Visiting Monchique with the community

Visiting the Via Algarviana during summer is becoming a tradition. It had been done not only once but actually twice already, hence it made only sense to plan another visit to Monchique, not by car but by the lovely trails Algarve has to offer.

This time around I’ve decided to invite the community and see if anyone would be interested to join the quest. 🙂 The following is a short list of things I’ve done to promote the training session:

  • Advertised it on Facebook trail running groups: with a large running community out there and an increasingly number of runners falling in love with trail running, the best way to get interest was to shout out loud to all that share the same passion.
  • Built a route on Strava: visualising the planned trails is quite often the best way to increase enthusiasm for the paths about to be explored.
  • Shared an elevation profile: if the distance doesn’t kill you, the elevation might… I wanted to ensure that everyone would clearly understand the challenge at hand and to provide a visual representation of the contour of the session.
  • Added details on mandatory equipment: not being a formal event nor an organised race, with aid stations and insurance being absent, it was absolutely crucial to inform runners they’d need to be fit, used to trail running and capable of being self-supported / self-sufficient during the session.
  • Planned a (really) early start: August being the warmest month in Portugal, avoiding the midday sun was as important as taking water with us. On the other hand, starting in the night does have its charm.
  • Included late start / escape routes: with runners usually at different fitness levels, it was important to provide the possibility for anyone to join at a later point in time and location from the start. In the same manner, it was as well important that anyone could drop sooner, not necessarily covering the complete distance planned.

With the session properly shared in all social channels and with adequate information disclosed in advance, I was confident that I’d be getting someone to join me on the training. Being the peak of the holiday season was both an opportunity and a risk: if on one hand people usually visit the Algarve for vacation and would be around, the need to relax and stay at the beach may hinder fellow runners from joining.

The plan was to start as usual in Lagoa, pass by Silves, get to the Sector 10 trailhead of the Via Algarviana, conquer Picota, descend to the beautiful village of Monchique, go all the way up to the summit at Foia and return again to Monchique before lunch. The complete adventure would take us through 47 km of trail, nearly 2000 m positive ascent and a total accumulated elevation change of aprox. 3500 m.

Lagoa Monchique elevation profile

Lagoa Monchique elevation profile

 

It didn’t take long for the first adventurers to show their interest 🙂

Henrique is a childhood friend with whom I shared lately a few early morning runs during my summer vacation. Totally immersed in triathlon experiences, challenged both by his inner self and his friends and colleagues, he poked me in earlier years that he may join one day. Well, that day had arrived. He’d be starting in Silves and dropping on the first passage at Monchique, for a total length of aprox. 30 km. Totally new to trail running he was super enthusiastic about the challenge, the need to explore new gear and to conquer the mountain on foot. This time around he wouldn’t be doing his morning cycling pre-work training from Portimão to Monchique, rather taking a more primitive route with us.

Cristina is a natural challenger, passionate for trails and for being outdoors. A woman with a thousand skills, innovative at heart and putting her full commitment into everything she does, she couldn’t resist joining the adventure given the convenience of being in Algarve on holidays in a well deserved break from her work routine in Leiria. Having participated some days before in the Ultra Trail Rocha da Pena, in the hottest day of the year (ufff!!), she was super fit for it. Tapping into 30 km similarly to Henrique would put her into the longest distance ever ran, which provided everyone an additional motivation factor to have fun together and achieve some milestones as an extra bonus.

We were a small party but definitely a happy one 🙂

As planned I started early morning at 4h30 in Lagoa, after a good night sleep. A super energetic will filled my soul, knowing that my running buddies would be waiting for my arrival in Silves shortly after.

Early morning start at Pavilhão Desportivo de Lagoa

Early morning start at Pavilhão Desportivo de Lagoa

The first segment of the run was very smooth, with energy levels at its high. The night was super calm, a refreshing chill in the air, perfect to keep the body temperature warm during a mild run, focused on observing the stars and the mountain at far. The typical light spots on its slopes were not visible, indicating that the weather conditions there may be foggy or cloudy. Oh well… there was still a lot to go until getting to the foothill and sufficient opportunity to assess what would be waiting for us.

