Written by David Caulfield - http://transvulcania2015.blogspot.fr/

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
How the Journey Began:My mini obsession with the island of La Palma started in the year 2000 after I'd watched an edition of the BBC programme Horizon. It suggested that the largest volcano on the island would at some stage fall into the sea and cause a mega tsunami. The footage featured in the programme depicted an incredible landscape; I had to see it for myself. Fast forward fifteen years and at last I was about to set foot on this tiny speck of land that rises 2,426 metres from the sea. The catalyst for going? An ultra marathon called Transvulcania which provided the perfect way to view the entire breath of the island's volcanic nature. Getting to the island and to the start line of the race was an ultra marathon in itself.
 

- Dublin to Lanzarote, depart 6:10, arrive 11:10
- Lanzarote to Tenerife depart 15:10 arrive 15:50
- Tenerife to La Palma depart 17: 10 arrive 17:40
- Arrive at accommodation at 19:30
 
 
 
 

The Race: Transvulcania is a long distance race, considered the hardest mountain-ultramarathon in the Canary Islands and one of the most important in Spain. The total route has a length of 73.3 km (45.5 mi) with a cumulative elevation gain of 4,415 meters, and elevation loss of 4,110 metres. It was first held in 2009 and has grown in reputation consistently attracting the participation of many international runners. In 2015 1,800 competitors took part. By race end only 1,090 would complete the distance within the 17 hours cut off, 400 would be DNFs.
 
Getting to the Start Line: Proceedings were set to get underway at 6.a.m starting from the southern most point of the island. Buses brought runners to the start line leaving from various points on the island at 3.a.m. With almost no sleep behind me I was up at 2.a.m., applied suntan lotion, ate a small breakfast, grabbed my stuff and headed to the bus pick up point. An hour spent driving through the dark sitting amongst 80 gnarly, scrawny buff bedecked athletes and we arrived at Fuencaliente lighthouse. I picked a spot not too far from the front, hunkered down out of the cool sea breeze and waited. As the time wound down to 6 o' clock the tension and excitement built, then with a minute to go AC/DC's Thunderstruck came booming across the speakers, then a ten second countdown and we were off!
 
 
 
 
 
And So Begins a Very Long Day: A quick loop around the lighthouse and then immediately the path narrowed to three persons wide causing a bottleneck, chaos and a walking pace for the next kilometre or so. The ground underfoot was black sand which made the going tough. The head torches worn by the runners provided an incredible spectacle sweeping up into the mountains and back down behind me to the start. On the initial charge up the first hill I stumbled and fell making contact with the sharp rocks as I hit the ground. The running group was very compact at this point so I had to pick myself up quickly before getting trod on or speared by the flying trail poles. The climb was steady and as we progressed the field stretched out and it was easier to run. Early on we passed through forest sections which were magical as the sun rose and shone through the trees. At kilometre 7 we passed through the village of Los Canarias and it seemed that every inhabitant was out to cheer us on; it was incredible. 
 
 
The First Water Station: Los Deseadas, was reached at kilometre 18. I had with me a GoPro camera on a chest mount; it was the first time using it thus I was only learning it’s abilities. A quick check of the battery and I was dismayed to see that it was very low; keeping it in standby rather than turning it off eats the power. Fortunately I had planned for this and had with me a portable charger to keep my Garmin alive for the full duration of the race. There was easily enough charge in it to fully restore the GoPro’s battery in just one hour. The views at this point were really beginnin to open up; Mount Tiede on Tenerife could be seen as could the other Canary islands, La Gomera, El Hierro, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote. The ground around us was black pumice (the volcano we were on having erupted as recently as 1971) and orange rock interspersed with the acid green Canarian Pines. The course continued on an uphill trajectory over more black sand from which dust would rise giving the appearance of the ground smouldering as if the volcano beneath was still venting. The sun was now up and with it came the heat. Another forest and on a downhill section I fell on what was a very straight forward trail. I hit the ground at good speed and the natural reaction to immediately get up proved that there were no race terminating injuries. 















Bloody Hell: Pressing on without spending too much time looking at the damage, it was only when I got to the second aid station that I had a look. Running shorts were stiff with dried blood from my thigh, one of my elbows and both knees were bloodied. They weren’t obviously painful so I didn’t regard them as a major issue. Having read previous year race reports I knew that the organisers would insist on taking me to the first aid tent if they caught sight of blood so I kept out of their line of sight. It had taken me 3 and a half hours to make this aid station; slow going.

  The food on offer

·       Melon
·       Orange segments
·       Bananas
·       Nuts and dried fruit
·       White bread rolls with ham and cheese
·       Energy bars
·       Gels
·       Water, coca cola, electrolyte drink
 


In addition to the above there were organisers standing by with jugs of water ready to pour over your head should you want. Later in the race this was a great source of relief and one that I didn’t utilise enough. The next few kilometres were relatively flat and provided a chance to draw breath.I pressed on and at the 32 kilometre mark I hit the next aid station. I didn’t feel hungry at this stage so didn’t eat anything however I did drink some coca cola and water. A critical mistake made here was to forget to refill my water bladder.
 
The Never-ending Climb to Roque de las Muchachos: What followed was easily the most difficult part of the course. 16 kilometres to get from 1,500m to 2,426m (the highest point in the race, Roque de Las Muchachos) doesn’t sound that bad however that is not how it panned out. There is much, much more than 1,000m of climb over this section. The course takes runners up and then back down, up then back down, again and again and again. As this slog ensued and then continued for much longer than I thought it would Roque de Las Muchachos took on a mythical status as I started to have serious doubts it existed. Added to the mix was nausea that hit me shortly after leaving the 32 kilometre aid station. As I climbed I found that I HAD TO stop every so often and spend a few seconds to recover. This is not something I am used to doing. When I drank or ate, cramps would ensue. It’s not easy to be robbed of the ability to keep going and having to stop, to feel lifeless. This is when the mental battle started…a battle that didn’t end until I crossed the finish line.

 
 
Casualties of the Heat: The temperature was at it greatest in these hours (30°C) and due to an error made by the race organisers there was a 15km section on this part of the course with no water station. Many runners suffered badly as a result and the sights I witnessed I started to doubt had really happened in the weeks after the race. They were however confirmed in other race reports I have read and from the video footage I recorded. I saw racers lying prone on the ground utterly spent. First aiders had them wrapped in emergency blankets although there was no way they could have been cold! I saw a helicopter evacuating collapsed runners off the peak. In other cases I saw runners throwing up having drunk water too quickly after a prolonged period of not drinking. Some locals had become aware of the situation and of their own volition drove to the top of the volcano with water and were rationing it out to runners as they past. I had to rely on the generosity of a German tourist who very kindly gave me some of his water. It is reckoned some 200 runners dropped out over this portion of the race.
 
 
 
 
Racing to Make the Cut-off: As far as I knew the cut-off for reaching the high point of Roque de Las Muchachos was 5 p.m. I had never entertained the possibility that I might come close to missing this time but as I battled illness, 30 degree heat and exhaustion it was becoming evermore likely. On many occasions I rounded another bend hoping to see the final uphill only to see the course descend for a time before climbing again. After almost eleven hours the Roque de Las Muchachos aid station was finally just one climb away but there remained just ten minutes to the cut-off. There was no way I was going to make it; I pressed on hoping against hope that the cut-off was 6 and not 5. The heat continued to be horrendous. As I entered the aid station I asked the organisers whether I was on time. I was!! I suspect they had extended the cut-off due to the extreme conditions and the 15k unaided section.

