Really, don’t get excited, when I say “marathon mom,” that’s as in “soccer mom,” not as in a mom who runs marathons (at least not yet but more of that another time!). I’ve shivered on the streets of London, and got soaked in Snowdonia watching Guy run marathons. I’ve also fried watching both my sons run the Half Marathon in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Austin take part in triathlons here in Tenerife. Of course the soaking, and the chilling, and the frying mean nothing, because watching my sons achieve is the very best thing in my life :)
Thus, rising at 6am, being on the road by 6.30 and eating a peanut butter wrap on a misty hillside for breakfast is all a part of the scene. But hang on, this adventure begins before that…….
It’s a while since I was on one of these inter island ferries, eight months to be precise. A year ago, as I crisscrossed the archipelago, rumbling into the black hole of one of these boats was as normal as taking a train is for many folk. Since last July I’ve been kind of grounded. It’s good to be on the move again.
Getting there early always pays off in the case of these ferries even though it means hanging around for a while before boarding. It means you board first and can choose your seat. To the intriguing island of El Hierro, it’s two and a half hours from Los Cristianos in Tenerife, so it’s convenient to choose your seat, although the seating on all of these boats is comfy enough.
It’s the smallest of the seven main islands, a green paradise (in more ways than one, it is almost self-sufficient energy-wise – and example to the world). It’s nick-named La Isla Meridiana (The Meridian Island) a name it acquired long before Greenwich was chosen, but more of its history when I have explored it more. This is a flying visit with a purpose – Austin is taking part in the mountain marathon called Maratón Meridiano.
There is only one ferry a day between Tenerife and El Hierro at the moment, so we have no option but to arrive in the dark, and rely on the GPS. It’s a small island, but some of the roads are a bit scary (as I learn a couple of days later)…. although, happily not the one we take to the Parador, which is about fifteen minutes from the port. We’re in nice time for a tasty dinner, but can’t see much of the surroundings on a night of low cloud.
Morning reveals a gorgeous location, nestled on a stunning bay, guarded by towering mountains, clearly this Parador is a place to which to return at a more leisurely pace than this weekend will be. It’s winter and the hillsides glow in their covering of velvety green; crevices power down to the narrow coastal strip; and along the shore a pebble beach stretches for longer than I expected on an island of just over 100 square miles.
By the end of the morning we have covered a goodly swathe of the island, from capital, Valverde, straggling the island’s hillsides, to La Restinga on the southern tip, the tiny village off whose shore a new volcano is rumbling. We have stopped to admire the stunning views from Charco Azul, and Austin has appraised the course he will run tomorrow – yep up those mountainsides and into the swirling mist….for real!
We have investigated a part of the marathon route, parts which can be reached by road. The race crosses the road in several places on its way up and down the mountains of El Hierro. We have passed a stunning orchard of almond trees in full flower. We stop briefly, although we are late for lunch, but the grey skies don’t make for the wonderful photos this deserves!
We arrive in La Restinga and I get one of “those” feelings…… that this is somewhere which strikes a chord with me……almost right away, as I step out of the car. Aware that things are stirring underwater, just off the coast, makes it seem extra tranquil in the delightful, little harbor. Happily, the sun breaks through for a while, making the place even more magical than I already feel.
We meet up with Austin’s friend. Having friends in far-flung places is a wonderful thing. Because Austin is a sailor, and because we have lived “abroad” we both have friends scattered around the planet. One of the best things is that when you visit they know the best places to eat or hang out. Our lunch is beyond delicious. The table groans with dishes of fresh fish, salads and things I can’t even now remember. We have the freshest fish ever, and an escaldón make with fish stock that I can’t stop eating. Oh, I will SO be back here!
Lunch over, we take a leisurely drive back to Tigaday in Frontera, where the race is due to begin and end tomorrow. Registration opens at 4pm. There is an almost tangible buzz in the air as we approach the square, where tents and awnings and flags mark the spot. Austin queues and I take snaps.
