Transvulcania is one of those classic races I have heard so much about but have never managed to get to. The route, up and along the rim of the volcano, is legendary, as are the crowds that cheer you along the way. So, I would be heading there to experience the course, as well as to try and gather some points for the Migu Skyrunner World Series. This was a bonus race offering double points, so to do well here was crucial if I wanted to get a good overall placing at the end of the year.
The course starts at one end of the island before climbing and descending up to over 2400m, where you traverse all the way around the volcano before a massive descent back to the finish. At 74km and 4300m of climb, it was far from a short day but it wasn’t just the stats of the course that resulted in my fatigue come the end, this course destroyed me. Many kilometers running on sand, low technical dry rocky trails, ‘high elevation’ and a beating sun with warm temperatures left me experiencing one of the most painful races for a few years.
The day started at 2:30am with some breakfast before catching the shuttle to the start. No toilet paper is something of an annoyance before starting an ultra-marathon but I did the best I could with the sports tape I had brought along. Not ideal.
The game plan, as always, was to start easy and hopefully finish strong. For a time, this was going to plan and although I was getting left behind during the first 20km of mainly sand running, I was confident I had control.
The 35km mark came and went and I was still relatively happy. We had climbed 2000m total, I had managed to refuel ok even though I had no support crew and I had clawed my way into the top 10. Thus far, the course had been a dream with beautiful black sandy trails contrasting heavily to big old pine forests.
After some kilometers of extremely runnable dirt road and some more climbing, I was up in 4th but the tiny increase in effort and the sudden heat of the day was suddenly apparent. 3000m climb done and 30km of running left I was starting to crack.
With a heavy heart I realised I was in the worst position possible. I hadn’t started easy and had my competitors crack or start hard and crack myself but try to push through…I was far behind and suddenly feeling like my body would rather crawl up under a bush and die as opposed to continue.
Max King was my saviour. He caught me up as I was eating one of my last gels and looked really strong. I think these runnable rocky trails were quite similar to in the USA and he looked as if he was enjoying the course. Something that I was struggling to do. I now realised we were never going to run on the ridge but take an undulating path which continually contours around. There would be no respite from an extremely technical section which would allow me to rest a little.
Max came by strong and I latched on. For the following 15km he looked as if he would drop me 100 times but somehow it never happened. I felt guilty that he was doing all the work pacing us along, but it was all I could to remain within 15m of him, let alone set any sort of pace myself.
Finally we came to the downhill, over 2400m from the top to the bottom in one go. I never get cramp but with every step my calfs gave a dangerous twinge and ripple threatening total shutdown. I had eaten all the food I had brought but had thankfully managed to refuel a full litre of water at the last aid station. Drinking 500ml in one go I started to descend and somehow left Max behind. The cramp feeling started to subside and even though I wasn’t going fast I knew every step was taking me closer to the finish.
It was a long descent and every part of me wishes the finish was the beech which marked the end of it, but no. What followed was one of the longest and most irritating finishing straights I have ever done, it was almost evil. From the beech we would take a kilometer in a sandy dried up river bed, climb a further 300m before running down a dead straight road that was probably only a couple of kilometers but felt like 10. The crowds put a smile on my face but my body had wanted this experience to be over hours ago.
I crossed the line, laid down and was simply thankful for it to be over. I had finished 4th but that was far from my mind. The crowds were amazing and I did enjoy parts of the course (especially the first 20km) but It is hard to fully enjoy yourself when the heat fries your brain. Another dry hot rocky Skyrace done and another one I haven’t won. One day I can hopefully perform on this type of southern Europe course as opposed to just wet cool races up north.
Stunning photos as always by Ian Corless.