Transvulcania was a race I have been looking forward to for over a year. Racing over volcanoes, a majority of the world’s best mountain runners, fanatic spectaors and a gnarly course with nearly 15,000ft of climbng in 43 miles makes for one awesome race.
I enjoyed the 3 days leading up to the race at a wonderful 4-star resort 6 miles from the start on the island of La Palma. The weather was hot for what I am used to and I did my running in the heat of the day in attempts to acclimate my body. Adjusting after such a long trip to La Plama and the 6 hour time change is difficult, but 3 full days was a good amount of time. Patagonia athletes Luke Nelson, Ty and Krissy Mehl were at the hotel along with Jones and we had a great time relaxing and going through the pre-prace activities together.
I fell asleep the night before the race quickly but was wide awake at about 1:15am. I got ready and tried to relax before our 4:30am bus to the start. Once at the race start, I fully realized the magnitude of a 2,500 person start. Loud music and tons of energy was errupting at the start line. At 6:00am we all charged up the sandy trails in the dark. I was wide awake and feeling fine on the climb. As normal, I was starting under control and a ways back from the lead pack or two. It blew me away how many professional, world class athletes were in this race, more than there will be at any other race this year in the world. There were easily 40 guys who would podium at most US ultras racing today.
At the first town on the course there were people lining the streets to cheer… in the dark. I continued to be amazed at the excitement and participation of the people of La Palma fo the whole race. Transvulcania is the Boston Marathon of the mountain ultra world.
I was in around 30th place an hour into the race doing well running my own race. Around sunrise I passed through the most scenic section of the course. Around me was Ponderosa like pines widely spread out with almost no ground cover, just volcanic rock and sand towering upwards. Down below was the sun just rising over the inversion of clouds. Accross the ocean the 13,000ft peak on Tenerife, Spain’s highest, made the sky line that much more magical. I was smiling and having a wonderful time. I slowly passed runners one at a time until I reached the top of the 6,000ft climb 30k into the race and was somewhere around 20th place.
The next section of the course was 10k of rolling dirt roads gradually climbing making it’s way to more exposed ridge running. It was here that I realized the body wasn’t quite “on” and ready for what I thought it could do. I jockeyed back and forth with 2 or 3 guys and struggled to maintain good leg speed. As I hoped and expected, I was able to get back into passing on the second part of the major climbing, but 3 or 4 places and a good 5 minutes back of where I planned on being.
My kit was working well, AK Ultimate Direction vest, 120-140 calories of Vitargo per hour, Altra Paradigms, Smarwool T and shorts, visor and Julbo glasses. More than any other race, I spent a lot of time picking gear for this demanding, gear intensive, hot race. I also had to cary mandatory gear to include an emrgency blanket, blinking red light, headlamp, cell phone and 1 litre of water capacity. I referenced my “ElevationTat” tatoo all day to see where I was on climbs, descents and were aid stations were located.
The volume of people on the course cheering with passionate energy made the day for me. The people of La Palma love the Transvulcania race and all of it’s runners. I’ve never had so many pictures taken of me in my life.
Near the top of the climb I began to slow a bit due to the 12,000ft of clmbing, but what was unexpected was the sharp sorenes in my medial quads. I’ve never had medial quad soreness after primarily running uphill. My best guess is that the sand caused me to pronate more and strained my medial quads more than normal coupled with the fact that I wore my race shoes longer than I would normally and the natural breakdown of the shoe also made an impact on my form.
At top things continued to get hotter and I started the ritual of “showering” at each of the aid stations for the rest of the course. I was in 17th or 18th place and well within striking distance of my goal of breaking into the top 10, but I knew my quads were not going to cooperate with the race plan of hammering the 8,000ft descent. After making my downhill running a big focus in training over the last few months, I was nothing short of crushed to not be able to take advantage. My positive demeanor disipated and I did my best to just focus on small goals of making certain mileage, progress on the descent and to aid stations. I was running alone, not thinking about racing anymore and holding on. With a few thousand feet of descent left I was passed by a couple runners as I was reduced to tip toeing down the steepest part of the descent.
At the bottom of the descent was a geourgeous beach town and the last aid station with only about 3 miles to go to the finish. I needed all the encouragement of the huge crowd, cheering, music, red carpet and a sheltered tent with tons of cold water being poured over my head. My hobbled descent was over, it was time to finish the race strong. In the last 3 miles and 1,000ft climb I caught the two guys who passed me on the last part of the descent and charged to the last mile of city running with litterally thousands cheering and high fiving me into the finish. 16th place and an 8:00 finish. Not the race I hoped for, but an awesome race none the less that I look forward to racing again.