The first thing you need to know – it’s bloody hard. I guess that’s not very helpful, it’s also relative and not really why I started this “What you need to know” section so I’d better try harder.
- Madeira is an island in the middle of the Atlantic so it’s a bit windy. It’s good to give yourself a couple of days buffer to arrive before the race as there is always a chance that your flight is delayed, diverted or cancelled (we were fine but our incoming plane when leaving got diverted to Porto Santo).
- MIUT starts and finishes outside Funchal, the main town on the island. Not a huge problem but you’ll need to get to Machico on the east coast to pick up your race pack and register. The buses to the start line are also from Machico so it’s something to bear in mind, especially if you don’t have a hire car.
- Talking of buses, the route is very hard to reach via public transport so if you do have crew/friends, hire cars are the only way to. Even then they’re likely to only be able to meet you twice so plan well. Curral Das Freiras at halfway is the obvious place and also just before the huge Pico Ruivo so it’s nice to see friendly faces.
I don’t really like providing kit recommendations as they’re such personal choices but I will try and tell you what worked well and what I wish I’d done better.
- Shoes – I read a recommendation about Inov-8 Trail Talon being worn by somebody who came top three before so purchased the 235 version. Even leading up to the race, I was unconvinced that they were tough enough underfoot but blindly went with them regardless. Mistake. My feet got battered by the rocks and roots. They were good for grip but I would suggest something with a rock plate or more cushioning. Anecdotally, Hoka One One were the most popular shoe I saw followed by Salomon (Ultra Sense) and La Sportiva (Various models).
- Poles – I was definitely in the minority not having poles but not having used them I wasn’t about to start at the race. I don’t think you necessarily need them but they would probably be a benefit to most people.
- Clothing – It was chilly at midnight when we started, windy on the hills, raining at the top and then scorching hot when the sun came out so be prepared for everything. Where possible, wear things that can be put on or taken off without taking off your race vest. I had arm sleeves (Inov-8) and a Compressport Hurricane windproof jacket which worked well although the windproof wasn’t good enough in the rain and I wasted some time breaking out the rain jacket before the rain stopped minutes later and I had to take it off again. Buffs are also your friend, take a couple.
- Tips – It was very hot during the day. I’d suggest taking a spare water bottle to either drink from or throw over your head. Also take advantage of the streams on the mountains to cool off. I also used the streams to fill up my bottles and didn’t have any gastro issues with it.
- Aid stations – tip top mix of fruit, crisps, sweets and “real food” like pasta, rice and soup. The liquid was either water, coke or Gold Nutrition sports drink which I didn’t drink at all so can’t really comment. I don’t remember seeing any gels but there is plenty to keep you going.
- The start – there is a lot of hanging around before the actual gun goes off and not a massive amount to do. There is a lorry to drop off your bags and then you just wait. It was a bit chilly but the adrenaline got me through. Also watch out for poles (that’s not a Brexit gag…), those things are dangerous and I almost got one in the face before and during the race.
- Steps – when ascending through the villages towards the beginning of the race, the roads are smooth or cobbled where cars would go with a central channel that has steps. My inclination was to go on the steps but the majority of other runners went on the smooth part. I tried this and didn’t find any particular difference except perhaps a change in rhythm. This is one of those annoying “tips” where I don’t know whether one is better or worse but it’s worth thinking about.
- Volunteers – all amazing and enthusiastic. They also spoke terrific English or there was somebody close who did which was comforting for a Brit with terrible language skills.
And that’s it for now. If you have any questions, please comment below. If I think of anything else, I’ll add it as I go along. It’s just made me more keen to go back. Obrigado!