So many good memories intoxicated my senses as I drank in the sights, sounds and smells of Transvulcania. The day’s heat penetrated the earth, wafting out smells of wildflowers, fennel and lava rock as I zig-zagged my way down to the Port of Tazacorte. Lizards zigged in and out of rocks demonstrating the way to maneuver appropriately down the rocks. Still kilometers away from the finish I could hear the thundering, boom-chic-a-boom of drums, screams of “anima-anima” (meaning courage) encouraging and nudging me along every step of the way. The town of Los Llanos was buzzing, awaiting our arrival and I think they were more stoked than I. There was an energy on this Island before, during and after that went beyond running or racing, its hard to explain in words, but the emotions felt here will be carried with me for a long time. I am grateful.
First photo on la Island.
I lived on the beautiful Island of La Palma for the 2 weeks prior to the race. I was able to see much of the course and could not wait to string the whole route together in a single push with so many others as we discovered more of the Island and of ourselves. Knowing some of the course was a huge help as I passed different points and knew where I was most the day. Sections of this course take your breath away. This is one of the best places on earth to run and I look forward to coming back, running this race again and hopefully doing a project where I run around the whole Island next year.
It was a pretty wild start to the race, down by the Atlantic ocean, with 1500 other people, all willing to wake-up by climbing up to 2500 meters (8200ft) in the next 57k and then bomb our way down technical lava rocks back to the ocean! After the start when you look back a few switch backs, you see the string of head torches lighting the way and slithering all the way back to the ocean. It’s quite the sight and pumps you up as the journey just begins to unfold.
Checking out the course days before the start.
I could see the leaders just up the way and thought I was running a smart race. At 6:30am we went through the first check point, where the streets were lined with people cheering us on. All it took was one fist pump and the crowd exploded…what fun! Besides passing through the town, most of the first 20k were on black lava rock crushed into sand that never gave us a true footing. The steepness at points gave you the tricky decision of slip-hiking or slip-running. Either way, it worked your legs and lungs well and you knew you were racing.
Sunrise. Photo: Saul Santos Diaz
After an hour of this, Adam Campbell and I came to a short ridge section where the sunrise crept up from the mountains. Glowing reds lit up the sky as we looked across the ocean to the neighboring Tarifa Island away in the distance. We soaked in the beauty, talking a little bit, but then went back to breathing and another steep gritty climb adjacent to Volcanoes. It was awesome to enjoy some k’s with Adam as we pushed each other along meandering black pine forest etched with black volcanic rock until it reached the ocean. I continued onward prepared for the big decent down to El Pilar after 2200 meters of climbing. There were already so many unbelievable views and the day had just begun.
After you drop through El Pilar (26k) you are once again greeted with many more amazing people cheering you through! Being from the States it’s quite incredible to see so many people cheering you on the whole way. It would be cool to see people get into a healthy sport instead of sitting around drinking beer and eating junk food while watching some game on TV. The mountain scene is infectious and I hope to run many more races over the big pond.
Entering El Pilar. Photo: Jordi Saragosa
I hit the single track and was on my way to El Reventon (34k). Our trail for most of the race, the GR 131 kept creeping around which was sorta hard to follow. It kept crossing a dirt-jeep road, but I just figured I should stay on the trail. I eventually hit a dead end and retraced my steps. As I came back to the jeep road I ran into Francois D’haene. He informed me we were suppose to be running the dirt road, oops, you know me, I always like to throw in a little extra.
I only lost a little time and was quickly back to the grind. The dirt road continued up for the most part, but was not steep and not technical at all. It was much like a road named 2060 back in Ashland Oregon, fast dirt road with many pine trees and needles a foot. The only difference was the pine trees were much smaller and black and the views of the road dropped 300 meters down into ravines below. We had to run it fast, so I put my head down, jammed out to some tunes and clicked off the next section as fast as I could. Not fast enough, as the leaders still gained on me, about 7 minutes up (relayed to me by champion and good friend Anna Frost who showed me much of the Island in my 2-week stay and got me a fresh bottle of auga at El Reventon). I knew I needed to work hard up to Roque de Los Muchachos and see if I could gain some ground.