The night’s silence was interrupted only by the bark of guard dogs on the villas I passed by and the ocasional light of fireflies as they crossed in front of my path. A moon was expected to be born in its full state, which we anticipated would be an event absolutely worth of our full attention.

 

Approaching Silves by night is always an amazing view. From the top of the hill one has a beautiful sight of the city, lights spread over a small hill, castle and cathedral on top, recalling the history of the city and remembering its visitors of how important the settlement was in the development of Portugal as a nation. As I entered the city center the streets were full of tents, due to the Feira Medieval de Silves taking place that weekend, a yearly festival full of tradition, celebrating ancient medieval times, its ways, its people and rituals.

Henrique and Cristina were already waiting for me next to the Cathedral. Someone unexpected was next to them… a night watchman. Protecting the tents of the fair during his night shift, in total awe with the realisation that we’d be running jointly all the way to Monchique. He just couldn’t believe it! And even challenged me whether I had really ran from Lagoa already or whether I had left my car in the parking below. We had a really good laugh together! 🙂

Soon enough we were trailing in the night, headlamps showing us the way and the moon… oh the moon, so full, so bright, lighting the smooth hills nearby, bathing others in the distance, providing a sense of presence and comfort.

As we couldn’t resist turning our lights out… a magical moment happened… wow!… how does it feel to run in a typical pitch-black location, only to find out that you can actually see? And we could see so much and so many! We were one with nature around us. We cherished in delight the reflected light of the sun in the middle of nowhere. We absolutely loved such an experience… to the point of momentarily tapping the void. In-cre-di-ble!

As we continued following the trail, the night gave way to twilight, twilight gave way to sunrise and daytime followed suit. We enjoyed long conversations with each other, sharing who we were, our background, past experiences and utmost expectations for life. Ultimately we talked about what we love and how the sport is so much part of it.

The moon kept watching us even during daylight, as we criss crossed valleys collecting the sun’s shadow, protecting us from the summer heat which would soon hit us. The mountain lied just ahead, fully covered in clouds that morning. They’d dispel as soon as we’d start the ascent to Picota, just in time to allow mesmerising views over Algarve’s coastline. Perfect timing 😉

Shortly before Picota we sighted uncommon runes engraved in large rocks sitting along the hill. Unknown writing, mysterious in appearance, fascinating inscriptions challenging our imagination and leaving us in a state of bewilderment. To this day we still wonder about their meaning… Have you ever seen such? Are you familiar with them? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

After reaching Picota we had a lovely descent, first through a technical rocky trail and thereafter through a marvellous forest. The route was known to me yet witnessing Henrique’s and Cristina’s awe with its esoteric landscape and acute scents was definitely a moment of delight.

I left them in Monchique’s municipal swimming pool, with a pure feeling of happiness, memories stored from a remarkable run together, strengthened by the sense of achievement and exceeded expectation. The staff at the pool provided us precious support, storing our bags, allowing a well deserved shower and subsequent visit to the swimming pool.

Arrival at Monchique

Arrival at Monchique

My journey was not finished though, as I planned to complete the route to the summit at Foia and return to Monchique approximately one hour after… naturally to join them at the swimming pool 😉 . The “extra mile” was a personal challenge, a segment to test my capacity to hit the 50 km mark again and to assess how well I could perform in the descent. At the Eiger Ultra Trail the last downhill annihilated my legs… despite facing a lower downhill gradient, I really wanted to feel what it would be like to push myself hard in a controlled environment. I knew the route, the terrain and exactly how long I had in front of me!

The experience turned out to be very positive. I rejoiced with the feeling of getting again to the top, savoured the view in full and dashed back into Monchique.

At Foia

At Foia

With Cristina and Henrique taking advantage of the sunshine in a highly appealing pool, my family joining shortly after to build up on what would be a memorable weekend in the mountain, this was a training session I’ll hardly forget.

To my fellow companions, I loved every moment of it and thank you from the bottom of my heart for joining me. Wouldn’t have been the same without you! Hope you found those special moments where you tapped the void as well.

Relaxing at the swimming pool

Relaxing at the swimming pool

Needless to say that next year there’ll be a 4th edition.
In case you’re interested to join, reach out and/or stay tuned!

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