Need More Vert! Transvulcania Race Report
I need more vert! Two days before the Transvulcania Ultramarathon on the volcano island of La Palma I suddenly feared my training this whole year had been totally inadequate. Looking up at the sheer vertical slopes leading up from the beach at sea level to the top of the volcano at 7900 feet was daunting. Taking into account much of the climb (and descent) was on uneven rocky paths and/or slippery sand that reached pitches exceeding 22% grade I wished that I had attacked more 14,000 foot mountains in Colorado (or at least did repeats of Green Mountain and Bear Peak in Boulder instead of running up and down them only on average once or twice a week). After taking 5 days off after the Lake Sonoma 50 I had the following “hard training week” before my 2 week taper going into Transvulcania:
4-21-13: Easy 6 miles in 50min..in Fruita, CO, 400 feet vert.
4-22-13: Easy 10 miles in Boulder, CO in 80min…300 feet vert.
4-23-13: Tempo effort…2hrs 24min up Bear Peak in a foot of snow…10.25 miles, 3256′ vert.
4-24-13: AM: Eaasy 70min..9.5 miles for 300′ vert. , PM: Easy 5.2 miles in 40min, 400′ vert.
4-25-13: AM: Easy 6mi. in 55min, 1600 feet of vert (up part of Green Mtn)., PM: Easy 47min, for 6.25 miles, 230′ vert.
4-26-13: LONG 20 miles, up Bear Peak and Green Mtn. 3 hours. 5,000 feet vert.
4-27-13: Easy 13.7 miles in 90min, 545′ vert.
Miles: 87 miles
Time: 12.5 hours
[note: it is only now, after the race that I am adding up vertical gain and training hours for the first time in my running log history as I’ve always gone by just miles per week}
Since I’m a numbers guy I like to compare quantitative data (sometimes obsessively). The numbers don’t lie and when a week of training is added up like this it is easy to see that I need to start training with a lot more climbing and also need to be spending a lot more time on my feet if I ever want to compete at the top level in ultra marathon Sky Racing…. especially on the international scene. There is much work to be done and I have no excuses!
Now, on to the race report:
AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” boomed on the loud speakers moments before the 6AM stampede that was the start of the Transvulcania Ultra Marathon. I nervously waited at the front of the startline next to Adam Campbell, Cameron Clayton and Joe Grant. Joe pointed out that I was the most decked out in gear, having on almost every item that Ultimate Direction sold (it was true, of all the guys in the “elite field” I was loaded with gear). I was paranoid about getting dehydrated and bonking so I started with 44 ounces of Powerade, 22 gels, 2 salt pills, a bag of potato chips, and the mandatory required items (cell phone, headlamp and emergency blanket) all strapped on. Killian Jornet tucked in in the second row back looking a lot more minimal and light…I motioned for him to move up to the front of the starting line with the rest of us and he waved me off).
A remote control UFO sporting a video camera hovered above the thousands of runners as we sprinted off the line uphill and into the dark. After about 90 seconds the path narrowed to a width of about 8 feet and the surface became sand. I felt like I was running in the dark in the desert. The intensity of the initial quarter mile made me breathe hard like I was racing a 10k but I established a good position in 4th place basically sharing the lead with the rest of the pack.
About 2 miles in I took my share of the lead as we approached “T” intersection. There were no arrows or people at this point in the race so I paused for a moment and then started running off in what looked like the direction of the main path. Within 5 seconds Killian came up and called me back, telling me the correct path was actually in the opposite direction I had mistakenly started running!
Just before the first aid station at mile 4.6 I took the lead by powerhiking past a running Cameron Clayton on a sandy uphill. As I ran into town thousands of spectators enthusiastically cheered and applauded. Many shouted “Go Killian” as it was still quite dark and all they could make out was my dark hair and white t-shirt (SCOTT t-shirt NOT Salomon!). I heard that over a hundred times throughout the course of my lead and it appeared some people were quite disappointed when I ran past them and they got a closer look to see who I was!
By mile 15 or so I had a 3-minute lead on the field. From what I gathered later Cameron was still in 2nd and Killian and Luis Hernando were close on his heels. I had downed 10 gels by this time and re-filled by two 22 ounce bottles with some crazy orange sports drink which was pretty sweet. I figured the intensity of the climb had me quickly burning through carbs and the sheer work output of moving my 145lbs up 8,000 feet on not always runnable terrain was a recipe for an early bonk disaster (especially considering I had already done more powerhiking than I had ever done in my life combined , my breathing was farily rapid, and I was sweating quite a bit).
