Saturday 28th April – Midnight start
115km with 7,200m of positive elevation gain
Friday night at 9.30pm the bus came to pick us up in Machico, conveniently right outside the hotel we were staying at. I was worried the bus was going to take a long time to cross the island, but luckily the roads weren’t as long and twisty as expected.
We booked the holiday through Jet2 and despite a bit of a nightmare getting to the island, being diverted to Tenerife then Fuertaventura, we eventually got to Madeira a day later. The hotel in Machico that Jet2 use is called Dom Pedro and it was about 5 minute walk from the race expo/finish, as well as right next to where the busses pick up runners to take them to the start.
It was nice to get out on the race route before the race and do the last 5km. The last section of the route is the same for all races this weekend, there were 4: MIUT (115km), Ultra (85km), Marathon (42km), Mini (19km). All of which follow the same route finishing in Machico.
The last 5km of the route turned out to be about 3km of fast running along a levada, 1km of steep descent down roads then 1km along a boulevard to the finish, interesting! I was keen to attempt this last 5km in under 30 minutes on race day knowing I’d already have 67 miles in the legs.
After laying all my kit out and taking the all-important photo, I had everything I thought I’d need for the race, including spare kit in a drop bag for the 60km mark. The mandatory kit for this race was quite small, which made sense being a warm island you didn’t need so many spare layers of clothing.
Porto Moniz – At the race start
The bus only took about 45 minutes to get to Porto Moniz, this was excellent news because I always worry about long bus journeys and toilets! The journey flew in because I sat next to someone who turned out to be from Sussex, we chatted the whole way there. The start was pretty good with enough portoloos that there was only tiny queues. I gave my bag to the marshals who transport it to the 60km checkpoint, had a brief chat with Lee Kemp before using the bathroom. There was 1 hour 30 minutes to kill before the race. I had been talking to the guy I met Scott Wallace, then we bumped back into John Munro and Craig Hamilton sat on some steps, waited with them until it was time to head into the corral.
The local Madeira dancers were pretty cool.
With about 30 minutes before the race at 11.30pm they started letting runners into the corral, I wished both Craig and John good luck and headed in to try and get a better spot than I usually do at these longer races. I didn’t want to be playing too close to the cut offs like at Ultra Pirineu last year because I started near the back and the bottle necks were a nightmare.
The temperature was pretty warm with all the bodies around you, meant you were almost sweating before the start. I had 2 layers on just now: Transgrancanaria base layer T Shirt and my Missing Link T Shirt. Poles out and ready for the climb which would come within the first 2 minutes, I stood next to fake Ryan Sandes and really wish I said to him how much it looked like him haha.
BOOM 12:00 – Lets gooooooo!
Porto Moniz to Fanal
0km to 13.9km
The first 2 minutes were pretty fast as everyone was zooming out, me included ready for the first climb and the inevitable clicking of poles on concrete before we all settled into a fast hiking pace.
During the first small climb it was a 400m ascent and descent back to sea level. The descent was very steep up a twisting road. People in front were really taking their time, there was no room to get past here so I just took it as is and stayed in the same position. Back down at sea level the streets were lined with supporters, the energy here was electric, amazing!! I high fived so many people here and it really gave me a boost, ready to tackle the huge 1,200m climb up to the first checkpoint at Fanal.
The start of the climb was on a very steep road with odd shaped steps in the middle, the never ending steps! I was getting worried knowing this time of morning during a long race is when I usually have my low points (Transgrancanria & Lakeland 100). It started to rain a little around 800m, the temperature was fine for now but there was a little wind coming in. In my pack I had 1 Waterproof and 1 Windproof jacket, I opted for my Waterproof jacket thinking if it carries on at least I won’t need to change again, wrapped the buff around my head like a hat, waterproof on, gloves on, I carried on climbing.
With about ¼ of the climb left before the checkpoint, I was absolutely soaking now. There is only so much rain a waterproof jacket can take, my OMM one has seen better days but it’s still an excellent piece of kit. Just before the checkpoint I could make out some of the beautiful trees and landscape at Fanal, I’d love to visit this place in the day time and see how beautiful it is. The wind was really picking up and blowing in sideways across my face, I think this is what caused so much movement from my hood and inevitably chafed the left side of my face.
At the checkpoint it was a fairly straightforward case of grab some food, re-fill both water bottles and get some pepsi before heading back out. I changed my gloves to my spare thicker pair, as the gloves I were wearing were soaked!
