On the 20th of May I participated in the Estrela Grande trail run, in the portuguese Serra da Estrela. I was going to be in the area anyways, since I’m currently writing on a hiking guide for northern Portugal.
While looking online for some races I could participate in, I stumbled upon this 15 k trail, which I was already looking at for my book!
It seemed like a nice variation to do the research for a potential day hike while running a race.
15 kilometers is not very long, at least not in comparison to the other distances of the Estrela Grande trail, which were 26, 49 and 109 kilometers. I’m still so new to running that doing any of these races wouldn’t be smart at all. Especially considering that these aren’t easy kilometers on a road but mostly harsh climbs and descends on rocky trails.
I had a friend with me and we stayed in the youth hostel in Penhas de Saúde, which was a very cheap and friendly accomodation.
On race day I woke up early and was super excited: the skies were blue and it wasn’t too windy. Having been to Serra da Estrela quite a few times, I know it can be very different, even in summer. Snow and fog, or simply a lot of rain, are quite common up here. After all it’s the mountain range around the highest peak of continental Portugal, Torre.
We drove to the village of Manteigas, where my race would start and finish. I watched the participants of the other races start and couldn’t wait for the starting signal of my own run.
The general mood amongst the other starters was great and the organization of the race was so far flawless. Finally the race began!
Km. 1 and 2: From the start it went downhill through the village and I overtook quite a lot of people. It was 93 runners finishing and I think maybe just as many started, if no one quit. Once we left Manteigas a dirt road started to climb up into the pine tree forest.
Km 3 to 5: the forest road was partly shady and it was quite warm, maybe 25 degrees. Running seemed impossible and no other participant in my sight was even trying. At this point I really enjoyed the race: uphill but not too steep and I felt that walking fiercely uphill is definitely one of my strengths. There were 5 people right ahead of me and a group of 4 behind me.
Km. 6 and 7: is where it got really bad. The markings left the sand road and climbed up the mountain side on a steep single track. I couldn’t hold my speed and eventually even had to stop walking to take some quick breaks. So far I had drunken half a liter of Isostar and ate one ultra jelly.
I reached the resupply station by the waterfall poço do inferno and had a guy fill up my nearly empty isostar bottle with water. Without any further break I continued and from the parking the trail went about 30% steep uphill. I could see the people ahead of me climbing up the rocks, maybe another 150m above me.
Km 8 and 9: the muscles in my legs started to have no more energy to climb. Every step sucked so hard and the trail just wouldn’t stop. Soon I had left the forest and was above the tree line. I drank some sips of Coke (with sugar and caffeine) but it didn’t really help. I saw the other people struggling but felt how I was falling behind. After a while the climb turned less steep and I could at least walk slowly without stopping all the time. After a while I reached the top of the mountain and could look down into the glacial valley that leads to Manteigas. The village was far down below.
Km. 10 to 13: now it went downhill but the trail was still hard. An ancient cobblestone track with sand between the rocks. Likely one of the roman roads. I ran a lot but even walked cause my legs still had not recovered from 90 minutes of climbing. I drank more coke and had another ultra jelly. I overtook the group of 4, that had walked past me on the climb. I wanted to run downhill as fast as possible but I had to realize that I couldn’t perform so well anymore. So cramped up muscles!
Km. 14: since the first kilometer of the race was downhill the last had to be uphill. The paved road into the village reflected the heat and everything just felt miserable. I could hear the music and the speakers from the finish but it was still about 80 height meters above me. Two other women were around me and they also struggled. The street up was so steep, the sidewalk was stairs!
I had to pause every few steps and took some more sips of coke. It felt so ridiculous: I was like 300 meters from the finish line and instead of sprinting in there I took a break on the stairs. But I just couldn’t bring my legs to do any more uphill. In the end I walked into the finish, just behind the two women that I had really wanted to overtake.
But there was just no energy in my legs left. If I could have continued the way I felt the first 5 kilometers of the climb I would have finished about 20-30 minutes earlier.
An overview of my pace. You can see how kilometer 8 cost me almost half an hour. And then the last kilometer, where I was just completely pumped out.
I want to come back in 2018 and finish under 2 hours (which only 3 female starters managed this year!)