That’s about all the Spanish you get, because that’s pretty much the extent I used in Spain. JUST KIDDING! I used a lot more than that, but it wasn’t super easy because it turns out, in the Basque region they have their own dialect of Spanish. So oftentimes, just using English + charades was more useful.
Anyway, I did a call for questions on my insta story the other day asking for questions about the race, and a big THANK YOU to everyone who responded! I will get to all of these as I give you the rundown on my Spanish adventure.
Some of the basics first: The race is called the Basque Ultra Trail Series (BUTS) Bilbao-Gasteiz. This race has been on the radar only since mid-January or so. After the Long Trail project, I have really felt like the there is some unfinished business of mine on the trails, and some of that I don’t want to wait too long to begin to tackle. The biggest item on that list? UTMB, or the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc. This race is step 1 in gathering the points to be able to enter that lottery, and I found it via the UTMB search engine which helps you filter by months you want to target, point values, etc. I didn’t research things too much beyond that other than taking in the basics of the elevation gain (a lot!) And the profile – straight up and straight down!
.This race has been on the radar only since mid-January or so. After the Long Trail project, I have really felt like the there is some unfinished business of mine on the trails, and some of that I don’t want to wait too long to begin to tackle. The biggest item on that list? UTMB, or the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc. This race is step 1 in gathering the points to be able to enter that lottery, and I found it via the UTMB search engine which helps you filter by months you want to target, point values, etc. I didn’t research things too much beyond that other than taking in the basics of the elevation gain (a lot!) And the profile – straight up and straight down!
I also got several questions about the field at this race: all the stats on age, gender, etc. Unfortunately, I don’t have many answers on this for you because the results – here – can’t be easily filtered by gender, age, etc. This is a bummer – and a stark contrast from the ease of the tracking in general…..I actually think Ironman needs to hire these guys because their tracking worked so well the whole time. But they could use a little help with the organizing of the results! So, from my observation: not a lot of women. At all. I’d say I saw less than 10% women in the race of 205 people, and that’s probably being a little generous. There was though a large age range, again, from my observation….but, I’m not sure how many of them were finishers. Despite that, they were offering equal prize money across genders for both the race and the series. This is huge! They were also super excited that I was coming to race and went above and beyond in all things to help make sure I was sorted. I was given splits throughout the race and was interviewed at the finish line as I would guess the men were. They are doing many of the right things to bring women to the event, and I hope are having more discussions about how to continue to attract more women!
The race itself is 110km, with 5,500 meters of climbing advertised (I had a few bonus kilometers from my own fault, and I did end up with over 19,200 feet of climbing). And no, I don’t think they know that all the Americans find it hilarious that the acronym is BUTS 🙂
Someone asked about how my Long Trail fitness prepped me for this – mentally and physically. I think the Long Trail totally raised the bar for me in terms of how hard “hard” can actually be. And how hard things can be and I can still get through them — this was definitely beneficial here. I am not sure how much of the actual strength/fitness from the Long Trail still has an effect though. However, I do just think that since my brain has now seen the Long Trail and known that I got through that, it now allows me to raise the bar on myself physically. And so while the actual fitness might not still be there, my brain is much more confident about what I am facing head-on. So that is no doubt an advantage. My training for this had some similar elements to Long Trail training but it was also very different! Training for an event that will be less than a day is much different than one that will be 5 days…..But the basics were the same: I’d need trail skills, and I’d need strength! We definitely keep the biking and swimming in the training plan too. I still went to masters 3x a week and got 12-15k of swimming a week.
Some of the challenges of the race would be that it was: 1. In Spain, 6 hours ahead of my standard time zone and 2. Starting at midnight. I chose to take a red-eye fight on Wednesday, getting into Bilbao on Thursday, late morning. Then I got to bed early Thursday (7-8pm) and woke up early Friday (5am) so that I could take a bit of a sleep/nap (5-9:30) Friday night. Then, I just woke up and pretended it was race morning! So I had “breakfast” of 2 Bobo’s poptarts, coffee, some nut butter and some ciif shots. My only other midnight start experience was the Hellgate 100k, which I didn’t nap before and I ate Wendy’s as my pre-race dinner. So, I think this was better. It definitely felt weird, but it was pretty good I think.
I did one last check of my gear – which was pretty extensive. This race was “semi-self-sufficient” so I was carrying a good bit more gear than I normally would, especially since Matt was there to help crew for me! I had to have 2 lights for the front, both with spare batteries, a red blinky light for the back, a bandage, emergency blanket, waterproof jacket, gloves and a bandana/hat — and then I also carried enough calories and hydration to get me between aid stations, which were 10-15km apart on average. I packed all of this into the Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta (which I find comfortable and really have liked!), but I do think that for these races with so much mandatory gear, it might be a good idea to have another one with a few more pockets so I can keep that mandatory gear more “out of sight” from the stuff I was using a lot: my hydration and calories.