Fanal to Chao da Ribeira
13.9km to 19.2km
A long descent to the next checkpoint after finishing off the climb. This section was pretty with hundreds of muddy steps made of wooden logs. There was a mix of everything if I remember correctly. The mud was quite fun but start but soon lost its appreal when it felt like running down a scree slope, some bits of fog made seeing quite difficult with the head torch bouncing back into your face.
I was trying to up the pace here as I was starting to get pretty cold and thought it was a good method to heat up. I decided to take my waterproof jacket off and put my only remaining layer of clothes from my pack on, it was a soaking wet windproof top. So now I had 4 layers on top, my spare set of dry gloves and 2 buffs. Running down kept me in fairly good spirits but during the exposed sections the wind was strong and it really dropped my core temperature, I kept saying to myself “This isn’t fun”!
I think this was the checkpoint where I got some lovely warm soup, both hands wrapped around it with chattering teeth. A judgement call was made here that if I don’t warm up, I’ll take the €20 emergency money and DNF, getting a taxi back to the hotel.
Chao da Ribeira to Estanquinhos
19.2km to 28.8km
When leaving each checkpoint they had excellent signs made up showing what section of the route was coming up, the profile, ascent/descent, lap distance.
Huge climb coming up in wind, rain and fog, 1,385m to the highest point in the race (so far), it was long, slow and miserable. I put in my music to get me through the climb before I was feeling pretty low and looking for the usual excuses to stop. Some of the music was quite angry and definitely fuelled my bad mood, apart from one song which was relevant but also very annoying to hear at around 4am, soaked and cold: Rihanna Umbrella.
Estanquinhos to Rosário
28.8km to 37.4km
Another nice long decent now before a checkpoint I’d been looking forward to since the start of the rain. This is where I’d first agreed to message Vicky and let her know how I’m getting on.
“Shes a maniac, maniac on the floor” – Great song! It never came on the ipod but it didn’t stop me repeating those words over and over.
The decent was indeed long at 1,060m and ended up being just a mud slide down the mountain, it was through a really nice dense forest but felt like skiing because of how much mud there was, I doubt it would have been this slippy without all the rain but it certainly made it quite an experience. You really don’t appreciate how much effort it takes to move across this terrain at any sort of speed other than a snails pace.
I never fell once and managed to turn my head torch off just before the checkpoint, it was still freezing and raining. When I got into the checkpoint I started to charge my watch, take off my 2 wet outer layers, went on my phone to see people’s motivational messages and just enjoyed having some more lovely warm soup.
Okay enough of this, if I can’t get warm I’m going to drop (I kept telling myself this fake promise), I thought as a last resort I should use my foil blanket as all my clothes are completely wet through now. It had been 7 hours and the rain was showing no signs of stopping.
Opening my foil blanket from its case, it was about the size of a double duvet and so bloody loud. It took me about 10 minutes to fashion it into something around the size of a beach towel I intended to wrap around my torso… Okay so once I’d wrapped it around I tried to use some of my tape to secure it in place, which was soaked and not sticky anymore. Okay, so I’ll use some plasters from my first aid kit. I was using plasters to stick this gold foil to my torso before putting back on my windproof and waterproof over it. After that you could hear me running from a mile away it was that loud! Crunch crunch crunch.
Rosário to Encumeada
37.4km to 44.3km
Leaving the checkpoint I knew there was a steep climb coming up and I wasn’t wrong, this climb was up steps following a long pipe straight up a mountain, it was pretty relentless! Daylight was starting to show sights of breaking through the forest and the rain had almost stopped, it would take some time to dry out but at least it was possible if the sun decided to show up.
The forest here was beautiful, some huge trees and lush vegetation. A Portuguese runner tapped me and gave me something, It was the chip timing thing from the back of my bib, Offt! That was a luckily find!
Encumeada to Curral das Freiras
44.3km to 59.6km
Yes, that was a marathon distance covered now, I felt in better spirits here. The next checkpoint was a colossal 15km away and getting there meant I could fully change most of my clothes to some nice new dry ones. In context of the race, 15km sounds like nothing as a whole, but when broken down between checkpoints it was the longest distance to cover, the terrain made it incredibly slow going so making sure I had enough food and drink for this section was the priority.
