Category Archives: Trail running

Team Kezmoh runs to Nerja

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Nerja on the Mediterranean

Nerja on the Mediterranean

Mike and I have been wanting to run from our village of Alhama de Granada across the Sierras Tejeda y Almijara National Forest to the city of Nerja on the Mediterranean since we arrived in Spain.   The Sierras Tejeda y Almijara is 406 km2  of beautiful, rugged, mountainous wilderness. The national park divides Granada province, where we live, and Malaga province to the South.  The mountains beckon us, we are drawn to explore the many trails that climb through the canyons under the shade of pine trees and the endless blue skies of Southern Spain.  In the past few months we have spent many days exploring the trails on our side of the national park but despite our efforts we have covered only a very small fraction of the routes that are close to Alhama.  Whenever we reach points where we can see the Mediterranean in the distance we agree that if we can see it we need to run there!Parque-Natural-de-las-Sierras-de-Tejeda-Almijara-y-Alhama-2004

We consulted guide books, friends in Alhama and our friend Paul’s many maps of the region.  We ran from La Resinera near the village of Forne several times scoping out the beginnings of the trek across the mountains.

On one of our many exploratory runs. This time Leslie with the lovely Ali Boston who came to spend a week running with trailrunspain.com

On one of our many exploratory runs. This time Leslie with the lovely Ali Boston who came to spend a week running with trailrunspain.com

We knew that we could reach the Puerta de Frigiliana 7 miles up a nice dirt road from La Resinera office.

The road from La Resinera

The road from La Resinera

From the Puerta de Frigiliana we could see the ocean and white villages on the opposite side of the park.  How hard could it be to find a route down to the beach if we could see our destination?

We recruited our friend Eric to run with us.  He has lived here for a few years and knows many routes on the Granada side of the mountain because he helps organize Al Andalus, ( alandalus-ut.com )  a 5 day, 230km trail stage race based in Alhama every July.  This would be a new adventure for Eric since he had never attempted the route. He was excited to join us on the trek so our group became 3.

Mike and Eric preparing their packs at the car. The sun was already high in the sky when we got started...

Mike and Eric preparing their packs at the car. The sun was already high in the sky when we got started…

Prepared with toilet paper and plenty of water

Prepared with toilet paper and plenty of water

The road from our side of the mountain was deceptively smooth.

Eric and Mike run on ahead, what a nice wide road...

Eric and Mike run on ahead, what a nice wide road…

We had run to the Puerta de Frigliana many times and we knew that there was a excellent trail for at least the first 8 miles or so.  From the Puerta we could see Lucero (1780meters/5840 feet).

Mike and Leslie feeling strong after the climb to the Puerta de Frigiliana

Mike and Leslie feeling strong after the climb to the Puerta de Frigiliana

Eric and Mike  Fist bump at the top of a climb, almost time to start down!

Eric and Mike
Fist bump at the top of a climb, almost time to start down!

We continued the up the road which became progressively steeper and more rocky until we reached  5100 feet by my Garmin.

5100 feet

5100 feet

From there, the trail plunged downward and became more irregular.

IMG_5843 IMG_5845We carefully made our way to what appeared to be the end of the trail.  We looked around and found a pile of rocks, a “cairn or duck” left by previous hikers to designate the direction to continue.  From there the trail was quite overgrown.

Which way?

Which way?

Oh dear, where is the trail?

Oh dear, where is the trail?

We imagined if there were people leaving rock piles it should really get better soon. We followed the trail squeezing between the various spiky bushes.  After about a mile we were considering turning back.  Just as I was about to agree that this trail was impassable Mike and Eric spotted El Cortijo de Inman a definite landmark on our map.  I had a picture on my phone of a map from my trail guide so we were sure that we were on the right trail.

Picture from my book of the trail we should be on

Picture from my book of the trail we should be on

Surely after the Cortijo the trail would improve.  Farmhouses, even in ruins, generally have a road of some kind leading to them. Eric scurried ahead of us and explored the ruins.

