24km: Penedes 360 Trail 2019
September 28th 2019: After the disappointment of missing a personal best in the Sabadell half marathon 3 weeks earlier, I was super relaxed the night before the Penedes Trail 360: a 22km race entitled "Mitja d'Ull de Llebre". The majority of my training was on flat asphalt in Barcelona on the paseo (prom), so I was totally unprepared for a trail with any elevation. And this made this race one of the most enjoyable of the year: I had zero expectations on performance, just to experience my first mountain trail and get some more distance training for my upcoming marathon in San Sebastian (Nov 24th).
It was not only a first for me to hit elevation on trails, but also a first of another kind for this race. It was the inaugural year of the Penedes 360 challenge, giving athletes of various disciplines (running, cycling, walking) and distances (for the runners: 12km, 22km, 40km) an opportunity to discover Catalan wine country 🍷.
It was a really nice drive out to Penedes. The race start time was 9am (marathon was 8am), so I left Barcelona around 7am, arriving at 7.50am. Parked up (plenty parking!) and collected my race pack. The t-shirt was super cool; more of a cycling style shirt than what you get in running race packs. They also gave you a chip to carry, and a coloured band to wear around your wrist to indicate which race you were doing (so they could direct you on the trails).
There was a large sports hall close to the start line, so the facilities were good to prepare before the race. I had never showered onsite after a race before, but had come prepared this time as it was a trail, so was happy to see they were part of an onsite complex.
As we entered the starting area for the trail, one of the race team scanned my wrist chip: the guy in the photo -> He was explaining something to me, but he quickly saw I wasn´t understanding, so he switched to English. Thankfully, as he was telling me this wrist chip needed to be scanned at every refreshment station, or you were disqualified from the race. Important information for sure!
And so we prepared to start. I have learnt at this point to start races down the back. Provided it is not a gun start, it is much more relaxing - and rather than being passed out by a load of people early or later on, you can make your own pace and progress.
However, this race was a little different. The numbers were not large, so starting down the back still meant we were in one race pack. It was hard not to think, and know, I was one of the slowest there. But this is one of the reasons I enjoy the race experience; you learn how to live with being slower, manage pace consistency, and assure that with that, I make it comfortably to the finish line. Important practise for the bigger race days that would lie ahead.
We quickly left the town to get to the trails, and the group thinned out, as we ran through beautiful vineyards. I was laughing with some other runners when we were offered wine at one vineyard early on - I could imagine the physical state I would be in at the end of the race if I started drinking wine 2km in 🤣🤣.
At this point, I was running up any hills we met but, looking around at the other runners, I learnt around 3km to start walking up the steep hills but run as soon as I got to the top again (that takes some discipline - once you start walking, it can be hard to go back running!) I knew there was circa 420m elevation overall in the race, and as I selected TRAIL RUN for the first time on my watch, I was delighted to see the watch was telling me how much elevation I had done. This was only popping on the watch face as I was going upward, but very welcome as I had the race profile in mind, and was happily clocking off the elevation in 50metre chunks as we went. And when the downhills came, as I had perserved my energy on the uphills, I felt strong and confident with a good pace.
What wasn´t pretty close to the race profile published was the overall distance. The half marathon was advertised as 22km, but everyone on the day clocked up just a little over 24km. Not an issue for me - I was happy to get some extra marathon training in, and as it was the first year of the race, understandable. After completing it, I actually think keeping it as a 24km would be really great. It had the perfect mix of everything. It was a super race!
The general route was well marked, with white ribbons off the trees to mark the route. However, I was very thankful for a fellow mitja runner who called me back after I accidentally took the marathon route after one of the refreshment stations...that could have been a lot of fun, clocking an extra maybe 10km to my run to get back on course!!!
And then it happened....I went on a complete "runners high" a few km later, and fell flat on my face 🤣 I had just ran through a forest, jumped over fallen trees, climbed down mini ravines, walked across a "tree log" bridge and jumped over a stream; and I was thinking "Wow, this is one of the best experiences of my running life!" and then WHAM! I learnt one of the rules of trail running: always keep your focus. It was at that moment I understood why I had worn my husbands hydration backpack, and not carried my water tied to my hands. With full use of my hands, the fall at the 17km mark was better than it could have been. So with bloody knees, but still feeling on a trail high, off I went for, what I thought was, the final 5km of the race.
The refreshment stations were awesome! They had water, coke, sports drink and I am pretty sure wine also, plus fruits, nuts, sweets, etc. I never stop at refreshment stations but this is something I learnt to be a lot of fun on the trail - stand around for a few minutes, soak up the atmosphere from the other runners, wish each other luck and run off again. Oh, and making sure I scanned my wrist chip before I left!
As I hit 21km I was running downhill in a small village, flying along, high on runners joy, thinking I was about to see the finish line. But then suddenly, we were out running beside a motorway to get back on the trails. Next we were back out into vineyards with no end line in sight! The great thing at this point was the marathoners were now back on the same course as us since maybe 18km, so while the race was by no means busy, there were runners around, so I knew I was on course for home (rather than having taken a wrong turn and being off track!). With such feelings of elation from 16-21km, I had used up some valuable energy, so as we hit 23km (and still no end line), I started to lose my pace somewhat. However, then there it was: Penedes in the distance and the promise of the finish line! Sitting in the ambulance, getting cleaned up after the fall, I was super happy to have crossed the finish line at 2 hrs 44mins, with an average pace of 6min50s/km. The trails are certainly for me, and so I have decided to end my 2019 12-in-12 year with the Collserola CEC Half Marathon in mid-December. But meanwhile, there is the small matter of 42.2km in San Sebastian on Sunday, November 24th. 😱😱😱
I highly recommend the Penedes360 for your 2020 race diary. Race dates are already released - checkout the race website http://penedes360challenge.com/es/