The Transgrancanaria classic 2023 – It’s not about the race – it’s about the journey.
A personal blog about why and how I trained for the TransGranCanaria classic – 128km trail running race.
Why I signed up for the TransGranCanaria classic
Like a lot of my adventure plans, it started during a long, wet day out mountain biking. Last October, my friends Sarah and Kelly-Anne visited me in the wilds of Mayo for a training session. On the bike we started chatting about doing an event together. The goal was to create a focus for the winter and to do some base training for the adventure racing year ahead.
We played around with a few ideas and one thing became very clear: We wanted to meet somewhere with winter sunshine. That’s when I thought of the Canary Islands.
Back in 2017, I spontaneously signed up for the marathon distance of the TransGranCanaria with my adventure buddy Linda. Ever since I wanted to go back and have a crack at the longest version. I must have been convincing. By the end of the weekend, we decided we would all sign up for the TransGranCanaria classic 128km, 7000m elevation.
A goal, a focus, a journey
For me, a big part of setting race goals or creating challenges is to establish a focus. I like having a target, because it helps me to make the most of the journey getting there. On the way I learn more about myself and it gives me a personal ‘every-day-purpose’ that is just for me. Of course, it’s great when the result on race day goes to plan. But more often than not, unexpected adventures will occur during ultra-events. It’s all about how you manage the unexpected. That’s what I like about it.
But how to prepare for an ultra-run like the TransGranCanaria?
With just over 3 months to go, I knew I had to get my training more specific to prepare for this challenge. After all this would be the longest trail running race I have ever done! And that by over double the distance.
Assessing the status quo
In the past 6 or 7 years, I focused mostly on the bike. At the moment, I would consider myself a long-distance cyclist and more of a recreational runner that rocks up to the odd race and sometimes does surprisingly well. In saying that, I did spend most of my 20’s running. During that time I competed in many events such as the OCC (Orsières-Champex-Chamonix), Marathon Des Sables etc. However back then, I was living in a different body. I weighed at least 6kg less which made me light and fast on the hills. Now I’m ranging between 60 and 64kg. I have strong quads and a very different running technique. Given these changed circumstances it was time to reassess my strengths, adapt and make a plan for the TransGranCanaria.
Know your body and work with your strengths
We are all different and all our bodies have their own unique make-up and history. There is no one shoe fits all. As most runners will know, even your own favourite shoes might become too small. All because your body is changing over time.
I believe in a personalised and ‘female specific’ approach to my training. My coach Jen Segger joined forces with me again this winter. She put together a training plan that complemented my female physiology. The goal was to help identify my strengths as well as focusing on the areas I needed to work on.
I wanted to gradually build up the distance, while giving my body what it needs to cope with the increased intensity. Meaning, I had to plan for a lot of training that didn’t just involve running.
Making a plan to train for the TransGranCanaria – Many roads lead to Rome
My lifestyle is changing throughout the year. During Rachel’s Irish Adventures off-season, the Irish winter, I have more time to train than during the summer. All the same, even in the busy summer months, training is important. The key is to schedule sessions that maximise the training effects in the short windows I have available to train. This is how I ended up doing quite a lot of high intensity interval sessions last summer. Therefore, my base running fitness was not terrible, but I hadn’t done any runs longer than 40km.
I had about a total of 3 months to get ready for the TransGranCanaria, but within that I luckily had very little time constraints regarding how much time I could put in per week. I had time to build up slowly to prevent injuries. Which, I realise, is a very fortunate situation to be in.
Terrain & Conditions:
It was a different story with the training terrain available. My travel plans for the winter were already set when I signed up for the TransGranCanaria. Therefore, I didn’t choose where I spent my winter based on the ‘ideal trail running training conditions’. Meaning, I had to adapt my training plan to whatever terrain was available – even if there weren’t any trails with much elevation gain around.
I wouldn’t often choose a travel destination based on ‘ideal training conditions’. In general, I believe in adapting my training to my lifestyle rather than building my life around training. Of course, I like travel destinations with beautiful trails. However, I believe that ‘having to adapt’ to different or less ideal conditions will make you stronger overall. It’s all about the balance 😉.
Don’t forget to adapt!
A good example for how important it is to be able to adapt was my time in Thailand last winter. It was hot and humid. Therefore, I had to get out every morning at 5.30am just before sunrise or my training window was closed. I got up at 4:30am for 3 months almost every day.
