Azores Trail Run Triangle Adventure – Part 1

Luís Race Report

azores trail running

The Azores Trail Run Triangle Adventure (link) was something that I’ve been wanting to do since its first edition. The idea of a 3 day stage race in 3 islands is just beautiful, even more for me. Being native from Faial, knowing well all the trails in Faial, Pico and São Jorge… The possibility of 3 races in these 3 islands during 3 days, it’s just a dream come true. So, for the 4º edition, I finally lined together with more 69 athletes that were up to the challenge, in an overall number of 124 athletes. Some of them only took part on individual stages and not the whole adventure. The results can be seen here.


My main strategy before hand for this Azores Trail Run Triangle Adventure was to go easy on the start… Using race time to warm up or recover. So the idea for the first 2 stages was to start and finish a bit slower. Allowing for some recovering during the race. I can endure long distances if I go slow, but I was also trying to be as fast as I could. One of the strategies was to do as few stops in aid stations as possible. I usually race short distance trails, like between 20 and 30 km. So I’m used to cary what I need and keep on moving fast.

azores trail running
azores trail running


Basically I was using dried figs and beef jerky. I guess it sounds very strange but I had 2 strong reasons. First, what I use for nutrition during work (hiking, cycling or running) or training is mostly natural stuff: water, trail mix and other dried fruits or nuts; fresh fruit; beef jerky and sandwiches now and then. So my body in theory is used to this kind of food. Second, I like to use less processed and less plastic producing food. 🙂 Which doesn’t mean I don’t use gels and stuff, I just use it less. 

Every day I was carrying 1.5L of water and approximately 3 figs, 1 small stripe of beef jerky per hour of racing and 2 gels. I’ve found out that after 2 hours of racing, me and my stomach don’t want to chew figs anymore. So the blessed gels were very important. Also, after this 3 day stage race I couldn’t taste figs or beef jerky for more than a month.

azores trail running

First Stage – Pico Island

Weather was ugly on this day, strong winds, some light showers and lots of clouds. The first day’s course was mostly up hill – From the Vineyards to the Mountain. The plan was to run about 28km with 2380m of elevation gain. The finish line was supposed to be placed on the crater of Pico volcano. At an altitude of 2230m on the highest Mountain of Portugal. But the weather didn’t permitted it and the organisation canceled that part of the race. Very wisely in my opinion. As a certified Pico mountain guide, I can assure you that playing races there with weather like this is a bad idea. So, the finish line was placed on the mountain house making the course 4 km short and 1000 m less of elevation gain.

The poles mistake

At the start line Mário Leal, the race director, told everyone that the mountain segment was canceled. So I’ve decided I wouldn’t need my hiking poles for this stage. It was a big mistake. Because during all my training for this adventure, I was always thinking that the poles would be a big advantage for myself. Since I’m a professional mountain / hiking guide, I use the poles all summer… Guiding hikers on the trails all over the triangle islands. Using the poles during my work can save my legs for the next day or for training. And using them a lot also made me perfect my technic, applying more upper body strength into those steep climbs. Hence, I even customised my hydration vest. So I could carry my folding poles on the front in a way that I wouldn’t loose much time “turning them on and off”. So, not taking them on this first stage was really a precipitous decision. Due to nervousness or excitement. That probably made me loose 5 to 10 minutes at end of the day.

It was a great race

Other than that, it was a great race. I started easy, although with high heart rate due to race excitement, I’m sure. I was wearing the rain layer because it was windy and raining a bit. But soon after the start of the race I was too hot. And I did kind of a mess trying to take the vest and jacket out without stoping. By the time I was out of the vineyards, I was feeling pretty warmed up and was able to keep a good pace in the easier terrain. The problem started with the steepest segments, because I didn’t bring my poles. The weather was also worse as the altitude increased so I had to put my jacket on again. This time I stoped and took my time. Further ahead was when I first noticed Patrick (bib 44). I was climbing this really steep trail and he passed by me. I tried to follow but couldn’t. He was very strong on that ascent and also without poles. He would finish the day 6 minutes and 31 seconds ahead of me. 

The end of the stage

The very end of this stage was kind of difficult for me. Because the terrain was difficult, the weather was wet and cold and foggy. I was trying not to go too hard in order to keep with my strategy. And was still frustrated about the poles. Inside the last 2 km my heart rate dropped and that would be ok if the finish line was right there… But I was still climbing. The last 400 m were a kind of gentle descent straight. And the sight of it made me run faster than I should. My heart rate went too high and I’ve finish not in the best mood. (You can see my Strava activity including Heart rate and cadence.)

Click here if you would like to keep reading Part 2.

