G2haundiak 88k, 2015
G2haundiak 88k, 2015
It’s the 49th mile. I have been running for upwards of 12 hours and have ascended more than 15,000 ft. A once rocky and wooded trail yields to verdant pasture; there is a shepherd who looks up from his flock and with great expression cheers me in a language I will never understand. I smile knowingly and glide through the field at a pace approaching a sprint, all the while completely astounded by everything that is happening inside of this moment. I am so far outside of anything I thought possible. I knew at this exact moment that this is ultra running.
G2haundiak (G2h) is a 88k trail race with 9000 meters of positive gain in Beasain, Spain. This is the Basque Country, a semi-autonomous zone of northern Spain that truly feels like it’s own sovereign nation. This race is as much a cultural immersion as it is a test of endurance, both of which I was completely unprepared for. Fortunately, I am no stranger to being over committed. Fact is, I love it. I simply love to navigate difficult situations. I’ve always admired how rock climbers look at a route and refer to it as a problem. Problems are just waiting to be solved, by the right person at the right time. The answer is there in plain sight waiting to be figured out. Big runs like this are the same. These runs are a sequence of challenges, decisions, and moments that lead to a solution.
Adding to the complexity of this race is an 11 p.m. start time. I have several theories as to why this is, but I remain a bit puzzled by this. This is a large race with 500 men and women the vast majority of whom are Basque. Before the gun went off we were treated to several cultural performances including traditional singing, dancing, and a rhythmic performance on a txalaparta, a wooden percussion instrument. 11 p.m. the gun goes off and the race begins.
0–7 km: Beasain to Zaldibia.
This section of the race stretches through the town of Beasain and its neighbor Zaldibia. The sidewalks are packed with crowds overflowing from the bars. It is clear that this is a big event for the area and everyone is out to take in the sight. A police car leads us out and everyone is running hard. This is the longest stretch of pavement we will see so everyone is going hard. Too soon the road ends and a single track climb begins. Following reflective tape we make our way above the towns and onto farm roads and paths. Everyone has a few dogs who are just losing their minds as we cruise on by. I am glad they are chained. I slack the pace and just start to relax and let the race begin I find a good rhythm that I am sure is too fast, but I feel fit and okay, so I keep on keeping on. At this point I running in the top 40. I know this isn’t sustainable, but maybe it is? I find myself running with a woman clad in a red kit. She is petite and blonde and completely intimidating. Her outfit precedes her. I know she is Sylvia, the reigning female champion from last years 100 mile. I think to myself, “this woman knows what she is doing, stay close”. And we run into the night, yo-yoing, me gaining on the climbs, her moving ahead on the descents. I wonder if I am annoying her. If we were in the U.S. I would have made a joking comment or apologized for being in her way. As it was I said nothing and stared deep into the bobbing circumference created by my headlamp, I kept moving. I moved through the aid station barely breaking my stride, the race was on!
7–18km: Zaldibia to Larraitz.
During this portion of the race the trail begins to show itself. It seems that there is a “known route” through this region. It is an amalgam of paved roads, dirt lanes, gravel double track, worn down foot-paths and tangled sheep trails. You are not in the wilderness yet, basically running from farm to farm. This part of the race reminded me of my adolescence running home before curfew or that scene in Farris Bueller’s day off where he is racing home to beat the principle. We were running as the crow flies, and it was quite fun. Again, I am still yo-yoing with the “red-lady”. At some point, probably mile 6 or 7 (sorry my watch and memory are in miles, the race info is in kilometers, just deal with it) there is a significant climb. I say significant, but I am sure it does not register for the locals. I took out my hiking poles, and backed my pace down to a walk. “Okay,” I think to myself, “here we go” and I make short work of the climb. During the climb I am right behind the red-lady. I think I am keeping a steady pace and then the unthinkable happens. She speaks to me. Something about passing I think, but I have no clue what she said. Did she say, “just let me know if you want to pass” or did she say, “Hey you idiot, get off my ass and pass me already!” I am torn between the two. I respond with something like, “its good”. She is clearly confused, and responds in an agitated tone. I say the only phrase I really know in Spanish, “I’m sorry I don’t speak Spanish.” I then decided to pass her. Now I am nervous and moving with a mild sense of urgency as I came to the descent. It was rather technical and featured fins of immovable rock coming out of the ground in vertical formations. Like the comb of a rooster or the back of stegosaurus, spines of rock dot this landscape waiting to twist your ankle. A fine layer of early morning mist blanketed these rocks, adding to the treachery. I am very careful to move through this section safely, slowly, but safely. The time approaches 1 a.m.. I am startled by a noise behind me and I stop just as the red-lady and a handful of bad-ass dudes crest the hill and attack the descent. They are moving like a cavalry sent in to wipe the battlefield of the infantry. They effortlessly roll the descent at speed only a quadruped or a banshee would consider appropriate. I am horrified, wet, cold, and scared. I realize that I am in way over my head and I am less than 10 miles into the race. I consider dropping out at the next aid station. I consider how completely inappropriate that would be. I glance at my arm where I have scrawled the word “tiger”. I think of the most bad ass person I know, Muzaffer and I imitate the action of the tiger and keep going. I make my way to the mountain hamlet of Larraitz where my biggest supporter and love, Jackie, is waiting for me. I look at her with a cold expression and say, “this is really hard, I am slowing way down.”
