It was great - in hindsight. I have to admit there were various moments when a DNF was very appealing, but the thought of being called a WIMP from here to eternity were enough to get me to the finish.
The first part was at night. 00:30, mass start, lots of cheering and nerves. My basic plan was to maintain a decent rhythm for as long as possible, and get as many KM done as possible before the sun came up. Seemed to work: I made it to the halfway point about an hour after sunrise, which meant the worse climb was done and dusted early in the morning. But I get ahead of myself.
It starts with an 8km climb! The couple of km are easy(ish), then you need to walk. Lot of rocks, scrambling at times, and a kilometre of vertical gain. Sets you up nicely for the rest of the night/day... The descent on the other side is great, you and the rest of the runners in single file, jumping from rock to rock, illuminated by your headtorch... Look back (when you can!) and there's a glowing line descending the mountain, really fucking cool...
Then you hit the forest trails, and the number of people around you drops as everyone finds their place. I was feeling pretty good here, and could overtake a fair few runners.
The kilometres go by, another tough climb at 16km, then another downhill, and all is well. Somewhere around 22km we hit the last climb of the night, which takes us up to Morcuera. This was a bit of a draggy climb, the main thing motivating me was a girl I had a few metres ahead of me. I'd overtake her, she'd overtake me... and so on. Very fit, which helped :) I was definitely walking the uphill bits by now, I possibly could have run more but with two marathons ahead of me that would have been really stupid. As we hit the top my batteries were failing, but the sun was coming up and I no longer needed my headtorch. 37km done in about four and a half hours.
I really hope the cows will forgive the humanpat I left them in the field just after the Morcuera feed station. I tried to bury the paper, but I must admit I really CBA to do a good job of it. But god I felt great after :)
The downhill was a fucking nightmare, this is one way that running is massively different to biking. 14km of dull forest track, the odd bit of singletrack notwithstanding. Dull and a quad killer. To make it worse, the last 3km are asphalt as you head into Rascafría. The feed station here is great, and as it's the halfway point you could send ahead a backpack with whatever you wanted for a change of clothes etc. I changed t-shirt, put on a cap, sun cream etc. One huge mistake - a volunteer told me I no longer needed to carry my head torch etc, so I stuck it in the backpack to get rid of the unnecessary weight. More on this later...
Making friends here: last year's winner was sitting in a chair feeling sorry for himself. Apparently his stomach was playing up and he had to give up. I tried to cheer him up by pointing out this was probably the only way I could beat him, but it didn't work... fuck him, he's an Argentine and probably still sore about the Falklands :)
Heading out from Rascafría is one of the most unpleasant climbs of the day - "El Reventón". In English that would be "The Breaker", which is fairly accurate. I imagine a fair few people dropped out in the feed stop, and certainly I met another 10 or so heading back downhill to the feed station to the get the "losers' bus" to the start line. (They don't call it that, but we all know what it is....) And up we go, it's a pretty horrible climb with lots of walking and forcing yourself to run despite your body saying no... But finally you get to the feed station, and another refill of both water bottle and off we go.
Aside: to cope with the high temperature forecast I bought a couple of 750ml water bottles in Decathlon, and filled one with pure water and the other water+salt.(The salt from sachets I brought with me). Seemed to work.
Another km of climbing and we hit the fun bit: "Claveles". Lots of jumping from rock to rock, carefully calculating if the rock in question is likely to move and lead to a broken ankle. To make it more fun the first 500m or so is climbing, no running here - it's definitely scrambling territory as you drag yourself up to the top... And to top it all, due to a change in route you have to do it twice: out and back. It's not massively difficult, normally, but with 64km in your legs... I took it easy, and made it through without major problems.
The next 10km is downhill. Again, normally, this would be great. But my quads are shot, my feet hurt, and I CBA. The first few km are rocky and tight singletrack, and I walked a lot of it. Then it opened up a bit and I could run, albeit at a frankly pathetic pace. But slowly but surely I made it to the feed station in La Granja, and it's a blinder. Great atmosphere, cheering as you enter it, pasta and loads of other stuff, a real uplift. But following my basic plan I made sure not to sit down, eat a fair amount, and after 10min or so push on.
The Englishman in me was embarrassed by the cheer as we headed out of the feed station, no idea if the guy I met here was or not. I probably could have asked him, after all we were to spend the next 35km or so together.
Alejandro did the GTP last year so knew what was coming up, and was happy to have a bit of company for it. The next 10km or so were an easy uphill, so following his lead we ran when it was flat or downhill, and walked the worst bits. I was pretty fucked by this point and would probably have walked it all, but thanks to Alex I made a bit more of an effort. Stunning scenery here: a narrow river gorge with trees providing shade, despite the horrendous heat it was OK for running.
The heat: I made sure to drink at least a bottle between feed stations, plus the other bottle with salts. It wasn't a huge issue overnight, but once the sun came up... "La Granja" however is the lowest point, and you get there at about 13:00.... It was pretty unpleasant.
Running+walking Alex and I made it to the feed station at 89km with the worse done. Alex was pretty fucked here, despite being from south Spain the heat was hurting. I wasn't complaining: I was happy to relax a bit... We press on, the last 4km or so of climbing were tough but knowing you've done most of the race...
Done, and 4-5km of up and down are all that separate us from the last downhill. It's a classic trail, but today I'd just like it to be over. Alex is pushing me on, and I'm returning the favour. Downhill or flat: run. Uphill, walk. The last 2km or so we walk whatever: we're both 100% aware of the last 9km downhill and what it means.
Another feed station, a quick km of uphill (walking, obviously) and we hit the downhill. Alex has got some pretty good blisters and we agree to take the first bit (lots of loose rock and stones) easy, then accelerate. Which is pretty much what we do. The sun's starting to go down, I take my hat+glasses off, and off we go.
We check the time: we're still in with a chance of beating the 19hr mark, so we go for it. The last 5km are a nightmare, I'd love to relax and take it easy, but Alex is pushing me on and we have to go for it. My quads are shot, Alex is equally fucked, but despite everything we keep going and going to the line.... and fail :)
I knew it was coming, my watch was pretty clear. But it was worth trying, and I'd rather give it all and fail than the alternative.
So 19:03 at the finish, but... official obligatory material check. Oops. I asked a volunteer in Rascafria if I needed to carry my lights, and "no". So I left them in my backpack thee. Idiot. it was a lie, born of ignorance probably. The official classification isn't out yet, but I'm pretty sure they'll add another 1:30 to my time.
TL;DR: good race, tough, now fucked and can't walk downstairs. Got a medal, though :)