Furthermore, I needed to adapt my gear to the heat and get a new pack. I needed one that can take a bladder as I needed 4 litres on most of the runs. Never in my life did I sweat this much.
The heat and the heavy pack forced me to slow down, and stay in zone 2 for most of my training. When doing intervals, I slowed down after even more. All to prevent my heartrate from going through the roof or my body from overheating.
Northern Thailand – hills hills hills
In October & November I spent 5 weeks in Northern Thailand based in Chiang Mai. The terrain was steep, super technical and there was a lot of jungle bashing and bush whacking. Running the trails of Northern Thailand was more on the adventure racing side of training. This also meant I got in some serious vertical training, hitting near and over 10,000m some weeks. There was a big focus on eccentric exercises and fast downhill running. The goal was to ensure my quads and hip flexors were strong. Afterall, they needed to be able to take the load for all the accents in the race.
Island life – CrossFit & yoga
At the end of November we relocated to Koh Lanta, an island off the Krabi province on the east coast of Thailand. The highest ‘peak’ I could run up on the island was about 40 metres high, while the temperature and humidity reached new dimensions. From this point on my running training changed to intervals on the flat, more road running and a completely different set of cross training.
In Chiang Mai I joined a gym and attended yoga classes. During those weeks I didn’t need much strength work as my legs were already loaded from the climbs. Instead, I did a short daily core session and joined yoga classes, usually directly after a training session. I did a lot of vinyasa flow classes to stretch and use my muscles in a different way.
Besides that, I also got in 2 bike sessions every week (I will never travel without my bike again). For me, cycling really is the perfect cross training. Since I mostly stayed in the hills, it was another way to build leg strength without all the pounding and heavy impact on the joints.
Once I relocated to Koh Lanta I joined the CrossFit gym ‘Fit on Lanta‘. With no hills around I needed a different strategy to load the legs and started to lift weights. I didn’t have much experience with CrossFit before but thoroughly enjoyed joining the community on the island. Besides getting the training effects I wanted, it turned out to be great fun to get into a new sport and I met a lot of amazing and super strong people.
With more strength work in the gym my yoga practice became a bit calmer, and I joined a lot of yin yoga classes at the Oasis Yoga Bungalows where we stayed. I enjoyed the deep and gentle stretches.
I personally set race goals to have something to work towards because I enjoy the ‘work’. For me, getting out there, running, cycling, training is what keeps me sane on an everyday basis. It’s my outlet, it’s my passion, it’s what gives me balance and purpose. That’s exactly why I believe it’s very important to be nice and gentle with yourself while training for a race, and don’t forget to keep things fun!
Finding your community
One of the main reasons I like trail running is because it gives me the opportunity to explore new places and share the experience with others. Therefore, I absolutely loved the vibe in Chiang Mai and was super happy to become a part of the trail running community there.
One of my highlights was to join Bram and Chris with friends on a trail running and coffee weekend – check out Chiang Mai trail running if you are every in the area.
I also entered a trail running race in the Chiang Mai province ‘for fun’ and ended up having a random experience with a surprisingly good outcome. If you want to know more you, I wrote a blog about the Doi Nhok Trail – a beautiful nightmare.
Don’t forget about massages.
Talking about self-care I can’t forget to mention massages. While I know that I was very lucky to enjoy several good massages a week in Thailand, I also try to find a good masseuse wherever else I base. I look at it as an investment in my training and it helps me to speed up recovery and prevent injuries and niggles.
Nutrition is probably the biggest and most important part of self-care and your training strategy. It’s an integral part of recovery, injury prevention and will ultimately determines the results you get from your training.
My nutrition strategy these days also follows a women’s specific approach which changed things a lot from what I was doing in my 20s. In 2016 I even ran into a serious problem during a race in France, you can read up on what happend here ‘Nutrition & Hydration before, during and after events‘.
Even though I didn’t feel like the way I fuel affected me at the time, I would say I know better now. I’m aware of my protein intake, especially right after a training session, I don’t go to train without breakfast and I put ‘low carb’ electrolytes in my bottle because I rather eat my calories.
Besides that I like to keep things casual and enjoy food. Chiang Mai is the mecca for coffee lovers so after training, myself and Iszy choose a different trendy café to work at every day. Thai curries are delicious and why wouldn’t you eat at least 2 coconut a day if they just grow on trees around you.
