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Well that didn’t quite go to plan...

by Robert Britton
Wednesday 14th May 2014

Race report:  Run247 columnist Robert Britton, member of the Great Britain 24hr Running Squad, Team Inov-8 and Team Centurion, has a tough day at the office at the Transvulcania Ultramarathon - La Palma, May 9-10, 2014

Photos © Ian Corless iancorless.com

Photos © Ian Corless iancorless.com

TransVulcania 2014 was my first taster of the European Sky Running Series and I was heading out with an ambitious aim, shared via articles on Run 247, SkyRunning.com, the inov8 blog and on Talk Ultra. Under eight hours was the aim and the chance to stick myself amongst some of the better runners in Europe.

My crew on the day of Mick Seymour and Rich Felton did a sterling job and I left them waiting, like a unwanted date, underneath the finishing arch. After nine hours had passed they were starting to wonder if I had fallen off, down part of the monstrous 18km downhill from Roque los Muchachos at 2400m, but the truth was I had just underestimated just how tough this race was.

Starting at the light house at Fuencaliente at the Southern most tip of the island, over 2000 runners were penned in alongside the sea, below a concrete ramp and what followed was the closest I imagine an ultra marathon will ever get to a bunch sprint along the Champ-Elysees. Lined up to next to a range of top competitors who all knew one thing, after the lighthouse the path quickly turns into a single track that will not fit 2000 people on it.

The countdown from 10 went and we were off, elbows and a few poles flying around and the adrenaline buzzing. I managed to nip through a gap as it opened and I felt like Mark Cavendish shooting forward, until we got to the volanic sand of the single track, when every step slides back just a little bit, but upwards we pushed. There were 2000 metres to climb and my inov-8 X-Talons 190s were making it as easy as they could for me, but something wasn’t right.

Being a hypocrite is easy. Spouting off about the best ways to train, to race and how to pick a race calendar that doesn’t tire you out is something that I do well. Lining up at the Wings for Life World Run start line last Sunday I had a 70-80 minute session allowed by my coach, which in my mind was stretched to 90 minutes. As an ambassador for this great cause I was determined to run, but be sensible, as TransVulcania was the next weekend. I had forgotten to bargain for what an idiot I am.

46km and over 3 hours of hilly running, walking and messing around and I still thought I had been sensible, as I hadn’t pushed too hard. Running a marathon the week before your first big race of the year is stupid. The strength that had built up in my legs through training and living on La Palma was not there, although I felt like I had recovered in time and my fitness was good - with a race like this you have to be 100% to have a good day.

Photo: Left © Fritz Stiefenhofer, right © Ian Campbell

Photos © Fritz Stiefenhofer

The race was beautiful, with a headwind for the first 21km that you had to appreciate because it was keeping you cool, and the crowds were amazing. Running through Los Christianos at 6.45am and the whole town was pumping music, cheering streets and flashing lights. Not a good day for a lie in!

Running the ridge itself around the caldera is an experience that anyone who competes will never forget, even if you can only take your eyes off of the technical trail for a few seconds to look around - it is an image that is burned onto the back of your retina and will stay with you for life.

You cannot help but be in two minds when talking about La Palma as you want to tell the world just how beautiful the island is, but you also want to keep it as your own little secret so it stays just the way it is. It’s one of my favourite places in the whole world, but please don’t visit, I want to keep it for myself.

The descent from 2400m to sea level at Tarzacote is a new ordeal in itself and to run this with fresh legs would be a big ask, but with a mind addled by 50km of running and legs trounced by basically walking/running/crawling up into the heavens, it was a miracle that I didn’t add to my already impressive array of facial scars. Even taking your eyes or thoughts off of the trail for a split second to show appreciation to the constant support in the remotest of spots meant stumbling forward.

Yet after this most destructive of downhill runs there is still one sting in the tail of this beast of a race. One British runner, Iain Bareham, sat down at the Tarzacote checkpoint believing it to be the end, only to be pointed upwards along a dry river bed towards Los Llanos. It felt a little bit at that point as if one had slighted the family of the organisers and they wanted to try to crush you at your lowest point, but, as Iain did, we all pushed on up, over boulders and rocks in the glaring sun for another vertical 400m.

Photo: Left © Fritz Stiefenhofer, right © Ian Campbell

Photos © Fritz Stiefenhofer

Every step was worth it though for the finish as it was as if the whole town had come out to see you in, with “solo uno kilometre, vamos, vamos” and high fives a plenty along the final roads into town. Foolishly one chap had bent over in front of me when he finished, probably in some profound moment of celebration, suffering and enlightenment, until I slapped his backside as I came across the line.

Job done and it was one tough day at the office. If all had gone to plan and I hadn’t got carried away at Silverstone the week before - I still don’t know if I would have run under eight hours on Saturday. Maybe, just maybe. No one that I have spoken to had an good day, this is a race that doesn’t allow anyone that luxury, except for Luis Alberto and Frosty, who still would have suffered like the rest of us.

After all the media hype (most of it self-pushed) and a tough Skyrunning debut, am I tempted to avoid these events? Hell no, in two weeks I will be in Zegama with inov-8, chasing people up mountains again, trying to figure out my limits.

As for TransVulcania, there is no way I won’t return and 2015 is looking likely. Another year’s experience, another year’s training and a few more months in La Palma for 2015, maybe with a couple of training camps put on to get some more people out on the trails on the steepest island on earth and my aim will be the same as this year.

2014 moves on though and the West Highland Way and UTMB are calling. Resting is key now and I will be hurling encouragement/abuse at anyone at the North Downs Way 50 this weekend from the bottom of Box Hill, la pequeña montaña.

Photo © Fritz Stiefenhofer

Photo © Fritz Stiefenhofer


About The Author

Robert Britton

Robbie is a 100 mile runner who is a member of the Great Britain 24hr Running Squad and Team Centurion and likes to run ridiculous distances as quickly as possible.

To provide enough food to feed a monster running habit, Robbie coaches other ultra marathon runners through www.robbiebritton.co.uk and is also a member of the coaching team at Centurion Running. He likes to dabble with a bit of writing so that others can learn from his mistakes and enjoy the sport as much as he does.

Robbie is also a is a Profeet ambassador.


"Pain is inevitable, suffering is just part of the fun"


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