque place, but it was slow, and the organizers had no better idea (I'm still not sure why) to have a marking every 1KM. Each KM seemed longer and longer as you were looking for the bloody mark. Before I had left Ekaitz who had started with me and as we were climbing a hill, I could see he wasn't going to make it. I offered to wait for him but he kindly let me go by telling me he had to make a phone call to his wife! and that he would catch me later on....(This is when you have an unspoken contract between 2 good racers, one trying to help but at same time knowing that you cannot stay forever, and the other not compromising him and letting him go - I would have done the same). Gaizka was ahead as he had left much earlier. Before starting, I had taken an Ibuprofen by advice of Ekaitz.
I had completely forgotten you were allowed (are we?) to take this shit. There is a before and after. The Ibuprofen helped me forget about the pain and I was actually running. To the point I managed to catch Gaizka whom was struggling a lot and I decided to slow down to go together. To our surprise as we were reaching KM 132 Etxegarate that I bump to Ekaitz's wife (Arantza) climbing and running the other way...she asks me, did you see a runner, his name is 'Ekaitz' - he really had called her and she was going to pick him up. They were supposed to do the next checkpoint together and he didnt show up. He then quit at Etxegarate.
I met Ainhoa, Ana, her dog Telmo and Unai there, took some eggs (for a change as I was eating mostly fruits as there wasn't much vegan friendly food)...and took another Ibuprofen and I embarked a solo race then leaving Gaizka as he was also pretty much done. I later found out he managed to finish it pretty much walking most of it but he did it...Those last checkpoints were an adventure on its own...I was starting the part I had not managed to see from 2012. I again was on high spirits, and the pain on my knee was dormant. I wanted to finish it as soon as possible before it awakens again. I started taking some good pace again, very excited. It was getting dark again, thinking how lucky I was to bring the headlamp (what an idiot to think I was going to make it without it...) and started to climb Aizkorri.
Oh man..what a beautiful peak. Was very fortunate that there was full moon, and there was wind as the top of Aizkorri is nothing but scattered pointy rocks. It's a bit like a moonish landscape or some sort of out of space terrain. And I say luckily it was windy as it had dried all the wet surfaces of the rocks as otherwise I would still be up there trying to come down from the peak. I was so excited and into it, that I started to overtake people going up and many more while coming down. This is how I was supposed to feel!! I was so tired that I didn't really care much at that time if I had to climb another 1000mt peak or 2 or 3 more...I overtook some 30 participants until again in another of the hills there was a steep downhill, muddy, never ending, unforgiving pain in the quads to reach checkpoint 8. Once gotten there, it was really cruising as that excitement was fading away with the sleepy feeling again.
At that point just wanted the damn thing to be over, but the course kept on going and going. I managed to catch another 3 racers and used them as pacers....until a moment they started to speed up the assholes. Of course I tried to stick with them, but luckly after good 5KM they slowed down. They, themselves where done as well, to the point that the last 10KM we practically jogged-walked. Then there we were, going downhill to the small town of Beasain, where it was supposed to be the last 2 KM or something like that...no, it was another 4KM!!! I hated so much..it was sunrise time nearing 6AM...a ghost town..nobody cheering us up..except when I could take a glimpse of the finish line, I saw Aihoa, the sunshine of my life... (:) - I think I bought her much with this last sentence... I was so happy, and forever thankful to everyone and to everything that had happened to have been able to make it. I can say there was a microsecond of 'enlightenment' on my face.