Day 63 – Ronda to San Pablo de Buceite 53.4km

If our evening meal is at a restaurant then Ingo will mark the floor with chalk arrows accompanied with the word ‘eat’ and we will follow them there. Last night, the arrows took us over a wall and through a fence and finally to a supermarket café. Oh the luxury. I have adjusted to eating poor food quite well. I don’t want it but I know I have to have a full tank so just get on with it.

We couldn’t use the gym last night until 11pm as it was being used, so we had the use of two very small rooms. It was a very tight squeeze to get us all in and of course by 11, the lights were out and most people were snoring. At 1130, lou whispered “shall we move into the gym”, I woke my brain up then said yes. We crept out into the large empty hall, and found a nice dark spot. I slept very well.

When we started in the morning it was a bit fresh and once we had passed through the pretty looking town, we were heading uphill. I thought that today was going to be a fairly flat day but after a quick look at Gilberts profile I saw that this was not the case. As the day got lighter I soon saw that the surrounding scenery was really beautiful. Wild, green and dramatic. We kept climbing higher and higher. I was very happy and excited that I was running the penultimate day in the mountains.

As I came around the top the views became more and more impressive. The downhill was just as long and exciting. I was a little less cautious about my knees and just let go a bit. I no longer had to save myself. The road now begun to snake its way through the mountains, passing some pretty white villages perched in some incredible locations. Would we see Gibraltar today?

There were many viewpoints along the way that I stopped at. One of them was a few hundred metres up some steps. When I got up there I looked South to see if I could see the rock. There was a jagged rock, looking like a broken tooth far away. I looked down at the tourist map plaque and sure enough it was marked as Gibraltar!

I ran up the road and found Fred and told him. We sat on the wall there for a while. Ria caught us up and we took pictures. Then Fabrice and JB caught up too. Time to move on. After a few km, the road started to go down. I again went at a decent pace, enjoying the long mountain descent. My knees were hurting but I wasn’t listening.

Fred and I finished together again. Day 63 done. Just a short day tomorrow of 48km. And then it is all over. Tonight is our last night sleeping in a gym which I already know that I’ll strangely miss a little. I will write more tomorrow if I’m not too drunk (two beers).

Day 62 – Campillos to Ronda 63.7km

Last night was entertaining. We were only allowed half of the gym as there were kids in there playing football with the partition curtain down. This was only till around 8ish and although very noisy, was ok. We attracted the usual gathering of children who were fascinated with the travelling carnival. Todays bunch were a bit cheekier than the usual inquisitive innocence. Our bed was a long way away from the door though so they were no bother to me. After this there were the aerobics sessions that were going on till 10. These were in a separate room, but the music was very loud and bassy. This was some pretty mad dance music. It was a strange sight as when you looked around our half of the hall, everyone was carrying on as usual, eating, sorting kit out or sleeping, yet there was this music that was loud enough to fool you into thinking you were in a club. A little odder when our lights went out at the usual 9 and everyone was in bed and the music was still thumping away for another hour! Needless to say that sleep was a little on the lacking side.

It doesn’t matter that rest was lacking as there was only three days to push now. The forecast was for rain and we had some through the night, but the temperature was still good. Mission – the finish line at any speed. Fred and I were together. Our pace was slow but I was happy with this. I assumed that today was a flat day on the plains, but Fred informed me that we had our last decent climb of the whole race today. It would prove to be over 10km!

Today was not quite as buoyant as yesterday, but as we begun the climb, Fred put his music in his ears and the speed shot up! I sped up and held on for dear life. After about 30 mins, the music came out and the hill got steeper near the top. I prefer the steeper stuff, so went ahead. I was tired but felt like I should enjoy the last big hill. Once over the top, we had less than 20km to go and we both admitted how kaput we were. Freds shoulder was still hurting him a lot, and my feet and knees were their usual painful mess, but we reignited the lorry horn game again as it really helps pass the painful times.

