Monday, 14 May 2012

Transvulcania and the International Skyrunning Federation

The hotel for the week on La Palma

Part of the 'media frenzy' - Bryon 'irunfar' Powell interviewing Darcy Africa and Nikki Kimball

Sunset outside the media room

A morning run for the cameras with the Salomon contingent

Camels on the island, not sure what the farmers use them for - meat?

Nikki Kimball helps fix Nick Clark's neck after a crick from the long plane ride

A mid-week run with a view - L-R: Dakota Jones, Joe Grant, Anna Frost, Nikki Kimball and Anton Krupicka

Nikki on a great mountainside trail we all found

Nikki, Anna and Tony

The beach near the hotel with a comfy bar above it

Max King's secret tactic for speed - cigars

Hog roast courtesy of the locals

Dakota's prize being shared out - Bryon rocking the look

Nick Clark looks too comfortable with this. Think he should probably try a business suit and leather  couches with expensively bound books on the shelves behind him. Maybe a glass of Hennessy cognac too.

Anna's clearly used to having the cameras in her face the whole time

We were given these when we arrived - a bird only found on the island (see next photo)
This is what the bird actually looks like - not so cuddly

Transvulcania lived up to its billing as a competitive, tough and beautiful ultra in the Canary Islands. It was also hot and fairly humid, draining the energy out of many runners and causing several to drop. Reported temperatures hit the mid-90s in Fahrenheit and left many to walk it in from a long way out.

I came to it knowing that the huge amount of ascent would be very tough for my legs and a fair bit steeper than other ultras I’ve done. It was supposedly an 83km (almost 52 miles) course but most GPS readings had to closer to 70km, so even allowing for some error and tree cover, that meant it was even steeper as the climb wasn’t reduced. 

Here's my Garmin measurement of it - 14,717ft of ascent (less descent than this as it finishes above sea level) and 44.64 miles (just under 72km)

The thing that everyone out here has commented on is what a beautiful island La Palma is, even though most of us hadn't heard of it, just knowing of the more famous nearby tourist islands of Tenerife and Lanzarote. When the sun rises and you get views over black, volcanic lava flows, then the sea far below, it’s hard to not be amazed…even when your body is working so hard to keep climbing.

In summary, the course was a 6,500ft climb to start off with, partially pre-dawn and through villages with a UTMB atmosphere, then a downhill before a steeper climb, some undulation and a final push to over 8,000ft before descending to sea level. Then the last few miles were flat followed by a final, sharp 1,000ft climb and a mile long road sprint to the finish in the blistering heat. From that highest point you could see much of the island (including the finish line over a half marathon away) and I wish I could have spent time enjoying it instead of then hammering downhill and looking just ahead of my feet the whole way.

The International Skyrunning Federation (“ISF”) have moved into the ultra world this year and this race kicks off their season of races with more than a bang. Dakota Jones (6:59) and Anna Frost (8:11) smashed the course records with incredibly impressive runs against stiff competition. Virtually everyone I saw seemed to be in the Salomon kit and I spent the whole day around different Salomon racers – they’ve really thrown their weight behind this.

Given the difficulty of the course I thought top 10 was a tough aim and would still require besting some incredibly strong runners. In the end I got 16th in 8:20, but am very encouraged that the 8,000ft+ descent went well (ideal training for Western States), moving from 30th at the top to my final position a half marathon later.

It was a tough day and the heat was more of a factor than I expected, with dehydration causing me some issues (my own fault for not drinking enough), but the North Americans had a much better showing than at UTMB with the men’s win and 3rd (Nikki Kimball) and 4th (Darcy Africa) in the ladies’ race. In fact, I was the last of the North American men to finish (Geoff Roes dropped after some nasty stomach problems) so the rest were all ahead – Rickey Gates (10th), Joe Grant (11th=), Mike Wolfe (14th). Full coverage of the race and results is here.

If you get the chance to run this and like the idea of a beautiful tropical trip before the summer starts, plus a very hard course, then this is perfect.

The next few days have a 3-day seminar about the future of Skyrunning, plus some pool time. Then off to northern Spain and the Pyrenees for the Zegama Marathon. At the moment none of us plan to go all out as we have varying degrees of minor limps, but I’m sure some of the guys out here will end up going hard. Fantastic trip so far and well worth the long flights – thanks ISF! 


  1. I watched this on some indecipherable (at least to me whose Spanish is limited to 'ola' and 'buenos noches') online TV feed but it looked warm and very mountainous.

    Credit for even getting as high as 16th, as there were a lot of good runners there and a lot of European mountain runners so that, combined with the heat, makes it a fantastic achievement.

    Roll on Western States :-)

  2. I was actually there and saw you pass on the long downhill just past the aidstation of Torre El Time. I even asked if it was you... don't know why I did that... Could have gotten you out of concentration... but you answered as if you were just having a walk in the park. You looked verry good on that part. I've hiked the course during my vacation together with my wife and can't imagine running that fast on such a difficult terain and in such circomstances. congrats!