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And the winner of the category for 'best smelling race' is...

by kirsty
Saturday 5th December 2015
 
 

Race report: Escaping the grim weather in the UK, Kirsty Reade travelled to Spain for the Ultra Trail Sierra Norte and it appears 'poo man' was the only fly in the ointment:

Ultra Trail Sierra Norte 2015

Photos © Pete Aylward www.runphoto.co.uk

As low-key starts go it would be hard to beat UTSN’s marathon. In preparation for the 3pm start runners milled around in the square, sitting in the shade of orange trees, enjoying the odd beer. Then, we lined up behind some railings and when the time came to start we all politely filed down steps on either side of the railings. All very relaxed, very friendly and a world away from the crush of some big city races.

Sierra Norte is a national park just north of Seville. Even at the end of November the temperature reaches around 20 degrees so it provides a perfect winter getaway for Brits who are getting a bit tired of grey skies and cold drizzle. The main event is a 100km ultra marathon but there’s also a marathon and both weave through the national park, taking in some big ups and downs, woody trails, tricky, gravelly, steep descents and what I will call ‘7 miles of unpleasantness’.

First off, I have to name and shame a runner. There are a few things that get me a bit dismayed and number one on this list is ‘not carrying mandatory kit’. It’s there for a reason! The organisers put together a list to keep you safe, not so you have to carry stuff around arbitrarily. This guy didn’t have any kit on him. Just shorts and a vest. Not even a head torch and with the 3pm start, unless he was going to run a very tricky off-road marathon in under 3 hours, he was going to be spending a while running in the dark. Off-road, in a national park, where there are wild boar. As if to underline his disdain for the organiser’s rules he also wasn’t wearing a number - he’d written it on his vest in felt tip. Two pretty bad misdemeanors, I think you’ll agree. However, that’s not even what I wanted to name and shame him about. When we got to the start, in a sleepy little town, we parked up very close to the start, WHERE THERE WERE TOILETS, and this dude gets out of his car in his vest with hand-written number and no sign of any mandatory kit, with some toilet roll in his hand and hops over a low wall into what was basically somebody’s back garden. ‘No,’ I think ‘surely he wouldn’t really be doing that there would he? Not with perfectly serviceable toilets nearby. Not in somebody’s garden.’ Then down came his shorts. I was traumatised. We dubbed him poo man.

Ultra Trail Sierra Norte 2015

Photos © Pete Aylward www.runphoto.co.uk

Moving on from poo man, one of the best things about UTSN was the smell of the plants and trees around you. Orange, lemon and olive trees, rosemary bushes and lots of other things I didn’t recognise but smelled great combined with the heat to create these clouds of aromas you ran through. It was definitely the best-smelling race I’ve ever done. We ran on beautiful trails, past ruined castles, lakes and woods. The trails were really good - wide and made of red dirt and gravel - and the aid stations were a thing of wonder. As I approached the first one a volunteer accosted me incredibly enthusiastically to see what I wanted to drink and eat and after a couple of hours of blissful, quiet trails it was a bit like being assaulted. I ate as many orange segments as I could physically stuff in my mouth to placate him, drank until he seemed satisfied, then headed off.

Reaching the second aid station at 16 miles the light was just starting to fade so I got my head torch out so I didn’t have to stop again. As the temperature had dropped to what felt to me a still balmy 15 degrees some Spanish competitors got their jackets and gloves out. I also saw somebody put on a balaclava. This was where the trail started to become a bit less pleasant to run on. In fact, this is where the trail disappeared. There followed 7 miles of fields which had obviously been churned up by cattle or pigs, then the mud had dried in the heat forming hoof holes, unpredictable lumps and ruts. The ground was also very rocky and it was now dark. For the next 7 miles my running went a bit like this: be very careful, concentrate, focus, ooh, look at that lovely tree, fall, ow, limp for a bit, get going again, run very carefully, concentrate on my feet, where’s that next marker, fall, ow. It was painfully slow progress (literally) and very annoying. If you wanted to recreate this stretch of the race in order to train for it I’d suggest covering your garden in rocks, scattering your kids’ lego, toy trucks and anything else they have that’s wheeled or randomly shaped across it, adding some electrical plugs with the pins pointing upwards, tennis balls and dog toys, then finally digging a few holes before running over it blindfolded.

So I was pretty pleased to hit solid, predictable ground again, especially as there were now only a few miles left to go. Coming into the finish in Castilblanco I found a scene totally unlike the low-key start - it was a party and it was soundtracked by Dexy’s ‘Come on Eileen’!  A finisher’s technical t-shirt (in addition to an event technical t-shirt and buff at registration), a free massage and a meal of pasta and a hot pork roll really capped off a great race experience, if I ignore those 7 miles. I can highly recommend this race for a low-key event with a small field and a bit of winter sun. Unless poo man is reading this. You should stay away, poo man.

Ultra Trail Sierra Norte 2015

Photos © Pete Aylward www.runphoto.co.uk

For information on the Ultra Trail Sierra Norte please visit: ultratrailsierranorte.com

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

About The Author

Kirsty Reade

I’d describe myself as borderline obsessed with running, racing, reading about running, and watching others run so hopefully I’m fairly typical of Run247’s visitors. I tend to do longer races, particularly off-road marathons and ultras, but am pretty much a fan of any distance. I'm passionate about helping runners of all levels to improve through running communities I'm involved in, such as Underground Ultra and Free Range Runners. 

 
 
 
 
 

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