April 29, 2017 I ran the 101 Peregrinos Ultramarathon in El Bierzo. Here is a review of the race.
I am a runner because I love exploring, and running enables me to see more. I am an ultra runner because I have a poor sense of direction while out exploring.
The 101 Peregrinos was my first ultra in Europe. I am a Minnesotan, meaning, I am conversant with running on cold, snowy, flat terrain. The 101 Peregrinos offered none of that, but I decided to sign up anyway. It couldn’t be all bad…
Technical aspects include a course length of 101 km (“más o menos”), a terrain profile that looks like an echogram of a stable heart rate and then an injection of adrenaline, and an elevation gain of 3,721 meters (had I been more conversant in the metric system I may have realized that 3,721 meters is quite a bit different than 3,721 feet). I have no idea why the race initially started years ago. I do know that it involves Templar castles, Roman mines, small Spanish villages, skipping the siesta
(unless you are a lot faster than me), and pulpo. More about pulpo later. The race is a combination of mountain bikers, 101 km ultra, 48 km marathon, and 101 km team runners. Those biking the route leave in shifts before the runners, and only the fastest runners and the slowest bikers ever see each other. A 9 am race start was a first for me as well. I suppose this counts as “Spanish timing,”and I admit, I enjoyed waking up late!
In the first kilometers we passed a 12th century Templar castle, crossed a Roman Bridge, and checked off a section of the Camino de Santiago winter route. From kilometer 4 to approximately 47 the race winds through the Spanish countryside, over hill and dale…mostly hills and not many dales. Vineyards and forests, little villages and remains of Roman gold mines break up the routine of climbing hills.
Somewhere in this segment I managed to add a few extra kilometers (see first two sentences). I have no idea how, but it became glaringly apparent when I skipped an aid station to hit the next one in 3 kilometers. I had run out of water but figured I could fill up my hydration vest at the next one. Three kilometers came and went with no aid station. Then six kilometers passed. The Spanish sun began to do it’s work of drying out every fiber of my being, at least that is what I felt like. I tried to compensate for my thirst by eating whatever I had in my running vest. One. Great. Idea.
When I finally did get to the aid station I downed two glasses of Aquarius, a ham and cheese sandwich, and an orange. From this moment on there was something wrong with my stomach. I managed to hit the mid point of the race, Puente de Domingo Florez, maintaining my desired speed to finish in 12 hours, taking into account the horror that was about to come, “horror” meaning the 30 kilometers of consistent elevation gain.
Twenty minutes into the upward climb the clouds rolled in, the temperature dropped, and my visions of a quick dip in a mountain stream turned to how to cover my shivering arms. I had left my windbreaker at the bag drop in Puente. Another awesome idea.
The 30 kilometer climb and final 20 kilometers can be summarized fairly quickly. Diarrhea. Lying on the side of the trail trying to convince the passing runners that everything was fine, I normally look like this, and not to call the Red Cross. Trying to get fluids down. More diarrhea. Cows running down the trail. Aid stations with wild boar stew, Pulpo (fried octopus), and other great food for someone who can’t keep anything down. The long walk to the finish line was alleviated by a friend improvising as my search and rescue team, my wife and daughter stoically shivering in the wind beneath the stone walls of an ancient castle, and the accompaniment of a friend for 20 kilometers into the early morning hours. His designation of “friend” is up for review since
he would not let me quit in the last two kilometers…what kind of a friend would do that!?
With all that, of course I am going to run it again next year. I think the 101 Peregrinos offers a great experience not just in ultra running, but in history, culture, beauty, and of course, pulpo.