After being received by another enthusiastic crowd at the 15 mile aid station I felt compelled to continue pushing the pace. My name was announced on the loudspeaksers and I was feeling like I’d imagine what a rockstar feels when they take the stage…to a small degree. Pretty cool. I attempted to eat a dried plum but spit most of it out. I was about 5 minutes under Dakota Jone’s course record split. And after hitting a stretch of road I suddenly felt a building pressure not only in my bladder but also in my lower stomach. Looking for a place behind a tree after the spectators had thinned out I peeled off the road and took a dump. This bathroom pitstop I timed at 40 seconds…which was a first timed pitstop and possible PR for me. A couple miles later the dirt road slowly winded up the hill and I became confused, as it appeared some “GR trails” would go off the road and into the bushes a bit and then pop back out on the road. I took a couple of these side trails not really knowing if I was on course until one of them abruptly ended with a big pile of bushes stacked up in a “dead-end.” Luckily, I was only about 30 seconds in the bush away from the road so I peeled back around and got back on course. I’m still going to have to analyze this part on my Strava map but it may have cost me another minute or so….
At the next aid station I was greeted by Anna Frost and Bryon Powell who I asked about what was going on behind me (that was when I learned I had had a 3-minute lead at the previous aid station). I quickly sipped some water and charged up the next steep section of road switchbacks. Much to my dismay, I heard the chase pack approach within a minute. At that point I knew it was only a matter of time before Killian caught me as I was losing ground.
“I went out too hard and now I’m paying the price.”
I already thought of what I’d mutter to Bryon to record as an iRunFar tweet if I saw him at the top of the volcano. By the 20 mile mark I was already feeling like my quads were shot and it was going to be a struggle just to finish. I feared that the whole field would swallow me up and I’d be left walking into the finish line in a place that I would be ashamed of. Luckily I didn’t totally “blow a gasket” as I continued to hold off Killian and Luis for another couple miles and 1,000 feet of ascent as my pace slowed. A lot of times on the steep switchbacks of loose dirt we were power hiking and I’d get a good glance at their efficiency as they slowly ate up the ground that separated us. I knew that the win was going to be impossible for me to pull off (given Killian’s ability to quickly descend) if I wasn’t leading at the 30 mile mark. When Killian and Luis passed me they looked strong and I stepped off of the narrow trail and waved them by. I watched as Luis made a stronger move and at one point he, Killian and I were all separated by a minute.
I spent my sweet time at the aid-station at the very top of the volcano, the highest point in the race. After empting out some empty gel packs in the trash, filling up on 44 ounces of Gatorade and eating a banana I had pretty much two objectives for the rest of the race: 1. Don’t fall and hurt yourself, and 2. Don’t get caught by anyone else!
The technical downhill on rocks really was fairly uneventful for me because I didn’t fall or epically bonk. My quads were screaming the whole time and it was somewhat tortuous to see the ocean thousands of feet below and know that you had to somehow still descend to see level after already running a hard 40 miles.
When I finally made it up to the town of Los Llanos de Ariande where the finish line I was, I vowed to savor the final minutes of the race as thousands of local spectators had made their way around the finish line area and many reached out to me for “high-fives.” As I approached the roar of loudspeakers, music and the giant finish line banner I had my arms out wide in both directions making sure I could high five as many children who stuck their hand out as possible. It was an amazing experience and I almost came to a walk in the final 200m with the density of the crowd reaching out. I’ve never finished a race with so many cheering and it was really special!
Overall I’m pleased enough with my 3rd place finish in my first Sky Race although I admit I’m somewhat disappointed with my execution of the race. I think if I had held back a little longer in the opening 10 miles and then pressed the uphill a little later I could have been leading at the top of the volcano – however, the outcome of the race would’ve still been the same…I still would’ve gotten third, but I think I could’ve run a better time. In closing I learned that I need to train with a lot more vertical and actually do some extended long runs up in the mountains. Also, I think my weekly mileage could use a little boost!
Thanks for reading and best of luck with your future training and racing!
PS stay tuned for my Vo2max Productions YouTube video of the island and what the course looks like!!
About the Author (Author Profile)2-time Olympic Trials Qualifier, Mountain runner, Author of "Running For The Hansons," trail runner, videos for Vo2max Productioins, LLC.
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