The Big Descent: In addition to the food offered in earlier aid stations there was pasta on offer here. However I couldn’t stomach anything so instead drank lots of coca cola which didn’t seem to have much effect. I sat for a good fifteen minutes in the hope I would start to feel better. I knew the symptoms of heat stroke and it wasn’t that I was suffering from, nor was it extreme dehydration. As I sat there I was aware of runners submitting their timing chips and quitting the race. There was NO WAY I was going to do that, not after eleven hours of torture. I was going to finish! A few jugs of cold water over the head and a couple of painkillers and I set off on the 18km descent. The tablets worked leaving me wondering why I hadn’t taken them sooner. There was a good bit of the downhill that was runable and the heat was dropping off so it made for better conditions. A large portion of the downhill though was very technical and having fallen twice already I was afraid to push it too far. I passed a good number of runners on this section but with 4km of downhill still to go the exhaustion and nauseousness started to kick in again. I finally made it back down to sea level but the big welcome had thinned out considerably as it was now 9pm. The winner had passed this point at just after midday!!!
 
The Final Test: There followed a section through a dry river bed and then the final uphill of 350m which was a real sting in the tail. My legs and body were not interested in going uphill anymore and I had to stop multiple times to rest on my trail poles. I was almost to the point of staggering. Once into the streets of the town the course levelled out and I was able to run again! I passed all of the runners that had passed me on the uphill over the final 2km. The magical finishing straight didn’t end as I’d imagined it (little in life does - no bitterness felt :-)). A medal was hung around my neck by a pretty girl who told me I was a winner. I didn’t feel much like a winner and looked even less so; covered in dust and dirt, blood on both knees, elbow and thigh and a gaunt look that alarms me now looking back at the finish line photo.
Banged Up Abroad: I was led away to the medical tent (I forgot to return my timing chip and collect my finishers’ shirt) where I was cleaned up, disinfected, bandaged and released back into the wild. It was only now that I started to feel pain. As I made my way to my car I noticed that the locals look upon the ultra runners with a sort of reverence and awe. This became particularly apparent when I found a fast food caravan near to my car and decided to buy something. The procedure was to take a number and wait in line however when they saw that I had just finished the ultramarathon I was immediately boosted to first in the queue and served right away!
Once back in my apartment I was unable to sleep for a long time and my appetite had still not returned despite having consumed relatively few calories over the previous 20+ hours. At midday the next day I started the long journey home. Would I do it again? In the final hours of my race I swore to myself I'd never come near this island again; now that the pain has subsided I'm thinking...maybe. :-)

 

Mistakes Made and Lesson Learnt: I didn't hydrate enough. I underestimated the fuelling requirement  and this was exacerbated by nausea which dampened my inclination to eat. I shouldn't have worn a singlet, my hydration pack rubbed the sun protection off resulting in sunburn.  I should have had more water poured over my head and gotten my hat soaked. Some training in very hot weather would have helped.
Best Bits of Kit: Gaiters: given the surface encountered, gaiters were a necessity, I saw those not wearing them having to empty their runners of sand and volcanic pumice. Trail Poles: when the legs are fecked the arms can lend a hand using poles, even the winner used them. Charger: this kept my Garmin going throughout the whole race, it would usually die after eight hours. 
Advice: There's no need for a heavy duty head torch, you only use it for one hour at the start, and if you have a bad day maybe forty-five minutes at the end. Try and get near to the front at the start line, this way you will hopefully avoid the worst of the bottleneck when the trail narrows. Drink from early on and refill at every opportunity. Fuelling, if gels are your thing and you can stomach the brand provided during the race then there is no need to carry your own. I would strongly recommend the use of trail poles, practice using them on training runs. Carry salt tablets.

Why We do These Things: If it is so hard and painful why do we do these things? That's a perfectly good question...usually asked by a non-runner. Looking back on my experience I will never forget and never regret doing it. The memories, thought processes and feelings of positive self belief I have taken from it will live with me to the end. It is a life experience not many have the privilege of enjoying. 
The Organisers and People of La Palma: deserve the last word. The organisers were superlative and could not do enough for you. The post race fall out regarding the dropped water station was dealt with in a very transparent way. The support given by the locals was nothing short of amazing, I crossed the finish line at 10 p.m. and was made feel as if I'd won. Thank you. Would I recommend this race? Hell yeah, you'll love it (in a pain ridden sort of way).

Written by Sam Robson - http://constantforwardmotion.blogspot.fr/

 

This weekend I was lucky enough to head over to the beautiful island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, to take part in one of the top races in the world ultra calendar; Transvulcania. Last year, this was very possibly the biggest Ultramarathon in terms of media coverage, with the combined forces of iRunFarUltra168 and Talk Ultra to allow us to follow along from home. But this year, I would actually get to be there. 

After a fantastic week away in the Peak District (just as a sort of acclimatisation to hills between Cambridgeshire and La Palma) with my wife and daughter, I left to meet up with Chris Baynham-Hughes, Martin Wilcock and Richard Webster to begin the rather convoluted journey to the "Isla Bonita". A very early 4am start, a taxi to the airport, a flight from Manchester to Tenerife, a hire car to the airport on the other side of the island, another flight to La Palma, and another hire car for use on the island itself, and we were there!




Resistance training
We drove directly over to the registration point at the finish line in Los Llanos, collected our numbers and timing chips, and tried to decipher what we needed to do the following day. There was a whole lot of Spanglish going on on our parts, with Chris as our designated translator. He knew the Spanish for right, but not for left, which was good enough. Although he didn't know the word for "veruca sock" unfortunately.

After soaking in a little atmosphere, working out logistics for meeting up afterwards, and a bit of difficulty in finding the place we were staying (we ended up popping into a hotel to find out where we were going only to find that was the place - it was just helpfully called something different) we finally made it to our apartments. After a quick dinner of paella and a beer, we finally got to bed close to 11pm, with a 3am wake up planned to get sorted and out to the start at Fuencaliente lighthouse. An awesome way to prepare for a race like this!

 

Team Onada - 'No Kōfuku!' (no surrender)
In the morning I was pleased to see that I had no ill effects from the previous night's paella (those prawns looked a bit fishy to me), and got myself ready. I was trying a few different things for this race, using an UltrAspire Isomeric handheld combined with my UltrAspire Impulse waist pack (with only one empty bottle in it just in case I needed more fluids) instead of my Salomon pack, my Salomon Sense Mantras instead of my Speedcross, and some X-Bionic gear that had been sent to me to test (review to follow). Not really the best plan to try new things on race day (particularly not, y'know, everything!), but I think it was the right call. 

We drove to the lighthouse that would be the start for the race, leaving our car in a random patch of brush along the winding mountain road that led to the bottom. We had noticed on the way that the petrol situation was looking pretty dire - never mind whether we would make it to the hotel; we weren't sure we would make it back up the hill! Oh well, we would worry about it later. I'm sure we would be fine to push it back after the race...

The start was a mass of people all gathered for the off. There were apparently 1,650 people registered, although I'm not sure how many actually ran. Two notable DNS's were Anna Frost (the previous year's winner) who decided to avoid running to allow herself to recuperate, and Anton Krupicka who unfortunately came down with the flu just days earlier. We were not too far from the start line, although there were still a huge number of people ahead.

 

I think there's a guy on the left who doesn't have any Salomon gear on at all. How did he get through the checks?!
There was a real party atmosphere, with commentators saying many inspiring things (I think - I have no idea really) and an odd UFO in the sky taking film footage. If it really was an alien, I'd hate to think what kind of skewed opinion of humanity they might take away from it. I suspect that they would probably assume that we were all sponsored by Salomon... Or owned by them. Ah, the wisdom of Salomon. 

At 6am, still under the cover of darkness, we were off! Well, sort of. The road quickly narrowed past the lighthouse, and narrowed further to a single track path back up the hill, causing an insane amount of bottle necking. It's always very frustrating when this happens and it must be so nice for the guys in the lead to not have to deal with it! The four of us battled our way up the hill, finding ways whenever we could to get in front of the people ahead of us. It was steep, but it was far too early to be walking darn it! I couldn't help thinking to myself, "I'm only racing myself here, but you're in my way!". After dodging poles to the eyes and groin, other people attempting to get through the throng (one of whom sent me sprawling quite impressively), and a giant boulder rolling down and hitting me in the ankles (probably kicked down by Kilian when he heard I was closing the gap), I finally reached a point where I could get running. 