Once into the city, we followed the arrows faultlessly, looking, to the pedestrians as though we knew our way around. We had a couple of kms running in the city before we were in the ugly, industrial area where our gym is. I had heard that this was a pretty city, but we have been unfortunate with our location. It was a tough day today, but not a bad day. The excitement of Gib looming on the horizon (not literally yet!) is pulling me along. I am very happy .

So, just two short days left, and the last day doesn’t count. The one race I was convinced that I would DNF on, is almost over and I should be getting my finisher t-shirt! I am even more surprised that I have managed to write my blog every night. Not bad seeing as a race blog usually takes up to a month!

Day 61 – Puente Genil to Campillos 54km

Wow, day 61! They are sounding better and better now. The body feels very weary, but the mind is strong. For today at least anyway.

We woke and were saved the hell of having another TE standard breakfast of the cheapest possible bread, cheese, ham and jam. Today the Spanish did our breakfast. They gave us cereal which was a nice change, though they only had hot milk. Apparently they don’t really eat cereal so didn’t know that everyone would want cold milk. Oh I miss cold non-UHT milk so much. But the change was definitely a good thing.

Today was a short day at 54km but to be honest, 30km would seem long now, but never mind, no time to think about such things, just tie the laces on my worn out shoes, put on my illegible race number and my old faithful Camelbak and put the head torch on for the first hour of darkness, then simply run.

We headed upwards for a while after leaving the city. It was mild and I had no need for a thermal again. Fred and I soon joined up again. His shoulder was worse today. For a while, he had to stop every five minutes to stretch it out. I feel for him as it won’t stop his race but he it will make the final days more painful than they already are. He’s a trooper though so the pace was still ok. Our speed over the last few days has not been quite so keen, as our motivation is simply to finish. Not to finish fast. This of course is fine. My 10th place is as good as mine now unless something goes badly wrong though of course this will not happen. No more racing, just running to finish. I want to see Gibraltar.

I was in an unusually bubbly mood today and was chatty and singing with Fred and Eiolf. My mood was high and so the day was rolling along nicely. There were even whole fields with no olives trees and we were then on the flat lands on a large but not too busy road. The marathon point of the day also served as our 4000km point of the race. We stopped and took photos before continuing. The wind was really picking up and it was making us duck our heads down. We soon started playing the incredibly simple and childish game of trying to get all the truckers that passed us to honk their horn. It’s amazingly satisfying when they do, and more importantly it passes time and keeps the mind active and positive. We soon entered the town and were done. Only three more left!

I asked Christian how his day had been when he finished, and he said it was awful because of the strong winds and the boring flat roads. I had to agree, but our entertainment for the day had neutralised these negatives. Awesome!

Tomorrow is 64km I think so this will no doubt be hard, but hopefully I will wake up with the same positive attitude as today. 3…

DAY 60 – Albendin to Puente Genil 71.3km

The last 70 km day. From here it is all downhill to the Med! Yesterday was a bit of a slog, and I was expecting today to be following a similar theme. It’s tough out on the road, but 6-8hrs is a short time to have to keep placing one foot in front of the other before showering and laying down and having one less day remaining. It’s a simple process that roles on regardless. All you have to do is hold on for dear life and just hope that nothing breaks and can’t be fixed.

Looking at the roadbook for todays route I saw that there were many road changes. A sign that the route could be a little interesting. Maybe I will start to see the back of the olives. The day started with a rather large climb. A bit of a surprise, but not a bad one. I think a big climb is a good way to start a day. I soon joined up with Fred and discovered that his shoulder was giving him a lot of grief. Fred is a tough cookie but every now and then he would walk and try to stretch it out. It looked like he was in a fair amount of pain.

It was initially quite chilly as the surrounding mountains were shading us from the sun, but when it finally hit, it was hot. There was a nice breeze though which kept me in a happy state. As the day progressed I didn’t feel any real good patches as I do most days. I was lacking my friend motivation! The day turned into a mental battle to the end. Usually I’m happy to have a long way to run through the finish town as it’s a change of scenery but not today. The last 10km saw now injection to pace as we both shuffled our way along. In hindsight, the town looked quite interesting, but today was just a drag, just waiting for the finish line to appear.

