MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (XXXII) – Beijing 2008: CONSTANTINA DIṬĂ (1970-)

Diṭă victorious at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Marathon

Beijing won the voting to hold the 2008 Summer Olympics, defeating bids from Toronto, Paris, Istanbul, and Osaka. The Chinese government invested heavily in renovating and constructing the venues that would host the competitions. Athletics would take place in the Beijing National Stadium, known as the Bird´s Nest.

The women´s marathon was planned for August 17 following an urban course designed specifically for the event. The main concerns for athletes during the Games had been pollution, heat, and humidity. On marathon day though, cool temperature, overcast sky and occasional drizzle were going to keep the race bearable.

There were 82 women classified for the marathon. The strong field included 6 of the 10 fastest marathoners ever, including 29 runners who had already been in Athens 2004, including the three medallists Noguchi (Japan), Ndereba (Kenya) and Kastor (USA). Again, among the favourites was Paula Radcliffe, from the UK and WR holder, trying to overcome her earlier Olympic failure.

Constantina Diță was born in Turburea, Romania, in 1970. She grew up in a farm, where she spent much time running around the animals. At high school she played handball but changed to running after participating in a race where she managed to win all the guys. As many other runners she started competing in cross country events, although she included many other distances in her racing calendar. Her first marathon was in 1997 when she won a silver medal in the European Championships of 1999. Focused more on the 42k distance she was 10th at the World Championships of Edmonton 2001, 20th at the Olympics of Athens 2004, and 3rd in the World Championships of Helsinki 2005. Her PB of 2.21.30 achieved on the Chicago Marathon of 2005 was her best credential for Beijing 2008.

The race started slowly, with many runners in a big group when crossing the 10k in 36.10 for an expected finishing time over 2h30m. Despite this, Deena Kastor, one of the favourites, was already out by the 5k.

Around the 16k, another of the medallists from Athens 2004, Ndereba, started to lose contact too, although she managed to keep the leading group close enough to maintain her ambitions. The half marathon was crossed in 1.15.11.

At that point things got interesting, when Diță decided to shake things up. She went in front and run the next two kilometres in 3.20 each, opening a 30 second gap with the still large group of around 20 runners. But they were not prepared to make things easy for Constantina: none other than the WR holder Radclilffe took the responsibility for the chase.

Nevertheless, they lacked coordination, and Ditä´s lead continued to increase. With Radcliffe suffering and the chasing group down to 10 runners, Zhou Chunxiu of China went in front pursuing Diță, who crossed the 30k in 1.45.04, 57s ahead of them. Ndereba, coming from behind, caught with the group again.

With 7k to go, Diță had an advantage of 1.10. Her 5k intervals had been unreachable. But she still had to suffer before grabbing the gold medal. Her pursuers efforts were paying off in this last section, with the gap between them closing fast. But it wasn´t enough, and Diță crossed the finish line first, in 2.26.44, only 22s ahead of Ndereba, who managed to get again the silver medal after surpassing the local runner Chunxiu in the track of the Bird´s Nest by only 1s.

It had been a tight end: a total of 7 runners finished the marathon below 2.28.00, among them other of the Chinese runners, Xiaolin Zhu, in 4th, and the other Romanian, the veteran Lidia Simon, 8th in her 4th Olympic appearance.

For Constantina Diță her victory in Beijing 2008 was the pinnacle of her sports career, at the late age of 38. She managed to classify for the marathon in London 2012, although she couldn´t repeat her success.

Her PB obtained in the 2005 Chicago Marathon (2.21.30) is still the Romanian national record.

 

Sources:

https://athleticsillustrated.com/the-constantina-dita-interview/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantina_Di%C8%9B%C4%83

https://sportsscientists.com/2008/08/beijing-2008-womens-marathon-splits/

Beijing National Stadium (Bird´s Nest)

LOGROÑO MARATHON (03/10/2021 – 101)

Ferrer Sport, for runner bib collection

Hesitating between the Logroño and Ibiza marathons for the first weekend in October, I opted for the first one for logistical reasons, with the chance of going to the Palma de Mallorca marathon on the following weekend (which in the end I had to discard).