The race profile looks pretty scary, with the first 20Km taking you up above 2,000m, meaning a 10% incline. But there were actually some pretty runnable sections, and I was able to maintain a pretty good pace as we went. Of course there were also some bloody tough climbs as well, including one where I went sprawling right as one of the (many) cameramen on the course caught me. Look out for that great picture soon.

 

Note the speed blur...
Richard and Martin had started out roughly together, and I bumped into Chris as we came into the first aid station at Los Canarios. All 3 are amazing runners and we had no idea which us would make it to the finish first, making the decision of who should keep hold of the car key difficult! After running into the aid station with Chris to the rapturous applause, cheers of "Vaya! Vaya!", and cowbell ringing of the locals (you don't get that sort of thing at the Grand Union Canal), I headed off on my own. 

I was running on feel rather than pushing for anything in particular, and was keeping up a tough but manageable pace. I wasn't sure if I was going too hard only to blow up before the end, or if I was being overly-conservative on the hills. I'm not overly great at hills, but cope okay considering I live in the flattest part of a pretty flat part of the world. The terrain for the most part was volcanic ash up the first major climb (excitingly putting me in danger of developing one of my favourite diseases; pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcaniconeosis), opening out into a forest path as the sun came up. The route follows two long distance 'Grand Routes; the GR130 ands GR131, which are well sign posted with markings along the way painted on the rocks. There was never really an opportunity to go wrong (and believe me, I tried...) and anywhere that there could be an error somebody was posted to direct us.

 

I'll be up there soon
As the sun rose and the cloud burnt off, the heat began to rise. For the first few hours it wasn't too bad, but as the day went on it rose towards the 30 degree mark. Being a very white, overly hairy guy from England, I wasn't overly prepared for this weather - particularly given the winter we have just had. A combination of regularly dipping my head in water buckets at the checkpoints, my new X-Bionic Fennec shirt to keep my core cool, and using a waist pack rather than a back pack seemed to do the trick, and I was never more than just uncomfortable. Others weren't quite so lucky, and lots of the first aid points along the way were filled by people suffering from various effects of the heat. I dread to think what the attrition rate was for the race, but it looked quite significant. I believe fewer than 1,000 finished but don't know how many started. 

My nutrition and hydration were going well. I was using a gel every 1.5 hours (a combination of TORQ and GU), slightly more regularly than my usual 2 hour approach. I was careful not to over-drink which meant that electrolytes weren't too much of an issue even in the heat. Most of the time I had almost half a bottle remaining at the next aid station when refilling. The next checkpoint at Las Deseadas was at the summit of the first long climb. We had figured that a 10 hour finish would mean getting in here in about 2.5 hours. I came in in 2:27:10 which was a good sign.

 

 
Easy to spot!
After this, the route dropped again towards the Refugio El Pilar, allowing some time to be made up in the descent. This was the first "full" aid station, with food as well as just water like the previous two, so I took the opportunity to shotgun a whole bunch of fruit before carrying on again

The next third of the course didn't look so bad. Well, on the course profile at least. On the course profile it was a long ridge run giving fantastic views of the island, generally uphill, with one very steep significant climb in the middle up to the highest point of the course at the observatory of Los Roque de Los Muchachos. In reality it was fooking tough all round! The terrain was very runnable in places, but there were a lot more steep climbs than I had anticipated. Not quite the speedy ridge run that I had envisaged, but hot damn if the views weren't stunning. The route followed a horseshoe shape from the south of the island, travelling over the highest point in the centre then West down to the coastal town of Tazacorte. We could see all of this ahead of us and it was stunning.

 

Now this is running
In the ever-stifling heat of the day, the glittering sapphire-blue ocean off in the distance that marked the end of our adventure was already a welcome beacon to our tired minds. But there was a long way to go yet!

 

And so is this
By this point things were looking and feeling really good. My choice of gear selection was working brilliantly with no issues, hydration and nutrition were going well, my legs felt strong, and I was comfortably sat in the top 100.

 

Well I don't think that the poles are Salomon branded
Being so open, the aid stations could be seen (and heard) from quite a distance away. In some ways this was bad as it could give you a false sense of perspective for how far you had to go. Sometimes it was weird as you could hear the cheering and shouting but couldn't see signs of the aid station anywhere in the distance. But in other ways it really brought the race alive for me, particularly as for a lot of it I was running alone. This was the first long distance race that I have ever done without my iPod, and it was nice to have the varied shouts of the race to fill the void usually filled by rock music and Stephen King books.

 

So near yet so far
The aid station near the observatory by Roque de Los Muchachos that marks the highest point of La Palma was visible/audible for a long while in advance, and the final climb up the hill was pretty steep and rocky, occasionally requiring hands for balance. Not quite scrambling like something like Cavalls del Vent, but not far off in places. This was to be (for the most part at least) the end of the 'up'. From here on out it was pretty much downhill all the way.

 

Rocks! \m/
For some reason, I seem to cope quite well with downhills and am usually able to make up time with an aggressive approach. Up until now I had been losing a few places here and there on the ups, but gaining a lot of places on the downs. This was therefore the section that I had been looking forward to as I was planning on really starting to cook here. I decided to have a quick refuel as I was not planning on eating much more on the way to the finish about 25 Km away. With over 2.5 hours to go to finish in 10 hours I should have been laughing, although it was insane to think that the winners had already finished by that point. The elites really are in a completely different class. I had about a mouthful of pasta, then changed my mind and stuck with the watermelon!

I set off onto the descent, which was a combination of incredibly rocky technical terrain, terrifying sheer drops, and sloping volcanic ash flows, but opened later into a series of large wooded land masses leading down to sea level. I was doing well and making great time, when I suddenly felt my left calf muscle twitch and cramp up. This has happened to me before, and I believe is a recurrent problem since the Piece of String last year that I obviously haven't quite fixed yet, which was exacerbated by the climbing. I stopped to stretch it but ended up just having to run a bit slower than I really wanted.

A few Kms from the aid station at El Time, my calf suddenly spasmed at a rather inopportune moment and I went flying forwards on the rocks and cracked my knees. Nothing too serious, just a bit of a scrape and some bruising, but as I started to run again I couldn't get my feet to land where I wanted them to on the rocks which wasn't ideal. I carried on even slower down towards the aid station through the woods. Running in general was fine, but running on anything in any way uneven was proving unnerving as I kept nearly going over. Before I got to the checkpoint I had already stacked it 2 or 3 more times. One time a very nice man behind me just jumped over my corpse, cursing me for getting in his way. Charming!

I got into the aid station, refilled my bottle (which had emptied when I landed on it face first), then went into the First Aid tent to get somebody to quickly check me over. Inside, I found Forest Bethel who had been crushing it in the top 50, only to suddenly come down with unstoppable leg spasms (great band name) and be pulled from the race with a bag of "happy juice" stuck in his arm. He was pretty disappointed as you can imagine, but after a trip to the hospital was okay and should hopefully be back to full fighting force in no time.

 

Any excuse to sit down. Lazy bastard!
I headed out on the final descent down towards the coastal town at Tazacorte. Unfortunately I was still unable to run the uneven sections so was stuck walking anything where there was a chance I might go over again. Which, y'know, was all of it. Despite the gorgeous weather, the most glorious coastal vista imaginable, and the fact that I was approaching the end of this amazing race, that was the most depressing 6 mile walk of my life! It never seemed to end, and when the route got closer to the sea, winding down an almost crazy-paving style path, only to switch back to head in the opposite direction I almost lost my shit! At one point, we hit the road (about 2 minutes after my final fall) and I thought I was saved, only to be waved back onto a rutted and dilapidated trail. I swear I would have hit the marshal that waved me off the road if it hadn't have been for the man out with his family offering ice cold refreshments to the runners just beforehand. Never has a gigantic bearded Spanish coke-dealer been more attractive to me. I could have kissed him! When I sheepishly told him I was English and didn't understand him, he bellowed something to his family and they all laughed and chanted at me. I think they were being friendly, but quite frankly he could have said whatever he wanted and I would have just smiled and said, "Grassy arse"!