But it of course appeared, and we of course crossed it, which means the very satisfying facts that we no longer have any more Wednesdays to run, we only have 4 days left and I am one day closer to shaving my beard off (mostly).

As I was laying on my bed earlier, Louise came and introduced to an English chap who has lived here for a while since retiring. He heard about the race and was intrigued, so had to pop down to see it. It was really nice to chat with someone British with no language barrier. We chatted for a while before he left. He said that he may pop out tomorrow to see us on the course which would be very nice.

Tomorrow is 54km so should be finished pretty early if I can be bothered. Ciao.

Day 59 – Jaen to Albendin 60.0km

I had hopes that today would be the end of the seemingly endless fields of olive trees. I love olives, but I need a new view. I would prefer to be seeing wild unfarmed mountainsides, than the ordered lines of trees that are everywhere. Lou read that Spain is the biggest producer of olives in the world, and that Andalucia, the region we’re in now, is the olive capital of Spain. Dodgy facts!

The day was a little cool again, as we began to weave our way out of the city. This took a good half an hour and as we left, we were directed onto a cycle path the headed very steeply upwards. The path was the best cycle path I have been on as it snaked its way higher and higher up the mountain side. The city was situated at the base of the mountains and the higher we climbed, the more small towns we saw nestled in the folds of the mountains. The sun was coming up over the mountains and was beautiful.

As we climbed higher, it cooled down a bit and when we passed over the pass my hands were quite chilly. Fred and I were together again. We both felt quite exhausted so today was not going to be breaking any records. This was the first time I was happy to see the sun shining. My hands slowly thawed out and I felt good. We passed through a small town and then it was back into the olive trees for the final 45kms. The going was pretty tough today, but we kept running and the kms slowly rolled by.

The temperature kept rising, but I didn’t care too much. Maybe I have acclimatised a bit? Even Fred complained it was too hot. Then there was only 10km remaining and naturally the speed went up, but after a few kms it dropped a little. “I’m kaput” said Fred. I agreed. We just need to keep the forward momentum going for another hour.

We didn’t see the small town till the very last minute as we turned a corner. It wasn’t the easiest of days but it is another day complete. That means that there are no more Tuesdays to run, and ONLY 5 DAYS LEFT. Not that I’m excited or anything. Tomorrow is the last longish day at 71kms. I don’t care. I am currently a robot and just wake up and run until I cross the line. The distance matters not. Well not too much…

Day 58 – Baeza to Jaen 50.6km

I slept well last night! I did wake to hear some strong wind blowing outside though. It was also chilly in the hall. We had bread and jam breakfast in the hall again and there was still a nip in the air. A definite thermal top start! I even dug my thin gloves out. I was sure I would be overheating soon enough.

Just before the off, Fred said that we started with a large descent. I looked around quickly to locate Gerald. I saw him straight away and made my way over asking if I could check his profile card. Sure enough there was around 1 or 2 km in town, then we dropped with reasonable speed for around 10km. After that is was undulating. I guessed that I wouldn’t be running with Fred today as he would drop down the hill lots faster than me. I was proved right as soon as the road pointed down, he flew by on a mission. It would be nice to run alone again.

The descent was on a large, very busy road and although my pace wasn’t too bad, I was not enjoying it. I remembered that we did turn off of this road at some point, but I had no idea at what distance. I will just have to be patient. As I made my way down the hill I could see light pollution from two towns in the far distance. I guessed the larger of the two was Jaen, our destination for the day.

The dull, fast road continued for 20km before I was mercifully directed off to the second cp. The road now was very quiet, narrow and cut right through the olive trees. I was happier now. It was undulating again and this also was good for me. Things were about to get better though!

I now got directed left onto a rough road that was not tarmacked in places and this was great. The sun was out but it wasn’t ridiculously hot so for me was pleasant. Less than 20km to push. This really went quite quickly. The city was in view and looked pretty big. Should be a good gym! The city was located at the base of some mountains and between me and it was a bit of a dip, so I had to descend for a while, before the finishing climb. Once in the city, as is typical, I was directed up to the top of town. Up and up I went until I spotted the finish on a university campus.