El Cortijo de Inman

El Cortijo de Inman with Eric

While he found plenty of evidence of previous visitors at the Cortijo, cigarette butts, water bottles,  (even a pair of pants!),  we surveyed our scratches and looked for the next cairn.

Eric took this picture as we surveyed our bloody legs

Eric took this picture as we surveyed our bloody legs

The trail leading away from the Cortijo de Inman was no better than the one we arrived on.  We had now trudged through more than 3 miles of densely covered terrain and our legs were burning from the scratches (if only we had worn thick pants! ) so turning back was less than appealing.  We found another rock pile and followed the trail down the canyon.  At this point there were many dwarf palms which look quite pretty but have lethal spines.  I accidentally grabbed a branch to move it out of the way and blood oozed through my glove.  We started calling the dwarf palms the little palm trees from hell.  “Be careful palm tree from hell on the left!”  Amongst the various spiky plants were sage and rosemary.  We learned quickly that rosemary is soft to touch so we would preferentially grab or lean on the rosemary branches to squeeze past their dangerous neighbors.  Although bloody, my gloves smelled lovely at the end.  After an eternity of moving very slowly through overgrowth above my head in many places we came upon La Presa, a dam that was clearly marked on our map.  IMG_5862The dam  was very old and long since abandoned.  There was an acequia, an aqueduct, that was for the most part, intact.  Our guide book recommended walking along the aqueduct as long as “vertigo is not a problem”.  Actually Mike read that part of the book and let us know that for the next few kilometers it would be wise if we just paid attention to our footing.  If we wanted to look around it might be best that we all stopped in a wide spot.

This is a picture of the acequia (aqueduct) from google images

This is a picture of the acequia (aqueduct) from google images

Unfortunately we could see the sun slipping more quickly toward the horizon and we started to get really nervous that we were going to be out on an unfamiliar trail well beyond nightfall.  As dusk began to fall, we walked as quickly as we could manage safely along the side of the aqueduct which was about 12-18 inches wide and very uneven in places. In many spots there were holes big enough to fall through.  As it got darker I would call out irregularities to Mike and Eric behind me.  We were needing to stop to eat but were afraid to waste even a moment of daylight not moving forward.  Eventually the narrow walkway became very difficult to see and I started to feel panicky. What if one of us slips and falls over the side? At this point we couldn’t even see when it plunged sharply over a cliff. Occasionally there would be a thin wire stretched along the side.

Another picture from the internet. When we passed this spot it was dark and we couldn't see the drop off!

Another picture from the internet. When we passed this spot it was dark and we couldn’t see the drop off! I don’t know who the people are.

We could no longer see but had to assume if there was a wire railing that it was a more precarious section.  We were careful not to put any faith at all in the tiny guide wires.  It was unlikely if we fell that that wire would hold any of our weight.  I pulled out my Iphone and used it for about 50 meters until Mike suggested that we try his flashlight.

Too dark for pictures

Too dark for pictures

He had brought a multi-tool that had a knife and a flashlight. He thought the light would not be strong enough to guide us but as it turned out I think it probably saved our lives or at least prevented us from losing the trail in the dark.   He took the lead and held the light so that it shone in front of him but also a bit behind so that we could follow.  We moved very slowly and deliberately for another 30 minutes until we started to hear the sound of a waterfall.  In the dark the sound of crashing water over a cliff was a bit more terrifying than usual. It was then that I remembered that the guide book recommended bringing a bathing suit for a nice, refreshing dip in the water.  In December, in the dark, with the chill of night closing in we did not want to get wet.  Mike announced we were stopping and warned us that we were going to need to go through the water.  We had reached the end of the acequia and to get past where it plummeted into the darkness were were going to need to walk through the water for about 20 feet. Mike carefully tested the surface under the water with his left foot. We had to walk along the edge of the waterfall.  If the cement was slippery this would be very dangerous.  Thankfully the water was only up to our knees and the pavement wasn’t slippery.  We all held hands and slowly, deliberately, took very small steps until we reached safe ground.   I was shivering when we emerged from the water. I wasn’t sure if it was from the cold or from the fear that I was trying to keep under control.  We had been worried for at least an hour that we could be going in the wrong direction but at this point we could see the lights of Nerja and we ventured a mini celebration and stopped for a small snack.  When we emerged from the acequia there was a narrow, rocky path that switched back and forth down the side of the mountain in the general direction of the lights.  We stayed close together and moved slowly through the dark.  We finally came to what appeared to be a very old electrical station.  Horray, surely there will be a road from there! OK, so no road but there was a sign with an arrow indicating “dirección obligatorio”, obligatory direction.  Again, we were really grateful for the flashlight without it we might have missed the sign. We didn’t find out what was in the other direction but if someone went to the trouble to put up a sign like that it wasn’t anything good.  The obligatory direction path sent us straight down an even steeper, twisty, rocky path.  We had been traversing the side of the mountain on the aqueduct so we were happy to be moving toward sea level but wouldn’t have minded a bit more gentle descent.  The rocks were uneven and mobile and we each took at least one slip onto our backsides.  Between slips Eric’s phone rang, ahh cell service! Michelle was calling, worried that she would be late meeting us.  He assured her that we were OK but it would probably still be awhile before we would meet her in Nerja.  We finally reached flat ground and found ourselves at the Rio Chillar which, likely due to the drought was little more than a very wide creek.  We could no longer see anything resembling a trail but now that we were out of the trees the moon was shining brightly just over our destination.  It seemed to be there just for us to guide us to warmth and safety. The moon was 3/4 full, a gibbous moon, it shone on the white rocks and illuminated the path. Our shoes already wet, we cheerfully bounced over rocks and through the water.  We reflected that it was a huge relief to be on solid ground where if we fell it would only be to the ground under our very own feet, not 100’s of feet below.  The rio led us to a dirt road that crossed under the freeway and eventually to a road that lead us up to a residential neighborhood in Nerja.   I love running in the mountains and I am never happier than when I am in the forest with soft dirt beneath my feet, but let me tell you, I was so happy to see the pavement that night!  Mike, Eric and I whooped with joy as we ran down a familiar road to the hotel.  We were actually able to RUN and it felt so good after so many hours of tense hiking.   It was hard to believe that the first half of the adventure took 2 1/2  hours while the second half took 6!  I had reserved a room at the Paradores de Nerja, a very posh spot right on the beach.

Too dark for a good picture. Here we are at the sign outside the hotel

Too dark for a good picture. Here we are at the sign outside the hotel

Michelle came out to take our picture. We can still stand on one leg!

Michelle came out to take our picture. We can still stand on one leg!

Nerja, a beach town, is a ghost town in December so the price was right. We were very dirty, our legs were bleeding and we probably didn’t smell very good but the lovely people at this very fancy hotel welcomed us with curious smiles.  Michelle was waiting for us in the lobby with bags of warm clothes.   She was calmly working on her computer using the hotel’s “abierto” wifi.  She hugged us, ignoring the sweat as we excitedly recounted the past few hours.  I am pretty sure we were all talking at once we were so excited and relieved to be standing in the lobby of a a 4 star hotel! We checked in, showered and in no time were in search of food. We had eaten breakfast but that was many hours ago and 8 hours of running/hiking on only energy gels and granola bars left us starving.  Amazingly we found a wonderful Indian restaurant. We ordered a bottle of the house wine because the waiter told us that it was special Indian wine from Argentina.  What an international day we were having!  We talked and laughed and ate and ate.  We slept hard at the Parador that night.  In the morning I awoke to the sound of the mediterranean outside our window. The Parador is on the beach and the view from our room was breathtaking.

