Sunday 8 May 2016

Transvulcania 2016

For fun I do this kind of thing..
"Indeed we might have our own, very different definitions of pleasure", said the trail runner to the overweight tourist in a secluded hotel in the Canary Islands.

On a lighthouse, a sandy climb, some high-up volcanic cruising, one hell of a drop and the capital of home-straight high-fiving, Los Llanos.

At the pointy southern end of the island of La Palma there lies a handful of small and extinct volcanoes as well as acres and acres of banana plantations. Nestled amongst the lava and bananas is a rather posh hotel. And on the Friday night before the Transvulcania ultra marathon this hotel divides its guest book between the regular pot-bellied German contingent and the annual influx of more boney, but equally ravenous mortals. The (mainly) German tourists choose this destination as it responds to their definition of a state of happiness and pleasure. This is fun: Isolated from the rest of the world in air-conditioned walls with comfortable mattresses, deck chairs, palm trees and swimming pools, sunshine and an infinite spread of food. Is this heaven?

What shall I do with my day?
A few kilometres down the road from the hotel there's a lighthouse, El Faro. Here another breed seek their own, somewhat different, version of normal pleasures. At the lighthouse the scene is usually remote, desolate, windswept. But at 6am on Saturday, to the sound of extremely loud pumping music, El Faro hosts one and half thousand trail runners. An energetic spaniard with a cowboy hat, who goes by the name of Depa, jumps around a lot and then counts down from ten, at which point one and a half thousand gps watches are simultaneously activated and three thousand colourful trail shoes commence their pitter-pattering voyage north, away from the lighthouse and the sea and up a long sandy slope. And when we say long we're talking in hours. The first easily accessible aid station being at 24km, two and a half hours (for the front runners) of volcanic sandy and gravelly footpath later.

One very big light and many tiny ones
A few hours into the race, the sun has now risen and you're left to navigate along the top of a crater ridge you now find yourself atop of. It's dry and moon-like.

Blankets of clouds below on either side mask out everything but yourself, the runners around you and the jagged mountain top. It's surreal. Quite a contrast to much of the world we left behind below. But it's the version of normal pleasure that I seek and share with many of the equally minded participants. It's really quite magical up there. And with light legs and a trained body, skimming across this landscape is better defined as an experience of relaxation and pure joy than one associated with pain or any stress of competition. When all these elements click for me it results in the best races, in terms of the enjoyment factor and hence why I do this sport and participate in these kind of races, as well often also culminating in the best competitive result. Yesterday I once again totally revelled in the ridge run along the top of La Palma, but the legs weren't quite at the level to really let loose completely. At times I forced myself to run though climbs where I might have otherwise more naturally slowed to a walk. I'd pulled though from top twenty early on to forth by the beginning of the ridge. There was also the prospect of catching a non-descender over the latter section of the race, a factor never to be discarded by a fell runner approaching 2k of downhill! (It wasn't to be though - leg's too trashed!)

Running free on the moon

Fifty-two kilometres into the Transvulcania adventure the runners reach the high point of the race at 2420m, Roque de los Muchachos. The mountaintop is peppered with half a dozen very round and very white observatories. And at that same summit another, but more temporary, white dome houses several million calories worth of energy gels and runners' support crews ready to distribute them.
A bite to eat and a drink and it's down down down. 2420m of down. Now here's a recipe for a leg trash! First off it's forest trail, then rocky paths and then the stoney zigzags down to Tazacorte Port to finish by the sea. Normally Tazacorte is probably best defined as a peaceful kind of seaside town. Once again it's time to change the ambiance for a day! For the Transvulcania ultra marathon the loud-speakers are pumping, garden hoses are turned into make-shift run-through showers and all locals are on a mission - to basically get as excited as they deem possible. So as a runner it's easy to feel that you're at the finish down here, what with all this incredible ambiance. But no getting carried away now! There's 5km of river bed then steep and winding cobbled track left to devour first. But it's worth it. Because once the upward facing cobbled zigzags have been negotiated you're left with two kilometres of pavement which demotes the excitement down in Tazacorte to of somewhat a sideshow. If there is a world record for high-fiving I expect it gets beaten once a year every year, in the town of Los Llanos. The population of the island has just doubled and simultaneously gathered on the town's Main Street to form a long tunnel of noise all the way to the finish line. And it's quite good fun to run through.

The high-five highway of Los Llanos

So voilà why I like this race. The course and the atmosphere of the Transvulcania ultra marathon fit my criteria for known pleasures :-)

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[Thanks Ian Corless for the pics]

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