“In ten minutes we will be landing in Santa Cruz de La Palma. I´d like to take this opportunity to wish good luck to all the passengers racing in Transvulcania ultramarathon this weekend!”
After coming home from Kilimanjaro Stage Run in August, I had been struggling with nagging knee pains whenever I tried to increase my running mileage. Finally, late March I started to feel confident enough to bring the running volume up again knowing Transvulcania Ultramarthon would be up already in May.
Everything went smooth for a month or so and running felt surprisingly good until mid-April when a flu hit me. And it stuck. Weeks passed and I continued to feel miserable. Less than a week before my flight to La Palma I was feeling as sick as ever, hadn´t been running properly in 3 weeks, and was seriously questioning my ability to get to the Transvulcania start line.
Transvulcania Ultramarathon begins from the lighthouse of Faro de Fuencaliente before the sunrise at 6AM. The 74km course with 4350 meters of elevation gain/loss is considered one of the toughest trail running races in the world.
Sitting in the bus from Los Llanos to the start line at 3:30 AM I was feeling exited and extremely worried at the same time. When I was finally standing at the start line with 1500 participants around me with our headlamps on and AC/DC playing in the background I knew this was where I was supposed to be and had my mind set to only one thing – getting through to the finish line.
The race started with a 17k climb from sea level to 1800m taking us full 3,5 hours. The first hour was covered in darkness and the long line of headlamps stretched along the mountainside slowly ascending towards the summit. When the sun began to rise, we were already high up the mountain and could see the breathtaking vistas on both sides of the island from the ridge we were climbing.
Transvulcania has three cut offs along the course and the 1st one was located at El Pilar. The distance to El Pilar from the start line is only 24,5k, but it includes more than 1800m of climbing followed by a 400m decent and I found myself getting there only 30mins before the 5 hour cut off.
I realized it wasn´t going to be a walk in the park and I needed to keep up the pace to make it through the race in time.
Shortly after El Pilar we set off for another climb that seemed to go on forever. Leaving the couple of short downhills aside, we finally hit the top after full 5 hours of more or less constant uphill.
I found my mood and condition varying drastically along the way. At times, I was ready to quit the whole thing not able to have a positive thought in mind, and soon after visiting an aid station with Coke and fresh fruits, I found myself breezing along the trail enjoying the ride.
Luckily, the good patches seemed to keep getting longer along the way and the rough times were rather short lived. Until the downhill started.
The first who hours of downhill were very enjoyable. The kilometers seemed to pass quickly and I was actually going faster than some people around me. I thanked myself for the long hill sessions in my local forests and enjoyed the run. But the descent ended up being a lot longer than my quads would have expected.
First the legs started to feel wobbly. Then came the pains. No wonder, after having spent 12ish hours on the trail and descending more than 1000 meters during the last two hours. I knew I still had way more than 1000 meters of descent to go to get to the sea level at Tazacorte harbor and I knew I was in trouble.
Luckily, I had met a friend from Kilimanjaro Stage run on an aid station earlier and after passing each other a couple times along the way we ended up descending the mountain together keeping each other company taking the mind off the pain.
While I was feeling stronger going down in the beginning, the roles changed along the way and when we were approaching Tazacorte, she was literally dragging me towards the finish line.
When we finally hit the last aid station at sea level, I thanked my legs and my friend for getting me there from all my heart and was actually looking forward to the final 400m ascent to the finish line in Los Llanos.
The 5km climb took us close to an hour and it felt like the longest hour I come to remember. I had lost most of the skin on more than one of my toes, both my ankles were hurting, my legs were all wobbly due to the long descent, and I was all out of energy as I hadn´t been able to get any energy gels or bars down for hours and was running only on coke and fruits from the aid stations.
When we finally came to the edge of Los Llanos and saw the cheering people around us, we decided to go for the last push and run to the finish line. The party was on, children were high fiving us along the way and I finally dared to start feeling happy and confident on finishing.
It had been a long way to the finish line through the knee pains, long-term flu, and insecurity of getting to the start line in the first place. The emotions I went through were bigger than I was capable to handle at that state of mind.
The most memorable event after crossing the finish line occurred when I was slowly walking back towards my hotel. People were partying all around, music was playing loud and I had the finishers medal around my neck.
Suddenly, an elderly local man stopped me, pointed at my medal, looked me straight in the eyes and said “well done”. That was all I needed to break into tears, thanking the confused gentleman before retreating to my hotel room.