Formentera All Round Trail (FART)
In it’s fourth year, this trail race rightly goes from strength to strength and is unwittingly (or not) known locally as the FART! The race takes place on the gorgeous island of Formentera one of the smaller Balearic Islands, and within swimming distance of the better known island of Ibiza.
Last year (2014) this was my first ever trail race and my abiding memory from last year was the endless miles of sand dunes in the final five or six miles of the race which I had at the time found totally un-runnable. I had big plans for this year having finished the half FART 25 miles in 5:28, my sights were set on smashing the time to pieces…
Training wise, I felt to be in decent shape, although the two weeks pre-race had not been ideal with family bereavement and a flying one day trip to England and work coming out of my ears. The night before the race I was up until 01:30 on a work emergency and knew we had to be up around 05:00, never mind, us runners deals with this stuff, right?
It requires an early morning start to catch the ferry from Ibiza to Formentera, it was no hardship this year as the sun was soon creeping over the distant horizon as the children let off steam in the play area whilst mum and dad enjoyed a strong coffee.
We disembarked without incident and number and goodie bag collection went silky smooth, the goodie bag in the form of a full sized Joma rucksack, take note UK RD’s. This was accompanied by a quality tee, non-Buff Buff, crisps, fruit juice, you name it, and it was in this goodie bag!
The race start for the half fart is a drive away at Es Arenals at the far side of the island, I jumped aboard the coach and fought the nerves as I had set myself a lofty target that was now looking a tad optimistic, “Had I done enough training? How would the lack of sleep affect my race?”…We arrived at the beach to the sound of dance music booming out and runner from the full fart coming through the checkpoint that would serve as our starting point in 20 minutes. The deep golden sand and luscious blue sea make this a dream like race start.
Before I knew it we were underway, the first thing that struck me was the increase in crowding over the first half mile, and numbers were clearly up on last year. My aim was to setoff at 10 minute miles but this was soon out of the window due to being held up on the wooden walkways and narrow pathways. At this stage I was not unduly worried about pace or time, I could easily make this up once the crowding was reduced….
The first opportunity to make progress was on the first sharp ascent which I vividly remembered from last year, but I’m sure it was longer this year, how can that be? It was here after less than two miles that something was not feeling quite right, my legs felt lethargic. It was a hot day and already I had reached for my drink bottle but this alone could not explain the strange feeling I had. Slowly I made up time on some reasonably runnable sections getting average pace down below 11 minute miles.
Shelley and the children were going to be at the first aid station atop a cliff near a lighthouse, it was great to see them albeit briefly as I was through in a minute or so after grabbing a few pieces of banana and drink bottle top ups. Not long after leaving the aid station memories of the loose rock sections came flooding back, this is brutal terrain and so easy to trip / fall. I had my first major worry, cramp spasms, this was almost terminal to my chances of a decent time and I knew it immediately. On my first ultra the NDW50 (2014), I had the exact same thing happen, and that day, once it had started, nothing seemed to stop it happening. My heart sank, I had been hydrating well with electrolyte tablets in my water, but the lethargic feeling had not been coincidence it seemed. Whenever I tried to move along at anything more than a jog I would get a random spasm at a random place in my legs.
Shelley and the children were due to be waiting at the 2nd aid station and after a long arduous descent from the high cliffs to seas level they were not there, my heart sank, I needed to see their smiling faces as my spirits were dropping. At this time I took a work call and five minutes later still no sign of my ‘crew’ with heavy heart I left the station, and yay, there they were on the beach. Shelley knew immediately this was not my day, over the past two years she has developed a sixth sense and often knows before I do how I’m feeling during or after a run. Hugs all round briefly lifted my spirits but the wretched blisters that had started a few miles back soon reminded me I was a mere pawn in the hands of mother nature today , the terrain and not me would decide my finish time.
Shelley and I had agreed they would not visit the final aid station, a wild and windy place on the clifftop before the final descent onto the boardwalk and sand stretches of the race. The boardwalks were great for trying to muster a run for a minute or two before cramp spasms brought me to a grinding halt. When finally reaching the deep sand dunes I felt relief that I could walk it in for a few miles guilt free, I simply could not run on this terrain.
As I reached what I thought was the end of the sand dunes, I asked two first aid people in my not conversational Spanish “No Mas Playa?”, they laughed in unison and confirmed there was no more sand for today. The final couple of miles would be great for making up a few minutes but that was not happening for me today, I passed a few runners who had passed me on the sand. Rather guiltily, I passed a female runner on the final 200 yards. Turned out that was the difference between finishing 100th and 99th of 167 runners. My time of 5:32 was worse than last year, I felt like a failure and unlike the NDW100 when I fought tears of joy, today I fought hard to hold back tears of utter contempt for myself. So many hours of training and sacrifice, so much disruption to our family life to run a race slower than last year.
In summary, I could not recommend this race highly enough, the scenery is awesome, the organisation is remarkable, the goodie bag is the best I ever received. The runners are as friendly as any race I have run. For something different early in the year, this is a great option, 25 miles or 50 miles (or thereabouts). I will be back next year and as sure as night follows day, I will run this race sub five hours.