RACES: La Santa Races–Part 1

Normally Crusaders arrive during the Running Week, but this year the weeks arrayed so that we arrived during the marathon week where all focus is on the Arrecife Marathon rather than the race series Club La Santa offered the week previous.

We could not afford time for an Arrecife jaunt and with the National Novice a few weeks away, we preferred the more informal races arranged by the La Santa’s instructor team “Green Team”. Aoife and I planned these as replacements for our “progress calibration run” sessions and a bit of fun.

Despite being the lowest of the Canaries, Lanzarote’s rugged topography instantly snuffs out any temptation to chase PBs and the strong winds that blasted the island during the first four days of our trip only emphasised this benefit. Races would be tests and proper races as they were in the old days: With times less important than placing.

5k Race

Every morning offers a 3k and 5k morning run at five minute/km pace. This seems a bit fast if you consider you have people of all abilities but it got worse as even the group leader started out at 4:45min/km pace and people got competitive from there. Eventually, I got impatient with this myself and swept away from the group in 3:52, when someone breathes hard trying to pass you out on an easy run, an unhealthy instinct seems to trigger! (when this repeated the next morning, we stopped attending these and did slow runs on our own).

The afternoon’s 5k race fitted perfectly with the progression run planned for that day and the course was hard enough to make it relevant to cross-country. A fast first kilometre followed by a slow uphill drag into the wind to the town border of La Santa village and then back again. Strength and guts would be required for the first half, speed and power for the return trek.

I put myself behind a group of three fit-looking runners as we took off  with the sea on our right and wind at our bow, already desiring the ease of the reverse journey.

The flat first kilometre came and went in 3:44 and everyone dropped off apart from a blonde Irish runner I’d learn to know as John Richard Gallagher. I took his wheel and thought “perfect, I’ll draft behind him and try to take him on the home-stretch. As if he read my mind (he would later tell me he was unaware of me at the time), he injected a burst of speed and left me trailing as the slow second kilometre passed in 4:14, wind and hill taking it’s toll. But going into the turn, chances of catching up and taking the win still looked promising and I steadied myself for a potent finish.

In “Bowerman and the Men of Oregon”, Kenny Moore talks about the decisive point in a race when you must go and only later did I realise it had passed me by earlier. John would not relinquish his gap and held a twenty-one second lead by the end.

That both he and I were trying our best to avoid a maximal performance probably helped confuse the tactics: As it were, I pulled away easy enough to secure second in 19:09, a good work-out in the conditions. Aoife followed not far back as first woman and fifth overall. My own lead was forty-five seconds ahead of next man which is the ideal scenario when you are running a test-race and want to avoid “going to the well” or injecting a finishing sprint to hold position.

In any case, I had been defeated by an Irish runner on the day, it would not be our last run-in…

Aquathlon and Duathlon

I embarked on this holiday with a sneaky plan to engineer a quick anaerobic peak by compacting a series of quality workouts during this week in the warm climate where I would have the best conditions for rest and recovery.

Whilst browsing the calendar of events, I noticed this opened up the option of attempting a duathlon (run, bike, run), an aquathlon (swim, run) and a triathlon (swim, bike, run), a plan manifested to try them all on and get more race intensity under my belt without gambling too much on the injury.

Last time I swam more than 25m in one go I had finished last in the school mini-triathlon (400m swim, 15k bike, 5k run) as a 12-year-old, but I have grown up with no fear of water so decided to hit the pool and do an easy 500m as preparation.

To “gear-up” for the biking Aoife and I went out on a 47km bike ride around the island featuring a great number of worthwhile climbs and an amazing view of crags of Famara, the massive cliff on the northern tip of the island. We shifted leads every kilometre and worked together until Aoife allowed me to go all-out on the downhill from Tinajo to La Santa which would be in the race and worth the trial. Once there, we handed back the bike to the mechanic. If you could do this after each ride, I’d consider the sport!

The chance to employ the training did not arrive as early as planned when the overnight lightning storm cancelled the morning Duathlon. This gave me more time to recover for the Aquathlon but as we set off for the 200m swim, this proved to no avail my arms instantly malfunctioning, exhausted by the circuit training Sunday.

Forced to adopt a breast stroke rather than crawl, this already weak swimmer fell behind by miles and crawled (!) out the pool last of thirty-two contestants, twenty seconds adrift of the next person and four minutes after John Richard Gallagher – now revealed as an ace triathlete for all to see.

My racers had been tied in a way that allowed me to slip wet feet straight into them and I quick-stepped away from the slippery pool area, starting my run, the leaden feeling often described by triathletes hit straight off. Yet, I forced them going runners came back to me thick and fast as I gathered pace. Caroline Reid had not been wrong, the catch-up can turn into a turkey shoot for a runner during our specialty section and she was not wrong: I caught sixteen people and set the third fastest running time, prompting a Scot to later recognise me with “ah, the slow swimmer with the really fast run!”. John Gallagher held on for another win, running six seconds faster than me for the undulating two mile circuit of the lagoon.

So after two runs it was John 2 - Rene 0. Would there be more of the same in the half-marathon and the team triathlon?

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