It was still raining here and there was some blazing fast runners coming by, I was thinking what the hell is going on, then realised it was the runners from the 85km Ultra which started a few hours ago (7am), I’m sure the lead females past me along this section too. There was only a few idiots who were trying to shove past us slower MIUT runners here. I enjoyed stepping to the side of the trail and letting them past when possible, but always took offence when they didn’t nod or acknowledge it. I got caught out when I made a comment to someone and was gesturing with my hand and he turned around haha.
I was still wearing my foil blanket and slowly heating up, my spirits were a bit better I’d stopped resorting to music for motivation, but was still after a good excuse to end the race if possible. It was a little more fun now but for the most part the weather had made it miserable. The views along this section was breath taking, when the clouds cleared during the climb the views really opened up and showed all the jaggy mountains. There was quite a few walkers out who were always keen to shout encouragement to us all.
I stopped at the pass to soak in the views along the central mountain massif we we’re scheduled to tackle later in the day, ahead of me I could see the checkpoint 1,000m below the pass we were due to visit next before the big mountains of the day.
I loved this decent here and ran it at a nice fast pace overtaking so many people, including some 85km runners. Fast and sharp decent I finally hit the small town, stopped to take off my huge foil blanket and outer layers, my waterproof was fully dry so I put that away and kept my windproof in my hands to try and dry it out while running in the sun so I could put it away at the checkpoint.
The checkpoint was absolutely huge, a big hall with runners and support crews everywhere. The marshals went to get my drop bag, I sat down and changed. Changed my socks, shoes, base layer top. I put some hand warmers and waterproof gloves into my pack just in case the next night was a cold and wet one. Checked on some lovely messages from my friends who had been following the race and sent me some encouragement (This was really appreciated).
It was good to know I was past halfway, I’d always promised myself to get up the big mountains so I could see the ridges and wouldn’t let myself DNF before seeing those so I’d convinced my mind I had to carry on.
I had some food and drink, put all my old smelly clothes back in my drop bag which would now be transported to the finish, went to use the bathroom…. Or not.
First of two cubicles, the door didn’t lock, there was no toilet seat, no toilet roll and shit on the floor, second cubicle was the same but with shit all down the back of the bowl – Errr no thanks. I’d rather find somewhere on the trail thanks very much!
There was a kit check before leaving the checkpoint and I was on my merry way following a group of 3 85km runners I’d seen since the start of their race.
I found a lovely portoloo at a building site just slightly off trail, which was a very well kept toilet so the chance couldn’t be missed!
Curral Das Freiras to Pico Ruivo
59.6km to 70.4km
This section was a cheeky 11km with 1,370m of ascent, I knew it’d be long winded and take a long time as there was a mandatory requirement for 1l of water. Going through the farm land on the lower slopes was beautiful and it was nice to get a little shade from the blazing sun now, oh how times have changed. I was wearing a long sleeve Helly Hansen base layer top under my Missing Link T Shirt. Clock watching was pretty slow, watching the ascent and promising myself a rest when I got to 974m (Ben Lomond height), that was a welcome relief.
Behind me I heard a lot of panting and thought their working very hard to get up here, turned around and it was a chubby golden retriever cross bounding up the trail, no idea what his plan was but he was cute so I gave him a pat.
I never got any photos during the steep ascent as it was a fairly hard effort to get up there without any added distractions.
At 1,344m I stopped again (Ben Nevis height) and had a rest, if my watch was showing the correct altitude, the top was at 1,750m so not too much of a climb left, excellent! Problem was, we got to about 1,650m and started going down! Back up 50m then down again, this went on for far too long and I was wondering when we would get to Pico Ruivo.
The weather was very very windy up here so I put my (now dry) windproof top, the clouds were in so not too many views.
The checkpoint came after actually missing the summit of Pico Ruivo, The checkpoint had a lovely toasty fireplace with very limited seating, I never spent too long in here because I wanted to get lower down again. The next section was very undulating along the tops for 10km.
Pico Ruivo to Chao Da Lagoa
70.4km to 79.8km
I’d say undulating when you look on an elevation chart but it’s still a whopping 500m ascent and 700m descent. Obviously the elevation chart on the race bib doesn’t take into account all the little climbs.
This was easily my favourite part of the race, absolutely incredible trails, hugging the cliff faces, metal railings, airy ridges, the crazy long dark tunnels, metal staircases peerlessly clutching to the sides of the mountain. The staircases were probably the scariest of the race, the odd step missing, the odd railing broken it was a bit sketchy and slow going. The runs along the tunnels were great fun.
