I’d had my eye on the Madeira Island Ultra Trail, or MIUT, series for a good few years before we finally plucked up the courage to enter. I’d heard only good things about the races from running buddies, been jealous spotting race tees from previous years on runner’s backs and it only took a few friends to sign up before we were playing the waiting game after entering in December. A week later we were on the starting list for the marathon distance, but then our friends decided to move to New Zealand for a year and drop out, so it was just Nige and I.
We approached the race like we do most of our non-UK running adventures. A warm up, race day and then a good few days exploring the new place like we’re on holiday, resting and taking it all in. We flew into Funchal, Madeira on the Thursday, got our bearings on Friday, raced on Saturday and then had Sunday to Wednesday enjoying island life.
Logistics on race day took a little getting our heads around, but basically, with an 11am start time from Monte and a finish line at Machico, we had to drive to the finish line, get on a bus to the start line put on by the organisers and race to where we’d left the car so we could drive back to our Airbnb! Easy.
The marathon is just one of four events the organisers plan, as well as the MIUT, Ultra and Mini, so they had it all under control when we jumped on the coach with most of the others racing and were dropped at the start line an hour before go time. We went to the loo, found shade, ate, mobilised and got excited for it to begin. The music echoed around a school playground where we were gathered, it was getting warmer and warmer and we just wanted to start running. We knew what we would be facing ahead of us so we just wanted to get on with it. Tension, excitement, energy. We were let loose!
As we’d already found the start line the previous day I knew the race started with a long, steep road climb out of the village of Monte. This was no time to be elbowing your way to the front, too early and too much energy wasted, so I stuck myself in a pack and marched up the hill with the crowds. After about a kilometre or so, the road finally gave in and we found the trail, through the shade of the trees then out into the open hills above the sea. The views were incredible and I found myself taking the time to absorb it all, look down to where we had started and appreciate how far we’d climbed.
The first checkpoint came around 6.5km in, at the top of the first and highest climb and by then we’d already climbed 900m, more than half of the total. I was relieved to have that behind me but already excited to get to the next station where all of the tough elevation would be complete. I was sensible, used the loo as there was no queue, ate some nuts, crisps and had a cup of coke, and left feeling refreshed. There was a lovely descent ahead before we started the remainder of the climb and by then the trails were open, they felt free and there were fewer and fewer runners around. It was well marked so I felt safe knowing I was on track, and my body was fairing well in the midday heat.
The second big climb to take us to the second checkpoint didn’t come as a shock, but here the runners had bunched and I was actually grateful for some (silent) support from others racing around me. When I say silent I mean that no one strikes up a conversation, let alone say hello as you or they pass. I’ve found it on a few European races I’ve done now and I know just not to expect a greeting, but it does feel strange and sometimes a little lonely. I remember the second aid station only for its lack of salted peanuts, but that’s what I was hoping for and I felt promised from the first! A small problem I know, but when others around me were picnic-ing, quite literally sitting, having their cheese, ham, salami and the rest, all I wanted was some salt. I gave in with a handful of crisps, filled my flasks with water and left. Praying for nuts to reappear at the next aid station.
That’s when the race descent began and it all got a little technical. We were racing down forest tracks, zipping across rocks and tree stumps, roots and wet leaves. Runners behind me, more confident in their downhill ability, would fly past, squashing you to the side of a narrow track, teetering on long drops down to who knows where.
I was glad to see the third station that marked an end to this section of descent, I’d lost a good few places but found my own pace and settled in with a group of similarly paced ladies. Not that we spoke to each other. We just knew we were together. Of course there were no peanuts so another handful of crisps, a cup of flat coke and I was off. The race profile of this section looked mysteriously flat and I found myself on a wide road-like dirt track, flat as a pancake, for the best of about 5km. Steph would love this, I kept thinking! Just get it done.
Another sharp, gnarly descent led us to the fourth and last aid station just after 30km and I was glad to see it come and then have it behind me as quickly. 10km to go sounded ok, but I was tiring, I could tell. My legs had taken a battering, not only from the initial climbing, which seemed like a lifetime ago, but the steep descents, and my quads and calves were screaming. No cramp though and I had energy, so I pushed on, looked up and found myself running on the cliff paths right above the sea. Wow. We’d discovered all the different parts of the island in this race, villages, mountains, forests and now the beautiful ocean.
With 5km to go, just a parkrun says Steph in my head, the village of Machico came into sight and we were running alongside what felt like their irrigation system, high above the houses. I knew the finish line was right on the water, we had to run through the village and Nige would be waiting, so I gave it everything and passed a good number of runners, giving me another spring in my step. The watch was ticking on towards six and a half hours and I realised, with a later start time than usual, that meant it was getting later in the day. We hit the road and then an unfairly-placed set of steps, and I was on the home straight, striding down to the finish line.
I felt absolutely spent, had given it everything and had nothing left, a feeling which I was relieved and happy about. There wasn’t anything more I could’ve given out on the course so I knew I’d done my best and that was good enough. Nige met me at the finish line, after having a storming race and finishing 9th overall, and I was just happy to see him and also sit down. I called Mum and Dad and heard they’d been watching the live stream at home, saw me cross the line and I was just glad it was done. I was ready to rest, explore more of this island and wear my new race tee with pride. Maybe we’ll be back for another race in the series in years to come, maybe not, but I’d ticked off racing on the beautiful island of Madeira from my list and I was proud of that. What a pleasure.