Of all the books in the world, the best stories are found between the pages of a passport…
This past week I added some more fascinating stories to my passport. After spending a couple of days with Portugese Salomon team member, Miguel Silva in Lisbon, I started my international racing season with the Azores Coast to Coast Trailrun and Vertical Kilometre (VK), in preparation for the Mont Blanc 80k on 23 June.
This trip is especially memorable as I get to share it with my husband and running partner, Christiaan. The particularly great thing about travelling to a completely new destination is that your senses are constantly stimulated and everything is a unique experience. You get to live life to the full and acknowledge each moment that is different to your everyday life!
On Thursday we received a warm welcome on the island of Faial.
Faial Island (the blue island) is part of the Azores central group, located about 66 miles from Terceira, 4.5 miles from Pico and 11 miles from S. Jorge. The surface area of Faial Island is approximately 67 square miles (173 km2). The island has about 15.000 inhabitants and its main municipal seat is located in the city of Horta. Different colours of blue decorate the houses, divide the fields and line the roadsides, giving Faial the name of Blue Island.
The friendliness and pure contentment of the Island people was remarkable. Never without a smile, always helpful and looking after our best interests. I knew straight-away this was going to be an unforgettable experience.
First up was the VK on Friday. A ferry trip on very stormy waters took us to Pico Island for my very first VK race (A VK is classified as a race with more than 1000m vertical gain in less than than 5km). Due to the extreme weather, our race was shortened to 700m vertical gain in 2.5km. And boy oh boy, was the weather severe! We had to endure harsh rain, extreme winds and dangerously slippery volcanic rocks to get the t-shirt for this one. I realized once again how quickly things can go pear-shaped if you are under-prepared in the mountains and that the right gear is a game changer (life saver). If it wasn’t for my Bonatti jacket, arm-warmers, gloves and Buff, the outcome would have been very different. It was a blessing that everyone made it back to the base safely, thanks to great organisation and safety measures. What an introduction to VK’s..!
Next up was the 48k Coast to Coast trail on Saturday. As luck would have it, the weather didn’t change much from the previous day and I had to put on my big girl pants again!
Race director, Mario Leal, was once again forced to shorten the course for safety purposes. This meant that we would run a shorter section in the beautiful Caldera (an old crator that is now a lush land of plants and small lakes). This was without doubt the best decision, as the winds and mist we experienced on top of the Caldera was out of control and from a different planet! I was swept off the trail plenty of times and found many runners huddled together to protect each other. Fortunately, once we reached the lower parts of the course, it was more bearable and we could soak in the sensational scenery.
The course also treated runners to scenic coastal paths, picturesque views, muddy trails and running around the New Volcanic area, Capelhino (erupted in 1957), a rare experience.
It was one of those textbook days on the trails for me, my body and mind was on song. The Lord blessed me with good health and no injuries and it was great to take victory in both the VK and the Coast to Coast trail.
Adventures like these, especially when the conditions aren’t favourable, is the best way to learn and make for the best memories!
Making new friends from Japan (Tsubasa “Superstar” Fuji), Switserland (Sandro Herrmann) and Portugal (Eva Mota) and sharing experiences with them made this journey truly special!
Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the Azores Trail run organisation, Mario and Marla and the island community for inviting us into your unique world. Your hospitality and friendliness is remarkable and we look forward to seeing more international runners come to enjoy your paradise!
To Christiaan for his never-ending support and love, to my family and friends, your encouragement and belief keeps me going during the difficult times!
As always, a big thanks to all my dream-givers & partners: