Transvulcania Ultra 73km Race Report
In anticipation of Transvulcania 2015, we asked our test manager Johan to share his experience of this demanding ultra marathon with us. He ran Transvulcania last year and remembers it vividly.
La Palma, Canary Islands – On the early morning of the Saturday 10th of May I got up at 02:40. I was staying in a hotel in Los Llanos di Aridane but I couldn’t sleep and I was hungry so I got out of bed. I boiled some eggs and filled up my soft flasks and hydration pack. My plan was to have Applejuice concentrate (50g carbs/100ml fluid) in my 1,5l hydration pack and to 2-3 softflasks of 500ml with water from the start and when exiting each aid station. So I prepared all of that and the rest of my equipment including Airia One shoes, headlamp, salt pills, and more. I ate my eggs and a few sandwiches, bananas, juice.
At 03:40, I, along with my crew Håkan Röjler (brother) and Lars-Erik Larsson (former coach), got into our car and drove towards the starting line by the lighthouse in Fuencaliente. From Los Canarios, about 6km from the start, traffic was bad and at 05:00 I jumped out of the car and ran down to the starting point which was about 3-400m away.
At the start there were already lots of people and I walked over the timing mat to have my chip registered. I tried to get as far forward as possible and ended up in about 5th line from the front. There was an amazing energy in the air already although there was still 50 minutes to go before the start. Music was pumping out and a speaker helped to keep us awake in the early morning.
In my head I was going through my gear and strategy for the beginning of the race.
“I must try to get to where the trail narrows down to single track as quickly as possible.”
This point wasn’t more than around 800m-1000m from the start. I knew that if I entered the single track with 1000 runners in front of me I might have to walk a long time before things start spreading out. Remember to take saltpills, drink water and keep energy levels up.
I follow the example of a few Spanish runners from Mallorca and sit down on the ground and relax. They are all hoping to finish the race in about 10 hours. I also test my Heart rate monitor and GPS watch. I can hear the speaker presenting and interviewing the “Rock Stars” of Skyrunning that are now arriving to the starting line. Among them reigning champions Emelie Forsberg (Sweden) and Kilian Jornet (Spain). As far as I know there are 5-10 Swedish runners in this field of about 2100.
I stand up, switch my headlamp on, also the red backlight, now one minute to the start. “Thunderstruck” is streaming out of the speakers. I start to jump up and down to get ready for the sprint. Heart rate monitor and GPS is on. The speaker and all runners are counting down from 10, 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – VAAAAMMMOSSS!
We sprint up the short starting ramp and into the lava sand. People everywhere, poles everywhere, I try to breathe calmly. All the time passing people, running around the Lighthouse, jumping, sprinting. Now I can see the narrowing of the trail. Still passing people as the trail narrows, going on the side of the trail to pass walking people. Hitting my right foot on a rock and falling down on my right knee. Up again, try to stay calm and breath through my nose. My heartrate is 149 already. I look up to see the elite runners flying away for the last time a few switchbacks above me. I mix walking and running up the steep switchbacks of sand and trying to find a good rhythm. Lots of people cheering everywhere. I look up and see a snake of headlamps moving up and when I look down I see all these headlamps shining and I realize that I am part of this amazing snake of crazy, motivated, passionate runners pushing forward in one of the world’s most amazing race. I feel proud and happy to be a part of this snake! My Airia running shoes feel good and work better than expected in the sand.
In front of me I see Lava sand is whirling about in strong winds. I focus on my breathing and try to breathe through my nose. Sipping some apple juice from my hydration pack and washing it down with water. Suddenly there is a gravel stretch which isn’t so steep. I get my Heart rate down when I stop for a minute to take a pee. Then into sand again. Some runners with poles seem to move very quickly in the sand while I’m slipping a little. I remember why I don’t have poles – because I didn’t train with them. I try to focus on the present.
Now I’m running on asphalt and I can start to hear the crowd in Los Canarios. People are cheering (Vamos Vamos!!!) on the side of the road. I give some of them high fives. It is still dark. At the aid station (@ 6,5km – 52min – 709m elev – 8,04 min/km – avg HR 147bpm) they help me fill one waterbottle and I grab one bottle from my crew and switch my shoes. Steep part coming up they say.
Leaving Los Canarios on a really steep ascent but soon it is just sand everywhere. I take my salt pills. All the time moving up up up and I can feel my feet slipping a bit. Breathing through my nose. A little flat sometimes on the mountain side and now I can see the sun is rising when I look to the right through the pine trees. The mighty peak Pico del Teide (Tenerife) is also visible. Beautiful!