Azores Trail Run Triangle Adventure – Part 2

Luís Race Report

running in são jorge island

Second Stage – São Jorge Island

On the second day the weather was improving. There was still some strong wind blows that could be felt at higher altitudes, but down bellow the weather was perfect. At the end of the day there was some heavy rain, but I had finished the race by then.

My best stage

Day 2 was the best for me, performance wise. The stage was a difficult one – Fajãs Trail is a brutal course with 1600m elevation gain, 2000m elevation loss, and 28 km long. It can be resumed to this:
3 km technical descent -> 3 km hard steep climb -> 3 km technical descent -> 6km really hard steep climb -> 4 km really hard technical descent. 
In between there is of course, a few less demanding segments, like the last 4 or 5km.

This, of course, after waking up at 6am and take the Ferry in Faial Island. Almost every one else stayed in Pico and the ferry would pick them up there, but I decided to come back to Faial after stage 1 because I could sleep in my own bed 🙂 with the wife. The cross to Pico is a very short one (30 minutes), but the cross from Madalena (in Pico) to São Jorge can take up to 2 hours and the waves were kind of rough. Many athletes had sea sickness which I guess isn’t nice just before a trail race. I usually don’t get sea sick so I enjoyed the wave riding.


The start line

Once we’ve landed in São Jorge we still had a kind of long bus transfer to the start line. And when we finally arrived, there was a very nice breakfast with tea and coffee and plenty different food available for everyone. A well deserved refreshment after the journey. I’ve drunk lots of tea and went for the cheese and sweetbread that are both awesome in São Jorge. Then there was the usual athletic WC wars just before the start. The race finally started not long past mid day.

I started easy, maybe too easy, because I had a hard time passing many runners. But it’s okay. Part of the fun is to run with more people beside you, and in most cases they will make you faster, not slower. Into the first climb I took it carefully, feeling comfortable in my own pace. Towards the end of this climb a kind of group was formed that was gaining a few places in the race. The group was formed by me (bib 42), Patrick (bib 44) and António (bib 77). On the second descent, I was feeling warmed up and pushed a bit more keeping up with Patrick (bib 44) who was descending very well.

azores triangle adventure
azores triangle adventure

Injury and bad thoughts

When we got to Fajã dos Bodes, right at sea level, the course goes into “Pedra Rolada” terrain, very tricky, but fortunately we – Azoreans, are well familiarised with that kind of coast line terrain. So I was able to win a couple of places. But probably a kind of dance move on the “Pedra Rolada” made something to my right leg. By the time I got to Fajã dos Vimes, I was feeling terrible. I was running on the flats, easy pace and my right thigh and buttock were really hurting. Some kind of muscle or probably back pain related.  

I was thinking that maybe I wouldn’t be able to make it to the last stage, only if I could have two left legs. Just when I was feeling awful, a very little girl was on the course offering me a banana. I know I was not suppose to accept assistance out of the aid stations, but how could I let her down? That banana came just on the right time for a moral bump more than nutrition.

Outstanding climb to Serra do Topo

And then came the most demanding ascent – 6 km – 700 m elevation gain. And I unfolded my poles and started walking up, by then a few guys had pass me, including Marco (bib 20), who was 10 min ahead of me in general classification. But as I was finding my focus again, I rejoined a group with him and Patrick (bib 44). 

In no time I was feeling great, maybe thanks to the many changes in terrain, or because of the ascent movement by walking with the poles. In any case, my leg didn’t hurt me anymore. And in this amazingly beautiful and steep segment from Fajã dos Vimes to Serra do Topo, my buddies were having a hard time keeping up with my pace. 

So I took of, feeling strong, and climbed solo for a while, passing at least a couple more runners. Once the steepest segment was over, there was still a bit more to climb. But I took it easy, since up there the terrain was muddy, and naturally the weather was colder and worst than down the slope, with strong winds and a bit of rain.

running in são jorge island

Downhill and rhythm drop again

Next up was the technical downhill to Fajã do Santo Cristo. Which again, I did very well especially by keeping up with a good downhiller, I don’t remember his bib number, but I suppose was someone who was racing only the São Jorge stage. I have to say that running behind someone that is technically better than me always helps me a lot. It’s funny how our mind works. Towards the end of the descent I’ve let him go (he was really fast), and I started thinking on the next day. 

The last kilometres were up and down, from Fajã do Santo Cristo to Fajã dos Cubres. This last segment was kind of painful for me. Physically I felt like I could still give a little more. But in my head I was thinking that maybe I went too hard on this second stage, and the last and harder stage was still to come the next day. So I’ve tried the best I could to put an easy recovering pace on this last stretch to the finish line. But it felt like the easy pace was making things more difficult for me. 

Unlike the previous day, I finished São Jorge’s race feeling well. The rest of the day was spend relaxing by the finish line at Fajã dos Cubres, a place that I like so much. I was amongst friends, everyone was discussing the race and I also took the massage just before dinner. Later, over the dinner, the results came out and I saw how good my performance was in day 2, comparing to my most direct opponents.