The long tunnel was pitch black, the Portuguese were screaming in it for echos and all of us marched along without headtorches on for fun.
The next few tunnels I did use my headtorch because the novelty had worn off and I didn’t want to fall or twist an ankle. My planter fascia was giving me some issues here but nothing too bad, I think it was just overused thanks to all the climbing up the steep gradients.
Then the section of the trail you see on all the youtube videos, its also about 1,750m up and follows a thin ridge with railings at either side, it was so windy up here I though my poles were going to blow out of my hands. Luckily I’d taken off my sunglasses before the last checkpoint.
Then you get to see the great big Observatory, once you hit that it was downhill all the way to the next checkpoint.
The descent was so much fun, it was pretty steep but mostly runnable, I took a wrong turn here and some guys had to shout me back onto the trail, I blame the 2 guys I was following in front of me haha.
Chao Da Lagoa was a welcome relief, this checkpoint was about 2km extra than what was scheduled so I’d depleted all my food and water, desperate for it to finally come, I was running hard passing people to finally get there and have a seat! Woop, finally got here, went on my phone for a while enjoying the motivational messages again and knowing that was almost 2 marathons down now.
There was 2 portoloos so I thought I may as well go again, both were locked so I waited 5 minutes then got impatient and banged on both doors with my poles and shouted, nobody answered so I forced a door open and it was empty, not sure why it was locked?
Chao Da Lagoa to Poiso
79.4km to 90.4km
According to the elevation chart this would be the last climb of the race, so what followed was a long descent then a long ascent into the checkpoint 790m-/675m+. The initial descent was pretty good, I was excited here and I knew I would eventually finish the race, Vicky had been here hours earlier than me as the marathon started before Chao Da Lagao so knew she’d experienced everything I was yet to face.
This area was lush with bushes all around and also loads of dead trees, a real contrast! I bet this would look creepy at night, luckily it was still light but starting to get dark. The descent was pretty steep too, I was following a Spanish man because I liked his pace, it was a little slow but I didn’t fancy leading on this bit so was happy to tuck in behind. He slipped a few times but I managed to stay upright. So many little snapped trees people had obviously used hold themselves up on this section.
By the time I was climbing the 657m up I put my on headtorch on the low setting to just give me a little bit of light through the dense woodland. This climb was actually very steep too (story of the race!) up the mud which had accumulated from all the foot traffic of the Marathon, Ultra and faster MIUT runners. I asked a French runner if he could put my red backlight on, as I had just done the same for him. He took ages and was fumbling about for a while, when I looked back to see what he was doing and he was pressing the little Toy Story plush Alien, “I can’t find the button” haha.
Up until this point I had noticed how dirty the trails were with rubbish. Never have I seen this amount of crap dropped along a race route, it was frustrating because it’s such a beautiful country. I think in future the organisation should make a bigger point about disqualifying runners who drop rubbish, we’re talking full empty wrappers and gel sachets all over the place amongst other things.
Poiso to Portela
90.4km to 99.2km
Vicky had mentioned to me about this next section, it was 8.8km and pretty much all downhill. This section was one of the best for me during the second time using a headtorch in the race. I quickly stopped off to use the loo before heading out into the darkness alone like a man on a mission. I was running what I felt was a very hard pace passing people all the time, I never stopped and hung around in the groups of runners, I just past them and continued off into the darkness alone. I kept thinking about how people are only in these little groups of because they hate being alone at night in the woods. The same sort of thing happened during Lakeland 100 where I’d always see gaggles of runners together with no one wanting to leave the ranks.
Continuously passing people I never even fell, the descent was initially really big wide open fire road, the odd bit of technical single track but it was great to run on. It was always a bit daunting to pass people and keep up a faster pace because I knew they’d be watching to see if I slipped, I did a few times but luckily saved myself, woo hoo embarrassment avoided.
Came into Portela feeling great, thought it was my quickest section as I’d not walked at all.
Portela to Larano
99.2km to 104.4km
I’d heard this was a good section and it was only 5.2km, so the shortest in the race, should be over in 40 minutes of running right?
I walked out of the checkpoint for a while stuffing my face with Madeira cake and Tuc biscuits, so was letting the food settle. We must have followed a really wide road section for about 3km here which had tons of puddles so it was a case of zigzagging the road, then it went onto undulating trail.
