There is a saying by someone which goes “Pain is temporary, glory is forever” – well, all I can say is that person needs to do Travesía do Xalo (Xalo Traverse). So let’s begin by how we ended up at this event, which, as we found out, was not essentially what I’d call a trail run, but rather a trail/mountain adventure run/hike. Just two weeks after the Vienna Marathon we were quite undecided on whether to do this event or not. We had had about one week of “recovery” which mainly consisted of a bit of jogging over 10 days before Xalo. In the end, our own curiosity and the lure of being out on some unknown trails won us over, and we signed up reassuring ourselves by saying “It’s only about 20 kilometres of trails – how hard could it be?” Travesía do Xalo is an event running since 2010, which makes this years’ the fifth edition, and what I found intriguing was that, according to the event website, they change the course every year. The Xalo region is a hilly area not too far from the city of A Coruña – maybe about 30 mins drive. As I learnt, it’s famous for a few granite cliffs that climbers usually frequent. Apparently it is also one of the closest places to town where trail runners like to train. We got a ride to the start of the race with a friend of ours, and headed there pretty much about an hour before the start to pick up our numbers. We were initially a bit worried about the weather since it had rained all night and the forecast was not quite favourable, however, as we arrived, there was only a slight drizzle and a lazy breeze, what’s more, it appeared to be clearing with no rain forecast during the day.
We got our numbers and got ready for the start. As we had decided after the recent Vienna marathon we weren’t quite mentally there to go all out on this one, we hung back more than usual at the start, which we were about to find out to be a rather bad call. Although Orsi told me she expected this event to be tough, I was hopeful of being able to finish in about 2hrs 30 even with a few hills in the middle.
The race started with the usual race briefing and fireworks – yes, they really blew up a firecracker rocket to start the race. We set off half-heartedly into a run and got going. And as the day went on we found ourselves caught in a well laid trap that sucked you in and the only way out was…. well to get on with it to the end.
The first part was a drop of about 60 to 70 meters through the village streets and then we turned into a small back alley which converted into a single file trail. Then there it crawled to a stop literally. As the trail went through the bush onto a hillside, it started climbing rapidly, and climb it did sharply over 4kms to 452 meters, almost 100m per km. It was slow going due to the steepness, and the width of the trail didn’t have any room for overtaking, so we were stuck behind a stream of people resigned to walk. After that first climb then it was all the way down again through some really tricky technical single track that needed extra caution and concentration, running downhill was pretty much a gamble of your ankles being sacrificed or landing on your face and getting your teeth knocked out. I did some spectacular butt mud skidding in the downhill sections which I was very proud of. At this stage we kind of looked at each other and thought ‘well… this is going to take a bit longer than we thought, eh..’. No words necessary, we both knew this was going to be a long day.
The second climb was even sharper and longer, somehow we made it to the top, and, as the trail widened, we could finally go past a few people. We were certainly not running, but were moving at an enough of a good jog pace. And it dawned on me that there really were no “flat sections” – we were either going up or down continuously. I could almost picture the organisers having fun picking out the route, quite possibly having a few beers whilst discussing the topic of “how do we make this event even harder” and one of them said – “oh, I know let’s NOT let them run on the established trails let’s make them run OUTSIDE those trails and zigzag them through hill sides up and down, I am sure people would love it” – and then all of them applauded and said “you da man! Let’s do that” (with this consider the mystery of having a different course for each edition of the event solved). And that was pretty much how it was. When you had even the slightest hope that it was going to get easier or flatter – it just didn’t. I wanted it to end so badly. At one point, we started hearing bagpipe music, and I thought we might be near the finish, an idea that my Garmin didn’t quite seem to confirm. Realizing this, I could only hope that at least it wasn’t going to be the naked people from a promotional video of the event we had seen (see below) waiting for us at the end of yet another steep climb. Luckily they weren’t, that definitely would have been too much. We were treated to a group playing Galician traditional music, rather uplifting at about 13 kilometres.
After a hard morning’s work, we finally made it to the finish, demoralised and pretty much wanting to crawl into the earth and disappear. I’d like to think that if I’d known what to expect – definitely not what I’d known as trail events back home – and/or if it wasn’t for our lack of motivation ascribed to the so called “marathon blues” we would’ve done better.
On the positive side, at last we got out there and saw some of the Xalo trails – even if not the most orthodox ones – , and we did run through some nice places. The organizers, besides making sure our butts were truly kicked hard with their choice of the route, did make a great effort and created a memorable event with generous aid stations and cheerful marshals along our course of despair. And yes, there was free churrasco (BBQ meat), which we by now have come to accept as part of the local trail tradition.
In the Xalo they are fierce when it comes to choosing trails to run, and they take their post race party equally seriously with live music, beer and about a 1000 kg (not kidding) of ribs served to runners. Here are some more photos and a video of the course: