Ultima Frontera, Race report. Loja, Spain

Standard

Ultima Frontera 55km/83km/166km: Race Report
Loja, Espana October 20, 2013

Hey! Do those butts look familiar? Mike and I are the poster children for the race!

Hey! Do those butts look familiar? Mike and I are the poster children for the race!

Ultima Frontera is organized by Michelle Culter and Eric Maroldo. Michelle is a screen writer living here in Spain.  Eric is a musician who has a band here with some Spanish musicians.  They live near us so we are looking forward to getting to know them better.  The race course is from the imagination of our friend, Paul Bateson.  The race flyer was created by Paul and is a picture of Mike and me from 2 years ago.
Ultima Frontera was my first ultra in Spain.  How could I not run the race if I was on the poster!? It is always funny showing up for a race where 55k is the shortest distance.   I felt a bit lame but I am certainly in no shape to run 50 or 100 miles!

The race started in Loja, 32 km from our little village of Alhama de Granada.  Mike and the girls were recruited to run the first aid station/check point so we got up early together. I put on the clothes that I had laid out: my bright orange compression socks, a pink running skirt, a black t-shirt, my favorite cap and my Nathan hydration pack.  We drove to Loja under a full moon that peeked in and out of the clouds above the olive groves. The morning was cool and a bit foggy.  We arrived with plenty of time to pick up my race packet but I still had that nervous pre-race anxiety that is always there.  I made the usual 2-3 trips to the bathroom, worried that I’d be too cold in my outfit and ate 1/2 a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  The prerace information warned that there would not be much aid on the course so I filled my hydration pack with 1.5 liters of water, 6 gels, toilet paper (you never know!) and my phone.  I pinned my “dorsal” (race number) to my skirt and I was ready to go.

IMG_1380

Just a little pre-race jitters!

The starting group was small enough to pose for a group photo.  Although there were only 99 runners registered for the 3 distances, 22 countries were represented!  IMG_4712

We started running from La Medina Cauxa Municipal Stadium under a blow up arch that read LOJA across the top.  I placed myself near the front knowing that most of the runners would be doing twice my distance and would probably be starting slowly.  We ran out a paved road but within 1/4 mile we were happily climbing a dirt path following the Rio Genil.  I ran along saying Hello or Hola to anyone I passed.  I eventually fell instep with a woman and her partner from Malta.  I was listening so carefully to her that we missed one of the first turn offs!  Luckily some of the people behind us shouted and whistled at us until we realized our mistake.  We doubled back and got on the right trail.  We only went 1-2 minutes out of the way but it always feels bad to run a single extra step in such a long race.  We wound around the hillsides with beautiful views of rolling hills and olive groves.  It was a cloudy morning and by the time we reached the top of the first climb we could see clouds hovering over the countryside level to where we were running.  At mile nine we came to a crazy house straight out of Alice in Wonderland!  The driveway was lined with poles each with a little decoration on top. There were colorful teapots, snails, girls with baskets, birds, bunnies and more.  I slowed to snap a photo. I’d love to return to get a better look!

My photo of the crazy house

My photo of the crazy house

From Paul's collection of photos, a sunnier day
From Paul’s collection of photos, a sunnier day

I wondered if the course went past their drive intentionally for the entertainment of the runners.  From the Alice in Wonderland House we descended into a little town called Zagra at 17 km.

Zagra. Photo is a bit crooked because I was trying not to stop running!

Zagra. Photo is a bit crooked because I was trying not to stop running!

We ran past curious Zagrans peering off balconies and standing in doorways.  Most people just stared, some shouted “animo”.  We were through the town in minutes and headed up an impressive road climb to the town of Ventoros de San Jose.  I was excited to arrive in Ventoros because I knew my family would be there.  Mike, Sky and Savannah were manning the 20km check point.  I spotted Sky first in her CATS t-shirt, jumping up and down as she ran out to greet me.  Mike filled my water pack, Savannah gave me a banana and  another volunteer was recording our numbers.  My beautiful family hugged me, wished me luck and sent me off down the road.  Finally some downhill!  I ran and visited with my new friend from Malta, Karen, until the road started to climb again.  Karen reminds me of my friend Megan who runs the ups the same pace as the downs.  I watched her disappear up the hill but reeled her in on the downhill which is my specialty.  At one point on a particularly long downhill I ran along alone.  I followed the red and white ribbons and the green arrow off the road onto a dirt path.

