“There’s magic in misery”

It’s 4am on a Saturday morning in Fuerteventura and all I can think is “I can’t do this. It’s impossible — I physically can’t do this”.

The idea, planned in the comfort of a London coffee shop with my friend Tessa was simple enough — we were going to run the length of Fuerteventura; a challenge we’d fondly named FuerteventuRUN.

With the help of a hiking guide book, we’d estimated that we could combine 2 hiking days into one because we’d be running and therefore should be able to complete the run in 4 days, running around a marathon a day. In a rental car, we had our friend David as logistical support and photographer.

About 30 minutes into Day 1 of the challenge we quickly realised that just because a path is suitable for hiking, it doesn’t mean it’s ideal for running. Soon enough, we’d settled into gravelly ascents and slippery descents, sand dunes and steep hills that would characterise the next few days. When the heat kicked in, as was inevitable no matter how early we started, it felt like we were running through an oven — this was going to be a lot tougher than we thought.

Day 1! Photo credit: David Altabev

Nevertheless, the end of Day 1 was triumphant — mostly fuelled by orange Fanta and sheer excitement, we’d reached our target and felt weary, but proud. One day down, only 3 more to go!

The best socks, ever — thanks, SockMine! Photo credit: Tessa Jennett

This optimism was relatively short lived.

Day 2 began in the desert. Progress was incredibly slow amongst the sand dunes, but the sunrise and stunning landscapes provided a perfect distraction.

Besides which, we consoled ourselves with the fact that even if we were moving slowly, we were still moving forwards.

Then, it happened — after 3 hours of battling against the sand, we got kicked off the trail! Due to our limited Spanish and the friendly but determined security guard’s limited English, we’re still a little unsure as to why but we think it may have had something to do with some nearby wind turbines and a temporary security measure. (EDIT: We have since discovered that it was due to the new Star Wars movie being filmed nearby!). He drove us back a few kilometres, an act in itself that was excruciating in wiping out our hard earned progress, and then told us we would have make our own way back to the road — roughly a mile away.

It was not a mile away. As we spent a couple of hours reluctantly backtracking our progress and sliding back down very steep sand dunes, we entertained ourselves by occasionally cursing the quite charming security guard and doing our best David Attenborough impressions to narrate the situation.

Being unable to follow the trail, and unwilling to run on the busy motorway, David drove us to the next town that signalled our second section. We’d covered the equivalent distance on foot, just not in the right direction. Restocked with water and having emptied out the sand from our shoes, we immediately started on the remaining half of the day — eager to make up for lost time.

The second stage started innocently enough. Gravelly, hilly — all of that was to be expected by now and we cheerfully made our way up, up, up — holding to the consolation prize of “slow progress is better than no progress”. We seemed to be continually climbing up but there were no real complaints because we were treated to views like this:

As we found ourselves high up in the mountains with the wind blowing fiercely and the afternoon slipping into early evening, a quiet concern began to emerge. By 5pm, we found ourselves on top of a ridgeline with steep descents that didn’t look at all appealing and the concern was now in full focus. This was not a good place to be with evening approaching. We made the decision to backtrack for the second time that day and head towards the nearest road, very slowly picking our way down the unforgiving slope — my stomach flipping every time my foot slipped and skidded down the steep terrain. To combat this, I cheerfully sang Bob Marley at full volume in an attempt to calm down my nerves. When we did eventually get back down to the road, we were flooded with relief and in hysterical fits of laughter.

Our day started at 5am; it was 6:30pm when David picked us up and it’s around 7:30pm when we get back to the apartment to begin cooking dinner — mentally and physically exhausted; more than a little humbled and very happy to be back down from the mountain.

And so we return to 4am on Saturday morning, Day 3 of FuerteventuRun. Somewhat amazed at the damage that can be done in 2 days, I feel broken. My feet are in tatters and my heavy legs are screaming at me in protest for the lack of rest. I get ready but I don’t expect to make it through today; as I tape my feet up, I’m quietly accepting that I’ll go as far as I can, but there’s just no way I’ll be making the full distance. This tank is empty.

Feeling weary! Photo credit: David Altabev

Just keep moving. That’s all I focus on for the first half of the morning and soon enough I emerge from the pain cave to find the halfway point of Day 3 earlier than expected. Naturally, this calls for a celebration:

Maybe this running lark isn’t so bad after all?

The second section to Day 3 is much lighter in mood. In contrast to the day before, we’re able to make progress and that in itself does wonders for morale. By now, Tessa and I are mostly laughing our way up and over the trails and once again appreciating the views:

Somehow, despite being fairly convinced all day that I’m utterly incapable of doing it, we reach the end of Day 3. We celebrate in style by inhaling another giant round of pasta before crashing out almost immediately.

4am on day 4 — today should mark the final day of the challenge but once again I’m full of aches and dread as I slowly get ready and try to quieten the orchestra of self-doubt playing loudly in my head. It all just feels a bit much and I begin to feel stupid for taking on the challenge in the first place. I’m not a runner. What kind of idiot goes from non-runner to 100 mile runner in 9 months? Answer: a very, very stubborn one.

Photo credit: David Altabev

I’ve come to understand that my stubborn muscle is one of the most important muscles I have.

Buoyed on by sheer determination, we make slow but steady progress. I do my best to come to some sort of zen like acceptance that the next few hours are just going to be incredibly miserable — the strategy is fairly effective. 11 miles down, we’ve somehow reach the halfway point and I’m once again baffled at how much abuse my body will tolerate. Our snack break contains a potent mix of extremely sweet coffee with condensed milk & ibuprofen — whatever it takes. Onwards we go, with a relatively small but still somewhat overwhelming figure of 15 final miles to go. Each step bringing us closer, each step hurting — it’s taking every bit of resolve we have to keep moving.

On the final 10k — headed for the sea!

I’m still not convinced I’m actually capable of hitting the final target until we’re 3km away and then it suddenly begins to dawn on me that despite wanting desperately to quit for 2 days and despite being in absolute agony — we’re going to make it! It’s a realisation that totally overwhelms me and as Tessa and I run to the final finish, I make a mental note to bottle this feeling.

WE MADE IT! Photo credit: David Altabev

There is a rare feeling of contentment that follows that night –I’ve persevered and silenced a few demons; I’ve earned my rest.

Sore feet, tired legs, happy heart. Photo credit: David Altabev

Barely able to walk the morning after, I’d like to extend a huge thank you to the wonderful gang at Azulfit resort for kindly hosting us in their idyllic resort and for donating 2 much needed massages to Tessa & I! It was absolutely paradise.

To see 4 brutal days condensed into just over 3 minutes, check out the video here:

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