The view from our room in Nerja

The view from our room in Nerja

Our original plan was to run back to La Resinera the day after our trek to Nerja but even in the daylight repeating that trail was not on our list of fun adventures. One time past the Cortijo de Inman and along the acequia was enough for us!  What luck Michelle had opted to drive to Nerja to meet us!

The runners in the morning. It was important to touch the water!

The runners in the morning. It was important to touch the water!

Thanks Michelle!

Thanks Michelle!

Eric and Michelle drove us back to our car by way of (of all things!) a McDonalds.  How happy Mike looked eating his quarter pounder and french fries.  We made it home in time to pick up the girls from school.  I hugged them hard and promised myself that our next adventure would include more running and less danger.

My legs at home the next day. Mike made me include this!

My leg at home the next day. Mike made me include this!

Ultima Frontera, Race report. Loja, Spain

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Team Kezmoh Runs!

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Alhama de Granada is an amazing running destination for the trail runner.  Mike and I discovered this area when we came in 2011 on a fact-finding-mission.  I typed trail run Spain into the computer at home and guess what? There is a website called trailrunspain.com.  Our friend Paul Bateson is the keeper of this site.  He organizes trail running holidays for people visiting Andalucia.  When we came 2 years ago we ran with him for 3 days.  We ran from village to village carrying all of our gear.  We each carried a small pack.  I brought a rolled up sundress, underwear, an extra pair of socks, flip-flops, a toothbrush, toothpaste and a comb.  We rinsed out our running clothes at night and stayed in hotels.   We ran 18-25 miles each day over and around the nearby mountains of the Parque Natural Sierras de Tejeda.  Recently Paul’s knees have not been behaving well so we’ve been having fun acting as his substitute running guides.   The first week we ran with Dominic, an English banker based in Hong Kong.   Last week we spent with Rob from Holland a computer programmer and a wicked hill climber.  They were both good runners so many days Mike would run on ahead with them and they would wait for me at the top of big climbs.

Team Kezmoh’s recent trail runs: 

LA MAROMA (10 miles): 

From near the top of La Maroma. Mike and Dominc

From near the top of La Maroma. Mike and Rob from Holland admiring the Mediterranean Sea

Mike and Leslie on La Maroma

Mike and Leslie on La Maroma

La Maroma:  We did this run with both Rob and Dominic.  It starts at 3000 feet and is 10 miles round trip. The top of the mountain is 6800 feet according to my Garmin altimeter.   I would like to make it 22 miles round trip and leave from home but I haven’t gotten to that run yet.  The trail starts on an upward sloping dirt path that becomes gradually more steep and eventually more and more rocky until we can only hike.

Sky and Savvy hiking up the trail to La Maroma. We didn't torture them with going to the summit.

Sky and Savvy hiking up the trail to La Maroma. We didn’t torture them with going to the summit.

There is an incredibly rewarding view at the top. We live on the inland side of the mountain so it is a treat to be able to see the  Mediterranean Sea from the summit.  We expect that on a really clear day we would be able to see Africa!

Dominic from Hong Kong!

Dominic from Hong Kong!

The Rickety Bridge loop (8 miles):

The famous (will now it is!) Rickety Bridge!

The famous (well now it is!) Rickety Bridge!

This is an 8 mile loop from our door that is really nice.  It is full of rolling hills all of which are run-able.  We like to do this loop after we take the kids to school. The school is in the gorge so we just keep going after dropping them off.

The start of the rickety bridge loop

The start of the rickety bridge loop

We run into the canyon along the Alhama river  We cross a small foot bridge and shortly come to a little dam.  There is a guard dog who lives on the levy behind a fence next to the dam.  He has very little space to run so Mike feels bad for him.  He looks pretty ferocious so I am glad for the chain link fence between us.  Mike wants to befriend him so he carries treats in his pocket to toss over the fence for him.

Mike Feeding the Dog

Mike Feeding the Dog

Past the dog we take a dirt road mostly uphill to the “rickety bridge”.  The bridge is the midpoint of the run and  from there we climb up a lovely dirt path that rolls past cortijos (farmhouses).  Our favorite is Cortijo Bernardo.

