I should have brought more water, could have paced myself during the first ascent and sure would have suffered way less as a result. Still, this run/stumble up and around El Hacho mountain was an experience to treasure!
Since I first came to Gaucín, attempting to run from the village up to the peak of El Hacho, down the valley below and then up to the village again has been a dream of mine. El Hacho is Gaucín’s own little mountain top, reaching 1011 m at its peak as it thrones over the village – which itself sits at roughly 600 m, making it a respectable 400 m climb to the top. This spring, I’ve completed a half marathon, done some trail running and a fair amount of hiking, so I felt that chances of success were reasonable. Enthusiastically, I set about looking up trails, finally picking a rather nice looking 10 kilometers that would take me to the top, down the northern ridge, and then circle back to where I started through some shady cork oak forests. Lovely!
“Well, it’s kinda hot outside, but 10 kilometers is easy peasy if I just manage the pace, ladida ladida” – I bumbled on as my usual sceptical engineer self was incapacitated by the sun and the views. By the grace of God, I at least grabbed a half litre bottle of water before I merrily bounced out the door.
The run up to the top was just blissful, and I joyfully ignored my voice of reason when it told me I’d better start walking when it got steep – it’s not much slower, saves tons of energy and there was still a long way to go – but I was just too damn excited. Running down along the northern ridge was a blast too; maybe the most enjoyable bit of running I’ve ever done: jumping between rocks and roots, breathing the scents of wild oregano and lavender, feeling at one with the majestic landscape.
When I had descended back to 600 meters and was about to go down into the valley, the first signs of trouble appeared. I was halfway through my water bottle, decidedly dimwitted from dehydration, and started getting lost frequently. Now, I also found myself in the blazing sun, with a bunch of vultures circling above – realizing that this was going to be a bit more epic than I had planned. Even running gently downhill on a smooth gravel road was challenging by now. Only the prospect of those vultures seeing me as a viable dinner option kept me moving.
When the track started going uphill again, I was beaten and had to resort to walking. The last forty five minutes was spent stumbling back up to the village, deliriously thirsty and seriously tempted by every muddy puddle I passed. As I finally reached the first drinking fountain back in the village I felt like I’d gone to heaven. Never before have I had anything that sweet! For every desperate gulp I could feel life coming back to me. Now, I thought, a shower, some dinner and a good nights sleep, should take everything back to normal. To my great surprise, I was in for some more challenges and a very humbling lesson about dehydration.
Dinner, especially after a long run, is usually a feast. This time, though, I felt nauseous as I forced the food into my head. Soon after I was finished, I started feeling cold and lethargic and stumbled to bed, where I spent the next five hours shivering while drifting in and out of sleep. Thankfully, around 3 am I felt my body temperature rise and started to get very hungry. So I snuck down to the kitchen, had second dinner, drank two liters of water and went back to bed, where I slept like a baby until our Via Ferrata adventure the day after.
Apparently, as some intense googling the day after revealed: if there’s one time in your life when you shouldn’t stick to your ketogenic dogma too strictly, it’s when you’re severely dehydrated. In this state, the liver can’t break down fat, which explains my nausea after dinner. It also seems like you need a small amount of glucose to aid proper water uptake once you’ve gotten dehydrated, preventing what you drink from just getting peed out. Normally, the carbs you get from eating the vegetables described in this post is sufficient, but since I’d emptied my glycogen stores with a two hour run, the ones I had for dinner were nowhere near enough. Had I just followed my instinct to down the liter of orange juice we had in the fridge, as soon as I got back from the run, I would probably have had a much better night. Now, I have better story to tell instead, and who knows – maybe this knowledge, that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, will prove very valuable one day when it really matters?