Trail Running in Portugal: Grande Trail Serra D’Arga


Caminha, Portugal, 26 September 2016

This report is about running two mountain trail races in Portugal in less than 24 hours. I finished the main 33km race in 13th position after 3hrs 22mins of running over 33km. The night before I warmed up with a Sunset run over 17km.

I’m sitting in the main square of Caminha on a Sunday afternoon, with a SuperBock beer and a pastel do nata in front of me. You could say a relaxing afternoon but the last 24 hours have been anything but. In little over 12 hours I finished one race and started another. So, you could say I’m wrecked. Holding the pen and thinking is hard work.

17km Sunset Race: Saturday

Saturday started in Spain and ended in Portugal. By 7pm I was at the start line for a “Sunset” run that kicked off the 2-day event “Grande Trail Serra D’Arga” organised by legendary Portuguese ultra-runner Carlos Sá. I was keen to run as it would open up the mountains of northern Portugal – plus the atmosphere at a local race is always great. Runners from as far as the Azores and 9 other countries came for these races – the main race was a 53km ultra.

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The sunset race was fun – 17km mountain run with the added novelty of (a) no sun (b) just rain and (c) darkness – so you needed a torch. After a lap of the cobbled streets we headed up a steep hill on narrow footpaths and cobbled roads. Not the easiest surface to run on. I was in the top 10. At the top (450m) it was getting dark, so the torch was essential (a last-minute purchase for EUR2.70 in Spain). Descending was harder for me but I made up time on the climbs. It was through wooded narrow trails on the second climb. Quite eerie – no light, just the rain and white tape marking the route. You really felt alone and close to nature. It was bucketing down by the time I got back into town and crossed the line. A fun race to do, but it was a quick turnaround for the main race in the morning.

33km Long Race: Saturday

The main race started in a village about 10km away, Dem, at 8am. It was dry but cold (12C) so we hid in the local café. We started climbing with a quick loop back through the village, which was nice as crowds were out. Both 33km and 53km runners were off together – I slotted into the top 30. After those bloody cobbles, we got out onto a sandy/soft mountain, with lots of prickly plants to scrape your legs.

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I enjoyed the climbs – but lost time on all the descents. The heels of my feet were sore, either from cracked heel or else my worn out VivoBarefoot trail runners. By halfway I felt good – there were 3-4 food stops, with banana slices, bread, water melon, orange. Handy for the second half.

I had dates in my backpack to munch on too, plus the mandatory kits required water so my bladder was perfect as it got hot (you also had to carry a mobile phone, foil wrap, whistle and jacket). The trail was very well marked, although I lost attention at a few points, mainly in villages, but quickly other competitors righted me. A guy in a blue shirt was my equal – he passed me descending, I caught him climbing. My goal was to beat him.

The last climb to 760m was gradual, so I felt good as I knew it was one short 3km descent to the finish. However, I underestimated how technical the descent would be. A steep rocky path was tough on the feet and I couldn’t hold the speed of the others. I think with better footwear I would have had more confidence to keep the speed up. Descending is such a skill – age or power don’t matter as much.

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At least it was only 3km (well 4km) and finally I saw the village of Sao Lourenco beneath. It was such a relief to cross the line and stop. I refuelled on soup and duck/rice combo (leftovers from lunch Saturday) and after a nice shower (in the town hall) got to stretch on the grass. Everything was hard work and sore.

Overall a great race, stunning scenery, really well organised, no fluff/extras, just the essentials (a nice winter running top) and a bus back to the start – 2 races all for EUR30. As I finish my 2nd beer here in the square of Caminha, I know I’ll be back in 2017 to run again in Spain or Portugal.

More info:



3 thoughts on “Trail Running in Portugal: Grande Trail Serra D’Arga

  1. Hi David, thanks for sharing this. My partner and I are considering doing the 33km event next year. Do you still have the elevation gain from your Garmin handy by any chance? The website mentions 3800m which seems to be a bit extreme based on the running times I saw and compared to a longer event we have here in Australia which only has 2400 and longer running times. The more information you are happy to share the better thank you! Steph

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