She encourages me that I am doing fantastic and that the big climb is just ahead. I leave the aid station thinking, “That wasn’t the big climb…” I look at my arm for more guidance, I have written the phrase pitter-pat. I smile and keep a light cadence to my steps.
18–36k: Larraitz to Lizarrusti.
The climb out of the aid station begins as a steep paved road, which crumbles to gravel, then washes to dirt, then narrows to a double track, and finally continues as a tight, rutty single track. It gets steep. Then it gets steeper. Small groups of children and punk-asses border the trail cheering or heckling, It all sounds the same when you can’t understand anything. This climb is serious and at one point features a solid mile with 1200’ of gain. In the midst of the grind I look up and see aligned planets and stars. I think, “Wow we don’t have stars like this back home.” Then I realize that these are the headlamps of those kicking my ass during this race. They are just twisted way up this mountain. I have a long way to go. I am kind of grateful that the race is at night, it makes it harder to contextualize just how massive the push over this mountain would be. This mountain has a name, it is txindoki [chin-doki] and in the daylight it is a sight to be seen. It is one of those mountains with a prominent, almost erotic summit that stands up straight and dominates the region. When you see it for the first time you immediately want to be all over it. This is how everyone feels about certain mountains right?
It is windy, cold, wet, and about 2 or 3 a.m.. The wind is really blowing hard, like push you off course hard, it’s just nasty out. Then you hear it. Plink-plinkity-plink, plinkity, plinkity, plink, plink. Some crazy Basque folk have hiked up a txalaparta and they are playing a motivating rhythm through the night. It lifts your spirits and reminds you that you are a part of a singular event. This race is something different. There was no enjoying the peak here. It was nasty, I got the hell out. I thought of my friend and early-outdoor-inspiration Craig Cimmons who said that his mood got better as the weather got worse. Mine doesn’t, but it’s a nice thought experiment. I smile and push on. As soon as the weather cleared on the downhill my spirits lifted very high. I let out a few “woo-hoos” and look to my fellow racers with a thank-god-that-is-over glint in my eyes. The descent was much more mellow than the climb. I was able to pick up the speed and cruise into the next aid stop feeling like an entirely new person. I hear Jackie cheering other runners and I am so glad to see her. I want her to know that I am happy again and that this race is going to be really, really amazing. I run over to her and say with a smile, “I am feeling much better”. We have a quick kiss and I pick up the trail again.
36–50km: Lizarrusti to Etzegarate.