We were initially told we couldn’t have the gym until 10pm which would have been a nightmare, but it finally got sorted out and I was setting up camp soon enough.

Tomorrow is 10km more at 60km and the next day is 10km more again at 71.3km. They will both be hard, but nothing really matters anymore other than forward motion.  Six day to go! No more Mondays!

Day 57 – Villaneuva del Arzobispo to Baeza 48.7km

Today was pretty short and thankfully wasn’t just a lot of suffering like some days have been. My knee warmed up a little but always hurt as usual. It still slows me down on the downhills. Not long left before I can rest it properly.

Fred and I had been asked last night whether we wanted to start in the fast group this morning. We both decided no. You spend less time in the sun and you finish earlier in the day. We ran together again in the first cool morning for a long time. I actually had to dig out my thermal again! It was very cloudy, but started to clear with the sunrise. Yoshetaka was running again today and was just behind. We were a trio. Fred and I could communicate adequately in English, but frustratingly Yoshi only has a little English so there is no real conversation. I would love to be able to sit down and chat with him.

I was feeling pretty average as we made our way along the fairly busy main road that was quite hilly today. We were again completely surrounded by miles and miles of olive trees. The sun slowly began to penetrate the clouds until we finally had blue skies. There wasn’t too far to push by this stage so I wasn’t concerned by it. Yoshi was currently second Japanese for the day, but after we had a speedy final cp, he was in first. I seem to be getting caught up in these Japanese races more frequently! It’s good fun though and I like seeing Yoshi looking so chuffed when he wins.

The final few kms were uphill, but we were in overdrive now. It didn’t matter as we were nearly done. We entered the crown and soon spotted the Hertz hire truck that marks the finish. 5:28 was our finish time. All three together. Yoshi was of course overjoyed. I now have a long afternoon to rest before we start the final Monday of this race. Yes, we have only 7 days remaining. This time next week I will be done (barring incident).

Day 56 – Villapalacios to Villanueva del Arzobispo 65.6km

The beds in the hotel were the same as the beds I slept on in the army. Terrible. Just a metal frame with noisy springs across the top with a foam mattress on top. You just sink in the middle. Blimey, straight into a whinge! Excuse me. I thought I had slept badly, but Lou informed me that I was making definite sleeping noises for most of the night. Excellent!

We awoke just before breakfast which was thankfully downstairs in the ‘restaurant’ in the hotel. Dinner the night before was a celebration of deep-fried food. Perfect trans-continental fuel. Breakfast was the usual fare of bread and jam with espresso coffee. They even toasted the bread. I really miss a good piece of toast. It was then off to the start for the day.

Fred and I started off at our normal sort of pace. Some of the faster guys in the group were ahead, but not as much as usual. People are tiring and most people have numerous issues that they have to manage daily. Eiolf was having to go a little slower as his hamstring was very painful. Christian Fatton has so many issues I forget most of them. He is incredibly strong-willed to still be pushing so hard at this late stage. Poor Ria is still off key. I hope she starts enjoying it again before the end. I looked behind after around 10km and saw someone I didn’t recognise. Fred looked and said it was the Japanese runner thomihiko (Spelling?). We never see him, so guessed he was making a big brave attack to be first Japanese for the day. I love this competition they have. They really seem to put so much into it even though they laugh after. He was travelling very fast and was gaining on us quickly. He then shot past us and disappeared up the road at a similar speed to Henry. Incredible! We guessed we would see him again before the end.

We had lovely overcast weather for most of the day again with the sun popping out a little later on. The terrain was hilly and visibility was excellent. We have been passing through olive country and it is quite extraordinary just how completely they have carpeted the entire scenery, no matter how steep the terrain with olive trees. As far as the eye can see!

The route was rolling for the first 50km then we had a 4km climb that took us to the final cp. As we left, Christian was just approaching. We continued and as usual, we accelerated a little smelling the finish line. With 4km remaining, we caught Thomihiko. We decided that we would run with him to the end. He was pretty broken though from his big effort and we dropped him. With just 800m left, Fred turned to look behind and suddenly accelerated saying Christian was close! I couldn’t believe it. He must have really chased hard to try and catch us. We were sprinting!

