Lanzarote presents a tremendous challenge for running. There are no hedges to hide things behind, no walls of conifers to protect you from the strong Atlantic gales. Amid all that sombre aridity, stuff grows, and it grows well, creating a particularly stark contrast of fresh green on black. The unforgiving volcanic landscape and the care lavished upon it is still a compelling attraction for tourists, decades after Lanzarote first became a package holiday destination. It is a unique, remarkable environment for sports enthusiasts.

Lanzarote’s benign climate attracts serious and amateur athletes on winter training camps. The leader in this market is Club La Santa. It is a large complex on its own in a fairly isolated location on the north coast, with Olympic-quality pools and running track. The village of La Santa has some of the nicest restaurants on the island with an abundance of tasty dishes. Just north of La Santa is the surfer’s hangout at the village and beach of Famara, a dreamy, bohemian zone. You get the picture, it is a nice place to spend a week in late November.

If Carlsberg did running challenges this would be it. The International Running Challenge comprises four races: a 10k road race, a 13-kilometre hill race, a 5k beach race and a 21k run across the island of Lanzarote spread across just four days. It seems like allot! A valid question to ask oneself when running your first challenge is will I be fit enough? But every year the challenge wins over the hearts and minds of all those running. There are new runners going each year who learn the benfits of tanding in an ice-cold plunge pool between races. Additionaly you learn more about your club mates than just their first name and marathon time.

Club La Santa is the destination for the International Running Challenge which has taken place there every November for the past 30 years. Would you believe Emily has been going for almost 25 years! The running is an experience, not just the desert feel of the ridge run, the wilderness of the half marathon or the challenge of the 4 races in 4 days. Different people of various running standards, clubs and countries enjoy that satisfied tired feeling after each race.

Day 1 started with the Vince Regan 10K road race. The new course would be easy on a calm day but much like last year we were met with gale force winds on the 3 lap course. After one lap every runner was in bits and we’ll down on their target pace. This race builds character if nothing else. It can only get easier from here.

Day 2 is on the ridge. the legs feel a little better after the travel. Like the first day this race starts and ends on the track in La Santa. The first 7k gets you to the top of the ridge with its spectacular views. The trip up this year was calm but warm. With the wind at our backs we knew the work would all be on the way down. You have to be fit to do well on this one. If you go too fast you could end up walking to the top or start losing places on the way back down. When we hit the top there was around 1k of flat recovery into a gale force wind and then it’s downhill all the way home. This year even with on the way back down the mountain leading to slower times. Getting back down was possibly as hard as going up.

Day 3 started early with a bus trip to Porte del Carmen. The race here takes place on the same beach each year. You hope and prey that the sand will be hard packed and easy underfoot, but more often than not there are long stretches of soft sand which make for difficult running. The 5k is one of those races that hurt from the start but you recover quickly from. It’s great to kick sand in the faces of those behind you.

Day 4 is the 1/2 marathon. At 9 am you get dropped off on the edges of Tinajo and have to make your own way back to the track in La Santa. A new course this year the first 5k was tough with a mix of road, rails and some big hills. At 12k they threw in a bunch more hills that turns man to mouse but once you hit the top it’s time to turn on afterburners on. You run downhill eventually see La Santa off in the distance. This year’s half was one of the toughest ever, not because of the course but because of the heat and undulating terrain. It was only 20.1K but nobody was complaining.

There is a real sense of urgency on the last hill just outside La Santa and then once again on the back straight to make up those final few seconds. Then there is the final fall over the line and smug satisfaction that you gave it 110%. It’s hard to judge your times from one year to the next but this year was surely the most challenging in a few years.

It’s very hard at the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. After 4 days, you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to stop and walk.

Loads of the club members ran out of their skins to take top positions in their age categories. Click the link for the full results and see below for loads of photos. Of special mention is Sinead who came 3rd women overall. Sinead was also on the winning ladies team with Shona, Kate and Ruth. The B team of Maria, Maura, Carolyn and Sandra. The Lads A team came 2nd with Paul Flemming, Gareth, Kevin and Michael. There was also a bunch of age group prizes, Sportsworld did well!, More importantly, we had two new beer mile champions in Gareth and Maria who proved the speediest drinkers.

For anyone who hasn’t been on the trip before I can’t recommend it enough. There aren’t many races in Ireland that generate the same adrenaline rush as flying through a small village in Lanzarote at breakneck speed. As usual, we had great support from all those that weren’t running or indeed did just a few of them. Thanks as usual to Emily and Myles.

In addition to the above from Gareth Murran we had a write up from Maria Jones. Believe it or not she typed the whole thing over her lunchbreak on a phone.

