Race Photos by Ian Corless
Now in its fourth year, the Compressport Trail Menorca Cami de Cavalls (TMCdC), has grown quickly since its inception and in 2015 offered 5 courses ranging from 32km to 185km. It is not hard to see why it is a popular event amongst Spanish trail runners and why it has growing international appeal.
Menorca is a beautiful island. It has been protected from development and many areas are largely untouched. The trail that runs along the coastline of the island, Cami de Cavalls (CdC), was originally established by the settlers of Menorca as part of a defence system, connecting the watch towers, fortresses and cannons that protected the island. It was patrolled by soldiers on horses, hence the name (cavalls mean horses in Catalan). Today it is a popular route with hikers and mountain bikers and a fantastic way of discovering the island. It weaves its way in and out of the coast, and lets the traveller experience varying terrain and views. These include woodland paths, white beaches with intensely turquoise water, beautiful but at times technically challenging rock formations, farmland, ravines and urban areas. The profile is undulating with moderate climbs but the frequency of them makes for a very varied course.
The flagship race is the 185km long TMCdC, in which competitors start and finish in Ciutadella, making their way around the whole island. Although the total ascent is relatively moderate at 2863m the difficulty of this race should not be underestimated. Even the flat sections can be technically challenging. The race starts on Friday morning and the cut-off is 41 hours later.
I opted for the more modest distance of 85km, Trail Menorca Costa Sur, TMCS. This starts in Es Castell in the east and finishes in Ciutadella in the west, following the trail along the south coast of the island. It takes in the last 85m of the full TMCdC. It seemed like a sensible distance after only recently having competed in both the Marathon des Sables and the London Marathon. In addition, from the course profile, it looked like the last 20km were flat which appealed to me.
A bus was organised for Saturday morning at 6am to take participants to the start of the race in Es Castell. The weather didn’t look good. During the night there had been thunderstorms (which the 185km runners had unfortunately experienced as they were already well into their race) and heavy rain was falling as we made the bus journey to the start. Niandi Carmont and I agreed that this was not what we had come to Menorca for! Still, I was grateful that the weather forecast didn’t predict 28 degrees C like just a few days ago when scorching temperatures had hit Spain.
When we arrived, we had just under an hour to the start and were able to spend time in a sports hall. Niandi Carmont was super organised and laid down for a nap whereas I emptied my drop bag for some last minute decisions on kit (see note on my kit choices at the end). As always time passed too quickly and it was soon time to start. To everyone’s relief the rain had cleared, at least temporarily. Some dark clouds were looming but the temperature was perfect. A quick briefing (in Spanish), dramatic music to heighten the spirits (or scare us??) and we were off.
I fell into a comfortable pace, which turned out to be amongst the front 20 or so runners. No other women seemed to be in that group but I didn’t look back to figure out where they were, I was going to do my on race. The first few hours took us through a variety of landscapes as we made our way forward on roads along the coast and pretty trails in a mix of farm- and woodland. It was frequently uneven and stony underfoot so I had to pay attention to where I put my feet down but I enjoyed this part of the course and I felt good. We had some rain showers but they were quite refreshing and I could see ahead that it would clear up. I tried to make the most of the cool morning, knowing it would soon warm up.
As I was beginning to approach half way (just over a marathon) it looked like I was tracking for a bit under four hours, which was perfect. I estimated that although I would tire on the second half, that I should be able to make up pace on the last flat section (although I had been pre-warned it would be tough underfoot.)
However it started to get a bit tougher now. A few more climbs slowed the pace down and there were many gates to negotiate. Even though they opened quickly you still had to stop ever so often. I seemed to be running with the same group of people but we were more spread out now. Weaving in and out of each other, some stronger on the ascents, others on the descents or the flats. One guy clearly did NOT want to get chicked (he eventually was) and I found this amusing. Every time I went past him he came back, huffing and puffing with great determination, until I finally lost him at a checkpoint.
I was always the quickest through the checkpoints. I had decided to be self-sufficient with everything except water although the checkpoints were fairly well stocked: sandwiches with jam, peanuts, almonds, fresh fruit (apples, bananas, orange), cheese… I did take orange at most checkpoints. It was sweet, juicy and very refreshing. I refilled my bottles and left as quickly as I could, not wasting any time. The volunteers were very helpful, asking if I was ok or if I needed anything. Good thing I speak a little bit of Spanish so I could understand them.
