Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

March 6, 2011

Sand dune run to crater summit, Fuerteventura (times 2!)

I won't be in the Sahara this April for the week-long Marathon des Sables, but I thought it would be fun to experiment with how hard it might be to run in the sand.  I have been contemplating running the Marathon des Sables someday, although it is frightfully expensive and also has a long waiting list.  That doesn't stop me from dreaming about it, so a sand run sounded like a great challenge. Luckily, I again found myself visiting Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands.  This time our hotel was right on the edge of Corralejo, with a large area of sand dunes just a few meters away.  

Starting the run was as easy as crossing the road in front of my hotel and heading south.  At the distant end of the dunes was a large crater, which gave me a reference to head for even in the dune valleys. The sand in the dunes was quite firm, as I zig-zagged around a few bushes and cactus.  Winter in the Canary Islands is the wettest part of the year (it's still a very dry desert), and recent rainshowers had caused a few new green shoots to pop out of the sand.  I tried to avoid stepping on any of them, growing things are hard to come by around here.
A large crater to head for as I start into the dunes
 There are a few issues with desert running, namely the sun, the heat, the wind, the hot sand, and the blisters.  Out in the dunes, it was windy and sandy, but the clouds kept the sun and heat to a very minimal level.  I think this made it easier to run without getting hot feet and blisters (and I didn't).  The clouds make the dunes very monochromatic, and my depth perception was way off.  It was sometimes hard to tell if the sand in front of me was sloping up or down.  But once in a while the sun would peak out, throwing some wild colors into the dunes with dark blue skies behind them.  It was magical.

The crater's not that far away, why not climb it as well?

As sometimes happens when I head out, the running felt really good, and the end of the dunes appeared way before I was ready to turn around and head back to the hotel.  I decided to turn it into an epic day out.  So I started assessing the volcano crater I had been heading for, wondering if I could make it to the summit as part of my run.  This particular crater sits alongside the road that runs through the dunes, and I had been eyeing it each time we had passed in the car.  So it wasn't entirely a surprise to me that my feet continued heading straight for it. 

To get there, first I had to cross a low ridge of hills covered with jagged volcanic rocks.  They were dark reddish colored, but covered with lively shades of orange lichen.  I concentrated on not breaking my ankles as the rocks rolled around beneath my feet.  Then I came to a cliff overlooking a dry river bed.  It wasn't too high, so I picked my way down along some rocks that had fallen off and made piles along the edge.  The other side of the wadi was the start of the hill, and the slope was pretty gentle, although covered with more small rocks.  There were also all sorts of shells and other strange bones on the ground, although I hadn't seen even one other person out there. 

Shadows in the sand dunes
The wind, which had blown at my back all the way through the dunes, picked up viciously as I neared the horseshoe lip of the summit.  I had great views of the island and ocean, the dunes far below me, and the neighboring islands.  Corralejo and its hotels were tiny specks in the distance.   The wind flapping my windbreaker ensured just a short stay on the summit, though, and then it was a quick run down the side slope and over to the road. 

To continue the feeling of adventure, I crossed the main road and stayed alongside the beach, which wound all the way back around to my hotel.  But I quickly sort of regretted this choice, as the tide was high, and the sand on the beach was soft and very hard to run in.   Unlike the packed sand of the trackless dunes, this had been churned up by countless beachgoers.  With the wind blowing in my face, I was reduced to a walk.  But hey, I was still on a beach on a desert island...it was great watching the waves crash on the shore, and the kiteboarders do their thing out on the water.

My route came out to about 13 miles of sand, sun, wind, and rocks.  It was such an epic journey, that I did it all over again the next afternoon!  And no blisters yet.  Sahara, here I come (someday).

Returning along the beach, with Lanzarote in the distance

View of the crater and some of the dunes from our plane window as we left :(


  1. Thanks for the inspiration. I'm off to Feurteventura tomorrow (so excited!) Since I'm training for the Paris marathon this sounds like a great adventure. I've got my packing sorted; union jack running shorts, running shoes, camelbak and camera - don't need anything else!

  2. I had one of the best runs ever on Fuerteventura. I set off before dawn with a full Camelbak knowing that it was going to get hot. I headed up a serious hill but, as dawn approached I realised that I was going up the wrong one. I followed this to the summit, but then admitted to myself that I'd be disappointed to return home without reaching my goal. I then decended and climbed up my original target, Rosa del Taro (593m). It was worth all the work for the incredible view in every direction. By the time I'd run home via a dried up river bed, I reckon I'd clocked 20 miles in the 4 hours I was out. This was definately one of the most enjoyable runs of my life!

  3. Steve, I'm glad you had a great run in Fuerteventura! I love running in dry, warm weather (a very nice change from the UK). There are also great trails for hiking and running on the rest of the Canary Islands...our goal is to see them all!