Training in Gran Canaria for the TransGranCanaria 2023
Thanks for following my training journey so far, you’ll be happy to hear I finally made it to Gran Canaria. I arrived 4 weeks before the race and decided to base out of Agaete, right on the doorstep of all the hills. 8 days before the race my coach Jen spontaneously decided to come over to visit. It was great to finally meet up and explore the trails together.
Scouting the route for the TransGranCanaria
My training schedule was pretty intense up until about a week before the race. Since I was already around, I used the time to get to know the actual race course of the TransGranCanaria 2023.
Firstly, I ran the whole course in 2 long training days. Then, I came back to certain sections of the route to train on the course again. It was a big advantage to be able to get familiar with the terrain and to get to know the course. Besides that, I got to see the first half of the course, which I knew I would be running in the dark during the TransGranCanaria – the race would start at midnight.
Gear choices for the TransGranCanaria
Based on what I learned while training on the race course I could confirm or adjust my gear decisions, which made me feel a lot more confident about my set up for the TransGranCanaria classic.
I was running in Brooks Cascadia. Over the year my feet have gotten wider, and they keep growing. I find this shoe very comfortable + it offers more cushioning compared to other shoes, which made tarmacked road sections during the race more comfortable.
Leki Ultratrail Fx. One superlite poles. In my opinion these are the best choice for trail running poles currently on the market. Looking around during the race I’d say most of the trail-running community agrees with me.
One learning regarding these poles: In wet and/or dirty conditions maintenance is very important. Clean your poles and use some sort of lube to maintain the mechanism that allows parts of it to slide into the other. I started the race with a set of poles that were ‘stuck’ after the last training without realising. Luckily my support crew brought a spare set and had them for me after at the first check point.
I raced with the Salomon ADV Skin 5L. Since I knew from scouting the route that there will be a lot of sections where I wouldn’t need poles, I also used the custom quiver attachment so I could quickly pull them in and out. I didn’t like the other options of storing poles in the side or back pockets, it would either be very difficult to get in and out or be in the way of my arms while running.
It was mandatory to bring 2 litres of water, so I ran with 4 soft bottles. I didn’t use the bladder since I don’t think bladders are very practical during races and avoid them when possible.
The mandatory gear list for the race was long. In the previous year a cold weather spell led to a lot of runners suffering from hypothermia. Therefore, a thermal base layer & bottoms, rain jacket & wind/rain proof pants and gloves where part of the ‘cold kit’ and had to be carried during the whole race.
We got lucky with the weather though. It didn’t rain, the temperatures were mild, and it wasn’t windy. I ran the whole course in the same clothes I started in: Running shorts & an ultra-light/quick dry sleeveless Columbia top. In the morning I added a hat to the mix. I must point out though that I probably also stayed warm enough because I never stopped moving and sure us Irish are hot stuff.
The TransGranCanaria classic route
The route of the TransGranCanaria changes at least slightly every year. You can see the TransGranCanaria classic route of 2023 below.
Even though all official statements say 128km it was actually 132km.. but who is counting 😉.
The route probably won’t be the exact same next year, however the terrain and most sections can expected to be similar. Here are some notes about the route of the TransGrancanaria 2023 that might be helpful to runners to prepare for future events.
Start of the GransGranCanaria classic in Las Palmas to Tenoya (11.4 km +373m -211)
We started at Playa de Las Canteras in Las Palmas. After running along the beach, we ascended on dirt roads and single-track paths. There was a relatively gentle and runnable incline for about 6km, followed by a short fast descent and another short incline to the first CP in Tenoya (only drinks and no external assistance). I could run all of this section except for the short steep accent into the CP. The race started off well for me, except for my stomach starting to act up. From the start I felt bloated and knew I would have to escape to the ditch a few times during the day.
The TransGranCanaria was the first race I had ever started at midnight. Turns out I ate too much and too often during the day, and I was now going to pay the price for all the snacking. However, I immediately decided that this was just something I had to manage. Meaning, I was not going to allow it to take my focus and fun away. Going forward, that was exactly how I played it out!
Tenoya to Arucas (7.9km +374m -315m)
A good stretch of this section followed a dried-up riverbed. Meaning, there was a lot of loose rock underfoot, calling for good ankle stability.
A hike up to the highest point of the section was followed by a steep single-track descent. It was a bottle neck, but I managed to overtake a few other runners and the downhill run felt comfortable and fun. That’s when I realised my strength during this race would be the technical downhills, this is where I could make gains.
The CP in Arucas was in a sports centre. My crew, Jen & Iszy, waited for me there. It was a big advantage to have them as assistance. They switched my empty bottles for full ones, handed me a few snacks and, most importantly, had a set of poles ready to switch with the ‘stuck’ poles I was carrying.