The terrain is steep and I mix a little running in with what is now mostly power hiking. I try to use my arms to take some of the pressure off my legs but it is difficult to find a good rhythm. In all my preparation I had planned to run at around 130-135bpm because I know I can go for a long time in that zone. But already from the start of this race my heart rate was above this and I tried to convince myself that as long as I could nose breath I would be ok. But now I have to decide whether I can really sustain this intensity all day or if I have to slow down. I decide to trust that I probably can handle a little more stress (higher heart rate) on the uphills because there is not as much pounding on my quads that will cause them to blow up like they did on my first 50 miler last year. So I move on focusing on my nose breathing and trying to enjoy the amazing views on my right side as the sunrays sprinkle the east side of La Palma Island.
I reach the aidstation at Las Daseadas (@ 16,7km – 2h 33m – 1931m, since last station 9,18min/km – avg HR 153bpm) I drink, pour water over my head, have my soft flask filled up and move on. Still a bit up and down until the longer descent to El Pilar starts. The terrain is very rocky mixed with loose gravel and it takes me a few minutes to find a rhythm and let my legs and feet do the job. A strong easterly wind is cooling my body and it feels great. On the less technical parts I try to just let gravity do the job and fly down without any breaks on. It’s going really fast!
As we (me and a group of fellow runners that I have been running with the last 1-1,5 hours) near the Aid station at El Pilar we hear music and I can feel the energy rising in my body already before I have taken anything from the aid station. I give some kids high-fives just before entering the station.
At El Pilar (@ 23,5 km – 3h 11m – 1456m, since last station 5,6 min/km – avg HR 154bpm) they help me fill up 1 softflask with water and I drink a cup, pour some over my head and start to walk away. On the right side after the station I hear my crew cheering for me. I start by walking for a while trying to get some energy from my hydration pack and mixing with water. I take my saltpills and then start to run again slowly. This part is the flattest part of the course on an old fire road. I’m running along the ridge that divides the southern part of this beautiful volcanic island into east and west. On the right side of the road there is still some shadow from the trees and I try to stay on that side.
As the sun rises higher and higher on my right side shadows are shrinking and the temperature is rising. The wind from earlier is gone. I start to mix in 30-45s breaks of walking every 2-3 km to save a little of my running legs for the 18-20km descent from Roques Las Muchachos that is coming up in a few hours. Now I’m back on the trail and it is technical again. Switchbacks are taking us up and down, up and down, this extremely rocky volcanic terrain. My water bottles are almost empty and I am not sure how far I have left to the next aid station so I slow down my pace a bit. I talk and walk for some minutes with a Chilean runner also running his first sky race. He’s very friendly and one of the few in a group of maybe 15-20 people that I will pass and be passed by on and off during the rest of the race.
I now realize that my memories of this part are blurred together… Why?? Because I was starting to get tired and all aid stations looked the same.
Coming into El Reventon is a blessing. The people there help me fill up my bottles and I get 2 litre of water poured over my head. Nice and cold! Mr IRUNFAR (Byron Powell) is at the aid station and tells us that Emelie Forsberg hurt herself falling in the beginning of the race and has now pulled out having to go to the hospital with a hand that required surgery. That’s sad to hear!
I leave the aid station and start by walking a bit and taking in as much apple juice concentrate as I can, mixed with water. And my SCaps of course! The Terrain is rocky and all the time up and down. I try to powerhike up and run when it’s flat or downhill. Compared to my fellow runners I pass most people uphill and on the flat but when it’s technical downhill I’m not as fast. This makes me fear that last long descent to Tazacorte.
We are running along a ridge and just one or two meters to the side there is a huge drop of 10-15m – sometimes several hundred meters. The sun is really starting to bother me and I try to stay cool by pouring water over my head and splashing water on my legs and arms. It helps but only for a few minutes. I also feel that my stomach I starting to crave something different than only water and apple juice and I realize that I’ll have to take it a little easier this last part up to the top to have something left to give in the last descent. We are now moving up and down in this moonlike terrain at about 2100-2400m and I can see the observatories. Finally I reach the last wall of switchbacks leading up to the Aidstation tent at Roques. Lots of people taking pics, filming, cheering as I powerhike up this steep ascent.
Coming into the shadow of the tent is a relief! I decide to go all in on the cold sports drink (Aquarius) they have and drink about 4-5 dl right away. I also take of my socks and try to brush away some sand and small rocks. The aid station personnel fill up my 3 softflasks so I now have about 1 litre of water and .5 of sports drink plus my hydration pack on my back. I start emptying it slowly because I realize I won’t need all of that and I don’t want to carry any unnecessary weight. Before I leave I have a couple of litres water poured over my head.