A couple other gear notes: I used Injinji socks as they have been tried and true for me on the Long Trail and just continue to keep me feet in great condition. I started the race in the Altra Timp 1.5s, but did end up switching to some New Balance Gobi 2’s when I got to my drop bag at 65km. When I ran Uwharrie I had the Altra Timp’s and they basically blew apart on me…so I was really happy that they replaced them quickly with the 1.5’s based on their warranty policy. However, I could feel the same thing happening during the race! I did love the Altra’s I wore on the Long Trail, but I think my trust with them is an all time low so I will probably not use them again.
And then, it was time to go! I’m not sure if the midnight start was for safety reasons, or logistical reasons since we were starting in a city, but overall, I think it was pretty neat. The sun doesn’t come up until 8am there, so it was over half the race in the dark for me!! But honestly I kind of like the darkness hiding the trail ahead: especially in this case when the trail ahead was often super steep and a long climb!
It was super cool though to be climbing up above the cities and seeing the lights down below us. I’m also super lucky that my timing to the top of the highest mountain on the course coincided with sunrise — the most beautiful one I have ever seen, hands down. It was Ah-May-Zing! And that was while I was climbing up the side of a huge steep mountain, so, it must have been pretty rad.
For the race itself, I knew I couldn’t pay too much attention to my watch. Times on the climbs are so hard to really judge, and on the downhill as well when it’s so steep – which it was! My goal was just to move strong on the climbing and to run anything that was even slightly runnable. As long as I stuck to that I wasn’t concerned about the pace itself. Climbing here was definitely aided by my Black Diamond Z poles — these are the same ones from the Long Trail and I do love them! I just find with the steep climbs it is nice to take some of the weight off my legs. That said, the woman who won did not use them! So it’s totally something that is a personal preference. After the first 3k, I had them out the entire race, though I was just holding them for much of the descending and running through the towns (hence why I like the ultralight version – you barely even notice them!). I don’t think I would do without any of the gear I did end up with, though, we were super lucky with the warm weather! I think gear would have been a much more important discussion with “standard” winter temperatures they have there.
There was another woman, Silvia Trigueros, who was quite a strong runner. Despite my best attempts to break away, she reeled me back in by 20k, and I was never able to close that gap again. Being able to look back on the tracking data has been super useful – I pretty much lost all time after that on the descending. Truthfully, that wasn’t a skill I had really honed in on before that race, or, well, ever. I have always just relied on how that skill improves with trail running as I train. It was clear here though, that if I want to compete against the best on technical trails, I will have to find another game plan for that in the future! Game on!
One of the other funny differences I really picked up on was the aid station food. In North America I feel like the standards are: chips, pretzels, candy, etc. In Spain? Bolongna sandwiches! Tomatoes! Other random cold cuts! Needless to say, that isn’t my normal race nutrition, so I stuck with my NUUN Hydration and Maurten to get me through 🙂
Eventually the end was in sight, after “just one more climb” than I always thought it would be. The finish line was a great atmosphere and again, the race goes above and beyond to make the runner comfortable – good food, massage, showers and drop bags all there and ready to be picked up makes the post-race experience so nice.
One question that came in is my favorite and least favorite part of racing in Europe. I think my favorite is just being able to soak in a different culture. As an east coaster, Europe really isn’t much further away than a trip to California — but the ability to really experience some different things, see totally different terrain, and just get out of my comfort zone is much higher than a trip to California! I love that about Europe. My least favorite part is that I don’t speak any other language! I am embarrassed for myself and the image I project since my Spanish is so limited, and that is the only other language I know. So many Europeans know 2-3 or more languages, it always does make me feel a little silly that I wasn’t brought up that way (most of us aren’t here!), and I hate that. Because the language barriers, I couldn’t talk to anyone else really during the race either, so once again I was very happy Matt was successfully navigating the Spanish roads to see me and allow me some talking breaks!
It had been awhile since I have run that long (even on the Long Trail my longest day was 55 miles), so this was really fun to push beyond that and see how it would go. I always find that ultras are the deepest digging you can do physically and mentally because there are always so many times when you just don’t want to take another step…..but you have to. Yes, this happens in Ironman too, but something about ultrarunning is always different for me. Figuring out how to get that step done, and the next one – is always fulfilling in the end. But it definitely does hurt in the moment and I haven’t experience that sort of “my legs won’t work on ups, downs, or flats!” for quite some time.
Aside from being able to stop running, I was super excited for the finish because this meant that it was time to kick back and enjoy Spain for a day and a half! Not being much of a museum person, I was pleasantly surprised that I really enjoyed the afternoon at the Guggenheim. It probably didn’t hurt to have split a bottle of Rose over lunch beforehand! 😉 #Whateverittakes, right? But seriously – how many times do you get to see Picasso and Monet’s in person? That’s something you can’t pass up. And you can’t pass up seeing a giant puppy made of flowers! I also really enjoyed the Italian food (Yes- Italian food in Spain, sue me!) At Coppola’s. Not many things were open late on Sunday and this local gem was awesome.
The BUTS Series continues in 2020 with another race as they continue to link the 4 capitals of the Basque region of Spain. Will I be back? Hard to say for sure, but it will definitely be tempting! Before that, I’ll be focusing on next up: Marin Ultra Challenge — next weekend! The body is starting to feel okay so I think the mind is ready to start wrapping itself around that one 🙂 More updates after that!