Friday 29 June 2012

Volcanic trails – part 2: Guadeloupe (it’s another world)

(scroll down to the bottom for photos)

Technical? What is technical? The fact that mass and energy are interchangeable is technical? No, I am talking about running here. My definition of technical running is when there’s more to it than simply putting one foot in front of the other. Yes, left-foot/right-foot, that is the simple gist of running. And it’s very easy to do so on flat grass, roads, athletics tracks, even on a lot of man-made footpaths. However, make that footpath climb a jaggedy mountain, cross a few streams, twist through forests, disappear into peat bogs...and it becomes a little less unproblematic, and hence a little more technical.

So then. Classic mountain races in the alps, such as those that defined Sky Running at its outset 20 years ago, are definitely pretty technical. Everyone agrees? Road marathons aren’t, UK fell running normally is, American and European trail running generally isn’t, OMMs LAMMS BAMMs nearly always are, wmra (especially uphill only) mountain races aren’t... the list goes on.

Where would a 55km volcanic jungle bash fit in all that then?... Stepping back a week or so, I took a glance at the results of previous episodes of the Guadeloupian Volcano Trail, and I really couldn’t understand how 55km could possibly take so long. My finishing time last Saturday was 7 hours and 35 minutes. That’s an admittedly pathetic four-and-half miles per hour (7.2 km/h). So here is how that happened, condensed into a quick-fire summary of the race route: 5am. Start. In the dark. 1km road. Easy. End easy. Very rooty paths. Still runnable. Half an hour later. Hello Canyon. Still reasonably dark. Swim. Climb. Ropes. Danger! Half an hour later. Still canyonning. Fun. Not runnable. Technical? Out of the canyon. Path constructed of large chunks of solidified magma. Wet. Runnable – just. First big climb. World’s most rickety natural ladder. Made of tree roots, branches and vines. Seemingly almost vertical. 20 minutes later. Near the summit of a volcano. Smells like a fellow participant has not properly digested their energy gels. No, it’s just the sulphur erupting from the hole in the ground in front. The powerful noise of pressure release is from there also. Not a runner either. Back into the jungle. Where is the path? Beneath your feet? Why can’t I see it? Because this is a jungle and things grow quickly. OK, I’ll ignore my path-blindness and run then. The (invisible) path turns into a slide of wet clay. Errr? What? How? Just go forwards and hope. Start descending. Roots at knee height. Branches at chest height. Body = what height then? Jump, swing, dive, bash head. Not much running. Technical? Hit the road. Ah ha! 3km of running. Sprint – it’ll be your only chance to. Back to the start. 30km done. 4-hours. Time for a much less runnable second lap...

Now I understand why and how the Volcano Trail in Guadeloupe takes such a long time, for its relatively short total distance. I hope you understand too now. And if you don’t – go and do it.

If we can call 7.5 hours of jungle-gymnastics on an assault-course fit for Tarzan technical running, - then this must be the most technical race in the world? Or at least vying for that claim. It’s a race I seriously recommend any runner out there to go and run, I mean go and do. If it seems a bit long, then there’s always the 33km, or the 14km – which took Carole a mere two and half hours (not your average 14km either). If you think you’ve done a technical race, you haven’t seen this.

Also, it’s a jolly nice place to spend a week. The sea and the beaches are quite nice as well...

VOLCANO TRAIL 2012 - results
1 – Andy SYMMONDS (GBR) - 7h35min34s
2 – Nicolas MARTIN (FRA) - 9h12min46s
3 – Olivier BOULAY (FRA) - 9h18min50s

1 – Karine HERRY (FRA) - 10h04min57s
2 – Lauriane LE GAC (FRA) - 11h11min35s
3 – Catherine LAGARDERE (FRA) - 12h18min55s

And here's some pics (unfortunately not enough of the race course itself)

And a short vid of one of the runnable bits of the course, shot by Serge 3 days before the race


  1. Hi Andy,

    I would have a few questions, hope to not bother you with them. I am flying over to Guadalupe for a month next August(2013), so I am gonna be training there.
    I saw that you were doing your runs in the "jungle" and in the mountains.
    I just want to know that it is safe there ? Can you run in most of the places alone ? Did you hear anything about dangers, or places to avoid ? Any advice would be appreciated.

    Thanks, and congrats for the 2012 season.


  2. Hi Levi,
    and no probs for the questions.
    YES - it's very safe. Safe in the fact that there are no dangerous animals or other natural hazards. The real danger though is being caught out by the setting sun and stuck in the jungle in the dark. It takes much more than twice as long as you'd normally expect to cover any distance. I ran quite a bit on my own, but you certainly feel on your own some times! It might be worth hooking up with some other runners while you're out there, for company and so they can show you the trails. Try contacting the organisers of the Volcano Trail at les bananes vertes.
    Have fun!

  3. Bonjour Andy, superbes impressions. Fier de l'avoir fait en même temps que toi. Petite différence on s'est croisé lorsque tu terminais, je commençais la deuxième boucle. ..
    Pascal A.


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