Click here if you would like to keep reading Part 3.

azores triangle adventure

Azores Trail Run Triangle Adventure – Part 3

Luís Race Report
10 volcanoes trail

Third Stage – Faial Island

Another early morning ferry cross and the weather was improving on central Azores. The sea conditions permitted for less sea sickness amongst the trail runners (comparing to the previous days). It was a beautiful day and sun was shining by the time the ship got into Horta’s bay. Today I was about to trail running in Faial island, my island.

I was feeling great and positive. On the bus to Capelinhos Volcano (start line) I was trying to empty my mind and enjoy the day. There was a sense of fulfilment just by getting this far.

But, for the dream to be complete, there was still a mountain marathon ahead, Volcanoes Trail – 42,2 km, 1770 elevation gain and about the same elevation loss. It was going to be a long day on the trails. For me it was a huge challenge since this was the first time I was racing for such a distance in the mountains. And the legs weren’t exactly fresh.

Easy start, climbing volcanos in a hot day

Like the other days the strategy was to start easy. This time not because I needed to save energy for the next stage, but because I needed energy for later on the day. 

First half of the distance was basically climbing all the way to the Caldeira. A course I knew well enough to know that with the sun shining, heat it would be really tough. Most athletes started too strong only to suffer late on the climb. I started literally walking, saving all energy I could by using the poles. And only running on short flat platforms along the climb and on a couple of descents on the way up to the Caldeira.

Like I predicted, many runbners started falling behind on the steepest slope of Cabeço do Canto. By the time I started the Cabeço Verde climb, I was already with a group of my direct opponents: with Marco (bib 34), Patrick (bib 44) and Carlos (bib 26).  

trail running in faial
Capelinhos volcano
capelinhos volcano

Trying to keep up with my most direct opponents 

I managed to keep up with Marco (bib 34) till the start of the Levadas flat segment, where he stoped at an aid station. Although he was showing to be strong on the climbs, I didn’t stop at that station (only to regret it later) and so I’ve passed him. I did all that flat segment (about 8 km) with António (bib 77) who was keeping a great pace.

By the  time we got to the final climb to Caldeira, I was out of water and regretting for not stoping on that aid station. I’ve let my companion to go ahead. I don’t remember seeing him again, but I’ve passed him at some point later in the race. On the rim of the Caldeira my rhythm dropped. I was feeling pretty exhausted, like I couldn’t climb any more. My heart rate dropped and I was really slow on the final climbs around the Caldeira rim.

Recovering from a bad time in the Caldeira Rim

This is an exposed perimeter so I could see how good was the lead I had on Marco (bib 34) and Carlos (bib 26). And how quick they were pulling me back. They’ve passed me long before the rim exit, but by the time I got there I could catch up with Carlos (bib 26). And I tried to keep up with him in the descent.

At this point I’ve felt like I was back in my triathlon days. When during Transition 2, from bike to run, the legs have a bad time to adapt. For most of the first 21 km I was climbing steep slopes and now I was rolling downhill. At the same time I’ve felt like I was finding my pace again. After a bad time on the Caldeira rim… But also felt some pain while transitioning from climbing legs to downhill legs.

Slowly I got there. I was with Carlos (bib 26) but, once we got to the last bend of this segment, I saw Marco on the aid station. So I accelerate till I finally made a stop on aid station. The first of only 2 aid station stops I did on the whole Triangle Adventure.

My stomach was bit bitten so I got some sparkling water. Drank a lot of water, filled one water bottle and when I saw Marco (bib 34) took off, I went after him. I knew if I could keep up with him I would make a great race. But at this point I also knew my chances to win him were doomed because he had more than 2 minutes on me in the general classification.

coast to coast marathon
capelinhos volcano

Endure the last kilometres

In any case, I made a great pursuit effort. I kept him in eye distance all the way to the last aid station. I could tell he was fresher than me because although the second part of the race was mainly downhill, there was a couple of gentle slopes. And my climbing legs were depleted. We both made a very quick stop at the last aid station. But ahead was the last difficult climb before the last descent into Horta. And he had saved some energy for the last effort. So I only saw him again on the finish line.

When I finally saw Horta, I was coming down the Espalamaca ridge. With that beautiful late afternoon light, the feeling was overwhelming. I could see Igreja da Matriz where the finish line was. I had run my first mountain marathon. Started at Capelinhos Volcano, on the other side of the island and crossed the mountains all the way here. I made a final effort and finished strong and happy. I loved the experience of trail running in Faial on the last stage. And now it’s an event that I will try to participate as many timer as I can.

Click here if you would like to read this adventure from the beginning.