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Race Report: Ultra Blue Island by Azores Trail Run

A long holiday in the Azores offered the opportunity to run the Ultra Blue Island Coast to Coast Marathon in Faial and we decided to grab it. Find out everything you need to know and why the race might be worth a trip to the Azores.
Ultra Blue Island runners
Image Pedro Silva

The Ultra Blue Island by Azores Trail Run might just be considered one of the many races held on an island somewhere, but it is much more. More than 500 athletes were at the starting line this year, many traveling from abroad or from continental Portugal just for the race or as an excuse for a holiday in the Azores. We were part of the latter and you should consider it too in your next year's race calendar.

Distance: 10k, 25k, 42k, 65k, 118k

Where: Horta, Portugal

When: May

Cost: from €55 to €75 for the marathon for the marathon (including bus journey to start and finish line)

How to Enter: Register directly on the event website

The Event

Azores Trail Run is the organizer of the race and of many others in the Azores, which are a group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that rose in popularity in recent years among travelers who love outdoor activity and nature. Azores Trail Run was born in 2012 with ambitious objectives all related to trail running and general sports practice in the Azores and promoting the image of the islands as a tourist destination.

What started with just one event and 25 participants in 2012, includes several events between the different islands and thousands of participants. The races are also recognized internationally being qualifiers for UTMB and Western States.

Horta Faial from monte da guia
A view of Horta, the main town, from Monte da Guia

Ultra Blue Island itself is where everything started for Azores Trail Run more than 10 years ago and the biggest sports event for the island of Faial. The local community is heavily involved in the organization of the race, from marking the course and setting up the aid stations to providing food for athletes at the start and finish lines. For example, the local boy scouts are involved in most of the aid stations.

The Course

The Marathon Faial Coast to Coast mainly follows one of the local trails called Faial Coast to Coast, which starts in Ribeirinha on the east coast and ends in Porto do Comprido on the west coast. The course crosses the island for all its length summiting the Calderia do Faial which is just above 1,000 meters in elevation.

Faial island forest
The trail in Capelo's Recreational Forest Park

Starting from the coast you make your way up to the Caldeira with a steady ascent that raises you into the clouds that usually cover the mountain - this year was no exception. After running above the crater a long descent starts from the kilometer 20 which brings you into the woods with some amazing views straight out of Jurassic Park. After the last 200 meters of climb of Cabeco do Canto, you run the iconic descent to the lighthouse - you might remember it from the 2020 Golden Trail Series Finale.

My Race

strava activity blue island coast to coast marathon

I knew the weather would have not been complaisant during the race, for the whole week Faial only saw rain and wind and very little sun, but I wasn't expecting this much mud on the Caldeira and in the forest below. Mud above your ankles at some points - fun fun fun.

Ultra Blue Island starting line
The starting line in Ribeirinha

Just above 100 runners were at the starting line of the 42k, not making it too crowded and easy to run from the start. Right after the first ascent, the pack was already spread, and from then on I mostly ran by myself or with 2-3 people for not more than a couple of kilometers. Despite two weeks of holiday on my legs, I felt quite well after a first struggle on the ascent from the coast to the initial plateau. During the flat approach to the Caldeira, I was able to pick the pace and reach the first aid station with a lot of energy.

Caldeira Faial road
The long road to the Caldeira

The ascent to the Caldeira is a long zig-zag on a road that climbs to the clouds at the top of the mountain. Even though it was not raining, my clothes were soaked by humidity by the time I was halfway. Organizers informed us about the strenuous conditions at the top of the Caldeira and they were. The wind was very strong coming from the bottom of the crater and the visibility was just enough to see the next red flag on the course, around 20-30 meters.

Faial Caldeira
Conditions on the Caldeira

After what felt like an endless section on the Caldeira, the course dropped to the central part of the island which is covered by a tropical forest. The single-track trail was mostly flat but with a lot of mud and steps to cross the small water canal running on one side. I couldn't switch off my mind for one second without the risk of falling. This went on from kilometer 24 to 38 with few breaks.

Faial island forest
A section of dead forest around kilometre 28

The last 6 kilometers presented 2 small climbs, around 250 meters together, before the last descent to the finish line. By this time, I started to run with one guy and one girl from the 65k race and we managed to overtake a few runners on the uphills and on flats. I did not manage to push harder like I wanted because my knees were suffering from all the steps during the previous descents. Only on the last descent to the lighthouse, I went all out to pass a runner in front of me on the 42k distance, which was worth the 6th place overall - unexpected but welcomed.

la sportiva jackal shoes mud
Can tell how muddy it was by my shoes and socks

Nutrition: 5x Decathlon Gels & Aid Station food

Final Scorecard

Course ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Aside from the weather, which is like a casinó roulette in the Azores, the trails are scenic and technical, especially on the descents and when running inside the forest. 4-starts only for the wrong elevation stated on the website compared to what it was in reality (500 meters more)

Logistics ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Atmosphere ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Medal & Tee ⭐⭐⭐


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