IMG_4738

I passed a familiar “Coto de Cazo” sign.  I see these signs all the time on my runs. They mean that the area is a hunting preserve but I had yet to see any hunters until that day.  I heard shots and some men talking loudly.  One hunter disappeared up a row of olive trees.  The other, shot gun slung over his shoulder and dog at his side ambled up the trail ahead of me.  I was grateful for my road cone orange compression socks and my bright clothes.  I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be mistaken for an animal of some kind but I definitely quickened my stride until I was well out of range. I know it is probably silly to worry about men with guns in olive fields but it made me nervous just the same.  I entertained myself with making a plan for what I would do if I was shot at, if I was shot or if I came across a bleeding runner.  By the time I stopped worrying about the guys with the guns several kilometers had passed.  The course continued between the olive groves and down deserted country roads lined with fig and pomegranate trees.  Karen and her partner eventually caught me and I had company until we reached the 35 km check point where they would journey on to the Montefrio climb to continue the 83 km race and I would turn back towards Loja.

IMG_4725

Nice dirt

Lonely roads

Lonely roads

I was alone for the rest of the race.  There were no other competitors that I could ever spot either in front or behind me.  At this point I was really careful to watch for ribbons and arrows for fear of making a wrong turn and being completely alone in the middle of nowhere.  I ran into Huetor-Tajar and the last check point at 42 km.   I still had plenty of water so I just stopped to say hello to Barbara, Michelle the race director’s mother.  She wished me luck and recorded my number.  I ran off eating a banana feeling really good considering I had already run a marathon.  I only had 13 km (about 7 miles) to go but anyone who has run more than 20 miles knows that no matter how good you may feel with 6- 7 miles to go, it is possible to completely blow up in the last couple of miles.  I knew I had one last climb before the end.  I actually welcomed the hill when I started to ascend, knowing that once over it I could just coast the downhill to the finish.  I made it to the top of the last climb at about 50 km (31 miles) and was excited to start down.  I sped up and about 20 steps into the downhill both of my quads cramped!  I jolted to a stop.  I tried to stretch but that just made my left hamstring cramp.  I imagine that I looked pretty silly jumping around all alone on the road.  I plopped down on a rock to try to relax my legs and think about what to do.  I realized that I was due for a gel a few miles back but I was out of gels.  I had no salt with me, a bad mistake.  I looked down at my shirt and body.  I was covered with salt.  I started licking my arms and sucking on my shirt.  That probably looked stranger than the cramping dance but I was desperate!  I pushed myself to my feet and delicately tried to run.  Amazingly my quadriceps cooperated and didn’t cramp again.  I’m not sure if it was the arm licking or the rest that helped but I was able to finish the race without having to stop again.  Sky and Savannah ran out to meet me at the finish and I happily ran under the LOJA arch and accepted my finisher metal!

Finishing the race!

Finishing the race!

Resting the tired legs

Resting the tired legs

Leslie, Paul, Savannah and Sky celebrating post race

Leslie, Paul, Savannah and Sky celebrating post race

Made the Podium, 3rd place!

Made the Podium, 3rd place!

After the race we hung out at the finish. There was a restaurant next door so we joined the other finishers and ate pizza and hamburgers.   We drove home to Alhama and we all collapsed on the couch to watch a movie.   It was a great day for me.   Even with the cramping break I was really happy with my time.  Thanks so much to Mike, Sky and Savannah for their support!

For more information about the race or to sign up for next year go to http://www.ultimafronteratrail.com  Click on the little British flag in the right-hand corner to see the page in English.

Thanksgiving in Spain

Standard
Thanksgiving in Spain

This is a post that I wrote a year ago when we were in Alhama de Granada, España.  I didn’t finish it until well after Thanksgiving so I thought I’d just wait a year…

Pumpkin pie made with real pumpkin!

Pumpkin pie made with natural pumpkin. No cans of pumpkin in Spain!

In our little village, Alhama de Granada, we are the only Americans in town. There is one Canadian and several other European expats but we are the lone Americans.  But… outside of town live Michelle, Eric and Barbara who are Americans with whom we instantly felt at home.

What a lot of great food!

