I ran the USM last year and have since told many people that it is one of my all-time favourite skyrunnig courses. The 56km route includes just about every type of terrain imaginable, from technical rocky sections above the clouds, to steep slippery jungle trails and even a kilometre running up a fast flowing river.
Remembering back to this race made me excited to return, especially as this was to be my first skyrace of 2018 and with 50% bonus points many top runners were going to be enjoying the course alongside me. The mix of terrain, length and climb of this course suits me and I was sure I could run a strong race. I just had to run smart; no fireworks, big efforts or bold moves. Just solid pacing and a relaxed attitude…that is until the last climb where I hoped to light a fire if I wasn’t winning and had the gas left to burn.
As it turned out this wasnt necessary and the race for me was almost an exact carbon copy of the year before. A little more rain, cooler conditions and more water in the river meant the course lent itself to my skillset even more and meant the unparalleled grip of my VJ shoes would give me an advantage too.
I took the long 1400m first ascent easily and reached the top in and around tenth.
After a short descent and climb to the highest point on the island I was in joint 3rd.
After a 2 hour undulating at first but mostly downhill run to the sea I was solidly in third and just a minute behind the leaders.
I was really enjoying myself by this point, the course had been amazing thus far and I still felt I had fire in the engine.
I had no idea how much energy my competitors would have for the last third of the race but I didn’t seem to be catching them on the short climb to the next aid station…maybe this was going to be hard. After the aid station though it seemed like their speed dropped dramatically, and I soon took the lead.
Into the river! The cool water and different running style freshened me up and I felt ready for the final 1000m of climb before descending back into Santana and the finish.
I grew the gap hiking and running in a controlled way but tried not to let myself relax. ‘Who knows, maybe someone has a late burst in them and I could still have a fight’ I thought.
With the final climb done, I managed to keep my legs spinning on the following flat levada section before the final downhill to Santana where I crossed the line still in first.
The course had been amazing and I had a smile from ear to ear. Small tweaks in the route had only made it better and I enjoyed seeing the same smile on fellow skyracers as they finished.
Madeira had treated me fantastically but it is time to look forward and start my obstacle racing season, with the European championships being my next race…lets hope I haven’t forgotten how to do a pull-up or two.
Amazing photos capturing the magic of this race by Ian Corless, Philipp Reiter, Paulo Abreu and Joao Faria.