Thursday, May 16, 2013

Favorite Runs: Gando

Back in the day, I was fortunate to go on a work trip to the Canary Islands for a few weeks.  On two different occasions.  Life is tough.

Specifically, I was working on Gran Canaria.  And I discovered a pretty fantastic (and TOUGH) running route while I was there.  Near the airport there is a barren spit of land that doesn't look like much on GoogleMaps, but is in reality quite a nice big hill/small mountain.  There are dirt roads and paths that go to the crest of the mountain, and then zig-zag down the far side along the top of the rock cliffs which eventually meet the ocean with a much less drastic decline at the end of the peninsula.  It's a heap of rock and dirt, with some interesting ruined structures at the top of the hill, and absolutely amazing ocean views.  The back side of the mountain is more friendly terrain-wise, but still has gullies and ravines that keep things interesting.  I also love the route because it's not overrun with people.  Sometimes there were one or two other runners sharing the trails with me, and sometimes I was completely alone.  Running alone suits the place, with its rugged, wild, raw beauty between sea and sky.

On my first run, I went straight up the mountain first.  It took less than ten minutes on a dirt road with lots of switchbacks, and completely smoked me, but the view from the top made for fantastic recovery.  I then was able to carefully pick my way down the rocky path on the other side and skirt the coast all the way back around to where the peninsula joins the main island.  At that location, there is a gorgeous stretch of sand beach which would have been a lovely, secluded spot to relax.  Alas, I did actually have to work.  I also noticed on that run that I was the only person running counter-clockwise on the route; every other individual I encountered was saving the mountain for last.  So I tried that the next time.  It did make for a faster run, because I was going uphill on the really rough, unstable terrain and downhill on the graded dirt road.  But I like getting the worst part over with sooner, so taking out the mountain in the beginning remains my preferred sequence of events.

I also found that from the top of the mountain, you are above the airport and all the aircraft taking off!  It's fantastic!!  The traffic pattern usually had aircraft taking off starting on the southern end of the runway, so they were airborne by the time they hit the northern edge of the runway, which is closest to the mountain, and then they curved around over the open ocean to the north of the peninsula.  It's pretty neat to have a bird's-eye view of jets taking off, and then wonder if the pilot can see you, this solitary stranger waving from the top of the edge of the world.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New England Relay in Review

My brilliant ideas never quite turn out as planned.  Such was the case in 2010 when my friend and I found out about the New England Relay (NER) and decided that surely between the two of us we could find 10 more people who would think that running around New England for two days would be excellent fun.

Seven or so months later, we had managed to rally 9.  Close?  Game on anyway.  Fortunately we also rallied one awesome dad and one awesome mom to be dedicated drivers so the nine runners only had to run and sleep.

NER's inaugural race was the one we participated in, in June 2011.  To complicate an event already going through first-time growing pains, a tornado beat up western Massachusetts a few weeks before the race, which included parts of the route.  The organizers had to get a little creative to redo it.  So there were two sections of the race where two runners from each team were on the road at the same time.  Abnormal for a relay race, but it worked to keep us on track and get the mileage in, so no big deal!

We started out barely in Rhode Island at a lovely state park.  Check-in went smoothly, we had a few spare minutes to decorate our vans, we all cheered and hollered, and off went our first runner, straight across the state line into Connecticut!  Van 1 took over after that (like I said, we only had nine people, so our vans were criss-crossing all over the place, and people were switching vans .... our first relay experience was NOT normal at all) and we had so much fun leap-frogging our runners to offer them water and lots of verbal support that both vans basically stayed on the course for the entire race.  Even when one van didn't have people on the road, they would be stopping in random places to cheer for the runners of the other van.  I think only two people on the team had done a long-distance relay before, so the rest of us were trying to enjoy every minute!

Halfway through Van 1's second section, my brother's knees (which were not in good shape following his super-speedy first marathon not too long before) gave out, and suddenly we were down to 8 runners.  Almost an ultra team!!  As a result, almost every person on the team ended up running more than 20 miles over the course of the race, and at least three of us ran more than 30!

The course skipped out of Rhode Island after that first mile, cut across a corner of Connecticut, and then went north through western Massachusetts to Brattleboro, Vermont, where we then swung east and crossed New Hampshire and sneaked into the corner of Maine for the finish at Kittery State Park.  It was well-marked the entire way, with decent support at the van exchanges.  It was quite hilly, which was a challenge, but unavoidable when you're crossing western Massachusetts and Vermont and New Hampshire.  The majority of the course avoided major roads and mostly avoided towns too, so there was plenty of lovely scenery to enjoy.  Of course, it rained almost the entire time.  (And by time, I mean 30+ hours, which is how long it took us to finish the 220-mile course.)  The legitimate downpours were rather annoying, but the general misting and cloudiness was nice because it took the edge off the usual misery of June heat.

By the time we reached Kittery, we were all beyond exhausted.  We were not prepared for the mileage or the terrain on the course, and it definitely took a toll.  But for whatever bizarre reason, it was still a blast!!!  You might imagine the experience would be enough to put me off distance relays forever, but not in the least!  I have not run NER since the inaugural, so I can't speak to whether they've worked out some of their kinks, but 2011 was a pretty good first draft, so I'm confident it's become better and better with each subsequent iteration!