First there is a short trail passage and the maybe half a kilometer on asphalt downhill. It feels ok on the asphalt but I’m happy it won’t be like that all the way. When I see the ocean far below it seems almost unbelievable that I’ll be down there in less than 2 hours.
Coming of the asphalt into more technical and sandy downhills (and some uphills also in this early part) I already start to feel the heat is building up inside. I pour some more water on my head and body. The average descent is about 12% but many parts are far steeper and very rocky. I’m being passed by many runners with far better legs and running skills than myself. I have tried to improve this over the last couple of months but now being in the actual descent I understand that I have trained on much too easy trails in Sweden.
Misery is a strong word but for a while, in this descent down to the next aidstation at 1160m above the sea, that is what I’m feeling. I don’t have enough water, the apple juice makes my stomach turn inside out, my feet hurt, my legs hurt, the sun is frying me alive and my gps watch is telling me that I still have several hundred meters of vertical until I can get more water. I mix walking and running trying to still move as fast as I can downhill. I tell myself “keep moving, keep moving, you can only do your best, it’s good enough”. My fellow runners, mostly of them Spanish, seem to be flying past me across terrain that I can hardly walk on and while doing so they ask me if I’m ok and I reply “yes”.
Finally, after having obsessively looked at the gps-watch for a long time, I reach 1160m above sea and the Aid station at the Old Fire watchtower. What a relief! I pour down two big papercups of sports drink before I sit down and take of my right shoe to fix a sock that has been bothering me. I try to empty more of my hydropack to reduce weight. I stand up again and have my softflasks filled. This time two with Aquarius and one with water. Before I leave I have them pour water over my head for maybe 30 seconds and unfortunately this leaves both my feet also soaking wet. Big mistake.
This last part of the downhill is 7-8km and is run on something that can best be described as a stone road layered in big blocks of lava stone. If you would grade how “runnable” a trail is from 1 to 10 where 1 is the most difficult this would classify as -10 (remember I’m still in misery :)). I mix some running (or jumping) with walking just to keep moving. This is the only part of the course I know because two days earlier my crew did the vertical Km going up this trail and I also walked up the last part of that course to see the finish. Lots of runners are still passing me and my newly soaked socks and shoes are not giving me a good time.
“Just keep moving” I tell myself.
Suddenly there is a short flat section of “normal” trail and I try to run it and I actually pass one of the runners that passed me a long time ago. I ask if he is ok and he replies “yes”. After that somehow energy is returning to me and I push ahead. I realize that I still can make 11 hours with a good finish and now I manage to put myself above the pain in my feet and legs and just let it all go. It’s is an amazing feeling. I’m flying down on technical trails passing people all the time.
Coming into the final cliff at Tazacorte, the rocky switchbacks take me down the last aid station of the race. I push as hard as I can on this downhill telling myself “It’s only uphill and flat after this, and not far to the finish”.
In Tazacorte there is a massive crowd and drums playing. My crew is here also and I really appreciate hearing their voices. I get into the aid station and have my softflask filled up. I drink 2 cups of sports drink and feel really pumped! I have only 5k left of this amazing race and I’m feeling strong. I still can finish under 11 hours. I have water poured over me one last time and I make sure to keep my feet dry.
I leave the aid station and start running the short flat stretch before going down on the beach and then turning left under a bridge onto the old dry riverbed. I try to run all the time except for when it gets really steep. The old riverbed is made up of big rocks and sand. Grip is very bad. It seems like everyone else is walking at this time. Maybe they are experiencing the same low as I had on the descent earlier? I don’t have time to think of that. I want to push as hard as I can this last part and get to the finish in Los Llanos di Aridane. My crew is cheering for me from a bridge… not far left now!!
After what seems like an eternity of running and power hiking up I reach the outskirts of Los Llanos di Aridane. Coming onto the long (1-1,5k) and straight asphalt road that will take me almost all the way to the finish I try to pick up the pace again. There are people cheering all the way and kids are spraying water on me as I reach out for high fives. I try to “High-five” everyone while still running as fast as I can. I pass someone who tries to hang onto me but I push harder and harder.” I won’t be outsprinted” I tell myself.
Finally there is a sharp right turn and then left and I’m on the red carpet and can see the finish. Here everyone is cheering and stretching out their hands for high fives. I look back to see that no one will outsprint me and I reach out both hands to my sides to touch as many fans as possible before raising my arms in the air as I finish the race and see the race watch showing 10:33:00. I get the medal around my neck and I’m very proud, happy and relieved. My crew come up to me and give me big hugs! I’m so glad to see them! This was the most amazing challenge ever and I managed to finish. And I managed to finish strong!
Thanks to Airia for giving me this opportunity and my crew for all support!