I stopped briefly on the seemingly never-ending switch back down to the town and called Jen to let her know why it was taking about an hour longer than it should have done so she didn't worry too much, and it was really nice to just sit there in the sun chatting to her.

 

Scorchio!
I set off again, resigned to a slower time than I expected and having lost about 50 places on the descent, but newly determined to finish things out as strong as I could. As soon as I hit the bottom of the pavement with fresh Tarmac under my feet, the game was back on. I hopped in and out of the final checkpoint at Tazacorte quite quickly, stopping to gnaw on some more fruit and to get some ice cold water over my head from some very eager kids (soaking the Englishman obviously seemed like a fun game!). In my haste I created a new cocktail of water, Powerade, and Coke. Interesting taste, but it got the job done!

Right. Home stretch now, but this was the section that took Kilian out last year. There as about 1.5 Kms running along pretty flat Tarmac which was great for getting my legs working again after 2 hours of walking, but then we turned off the road to head up an incredibly steep 350 m climb up a cobbled street to the town of Los Llamos above us. This was a straight up hike, and I was actually able to pull in a few people here. When we reached the top, we could hear the cheering at the finish line. There were about 5 people in my sights along the long straight road ahead of me before the turning onto the main road, but I was only able to pass a couple of them. I turned the corner onto the finishers strip that we had seen the day before, and ran through giving high fives to all of the kids who seemed to really enjoy being a part of the race. This feeling is so awesome (in the true sense of the word) and it's so exciting to be a part of something so inspiring and to be inspired by those around you. Whilst I love the smaller nature of some of the races I enter (I got clapped into a fifth place finish of my first race by only one person), there really is nothing that beats that kind of atmosphere. 

My final time was 11:03:35, an hour outside of what I had hoped for but still a respectable time (and I think second Brit behind Richard's brother in law, Rich Heath). I have a habit of never being happy with how I do, but really it's just that I know I could do better. It's my competitive nature, but I'm competitive with myself more than anything else. If I set a goal and don't achieve it, but know that I could have done, I feel like I have failed. Not in a depressing way - I just move onto the next thing and try and improve things that need improving. It works well for me, and it never affects my enjoyment of the races themselves; one of my favourite experiences ever was my slow 10 Km John Wayne death march into Chamonix at last year's UTMB after suffering pretty serious chaffing. It's always something eh! I'm not sure what I'll do if I ever have a perfect race and have nothing to moan about...

 

It says 149th male, but I prefer to think of it as top 10 female
I passed through the finish and into the finishers' area which was kind of odd. Paddling pools and showers were set up for people to use (prior to the masseurs having to touch them I guess), but they were right next to the sides were people were staring in and... just kind of watching us. Oh well, when in Rome! Not being one to miss an excuse to get naked, I whipped off my top and shoes and hopped in. Luverly! Due to the change in my running gait, my feet had become pretty shredded so I got them checked over by the doctor and had my legs seen to as well. It was just a couple of minor bumps and scrapes, and hardly seems worth all the fuss now!

 

War wounds. They look a bit pathetic in this picture...  Although my feet aren't nearly as bad as this makes them look!
I grabbed a quick massage to crack into my calf and also into the new twinges which had come about due to the change in running, but nothing a bit of prodding didn't fix. As I finished, Chris came through the line (3rd Brit I think?) looking very strong. He'd had no interesting incidents along the way and had run a corker, but had to get in on the first aid action by severely cramping up during his massage and needing to be put on a drip. Always got to go one better...

 

He's just too hardcore to relax!
Martin was next in, and boy did he look like he had some stories to tell! Sporting a giant gash on his left knee, a smashed phone, and a haunted look on his face, he regaled me with his story of falling off a cliff and just about managing to avoid breaking anything (other than his phone of course), losing his hat in the process. Luckily he was able to obtain a new one from a camera man who wanted an interview:

Cameraman: "Describe Transvulcania in a couple of sentences."
Martin: "It's like running up a volcano, and it's fucking hot"

 

And yet people kept asking if he was British.
Somehow I missed Richard coming through the line, and found him relaxing with a beer after a great run considering a slightly dodgy ankle. He bucked the trend for Team Onada by coming away entirely unscathed! His brother in law Rich Heath also had a great run with very few negative signs, coming in first Brit (we think?) third Brit and nicely set up for taking on the Grand Union in a few weeks along with Martin. Not too many cliffs to fall off there!

 

Soaking in the Transvulcania atmosphere.
We polished off some free paella and Cokes (awesome service from the helpers) and began the real ordeal of getting back to our car in the middle of nowhere and making it back to the room on nothing but fumes. Luckily we made it, and were out for a celebratory pizza and beer by 11pm. What a day!

The race itself was won by Kilian Jornet in a new course record of 6:54:09, playfully crossing the line with a pocket full of flowers in a nod to last year's 'flower gate' incident when he was beaten in the last few miles by Dakota Jones, who jokingly placed a flower on him as he crossed the line and collapsed.  The idea that people can run that course that fast is insane! Closely behind in 6:58:31 was Luis Hernando, with Sage Canaday coming in third in 7:09:57. First in for the ladies was Emelie Forsburg in 8:13:22, with Nuria Picas following closely behind in 8:19:30 and Uxue Azpeitia in 8:44:48. Both the women's and men's races were very closely fought battles right until the very last minutes. It's a shame I missed it!

That was to be the end of our whistle stop trip to La Palma, and we began our journey home early in the morning on Sunday. I didn't get home until 5pm Monday to give you some idea of how fun the travel plans were! Don't get me wrong, they were awesomely organised by Martin who spent a lot of time working out the best options for a short trip over, but if I was to go over again I would take the family, make a holiday of it, and find a direct flight from closer to home. 

But on the plus side, we did get a few hours free in Tenerife before our flight home to spend in Siam Park, an awesome water park with some absolutely amazing rides! Shame they all involved long walks and climbs to get to, but hey nothing beats a bit of rehab!

 

Yeah, climbing up that will be dead easy.
So what a weekend! Now I'm just glad to be home with my girls. Next up is the South Downs Way 100 miler in 5 weeks, so I just need to get my feet sorted again (I hear greyhound foot cream is good for it...) and get ready for race day.

No Kōfuku!

Written by Loyd Purvis - http://runninglongandlovingit.blogspot.co.uk

I thought it was time to put pen to paper, well fingers to keys in today's modern times! A lot has happened since my last blog but the biggest event has been a trip to this little Island called La Palma. The trip was due to a not so little race called Transvulcania! It had been almost a year in the planning. We entered the race back in July 2013 and we booked the hotel in Nov 2013. So with nearly a year to get ready for it you would expect me to have been prepared but that really wasn't the case. The last two days before the trip were a little bit hectic to say the least. With all the kit packed off we went to the airport to catch our flight, the adventure had begun! As we flew nearer to the Island we started to get the first stunning views of the Island but what the view also did was show us how crazy high and how super steep the Island really is.

After a heavy landing (and I mean a really heavy landing!) we boarded the coach and made our way to the hotel. As we drove away from the airport all we could see was this road winding its way up to the top of this very steep hill and it wasn't too long before we were right in the cloud line. Having made it to the hotel on a pretty epic road, we checked into our rooms and went for a look round the hotel. As we walked through the hotel and into the reception area I couldn't believe my eyes, sitting there have a chat were two of trail running's biggest super stars (Anna Frost & Timothy Olsen). Being to good an opportunity to miss I passed my phone to Liga and got her to take a picture of me with two of my trail running heroes.