Thanks for the amazing food!

Although they hardly knew us, Michelle and Eric invited us to spend Thanksgiving with them.  They promised turkey, stuffing and football. How could we refuse?

Futbol Americano!

Futbol Americano!

Of course Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Spain but it is the one holiday that seems to inspire some homesickness for me.  It is not about the food, most of my Thanksgiving memories involve my grandmother making a special dish just for my cousin and me.  We are both vegetarians and being from Illinois, that might just mean that we are mutants. Maybe it is a recessive trait but for a  family of farmers from Illinois, vegetarians are about as rare as they are in Spain.  Anyway, Grandma Ann always made an mushy eggplant and velvetta dish for my cousin Lindsey and me. At the time it wasn’t my favorite but here in Spain I found myself longing for it in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.  No, Thanksgiving is not about the food and certainly for me it is not about the football. It is about it being an American holiday. It is about being in a place where you feel completely comfortable and belonging. I am enjoying this year abroad and we have glimpses of belonging amoungst our new friends.  However, there is nothing is more homey than Thanksgiving on the farm with family.

Michelle and Eric live in a very cool cottage near the village of Santa Cruz de Comercio. Michelle is a writer and Eric is a musician.  They are also runners so we were instant friends with that alone in common. Eric also stars in one of my previous posts: Team Kezmoh Runs to Nerja.   Michelle, Eric and Barbara along with our friend Paul Bateson put on 2 amazing trail races near Alhama de Granada: Ultima Frontera  which I ran and wrote a post about in October:  Ultima Frontera Race report. The other race is in July. It is called Al Andalus Ultimate Trail .  It is a 5 day 230 km stage race based in and around Alhama de Granada.  Sadly we will be back in California by then so we will miss the fun.  Anyone interested in running with me in 2015?

We arrived armed with a big bowl of sweet potatoes and empty tummies.

Sweet potatoes, my Thanksgiving specialty.

Sweet potatoes, my Thanksgiving specialty.

Our new friends welcomed us with hugs and kisses.  They introduced us to Alina and Lawerence Strong who were strangers to us then but have become like family to us in the past months since we met them on Thanksgiving.

Eric, Alina and Lawerence

Eric, Alina and Lawerence

Thanksgiving 2013 fell on the first day of Hanukkah so our first course was a delicious matzo ball soup. Michelle read a blessing and lit a candle.

Matzo Ball Soup

Matzo Ball Soup

We sipped Spanish wine, and ate turkey that had to be ordered specially because it is not normally sold in local stores.

The kid's table. An international Thanksgiving tradition.

The kid’s table. An international Thanksgiving tradition.

We enjoyed the food and the conversation.

Savannah, Eric, Alina, Lawrence and Sky

Savannah, Eric, Alina, Lawrence and Sky

Sky Michelle, Barbara and Savannah.  I love it that the girls posed with each side of the table!

Sky, Michelle, Barbara and Savannah.
I love it that the girls posed with each side of the table!

After dinner Sky and Savannah pulled out their iPads and the boys enjoyed some American football.

Michelle, the Thanksgiving goddess with Savannah and Sky

Michelle, the Thanksgiving goddess with Savannah and Sky

IMG_5427

Getting to see Football was exciting for Mike because it is just not on TV here. Eric was able to download it from the internet.

We spent the day with our new friends and felt like we were beginning to have a family here in Spain.  A year later I looked back at these pictures and felt Thankful for friends and family both here in California and across the pond.

Mike and Eric

Mike and Eric

Good fun!

Good fun!

45th Birthday Party in Spain

Standard

IMG_4810

My birthday was the day after the excursion al campo.  It is our tradition to always go on a birthday run or hike, so we went on a beautiful hike with Mom and Dave to Lake Bermejales where I never tire of the beautiful scenery.

Me and My Mom and Dave

Me and My Mom and Dave

Dave and Sandi

Dave and Sandi

After our hike we enjoyed a cafe con leche at the local cafe/bar.
We made it back by 2 to pick the girls up from school.  Sky had gymnastics at 4 and we couldn’t miss a chance to show off her new skills to Grammy.

Sky - in the middle with her foot on her head!

Sky – in the middle with her foot on her head!

