When magic happens. This is the shortest I can describe what happened during this race week. Everyone I talked to felt the same. We feel like family, we share like family, we celebrate like family but we run and compete as sportsmen. It again was great joy. I met old running pals and made new friends. 270km or roughly 167 miles in 6 days through the beautiful Spain.
Peter, who I met here for the first time and who I run with the entire race, now feels like a friend I’ve known for a long time. After all, there’s lots of time to talk, during a 270 km run.
We invented a naming game during one of the days, as we kept passing one another again and again. Peter became the samurai. Pat, a former hedge fund broker, who decided to live more and work less, we ended up calling the stalker. Kevin, a senior construction supervisor from UK was even called pdeath … – I realize, in writing it does not carry very much or very well, but during long and exhausting days it’s fuel for your mind. It keeps you going. Who wants to be stalked all the time or picked up by the death? See! You move. It seems never really in focus, as all participants usually are very considerate towards one another, but it’s a race after all.
This race is special and I can say this because I have done a few by now. When you hear about it, it sounds comfortable. One does not have to carry much, other than the mandatory items – still adds up to 5 kg, give or take. There are showers and beds at every stage. The food is freshly prepared and there are even massages available, if one wants. However, there also is Manu Pastor. He’s been the course director in many international races, is a tremendous runner himself, and unfortunately does not understand the difference between up and down. For him everything is down, even if that means up.
Did I mention the food? 🙂
Manu created a 6 day stage race like no other. It cuts through the many beautiful places that surround Burgos, while it steadily drains you physically and mentally. Just when you feel you made it, there’s just another final hill to climb. No mercy. None whatsoever.
Eventually you decide to let go and allow for acceptance to take place. That’s when things start to become more easy. Now, all of a sudden, the rolling hills, the sunflower fields, the meadows, the lakes and rivers become part of a reality you’re passing through. Life is happening, with you in it.
I sound delirious? Maybe, but I’m ok with that. I’m sure I have 29 folks that feel very similar right now.
The week started with me arriving in Burgos with the bus from Madrid airport. I was picked up from the bus terminal and had another 40 minutes of driving ahead of me. This is when I met Rahul, who as it turned out was about to do this for the first time. He rightfully was a bit anxious – he suffered tremendously – but came out a legend. We talked a bit about racing and our jobs before we arrived at HQ.
Coming in, Manu himself awaited us. A big hello and an even bigger hug is what followed. The majority of fellow runners already gathered around the table and were enjoying the freshly made food and amazing hospitality, shared by this fantastic group of people. It felt like coming home from the first minute. Soon enough I met my Dutch family Sylvia and John, who I have raced with before in Bhutan and Iceland. It was a great hello, as you can imagine. The rest of the Friday night was about wine, food, and chatting with other fellow runners. After all, I had all of Saturday for the medical and mandatory items check.
I met Roland, a runner from Switzerland. We both had been assigned to the same room. We ended up chatting until early morning. There are always stories to share. Roland, who happened to be a close neighbor of Stephan Keller, someone I met in Bhutan, would come in as number six at the end. He and Daniela, another Swiss runner, just crushed these mountains as if they did not exist.
Consequently Saturday started slow, with late breakfast and more talk before the medical and mandatory items check. Both were done within 15 minutes. Following was a photo session with Manu 2 for the official race picture.
As you can tell, I took things very serious.
I decided to go for a short run to loosen up the muscles and let go of some of my tension. I quickly disappeared in the nearby hills, to get a first appreciation of what I should find all week.
Following, I went through all my clothes and stuff and packed for the race. It’s a good way to let go of the tension that one builds up prior to the race.
We headed out early on Sunday, this was the first race day, and it would start with a ceremony in the woods, conducted by Oscar, a Celtic shaman from Burgos. Oscar is also a well established artist and overall just a very lovely person.
After we received our blessing and a fair warning not to run into any Romans (the Celts had been fighting the Romans for centuries), the race was started and we went off. Finally, the “go” we all had waited for so long.
The first couple hundred meters were tricky, as we had to climb down the very mountain we were driven up to before, but after that, the landscape opened up and became very runnable (for the most part). Floating hills, filled with greens, sometimes sparse, sometimes thick, woods and lots of fields, is what would become the theme for the rest of the week. Oh, and hills, or shall I say: mountains. Yes, Manu made sure we hit a few of those as well. Every day was very exhausting but also magic in ways that only runners can appreciate.
It was on day one, around km 35, when I met Peter. He had faced some issues with his cramping calf muscle and I had a minor asthma episode behind me. We both needed a bit of a break. At first we would pass one another a few times before we decided to run together and chat. Everything gets easier, if it can be shared. It turned out we both work in tech, so we weren’t short of talking topics.
Over the course of the week I would continue to run with Peter and we kept running into Pat, Kevin, Roland, Daniela, Stan, Börkur, Desiree, Cynthia, Andrew, Silvia and John, Jo, Tina and Claudia. Occasionally we even said hi to Rahul, Abhay, Kristine, Michael, Marie Therese, Megan, Maggie, Warny, Peter 2, Vivian, Jan and Rob.
A very special occasion was to witness Jan and Rob’s wedding in Burgos. How awesome is that?! The two runners decided to celebrate with all of us after the race. Oscar even held a small ceremony in front of the cathedral in Burgos. A truly special day.
A special shoutout to Manu Pastor and his outstanding team of volunteers, chefs, organizers, and medics. You guys were a fantastic group and have my greatest respect. You made this race so very special and memorable. This is the reason why many runners keep coming back. It’s not just a race, it’s meeting with your extended family. Thank you Manu, Maria, Manu 2, Laura, Hellen, Nuria, Iciar, Emi, Ellen, Rene, Patricia, Geert, Marilena, Edward, Annie, Pepe, Martin, Luis, Pablo, Sonia, Piluka, Chema, Jaime, Ana, Josefina, Juan,Marivi and Tony. A special thanks to Laura for checking me out after day one – turned out I lost/shattered a kidney stone during the first race day. Also, my special thanks to Hellen for being so positive and lovely. Your energy carries a long way. Thank you all!
Other insights? Some. I felt much more energy during this race but I also had to carry far less equipment and had better sleep and food. Life is about one step after the other and largely about acceptance. If we can accept it, we can master it. I for once realized again that I can do whatever I set my mind to.
Will I do another race? You bet! The search started already. It’s just too good not do it. Life is never as intense as during these race weeks.
Finally, I’d like to thank Kerstin for being my blog sitter again, during this race week. We’ve done many projects over the years, but race weeks are amongst the most fun. Thanks!
For those that still wonder why I do this, here is my advice. Try yourself and you will instantly know. It’s worth it.