Just before the half way point at about 39km everything was going swimmingly well. I felt great, I was on a roll and I was moving at good pace. Another gate to negotiate laid ahead at the end of a slight down hill section. A lovely couple held it open for me so I didn’t have to stop. Instead of looking at the ground ahead I looked them and smiled as I cruised though the gate. Just as I passed them, much to their horror and my embarrassment, I stumbled and abruptly face planted on the stony trail. In an instant I had gone from feeling fantastic to feeling like a complete idiot. The couple helped me up and there was blood everywhere. It took me a little while to figure out that the main source was my right thumb, which had ploughed through the ground as I instinctively tried to stop the fall with my hands. This had resulted in a not insignificant piece of skin and flesh peeling off and the blood was pumping out. A quick assessment of the knees and my left shin (which had been hit by a stone) seemed to suggest I was only bruised and scraped. At this point I was glad I had carried my first aid kit and after some moderately successful patching up I hobbled on. Many of the guys I had left behind now passed me again. They were all helpful and asked if I was ok, looking slightly doubtful hearing me say “si, estoy bien” with blood all over. I took stock of the time and decided all was not lost. After all, I was still first woman and I could still run. Yes, I had bloody knees and a throbbing thumb but I figured the bleeding would stop eventually and as long as I was running the adrenaline would see to that I wasn’t in too much pain. My main concern was infection but I had some antiseptic wipes and cleaned the wounds as best as I could.
It was a mental relief to get over the first Marathon and know that I “only” had half way to go. Here, the terrain started to get a bit trickier. As the trail closely followed the coastline we ran on beautiful but equally brutal uneven rock formations. It was now also getting warmer and I had to drink more and focus on my nutrition and hydration. This part of the race was hard mentally. I kept thinking that when I get to 65km it’s only 20km left and flat. Little did I know then how hard flat could be!
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Ian Corless turned up on the trail at around 55km or thereabouts. We were probably as surprised as each other and he quickly started some very brave sprinting over the rocks, cameras in hand, to get ahead of me enough for some good shots. I think I mumbled something about the last 10km being brutal and then as I passed him I had to focus hard as the tricky rocky ground continued, seemingly without an end. I was hit by disbelief as I fell a second time (to my already scraped knees’ delight) and then a third time but this time I narrowly escaped a tore hamstring when I not so gracefully put my left leg out in front of me. There was a lot of swearing as I hobbled on so it was a good thing I was pretty much on my own here. However, the knees had started bleeding again and judging from the faces of some people I met I must have been a pretty scary sight although I did my best to smile at them as if nothing had happened.
By now I started to see more people around me on the trail. I was catching up the slower runners in the 185km race, and the fresh runners who had started the shorter Trekking Costa Sur (TCS) came bouncing along on annoyingly fresh legs. A fellow Italian runner was a bit worried about me. I tried to explain in fairly poor Italian that it looked worse than it was and assured him I was fine. He didn’t believe me and said to another runner that they needed to keep an eye on me. I was touched by the support and camaraderie and maybe he was right, I think I had lost focus for a while. I decided to get my Ultra Fuel out and mixed it up in a bottle as walked along a beach. I started sipping it and felt much better. Maybe I hadn’t been eating as much as I thought.
I kept on running and to my relief we hit roads as we were approaching the last checkpoint at 73 km. I ran into it feeling positive and was informed I was the leading lady. I had incredible support from the spectators and the checkpoint volunteers were very helpful, just as they had been at all support points so far. Unfortunately they were so helpful that before I knew it my bottles had been emptied and refilled with fresh water, which meant that what was left of my Ultra Fuel had gone and I had no more of it on me. I watched it in a little puddle on the ground and felt a bit tired all of sudden. But, the CP staff were only doing the best they could to be helpful and I had other things to pick me up. They asked if I wanted to clean my knees but I declined and said I just had to get to the finish now.
I left the checkpoint to cheers and felt good again. I followed the road to the end where it turned, about 100 metres or so. As I turned the corner I was abruptly hit by the next obstacle which came in the form of an extremely forceful headwind. It would of course be silly not to expect strong winds on a small island like Menorca but this was something different altogether. Apparently there is a Menorcan legend that the winds of the island change people’s personalities. Whether there is any truth in that I don’t know but I certainly needed a large portion of positivity at this point!
I told myself that it could be worse, that I could still be on those treacherous rocks and that at least I was on the road. Well, guess what awaited a few hundred metres ahead… That’s right, the rocks (which by now I strongly disliked) coupled with the worst possible headwind which only got worse as the rocky section took us further out on a completely exposed section of coastline. There was nowhere to hide, no shelter. A runner passed me but he was too quick for me to keep up with him at this stretch. He was one of the TCS runners so had more in the tank than I did. I desperately kept moving my arms and legs and felt like I was going nowhere. I didn’t check my pace as that would have been far too depressing. This was now a case of mind over matter, one step at the time.
This went on for what felt like an eternity and eventually we entered an urban area and could run on the road again. The wind was almost as strong but at least the rocks were temporarily out of sight. I wasn’t sure how far to the finish but thought about 7-8km at this point to be safe. Then I heard a familiar voice. It was Oliver, the press officer for the race. Oliver had kindly picked me up from the airport on the Friday and was working tirelessly 24/7 to deal with all the planned and unplanned events that putting on a race like this involves. He said I had about 6km to go and that there were more rocks to come. We chatted for a bit and I grit my teeth to make the final stretch.