This section is deep woods. There are large prune-like, black slugs that scatter the trail. They are super adorable. I am feeling pretty good, but trying hard to keep myself calm and comfortable. This section has a lot of gain, but there are no big sustained climbs. Its easy, so to speak, but if you’re not careful the short descents could take a toll on your body and come back to haunt you later in the race so you better take it easy and just relax and enjoy the forest. Or so I tell myself. Now it is appropriate to call out the 1,000 or so volunteers who make this race possible. Wow. Amazing. There are reflective ribbons all over this course. You can see one from the other and it is very obvious where the trail is. That said, this is the section where I got lost. I am grinding away, keeping a metronymic rhythm with my hiking poles and I start to think, I haven’t seen a yellow ribbon in a while. I am running along a road, so the way seems obvious enough and I keep going. “Okay, seriously Jamie, you haven’t seen a yellow ribbon in awhile.” I think to myself. There are two guys behind me and I feel assured that they know what they are doing. Then the road comes to a fork and there are no ribbons with which to indicate the direction onward. I pause and look to the two fellows following me. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish.” “mucho tiempo no miro amarillo.” I should have paid better attention in Spanish class. Okay Señorita Ryan, you win, I should have paid better attention during Spanish class. The two guys looked at each other, said, “claro” and we backtracked about 1km to meet back up with “the trail”. I fall back into my rhythm and start to tick away the kilometers. I occupy my thoughts with things like how unfortunate it is that I identify the landscape of this race with the Lord of The Rings. This is sad because I haven’t read the books. This means that I associate this landscape not with the mythic prose of J.R.R Tolkien but with images of Peter Jackson’s middle earth of New Zealand, where the movies are filmed. But maybe this isn’t sad, because Peter Jackson made sure to create a landscape that honored the vision of the original text. At this precise time Radagast passes me. He has a big white beard, which startled me, as he cruised by I see a nest of tight dreads flowing behind. I whisper Radagast to myself and he vanishes back into the crooked wood. “Where am I?” I think. The purple light of dawn is faintly visible through the tops of the trees. I’ve made it through the night and a new chapter is about to begin. I roll into 50k ready to do some work. I have taken it easy and I feel good to go. Jackie is waiting for me. Like an F-1 pit, Jackie lathers me up with sunscreen and I put on my white running cap with sunglasses. This was completely unnecessary, but hey we’re from Texas, old habits die hard.
50–59km: Etzegarate to San Adrian.
I exit the aid stop and equip myself with a special playlist that I have been compiling for the last few days. The playlist is equal parts epic race music, nostalgic hits of middle school, filthy gangster-rap, and European trance music. This is a winning formula. I am quickly reminded that Wu-tang clan is nothing to fuck with. Currently at mile 30, I know that after mile 40 the real climbs of the race are over and the rest is “easy”. I am feeling optimistic, happy, and with the help of Charlie XCX, dance-y. I find the trail to be quite runnable from here. I am traveling on a dirt/gravel road that sees a lot of heavy traffic. There must be some industrial site near by, a quarry maybe? After a few miles a trail takes off from the road and I am back into the woods, at the top of a small hill I am distracted by the sweet, sweet sounds of The Grateful dead and I trip on something. I go down pretty hard, my reflexes are working pretty slowly at this point. But besides a cut open elbow I am unscathed and continue on. The trail falls away and I descend into a small hamlet of a few homes, cross a road, and begin to climb again, this time on a paved road. The course alternates between road and trail. I stop briefly to fill my water at a small spring with a spigot in the woods. Being refreshed I carry on and catch my first glimpse of San Adrian. A great archway stands at the perfect notch of mountain ridge-line. The way is so clear and obvious that you clearly understand yourself to be on an ancient thoroughfare. The faint clank of livestock bells echoes in the valley, the wind is carrying clouds over the ridge-line, it is now mid morning. I knew that mile 40, maybe 42 was the end of the significant climbs. Currently I am at mile 37 and feeling very confused. I began to reap the consequences of my limited knowledge of the course and novice planning from this point. However at that moment I was overwhelmed with feelings of euphoria. The valley, this archway in the distance, an ancient road, all of it; it was too much. I don’t remember exactly what song was playing, but it was in stark juxtaposition to the scenery. I started to laugh and reveled in the bizarre perfectness of the whole thing; the trip, the race, my life, all of it seemed so fun and perfect. I continued on straight through the San Adrian aid station, I was well supplied and full on water from my earlier secret stop. I had a summit to take.
59–68km: San Adrian to Oazurtza
Getting closer to the archway it becomes obvious that there is a cave or tunnel through it. My euphoria is building. Once inside the threshold of the archway you can see that there is a small chapel inside. On an outside wall it bares the image of a turned scallop, the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. Of all places to know your place in the world, this is it. To say that my mind was blown is putting it mildly, I was on the verge of tears. Then I started laughing. Then I saw a photographer.
