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Diary from Lanzarote: Calima craziness

The Canary Islands have been hit by the worst sand storm to hit the archapeligo in 40 years.

Here in the training mecca of Lanzarote, many athletes have been sidelined because of a Saharan sandstorm known as a Calima.

Sharon Mackinnon braves the winds during the “calima” that hit Lanzarote on Saturday. Photo: Kevin Mackinnon

We are here at Club La Santa, the sports resort that hosts many of the world’s top European triathletes for their winter training, for eight days of training – something my wife, Sharon, and I have been doing for over 15 years. The week began as normal – extremely windy days with temperatures that started at about 17 degrees C and warmed up to the low 20s. On Friday we did a 120 km loop over two of the major climbs on the mountain – Mirador de Haria and Mirador del Rio, both part of the famed Ironman Lanzarote course – and enjoyed some of the nicest weather conditions we’ve ever seen in Lanzarote, with temperatures hovering in the mid-20s and, for Lanzarote, there was relatively little wind.

Then, on Saturday, a calima hit the Canary Islands. According to a report in the New York Times: “Ángel Víctor Torres, the regional president of the islands … told Spanish national television that it was the worst such storm to hit the islands in 40 years. He described its arrival as ‘a nightmare weekend.’”

The Canary Islands are an archipelago about 100 km off the coast of Morocco. A calima forms when warm winds full of sand and dust blow over from the Sahara desert. Here in Lanzarote thousands of dragon flies have also been blown over with the warm, sandy winds. There have been reports of winds over 120 km/ hour – hurricane level – and everything is covered in a thin layer of brown dust. Most of the airports were closed on Saturday and Sunday, wreaking havoc with the always popular tourism business on the islands.

Related: Ironman Lanzarote voted the toughest Ironman in the world

Not realizing just how bad the conditions were, Sharon and I ventured out on our bikes on Saturday morning. The first 3 km of biking took us 19 minutes. It took us 49 minutes to complete 10 km. The 10 km descent from the village of Tinajo to Club La Santa was the scariest ride either of us have ever done. (Most people here on the island keep telling me I’m crazy to be riding a Cervelo P5X with Zipp 858 rims – and that’s on the “normally” windy days.)

Great Britain’s Lucy Charles, a three-time Kona runner up and a former winner of Ironman Lanzarote, is here training with her husband Reece Barclay. I’m not sure if they ventured outside on Saturday, but on Sunday she posted this photo on Instagram as she hit the well-equipped gym at Club La Santa. Today we saw her running on the treadmill.

Two-time Kona champ Patrick Lange is also training on the island. Rumor has it he braved the winds yesterday to embark on a 170 km ride, but I’ve not been able to confirm that he actually did that. He has been getting some monstrous swim workouts in, according to his Instagram account.


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And another morning swim‘s done. ?credits @julia.t.lange

A post shared by Patrick Lange (@patricklange1) on

It doesn’t appear that Lanzarote has been hit as hard as one of the other Canary Islands, Gran Canaria, where, according to the New York Times story,  the air contains “40 times the density of particles considered safe by the World Health Organization.” And, of course, losing a few days of training is nothing compared to the tragedies that many others have had to deal with because of the storm. With the airport closures thousands of tourists have been stranded. Gran Canaria and Tenerife are dealing with hundreds of wildfires and, according to the New York Times, “In the smaller island of La Palma, fierce winds tore down lamp posts, palm trees and a wall along a main road, burying parked cars in debris.”

The government closed all schools and cancelled all outdoor activities today, affecting the beginning of the “Carnival” festivities, but things are definitely starting to clear up.

Certainly athletes will be hoping that is the case so they can get back to training on this island that is usually a training paradise – for those who love to challenge themselves, anyway.