Monday, 18 May 2015

Transvulcania Mania

This race captivated me from the moment I caught wind of its existence roughly 2 years ago now, but never did I think that within a 24month period I'd be sitting here writing about my experience racing it. La Palma, one of the 7 Canary Islands, is a stunningly beautiful and extraordinarily geographically variable playground that hosts one of the biggest and most badass trail races on the calendar, Transvulcania. Since its inception it has grown in size exponentially, and now annually the whole place erupts (see what I did there) with activity surrounding race day. Shop owners, Taxi Drivers, Hotel Staff, Supermarket attendants, children of age 5 and men and women of 50, they ALL know about Transvulcania and to them, it has a great significance each year when it rolls around.

I was truly stoked to be able to be a part of the event, and at times out on the course I thought that maybe being amongst the sea of screaming people drinking beers and going platanos looked just as fun as running the race itself! I feel like the people of the island are what really make this race what it is, I'm sure there are other events that rival it for enthusiasm, however this was the winner so far for me.

Being a bird.
Earlier I mentioned that there are 7 of the Canary islands, and my trip began by visiting Gran Canaria first.... Accidentally. At midnight. After 28hrs of travel. Oops. Turns out Las Palmas and La Palma are very different places and Transvulcania is only ran on the latter. After a fleeting moment of panic, the wonderfully natured employees in the Gran Canaria airport made sure I got the right flight to the correct island the next morning, after a blissfully comfortable sleep on the chairs at the airport!

Only 8hrs after expected, I made it to Los Llanos and began to delve into the unique culture and vibe of La Palma. I was so thankful and fortunate to be able to spend a week on the island prior to the race, it allowed me to scout out snippets of the course and see some awe-inspiring masterpieces of nature whilst getting a bit more adjusted to the expected heat of race day. Contrary to what most people believe, all of Australia isn't a desert with tonnes of Kangaroos and Koalas bouncing around, so a bit of acclimatization time was great. I also hired an endlessly knowledgeable tour guide called Frosty, she showed me around some amazing places and I'm pretty certain the amount of questions I asked out of nervousness about the course were getting frustrating.

Running the mid-section of the course with El Pilar in the background
Closer to the race, I moved down the coast into the wicked race hotel. It consisted of about 35,000 pools, 10 tonnes of food at the buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner, views from a postcard and completely horrible coffee. It was definitely a place for the real hedonist that likes to lounge around and not really do a whole lot, which regularly I wouldn't be into, however coming into a race it was basically the perfect restraint to stop me from doing too much. I had a great time getting to know a lot of the other athletes that were hanging around, a heap of guys and gals had come over from the US along with Salomon team mates from all corners of the world. It's really cool to learn about different peoples stories, where they are from, what they do, why they run and why they were there, there's never two the same and everybody is unique in some awesome way.

This is the view from my room in the uber-dreamy race hotel. Not bad at all.
The racing aspect of all this can be kept quite simple. From the very beginning, the AC/DC on the start line was rad and momentarily took me back home, equally as rad was the job that Depa did as the MC for the whole event, that dude sure can yell and was a huge help to me when not behind the microphone. The countdown at the start was in Spanish however, and embarrassingly I didn't understand, so I just waited for everybody to start running like crazy so I could follow! We took off with haste around the lighthouse and into the sandy trail towards Los Canarios, it was a lot of fun being a part of the serpent like stream of headlights that I'd gazed upon in pictures of previous editions. You are arguably going uphill for the better part of the first 50km in this race, and if one was to only see different sections in pictures, you'd also argue that it wasn't the same course. The variation is mind blowing for an island of only 50x25km! It quickly changes from black sand to pine forest, followed by a Moon-like landscape up high and then onto a picturesque little beach side town below.

Running with Dimitris, Ryan and Landie on the first section of the route.
The up was tough like always, and as with most races, I had some great patches and some lower ones, but utimately it all went pretty well and I stuck with my pre-race plan. I'd hovered behind the ffront guys for the first 5hrs, with only Luis and Zach really pushing the gap out super far. I'd left a bit of gas in the tank in hope to roll it home down the descent and make up some time, as historically the race is decided in the last 23km. This worked a treat and I moved from equal 5th with 2 others at Roque De Los Muchachos up to 3rd by the bottom of the descent in Tazacorte. It beat my legs up good and proper, but that was the plan after all! It felt pretty surreal to move into 3rd and it was certainly the first time i'd allowed myself to think of the podium for the day. I knew I had a few minutes to play with over the last 5km, but it's still scary when you have no idea who could be charging from behind in the pack. I loped along pretty miserably up the last climb but some words of encouragement from the teams crew helped carry me up the last climb! Luckily at the top i'd maintained the few minutes I had to 4th and got a chance to let the goosebumps settle in approaching the finish!

View of Tazacorte from the last descent
There's no way to put into words the feeling of running down the finish chute of Transvulcania, it's exactly as you see in the photos. A beautiful red hue courtesy of the red carpet and the relentless sun beating down, countless orange blow-up battens coupled with hands awaiting high fives no matter your position, and a monstrous amount of noise. I was and still am an indescribably happy young boyish looking Aussie chap to stand on the podium in 3rd at the end of the day. I'd definitely hoped for it but I never expected it! Not having expected it, I didn't practice my champagne cork-popping skills either, so I embarrassingly struggle to open it using my lousy excuses for arms... but I got there in the end. Happier than ever.

Photo: Jordi Saragossa, featuring a hard to pop champagne bottle.
After a couple more days of rest I was sad to leave, home's always comforting but the adventures La Palma provided were incredible. I could've quite easily written for hours about it but it'd only be for my own self indulgence of the experience and not for the benefit of anybody else! There'll certainly be some more cool things to come later in the year, so once I feel back to 100% i'll kick into some more training. For now though I'm going to enjoy the year that has been so far, because it's better than I ever imagined!

Thanks everybody once again for the help in every area of life, family, friends and my gear and nutrition sponsors, Salomon, Suunto, Shotz Sports Nutrition and Swisseye Eyewear. I love you all!








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