I know I can waffle on in some of my blogs so this time I'm going to get straight to the good stuff! The alarm went off at 02:45am and up we jumped, the hotel had been amazing and they had opened the restaurant at 02:30am for anyone staying there doing the race that wanted some breakfast. Last minute kit check and off we went to get something to eat before the bus turned up to take us to the iconic start. Myself and Liga were pretty nervous but we still managed to eat a small breakfast before we left. We went and joined all the other nervous looking people in reception and then boarded the bus for a short trip to the start. The nerves were ok as we sat on the bus, it was more excitement than nerves. All I wanted to do was get started and get running. The bus crested the hill and there it was the famous lighthouse (Faro De Fuencalente), the start of Transvulcania! I had been warned by people who had done the race before that the start can get a bit crazy, what they didn't mention was that you get dropped off by the buses at the top of the hill and you have to make your own way down. So there we all were trying to make our way down to the starting area without falling over and injuring ourselves. The wind was really howling and all the volcanic sand was being blown up in our faces. So walking down a steep hill of soft sand and sharp rock, with hundreds of people all over the place, sand getting blown in your eyes and this was just to get to the starting line. That's what I call a TOUGH race!

With the wind getting stronger we thought we would try and find some shelter so we made our way down to the toilets (all 7 of them!) yes 7 toilets for 2300 people!! I'll leave the condition of the toilets to your imagination :( The holding area was filling up quickly and race time was fast approaching. Liga's race, the Half marathon (well 14.5miles!) started half an hour after the ultra so I waited with her till there was 10 mins till the start and then made my way into the masses. Pushing my way through I managed to get about 5 rows from the front. Having run the first 7km of the route a week before I knew the race route went really narrow quite soon after the start and I didn't want to get stuck behind slower runners! Time was flying and we only had a few minutes to go, a couple of Mexican waves later and it was 3,2,1 GO! we were off.

What followed next can only be described as total and utter chaos - no room to run, runners pushing, running poles hitting you in the shins, trying not to trip and then we got to the narrower path! It seemed like so many of the slower runners had made their way to the front of the start line for some strange reason, so when we got to the narrow path the whole race just slowed to a walk. I know we were going up hill but my legs where fresh and the hill wasn't that bad. It was just too slow so I came off the path and decided to run up the side to try and get some space and get away from all the hordes of runners. The plan was working and I was flying past hundreds of runners and just trying not to trip on the odd random rock as I went. Once up on the wider path I grabbed a chance to have a look behind and the view was mind blowing, just one massive long snake of head torch lights winding its way towards me. The path got wider as you went up and the field had really thinned out by then so running was much easier by now. Knowing that there was a super steep hill coming up at about 6km, I decided to push on because I would get a bit of recovery walking the steep hill.

I was fast approaching the first aid station at Los Canarios at 7.5km and 705m. I could hear people clapping and cheering, but when I got there I couldn't believe the amount of support in this small village. There were people lining the street the whole way through the village, everyone was cheering and giving you high fives and for some reason all the amazing support made me really emotional and I was fitting back the tears! I stopped at the aid station and filled both my bottles up and gave my face a good wash to get all the dust off my face from when the sand was blowing up at the start. A quick stop and I was off running again, from here on wards was uncharted territory so I was a little bit apprehensive. As I push up to 1922m on really soft volcanic sand the sun started to show its face. I was feeling great and fast marching the steep bits and running the rest, trying to get as high up before the sun got hot. Reaching the top of the first big climb at Las Desadas (sea level to 1922m) I started to see the totally stunning views that everyone had been telling me about, I was up high looking down on a big blanket of fluffy white cloud, it really did give you the feel of sky running! And even though I was racing I just had to stop and have a good look and take it all in.

Still in good spirits and feeling strong I started to make the descent down to the half Marathon point and the next aid station at Del Pilar. The descent was about 5km and quite steep and technical, the terrain had changed from soft volcanic sand to hard compact trail with big rocky step downs. It was great to get off the sand but the big step downs were pretty tough on the quads! Once again like when I was coming into the last aid station I could hear the massive crowd that had gathered to cheer every runner on. The aid station at Del Pilar is quite simply one of the most amazing aid stations I have ever been through and probably ever will! It was like a little village, lots of tents with all kinds of goodies for us to drink and eat, lots and lots of tasty fresh water melon! My race plan was to go through the aid stations quite quickly so I didn't waste too much time. I got my two bottles filled up and mixed another bottle of electrolyte and shoved several juicy wedges of water melon in my mouth and I was off, full speed ahead! I was bang on race schedule and past through Del Pilar at 3hrs 25mins which I was really happy with, the legs still felt good and it was onwards and upwards, or so I thought?

Del Pilar was at 1400m so as I left the aid station I thought I would start to climb steadily back up to the highest point at Roque De Los Muchachos 2426m but this was definitely not the case! Leaving Del Pilar I started to drop down and I couldn't stop thinking that the further we drop, the further we will have to climb back up. Having just climbed 1900m, dropping down to give us more to climb wasn't really what I wanted :) Having dropped down another 200m from Del Pilar it was time to climb again and climb we did. The climbs were different than before, no volcanic soft sand but lots of rocks and lots of very high step ups. Up and up we went, hands on knees just trying to grind it out to the top. The sun was quite high by this point and the higher we went, the less shade there was so the temperature was starting to go up quite quickly. Sticking with the race plan I kept pushing hard to make it to the highest point as fast as I could. 1000m of climb later I had made back up to 2200m and the first of the summits that lead us around the crater to the highest point. The view was very deceptive from this peak because you could see the highest point and you could also see the town of Tazacorte which was only 4.85km from the finish! Unfortunately I wasn't 4.85km from the finish and there was still a long way to go and I had just started to feel the first twinges of cramp coming on! Telling myself to stay calm I pulled out my bottle of electrolyte and had a really good drink hoping that this would settle down the twinges and stop the onset of cramp.


As the twinges got worse I couldn't help thinking how stupid it was to forget my salt tablets! Oh yeah, I've forgotten to mention that, the one race that I would really, really need salt tablets I left them at home, what a MUPPET! As we dropped down and climbed up, dropped down and climbed up, the cramp just got worse and worse to the point where I was having to stop every 5-10 mins to stretch it out, never mind, only another 25 miles to go! Every runner who has suffered with cramps will know it's not the most pleasurable experience in the world but there was no way I was stopping because of a bit of cramp. Pushing on to Los Muchachos the cramps got stronger and I got slower - run, stretch, run, stretch and so on, very frustrating because apart from the cramps I felt quite good, plenty of energy in the tank but my bloody muscles wouldn't let me use it!

With my last big push I had made it to the top, Roque De Los Muchachos at 2426m, the heat was pretty intense by now so I made my way to the big tent to seek some shade. Once again this race amazed me, I was at 2426m and the aid station was awesome. Lots of drinks and food, even a big bowl of pasta if you wanted it! The guys at the aid station couldn't have been more helpful, running around helping to fill your bottles, getting you food, but the best bit was when they came over and tipped a liter jug of nice cold water over your head. Who would've thought that something so simple could feel so good :) It was at this point that I remembered I had put a small bag of salted peanuts in my bag just in case I need something savory and salty. Two handfuls of peanuts later I was up and back into the heat of the mid day sun! After having a bit of a rest at the aid station I realized how stunning and strange this place was. Even though you're high up and the sun is really hot, the top of the mountain is really green with vegetation and wild flowers. It's also dotted with some of the biggest observatories in the world!

The sky is so clear in La Palma because of the low levels of light pollution, so a lot of countries have built observatories at the highest point on the Island. It wasn't long before I stopped taking in my stunning surroundings because I noticed I was about to come of the trail and hit a nasty ROAD SECTION! You would think that after all that tough steep trail I would look forward to a nice smooth road section :) That's not the case, anyone who has run trail ultras knows that if you hit a section of road well into the race, it's not that pleasant and pretty hard on your body! What made this section even worse was it was super steep and there was lots of people cheering you on. I'm not being negative about people supporting us while we were running and I really appreciated their support but when you hit a steep road section it's very, very painful to run down when your legs are battered. With all the support you feel you need to run, so as the crowd cheered  "ANIMAL, ANIMAL!" ( I'm not sure what it meant but I think it was encouraging) I gritted my teeth and ran down the road trying to smile at the same time and show no pain.

