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Ultra Trail Barcelona Race Report: Venga! Venga! Animal!

Driving into the sleepy village of Begues at 6:30 am, it was hard to tell that hundreds of runners would be taking it upon themselves to run through the Garraf National Park. Upon reaching the town square, I could see runners matriculating from every direction, converging at the equipment check before lining up for the 100 km start. This is the calmest I have ever felt before a race and I was not sure if that was a good sign. I think the main contributing factor was that 13 days earlier I had lined up for the Madeira 85 km. Ultras tend to take more mental energy than physical energy. I went into this second race with the mindset that it would not be a great performance by racing so close together and that I should focus on the experience of racing in a new country and exploring new mountains and trails for the day.

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The race started with some words and confetti and runners made their way through town heading into the first climbs of the race. I had spent some time reviewing the race course and aid stations so I knew I had 5 km of dirt road and mixed single track before getting into the first real ascent that would be single track. I positioned myself in the top 1/3rd of the field and ran relaxed while enjoying the sunrise over Barcelona.

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The morning hours remained cool and sunny and offered some pretty technical rocky single track that was made more technical by the tall grass obscuring the trail underfoot. The park consisted of beautiful rolling hills with shrub brush waist high. Every so often we would pass what I assume were ruins of old stone homes.

The longest descent of the race brought me into a beach town to the aid station Platja de Garraf at around the 33 km mark. I was hoping to use a bathroom at this point but to my surprise there were none to be found. In fact, except for at the start of the race and when the course comes back through the start at the 69 km there were no other bathrooms.

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Garraf National Park also has two varieties of snakes: the horseshoe whip snake and the Snubnose viper (one of which I had already seen making its way off the trail into the brush) — so the outdoors was not proving to be a good bathroom option.

Leaving the 33 km aid station the course cuts through a sandy beach before climbing out of town. With no protection from the heat of the sun I entered into a spiral of negativity that lasted for at least 3 hours. I know the most important thing in races like this is to stay positive but for some reason I got stuck in this defeatist mentality for miles. I spent my time trying to figure out how I would explain not finishing to myself. On the climb up to the 46 km aid station I could see the sun and course taking its toll on the faces of the other runners and felt a little relieved that I was not alone. I tried to remind myself that this was not the hardest race I have done, my legs felt fine, I was just feeling mentally drained. Often during these races if I feel like I am struggling or not in the right mindset I think of people who face true challenges and that is usually enough to turn things around.

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Luckily I had another 30 km to work this all out and rolled back into the town of Begues, that at this point was alive with runners rolling in completing the other shorter race options. Here I was finally able to use a bathroom (no one wants to defecate on vipers in shrub brush) and refuel. I finally put the ear buds in and rolled out of town to the cheers of “Venga! Venga! Animal!” This was something I had heard throughout the day— I did not know the literal translation but the enthusiasm used to express it was all I needed. Racing in Spain has shown me how excited people get over endurance sports here. People in the towns I passed through would scream and honk as if they had money riding on this race and they seemed to have a real appreciation for the sport. Heading out of town I felt better than I had all day. I rolled by some small vineyards and began climbing and picking up runners.

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In the last third of this race I ran relaxed with a clear head and let the tempo of my music set the pace. The sun lacked the strength it had in the middle of the day and the breezes at the top of the climbs were cooling and energizing. It always amazes me how you can experience such a low point for so many hours and later feel great. After a few long climbs and a descent I rolled into a town that was having a party separate from the race. There was music and kids singing and it generally seemed like a great time.

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At this point it was only 16 km to go and I picked up 3 more runners between here and the last aid station at the 94 km mark. At the last station I had about 45 minutes before the sun was down and I had not long ago passed two runners who had been with me most of the day so I downed two cups of Coke and threw everything I had into the last 6 kilometers. This consisted of 1,000 ft of climbing followed by a descent back into Begues towards the finish. I imagined I was back running repeats of Tumbledown Mountain in Maine and it was the strongest I had felt all day. I reached the edge of town just as the sun set. Making my way into the finish the sleepy town was now alive with children trying to obtain high-fives from the runners coming in. The clock stopped at 14:00:14 and I was done with my race.

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Post Race Thoughts

Barcelona Ultra Trail had more climbing than the Madeira 85 km race and was 12 miles further and I somehow managed to significantly better my Madeira time. I attribute that to the early morning start and being able to run the course entirely without a headlamp at UTBCN. Finishing feeling so strong also left me thinking that I could definitely take some time off of it. Three days after the race I feel ready to start running again so for me that is a sign of leaving too much in the tank.

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I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to race and explore trails I have only dreamed of on this trip. It also could not have been done without the support of my wife. I try in earnest not burden her during these events, but I know these races are not done on their own. These races are not run alone; they take support of others and it would not be possible without them.

My focus is now turning to the Vermont 100 Miler in July. This race is close to home and I am excited to return to the state where I ran my first 50-miler with the support of friends and family. New England has a strong contingency of trail runners and it will be good to share this experience with them.

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