The inaugural Half Marathon des Sables Fuerteventura has just taken place!
Unlike the legendary bigger brother, the race, as the name suggests, is half the distance of the Moroccan counterpart and as such provides a great opportunity for novices to test themselves over multiple days or, it allows experienced runners to race faster and harder.
300 runners toed the line of the first edition, the only thing known before the start of the race that they would need to cover 120km’s over 3-days. Like the bigger brother, the race route was kept secret till just before the race and of course, runners are required to be self-sufficient – only bivouac and water is provided.
A 7km walk to bivouac 1 followed kit-check thus allowing a phase of ‘adaptation’ before the racing kicked-in. It was an opportunity to check apparel, shoes, gaiters and make sure the pack was sitting and fitting well to the body. Of course, all this should have been dialed in before the race!
A few hundred meters from the ocean, bivouac 1 was an oasis of calm. A final full meal, a night under the stars and the arrival of dawn would see the start of stage 1.
Stage 1 25.5km starting at Playa Las Coloradas and finishing at La Pared Isthmus.
It was a hot day, a really hot day of stifling and oppressive sun.
Deep blue ocean, orange rocks and cliffs were contrasted by black volcanic slopes – a trademark of the Canary Islands – as the runners ran the opening miles to Cp1. As one would expect, a long sandy beach followed leading to a technical path and dune decent to Cp2. The final 3 miles were classic Fuerteventura terrain; sand, stony plateaus and dunes to the bivouac.
Local runner, Yeray Duran was no doubt a pre-race favourite and he didn’t disappoint on day 1 running with Alejandro Fraguela Breijo. The duo pushed hard from the off but Peru’s Remigio Huaman, who completed the Moroccan race earlier in the year, kept an ever-watchful eye. Duran suffered in the heat placing 3rd and Fraguela Breijo took victory almost 5 minutes clear of the Peruvian. Timings were 2:23, 2:28:09 and 2:30:46 respectively.
“Tomorrow is the long stage,” said Huaman post-race. “I need to keep in contention from the start, watch my food, watch my liquid. I like to run easier early and then speed up!”
For the ladies, the UK’s Anna-Marie Watson who just week’s earlier placed top-10 at the UTMB had a great first day. She clinched a solid victory of almost 20 minutes ahead of Yolanda Fernandez Del Campo. Kristina Schou from Denmark was 3rd, their times 3:04:03, 3:23:46 and 3:31:51.
Watson post-race discussed how the first ascent was tough and how the temperatures were high. This is coming from a lady who has placed 2rd overall at the Marathon des Sables Morocco in 2015.
“The sand dune before Cp2 was dreadful,” Watson continued. “I had to compose myself and push on. Tomorrow is the long day and that is my preference so I will rest, recover, eat and prepare.”
Stage 2 66.5km starting Aguas Verdes and finishing at La Pared Isthmus.
A straight north-south stage of oueds, dirt roads, single-track, dunes and ridges was made unbearable by oppressive heat but the stunning ocean provided company and contrast to the glow of orange. After Cp3, the race crossed the pretty village of Pajara and as the day unfolded volcanoes and the ocean would provide relaxing views to a challenging day. Due to a rock slide, the final miles of the route changed thus saving the runners a little over 3km.
As promised, Remigio Huaman used his ultra-running skills and desert running skills honed in Morocco earlier in the year to stamp his mark on the men’s race. He followed his strategy with a steady start but he upped the pace as early as 8km in the 66.5km stage leaving Hernandez Curbelo and Fraguela Breijo struggling. At Cp2 the gap was 8 minutes and at Cp3 it was 13 minutes. As the finish line came, the gap had opened to 30 minutes – an unbeatable lead going into the final day. Hernandez Curbelo improved his strategy and placed 2nd and Fraguela Breijo placed 3rd. For Duran, it was a bad day and he slipped in the day’s ranking to 5th and out of the top 3 after a time penalty for taking an IV drip due to dehydration.
For the ladies’ it came as no surprise that Anna-Marie Watson used her long-distance skills to school the opposition. With each mile, she pulled away and finally finished with a 14-minute lead over Kristina Shou. Yolanda Fernandez Del Campo placed 3rd.
“I had no strategy but to run on feel and listen to my body,” Watson said. “I ran my race not worrying about the competition. It was a great stage, I loved the cliffs underneath the camp and the sun set was incredible.”
- Remigio Huaman overall 9:03:08
- Jonathan Hernandez overall 9:59:59
- Fraguela Breijo 10:18:30
- Anna-Marie Watson overall 11:32:22
- Kristina Shou overall 12:14:13
- Yolanda Fernandez Del Campo overall 12:38:22
Stage 3 21.1km starting Tuineje and concluding at Las Playitas
At 10am start at the heart of the island unleashed the runners into the heat of the day and a maximum time of 6 hours to complete the stage. Solidified lava was the terrain of the opening miles followed by dirt roads and the village of Gran Tarajal. Mountains followed with some great climbing and descending before single-track brought the runners home.
Three days, three days racing… There was no easing back or victory lap for the final stage, Remigio Huaman pushed from the front and not only consolidated his lead but extended it averaging over 13.15km per hour for the stage.
“For me, the Half MDS is relatively easy as I am fortunate that I can run quickly,” said Huaman. “I am able to get the stages over, even the long one, quickly. I can eat, rest and recover. However, many of the other runners spend so much time on their feet, they walk long distances, suffer from the heat and suffer from hunger, they are the heroes as are all the staff!”
Duran kept the home crowd happy with 2nd place on the stage and Juan Jose Rodrigues Garcia placed 3rd on the stage ahead of 2nd overall, Jonathan Hernandez Curbelo, the times 1:35:49 for Huaman, 1:39 for Duran and 1:40:30 for Rodriguez Garcia.
Anna-Marie Watson eased off the gas for the last day knowing that victory was secure. This opened a doorway for the Spanish runner Yolanda Fernandez Del Campo to seize an emotional final stage victory in 2:14:03. Watson finished in 2:19:04 and 2nd placed lady overall, Kristina Shou confirmed her consistency with 3rd in 2:20:52.
“My dream started many years ago, 17 actually when I heard of the MDS,” said Watson post-race. “In 2015, I placed 2nd at MDS and in just a few shorts years things have progressed, what a dream!”
As with all multi-day races, the journey of the front-runners is only a very small story of the race. The true race happens behind. Runners fight fatigue, heat, exhaustion and demons just to finish. France’s Mathilde Male sums it up well:
“I am happy the race is over, but I am sad it is coming to an end… My best memory will definitely be the arrival of the long-stage, at around 1am. Staff were cheering and I was with my race partner Christelle, it was magic.”
- Remigio Huaman 10:38:57
- Jonathan Hernandez Curbelo 11:41:37
- Alejandro Fraguela Breijo 12:05:42
- Anna-Marie Watson 13:51:26
- Kristina Shou 14:35:05
- Yolanda Fernandez Del Campo 14:52:25
Full results HERE
Images ©Cimbaly/ Valentin Campagnie / Marta Bacardit