The road section wasn't too long and we were soon back on the trail and it was all down hill from here, the only problem was it was all down, very steep, technical hill from here! Soon realizing that it wasn't going to be the lovely, soft, smooth, flowing descent I had imaged, I settled in for a bumpy ride! The best way I can describe it is, if you take the most technical parts of the Cornish coast path and make them a 1/10 descent for 20km then you are somewhere close! As I tried to make my way down with a combination of running, walking and hobbling, the pain in my quads just got worse and worse and it was becoming hard just to walk down the descent. All the way through this race I had re-valuated my race plan, to start with it was push hard to the top and then enjoy the long descent and finish in sub 10 hrs. Then once the cramps kicked in it was to keep pushing up the best I could and when I get to the descent make the most of it and run hard all the way to the finish and break 11hrs. At this point of the descent it changed again, it was now just hang on and try to get to the finish in one piece!


One painful step after another I made my way down to Tazacorte. The sun was really starting to heat up now and it was the first time I had felt a little bit too HOT! Once again the Island and its supporters came to our aid. Every now and again there would be some old farmers or a family outside their house with buckets of water, either to fill up empty bottles or just pour it over our very hot heads to cool you down :) This was a massive help to me and if they weren't there it would have felt a lot longer coming down! Finally reaching the last steep part of the descent to Tazacorte, lots of short switch backs down a near vertical rock face. As I started the descent, all I could hear was the party atmosphere coming from the bottom in Tazacorte which gave me a very much needed boost of energy. The volume was getting louder with every foot step and as I rounded the corner at the bottom of the descent the party was in full swing. The music was at full volume and there were hundreds of people clapping and cheering you on, a pretty special moment in the race! As I ran into the aid station tent the sign hanging above said 4.85km to go, it was a very welcomed sight. Not sure I was that impressed with the positioning of the aid station right next to the stage and its loud speakers! With the music banging in my ears and only 4.85km to go I filled up my bottles and grabbed a couple of  bits of watermelon and off I went on the final push.

As I ran off down the sea front I couldn't help but think how nice it was to have some flat running :) However, that thought didn't last long because it wasn't long before we were directed on to the beach and then on to a dry rocky river bed! The river bed was awful to run on, it was made up of big pebbles which weren't big enough to run on but small enough to smash your feet to pieces. I hobbled my way along the river bed with each step feeling like my feet were being hit with hammers. Finally we were off that terrible river bed, but the elation was short lived as I climbed the steps to start the 320m climb to the finish! My legs and energy levels were both in a bad way by this point and it was taking all my efforts just to walk up the climb. It looked like I wasn't the only one really suffering at this stage because everybody around me was moving very slow. With my hands on my knees all I could do was try to summon up the energy to put one foot in front of the other. After several good talking's to myself I made it to the top of the 320m climb and it was one of the best feelings I have had since I started ultra running. From this point it was only 3/4 kilometer to go and no more bloody hills to climb! Turning on to the long high street that lead to the finish I was amazed at the support that was still there waiting for the runners to finish, I thought they might have all left after all the super stars had finished :) All the way down the street there was people cheering and clapping, I lost count of how many 'high fives' I did. All the little kids where holding their hands out and I think I 'high fived' all of them. With each meter I got closer to the finish the crowds just got bigger and bigger and by the time I made it on to the red carpet the support was unbelievable. As I slowly moved down the red carpet I was fighting back the emotions, every runner reading this blog will relate to this. When you have had a hard race and really dug deep to get to the finish, emotions can go sky high! I had seen the amazing finish of Transvulcania on the TV many times and it wasn't a let down. It looked awesome on TV but to be there in person was breathtaking. I had DONE IT! 73.3km, 4,400m of elevation, 13hrs 12mins of running (well sort of running!) and temperatures of 30+, it was over and the medal was round my neck and no one could take it away from me.


I must finish this blog on a positive note, well lots of positive notes actually. I know I had some really low moments in this race and the cramps that I suffered where the worst to date. I had to dig super deep just to make it to the end and I was a bit (a lot!) disappointed with the time that I did. All this aside, I had had one of the most amazing race experiences of my life so far! The Island, the people, the race, the views, the support, everything about this trip was brilliant. If you are involved in the ultra running scene and you are looking for a really special race then look no further, Transvulcania is a one off! It should be on every aspiring ultra runner's bucket list, so put this date in your diaries 6th June 2014 (11am) that's when registration opens for next year! Thanks for the memories, La Palma! :)

Written by Scott Harris - http://runninganimo.com

So there should have been a La Palma part 2 and part 3 before my race report but unfortunately my preparation didn’t go as planned and I was in no mood to share how my taper went, my race plan and my kit choices. I arrived in La Palma just over two weeks before race day to begin my taper. The plan was to get a few easy runs in the first week and then a few hikes in the second week to ensure I had plenty of energy for race day. I found my new surroundings a little on the noisy side in my casa on the east of El Paso so the first run was a couple of days overdue but it went okay. I got another run before taking a day off and then planned to run/hike up to Roque Los Muchachos. On the way back I had one of those moments when you think to yourself, if I wake injured tomorrow I’ll know exactly why. I didn’t get quite as far I had planned as I was short on water, a sensible decision to turn around. As I walked down from El Reveton I slipped on loose ground, my left leg slid out in front of me, my hips twisting as I dropped to one knee like I was going to proposal to someone. It didn’t hurt at the time but when I woke…

It was pretty painful and I took a few days of complete rest before going for another run/hike. I could feel it on the climbs and was painful descending. There was no way I was going to be able to handle the huge descent after 51k come race day. The race was getting very close now and I had to accept the fact I probably wouldn’t race but I didn’t want to make that decision without running one last time. I’d spent a lot of time on the foam roller on the Thursday trying my best to aid my recovery but it was difficult to tell if it was working as spending that much time on the roller can create as much pain as it cures. The day before the race and I decide to go for a short run. No pain! Not long to get my head together but I would be on the start line.

Having done the race before I knew how chilly it could be waiting around the start line so took some arm warmers and found a good spot quite well shielded from the wind. It was nice to catch up with a few familiar faces and some new. Like everyone I just wanted to get started. I decided to try and get quite close to the front as the start can be a bit chaotic. People sprint the few first few metres to get to the trail with the full intention of walking – very annoying. So there was a far bit of waiting around in position on the start line with music blaring out, as it got closer to the start a few elite runners were interviewed and shared their thoughts on the day ahead. It started to get closer and closer to the start time with the countdown  projected onto a ‘wall’ to our left just a few metres away. ACDC Thunderstruck roars out of the speakers and it’s almost ready to go. Feeling well pumped up with 1800 runners around me, it’s a crazy start and probably the most exciting I’ve experienced. Ready. The clock ticks away, 5…..4…..3…..2…..1…go, go, go!!!

tv start
Thunder! Off we go bumping into each other being careful to not be tripped over or trip others over. People are sprinting as expected to try and get a better position but I’m a little more cautious and go at my pace. It’s mayhem but great fun. It starts to slow down as soon as people start to hit the trail, it’s only wide enough for 2 maybe 3 people, runners are off trail trying to maintain some speed. The pure volume of people means it’s going to slow down and there isn’t a huge amount you can do about it. I join those running off trail from time to time not willing to slow down to a crawl. Maybe I should have joined in the full sprint at the start! When I can run I do but it’s hard to get any sort of rhythm as the pace slows again, patience is required but soon enough it opens up a little and I can start running. The view to my right is awesome, a sea of headlights flood the trail as 1,800 runners are at the beginning of a hard day. The moving volcanic sand is hard to climb on, sapping energy, pulling on the calves, hard work for everyone.