After a bus trip of more than 4 hours, I arrive to Logroño in the afternoon. After a short break I head to Ferrer Sport to collect my runner bag. Chema Martínez is also there, presenting his latest book. From the short list of marathon participants, it seems that there will be only 70-80 for the 42k, with many more enrolled in the other two distances available: the half marathon and 10k.

The start and finish of the two long races is in El Espolón at 9.00, with weather forecast ensuring rain from 8 to 14. Although I go to rest early, the accommodation, close to the start, but also in a party area, does not allow me for a very restful night.

With noise outside until 5 in the morning, I am awake and prepared early. Raining heavily since 8, I leave just in time to leave my backpack at the starting area. Sheltered like so many runners under a nearby arcade, we reluctantly move to the starting line just before the race start.

El Espolón: start and finish area

There I coincide with Txema, whom I had not seen since the Covid truncated calendars a year and a half ago. Looking forward to his reunion with the marathon, we go out together, close to the 3h30m pacer, although we soon let it go.

The first kilometres go quickly as we move away from the centre of Logroño towards peripheral neighbourhoods. As they say out there… the kilometres speaking “do not count.” On a slope around kilometre 16 I let Txema go. From this point onwards there are a few slope mores, one of them a tunnel, and another just facing the last meters towards the finish line. The half marathon goes in 1.55.46, not too bad after the Mapoma from the previous week.

Finishing the first lap

If firstly there was rain, secondly is rain and loneliness. Once the runners of the half marathon are out, the distances between the remaining runners stretch for long. Around the 24k, I find the 3-hour pacer running back. Surely, left alone, has decided to finish his race.

From that point onward I feel better and recover some positions. Or maybe going from more to less I’m still better than the others. First, I catch the second classified female, and with 5 kilometres remaining I see Txema far away.

Chasing others is more fun than being chased. I catch him around the 39k. We only must cross a bridge and head back towards the city centre.

Finally, I cross the finish line in a net time of 3.59.34, with Txema a few seconds later, also entering below the 4h barrier. Position 40 out of 62 finishers. It is only a short walk to the excellent facilities available to take a shower, that were missing in Madrid (as was the cloakroom service).

Marathon 101 on my account, and eighth in 2021. Next stop, Lisbon in 2 weeks, to repeat for a fourth time, after 4 years of absence.

The bridge of the 37k
Wet and tired, but finishers

MARATÓN POPULAR MADRID (26/09/2021 – 100)

(Some) Maratoniacs

postponed until now, was for many the reencounter with the “great” races, those with thousands of participants filling the streets that were usual before.

Organizing the calendar before the summer, there was the option of reaching the 100th marathon in Madrid, as it finally happened. On one hand, it seemed like the logical place, alpha and omega of my marathon career.

I visited the runner’s expo on Saturday afternoon, in a gigantic IFEMA pavilion. Perhaps due to its large dimensions it had a certain soulless air, with few booths of other marathons (although there were those of Maspalomas Gran Canaria, Castellón, Oporto and Funchal). Still, there was enough to be entertained for a while.

After the usual early start it is a short walk to the starting area, where some had arranged to meet for a group photo, around 8.00. Without having a clue, the marathon family offers me a medal for my 100 marathons, which I still have to earn. Circumstances force them to offer it before the race. Due to the pandemic, the starts are staggered every 2 minutes, in groups of 500 participants, and predictably it will be difficult to meet after the race.

Already in my box, letter I, I listen to the successive starts from the previous groups, with the first one at 8:45 and mine at 9:01. Just before it, a minute of silence for the victims of Covid, and then we advance towards the starting arch. My 42k begin exactly on time.

Runners Expo
Sunrise in La Castellana
Starting area

Strangely, in the first kilometres, slightly uphill along the Paseo de la Castellana, what draws most my attention is the silence, despite the runners. As if the minute of silence had been extended, each one in our inner world, perhaps thinking of what the last year and a half meant in our lives.

Trying to enjoy the 100 marathon experience I don’t care much about my watch. Shortly after I meet Gonzalo, who had started in the previous box, and run with him for a few kilometres, until parting ways at the 10k refreshment station. It seems that I have started with more energy than on previous occasions. Anyway, this is my first road marathon since February 2020. Later on I also surpass David and Lola, although assuming they will probably catch me later.

