Monday, May 14, 2018

Madeira Island Ultra Trail of #NeverStopSmiling

This. Is. Paradise.
"Why are you here?"
I was asked this by new friends I met while travelling in Lisbon, the Madeira police at 2am, and myself in the cold, dark, wet hours of my training.
All packed in my VSD pack!
The one time I wore a bikini

After a year of battling injuries and the MCAT study crazies, I signed up for an epic vacation, WS qualifier, and totally rad adventure: the Madeira Island Ultra Trail. The 116km was farther than I had ever run and was on the most beautiful island (thanks google images). Though, the distance and 8000m vert were no joke and I had to spend the winter months training hard. Battling the snow, rain, frigid temps, and darkness, I had the help of awesome lady tiger jungle cats. These hardcore crazies kicked my butt up and over Section line repeats and kept my ab muscles strong from literally laughing out loud.


Since this was a long ways to go for a race, I wanted to make it into an adventure. I planned a 4 day layover in Lisbon. I swam in the ocean, made new friends of various nationalities listening to Fado music & drinking sangria, rock climbed under Moorish castles in Sintra, and just generally wandered around everywhere. After the race, I spent 3 days in Marrakesh riding camels, getting swindled in souks, and eating all the tajin. It was an awesome vacation.
My rock climbing routes!
Sangria > Water for hydration
Scooter of death
Side story: In googling this tropical island paradise, I envisioned myself basically in a bikini and riding a Vespa scooter I rented to get around (I have never driven these before). Unfortunately, when I landed at 10pm, a storm was raging across the island with cold rains and strong winds. I got the scooter and had to drive it 90km across the island to my AirBNB by Porto Moniz. White knuckling the handlebars, I gritted my teeth through 35 soaking km and managed to get myself lost. Around midnight I said F it and asked for directions to the nearest hotel. No room at the inn. Double F it, I sat outside the hotel and decided to leave the scooter to call a taxi. When the taxi arrived in the tiny town, I asked to be let out and reached for my purse. Only I didn't have it. F. The driver, not speaking much English, became frustrated and took me to the police. After questioning me until 2 am, they deduced through my sobs and fragmented Spanglish that my purse was at that hotel. (Pro tip: keep PDF pictures of your passport on your phone and memorize your credit card number). Their colleagues in Funchal were able to miraculously find my purse and we met in the middle to grab it (read: I sat in the back of a police car). I finally paid the taxi driver at 3:45am and the police kindly offered to take me to my Air BNB as it was still pouring out (rather than calling the embassy and deporting me as I thought they were). However, the street signs were recently changed and they could not locate the residence. At 4:30am they told me that I might as well just sleep on the bench in the police station and in the morning, the saint of a woman hosting me came to pick me up. After the fact, it is freaking hilarious but I got extremely lucky. The Madeiran people are generous, patient, and willing to lend a helping hand.
Lost in Lisbon
Starting the smiles early

The week before the race, I spent eating pastries, hanging out on the farm with Maria, my host, and resting up (the continued rain and my fear of the scooter didn't allow much room to explore the island). Before I knew it, I was receiving race instructions at the press conference, making a mess to organize my race gear, and nervously picking at my bib number on a bus to the start. I made some good friends that helped ease the nerves: Matt Schaar repping SFRC from the Bay, Claire a badass ER doc/PhD that also runs 100+ mi races, Australians Kellie & Tegyn, and some Brazilians. Thanks to my ITRA ranking (really, I think it's just the fact that I'm "young"), I was able to start with the elites in a flurry of cameras; I made sure to bust a few moves to embarrass everyone around me.

This guy got such a good view of my butt for some hours
Then, at midnight, we were off. We climbed and climbed, then steeply descended. This pattern is basically what was on repeat all day. At around 18k, we ran through a small town that was wide awake cheering us on with high fives and Forza! I was offered a Super Bock beer by one spectator, and to their excited (likely drunken) cheers, I stopped to drink it. I had hoped it would give me Super powers.

