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

MARATHON RUNNING ON MOOD AND DEPRESSION

Photo by Capstone Events (Unsplash)

Depression, or Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), is a “mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss”. It is not only a mental issue, but also physical. MDD is associated with an increase of all-cause mortality, due to a higher incidence of cardiovascular diseases. And it may compromise normal day-to-day activities too.

On the other hand, patients with chronic physical diseases frequently exhibit associated depressive symptoms, often related with low levels of physical activity.

Current guidelines from the WHO recommend 150 min of moderate aerobic exercise per week, or even 300 min (or 150 min of vigorous aerobic activity) for a better outcome on health. Thus, physical activity has the potential to improve depression, whose patients often live a sedentary lifestyle, while improving cardiorespiratory fitness.

Marathon runners usually exceed WHO recommendations for aerobic exercise. Furthermore, completion of a marathon is associated with the so-called “runner´s high”.

A recent study on amateur marathon runners showed that endurance training increased their levels of positive affect while decreasing depressive symptoms when compared with sedentary controls.

Thus, 150 minutes of aerobic exercise, or even higher training volumes, and a marathon completion itself, had positive effects on different mood parameters. These potentially antidepressive effects had no significant side-effects.

Therefore, supervised aerobic exercise should be offered in the recovery therapies of MDD patients.

MORE RUNNING Þ BETTER HEALTH Þ LESS DEPRESSION Þ LONGER LIFE

Be active and you will have a better chance of being happier.

 

Bibliography

Roeh A, Lembeck M, Papazova I, Pross B, Hansbauer M, Schoenfeld J, Haller B, Halle M, Falkai P, Scherr J, Hasan A. Marathon running improves mood and negative affect. J Psychiatr Res. 2020 Nov; 130:254-259. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2020.08.005.

Photo by Rudy & Peter Skitterians (Pixabay)

125 YEARS OF EVOLUTION OF THE MEN´S MARATHON INTERNATIONAL SCENE

The marathon as such was brought back to life in the first Olympics of modern times, in Athens 1896. On April 10 Spiridon Louis won for Greece the first Olympic gold medal in the marathon, running around 40 kilometres. After this first attempt, Boston organised its own marathon on April 19, 1897 with victory for John J. McDermott of New York.

There have been many marathons since then, and one can wonder which was the best country at such a distance during a period. That is a difficult question we have tried to answer, considering only the following marathon events:

World Record performances. Maybe the only achievement capable of overshadow the Olympic glory, allowing any marathon runner to write his name in marathon history.

                                                              WR: 20 points

Olympics. For most athletes, the Olympics are the highest achievement. Organised every 4 years (with the exceptions of 1940 and 1944 because of WWII, and the 2020 delayed to 2021) for many marathoners they were for long almost the only chance of getting noticed internationally. It was the case of great Abebe Bikila.

                        1st: 10 points. 2nd: 8 points. 3rd: 6 points. 4th: 4 points. 5th: 2 points

World Championships. Celebrated for the first time in 1983 in Helsinki, they took place every 4 years until 1997, when they started been organised every 2 years. Many great marathoners won it, although it looks that recently have become a “minor” event.

                         1st: 5 points. 2nd: 4 points. 3rd: 3 points. 4th: 2 points. 5th: 1 point

World Marathon Majors. As we mentioned previously Boston is the oldest of the Marathon Majors, being organised since 1897. But the World Marathon Majors Series has been recognised as such only recently. Despite this we have decided to include these marathons into our account. New York organised its own marathon in 1970, with Berlin following suit in 1974, Chicago in 1977, London in 1981 and Tokyo, as we know it in 2007. All these marathons are top-level, although considering that there are 6 over a year period, their scores are a bit lower.

                                                     1st: 3 points. 2nd: 2 points. 3rd: 1 point

Many other marathons could also qualify for this classification, but it would be almost impossible to consider all marathons run every year worldwide.

Additionally, for our analysis, we ONLY included the 5 countries with more WR that has been traditionally the most influential: UK 8, USA 7, KENYA 5, ETHIOPIA 5, and JAPAN 4.