I eventually saw a few people ahead and pushed to reach them. All day I felt solid with my eating and drinking, steadily consuming to keep my energy where it needed to be. I had no stomach problems and enjoyed using a Justin’s nut butter in the morning and some VFuel gels (around 14) the rest of the day. The day kept heating up, but I never was too hot until the finish.
One of many lizards on the trail. Photo: Timothee Nalet
I caught Miguel and Patrick around Refugio Punta de Los Roques (40k) and ran with them a bit. We kept switching back and forth giving words of encouragement. I was trying hard to get past them, but anytime I pushed a little harder I couldn’t catch my breath and needed to hike a bit. The track was rocky in sections, but nothing too technical. The trail mostly led upwards, but would give you quick breaks of down or flat to allow a quick break and maybe a moment to pop a gel. I ran this last 42k section the week before and was happy to take in the beauty much more on that trip around. Huge drop offs, expansive views of the Island and incredible spires shooting out of the mountain rock making the ridges look like a kings crown. These spires were some of the first I’ve seen in person and probably one of my favorite parts of the mountains.
One of my favorite views of the rock formations below.
After struggling through those sections, I saw the blond lengthy stride of Cameron just a few switch-backs up. It was good to see him and this also meant I was catching up to the leaders, if just a little bit. I could tell Cameron was tired, but like always in a great mood and encouraging me along. More than a few times we past spectators which kept calling me Krupicka. I was too tired to correct them, but Cameron was graciously on it, yelling, “no, no, Timothy Olson!” Thanks Cam, maybe someday they will not think I’m Tony’s look-a-like. I even signed an autograph for Tony down at Puerto de Tazacorte days before the race despite explaining i’m not him (they wanted one anyway), funny stuff, I mean come on, I’m better looking 😉 but I’ll take it as a compliment, cuz Tony is such a bad-ass. Love you Tony.
The day was definitely heating up and water was a necessity not to be forgotten. Los Muchachos was always in sight, but this high altitude (2500m) technical section was both impossibly challenging and so amazingly fun. I’m a novice when it comes to technical running, but to me, technical running and scrabbling over rocks is about as good as trail/mountain running gets. I was loving it, struggling and thriving at the same time. The spectators were multiplying, miniature helicopters were in the air buzzing and catching the action for live TV updates. It was incredible and the atmosphere inspired me to keep pushing; my lungs burned, my body ached, but my mind and heart were strong and ready to pounce.
Photo: Ian Corless
Reaching Roque de Los Muchachos (57k), knowing very little Spanish, I didn’t really have any idea how close I was too the top 3. I figured it didn’t really matter how close I was, I was going to bomb down the track as fast as I possible could. I was feeling, not-bad; the last climb was punishing, but my mind was solid and my heart was willing to lay it all out. I was having the time of my life and so grateful to be enjoying the beauty and the day with my first taste of sky running. After you reach the top, you’re under the illusion that it’s all down hill from here which is not exactly the case. There are still a few tiny climbs that just down-right sock you in the gut, you gotta love it!
I had two goals as I plummeted down the last 20k kamikaze-style; don’t let up and don’t lose my front teeth. The time leading up to the race I did a lot of fast descending and learned how to dance with the trail. At first it was an awkward tango that was quite comical, but by the day of the race I felt sufficient enough and was even looking forward to it. I much prefer technical down hill than mindless trashing of the quads down a buff dirt path. Every step was the only one that mattered, you watched for the next rock, you bounced back-n-forth like a pinball machine as you gracefully fell off the mountain. If you don’t bend with the trail, it will destroy you; you need to lean into it and let each move be with purpose, picking the best line and confidently executing each step. I remained grounded focusing on each of my Injinji wrapped toes, yet flexible as I imagined myself as water flowing down stream, not using force, molding around the contours of the rocks. I by no means have this somewhat technical running figured out, but I really enjoy it and look forward to dialing it in.