Arucas to Teror (13.3km +820m -456m)
Section number 3 started up easy but quickly turned into steep ascents for which the poles were a big help. Parts of the route were also muddy and slippery since it had rained in the previous days.
Teror to Moya/Fontanales (11.5km +957m -547m)
There was a lot of climbing in this section. One I especially remember as being very long. I tried not to burn the energy of my legs too much so I power hiked some of the uphill that I probably would have run during a shorter session. I spent some time side by side with my friend Kelly-Anne, but at this point in the race, talk was limited and everyone was just focused on ticking off the kilometres until we would hit daylight.
Moya to El Hornillo (9.7m +616m -858m)
After one long climb up from the town, there was some beautiful rolling terrain and a 1km fast road section. This then took us onto, for me the most fun section of the course: A super technical, steep and twisty downhill.
Half way down, the dawn light started breaking through, the views were incredible and I felt so grateful to now be at this point. From here on, I knew the course was a lot more forgiving and easier to get into a flow. All the same, the legs now had 50km in them and over half the elevation so the pace of ‘flow’ slowly started to change.
Towards the bottom of this section, I caught up with a French guy called Maxime and we started chatting. We seemed to run at a similar pace and stuck together for a couple of hours. We never stopped talking and I absolutely loved his company. More runners joined in for the chat like a man from Bolivia, an Icelandic woman and a Finnish man. For me, this was one of the highlights- connecting with runners and like-minded people from all over the world and just living in the moment together. During this time, the race felt more like a big training day out with buddies and I was in my element.
El Hornillo to Artenara (13.3km +1089m -644m)
The CP at El Hornillo was unassisted so my crew couldn’t meet me to help. Therefore, I only quickly topped up my water and continued with my new running buddy Maxime. The next section I knew very well since I ran it several times for training.
Firstly, there was a long drag uphill, a very steady incline which if training I would run but this game was about preserving the legs. Then, at the top, there was a beautiful single trail through a magical forest area, so nice under foot to run and the views down the valley were stunning. After a fast downhill into Artenara, I met my crew again.
I’m not used to having a crew and really didn’t know what to expect or what I needed. For some reason, once I hit the CP area, I was less calm and just wanted to get out of there. My food intake was poor due to my stomach situation, and I couldn’t even think about eating all those delicious wraps I had prepared. What did go down easy were cans of coke and boiled baby potatoes with a good dose of salted Kerry Gold butter and Achill sea salt!
Artenara to Tejeda (12.3km +753m -906m)
This section started off with a nice steady hike up, the poles were useful for all these longer hiking sections. My new buddy Maxime and I took it handy, stopped for a few pictures and he took out the GoPro. We talked about everything from his race plans going to Diagnaloe de Fous this year, to just how grateful we were to be having this experience traversing the island. Time passed very fast and after a super fun downhill single track, we were in Tejeda, the town of the Almonds.
Tejeda to El Garañón (11.5km +1129m – 495m)
After a short decent, we were led into the longest climb of the day. This is where I started to just lose focus and for some reason started daydreaming a bit. I wasn’t sore and felt relatively fresh but just seemed to lose momentum. I told Maxime and Claire, a French woman who was with us for a while, to go on.
In hindsight, I should have pushed on harder – but that’s easy said now😊After an out and back to the famous Roque Noble, it was an easy few kilometre to the next CP. Jen and Iszy were waiting for me. I’m sure they must have thought I was a bit of a zombie. I couldn’t tell them what I needed. All I wanted was to keep moving.
El Garañón to Tunte (12.5km +286m -1076m)
After a short uphill we ran mostly downhill in this section. From here on, the course followed the same route I did back in 2017, when I ran the marathon distance. At this point of the race, the 84km lead racers started to pass me out. They were moving at a serious pace, and I got a great kick out of cheering them on. The downhill was mostly cobblestone & switch backs with beautiful views over the valley.
Tunte to Ayagaures (12.1km +429m -1011m)
So close but yet so far!
Arriving into the town of Tunte, I realised I wasn’t to far from the finish. At this point I saw my crew for the last time. I managed to eat some chocolate corn cakes laced with peanut butter. Jen walked up the next short climb out of the town with me, which gave me a bit of a boost.
