“I have a love-hate relationship with Gran Canaria’’ – The Cantabrian runner finished sixth in the first edition and dropped out in 2019.
Ultra runner Pablo Criado Toca (Santander, 46 years old) will be on the starting line of the WAA Ultra 360 The Challenge Gran Canaria, which will begin on November 16 in Tejeda. The Cantabrian rider of the Scarpa team returns with great enthusiasm to compensate the abandonment of 2019 due to the strong heat. But before that he has another challenge: the 450 kilometres and 32,000 metres of positive elevation of the Tor de Glaciers next week.
After the Tor de Glaciers you will face the WAA Ultra 360 The Challenge Gran Canaria. How are you facing it?
With Gran Canaria I have a history of love and hate. I’ve abandoned a few times and finished others. I did the inaugural race, the 306, where I came sixth, and I have an abandonment when I came from another race in Yukon and I couldn’t adapt to the Canarian heat. Last year I wanted to come back, but I got injured. This year I think it’s going to be a spectacular edition with the start and finish in Tejeda. It’s very nice to leave the beach, but this gives it a more mountain style that will surely surprise us because you Arista guys are getting more and more confused. Gran Canaria is an island to fall in love with and with the 360 I was surprised with what there is outside of the beaten paths, which is the interesting thing about this type of race, that you go to places that are out of the ordinary. And that’s interesting. Then there’s the management issue, going from life base to life base, which is a plus.
As you say, in 2017 you took part in the first edition with a sixth place. How do you remember that race?
The truth is that I have very good memories. I still remember talking to Fernando [González] a few months before, when he told me that they were preparing something that suited me. He didn’t let me down at all. It was super exciting. Some of the trails were incredible, we were going through areas where you said, “but there’s so much water here”. I wasn’t used to seeing streams on the island, the vegetation looked tropical. It was very beautiful. And of the race I remember doing a large part of it with Julián Morcillo, enjoying some tough moments. There were times when we met someone who had got lost while navigating. And I remember the last part very well, before going down to the coast, it was like the moon. They took us over a ridge, you could see the lights of the villages in the distance and you never got there. On a sporting level it wasn’t bad, I think I managed it badly, I went out very strong at the beginning and I paid for it. I pulled myself together and held on. I liked it a lot.
Two years later you repeated, but you abandoned at the La Aldea life base at kilometre 70. What happened to you?
Well, I really think it was a muscular issue. I didn’t go out very hard at all. I also remember that we crossed a stretch of a canal and there I met Fernando, and I told him that I was doing great. We went down to the bottom of a ravine and from then on I started to notice that I was suffocating, that I was overwhelmed, that it was very hot. My body didn’t adapt, my leg muscles were blocked. I couldn’t run downhill. I was very blocked. It was my organisational failure. At that time I was training very flat, because the Yukon Glacier Ultra (a race at -35 degrees in which I participated a few weeks before in Canada) was on the flat, and on the 360 you are up and down all the time. So I decided to abandon because I wasn’t able to run. It was the cross, other times it’s the face.
What is the goal for this seventh edition of the WAA Ultra 360 The Challenge Gran Canaria?
The goal, as always, is to arrive at the race in the best conditions and go from less to more. As the years go by, I can’t go out too strong, so I have to use my skills and my head and go little by little. Spend the first day of the race quietly, at a good pace. And then whatever the body allows me to push. It’s true that the 360 can be done in two days and a few days. It depends on the route we’re given this year. Every year it’s a surprise. The idea is to have a quiet first day, although quiet is in between commas, and then push hard.
You sleep little.
It can be done in one go. It also depends on the person, how well they know you and how you are. In 80 hours of Tor de Geants I slept 100 minutes. There have been other editions that change your life, you don’t sleep well, I was tired the days before. So, what you don’t sleep you penalise later on the road and going with a sleep attack is hard. In principle, on the 360 you can rest for 20 or 30 minutes and then you can do it in one go.
What would you highlight about this type of ultras where you have to spend several days in the mountains?
I would highlight the contact with nature. In the end, I think I like them because I’m a runner who comes from the mountains, from doing other activities, and it allows me to run a lot of kilometres. I always jokingly say that I’m not fast and strong like the runners of today, but I’m tough. I’m like cows, I walk slowly but surely. Sometimes I don’t finish. It’s OK, you have to accept it and it’s part of the game. What attracts me is the possibility of discovering many places and seeing different environments. Then also, contrary to what some runners complain about the fact that the routes go through cities, in so many kilometres there has to be everything, there must be places where you can access and attend to the runners. Then we are basic, we need pasta, drink and rice. In this respect, organisations like the 360 are very attentive and always have small details, each life base has its own details of the area, for example, if so and so knows how to make paella, that’s what you have instead of rice. This keeps you coming back because in the end you end up creating a personal relationship.
What type of runners would you recommend this type of long-distance event to?
In this type of race you have to be able to be self-sufficient, to have the experience to know how to act when the going gets tough, to know how to manage the situation. The recommendation is to go up logically, both in distance and difficulty. If you are used to aid stations every 10 kilometres, you need to know that here you don’t have them until 60 or 70 kilometres. Or if you are used to running with just your car key in your pocket, it is not the same as running with four kilos in your backpack.
Then there are the recommendations, such as not giving up when the pace is low. It’s not the same for a 10-kilometre race that you do at 10 or 12 kilometres an hour, as it is for an average of 4 kilometres an hour, where you walk a lot and it takes you a long time to get to the next place. You have to have a lot of guts. You have to start with smaller races and little by little have the possibility of this type of team or relay race, which gives you a bit of experience in the field of ultra-distance running.
There are aspects that can be trained, such as running at night, with a headlamp, a track, looking at the GPS. But there are other things that are very difficult to train for, which is what differentiates this type of race, such as lack of sleep and tiredness. No matter how hard you try to train for that, the sleep you don’t get, you’ve lost. If you don’t sleep today because of training, that’s hours of sleep you’ve lost. And training specifically, not sleeping and then going to work can be dangerous, lack of sleep in daily life can be dangerous. You have to be a bit sensible because sometimes you do crazy things that don’t make a lot of sense.
Transgrancanaria 2010: 5º de la general
TilenusExtrem 105 2010: 2º
Tenerife BlueTrail Ultra 2011: 3º
Los 1000 del Soplao 2011: 2º
Defi de L’Osains 2011: 2º
Tor de Geants 2011: 3º
Los 1000 del Soplao 2012: 1º
Le Grand Raid Des Pyrénées 2012: 4º
Tor de Geants 2012: 4º
Trail Des Citadelles 70km 2013: 5º
Grand TrailCourmayeur 2013: 3º
Gran TrailPeñalara 2014: 5º
Tor de Geants 2016: 3º
Transgrancanaria 360 2017: 6º
Ouray 100 MileEnduranceRun 2017: 4º
Ultra Sanabria ByStages 2018: 3º