Points by international event

Summary

For the first half of the 20th century US was clearly in the lead. The Boston marathon was an event where usually US and Canada athletes occupied the first positions, with some exceptions from different countries, especially Finland capable of competing at the highest level. It was not until 1947, with the WR victory of Suh Yun-bok from South Korea, that Boston reached worldwide popularity.

From the 1950s to the 1980s we must mention the UK and the figure of Jim Peters. He broke the WR in 4 different occasions between 1952 and 1954, 3 of them in the prestigious, but sadly disappeared Polytechnic Marathon, or the Poly, that was held annually between 1909 and 1996. That period saw also the dominance of Kenya in the Olympics, with victories and WR performances from Abebe Bikila in Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964, and victory for Mamo Wolde in Mexico 1968.

From the 1980s onwards with the running boom and the appearance of the remaining World Marathon Majors and World Championships the scales have tipped in Africa´ direction. Kenya entered the marathon scene with a second place in the 1982 Chicago Marathon by Joseph Nzau, who won on the following year. From that victory onwards Kenya has claimed two Olympic titles, 5 World Championships and other 93 victories in Marathon Majors! In doing so they have also broken 5 times the WR. Coming late, Kenya has already overtaken the US place as the historically dominant marathon nation. On the African side Ethiopia have also started climbing positions, especially in the last 20 years, to increase his tally of victories, that started in the 1960s.

Do you agree with our analysis of the men´s marathon international scene or do you have your own favourite?

WR performances by country and repeating athletes

LINHAS DE TORRES MARATHON (22/05/2021 – 97)

Starting area
BIB number

After 460 days not wearing a bib number for an “official” competition, we were back on a starting line. We travelled to Mafra, in Portugal, for the Linhas de Torres Running Challenge, an athletic event organized among others by the Portuguese Army, and with modalities of 100k individual or by teams, 42k on foot or on horseback and 10k.

Obviously, we opted for the marathon distance, for a demanding trail course with 1600 meters D+ (and another 1300 meters of descent). The route going from Mafra to Torres Vedras follow the lines of Portuguese defensive forts built to face the Napoleonic invasions of the 19th century.

With just over a hundred participants, and the start on one side of the Mafra National Palace, declared a World Heritage Site, you cannot ask for a better return to the competition. In addition, the meteorological forecast accompanies, with a predicted temperature of 18⁰C and clouds, instead of the high 20⁰C on previous days.

In Portugal they love trails, and races of this type are always demanding. In a semi-autonomous regime, there are only 4 supply points on the route. That means carrying a backpack, although used to it, is not a big deal.

Shortly after the start, I meet once again an old acquaintance from my times in the UK, Tiago Dionisio, an avid marathoner, and ultra-runner, with more than 700 to his credit. However, knowing what lies ahead, each keeps his own pace.

The route is mostly through wooded areas, in which the rugged terrain forces you to look where putting your feet to avoid falls. With continuous ups and downs, it is a constant leg breaker. I try to maintain my running cadence on the ascents, although the steep descents slowing down are also punishing to the quadriceps.

Landscape
One of the few road sections

The second refreshment station is at the highest point of the route. In the 23.4 kilometres, at the top of the Hermitage of Nossa Senhora do Socorro, there are bifanas, soup, bananas, energy bars and nuts available. I stop briefly to have some fruit and refill the backpack. The next checkpoint is 13 kilometres away.

Although the next 2 or 3 kilometres are downhill, the climbs are not over yet. With the legs already tired, I take a breath and start walking up the hardest slopes. I see possible to finish under 5 hours.

Arriving at the last checkpoint in the 36.3k I have been running for 4h15m and Torres Vedras can be seen in the distance. In a “road” marathon at these stages the worst is over. Here, though, there is still much to go, and new trails follow one after another.

Finally, I cross the finish line with 5.27.22 for one of the toughest marathons I have come across, second only to the Trionium Picnic in the UK. My second worst time ever in the Pheidippides distance, although happy to return to official competitions on a highly demanding course.

With the calendar shyly opening, we can start making some competition plans. Hopefully, we have already passed the worst of this pandemic.

On horse marathon participant
Getting a rest at the finish line