Even though I did the course only 3 weeks before, I had totally forgotten about the long drag of a hill in this section. I ended up slowing down quite a bit. Again, I couldn’t seem to keep my focus and became a bit complacent that I was going to get to the end anyway.
Once I hit the top, there was a long downhill single track into the next CP. I had a few stops in the ditch but keep moving. When a woman passed me out, I decided that I needed to put the foot down a bit and my focus was back on. That’s when I hit the final CP, which was unassisted. Another woman came in at the same time and I decided to move on fast.
Ayagaures to Meta Parque Sur – the finish line of the TransGranCanaria classic 2023(14km +237 -511)
I left the last CP and for some strange reason decided to ring Iszy to ask if I should speed it up for the next section. Why would I do that? Maybe I just needed someone else to think for me 😊I could hear Jen in the background saying to fuel up and give it everything. And that is exactly what I did. My focus came back and I started pushing it.
After about a 1km steady climb that I managed to slowly jog, there was a fast single track downhill and then a flat rocky riverbed and gravel section until the end. My watch said I was hitting 5.15 per kilometre and I felt strong. The woman behind me wasn’t in sight anymore but the woman in front of me was speeding up to. Although she was in sight, I couldn’t catch up to her.
When I passed a guy on the side of the path struggling, I told him to get up and get in behind me until we cross the finish-line. That’s how we ended up finishing the last 4km together. Coming towards the finish-line, I spotted Jen and Iszy cheering me on. All I could focus on was getting over that finish-line.
After the TransGranCanaria
I crossed the finish line of the TransGranCanaria in Maspalomas just under 19 hours after we started from Las Palmas. This means I finished 9th woman and in 50th position overall. Of the 556 runners who started only 338 finished the race. Therefore, the dropout rate was almost 40%.
Once I had crossed the line I didn’t know if I was happy with my performance or how I should feel about it all. It took me a few days to reflect on the experience. A lot happened during the short 19 hours of the race, but the journey it took to cross the finish line was over 3 months long.
Just after the race, I felt so grateful to have Iszy and Jen at the finish line to just take over, get me food, a change or clothes and bring me home. It was great having their company to share the experience.
At the award ceremony I got to share the stage with some of the best trail runners in the world. It was one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ moments for me to be on the stage with Courtney Dauwalter and these elite runners.
Lots of learning
While I’m proud that I could finish the TransGranCanaria and rank in the top 10, I also feel like there are a lot of things I could have done better. I’m taking away a lot of learning from this race. However, there are even more things I did right, and I feel proud of myself for.
1) Trust in the plan!
Picking a goal and believing in the process to get there is so important for motivation and letting go to enjoy the journey. Big thanks to coach Jen for helping me take the guess work out and having confidence in me.
2) Cross training & self-care
To achieve a running goal ‘running a lot’ is obviously an important aspect, BUT! there are so many other elements to keep the body & mind in tune. What really helped me was cross-training and focusing on good self-care.
Initially my goal was to ‘just cross the finish-line before the cut-off’. It eventually turned into ‘maybe get in under 24hrs’. When making plans it’s certainly good to be realistic and humble, but sometimes we must leave room to surprise ourselves.
4) Food before the race
Should I ever start a race in the middle of the night again I will approach the situation differently. Resting for some hours before/ going to bed in the afternoon, getting up and having breakfast and pretending it is the morning might work better for me.
5) When things go wrong: Manage it!
Although I had stomach issues for the entire race I was so happy with how I managed it. I patiently dealt with it along the way and didn’t let my discomfort destroy my experience. My learning here is that no matter what happens ask yourself: “Can I manage this?” If the answer is yes, then do and just get on with it.
6) Plan your vibe!
Prepare some good playlists! I didn’t and Spotify ‘Florence & the Machine radio’ was just too tame and calmed me so much, it nearly sent me to sleep. Btw, if anyone has some good trail running playlists – hit me up!
7) Know the route
Get out to recce the route. It was such a huge advantage having trained on the course and knowing the profile. Although I really do love the element of surprise, this is certainly a big advantage. It helped me to mentally break things up during the race.
8) Prepare your crew
I have never had a crew meet me at locations every few hours. I had no idea how to prep them or myself for this. It worked out well but for some reason I almost felt awkward every time I saw them. I didn’t know what I wanted, and they obviously couldn’t read my mind. I would approach this situation a lot differently next time to make better use of it as well as ensuring they feel better equipped to help.
After a solid winter of training, I’m feeling ready to hit the Adventure Racing season
Coming up next – Expedition Ozark in April 2023