Long weekend in Madrid all by myself – sounds like a chance to sneak in some good mileage! As soon as the plane landed I hopped in a car with my running gear and headed out of town towards the nearest mountains. Four days later my log totaled 14,5 hours of training with 4700m of ascent. Yummy!
Since signing up for the Mont Blanc Marathon 2016 I´ve been trying to steer my training runs towards the biggest hills around to get myself used to long ascends and descents. Unfortunately, there´s really not much ascent available in central or southern Finland so the opportunity to spend a weekend in the mountains around Madrid was a perfect fit for my training plans!
When training in a new place it´s always challenging to find the best trails around and accommodation with easy access to the trails. Luckily, I have a friend Antonio from Portugal Nature Trails arranging the annual Madrid to Lisbon Mountain Bike Challenge so I dropped him an email asking for guidance.
Antonio quickly guided me towards the villages around Cercedilla north of Madrid, and linked me some good running and mountain biking trails in Wikiloc to use as the basis of my planning. Additionally, he helped me sorting out the mountain bike rental with the local operators.
With the basics in place, I booked myself a room in a cozy looking B&B Concha in a small village called Becerril de la Sierra and was all set!
With the full weekend ahead of me, I decided to start with an easy run and bike on Friday, do a long run on Saturday and a long bike on Sunday. If there was anything left in my legs after that, I planned another hilly run for Monday evening.
I needed to pick up the bike on Friday and the rental shop was in Cercedilla, a convenient 15km away from Becerril de la Sierra. This sounded like a good option to get the easy run and bike combined! I scratched my head in front of Garmin Basecamp for a while and sorted myself a 18km run taking me all the way to Cercedilla bike shop mostly on trails.
After arriving to Cercedilla and waiting for the shop to re-open after siesta (which existence I had completely forgotten), I was riding back just before dark enjoying a beautiful sunset in the Spanish countryside!
Saturday morning I woke up early and started packing my gear for the long run. I had agreed with Emilio from the B&B to drop me off to Cercedilla by car and planned to run back Becerril de la Sierra through the mountains surrounding the villages. I had uploaded the route to my Garmin and had a rough idea of the distance (34ish km) and the expected elevation gain (a bit less than 2000m). However, I had no idea of the technicality of the terrain so I needed to pack for the longest possible scenario of spending the whole day up on the mountains.
In the morning the weather was cloudy but the forecast included chances of rain and wind so on top of all the necessary water and energy, I needed to fit in a shell jacket and an extra shirt. Camera, extra battery for GPS, some first aid – my small Camelbak was really close to exceeding its maximum capacity when I headed out the door.
The path from Cercedilla headed straight up and when my GPS started giving me the first splits I realized it was going to be a long day. During the first hour I climbed 800m in varying terrain trying to keep my heart rate in somewhat acceptable level. At some point I was even worried if I´d make it back to the B&B before the dark
Once I got further up, the clouds rolled in and the only thing I could see was a rocky trail leading endlessly upwards towards whiteness.
When I finally reached the first summit the clouds started dissipating and I could get a glimpse of the peaks I´d be covering on my day´s journey. From the last peak on the right in the photo below I´d start the long descent down towards my warm bed at the B&B which at this point seemed to be pretty far in the future.
After all the climbing I welcomed the short descent on the ridge even though I already knew every meter downwards would need to be climbed again in the very near future. I kept my energy levels up by grabbing an energy gel every 30 minutes and tried to ensure I was drinking enough even though running out of water was my only real concern for the day at this point. I wasn´t sure if I´d be able to re-supply somewhere on the way and I needed to find the fine line of conserving water while still staying well hydrated.
Climbing up to the second peak was the first real challenge. The clouds closed in again and the trail turned to a rocky wall disappearing to the fog. Without the trail on my GPS I would have had no way of staying on the trail as there was no trail to be seen amongst the rocks.
The wet rocks appeared to be very slippery and my pace dropped down just enough to bring back the worry of making it back to the B&B before darkness.
After the second summit and 2,5 hours of running I decided to take the first stop, enjoy an energy bar and soak in the vista opening around me. I put my back against the wind, sat down on a rock and found it really hard to think of any other place I´d rather be.
I still had more than half way ahead of me and I knew the highest summit was yet to come. However, I started to get a feeling I should be able to finish the run well during daylight unless the terrain got much more technical. I started the descent from the second summit well refreshed, my legs were feeling good and the weather was treating me well.
10 minutes later the wind started to build up, clouds rolled in again blocking the views and the storm begun.
The gusts of wind came out of nowhere first bringing in the fog followed by rain pouring sideways from the direction I was heading. I hunkered behind a rock for shelter and switched on my shell jacket to keep myself somewhat dry.
It was difficult looking ahead due to the wind and rain and the visibility with the fog was diminished down to 25 or so meters. I was betting strongly on my GPS navigator and thanked myself for bringing the extra battery just in case this one runs out.
I kept heading towards the last summit and after getting used to the wind and rain I found myself actually enjoying the experience! The stormshell was keeping me warm and dry, I was closing to 3,5h of running and my legs were still feeling good!
The last ascent was a steep one. It required a real push to climb the 500m to the final summit but once there, the storm had gone and the sky was opening up again. Distance wise I was now two thirds down and even though my legs were still doing good on the climbs I had no idea how they´d fare on the final descent dropping more than 1000m down to Becerril de la Sierra.
When climbing the last 100m stretch before starting the final descend I took one last look behind on the summits covered during the day. The trail rolling down from the peak behind seemed inviting and calm now the storm was gone and I stood still for a good while staring the mountains and contemplating on the journey this far.
I had been running for close to four hours and there was still roughly 10km to go. From the final summit I got the first clear view on where I was heading. Becerril de la Sierra is located behind the lake in the horizon – there was quite a descent for getting there and from where I was standing it looked pretty rocky.
It was time to start heading down!
The first 500m of the descent was the most difficult part of the journey. Surprisingly, my legs were still functioning fine regardless of all the running but the terrain was more than challenging. The trail seemed to vanish completely and again I was counting on the GPS trail on my Garmin when trying to get myself down the steep mountainside covered by big rocks and bushes.
After slow and scary half an hour on the rocks I was able to locate a somewhat recognizable path again and continued my way downwards. Eventually, the rocks gave way to trees and soon enough I was running in a forest and had a feeling I was already on the home stretch. It started raining again, but I barely noticed as I had fallen to a numb but surprisingly comfortable mindset of just putting one leg in front of the other.
Finally, after more than 5,5h of running I was back at the doorstep of the familiar B&B Concha. I stripped off the wet clothes and pampered myself with a hot shower before sinking in a comfy armchair in the breakfast room already planning my long bike for the next morning!