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.