Lanza 2017…it had finally arrived. Kate “the Great” Kelly pulled up outside our door at 4.30am Saturday morning and off we go!! Airport duties out of the way..quick meet up with Anna, Ruth and Ann Dalton and we were boarded. 4 hours later and the cold weather back home long forgotten…La Santa awaited the arrival of the first Sportsworld arrivals. We got settled in quickly and headed straight for some sunshine. As it was myself, Kate and Sinead’s first visit to La Santa the other girls filled us in on the goings-on on the week to follow..what to expect, what to do, what not to do lol! By Saturday evening the rest of the crew arrived and we got settled in to our apartment for the week ahead. I was sharing with Shona, Sinead, Kate and the loved up Gintys. Apartment 613B turned out to be the the most entertaining accommodation full of chatter, laughter, chocolate, a hell of a lot of tea and new friendships.

Sunday morning arrived…Race number 1…10km starting on the track and 3 laps around the Lagoon…there were lots of nerves about as a lot of us were just out of injury and feared we didn’t have enough in the tank for 1 decent race let alone 4. The sun was shining as we made our way to the start line. Myles and Emily were bubbling with excitement and we were off. It was windy as hell but headed off out of the track and down around the lagoon. I enjoyed the company of the A-team for the 1st 2km before losing them. They were flying up front and attracted the attention of some photographer to get some great Sportsworld photos of the front gang in action.

The finish line was a welcome sight as we re-entered the track for the last 300m. Day 1 down. Wasn’t so bad was it! Chill out for the rest of the day, followed by group dinner that evening where we caught up on the gossip from the day and what awaited us tomorrow…The dreaded Ridge run. Day 2…13kn Ridge Run…again we started with a lap of the track and out into the wilderness. I decided not to be so brave (foolish) today and not go out so fast. If we thought yesterday was windy, today was twice as bad. It was tough going getting to the top of that ridge. I questioned my entire existence on the way up. It’s funny when your mid race you think our the only one struggling. It was nice to hear afterwards that lots of people walked up that last bit at the top. Once we got to the top it was pretty much downhill from there. The patch with the sand underfoot was an unwelcome part though. Definitely the toughest race for me but somehow got convinced to run it again Saturday morning before we came home…just to see the views from the top of the volcano. Not half as daunting this time round….already looking forward to it next year (kinda). Back in 613B we were delighted with ourselves to be halfway through the challenge. There was some healthy banter going on between Team A and Team B, currently in 1st and 3rd position. Everyone was in mighty form. Blisters, sore legs, strapped feet, grazed knees and sunburn weren’t going to slow us down now. Day 3…5km beach run. Early bus drive to Puerto Del Carmen for this sandy race, After a warm up with Anthony myself and Kate had gathered as many tips as we could of how one runs successfully on sand from the engineer himself. Ah look its no fun trying to run fast in sand when your legs won’t move but it was short and quick and race 3 was done before we knew it. A little tourist time around and back to La Santa for rest up and Day4,,the Big Half.

Day 4…Half Marathon time. As this was my first half (and Kates) we were actually quite relaxed. There was no pressure, whatever we did was a PB right (“,) Again we got a bus at half 8 and off we went. We were heading uphill, this has to be a good sign I thought to myself. We were dropped off and ready for 9am start. The sun was beginning to come out but no wind in sight. Here we go 1 more race. I headed off nice and easy. Ruth kept me company for a few km before she headed off to do her thing and fly around the course. I ran a lot of the race on my own but have to admit I actually enjoyed it. The views were gorgeous, the downhills were frequent and the support from the club out on their bikes , handing out water was unbelievable. I actually thought how lucky I was to be part of such a great club. With 8km to go I caught up with Jose and we ran the rest of the race together. It was great to have his company and encouragement to get me to the finish line. Thanks again Jose.

The feeling coming in to run the last 300m on the track was unreal. All the runners ahead from the club were there to shout us on. Myles was at his 250m mark giving it socks. Wooohoooo we made it…4days…4races…and more miles completed than I’ve done in a full week before. It was time to paaaartaaay. Special shout out to Sinead who battled to the end to come 3rd female overall. The girls A team plus B team came 1st and 3rd and the lads A team 2nd,and everyone who completed the challenge…AMAZING!

Awards night was great fun…I think its fair to say everyone let their hair down…no secrets shall be revealed lol!

The whole week was just BRILL from start to finish…everyone was so welcoming and encouraging. The running was tough but its only part of the week filled with great company,fab food,few drinks, making new friends,lots of sunbathing and just having a laugh…oh and winning the beer mile yeeehooo lol. Its safe to say I will definitely be making a return to La Santa next winter for some warm weather training.