I don’t usually write race reports that delve into the actual events of a race, primarily because that’s what everyone else does and I think that’s boring. But this time I think the story of the race itself is exciting enough to tell. So bear with me.
The race started at the beach with enough energy to power Denver International Airport for at least three days. I did my best to lay low and immediately got swept up by the announcer, Depa, who asked me to say a few words en espanol (buenos dias, La Palma!) Then the race started and we all ran up the hill like it was the state cross country meet, elbowing and shoving each other to get ahead. I ended up at front and managed to stay there all the way….well, to the end actually, but that’s not the point. The course goes up and over a high point at 2000 meters, then runs along the crest of the island before launching up again to the top of the caldera at 2400 meters. And when I say caldera, I mean volcano. Like, magma and holes into the earth and great hellfire spewing forth from the mountainside. And while maybe we didn’t see any of those things on our run, we still saw some pretty cool stuff. The course was absolutely incredible, taking us along the spine of the island and over the top of its highest point, El Roque de Los Muchachos, which teeters ominously on the edge of a sheer cliff of….volcanic rock probably. From there you can see basically the entire island, as well as several other islands, lots of water, two or three towns and apparently a lot of stars, judging by the giant telescopes and whatnot. In short, the course was really cool.
I ran in front with Kilian all the way over the top of the caldera and then most of the way back down. From the Roque at about 50km, the course descends more than 7000 feet until your shoes are basically in the ocean. If you haven’t run 7000 feet downhill lately, there’s no need – I can tell you what it’s like. It’s like, hard. You know what I mean? It kind of hurts. But me and K-dog powered down the damn thing, slipping and sliding and cutting a tight switchback here and there because that’s what you do in Europe, and eventually we reached an aid station. Sweet, fill up on water. Good to go. But I looked back and who did I see charging in behind us but Andy Symonds – I didn’t even know this guy. What’s his deal? Apparently his deal is downhillin’, if I may, and he immediately launched ahead like somebody was chasing him, which makes sense because suddenly somebody was chasing him – Kilian. I guess captain ski-mo can’t stand the idea of running behind anyone English and so he took off into the distance as well. I was left alone, feeling used and unwanted.
In retrospect, those guys must have burned themselves out in a fit of enthusiasm. I just kept plodding along at my own pace, down down down to the ocean which just didn’t seem to be getting any closer, and all of a sudden they came back into view. Then, in a move that I didn’t trust whatsoever, Kilian dropped off of Andy’s pace and let me catch up, then stepped aside to let me pass. I asked if he was okay and was chagrined to learn that, “yes, yes” he was okay. I kept running downhill and soon realized I was catching Andy too. When I finally passed him he said, “second wind?” and I said, “Well, according to Plato’s theory of forms, if ultrarunning were to represent the perfect form of insanity ….” and so on in that vein until he became so sick of my late-race lunacy that I believe he leapt into the ocean for a reprieve. But somehow we still came into the final aid station, Tazacorte, together.
By the way, my intention in italicizing all the Spanish words is for the people reading this to say it with a certain Spanish flair, as if you’re the beautiful Spanish woman in the soap opera wearing the red dress who is denouncing your husband for cheating on her with….Tazacorte. So flip your hair around and kind of lisp the “z”.
Tazacorte had all the energy of the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. I don’t know if the people of La Palma love running or if they just love yelling, but they are really effective at combining the two for Transvulcania, and being a part of that is really fun. From Tazacorte we ran up a mostly flat road for nearly a mile before turning onto a cobblestone path and climbing the final thousand feet up to the finish. We were down at sea level and in a depression in the land that held the heat and humidity still and calm, baking us like very tired little muffins. To my surprise I managed to pull ahead of Andy on the road and then, even more incredible, put time on him on the climb. My legs were so tired that I hardly tried to run the final climb, but my hiking legs managed to be strong enough to get to the top of the hill with Andy still out of sight. And the rest was a blur – the final road, my police escort, and the generally increasing size and volume of the crowds until, at the actual finish line, drenched in sweat, exhausted and utterly done for, I broke the tape and walked into the waiting arms of the crowd.