After about 6k and I pass through Los Canarios. It’s awesome! The whole town is out cheering on runners. It’s ridiculous, everyone is cheered on like there are leading the race. Quick stop for some water and I continue on fuelled by the enthusiasm of the crowds. The soft moving ground continues, having done the race in 2013 I know it stops part way down the descent to El Pilar. I alternate between running and hiking depending on what’s underfoot. It’s a bit too hard work running on the soft stuff. The sun starts to rise and the views across to Tenerife and Mount Teide are outstanding. I can’t help but looks a few times.

The climbing continues till the next aid station, Las Deseadas at 16.5k. Not long now till the descent to El Pilar, A bit more climbing and I can finally give my calves a rest as I start to run down hill. I do so at a steady pace just to see how my muscle strain that almost stopped me from racing is doing. It feels okay, and I barely notice it. I find somewhere to stop and empty my shoes from the bits I’ve accumulated since the start line. I find a flat stone in the shade; perfect. I empty both shoes and continue on. A runner blasts past me, soon after another runner is going fast behind me, I go to one side and point to the other for him to pass. It’s Rob Krar chasing down first place in the half marathon. I wish him luck, he thanks me and charges on and I realise how fast he and 1st place are going having started at the same location as the ultra runners at the lighthouse but an hour later than us. The marathon is starting at 9.30 at El Pilar and I can hear the crowds cheer them on as I get closer to the aid station. I arrive at El Pilar 3 minutes after they started. Grab some water and move on.

It’s quite good timing. The part from El Pilar to El Reventon is wide and I shouldn’t notice any of the marathon runners. Glad I didn’t arrive just before the marathon runners had started. I’m moving well during this section, fuelling myself well, taking on enough water and feeling good. After the next aid station the climbing starts again. A helicopter roars overhead a couple of times. No idea why, people are waving assuming their are on camera but it isn’t really the type of helicopter you’d expect if there were filming taken place. The El Reventon aid station is pretty busy as the marathon runners are now involved. I don’t hang about, get what I need and crack on. I start to get slowed down a little from some of the marathon runners on the climbs. It’s a little frustrating at times but you just ask to pass and hope they let you on the single track. A couple of guys have poles and are listening to music – a potential lethal combination….

I get to Refugio Punta de los Roques where I go inside and reapply sun tan lotion knowing the shade is going to be lacking from this point on till the long descent. Outside a volunteer is pouring water over peoples heads. It’s pure bliss. From this point on I do that at every aid station and use my own water to do the same where I can spare it. I started with a visor which I keep on all day and have a buff I get wet after having water poured on my head. It’s quite a good combination as I don’t have to remove the visor at all and don’t risk sweat going into my eyes. The buff goes back on once wet to cover the top of my head and all my neck. It’s keeps the sun off and my head cool. The heat hasn’t really been a factor to this point and I’ve found it easy to get several gels down me.

The climb to Pico de la Cruz is a little further than the organisers said and I run out of water for a short time. No big deal as I’ve stayed on top of my hydration well so far and it’s isn’t that long till I reach it. I find myself wasting a bit of time at this aid station, I stuff my face with watermelon and take longer than I should trying to get a bottle of powerade. The first time I haven’t been decisive going through an aid station all day. Though this aid station is a little further away than expected it does mean the next at Roque de los Muchachos is going to be closer. A nice positive to take on that final push to the highest point of the race.

transvulcania2015-806_73

I arrive at Roque de Los Muchachos feeling great. I’m an hour ahead of when I raced here last time. I’m in and out of the aid station quickly leaving walking with a cold coke. I empty my shoes as I can feel an annoying stone which won’t be much fun descending with. The initial part of the descent is going well, I’m feeling good and run the small uphill parts. Unfortunately it isn’t long till I start to encounter problems. I start to feel the heat for the first time all day, it feels like it’s get hotter as I get lower. My energy levels are starting to fade. My nose can’t stop running and is taking a lot of much needed concentration. My cheap sunglasses are starting to struggle as I’m switching being shade and sunlight. These 4 things seem to all hit me at once and I start to lose speed, focus and confidence. I struggle. My pace alternates between walking and a slow jog. It doesn’t matter how many times I blow my nose – it keeps running!

It’s such a contrast to how I felt after 51k at Roque de Los Muchachos. I’m no longer enjoying myself, I feel mentally defeated. I was expecting myself to be enjoying this part as I love descending. I was expecting to smash my previous best time of just under 12 hours. I have to keep calculating my estimated finish time. I struggle on not enjoying the part I was looking forward to. A couple of people overtake me easily, I feel pathetic and my descending abilities match that feeling. It seems to go on forever. I pass through the El Time aid station – nothing improves. A couple more people overtake with ease. I eventually start the huge switchback to the last aid station. It takes forever to get within sight of the bottom. As I approach the end of a young child tucks in behind my and runs with me. He could drop me if he wanted to so easily but he stays behind running with me. It bring a smile to my face for the first time since the highest point of the race. He runs along side me briefly before stopping to return to his mother. I give him a high-five and run into the final aid station at Puerto de Tazacorte. There is a car wash like shower  for runners to run/walk through which is awesome.

After I top up on water I get going. The dry river bed is new to me, more soft ground, different sized rocks. I struggle through to the base of the final climb. It’s really hard work, I’m not walking as straight as I should but I push on getting soaked by a couple of spectators who have hosepipes for very thankful runners. The final straight is just there. Last time I ran this section with ease, today it’s hard work to maintain a jog. The crowds are awesome and help me struggle to the finish line as I accept water melon and a cold can of sports drink from people who I can’t thank enough. I finally hit the red carpet and high-five as many people as I can with till I reach the finish line in 11:12:05.

My race on Strava

transvulcania2015-806_92

*The above was actually written on the 17th of May 2015 not long after the race. Due to how disappointed I felt the end of the race went I didn’t particularly want to share my experience. I haven’t actually blogged in a very long time partly because of this. 2015 wasn’t a great year running wise for me and the second half of the year the least I’ve enjoyed to date. Not to fear. I’m back and ready to train hard and race. I might even start blogging on a regular basis…

Written by Angela Moore - https://angemoo.wordpress.com

This time last year I was a road runner who had just completed my first Marathon, 6 minutes slower than I would have liked, but still not a bad effort. To me, at the time, it was the best thing I had ever done, I liked long distance running. A few weeks later i came across a write up on the Transylvania 100k and 50k in a running magazine, my immediate reaction ….COOL !!! … being a bit of a goth I had always wanted to go there and visit Dracula’s Castle. I laughed at the idea and tried to forget about it, but I couldn’t. I began to do a bit of research only to discover that Transylvania has more bears and wolves than any other region in Europe and it involved running up quite big mountains. It also required a bit of experience of ultra distance running and navigation. I booked myself on a trail running weekend, got myself through a 50k and next thing i know I have signed up  … GULP !!!

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I put myself through a few tough, very hilly races to try and prepare for this. I completed a 30mile, a 55 mile and a 100k, but this was the one I was worried about, I had no Idea if I could do it, and what would I do if i bumped into a bear or got surrounded by a pack of wolves, what had I done !!!

Before I knew it I was standing at the start line beneath Bran Castle with Vlad Tepes roaring at me and holding a very large knife to my throat. He was very lively, it was not even 6am, and I had not had a coffee. At 6am, he struck his gong and sent us off on our adventure. I believe we had a police escort out of town, I didn’t expect to be getting one back in to town too !

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The first 2k was along the road out of Bran and then we hit the trails. It was starting to get a bit hilly, it occurred to me I had set off in far too many clothes, it was getting rather warm. When I spotted what looked to be ski lifts or cable cars I knew it was about to get a whole lot harder, so stopped for a minute to take some layers off …much better !! I set off up what was the first climb of around 1000m, this was the one I was dreading and yes it hurt but the views were amazing. The runners had spread out a lot by this point. I was alone, I could see people in front and behind, but they were quite a distance away. The first part of the climb was on large open fields but then it changed, getting much steeper and through dense woodland … my first thought …. BEARS !! It was a bit disturbing … I took to gently blowing the bear whistle we were given at registration before going round bends, hoping that it would keep them away and not attract them. The climb went on and on, but worrying about bears kept me moving. I was really feeing it, but I didn’t think I was doing too badly.

