FlyschTrail Mendi Maratioa, 2017

July 3, 2017

Zumaia, Spain


This report will focus on the actual race itself. There are many tales to be told about the total experience of this race, the hospitality, gastronomy, and friendship was singular,…

FlyschTrail Mendi Maratioa

July 3, 2017

Zumaia, Spain


This report will focus on the actual race itself. There are many tales to be told about the total experience of this race, the hospitality, gastronomy, and friendship was singular, representing how a life should be lived. Love of life, nature, running.


Ha. Not trained. This race was not planned. The lure of a trail run when vacationing in a beautiful region is too much for me. Through a crazy series of events I was “invited” to run this race as a guest of the director. I had five days notice before the event. So, my training looked like this: For 10 days prior to the invitation Jackie and I hiked a portion of the GR11 from the town of Irun on the Atlantic coast to the ski resort Candancu on the edge of the Pyrenees. My pack weighed in at around 50lbs. It was at times brutal, but I felt stronger for it. How would this transfer to running? 4 days before the race I met with a new friend Joseba in San Sebastián and we did a crushing session on the track (8x800 @ 3:00). I felt fine, but… It was tough. I knew the race was going to be a slugfest.

The Race.

Since this race wasn’t exactly scheduled prior to packing for our trip I wasn’t fully equipped for the undertaking. My kit was miss-matched, hydration system inadequate and shoes on the verge of being run-out. As we walked to the start I was aghast at all of the perfect, stylish kits of all the competing clubs. It’s obvious that trail running culture here has grown from cycling. Everyone looked fly and fit as can be. Reality began to sink in. I had no business being in this race. Pre-race traditional Basque dancing. Pre-race epic music (I recognized it from my race last year and I think it’s the Basque anthem). Gun goes off.

First 10k

First mile is on the streets weaving all over the town. I’m running comfortably hard, very much back of the mid-pack. 6:45 first mile. Oh god, everyone is on sub-3 pace? We exited the streets of the town and started to climb. I just kept thinking that I had to run my own race, stay calm and save energy for the end. It was hard to stay in control as streams of runners moved past me. The idolatry of Killian Jornet is palatable here. These runners move downhill like a sweaty avalanche. It’s amazing to watch and as confusing as Euskara. The first 10k was at an hour, exactly where I wanted it to be. I sucked down my euro-formula powergel and moved on.

Second 10k.

This portioned flowed, much like the later half of the first 10k. I stayed comfortable knowing that this section of the race would see the biggest climbs. A good trail run in central Texas will have about 1000 feet of gain over 10 miles. The first major climb of this race had 944’ over 1 mile; knees to chest, hands on quads. Wow is all I have to say. The vibrancy of the colors so many shades of green and blue, sky, depth of the sea, trees, fields, hay, crops, the horizon. I was reduced to the simplest mechanics of power-hiking and counting up to 20 and back down. I counted over and over again keeping a steady rhythm. There is a magic in counting down, even if just to count up again. Five, four, three, always with anticipation, two, one. I reached the summit. It was a major climb. Shit. I had to use way more energy than I wanted to so early in the race, but I had no choice, the trail demanded such an effort. This was the moment I knew that there would be no negative split and I was not going to finish around 4 hours. I glanced over my shoulder, took in the vista and started to laugh, look where you are, enjoy the ride. The second 10k was coming to a close and I started to regroup and reform a new race plan. The second, and final, major climb didn’t even have a trail. The weeds were beaten back leading to an outcropping of rocks. What? Really? Hand over hand climbing ensues. After a short scramble I came to a rope laying across the rocks. Maybe it wasn’t necessary, as the course creator told us the night before, but it sure felt essential at the time. The chance to use my upper body to advance the course was a welcome change. In my mind the “race” was over. There was a group of about six of us just giggling in the universal language of amazement. The final crux of the summit was a rocky fin. There was no trail, just going from course marker to course marker. The race director Bosco and his crew certainly made the effort to ensure that this course had a little something for everyone and it really showed off the diverse geographical complexity of the region. This is a special place. Coming off the summit and down the ridge I hit the half way mark, somewhere in the neighborhood of two hours. I was exhausted and physically beaten from the demanding terrain.

The third 10k.

This is where things started to get away from me. I simply didn’t have the (read: any) training to maintain during this section. I could tell that the course was intended to be faster in the back half, but I didn’t have the gas to go. I was walking climbs that I should have run. I wasn’t in bad spirits, but I was running a race different than what I had prepared for. I was only carrying food for 4 hours and the full-body physicality of the run left me hungry. It was also getting very hot and I wasn’t wearing adequate sunscreen, had no hat and no water. The effort of this race was entering the realm of “ultra” but I was equipped for a road marathon.

The final 10k (really 12).

Ok if I run a 10k PR right now I will finish in 4hours. Ha. The beauty and “real-world” application of running races like this is the practice of cultivating a positive attitude when the circumstances of your situation seem bleak. I was able to relax and just keep going. As I tabulated my paces and distance covered I started to think that I would exceed the 6 hour time limit. I really didn’t want that to happen. I started to run some more. I started running more climbs keeping a rhythm, keeping the focus. Eventually the kilometers started to click away. I was getting close. The final climb is at 40 km. It’s on a steep rise at the edge of the beach outside of the town. I put my head down and powered up. 1k left, downhill and into town. I opened it up and emptied the tank passing 3 people. Enter the town, high-fiving children and passing under all seven inflatable arches. Which one is finish line? It became somewhat comical. Soon enough I crossed the line in 5:16:38 Good enough for 206/450. I spent a long time on that beautiful, beautiful course.


Running the race untrained was really, really difficult. It forced me to sit back and enjoy the ride and dash any competitive hopes I ever had. This race also put the world of high level trail running into perspective. I have so much work to do, speed, strength and grit. Coming out of this race I feel motivated. I want to run with the big dogs, but I have to earn the spot. Hard work, there are no short cuts.

3 years ago



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