Then the N.O.T.O.R.I.O. hits in my headphones, and I’m right back in it. I move right through the back of the cave and into the woods. Did I mention that I was feeling completely insane. Oh, here is that climb I have been wondering about. At this point nothing is going to stop me, I am feeling, like, really good. So I begin the climb cautiously but with enthusiasm. Then it keeps going. Then it gets steep. Then it keeps going. Then I start to laugh at how absurd this is. Then it gets really steep. Later my Garmin data would quantify that I gained over 3k feet during this section. I take this easy-ish and focus on drinking lots of fluid and eating food and walking. I now understood what was taking so long for this section to become difficult, now it was all crammed in a few miles. At the apex of the climb you are in a totally different ecosystem. The summits of the mountains are smooth white rock, I presume it’s limestone, but I know nothing about this. The clouds are moving quick and cloak the terrain sporadically. The trail is rocky too, and follows along the ridge-line. It was exposed and felt like the most dangerous part of the course. I let out an enthusiastic primal yell at the first rocky summit. It felt good, but not as good as I hoped.
I carried on. Soon I came to a stone shelter built into a sheltered part of the ridge. I recalled thinking, “There are some people there, they look concerned. I see them talking to me.” I gave a happy wave and kept going. Reflecting on this I realize yelling is really an expression of trouble and those people thought I was in trouble. I added a spring to my step as if to signal that I am actually just fine. Shortly after this I realize that they probably had water, and considering my last refill was in the woods before San Adrian, I was totally out. Also, as the ridge line dropped and pointed toward a green valley below my right knee began to have sharp-mcl strain-esq pains. I relied on the hiking poles here with all of my life. I walked much of the downhill. People were passing me, like crazy. I knew I was in trouble, but I knew not to take it too seriously. I kept eating and took my sweet time. I just kept telling myself that I was saving my energy for later. Once in the pasture, I was able to stretch my knee back out into a full run, it felt good enough. I was in need of water at this point. The trail began to climb again and I started to get a bit more worried. I check the faucet next to a rancid live stock tank. It wasn’t working. I keep moving, keep getting passed. I start to feel a little shame being passed by so many mortals. I had seen the Basque demi-gods up front. Now I was solidly in the ranks of Basque hard asses. Perhaps even non-runners who are just tough as hell. I muster up some strength, determined to keep the engine throttled. An aid station was at Oazurtza. I think it was made out of tarps and pallets. People were talking to me in Basque. I gave up on trying to explain that I don’t even speak Spanish. I just smiled, drank some soda, lots of water and just kept going. I also realized that I was carrying an arnica homeopath in my pack. Could this have been the game changer I was looking for?
68k to 78k: Oazurtza to Mutiloa
It was. I started keeping a lip-er of homeopath sugar pills at all times. My knee pain was much more manageable. The angel of the decent had relaxed too and the rocks were under a bed of pine needles and fallen leaves. We were back in the forest. The trail basically cut the switchbacks of a logging road and felt soft and fast. I started to open it up a bit. I recognized the name Mutiloa from road signs. I knew that it was close to Segura, the town we were staying in. I also knew that the elevation profile tattoo on my forearm showed a flat-ish final 10k. I begin to open it up some more. I had a few big realizations during this time of the race. First, I am a road runner. I want to be a trail runner, I want to think that I can bound around varied terrain for hours at a time. I’m not and I can’t. The vast majority of my training is on road. My only real credentials in running come from a fast PR marathon that I have run once. I am by no means an experienced trail runner. Secondly, the people I was running with are trail runners. I saw countless people absolutely crush the descents of this race, like full sprint every time. I was blown away by this, but for the brief respites that this course was on road these same competitors slowed the pace to a walk or jog. I began to see my newfound speed on the road sections as a tactical advantage. I began to push harder. Somewhere in this fog I convinced myself that the final 10k of the race was on the road, much like the first portion of the race. I began to really open it up and I started passing a lot of people. I kept the playlist in my ear and it kept my cognitive game steadily anchored. My fastest mile was at mile 49. I was roaring through some technical rollers, passing fools. The trail opened up to a pasture and I let it all go. I felt like I was sprinting. I came upon a shepherd, he smiled. I was losing my mind. I’m not kidding, I was listening to Mariah Carey- you’ll always be my baby. I thought, “of course I can have a 12 mile kick to end this race. I run roads. I am fine. I came on the road to Mutiloa. I was running so freaking fast. There were spectators. I imagine they were impressed. I did see an old man at several points during this section. I think he was into my positive vibes. I imagined him being into my positive vibes. In and out of the Mutiloa aid station, I’m not stopping for anything now. 10k of sweet sweet road running to go.
