May 15, 2011 | Written by Patricia Murphy

Day 4 Madeira Island 25K Ultra Trail Race

So, I love doing races. It’s a great way to see places I would not see otherwise. And it’s motivational. And it’s a fun way to meet new people. So when John found that there was a Trail Race on the Island of Madeira the same weekend we were planning to be there, he asked if I thought we could do a 100K or a 50K.

No way. I said. Too long. Too hilly. Madeira is a volcanic island with 90% of its land mass over 1,640 feet. Since the island is only 35 miles long and 14 miles across, that makes for steep peaks and impassable valleys. From sea to summit, this island is barely habitable, and can only be traversed through its miles and miles of tunnels. When viewing the hills from the road, it’s hard to imagine where to put a road or trail. Where would a race possibly take us? Up and down for 50K? No thank you.

The north coast of Madeira.

Then, several weeks later we were doing research on restaurants and activities on Madeira, and I noticed that they had opened a 25K. I did a little dance of joy. We could certainly handle 15.5 miles. We signed up for the race and started preparing. Little did I know what was to come.

On Saturday we were awakenend at 5 am by our breakfast being served in the room.

Breakfast before the race.

We ate and had some coffee, then got dressed and hopped in the car to drive the 1 hour to the north side of the island. There were hardly any cars on the road. Once we arrived at Porto Moniz, we had to wait another hour before the bus departed for the start line. It was foggy, windy, and cold. We kept looking at the sky, hoping for blue. All we could see was clouds.

The bus to the start.

The drive to the start was harrowing. Windy roads with no visibility through the fog. The ride took an hour. Once we arrived to the start of the race, we had to wait another hour before running. Yes, you counted right. We had now been up for 5 hours and we had a few hours of run ahead of us (I finished the race in 4.5 hours and John finished in 3 hours, taking third place overall). While waiting, we made some new friends. This is Diego, an Italian philosopher who spoke English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.  He also won the 25K.

Our new friend Diego at the race start.

When the “gun” sounded, all 31 runners took off onto a Jeep road through the fog. Visibility was bad and the trail was muddy and slick, with deep puddles every 400 yards. I fell too many times to count, but the first one was the best one. I’m glad I got dirty right away, and leared my lesson.

At the first check-in, I met up with Roxana, a 36 year old Spanish gal with whom I ran for the next many miles. We had a nice chat, took lots of pictures, and had a few snacks along the way.

My new friend Roxana.

I did get this nice shot of the lilies that graced many hills as we ran.

Lilies on the trail.

I would say that the trail had 5 types of running surfaces: 1. Muddy Jeep road, 2. Bushwhacking, 3, Levada, 4. Steep forest descent, and 5. Slippery cobblestone or concrete. Here is one of the many Levadas, a series of canals on the island that bring water from the rainy northwest to the dry southeast of the island. They make for popular hiking all over the island.

Levada in the mist.

Finally, in the last 2 miles of our 18 mile run, we made a steep descent to the water.

Knee Cruncher.


Finally we finished. Then we drove back along the north coast and stopped for some fish soup at a seaside cafe.

Fish soup time.

From there we went back to the hotel, showered, and fell into bed for a nap. At 7:30 our alarm went off, and we started getting ready for our Champagne Gala. The dinner was served in a massive hall with gorgeous chandeliers and a quartet playing Jazz classics and some Fado, the traditional Portuguese blues music.

Champagne gala.

It was a lovely dinner. Our day was a great study in contrasts. A muddy adventure meets a luxurious meal.