Photo: Bichillo Runner
I felt like I was doing ok and maybe even gaining a wee bit, I could tell the legs were fatigued and starting to cramp every so slightly. I took a few salt-pills which helped a little, but the heat and pounding of the day was taking its toll. I rolled my bad-ankle once again, it hurt proper, but I wasn’t going to let it affect me. I knew where I was on the course, I knew I could make it down, embrace the pain and focus on each step. My mind felt sharp and my heart really wanted to go all out. Muscles, tendons and ligaments were screaming at me, but I was too – in the moment – to let some silly aches make this not one of the most enjoyable runs of my life. I felt alive and free.
The heat was blasting off the black lava rocks, the senses were high and my nose was drinking in every aspect of this race. I reached Torreta Forestal El Time (71k), legs cramping, I took another salt-pill, dumped water on my head and kept moving. I had ran this technical section mixed with a couple 100 meters of really steep road sections a handful of times. I knew what to expect, this didn’t mean I was excited for it, but I knew I was almost home. These next kilometers swept past a million plantano (banana) trees and wildflowers booming with colors and smells, whisking by your legs. Hopping from rock to rock, I had so many emotions going through me, feeling like a wild animal.
Near the final decent. Photo by Borja Guaje Villa.
I came crashing down the steep decent of off-kilter cobbled stone zig-zags that lead to Purto de Tazacorte. My legs relentlessly cramping, making me flinch yet with only one thought, to keep pushing hard. You could hear and see the people below, drums and screams echoing in the air. I made it down and got word from Frosty that I was around 7 to 8 minutes back, but should go catch him. She also told me Francois was only a minute back. It felt good to start going up again and being on stable pavement. Anna handed off a fresh water-bottle, dumped water on my head and I took off as fast as I possible could go. I felt like I was flying, but then I looked at the ground and saw it was not moving too fast below; I tried harder.
I came to the last 300m (1000ft) climb up cobbled stone switch-backs, people lined the streets yelling words of encouragement. I ran, I growled until I could no more; I hiked, I sipped some water, I ran more. I reached the last kilometer with a police escort. The next scene, I’ve only seen in videos; it was pandemonium. People lined the streets screaming, the music and people were deafening; I cramped once more, I thought I was going to have to hobble my way in. I took another salt-pill for good measure with less than a kilometer to go, I laughed at my comical display and eased into the finish. I took a deep breath and remembered to soak it all in. It wasn’t my best race, but I learned a lot and had the time of my life, I gave it my all and felt very satisfied with my day. I buzzed like a plane back-n-forth, high-five’n as many as I could. I was ecstatic to finish and finally rest my beaten legs. What a day!
Finish. Photo: Saul Santos Diaz
Two-weeks prior to this race, I didn’t think I was going to even race. I had hip and knee issues that kept my last month of training very minimal. Days before I arrived in La Palma I had a few acupuncture sessions and a massage that finally clarified the issue. Every day since landing on the magical-healing land of La Palma my issues kept resolving with the aid of self massage, stretching and glute strengthening. I was amazed to even race let alone have a solid effort. My time in La Palma was very special to me, La Island es Bonita and I look forward to coming back and soaking in the magic once again next year. I could not have had a better journey and am so grateful for the opportunity to run on this Island, explore so much of it, meet so many amazing people and form friendships with ones that are very dear to my heart.
I can’t explain how much I missed Krista and Tristan back home and It felt so good to hold them in my arms when I returned. This journey was very good for my heart, filling me with emotions as I said good-bye. I’ll stop trying to describe feelings that can’t be explained, but the Island and the people of La Palma have forever touched my heart. Thank you, muchas gracias!
Enjoying a sunset on La Palma. Photo: Timothee Nalet
I recovered smoothly thanks to a balanced whole-food diet, some Emily perfected Spanish tortilla and herbal supplements from Natura Health products. I cant believe how well i’m feeling and ready for my next journey at Western States.
Necessities for my race.
The North Face better than naked shorts and tank-top
Injinji 2.0 light-weight mini-crew socks and buff
Natura Health Products
-Beyond Essential Whey protein drink
Recent interview before and after Transvulcania