At that point I suspect that something is wrong with my chip, as I do not hear the passing beeps on the control mats.

When crossing the half marathon my predicted final time is around 3h43m, but Madrid is Madrid, and all of us who have run there know what it means to arrive at the Casa de Campo. It is the hardest section of the race, also including the 32k wall. Until kilometre 28 I hold well the pace, but soon after I start slowing down.

With 4 kilometres to go, Gonzalo passes me again, and soon after Lola, but I cannot run at their pace. The “caceroladas” on the Avenida de Valladolid are missing, and the Chariots of Fire arriving in the Sol area, which is now avoided. The public, which until then had been mostly absent and not very enthusiastic, increases, and their cheers provide energy for the last effort. La Castellana is there, and so the finish line.

I finish the 100th marathon, winning one more medal, the second of the day, in 3.54.47.

The result is as important as the path travelled to reach this point.

Finish area
The medal
The 3 from Pucela

In the credits of the first 100 marathons I must include to: Catherine E, for her initial impulse in search of the 100; Raúl L, for the “magical” shorts that gave me my PB in Valencia 2010; Enrique B, for introducing me to the world of the “crazy” marathoners when I returned to Spain; Filomena G, for her logistical support and patience in reaching marathons that would have been unattainable; Pepe T, whose “hunt” for being the first runner from Valladolid to get 100 made me realise that 13 marathons in a year were for the lazy ones; David P, Lola G and Javi del Val, without whose presence and “clandestine” marathons the Covid “drought” would have become longer; the other “maratoniacs” for their welcome… And all those, runners or not, who over the years shared my passion for running.

See you at the next start…

The 100

ADAPTATION TO DOWNHILL RUNNING: IS IT POSSIBLE?

Photo by Alessio Soggetti (Unsplash)

Muscle contractions in sports are usually isotonic, involving changes in length of muscle fibres, that can be classified in concentric and eccentric contractions.

Concentric muscle contractions

Muscle generates tension, to overcome a resistance. There is a shortening of the muscle fibres and a movement of a body part. An example could be any exercise with weights or running uphill.

Eccentric muscle contractions

Opposite than in the concentric contraction, in the eccentric there is a lengthening of the muscle fibres against a resistance. The force applied to the muscle exceeds the force produced by the muscle itself.

Another type of contraction, without changes in the length of the muscle fibres, would be the isometric contraction.

 

Downhill running (DR)

Downhill running involves repetitive eccentric muscle contractions, which cause mechanical strain on the musculotendinous system of the lower limbs and exercise-induced muscle damage, or EIMD, whose physiological alterations last for several days after the exercise.

In many off-road races taking part in natural environments the sections involving DR are very common. Among these races we could talk of trail running, mountain running or the more specific fell running modality, although many road races also include important downhill sections.

Scientific evidence suggests that previous exposure to DR is the most effective strategy to help reduce the extent of EIMD among runners. Thus, it helps improve resultant effects of EIMD: force losses, changes in running economy and mechanics, structural alterations, and inflammation levels.

The effect of this pre-exposure is known as “Repeated Bout Effect”, or RBE, and there are studies showing that it can be achieved performing only a couple of bouts of DR separated by several days.

The mechanisms associated with this effect would include:

  • Neural adaptations
  • Adaptations of the muscle-tendon complexes
  • Increased sensitivity to inflammation
  • Improved muscle remodelling

The RBE could be summarized as simply as:

Your body's response to a stimulus decreases with each repeated bout

Other alternative strategies such the use of lower limb compression garments or specific running shoes have shown potential in the adaptation to DR, although more studies are needed.

If you have races involving DR your best strategy should include a few sessions of training in similar conditions to those you will find on race day!

Good training!

 

Bibliography

Downhill Running: What Are the Effects and How Can We Adapt? A Narrative Review.

