Thirty Trips and Counting

The rain was lashing the car as we overtook some bedraggled cyclists after cresting a hill in the middle of the island. It was early on a November Saturday afternoon and we hadn’t come to Lanzarote for British weather! As we headed back towards the coast, the rain eased and finally ceased almost at the moment we got our first view of Club La Santa sitting adjacent to the lagoon in solitary splendour.

Our family of four, together with four ladies from LBAC, a small MKAC family and a random Irishman were the final arrivals in our 32 strong group that had gone to “Grotty” for holiday with a bit of running included. It was the 30th time that LBAC had trip for the event and remarkably there are still a few going who were there in 1990 for the second International Challenge. As you would expect, much has changed in the intervening years, but the atmosphere remains pretty similar.

We try to keep the ethos of a holiday first and an event second. From the very early days it was not just a question of how well you could run, but how well you could run after a few beers the night before.

Many of our group went out on the traditional Thursday, but we are lucky in the UK to have a range of flights available so others rocked up as suited them on Friday and Saturday too, just ahead of the first race of the Challenge which starts on the Sunday.

The idea behind the resort is that it is totally multi-sport and all of the sports facilities are included in your price. So whether you want to take a bike out, go bouldering, have a windsurf lesson, take part in a padel tennis tournament, do a pilates class, get some friends for a game of beach volleyball or take on the 20 holes of the crazy golf course, you can do whatever you like and that doesn’t scratch the surface of what’s available – and it’s usually sunny.

The races in the challenge have changed little down the years, with a run up a volcanic ridge on day two, a race on a sandy beach and long final day effort all following the opening 10K(ish). The 10K has returned to it’s original route of three laps of the lagoon and whilst it draws the most competitors it’s not the one that most look forward to.

Our group had 10 men and 10 women start the first race on the blue track in the centre of the resort, but by the end of the second lap two of the boys had submitted to injuries they were carrying going in. Unfortunately there was to be one further casualty on day four, but the 10K passed without incident and Rob Elmore picking up an age-group prize together with our friend Lena from Bearbrook. Our leading men’s and women’s teams were positioned in 4th and 5th respectively. At this stage, a big question was around Stu Read.

Richard being cheered home in the 10K

Stu came to the challenge two years ago and didn’t run due to injury. A month before this year’s challenge he had ruled it out again after a succession of injuries kept him out all summer, but a slight improvement meant that he risked starting and was in the “A” team. However, with my withdrawal after 2K, it meant there were no reserves and if the boys were to challenge in the team competition he had to finish all four races. This looked very unlikely after day 1!

Day 2 sounds hideous, but is most people favourite of the four races. It’s basically 4 miles up a volcanic ridge and back down again with a combination of tarmac and rocky, sandy tracks. It gives a great view at the top and once you get to the furthest point on the course you have a steady 2.5 mile descent, which is great if you’re feeling good.

Ruth taking in the view from the ridge

Pretty much all of our runners improved their positions on day 2, except for Stu, whose feet and back were not reacting well to the sandy downhill running – and it’s the beach race next day. At least it wasn’t downhill!

For the 5K on the beach we all trek over to Puerto Del Carmen on the other side of the island. There is a mixture of hard and soft sand that means for most people it adds about 10% on to your usual 5K time. The race is two loops of the beach and makes for good spectating and the opportunity of a dip in the sea afterwards.

Before the beach race

Having led the race for the first half lap, Rob’s consistent series saw him come home 8th, with Pete in 10th and surprisingly Stu had his best run in 34th. For the third race in row, Ruth led our leading ladies home in close proximity to each other with Amy and Coralie all in 22nd, 25th and 29th places respectively. Scott Towell, Chris Large and Fiona McLeish all had their best races of the series too and were full of confidence going into the final race.

Early stages on the beach

After each day of activity, the traditional gathering point is the sports bar for a quick shandy before heading off for dinner. There are four restaurants on site or another seven or eight in the village 2K away. Alternatively you can eat in your apartment if you’re so inclined.

The Tuesday night is always the quietest, with the potential of a long hot run in the sun coming up the following day, combined with a night as long as you choose to make it!