It turned out it that it was not so bad: strong wind, yes, but mainly road and I could run on that. The finish in Ciutadella came quicker than I thought. I could hear the music from the speakers and the cheering from the crowds. I recognised my hotel on the other side of the little bay by Platja Gran, just a stone’s throw from the finish line. What a relief! I turned left onto the final stretch, entered the funnel on the artificial grass that had been laid out and to the sound of the cheering crowds I crossed the line in a new women’s course record of 9:02:30.
What a wonderful race! Knowing how tough the finish was I felt for those brave runners I had passed out there who were completing the final stretch of the 185 km TMCdC. Some of them would not finish until Sunday morning, maybe some would not finish at all, finding the challenge too big to muster this time. I sent a thought their way before enjoying my post-race relaxation. I got to sit down by a pool, soon had a cold beer in my hand and a plate of paella. What a great service!
Before I crossed the road to my hotel for a shower I got patched up by the Red Cross. I soon had to hobble back out again as I had forgotten to collect my drop bag. A friendly volunteer spotted my attempt at walking and wondered if I was looking for the Red Cross. I tried to explain that I had already been patched up and was ok but that I needed my drop bag. The word “guardaropas” seemed to do the trick and I soon had my bag in hand and could stumble back for a shower and change of clothes. Niandi did a great job. She was also running the 85kms course. She came in a few hours after me and won her age group, fresh as a daisy. 45 minutes after she finished she arrived in high heels ready for dinner as if nothing happened. At least someone could bring some glamour to the dinner table ☺.
This was my first time in Menorca and hope there will be many more (maybe those winds did have some impact after all!). The scenery is stunning and there is a raw, untouched element to the island. The course is beautiful but deceptive and should not be underestimated. Having said that it is perfectly achievable. On reflection I think it could be a great race for those looking for a course with some technical challenge but who don’t like heights or who struggle at altitude. The highest point on the island is only 360m above sea level.
Everyone I met who was involved in the race organisation showed such immense passion for what they were doing. This shone through in every single element of the weekend. As the race grows some aspects may need to change to accommodate more participants and maybe the number of races can be reduced to simplify logistics. However, as far as the route, passion, and people go this is an event that I can highly recommend. It might help understanding a tiny bit of Spanish as the briefings and prize giving talks were not translated.
I also always advise to apply some degree of self-sufficiency to an ultra even if the checkpoints are stocked with supplies. Make sure you take what you know will work for you. Just like in the UTMB races there are no cups provided at check points. You need to have either a bottle or a cup if you want to take advantage of the drinks on offer (coke, juices, sports drink).
The weather can change quickly which is an added challenge to this race. Expect anything from strong winds to bright sunshine, hot temperatures, and heavy rain. Strong winds can be deceptive as you feel cool and may not drink enough. Make sure you always have enough water as checkpoints are up to 15km apart.
A note on kit
There is a mandatory kit list, which has the basic necessities on it. Nothing unusual: head torch, wind or water proof jacket, emergency blanket, rear safety light etc. For the 185km race, consider that you will be going through the night on an exposed trail and equip yourself accordingly. The mandatory kit list is the minimum but in my opinion not quite enough for this race unless you’re very fast so apply common sense. Similarly, you may be going through the night on the other distances too depending on how fast you intend to finish. I recommend a decent head torch because the terrain is technical and you may not have company as the field spread out. I took the Black Diamond Ion which I also used for MdS and which for its size and weight offers good output at 80 lumens. If I were doing the 185km route I would probably pick a more powerful torch such as the Black Diamond Spot 130 which is another favourite of mine.
Check the weather report to see if you might need a waterproof jacket. Personally I would also take precautions and carry a basic first aid kit even though this is not mandatory (my supplies were not quite enough to patch myself up properly!). A very good multifunctional item in a first aid kit is Elastoplast tape. You can use it to strap a compress on a wound, to stabilise a joint or to protect various areas from chafing.
For clothes I opted for X-Bionic THE TRICK shorts and Energizer Summerlight top, both favourites. I had the X-Bionic visor, which meant I didn’t actually need my sunglasses and they ended up in the pack after not very long. I wore tried and tested Injinji Run Midweight socks and Scott Trail Rocket shoes (amazing trail shoe) and I finished blister free. I was very happy with all my clothing choices.
The Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest was perfect. I was able to stick 6 gels in pockets above the bottles, jelly babies and powder in the pockets below the bottles and the compulsory equipment and some extra food in the main compartment. It was easy to stuff things into the main compartment without taking the vest off as it is open at the top, yet nothing fell out.
For ease of access of a few extra bits I also took the slim Scott Jurek Essential waist belt but moved the smallest detachable pocket to one of the vest chest straps. I love this belt: it is incredibly light and doesn’t move or bounce. I didn’t necessarily need the storage but it was convenient to have access to some hand sanitising wipes and have a place to store rubbish. Littering along the course is of course strictly forbidden and bins are only available in urban areas and at checkpoints.
For sun protection I applied Tingerlaat in the morning, one application only, and didn’t burn. For blister and chafing prevention I used Gurney Goo and 2Toms BlisterShield, two products that always deliver.
The Ultra Fuel was a very welcome boost towards the end and I wish I would have had a bit more.