Even at 65km, you can still make a silly face
Coming into the first aid station, like a rookie, I almost left my poles behind. I had to double back and grab my magic sticks and proceed downhill in the pouring rain. I settled into a good groove and broke the silence by singing out loud to my ipod (Destiny's Child, Drake, etc). I ran a couple km with a fellow American living in Switzerland for her PhD and we traded funny jokes in the darkness weaving through farms, levadas, root-y forests, and tunnels. Soon the sun rose, but the thick fog and rain kept the mood somber as we trudged on. Soaked through, I grimaced as the wind whipped the cold deep into my bones. I wanted to stop at the refuge aid station and just drink the hot tea all day. But I forced myself out that door and on the heels of a Portugese woman. We didn't have a common language, so we climbed and descended in silence. Positions were shuffled in our group and puddles splashed. I was starting to feel light headed and tired. I kept my feet moving, but focused on eating as many calories as I could stomach right then. That did the trick and eventually I got to the 60km Aid station, where I found Matt and my drop bag. My expectations of warm sunny weather, did not leave me with extra clothes to change into, so I simply stuffed my pack with Clif blocks and stopped at the food table to eat as much as I could. We had the longest and hardest climb ahead of us, with almost all of the climbing already behind us.
I bring the discoteca to the euro party
Matt and I started the suffering climb up to Pico Ruivio together. The fog was burning off and I leaned into my poles on the endless staircase up. I was surrounded by terrain my wildest imagination couldn't create and ran paths carved into the mountainside. I took my time with the metal ladders and gripped the ropes tightly on narrow ledges. Going through several tunnels, they were just long enough that I didn't feel the need to dig for my headlamp, but dark enough that the dim light at the end created hallucinatory moving, dripping walls. I would exit into the light stumbling with vertigo to the left, overcorrecting, and twice banged my right hand against the steel poles barricading the cliff. I thought I had broken my hand for a solid hour, rendering it useless (fortunately just bruised and cut up).

Coming down from these peaks, from 75km to 100km, I felt devoid of everything inside. I had the will and motivation to finish, and no real physical detriment to my legs. But it was as if everything else inside had been sucked out. I simply could not run. It was all I could do to keep moving forward, at my glacial snail pace. My ipod and watch died, so time continued to deceive me and it felt as if the world slowed it's spinning. I didn't feel sorry for myself because I was giving it everything I had, and at that moment, it just happened to be power walking. I plastered a smile on my face and reminded myself how incredibly lucky I am as I put one foot in front of the other.

I arrived at the 107km aid station as the sun was setting. I knew my goal of finishing before the second darkness wouldn't be met. But I knew I was going to finish, and that was enough. I'm grateful I was able to run this section at sunset. Purple painted the sky as a full moon rose. I meandered around a singletrack carved out of a cliff. The ocean waves crashed hundreds of feet below with the lights of fishing boats out in the distance. Volunteers had strung lights along the trail and I felt full of happiness. I ran. My legs carried me around to the levada descending into the finish at Machico. I pushed hard and ran as fast as I could. I beamed down the finish line stretch, high fiving the many people cheering. I was greeted with hugs and kisses by two Frenchies that had shared kms earlier. Despite the pain settling into my legs, I could not stop smiling. I had done it. Best of all, there was no doubt in all 22:23 hours that I would not.

A little help can go a long-a** way

Gear Used:
-Salomon sparkle pack
-Garmin Fenix 2 watch
-TNF Ultra Vertical shoes
-TNF Spanx & BTN Tee (bib stapled on as euros don't believe in pins)
-Tumbler cup & 1.5L bladder
-So many Clif bars
-Safety blanket with a lucky 1euro penny
-TNF Hyperair goretex jacket
-gloves & rainbow arm sleeves
-pole magic sticks
-Petzl Tikka & Ledlenser MH10 headlamp
-Drymax mid calf pink (duh) socks
-Victory Sportsdesign buff

Big thank you to all those family & friends cheering me on, MIUT for an incredible race and experience, sponsors that keep me from running naked (almost), and the lovely people I met along the way. I highly recommend this race (read sufferfest) and beautiful island to anyone. Strava of what I got before my watch died HERE.

Now that it's over, I opened my medical school applications. Recovery with ice cream and writing never felt so good. Next up: Broken Arrow 55k in June!
"Oh hey"- awkward American tourist 

Never Stop Eating Pastries 

1 comment:

  1. Que aventura! hope there are more to come and enjoy :) and congratulations!