Montes Aquilianos 60 km

TRAVESÍA INTEGRAL DE LOS MONTES AQUILIANOS

You don’t run this race for fame, money, or a medal. You run this race because you are part of the race family itself.

There are a couple big-name races in our valley each year. There is the 101 Peregrinos which brings thousands of running and biking participants from all over the Iberian Peninsula. There is also the Alto Sil which brings in international and professional runners from all over the world. Alto Sil’s inscription is filled in about the time it takes to sneeze. But another race kept coming up in conversations for the last two years. No money. No medals. A comparatively small field of runners. What?!

This summer I found that the 60 km (and also 48 km version) Travesía Integral de Los Montes Aquilianos, or Montes Aquilianos for those who run it, is a race which offers something unique. In exchange for fame, you run to connect with friends, or perhaps even more, join a family. As I chatted with runners along the course I would ask, “How many years have you participated in this race?” Six years. Twelve years. Twenty Years. “And you?” came the reply. Gulp “It’s my first.”

Welcome to the family!

In exchange for money, you run to see some incredible views. Breathtaking…in more ways than one. You begin the race in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento and within two kilometers you are running over a Roman bridge and past a church from the 10th century. In the early dawn you watch the fog rise off the vineyards surrounding what the Romans called “The Paradise” and then dip down into a secluded river valley to follow the “Senda de los Monjes.” One moment you are navigating a nearly tropical setting, the next you are scrambling up a steep rocky path, leading you along an ancient cut in the mountains toward the Valley of Silence. Before you make it there you run beneath the arches of a 10th century monastery in Montes de Valdueza. Then begins a climb. Out come the poles and you push over the top of the ridge separating Montes from Peñalba. Beneath you sits the Valley of Silence, a cave known for “housing” a 10th century monk. You climb again up into Peñalba, a village tucked away from modernity, built of wood and stone, and voted one of the most beautiful villages in all of Spain. Soak in that Beauty because soon you will be facing the Beast.

And the medal? Why no medal? You don’t need a medal because finishing this race is enough.

At 26 km into the race you are feeling great. And then you look up. You have a 4 km section with 1000+ meters of gain. Every step is a challenge, but every step rewards you with a view that you surely would appreciate more if you were not grasping your knees, trying to keep from tumbling backwards into the ravine, and wondering why you don’t run normal 5 km races like everyone else. The aid station at the top marks the middle of the race, and the worst is behind you. Now begins the ridge running, the snow crossing, and the ever present dip and climb of the rest of the race.

Your steady descent takes you down single track and logging roads, through villages, and past spectators offering you of their early cherry harvest. A few small sections take you along asphalt, but you quickly jump back into the vineyard and orchard topography.

The race finishes with a run along the Sil river, a short climb beneath the 12th century Knights Templar Castle perched above, and then back into the Plaza where racers and spectators alike enjoy a cafe con leche and a pincho, cheering you on and welcoming you into the family.

So why did I run this race which offers no money, fame, or medal? I guess because I’m family. That was enough for me.

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