Douro Ultra Trail, Portugal Saturday 6th October 2018
The Douro Ultra Trail is a collection of races run in north eastern Portugal and based in Regua, a town on the Duoro river. On the same day there is a 10km walk and 25km, 45km and 80km trail races. Competitors are bused out to the race starts and all return to the museum in Regua for the finish.
I flew out to Portugal on Friday 5th October with a trail running friend, our plan was to run
the 45km race and return on the Sunday. Neither of us had been to Portugal before so this was going to be a real micro adventure.
Regua turned out to be very easy to get to. A Ryanair flight from Stansted took us to Porto, we then had a 30 minute metro ride to Porto Campanha station where we took a train for the 2.5 hour trip along the Douro river to Regua. Travel is very cheap in Portugal and the return trip from the airport to Regua was about 20 euros each. The trip along the Douro river is also one of the most scenic railway trips in Europe.
We arrived in Regua in the late afternoon, checked into our hotel and went for something to eat before going for registration and race numbers at the museum.
The registration seemed very chaotic with a long queue snaking out of the museum building. When we got inside we were informed that the 45km and 80km were cancelled due to a very high fire risk in the mountains, it was clear that this was a surprise to most people as it had only been posted on the event facebook site the night before. The only race option was the 25km. We also discovered that safety pins are not given out at these events and the organisers would try to find some for us if we attended the later race briefing.
To be fair one of the organising team went out of her way to look after us and we did get some pins later. At the briefing it was clear that there was a very real risk of wildfires which had been a problem further south in the Algarve. We then went back to the hotel to get ready for the early start.
At 7:30am Saturday morning we were on a bus winding our way into the mountains for the start point of the 25km race. The narrow road snaked higher and higher through steeply terraced hills. We were going deep into the Port producing area. After about an hour we came to a halt in a pretty mountain village and we followed the local runners, firstly into a cafe to warm up, then down a road into a deep valley and the start. Down here is was very cold and with an hour and a half to wait we went off to explore the route.
By the 10am start everyone had regrouped at the start point and the sun, having risen high enough, was now warming the valley bottom.
From the start we climbed steeply back up to the cafe and then down the road we had come in on before branching off up a very steep dusty track climbing high above the valley we had started in. The climb was unrelenting, with a total of nearly 500m of ascent before we levelled off at about 4km into the race. From here we bobbed and weaved up and down and in and out on small tracks through terraced vineyards, occasionally picking up short stretches of road and passing through small villages.
It had got very hot and with aid stations at almost 5km intervals even the Portuguese runners were pouring water over their heads to try and cool down.
Everyone was very friendly and the aid stations well stocked with oranges, bananas, water melon, biscuits, coke, water and electrolyte drink. At the last aid station they even had shots of Port!!
The course marking with white tape was extremely good and the only way you could have followed the maze of tracks through the vineyards. Also, on road section there were police stopping what little traffic there was so we did not have to stop. The rough, dusty tracks required a lot of concentration, especially on the steep down hills.
The final run in to the finish was along the Douro river with a strong breeze to cool us down. At the finish in the Museum gardens we were interviewed as the only Brit and Irish runners. We then joined the free BBQ and drank 2 euro pints of beer whilst enjoying the sunshine and view down over the Douro river.
Altogether it was a superb event and overall it was well organised. We both admitted to being relieved not to have run the 45km. It was steeper and hotter than we had expected.
We both vowed to return next year to try the 45km race but with the knowledge that we would have to do a lot more hill training. As a place it is fair to say that northern Portugal exceeded our expectations.