Cortijo Bernardo

Cortijo Bernardo

Here is Bernardo himself.

Here is Bernardo himself.

The day I brought my camera Bernardo was in his garden pulling weeds while Stevie Wonder sang “I just called to say I love you” from a small radio.   His wife Francisca was concerned that I was so sweaty and came over to feel if I was as wet as I looked.  We explained that we were just running and complimented their lovely gardens and ran off down the road.

Next, we pass fields of tomatoes and corn with the sound of rushing water from the river below us.   There are a couple of friendly dogs who come out to greet us and usually join us for a short way.  They don’t need treats because they already seem happy.

Soft dirt to run on past the corn

Soft dirt to run on past the corn

Here I am running with my friend Kathryn!  Miss you!

Here I am running with my friend Kathryn! Miss you!

Trees are starting to change

Trees are starting to change

Eventually we loop back past the gorge and the school.  If we time it right we can wave at the girls during recess. Sometimes we try to spy on them but one of their friends always spots us and points.

The Cacin Gorge (8 miles):

This run starts by Lake Bermejales about 10km from Alhama.  The first 3.5 miles is along the top of the gorge on a dirt road that winds through tomato farms and olive trees.

Mike and Leslie after a run in the Gorge. Lake Bermejales in the background.

Mike and Leslie after a run in the Gorge. Lake Bermejales in the background.

The road crosses a Roman Bridge, El Puente Romano over the Rio Cacin.

Daddy, Savvy's butt and Sky

Daddy, Savvy’s butt and Sky

Just before the bridge there is a trail that drops sharply into the gorge.  There are boy scouts who spend the summer at a camp near here.  They keep the trail clear and set up ropes and bridges to cross.

Mike and Rob

Mike and Rob cross the Cacin river

Pretty steep climbs up and down

Pretty steep climbs up and down

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Leslie running down the the gorge

Running in the Cacin Gorge

Mike and Rob

Mike and Rob

The Lake Bermejales Loop (15 miles):

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One of our favorite runs back home is the Lake Natoma Loop so it seems fitting that we found another lake loop to enjoy.  Like Lake Natoma, Lake Bermejales is a man-made lake with a dam.   It is 15 miles around on a mix of trail and a bit of road.

The trail darts in and out of coves through neat rows of pine trees.  The trail is a soft cushion of pine needles, gentle on the knees.   It is stunningly beautiful.  The lake is very clear and in many places a surreal mix of greens and blues.  The unearthly colors seemingly change around every corner.

From the bridge at the dam we see large fish swimming deep in the crystal waters.

See the fish?

See the fish?

We have done this loop with all of the visitors so far.  Most recently Colleen and Jeff from Toronto, Canada joined us.

Colleen at the Convent of the Ermita San Isidro just outside of Arenas del Rey

Colleen at the Convent of the Ermita San Isidro just outside of Arenas del Rey on the Lake Bermejales Loop

Colleen and Jeff from Canada

Colleen and Jeff from Canada

If anyone whats to come to join us on a run in Spain just send me a comment! We would love to have some company.   You can also e-mail me at LKEZMOH@gmail.com!

After the "loop"

After the “loop”

Race report: Guadix Medio Maraton del Melocoton

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Sept 16, 2013

I got up early this morning, long before the convent bells.  I had my traditional pre-race meal of oatmeal and hot tea.  I kissed my sleeping daughters and my sweet husband wished me luck.  I hiked down the hill to meet our friends, Paul and Fernando to drive to Guadix. Paul’s client, Dominic who was in town for a running holiday from Hong Kong was also joining us.  We piled into Paul’s little car and set off on the road to Granada in the dark.  As we drove I could see the sun coming up behind a distant mountain.  90 minutes later we arrived in Guadix.  Guadix is a larger, somewhat more modern town than our village, Alhama de Granada.  Ironically, there is an area of Guadix where people still live in cave homes built into the mountain sides.

