08 Jun ULTRA SKYMARATHON MADEIRA 2018
It’s 5am when my alarm clock wakes me. Time to get out! I shuffle around my hotel room in the dark, splash some water in my face, grab my camera bag and get into the car. My destination: Achada do Teixeira. It’s still pitch dark when I arrive at Achada do Teixeira, so before I start my early morning hike to Pico Ruivo I search for my flashlight. At 6.30am I install myself and my camera on top of one of the mountains around Pico Ruivo. The sky is still very dark, but at the edge of the horizon a thin orange line is starting to take form. Only about half an hour before the sun rises. And that is exactly when I can expect to see the first competitors of the Ultra SkyMarathon Madeira (USM) making their way up to the mountains from Achada do Teixeira.
ULTRA SKY MARATHON MADEIRA
The Ultra SkyMarathon Madeira is part of the Skyrunner World Series and is organized yearly on Madeira, since 2014. The race is one of four races during a sky running event in the area of Santana. The four different races are: Ultra SkyMarathon Madeira (55.6km, 4121m ascent), Santana Sky Race (23km, 1672m ascent), Mini Sky Race (13km, 655m ascent) en Santana Vertical Kilometer (4.8km, 1000m ascent).
Santana is located in the North of Madeira, amidst of UNESCO World Heritage landscape. This area has, like the rest of Madeira, an incredibly diverse landscape: ancient laurel forests and Madeira’s highest mountain Pico Ruivo. Also, there’s high cliffs at the oceanside with endless panoramas. Hence, a perfect location for the USM. The trail starts at Santana’s city centre, leading the runners immediately up the steep mountain slopes to Achada do Teixeira. From Achada do Teixeira: more mountains when they make their way to Pico Ruivo. During the rest of the race the runners will have to climb rocks, run slippery forest paths and they even follow a river upstream. All the while enjoying the best views the island has to offer: a sunrise at Pico Ruivo, the panorama of the surrounding mountains and impressive views on the ocean. Parts of the trail are well-known hiking trails. These are already pretty hard when hiking, imagine you have to run the trail! However, the finishing times of the professional competitors in this race are simply unbelieveable. Jonathan Albon, winner of the USM, ran this 55.6km in an impressive 5h47m57s! Female USM Winner, Ragna Debats, finished in 6h45m09s. The last runner finished after a long 14h. He must have been exhausted.
ON THE MOUNTAIN – THE FIRST USM RUNNERS
The sun has just risen above the clouds, lighting the mountains, when I see the first runners of the USM on the path beneath. The lonely hiker already on the mountain is surprised to see a group of runners approaching and watches them climbing the mountain. They go up, running, climbing, crawling, now and then very careful because of the steep and uneven path. But all the while they keep a good pace. The professional runners already have quite the head start after this first climb from Santana to Achada do Teixeira, because it takes a while before the rest of the pack passes me.
Next after Pico Ruivo: descends. The following 30km is mainly downhill, with some little ascends here and there. When the trail gets to Quiemadas and Levada de Caldeirao Verde, the runners will be faced with another big climb of 5000m. The last kilometers to the finish don’t come easy!
ON THE MOUNTAIN – THE FIRST SSR RUNNERS
Since it wasn’t very easy to follow the USM runners the rest of their trail, I decided to stay on Achada do Teixeira and wait for the SSR runners to get there. The SSR, like the USM, also takes the runners from Santana’s centre up the mountains to Achada do Teixeira. They skip the last climb to Pico Ruivo though, descending from Achada do Teixeira to the forests beneath. But first they have to go up! Big time! I climb down a section of the SSR trail, searching for a nice spot to watch the runners come up the slopes to Achada do Teixeira. Wow, what an incredible part of the trail this is! The trail leads the runners over some very steep and narrow mountain ridges, where they have to climb some rocky terrain before they end up at the walking path at Achada do Teixeira.
When the SSR trail reaches Achada do Teixeira, the runners run on the main path of the hike to Pico Ruivo. By now, there are a lot of hikers on the trail. Lots of them take some time to watch the race and cheer the runners before continuing their hike.
I take my car and go to Pico das Pedras, an area halfway between Santana and Achada do Teixeira. The SSR runners will end up here after their descend from Achada do Teixeira. The trail leads them through a green jungle of laurel forest here. Sadly for the runners, it has rained quite a bit this morning, so the trail (witch is steep) is very slippery. Many runners slip and fall here. From this point on, reaching the finish clean, without mud stains, seems like an impossible task.
Exhausted but satisfied
A crowd has gathered at the finish in Santana. A variety of people (press, families, other athletes) are gathered here to see the race get to it’s conclusion. The runners of USM, SSR and MSR are welcomed at the finish area with lots of applause, cheering and encouragement. All runners, taking their last steps to the finish line, enjoy the cheering of the crowd. Some pass the finish still running energetically and smiling ear to ear. Others are simply exhausted and get down to the ground as soon as they’ve crossed the line. But all share the feeling of satisfaction and relief!
USM HIGHLIGHTS VIDEO
Want to see some amazing footage of the entire race? Check out this highlights video, full of action shots and great drone footage.
PHOTO ALBUM USM & SSR
More photos of the USM & SSR are available on our Facebook page.