Bontemps B, Vercruyssen F, Gruet M, Louis J. Sports Med. 2020;50(12):2083-2110. doi:10.1007/s40279-020-01355-z

Image from textbook OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology, 2016

THE WHERE AND HOW OF HITTING THE “WALL” IN THE MARATHON

Photo by Denise Denicolo (Pixabay)

Most experienced marathon runners know about “the wall”, although for novices or first-timers to the distance, there is a significant chance of hitting it inadvertently.

Hitting the wall can be defined as a significant slowing of pace, usually after the 32k, because of a sudden fatigue linked to the depletion of the body´s energy stores. In the worst cases it can incapacitate the runner to finish the race.

But what factors affect a marathoner hitting the wall?

It is usually accepted that poor race nutrition, inadequate pacing (starting too fast) and even psychological factors can be implicated. But experience is also important, as more experienced runners seem more capable to avoid the worst of it.

A recent study using data from 4 million race records from big city marathons has tried to determine where and how marathon runners hit the wall, according to parameters such as sex, age, and ability.

Thus, the study calculated the degree of slowdown using as a reference the base-pace during the 5km–20km (excluding the initial 5k because of usually crowded starts) portion and comparing it with the latest sections.

The main limitations of the study were their limited pacing data (5km splits), age ranges and an incomplete dataset of race records for every runner included.

Despite this, and thanks to the very large scale of the data, useful information was obtained.

 

Key findings

  • Male runners hit the wall more often (28%) than female runners (17%).
  • Male runners begin to slow down slightly later (29.6km) than female runners (29.3km).
  • Male runners suffer from this slowdown for longer than females (10.72km vs. 9.61km, respectively).Therefore, as females tends to recover more quickly, they usually finish faster than equivalent mean race-pace males.
  • The cost of hitting the wall in the finishing time, relative to PB times, is greater for faster runners.
  • Age plays a minor role in terms of the start, distance, and degree of slowdown in hitting the wall, although there is a strong relationship between these metrics and runner´s ability, estimated through arunner’s recent personal-best time (PB).
  • Starting too fast was associated with slower finishing-times, because it increased the likelihood of a runner hitting the wall later in the race.

 

Bibliography

How recreational marathon runners hit the wall: A large-scale data analysis of late-race pacing collapse in the marathon. Barry Smyth. PLoS One. 2021 May 19;16(5): e0251513. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0251513.

London Marathon (photo by Ian Wakefield)

HAS COVID-19 CAUSED A NEW RUNNING BOOM?

During the recent lockdowns, our most common activities have been compromised, and among them the outdoor activities. Thus, we have come to appreciate even more our freedom to choose where and when to exercise.

Running has not been an exception. A recent survey among 3961 runners found that up to 29% of them started running during the global pandemic. This is an important rise that should not be underestimated.

But although it is a lot of potential “new” runners they may differ from “old” runners.

A recent survey found interesting findings among these new post-pandemic runners differentiating them from their pre-pandemic counterparts.

 

Key findings

  • 32% of post-pandemic runners are looking to run a virtual race against a 15% of pre-pandemic runners. Conversely, only 65% of them are looking to participate in in-person races against an 85% of pre-pandemic runners.
  • Physical health was the primary motivation for 72% of post-Covid runners, while it was the main reason for only a 18% of pre-pandemic runners.
  • Post-pandemic runners were less likely to run for competition or achievement (34% less), social interaction (31% less) or mental/emotional health (15% less) than pre-pandemic runners

 

Main conclusion

Running as an outdoor activity has suffered a significant boom since the start of the pandemic, with new runners differing from the old ones in motivations and race participation preferences.

 

Did you run before the pandemic or is it a new activity in your life?

What is the main motivation to do it?

 

Source:

https://runrepeat.com/new-pandemic-runners

UTRSC SANTA CRUZ MARATHON (31/07/2021 – 99)

Start area

The UTRSC Santa Cruz was chosen as marathon 99, six days after the Atlantic Troia-Melides.

Due to the Covid restrictions, the start time was changed at the last moment from 20.00 to 16.30, which in the end turned out to be an advantage, as I would see later. With a deadline of 6h30m and a circular route from Santa Cruz, short trails of 22 and 12k are offered too.

On a day with ideal weather, with just over 20°C, and after the regulatory control of the obligatory equipment (liquid tank, front light with replacement batteries and mobile) we start the marathon, to follow a route marked with orange tapes on the right side (except changes of direction).

Although it might seem easy to follow the route, it wasn´t that way in practice. I will end up going off course at least half a dozen times. At the slightest mistake with a tape, I ended up doing a few extra meters. In this “orientation” marathon the environment often varies. Nothing to do with the relative monotony of the 43k on the beach last week.

Getting to the water station at kilometre 28

Its 700 m of D+ are noted, although they are acceptable. Without stops at the first 3 aid stations, I only stop to refill the Camelback at kilometre 28, in the ruins of an abandoned monastery. Afterwards come 3 kms of steep ascent, in one of the toughest areas of the route.

However, from kilometre 31 course improves, being mostly downhill and following roads as we approach the coast and the last refreshment station, 6 kilometres from the finish line, in Porto Novo.

From there, and with a beautiful sunset, it is only to follow the coast towards Santa Cruz. One last section on the beach´s wooden walkway takes me to the finish line. Thanks to the early departure time I have not needed to use the front light. Had I had to run at night, surely, I would have ended up getting lost.

Marathon 99 finished in 4.49.37, and position 85 out of 106 at the finish line (23 DNF/4 DSQ).

Towards Santa Cruz beach and the finish line

Not finding myself as I would like to feel, it seems that the last marathons up to 100, as it happened to my friend Pepe, somehow choke. Hopefully, as Quique says, it is only a bump and I “rejuvenate” after reaching them.

The next marathon will be the 100. Although not entirely sure, as things are going, it is foreseeable that it will be in Madrid, on September 26, the date where MAPOMA 2020 was moved after its suspension by Covid-19. We would close the circle where we debuted in the 42k on a distant April 30, 2000.

See you there?

Marathon profile

ATHLANTIC MARATHON MELIDES-TROIA (25/07/2021 – 98)

Starting area

Long-sought Atlantic Marathon, since 2017. However, something always came up so I couldn´t run it. This year the calendar was favourable, despite the problems with the registration, which I ended up doing twice (although solved later).

The marathon (or ultra?) Is 43 kilometres on sand, from Melides beach to the Troia peninsula, following the seashore. Along with the marathon there is also a short race of 15 kilometres.

Race week was complicated by the second dose of the Covid vaccine. The night from Monday to Tuesday 12h bus from Lisbon to Spain. The first dose of Moderna had no effects. The second, on Wednesday, gave me a fever (38.2°C) that barely let me sleep. With paracetamol, another 12h bus back on the night from Thursday to Friday, and still one last short training session that afternoon. Then rest and sleep as much as possible before Sunday.

At 9 o’clock in the morning and with a mild temperature and overcast skies just over 100 runners took the start. No loss possible. It is just running in a straight line with the sea on the left. With only 3 aid stations available, the Camelbak is necessary.

Race start

After the start and sweating profusely I try to find my way. The question is whether to run on the dry and soft sand, or closer to the shore, with the wetter and harder sand, although with the feet in the water continuously. Opting more for this second option I try to get an ideal pace, with little success.

Despite the beauty of the environment, the continuous sound of the sea and the endless beach, with great distances between runners, end up becoming almost hypnotic. Thus, sometimes I find myself with the water at knee level.

Without solid supplies, I use my gels and isotonic before filling my tank with water, at the control of kilometre 28. There is still much race ahead. And there is already fatigue, linked to the continuous lean to the left, especially at ankle level.

Little by little I see that the beach begins to veer to the left in the direction of Troia. However, the distances are deceptive, and the kilometres go slower than in a road marathon.

In the end, tired and with my worst time in the distance, I cross the finish line in 5.49.26, in place 134 out of 146 finishers. Filled with sand I cool off in the sea. The shoes, completely destroyed and full of sand, will stay there.

Finish area

Marathon 98 achieved. Difficult due to the unknown terrain and less than optimal physical conditions. In 6 days, I have another marathon. Anyhow, If I go back to this Troia-Melides race, I will possibly do it barefoot.

Ready for the race
Finisher after all

MARATHON OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS (XXXI) – Athens 2004: STEFANO BALDINI (1971-)

”It was an unbelievable sensation, because Panathinaiko is the story of the marathon.”

Stefano Baldini

Once again, the men´s marathon would mark the end of the Summer Olympics, on August 29, 2004. As with the women´s event the marathon was following the route from the 1896 Olympics, starting on the site of the Battle of Marathon and finishing in the Panathenaic Stadium, in Athens.

Luckily for the guys, weather conditions were milder than one week earlier, when the ladies endured temperatures above 35°C for the victory of Japanese Mizuki Noguchi. The 101 runners in the start line knew what to expect.

But the field was one of the strongest ever: 14 men have broken 2.08 and another 14 the 2.09! Among them competing for Kenya was the World Record holder Paul Tergat (2.04.55). Besides them, the powerful teams, with 3 runners each and PBs below 2.08 were Spain (Julio Rey, Antonio Peña y José Ríos) and Japan (Tomoaki Kunichika, Shigeru Aburaya and Toshinari Suwa).

Regarding Baldini, he was born in Castelnovo di Sotto, in a large family of 11 children. He run since early, specializing in the 5000 and 10000 metres. Debuted in the marathon distance in 1995 in Venice, where he finished 6th in 2.11.01. Nevertheless, he kept running the 5000 and 10000 metres, representing Italy in the Olympics of Atlanta 1996, although with no success. In 1997 he focused on the marathon, finishing 3rd in NY and 2nd in London, becoming European Champion one year later. He run the marathon in Sidney 2000, although he did not finish. His luck was better in the World Marathon Championships, where he finished 3rd in 2001 and 2003. He was experienced enough to try his luck once again in Athens.

The race starts with Khalid El Boumlili of Morrocco running away. His lead is 10s in the first mile. With a personal best of 2.10.49, no one worries about him and gets back to the pack shortly after the second mile. Everyone seems to be saving energy. The 10k is crossed in 31.54, with Vanderlei de Lima (Brasil), José Ríos and Gang Han (China) in the front, and other 60 runners within 9s.

At a relatively easy pace the pack keeps mostly together. Only the South African Hendrick Ramaala tries his luck, gaining a lead of 20s, although he is caught before the 20k. It is crossed in 1.03.54 with de Lima in the lead, who starts to build up distance. His lead is 12s at the half marathon point, with a big pack of 30 runners behind.

De Lima´s attack start removing rivals from the pack. His lead is 35s at the 25k and 46s at the 30k (1.35.03). Despite the efforts of the pursuing pack the distance only increases.

With no much distance left Baldini, Tergat and Keflezighi (US) leave the pack and increase the pace chasing De Lima. The race seems down to four runners, with Tergat maybe the most dangerous contender.

Getting to the 35k the unexpected: a bystander grapples De Lima. Thanks to the efforts of a spectators he is quickly released, but losing a precious time and what is worse, his pace and focus. Meanwhile, in the pursuing trio, Tergat starts falling back.

With 3 kilometres to go Baldini leaves Keflezighi and surpasses De Lima, reaching the 40k (2.04.49), with 10s over Keflizighi and 18s ahead of De Lima, who has fallen to third. Baldini looks strong and a step over his rivals.

Finally, Baldini grabs the gold with 2.10.55 while Keflezighi gets the silver (2.11.29) and De Lima settles for bronze (2.12.11). Another victory for Italy in the Olympic Marathon after Gelindo Bordin in Seoul 1988.

What would have been the results without the incident involving de Lima? Nobody knows, although he didn´t complain and was happy with his result. His sportsmanship was awarded with a Pierre de Coubertin medal, a special honour for his fair play and Olympic values.

Regarding Baldini, he was European Champion in Gothenburg in 2006, and was back to the Olympic Marathon in Beijing 2008, where he finished 12th. That would be his last marathon.

On the personal side we had the chance to run once with him, in the 2001 Madrid Millenium Marathon, which he won (2.09.59), in a race organised to say goodbye to the legendary Spanish marathoners Martin Fiz and Abel Antón.

Thanks for reading.

Next, we will focus on the marathon Olympic Champions of Beijing 2008.

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stefano_Baldini

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athletics_at_the_2004_Summer_Olympics_%E2%80%93_Men%27s_marathon

http://www.marathonguide.com/news/exclusives/Olympics2004/MensOlympicsMarathonRace.cfm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Summer_Olympics

Panathenaic Stadium

ULTRA TRAIL CAMINHOS DO TEJO (12/06/2021, PT)

Landscape

Last year, after the first lockdown and in the absence of official races, I considered running from Lisbon to Fatima following the pilgrims’ route. To do so I had divided the 144k distance into 4 affordable stages, with Lisbon as the centre of operations. Finally, I discarded it for fear with the whole “Covid situation”.

However, in 2021 the opportunity came back at the last minute, with the Ultra Trail Caminhos do Tejo. The “short” distance of 57k, would start from Santarém to reach Fátima, with a 10h time limit and 2 UTMB points at stake. With 1000m of D+ and 760m of D- is enough. The “long” option with the whole route, of 144k and 22h time limit (5 UTMB points) seemed too much.

After arriving to Santarém, a short walk takes me to the starting area. The runners of the 144k race have a refreshment station there.  Starting on the evening of the previous day they have already run 87k, and their faces show the effort.

The 20 participants of the 57k leave at 9.00, in 2 small batches. It is already more than 20⁰C and the sky is clear, with a forecast of storms in Fatima for the afternoon.

The route of the Caminho do Tejo is marked with blue arrows and in some difficult places, also with extra signs from the organization. For the most part, the pilgrim route to Fatima and the Camino de Santiago share the route, although the latter is marked with yellow arrows instead of blue.

With no experience in this race, I had the idea that it would be mainly on roads. This is largely the case until the first aid station, in Santos, at kilometre 19. In a semi-autonomous regime, I still have isotonic left in my backpack. Thus, I drink a bit, eat a banana, and quickly leave for the next control, 13k away, in Olhos de Agua.

Olhos de Agua

But in this section things get complicated. We leave the roads and get into a forest area with steep slopes, especially in its final section. I arrive at kilometre 31 in 3h and 35 minutes. 26k remain. Calculating I could finish in 7 hours. Too optimistic as I would find later. Having discarded the idea of ​​taking a bath in the river beach of Olhos de Agua, I make a minimal stop and keep running.

With the sun at the highest point, the 6 kilometres to the next refreshment station, in Covão do Feto, are a mountain trail., where I must walk the most difficult sections. On several occasions I think that I have taken a wrong detour, due to the rough terrain, but arriving at the refreshment station they confirm that, indeed, I was following the correct route. There are still 20 kilometres left and energy is already scarce.

At the last control in Minde, at kilometre 40, is where I do the longer stop, and even drink a cold Coca-Cola, that although I am not a fan, tastes delicious. I fill the Camelback to the max and, with a little more energy, go out again. There are 17 kilometres left and the next control will be in Fatima. So many kilometres running alone, temperatures of 30⁰C and hardly any shade lead me to intersperse longer sections walking with others simply jogging.

Despite this, I still manage to pass a few lagging runners in this section, while exchanging a few times positions with the first classified female. At 3 kilometres from the finish line, the sky covers up a bit and even 2 timid drops of rain fall. Not enough relief after such a day.

Race section
Sign post

We arrive together at the entrance of Fatima and run towards the esplanade of the Sanctuary searching for the finish line. Obviously, it is not there. Lost, I look on my mobile for the race instructions to find the location of the finish line. After asking in a store, and wandering a bit, adding more distance to our battered legs, a policeman point us in the right direction.

I finally cross the finish line in an official time of 8.24.15 (net time 8.23.43), after having spent almost 5 hours to cover the last 26 kilometres! Exhausted, I estimate that I have drunk at least 6 litres of liquid. Position 9th out of 17 finishers.

Satisfied with the medal that has cost me so much to get, I walk to the shower in the hotel, right next to the arrival, that the organization provides to the participants.

Despite its toughness, I look forward repeating the experience next year and improve my finishing time. Another 2 UTMB points would qualify me for the OCC race of the Mont Blanc in 2023…

But that is already thinking in the very long term, and as the pandemic taught us, it is better to go step by step.

Greetings and see you soon.

Medal
Finish area