This race, founded in 2007, will take him over an accumulated ascent of 2,600. That is not going straight up to that height, but up and down mountains! Trail running and ultra marathons are very much in vogue in the Canary Islands, and when you look at the terrain in each, the volcanic landscapes, the forest trails and mountains it’s obvious why. This isn’t something many folk attempt, and it’s also obvious why that is, but over time I’ve got used to the terminology, the specifics of why certain foods are eaten, the necessity to rest, stretch and train. It’s all very technical, and utterly fascinating, especially in terms of how far the human form can be pushed, and that especially when you realize how sedentary we have become. Austin is doing the full 42k, but there is a 27k, 18k and 7k for beginners to the sport.
A slow drive back to the parador, a hearty dinner and an early night for that 6.30 start!
As we quietly exit the hotel in the early morning dark, Austin hands me a bag with my breakfast (the parador doesn’t begin breakfasts until 7.30). Talk about well-organized! We drive for miles before seeing another car, but in the half-light when we arrive in Tigaday it is bustling. The Red Cross are erecting medical aid tents, people are changing clothes (as does Austin) from the boots of cars, the faces of runners are alight with excitement, the faces of supporters are bleary from lack of sleep, much limbering up is going on, limbs are being stretched as the light becomes clearer. Surprisingly, (to me at least) the two bars which are open are fairly quiet, and I grab a coffee to wake me up.
Finally, it’s time. What do you say to someone about to run a marathon? Good luck might mean bad luck, but break a leg hardly seems like the right thing either. I find a slot as close to the start as I can to grab a photo. The DJ is winding up competitors and spectators alike. Queen belts out “We will rock you.” Tension rises. The DJ is interviewing participants, and cheers go up as each reveals where they have come from, mostly the other islands, but someone from mainland Spain and one from Germany. He doesn’t get to Oz, so UK doesn’t get a mention this time. The countdown is beginning, and I raise my camera. The auto focus isn’t working, so I need to be very careful.
I watch Oz disappear up the street, and then head to the van. Supporters have been supplied with a brief map, showing the points where the roads cross the course, so we can hope to get snaps at those places. The first is easy to find, and I crouch by the roadside, hoping that I’m not too late. I’m not, but it’s hard to get a decent shot with the auto focus not working!
We’d decided the second spot would probably be a bit of a bottleneck, so I drive on to the 3rd, the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de los Reyes. We’d reckied this spot the previous day, and I’d been enchanted by this small chapel, perched on a mountainside, just before the treeline. Austin had given me his estimated arrival times at each spot, so I knew I had time to take a look around the chapel, eat my breakfast (the peanut butter wraps – yum!), take some snaps, and find a good spot to wait. I did, crouched on the trail behind the chapel, overlooking the ocean.
After calling out support, I check with an official the way to the next check point, and set off. Climbing all the way I’m soon in thick mist on a dirt road, but the fact there are two or three cars behind me hopefully confirms that I’m going the right way, as does the Red Cross ambulance coming towards me. We climb, and climb some more. The mist thickens, drifts, lessens. The visibility is awful, and I decide to turn back, certain that if I manage to catch up with the runners there, I’ll be late back at the finish line, and I really want to get a picture at the finish line! I’ve never been able to do that before, there is always such a crush, or one isn’t allowed close, but because of the nature of this race I think I have a chance.
I’ve only been back fifteen minutes or so when I spot Austin’s green visor heading down the street, and raise my camera for the shot I’ve been waiting for. His time is 6 hours, 7 minutes and 32 seconds. I can’t begin to imagine running for that long, or even the 7 minutes 32 seconds part of it! The preparation, the training, the diet all make sense to me now! I am the proudest mom in the world!
We spend the next day driving through mists; feasting on island offerings, watercress soup and knuckle of beef for a warming lunch; and chasing down the place which makes the island’s famous speciality quesadilla in Val Verde. The mists prevent us from seeing much, but I am, as so often in recent years, leaving a bit of my heart on El Hierro. This post isn’t so much about the island as about the race though, about being proud of my sons, which is ……….. the best feeling in the whole world.