My Transvulcania experience began the Friday after jointly winning the 61 mile Fellsman when we flew out to La Palma for Ally and I to have some holiday in the sun and a chance to recce the course. Luckily I was feeling pretty good after the Fellsman and keen to get out. The next three days were spent on the course twice visiting Roque Muchachos and the long descent to Tazacorte. The Monday before the race was to be my last long run, although only 42 km it perhaps wasn’t ideal preparation in terms of tapering but well worth running the caldera and the descent to Tazacorte. It was fantastic to be able to appreciate the views and get a picture of what to expect on race day. What was I going to expect? A very tough day 🙂 over technical terrain at an altitude I’m not too use to and a very long descent with some technical sections.
The rest of the week was spent enjoying the beauty of the island with time spent on Tazacorte beach, hiking, including the first 7km from the lighthouse to Los Canarios and into the caldera, and enjoying the view from our balcony in Tazacorte.
Race day finally came around and like everyone else I was excited to be racing Transvulcania 2014, however I was not to know how great an event it really was until the day was done. Start morning meant a 1.30 am alarm, a 50 min walk uphill to the bus station, 70 min bus journey to the lighthouse and a shiver behind a rock for an hour. They then started letting people into the start, although dashing to get as close to the front as possible I was too late! I wish I had an elite start as I was in with the masses starting back about five deep with a twenty wide start line; then the elite to join the front too. I tried not to panic as it is a long way and I know I tend to get carried away early. It was a chaotic start with a 300m dash before the sandy single track up the hill. I spent a lot of energy weaving and dodging as I tried to work my way up the field including taking a tumble and bashing my knee.
We were soon on our way and I was running well, if not a little to well, passing Anna Frost on the long climb (I would not be feeling so great when she came past strongly later in the day). Arriving at the first aid station was an incredible experience with the number of people out cheering; something towards what a Tour de France rider must feel when approaching a col. This was just a taster of what to come with a big carnival type atmosphere along the course, with pockets of support and you certainly knew when you where approaching the aid stations. The aid station staff were great, they soon had your water bottle full and a banana in your mouth before sending you on your way as quickly as possible with plenty of encouragement.
Leaving Los Canarios I found my way into a small group, together we worked our way up the forest trails and sandy paths towards the top of the first volcano, at about 1800m, before dropping into El Pillar aid station. At this point I was only about 15 mins off the lead, had I gone out a little too quick too early? I had recced from this point onwards, knowing what was to come, and knowing it was going to be tough. From El Pillar there was around 10km of undulating fire roads, before starting the next climb towards the crater rim, it was here I started to falter. I was struggling to maintain a descent pace losing touch with a couple of Italians before being caught at El Revention by a couple of Spanish including Javier Dominguez and another young lad. I could not keep up with Javier but fell into the rhythm of the other lad as we walked and jogged our way on towards Roque Muchachos 2435m. Days earlier I had been able to run all this but now I felt I was crawling, but I was still moving forward. We were caught and overtaken by several runners who had paced it better, but we also caught a few who had blown. The run around the caldera is stunning and technical, and by this point the day was getting hot. About 5km from the top at Roque Muchachos Anna Frost comes gliding past, a true inspiration and worthy champion, and then was gone.
I had made Roque Muchachos aid station in six hours from the start; it was hot and I was wasted. I took the time to take plenty of fluids and fruit in the air conditioned tent. On leaving something amazing happened, cold water, which brought my temperature down dramatically and reinvigorated me. I shot off with renewed enthusiasm down the long decent to the sea; this got a loud cheer which helped to buoy me even more. It lasted for about one third of the descent before the energy ran out and I found I was lacking gels for the final push. Trying to keep my attitude positive and keep on moving onward and downwards, momentum was certainly lost by the top of Tazacorte zig zags as I was caught by the second lady but I was in touching distance and I would finish this journey.
The last six km were tough legs where wobbly and it felts like a sauna, creating a fuzzy head, but I knew I could doit and the feeling of joy starts to fill your body. I managed to do something of a jog up the river bed before the last 400m of ascent into Los Llanos, which was certainly a walk. The last km along the main highway was a pure joy, I was able to run again driven on by the crowds of locals cheering me on, soaking up the atmosphere, high fiving as many people as possible as I could and before knew it the red carpet on the way to the finish in 8 hours 25 mins 28th place. Happy, yes for sure! Perfect race, no way near! Can I do better? I will be back to try.
Thanks Transvulcania and La Palma. Thank you Ally for putting up with me pre race.