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1 de septiembre de 2016

CARRERA ALTO SIL by Leah Maher

"Be wild. Be you. Be free” - The slogan for a tough 32k race that’s tucked into the gritty picturesque mountains of Northern Spain. A training buddy and good friend, Zach Miller offered an invitation to run the 'Carrera Alto Sil,’ through race director Lolo Diez . Having never stepped foot on a mountain, or experienced what altitude can do to the body, I knew this would be the biggest physical challenge to date . This girl from "Amish country" Pennsylvania was about to be transplanted to an adventure of a lifetime. 
The Wall
 We drove from our hotel in Ponferrada, to the quaint village of Santa Cruz Del Sil, where the race would start and finish. The heavy rain that lasted all night and into the morning, left a mystical fog upon the snowy mountain tops, along with a new clothing requirement for the runners. Due to the possible conditions on the mountain peaks, we had to bring along a hat or buff, and an additional external layer. This new element did not intimidate me nearly as much as running straight down, steep 4,000 ft, wet shale covered descents. 

The starting horn blew at 9am local time. Over 400 runners began the climb up the tiny winding streets of the village, into the cow and sheep pastures, smack into a 40ft vertical scramble, up to our first 4,400 ft ascent. The first 3k leaves you little time to think or warm into the race, you get a taste of what the course will ask of you. Cresting the 3k point and our first aid station, I hit the first descent, looking straight down at the blue flags that marked the course, along with the slick, loose, wet shale rocks that moved beneath me. 

With Zach Miller
Crossing a small stream at the bottom, leading right into the next steep climb of over 4,000ft. With a steeper but nearly identical feel to the last climb, I switched between power hiking and running to the top where I met with the second quad beating descent. I always say in training, "the woods will always give and take", I finally reached my give. Running through pasture and along stream, led to the village of 'Paramo del Sil' the next aid station. 

As I ran up the cobblestone stairway, the locals pressing in with heart warming cheers and encouraging words "Venga, venga" or "Vamonos", to keep going and keep surging forward. Passing through the 9k point, the next few miles were incredibly scenic, with rolling trail and farmlands surrounding us. We reached our third climb of the day, snow capped and over 5,000ft. Thanks to the lead runners, we had a single track of packed snow to run on. With a few faltered steps off the track I sunk into snow that reached my hips, well over two feet. With my head swimming from exertion and thinner air, I finally reached "the give" our next aid station at the 19k point. The down hill was slick with rock and a lot of snow but I embraced the chance to open up and give my leg
s a chance to recover. We headed into the woods, a downhill section, where the mud and rocks were abundant and made it tricky to stay on your feet. I took every opportunity to grab onto a small tree to stay upright.

Primout, out of time
As we broke out of the woods and descended into the village of 'Primout', where only two people currently live. We were greeted by excited cheers from the many spectators, photographers snapping pictures against the backdrop of timeless old buildings and handcrafted bridges. Leaving the village behind with 3 miles to go, we headed for the water-literally. With a rope strung across for added assistance, I felt like I skated my way across slick rock to reach the other side. For over a mile, my balance and technical running skills would be tested, as the course took us through the creek. Not around it or beside it, right through it. Tapping into every little muscle in my body to stay on my feet, to get from one wet and rocky section to the next. 

Black Peak descent
Ready to conquer the final climb, just shy of 5,000ft, I let out the biggest animal howl I could. Utilizing every limb on my body, I crawled up what felt like choral rock, hunting my way from one flag to the next until I reached the top. The course down the mountain wound through rock and farmlands. With one last tricky climb up through a single track stream, through the woods and running into the familiar winding streets. Welcoming me into the finish was Zach Miller, beaming with his outstanding 4th place performance; I was ecstatic with my 7th female victory in just over 4 hours. 

An overwhelming gratitude to Lolo Diez the race director. He created a race with a deep love for his home and passion for the athletes. Training again in the River trails of Southern  
PA; my heart runs a little more wild thanks to a gritty 20 miles in the mountains of Spain.