It may sound idyllic; however, you must work hard to reap the rewards. The average temperatures in Andalusia during the middle of July range from 30°C to 45°C (86-113°F), hard enough to endure when running on the flat, but there are few flat sections. Then there is the distance 230km (143miles), the first stage is relatively short 39 km (24 miles) starting from the hotel, which is the event base in Hoja, and heading up a mountain. A brutal introduction to running in the heat. Welcome to the Al Andalus Ultimate Trail.
The race was established in 2009 (the name Al Andalus comes from the original historic name for a large area of Spain of which Andalusia is part) and has become one of the ‘must do’ multi-day events. Many runners come back several times and, as the field is kept small to preserve the friendly intimate atmosphere, entering early is advisable to secure a place.
Each day offers a new running challenge in the Poniente Granadino region, passing through parts of the Sierras Loja, Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama, nationally-protected natural parks. Runners have to be careful when admiring the views as much of the race is on rugged uneven terrain and a lack of attention could lead to a nasty fall or a twisted ankle.
The race director Paul Bateson, an Englishman who has made Spain and in particular the Andalusia area his home, imposes cut-off for each section based on a minimum speed of 6km/h (3.7mph) because he wants it to be viewed as a race by competitors. Runners failing to beat the cut-offs are moved up the course; although they will not be in the list of finishers they can continue with the event if they want to and have clearance from the medical adviser. There are a significant number of runners who don’t complete the course each year. For example, in 2017 39 completed the event and 33 had to retire at some point. The year before it was 50 and 22.
The competitors’ kit is transported between stages, so that all they have to carry is food, electrolytes and some safety items. Water is provided about every 10km and towels which have been kept soaked in ice-cold water. A very welcome relief for the runners who often leave the checkpoints with ice cubes clutched in each hand and under their caps. Accommodation each might is provided in tents, usually just outside a village so that competitors can enjoy a glass of wine and some local food in the evening. The running is tough, but it has its rewards after it is done each day.
Stage 1: Loja to Alhama de Granada, 39km
Total Ascent: 1330 m / Total Descent: 976 m
Stage 2: Alhama de Granada to Játar, 48km
Total Ascent: 1640 m / Total Descent: 1500 m
Stage 3: Játar to Jayena, 39km
Total Ascent: 980 m / Total Descent: 1035 m
Stage 4: Jayena to Alhama de Granada, 67km
Total Ascent: 2031 m / Total Descent: 2083 m
Stage 5: Alhama de Granada to Loja, 37km
Total Ascent: 1120 m / Total Descent: 1500 m
As with most ultramarathons the Al Andalus Ultimate Trail is not just about beating others, although the competition at the front is fierce, it is about pushing yourself beyond what you previously thought was possible. It’s a shared experience among a small group of like-minded people, supported by a crew who love the area and want people to not only to succeed but also to have an amazing life-enhancing experience in a beautiful area steeped in history and culture.
This is what some past finishers have said:
“The heat, the hills and some interesting technical sections made this a tough race that pushed me physically and mentally, but I think I can now say, after a few days have passed, that even though it was tough, it was still fun and enjoyable.”
“…bruised, battered, toenail-less, chaffing, swollen feet, excruciating blisters, fatigued, BUT we did it and had a blast doing so. I made some awesome friends, saw stunning landscapes, and had a great time.”
The Al Andalus Ultimate Trail gets under your skin and into your blood, so you want to keep coming back.
Al Andalus Ultimate Trail 2019 takes places on the 8-12 July, 2019. For more race information head to Alandalus-ut.com