For my birthday dinner I wanted to do something special. I had been hoping to take a trip to Morocco but it would have meant that the girls would miss too much school.  The next best thing that I could think of was a Moroccan dinner! I arranged a party catered by Kritzlynn Al Taib. Kritz is an English woman living near Alhama. She speaks fluent Arabic and runs guided tours to Morocco.

Kritzlynn, my birthday chef!

Kritzlynn, my birthday chef!

Her website is very interesting with beautiful photographs.
http://www.hiddenmorocco-andaluciatours.com
Kritzlynn is also an experienced chef. She lived in Saudi Arabia for many years running restaurants, so cooking for a small group is fun for her. She advised me that she needs a minimum of 8 guests if she is to cater a party. Our family only made 6 so I needed more guests. I didn’t really know many people here but that didn’t stop me!  Since my Mom and Dave were here I decided to keep it an English speaking crowd.  Paul is our closest friend here so of course I invited him.  I found Paul and his current running client, James from Vancouver, eating at Al Dente, the local pizza place.   They happened to be having dinner with another friend who I hadn’t met, John (from England), so I invited all of them.  I called Michelle, her mother Barbara, and Eric of the Ultima Frontera Race and invited them as well. They already knew Kritzlynn and said they wouldn’t miss one of her Moroccan dinners so they were in.   We also included our American friend Spencer. I knew he would say yes (he has a rule about that).

THE GUESTS:

Paul (photographed by Savannah)

Paul (photographed by Savannah)

Sky, such a grownup at the party!

Sky, such a grown-up at the party!

Barbara and Sandi

Barbara and Sandi, the 2 moms

Spencer and Savannah reading the wonderful card that Sky and Savvy made for me.

Spencer and Savannah reading the wonderful card that Sky and Savvy made for me.

Mike and John from England

Mike and John from England

Leslie, Eric and Michelle

Leslie, Eric and Michelle

Michelle, Leslie and Mom

Michelle, Leslie and Mom

James, originally from Singapore but now from Vancouver, Canada with Dave

James, originally from Singapore but now from Vancouver, Canada with Dave

Once the party had grown to 13 I needed a new location as our dining room table is only big enough for 6.  Our friend Orla who currently lives in Washington D.C. owns an amazing guest house/vacation rental around the corner from us.  He calls it the Casa Chocolate since it was once a chocolate factory in the 1920’s.  It is a renovated old Alhaman residence complete with a beautiful modern kitchen.  Luckily it was available and he let us borrow it for the evening with the promise to donate some sort of decoration for the house from our travels this year. What a deal! ( Thanks Orla! Come visit us in California! )

Kritzlynn made an amazing dinner.  We started with appetizers that could easily have been a meal alone.

Kriyzlynn explaining the appetizers

Kritzlynn explaining the appetizers

Charmoula (a coriander, tomato and chile salsa)

Roasted red pepper hummus

Cooked Moroccan salad with aubergine, red peppers, olives and carmelized onions

Fresh tomato, orange and garlic salad

Baba Ghanouj

Served with Pita Bread and Crusty rolls.

Kritz in the kitchen

Kritz in the kitchen

THE MAIN COURSE:

Bistiya (my favorite)…”A festive pie”. Wow, a wonderful vegetarian pie filled with roasted squash, sweet potato, cranberries, pistachio nuts, almonds, chickpeas and spinach.  The pie is in a filo pastry which amazingly Kritz makes herself!

Thanks to Savannah for getting a picture of the Bistiya before it was completely gone!

Thanks to Savannah for getting a picture of the Bistiya before it was completely gone!

Chicken kabobs: for the meat-eaters

Chicken Kabobs

Chicken Kabobs

Roasted Veggies, almost gone!

Roasted Veggies, almost gone!

Roasted Moroccan Veggies

Cous cous

Basmati rice with moroccan spices.

Moroccan cous cous

Moroccan cous cous

We ate and ate! ( and drank ) The food was delicious, the conversation was outstanding, and the company was warm and friendly. Of course, Sky and Savannah were the life of the party!

Party party

Party party!

Great conversation

Great conversation in the lovely Chocolate House!

Kritzlynn finished the dinner with a delicious mixed berry dessert served with meringue and 2 candles : 4 5

I had my 20'th birthday in Spain, glad to be back 25 years later!

I had my 20’th birthday in Spain, glad to be back 25 years later!