Off the coast of Morocco lie The Canaries. A group of rugged volcanic islands whose peaks rise straight out of the clear blue Atlantic. Once a year long distance runners from around the globe gather on the Island of La Palma for one of the most beautiful, challanging and exciting footraces in the world.
As I’ve only been running trails for about a year and I figured it was time to figure out really how different racing in Europe is compared to the races in the United States. In short, European Mountain/Ultra/Trail racing is VERY different than the Mountain/Ultra/Trail (MUT) scene in the United States. Climbs and descents are steeper, trails more rugged, and competitors much more adapted to power hiking and navigating technical trail, the enthusiasm of spectators is unrivaled.
I like big climbs and descents, what I was not accustomed to is descending 13,600 feet through fields of jagged lava rock, uneven cobblestone paths covered in loose rock and dry river beds. I probably looked like a 90 year old man as I navigated my way down into the small town of Tazacorte. The way Euro mountain runners descend technical terrain is unbelievable, its like they are dancing their way through a field of cotton candy. Technical descents will definitely be a focus in my training this summer, it will take a lot of specific training to be able to hold my own on this type of course.
The people lining the course from the start in Fuencaliente to the finish in Los Llanos were beyond enthusiastic. Spectators were yelling “Anima!” which I learned basically means soul or spirit. The excitement of the people was thick, the race had a definite Tour de France feel. The final kilometer was ridiculous, Thousands of people were crowding the street, yelling, taking pictures, high fiving. It was an experience I wont soon forget.
I usually take races really seriously, I prepare diligently, leave nothing to chance, plan exactly what I am going to eat and where, know the exact mileage between aid stations, etc. This time due to a variety of circumstances I decided not to plan. I put two gels in my running shorts, filled up my waterbottle and headed out to race through sand, volcanic rock fields, green forests, banana groves, dry river beds, back alleys and city streets. I had a great time. Obviously time and performance are very important and very quantifiable variables. I like measuring my abilities against those of others in a clear and direct manner, but I have found evaluating ultramarathon performances on a more dynamic criteria usually leaves me with a sweeter taste in my mouth. There are 3 things that I think are valuable and strive to get out of every race.
I like to learn, love to suffer and believe freedom is the greatest of virtues.
I gained a lot of experience from this event. I discovered gummy peach rings are far superior fuel than gels. I spent a good amount of time in the pain cave, I’m not ready to go back to the dark caverns yet, but I will be ready and eager to really suffer on June 28th. For 73 kilometers I had the sun on my face and the wind at my back and that is a pretty good way to spend a day.
Thank you to the hospitable, friendly people of The Canary Islands, for sharing your volcano with me and letting me attempt to speak terribly broken spanish. Thank you to Skyrunning and the Transvulcania organizing committee. I hope to race on La Palma again. It was awesome to get to know the contingent of American runners and the international runners as well.
Here is a video of last years event, really gives a cool perspective of the race 2013 Transvulcania Video
DreamTeam television will be putting out another video of this years race in the coming weeks.