Eventually the trails started heading down through the woods. I enjoyed this bit, it was clearly marked and a lot of fun. I heard footsteps behind me and it was a lady I had met the night before at registration. We started running together, quite fast through a nice downhill section. We came to a road with a race banner on it and markers telling us to cross the bridge. This took us to some clearly marked open fields and some pretty woodland. We were running really well. The markers indicated that we should climb down a very steep hill. I was hanging off trees trying to get down so I got my new poles out. I had never used them before, I managed to put them together without a hitch and they were a godsend !! We got to the bottom of the hill in 1 piece, fell out of the trees and onto a road … Then DISASTER !!!

First thing we saw were two angry little dogs running at us, luckily they got bored of us pretty quickly when we ignored them, but there were no markers in sight … A little look at the map, didn’t help much as it had been sat in my backpack and I had no idea where we were, so I got my fancy Garmin GPS gadget out with the route on it … I couldn’t make out where we were on that either. I said to my running friend .. Is that Bran Castle ??? She had a look at her map … and it was … The race started at Bran Castle and finished at Bran Castle …. we had gone the wrong way, we were following the markers to the finish !!! It appears we had gone quite a long way off route, I was gutted, I cannot tell you !!

We started to backtrack and bumped into three other ladies who had made the exact same mistake. My friend and I ran ahead…. and after an awful lot of running round without a clue we got back on the track ….. NEAR THE SKI LIFTS !!! I could have cried !! By this point we were 4 hours in and we had to do the 1000m climb again, it had nearly finished my legs off the first time !! We reluctantly got on with it moaning and swearing until we were too tired to speak. I was not afraid of bears now .. i was so pissed off about going wrong I was more like … bring it on !! Climbing up here a second time was worse, I was really struggling near the top, my legs were like jelly and I was feeling quite lightheaded and a bit sick. Eventually we were on the downhill again, following the markers. I felt a lot better and we got to speed up again. It was clear to me that we had missed a turn off somewhere and I was determined not to miss it again. My friend was also cautious. Further down the track we had different ideas about which way to go. I believed we were on the correct path, she thought we needed to go back so we agreed to split up .. I knew that if I went wrong I could find my way back to the Castle. I’m not one for giving up easily, but I didn’t fancy running round in circles all day because I couldn’t follow the route.

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We went our seperate ways and shortly after … there it was, a turn off to the left between some bushes with 3 stripey ribbons hanging off them !!! I was now making progress. I knew that time was not on my side, but I was going to finish !! I was not going wrong again. This was the start of another 600m climb, only this was much steeper and all you could see was woods .. I started thinking about bears again and putting the whistle to good use. This part seemed to go on forever and ever. I thought my legs were going to collapse but I didn’t want to hang around, so I kept marching up and up … Next thing I hear .. Angie is that you ??? My friend was back on route too. The climb eventally flattened out a bit, we were out of the woods and started seeing large patches of snow and rocky mountains, and the air was a lot cooler. After a while we hit Checkpoint Gaura where the lovely cheerful marshalls gave me the best thing in the world …. a cup of coffee !!!

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After a short stop to refuel we were on out way again, the marshall showed us which way to go and it was a case of following not just the race markers but big blue triangles, permanent trail signs, no problemo. The trail was still climbing up but it was a lot more gradual. The terrain was also getting more interesting. We were up in the mountains now, the views were awesome, I wish i’d taken more photos but I was concentrating on not getting lost.

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We reached the second checkpoint at Strunga. A man sat at the top of a hill gave our numbers in, and we headed off again. We were having to trek through quite a bit of snow now, no sheer drops though, so that was OK. As it was getting quite cold, I put my windproof jacket and gloves on. We noticed it was starting to get a bit foggy. After a while, we were approaching the highest point of the race at around 1900m. Visability was not good at all up here and the wind was biting and really strong. I was thinking it might start going dark soon, it was getting a bit serious now.

At the next checkpoint, the marshalls had a tent set up with food and water. We got in the tent, had a bite to eat and a giggle, got all our layers on set to conquer the rest. While we were in the tent we could hear thunder and lightning … Not ideal !! Leaving that nice warm tent was very difficult haha. The marshall sent us off in the right direction, there were now lights on the markers to aid runners in poor visability. The route was now looking a bit like the pics below, only a lot darker and foggier by the time we got there.

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The marshall had told us we had a good runnable downhill section coming up to the next checkpoint. My legs felt a lot stronger after a little sit down, and I had more energy after downing a bag of crisps, so I was looking forward to this. The trail was easy to follow even through the fog, but I was getting a bit confused as we were still ascending. We were on the right track though, it was OK surely. We knew we had a right turn off at some point .. maybe it starts going down there ??? We missed the turn off but quickly realised and found it. When we turned right, ribbons were leading us through some rather large, scratchy, heathery type bushes. My main concern was, these better not rip my SKINS !!! We then came to a crossroad, no markers of any description in sight, and right at the top of the mountain. We knew exactly where we were on the map, but could not work out where to go next. We searched round for a while, but it was getting very dark with the fog. It occurred to me that we might actually be in a bit of trouble if we hung around up here too long.

It was then that we made a very bad decision. There was a track going to the left, and another to the right, but no trail heading downwards off the mountain. We decide to get off the mountain by taking the route with no trail. This is where the hell started … I will remember the next 4 or 5 hours for the rest of my life !!!

Straight away it was apparent that this was not the correct route. We were heading down nicely, and then we come across what I can only describe as a huge, and I mean HUGE, crater full of snow heading down the mountain like a ski piste and a sheer drop down to it … Right, we will avoid falling down there then. This was to be the first of many !! We were now literally sliding down the mountain on our arses on wet rocks, long grass, and other spikey plants, and coming across these snowfields every now and again. I was starting to get a bit scared, we were lost now and not in a good place. I lost sight of my friend, I called her and she called back, she was on the other side of a snowfield !!! She had walked across it !! I looked down and it was steep !! I could not even see the bottom, one slip and that would be it !!! … I said I am not crossing that (I might have used slightly stronger language) … she said don’t look down and step in my footsteps .. I then did possibly the most stupid thing I have ever done in my life… I crossed it .. I don’t really want to think about this any longer.

We crawled down for what seemed like hours, trees flicking in our faces, grabbing at plants, slipping down rocks. I had a little cry. It felt like we were never going to get out of here. We eventually reached the bottom, a stream, something told me we needed to follow it downstream … perfect !! But it wasn’t perfect. I started thinking, I am in Transylvania, there are bears and wolves in the woods, I am walking through a stream with dense woods either side of me with no idea where I am !!! I decided it was time to let people know we were in trouble, the race was over, and we just needed to get to safety.

My friend spoke to the Romanian Mountain Rescue, they said they would send people out looking but we had no idea where we were. Other runners were also missing and some guy was seriously injured, the route was being searched, but we were not on the trail. The phone signal wasn’t great, but we managed to contact people to let the race organisers know the situation. I was also told that ‘The Rescue Boys’ were out looking for us … not sure who they were but this sounded quite exciting .. ripped hunks with head torches I was thinking ??? Anyway … we continued downstream, we thought we saw and heard a helicopter … I looked up and saw about 10 .. then slowly realised they were stars .. I do not know to this day if there was a helicopter out. I was seeing all sorts in the dark, imagination working overtime I suppose. I saw a pack of wolves on the hill .. they were tree stumps. It was quite mad … or I had gone mad ?? We walked for what felt like hours, blowing the whistles and finally the stream turned into a trail and then it turned to tarmac … there were lights, and we had found a village. I don’t know how but the police were waiting for us to drive us back to the finish at Bran Castle.

I was gutted not to finish this race. In retrospect, I clearly need to learn how to navigate properly. I went to see the organisers the following morning, I got a big hug and a ‘so glad you are OK’, and they gave me a free mug for having the best adventure …. and I’m allowed back next year !!! ….. I cant wait :D