Tag Archives: trail running

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”