I knew there was a steep sharp descent and had heard about this one from our friend Helen who said there was Mountain Rescue at the top and an Ambulance at the bottom, it was very very steep and quite exposed.
Mountain rescue came and went, so I thought great it must be coming soon… No it continued on the undulating trail and I kept saying profanities out loud about how much I’d hated this section, nobody was around to listen so that was good.
I finally hit the steep sharp descent and it didn’t disappoint. I gingerly stepped down it with my poles, it was one of those descents where your toe nails are bashing the front of your shoes, very slippy with the mud and rocks, so bits were quite large steps. If you slipped down there was nothing but trees and an almost vertical drop so it was best to try and stay upright.
Of course in the dark it seemed worse than it probably was but I didn’t want to fall off the edge into the blackness anyway. I did fall once trying to get between 2 rocks and bashed both my arms but never slid down the trail luckily.
Coming into the checkpoint was a very welcome relief because that was it in the bag, nothing could stop me now as this was the final checkpoint and only 11.8km left.
The marshals were great here, re-filled my water for me and gave me soup while I sat down and giving my legs a rest from that descent.
Larano to Machico – The Finish!
Finally this was it now, Vicky had told me there is a wonderful cliff section along here with stunning views. Of course those views are reserved for the day light as it was dark!
The final section started and it wasn’t long until I hit the cliff, it started out not looking too bad and then it came full on. I think this section was around 5km and I walked the full thing, it seemed the odd headtorch in front and behind all did the same, It was incredibly dangerous!
There was no lights, the lanterns hadn’t been lit up yet, you could hear the crashing waves way below you to the left, there was usually nothing at all to the left and a huge vertical wall to the right. A very small path winded around this cliff, along the route there were marshals and what I thought must be Mountain Rescue. It would have been silly for me to run any of this section, I kept thinking what if I lean too far left, will I fall down and die?
Out of the section and there was a fairy technical short descent until you hit the final flat section of the race about 6km along a levada. I could just see the lights starting to appear of what turned out to be the outskirts of Machico – Excellent!
I ran hard, real hard now and thought I best keep this up to the end. The levada was pretty narrow in places so I was a bit worried about passing everyone here (who all appeared to be walking it in), the sound of my quickly clicking poles on the ground and my loud breathing meant everyone in front turned and stepped aside when I was close, really appreciated this! When I’d hit the trail from the recce, I knew exactly what was to come and kept up the pace which felt like sub 20min 5km pace. When I hit the road I knew there was a steep descent down the road to come and it was very sore on the legs, I congratulated all the runners I’d past at this point now until the end.
Hitting the boulevard I toyed with the idea of a sprint finish, so just went for it. As I hit the finishing chute there were two people in front so I reeled it in to let them have their moment and picture, unfortunately they started messing around pulling out a flag from a spectator so I just bombed past them.
When I crossed the finish I held my poles in a pose I had played over in my mind for the last 3 hours. I’d made up 237 places since the first checkpoint so I believe that was excellent pacing.
26 hours 35 minutes 49 seconds.
I can’t describe the feeling I got from finishing this race. I’d written myself off so many times in this race, thought of stopping so often it was a real mental battle. I was ecstatic it was over, ecstatic to have finished and could finally rest.
That was the hardest race I’ve ever done, Lakeland 100 included, TransGranCanaria included, Skyrunnings Ultra Pirienu included.
It now feels incredible to tick this race off my bucket list and cherish such crazy memories and experiences of it, but certainly not a race I’d recommend for anyone to have fun on.
Zach Miller “Mile for mile harder than UTMB”.
Thank you so much to Maderia Island Ultra Trail for putting on such a fantastic, difficult event! The island was very friendly, the restaurants lovely, the food delicious, the island beautiful.
Thank you to all the marshals along the route, they all spoke perfect English! The support from back home was phenomenal, I really appreciated everyone saying good luck, well done and the messages in between. Thank you to Sarah Missing Link for coaching me into completing this gruelling race. Thank you to Vicky for being there for me, including at the finish and general support, we had a good laugh on this holiday. Thank you to John Munro for proof reading the horrible night section and making sure I wasn’t talking rubbish.
Next ‘A’ race is now Lakeland 100 again, I’m a late entry into this race but it made sense to stick with a UK race in the summer.