My god it must have looked ridiculous. We were ‘sprinting’ up a steep hill to the gym and the finish line. Christian was also going hard behind but wasn’t going to catch us now. We crossed the line about a minute (?) ahead of Christian in 7:10. I think we’re getting faster! It’s damn hard work but good fun.

Tomorrow is a mere 48.7km so should be done nice and early. We will be in a big town which is good, but it’s Sunday so being Spain, nothing will be open.

We have now been running for 8 weeks. We have just 8 days left and people are talking about Gibraltar all the time. I am tired and exhausted but very excited that this dream may soon be complete. There is also a piece of me that that doesn’t want this to end. Fred and I joke that we will catch a ferry to Africa and run to Cape Town.

8!

Day 55 – Lezuza to Villapalacios 55.1km

I am so happy that the mileage in Spain is not as high as in Germany. We are so close to finishing now but there are still over 500km left. Not exactly ‘just around the corner’! The problem is that my body seems to think it’s done. It always amazes me during a long single stage race how much you can keep pushing, but as soon as you cross the line and sit down, standing and trying to walk again seems incredibly difficult and painful. Maybe the same is happening here, just on a much larger scale?

After a really nice meal last night, my sleep was broken but ok. I woke feeling a little better than the day before. 55km was all that had to be done before I arrived at that finish town, and more importantly, the hotel that Lou had booked for the night! We were in a hotel as the accommodation was said to be a dirty garage that smelt of oil so we thought we would spoil ourselves for the final time before Gibraltar. We started under a star studded sky, but within 10 minutes the stars could no longer be seen due to a heavy cloud cover. Someone had mentioned rain the night before. The road was quiet and heading gently upwards. As it became light we could see many wind farms on the skyline and the oncoming sunrise was showing its beauty once again. I may not be too keen on hot places, but you do get incredible sunrises and sunsets most days.

I was once again with my French buddy, Fred and soon Ria joined us for a while, and we chatted our way along for a while. Ria dropped off the back and we pushed on. Today’s route had a few long straight bits, but overall was loads more interesting than the day befores bore fest!

As the French say, I had ‘good sensations’ in my legs today so things felt a little easier too. Just to be clear though, it was still hard. It will all be hard now. It was warm but the sun was still hidden so I was quite comfortable. Would we get rain? I sort of wished we would.

Onwards towards the finish. We crested a small hill and saw what had to be the finish village 5km away. We overtook a Japanese man on the final bit and crossed the line together. The Japanese man who I had never spoken to came to me a told me he was 67! The ages of people here never ceases to amaze me.

The hotel room is basic to say the least, but it is clean and fly free (almost). Complete luxury!

Tomorrow is 65.6km which looks to be all on the same road. Dull. The next day though is 48.7km so that will keep me going. We are now into single figures for the days remaining which is quite extraordinary to me.

9

Day 54 – Tarazona de la Mancha to Lezuza 57.4km

Another relatively short day? Yes I suppose it is, but I’m not sure it really felt like it. Today was hard work. There is not a great deal to say about today, so I won’t. Fred and I were together again from the start. A lot of people are getting more and more weary, the further we get. Myself included! If you went back 4-5 weeks, there would have been a faster start with more people near the front. Today, Wolfgang and Gilbert went off the front quite fast. But after 20km of an average pace, there was no-one else close by.

The road was long and straight. Dull! There weren’t even hills! Today’s saving grace though was the fact that it was overcast all day and the sun didn’t show. After the 4th cp in the town of Barrax, we turned right and with this turn came the fierce headwind! The scenery was certainly a little more interesting, but this was a case of head down and push on.

We then turned left after 10km and the wind died down to a manageable strength. Now, if I could just find some energy! I felt very tired and was looking forward immensely to the end. With about 25km to go Fred and I guessed that we could beat 6:30 for the day. We finished at a shade over 6:29!

Tomorrow is a little shorter at 55.1km but I have a funny feeling that it will be a grind. There are only ten days remaining but they will all be hard. Never mind. It’ll be worth it I’m sure!