78–88km: Mutiloa to Beasain
Water? Nah, who cares, only 6 miles left. Let’s just go for it. I take off down the road and quickly leave the picturesque town behind. Then the trail markers come to an abrupt halt and the course turns into the woods. Oh, of course the rest won’t be on road, silly me. I begin to claw my way up the muddy road cut and make my way down the, you guessed it, trail. The wind was all but fully taken out of my sails. The music that once syncopated my steps now annoyed me. I knew I was headed for another emotional low. I got passed. I was feeling annoyed. I was thinking that it would be okay for the race to be over now. We’ve been through the epic sections and now I could do without the weedy pastures down valley. I didn’t let these thoughts go too far. By now there was more “crowd” support. I think if I spoke the language I would have benefited more from their presence. But I was well beyond trying to speak Spanish. I saw some marathon racers they looked friendly and fresh. I caught myself on the brink of emotional breakdown and centered my thoughts on the simple beauty of life in this ancient region. It wasn’t just the race that was coming to an end; my trip to Europe was too. I now soaked up every visage, each life, every stone, I tried to commit it all to memory. The smells, “smell all the smells…” I thought. I began to pick up my pace a bit. The trail curled around a small hollow and I saw another racer ahead. My competitive spirit was gone and I lacked the umph to chase him down. I let him go, and I just focused on data collection. The trail through the woods did end, I was in a field overlooking the town of Beasain. I knew that this was it. I made my way down an old street and found myself entering from the industrial side of town. I ran past the gym, past familiar buildings. People were on the street cheering. I am dishing out so many high-5’s to youngsters on the sidewalk. As I entered the finish chute I hear the announcer say my name Jamie Stone from Austin Texas. People really started to cheer and yell. I crossed the line in 13:58:58 good enough for 65th place, a top 12% finish.
Once across the line my sweet Jackie was there waiting for me. Earlier in the race I thought that I would collapse and cry at the finish. I didn’t, but the next few hours were very, very strange. I couldn’t speak. I was physically destroyed. I looked at my wife and the race volunteers with a blank expression. All I could think was, “you don’t know what I’ve seen.” Later I would find myself unable to drink a beer and with a mouth full of hives from an olive. I lost my phone, I had a fever, I had no appetite, I mean zero. I had the mental faculty of a toddler. But those are stories for another run.
 Much of the information of this race is published in the Basque language. Making it very difficult to adequately research the race. Therefore, I spent many hours watching videos on youtube. As it turns out much of the race is broadcast on Spanish television. So much of my race planning and research was based off of broadcasts from last year’s race.
 Before the race my training partner and friend Muzaffer Musal gave me this quote to think about. I wrote the word tiger on my forearm to remind me of it during the race.
Then imitate the action of the tiger; Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage: Then lend the eye a terrible aspect; Let it pry through the portage of the head, Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it, As fearfully as doth a galled rock O’erhang and jutty his confounded base, Swilled with the wild and wasteful ocean, Now set the teeth, and stretch the nostril wide; Hold hard the breath, and bend up every spirit To his full height!
 I now know this to be the road to San Adrian, a popular hiking destination.
 Angel, the seasoned pro who was staying at the same house as us told me about this tucked away water, great tip.
 This is a portion of the legendary Zagama skyrunning marathon.
 I think I’ve always wanted to be a woo-hoo guy. I’m just not. But I do keep trying.
 It’s not.
 This song has true sentimental powers for me. It was played at every middle school dance I ever attended. The music video is seared into my memory and is basically how I imagined the summer of my 14th year to be. It wasn’t.
 There was a mountain marathon the next day. Winning time 3:20 and change methinks.