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The race began and ended in the courtyard of a large church. Paul and Fernando were pre-registered so they picked up their chips.  Dominic and I had to register. Fernando explained to me that races like this are subsidized by the government so the entry fee is minimal.  Today it was a suggested donation for cancer research of 10 Euros (about 13$). As the government pays for the healthcare if its citizens, it is their best interest to support and encourage activities such as this.

Left to right: Dominic (our visitor English visitor from Hong Kong), Me (Leslie), Paul, Fernando

Left to right: Dominic (our English visitor from Hong Kong), Me (Leslie), Paul, Fernando

I surveyed the crowd.  This was a serious group.  Most people were grouped together in matching outfits displaying the clubs they represented.  It felt like the old days of running in the US where the crowds weren’t necessarily as huge but the participants were serious about racing. I felt happy to stand in the sea of muscled legs and suntanned faces.

The race start

The race start

At the start I placed myself in the middle of the pack next to a friendly girl who admired my Nathan running vest. “Que mochilla tan chula” (cool backpack!).  I noticed that no one carried water, normal for a road race.  I was the only one who had attached my number to my shorts and definitely the only one with a vest to carry my energy gels and music.  I got more than a few looks and comments as I ran the first couple of miles.

The race started down a steep hill, my favorite warmup!

From google images

From google images

The race was marked in kilometers but I had my Garmin to check my splits in miles.  My first mile was way too fast, 7:30! The excitement of the start of a race with 800 other runners down a hill in Spain kept me going and my second split, this time with an uphill mile was 7:35! I pulled back and tried to calm myself down.  I knew that I would be suffering later if I didn’t slow down.  We ran past cheering friendly faces. “Venga” (come on!) they shouted.  I ran past a series of pottery shops on the outskirts of town taking note for future shopping.  Taylor Swift singing “loving you is red” in my right ear.

We descended out of town to a desolate stretch leaving the cheering crowds back in town.  The road steadily became steeper and steeper to about the 8 km marker when to my relief we started back down.  By the 12 km (~7miles) marker the spring in my step and the excitement of the start had faded, good feeling gone… I smiled remembering my good friend Kathryn’s words from her first road marathon.  I took a mocha power gel.  The other racers were slowing too.  I passed some walkers. The aid stations were about every 4-5 km. They passed out bottles of water which were nice because they were easy to carry.  I passed one woman walking and looking bad.  The man beside me offered her his water and she gratefully accepted.  He had to turn around and run back about 20 yards to her to pass her the bottle, unusual kindness in a road race.

We ran past pastures of happy cows and large farms of tall thin trees that are harvested for lumber in this area.  As we neared the town I could hear music and cheering once again.  We ran down city streets, closed to traffic.  I could see the church and remembered the steep descent from the start.  I groaned with 12 miles on my legs as I started up.  My Garmin hit 13 miles and I could see I still had blocks to go.  I kept telling myself that as long as I didn’t walk that I could run slowly to the finish.  I passed the last aid station at the 21 km mark with the church around the corner.  They were serving only beer! I ran through the green arch at the finish, happy to be done.  There were beer trucks at the finish but no water.  I searched for water and was directed inside where I picked up my finisher bag.  There was Coke and Cruz Campo beer flowing freely but the only water was in a bottle in the finisher bag.  I greedily guzzled the small bottle and refilled it in the bathroom.  I found Paul, Fernando and Dominic.  Paul was disappointed with his time, his knee swollen and painful looking.  I finished behind all of them but was happy to have run 13.29 miles with 800 other athletes so far from California.

Shoot, I should have been running through with my arms up! Who knew they were taking my picture!

Shoot, I should have been running through with my arms up! Who knew they were taking my picture!

The ride home flew by and I was greeted with lots of love and hugs from my dear family.  Whew, my first race in Spain.  It wasn’t a PR (Personal Record)  but it was my best race here!

Race shirt

Race shirt