How I Ran My First 50-Miler [Part 2]

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” - Nelson Mandela

Race Day – Saturday May 23, 2015

My iPhone alarm went off at 2:30 am.

I had to take the 3am bus to Kantara Castle – the race was gonna start at 5am in the morning. In a nutshell, I had to run 81km (50 miles) from Kantara Castle to the Bellapais village, getting across the northern mountains of Cyprus, climbing the stairs to the incredible Buffavento Castle and finishing the course in front of the guesthouse from Bellapais. So, after a short nap in the bus we arrvied at the base of the Kantara Castle.

For those who didn’t read the first part: go here and read how I ended up in Cyprus to run my first 50-mile trail race.

The Start of the Race

The weather was perfect and due to the group photos we ended up starting the race at 5:11am. There about 32 people at the start line and I was the youngest. The oldest one was a 62-year-old Australian guy. The organizers wished us good luck and the ultra (the Lionheart race, as it was called) started with a few kilometers that were downhill. That was a really fast start for what was yet to come.

Sunrise was about to appear and I was admiring the amazing views from the top of the mountain. I had decided to approach the race with a smart pace – not too fast, not too slow – I was actually concerned about pushing too much as I didn’t know how my legs would respond to about 3500 meters elevation. The race was marked with red dots on rocks and trees. My plan was to stick to the others in order not to get lost.

The start of the race at Kantara Castle - Castles Ultra Lionheart race 2015

CP1 to CP3

The first CP was after 10km and I went on without stopping – just grabbed some oranges and water and started the long climb on the mountain. After CP2 (after 22km), I reached the first single track of the course. Grabbed some water and slowed down a lot because the trail was actually turning and twisting a lot. It’s good that I had my gaiters with me.

I didn’t want to miss some red dots and end up lost. At the base of this single track descend, it happened. I got lost so I went backwards for about 700 meters when I met Gerry – a 58-year-old British who was running the race for the second time in a row. He knew the course so we ran together until we reached the short part of tarmac road that would take us to Checkpoint 3 (29K from the start).

Took some Magnesium, Calcium, and grabbed a few oranges and bananas at the aid station. I had previously arranged to have a dropbag there at CP3, so I switched my Mizunos for my other pair – Asics Gel Trabuco 14. When I studied the race course I saw that bad things were gonna come, and I really needed the support, cushioning and traction of a trail shoe.

This was also the lowest point of the race in terms of elevation. The volunteers from this CP were great. When they asked me how I was feeling, I told them I was perfect. I really was. Everyone knew that the race was gonna be relatively easy until checkpoint 3 and then it would actually get harder and harder until CP8 – the finish line.

Just like the calm before the storm.

The Northern Cyprus mountains

CP3 to CP5

When I left CP3 I had so much energy. After about 100 m I had to turn right and start climbing up a really 3km steep hill. Single track - jeep track – single track. I alternated between fast hiking and slow running on the steep sections and I found myself at the 40K point. No checkpoint here, just a red paint on a rock.

I reached checkpoint 4 (42K) where I stayed for about 4 minutes to eat bananas, oranges, and watermelon. I refilled my hydration system (CamelBak), took some Magnesium and left for CP5.

From what I had learned about this race, the toughest climb of the race was near – the Heartbreak Hill. I ran as much as I could from CP4 to CP5, until I reached some really rocky trails. After about 400 m the red dots were telling me to head right and I did. After another 300 m I saw a guy staying there and just starring up to the mountain.

“We have to climb up there”, he said when I approached.

“It really lives up to its name”, I said.

The “easy” stuff came to and end.

Yup, that was pure hiking. I had to use my hands to climb that section. I stopped at the top of the infamous Heartbreak Hill to enjoy the great view on both sides of the trail. The Mediterranean Sea was on the right and the whole Cyprus was on the left. What a view!

At this point I was really happy that I had changed my running shoes. Running on the mountain and feeling those big rocks under my feet made me realize that this was no joke.

In about 10 minutes I reached CP5. Took three gels, more water, ate some sweets and chips and poured water over my head. Seconds before I wanted to leave this CP, I met Enio, the friend who I came there with. He was running the Braveheart race (the 30K). He told me that I looked great and he couldn’t believe I had just run 53k.

I lost about 7 minutes there, but I really wanted to take care of my needs before marching on to the toughest part of the race.

The volunteers from CP5 encouraged me by saying that CP5 to CP6 was not that hard. The real difficult part was between CP6 and CP7. As I was leaving this station I remembered Bryan’s words (one of the organizers) at the pre-race briefing.

“You should really think of this race in two sections. The 1st half of the course is the first 52K, the 2nd half is the last 28K. Both sections will probably take you the same amount of time to cover”

It had took me 6 hours and 40 minutes to cover this part of the race. I didn’t actually know was was going to come, but I knew it was gonna be challenging.

The Heartbreak Hill during CastlesUltra in 2015

CP6 to CP7

The next few hundred meters were on tarmac and then a crossroads followed. I followed the red dots, asked some guys if that was the correct path and started gliding to the bottom of the mountains through a lot of trees. After about 2-3 kilometers I found myself climbing again in the grueling hot sun.

It was 12 o’clock. The temperature was rising. I still had to cover a lot of kilometers.

 

To be continued

Cyprus Mountains
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