The final race is advertised as 21K (half marathon) but in reality is actually about 20K. It’s predominantly downhill on dirt tracks from the town of Tinajo back to Club La Santa, but there is a long drag of a climb around 13K that has people swearing out loud!

Throughout the races this year, there had been an unusually large number of “youth”. The U20 age-group which was normally sparsely populated with one or two people had been packed with elite runners. We found out after a few days that this was because it was the Danish national orienteering team out for a training camp. However, somebody had decided that this final race was too much and suddenly the front of the field had a bit more space than previously.

This meant that our “Milton Buzzard Boys”, who were quick on the uptake realised that their fourth place going into the final race, was actually third as the leading team weren’t there! The problem was that there were a couple of strong teams just behind and Stu’s body was not in great shape……..

For the “Milton Buzzard Girls” there were no such juniors to pull-out and so they were in a solid 5th place, 10 minutes ahead of 6th and six minutes behind 4th so it would be a surprise if they moved places. So the boys had a seven minute gap on the teams either side of them and could Rob push his way up towards the overall podium places?

The race went pretty well for most of our group, but unfortunately Lena who had been leading the F70 age-group took a nasty tumble a few miles in and was unable to continue. Rob meanwhile raced on and was having a battle for 2nd with Charlie May! That name may ring a bell with some – he runs for Aylesbury and has won the Leighton 10 twice, including this year. You go all the way to Lanzarote for race and end up feeling like it’s a Chiltern League!

As the supporters waited in the track and the winner came home, the question was who was next. It was Charlie, but Rob was close behind and earned his highest position of the week. Meanwhile Pete did the same, coming home 7th and the boys looked on course for holding onto a podium place assuming Stu can get round without losing too much time. Word from the course was that he was struggling at 7 miles, but still running and close to Neil, one of the MK’ers from our group.

Eventually Stu came home, just ahead of Neil and in a lot of discomfort. It was his lowest position of the week, but he’d finished. Would it be enough to hold off the Crusaders from Dublin?

Very close behind Neil was a storming Ruth, who had flew round the track to break into the top 20 women in 1:33. Amy was then just two minutes back and Coralie another two minutes behind and all under 1:39. Extremely strong running from the LB ladies who all had their best position of the week.

“Milton Buzzard Girls” after a very strong final race

As our supporting group grew with those that had finished, we shouted in everyone we knew from the week, but of course the biggest cheers were for the Milton Buzzards. Scott Towell ran superbly to complete the challenge as a sixteen year old and Chris Large completed his fifth series in a row. Fiona McLeish thoroughly enjoyed her first challenge while Paul Kennedy (Fiona Towell’s Irish recruit) made it round successfully despite being a cyclist.

Finally, our group of friends who we generally refer to as the Redway girls, Teresa, Ali, Ola, Lorraine and Burti (but actually aren’t any more) all finished successfully, with Teresa and Ali in particular having very good races.

After an informal gathering in one of the apartments that afternoon to study the blisters and make plans for the rest of the week, we gathered that evening for the presentations, with our dancing shoes raring to go!

Firstly the girls had smashed the last race and had not only picked up the six minutes they were behind, but had taken another five minutes and so were comfortably in fourth. Rob’s outstanding week had earned him a place on the overall podium in 3rd. This was great for Pete as podium finishers don’t get their age-group prizes so Pete was suddenly the V35 winner. Finally, it turned out that Stu’s efforts were all worthwhile as the boys took the third team prize.

That night was a long one, with the last of the Buzzards finally hitting the hay around 3:30am after being kicked out of the disco at closing time. For a few people, the flight home the next day was probably not much fun and I’m very glad I wasn’t one of them!

Early on party night!

The last few days passed without incident, as racket sports, cycling, swimming and crazy golf came more to the fore in terms of activities, with the last of our party leaving on the Monday.

All in all, a great fun 30th trip for LBAC with lots of new friends and memories made along the way.

The event has become so popular now that we will probably have to reserve apartments in in January in 2020, so if anyone from the club would like more information or just to book (who wouldn’t after my exciting report!!) then let Richard know and he’ll add you to the distribution list.