Travel is hectic. I seem to feel, think and say that a lot especially with my recent travels. Fortunately the experiences enjoyed while in these new locations are exciting, memorable and community building. My recent trip to La Palma Spain shone great examples of each. As we hopped across the continent and eventually over the great Atlantic, our group of running friends grew from three (Denver to Chicago), nine (Chicago to Madrid) and nearly half the plane (Madrid to La Palma). The long flights and layovers allowed time for catching up, chatter, photos and sharing with the world on social media.
I had been told prior to registering for this race that I was in for an experience of a lifetime. Thanks for fellow Patagonia teammate Luke Nelson and the race organization I was granted a spot and a bit of support to make the long journey to join in the 6th annual Transvulcania. With a promise of ridge line views of the surrounding Atlantic Ocean and a punishing altitude profile, the 45 mile course (originally thought to be 50 miles) engaged all of the senses. Upon crossing the finish line my Suunto T3 recorded over 13,000 ft of gain and over 12,000 ft of loss, but I didn't need my altimeter to tell me so, my body well understood.
The weary, jet-lagged group was split up upon arrival between two resorts. Luke, Ty, Jodee and I quickly jumped into the spanish language and maintained a view of the horizon as we snaked along the winding road for nearly an hour to the Princess Resort. The all inclusive affair surrounded by banana plantations was only six miles from our race start and secluded enough to encourage lots of downtime. Happy to shed the layer of travel clothes and change to running shoes and shorts, the sun on our shoulders and air off the ocean were the final welcome I needed.
The sleep that follows long travels, a run, shower and good meal is usually drawn out and heavy and for me full of crazy dreams. It was no wonder we startled to the phone ringing to tell us we needed to be in the lobby in 20 minutes for a ride to the news conference. The week jockeyed between complete relaxation resort style by the pool and shuttling back and forth to the host hotel an hour away for new conferences, race briefings and packet pick up. This stretch of road became our exposure to the island, a worn path in our minds and an opportunity to practice Spanish with our drivers.
Alarm. Lights. Excitement! The energy that oozed off of Jodee race morning was contagious. With motivation to slurp coffee and down a few calories before our shuttle arrived we excitedly buzzed around the room, dressed quickly, finished braids and secured bib numbers.
The winds shook the van as we sat parked staring down the start line. Over 2000 people in shorts and flashing lights piled behind the race start corral illuminating the shoreline and likely startling any local sea life. We emerged from the van about 20 minutes before the start to empty bladders and join the field. We were positioned in front and "manos arriba" we cheered in unison in the final countdown.
In an instant we went from shoulder-to-shoulder stand still to a massive rapid forward force. Elbows and hands reached out for balance, all sorts of body parts bounced off of each other, the blur of lights and legs sprinted off the line, up the incline, around the lighthouse and scrambled to the narrowing path leading up the climb. At about the lighthouse I realized I was holding my breath (something I used to do in high school track running the 800m into the first turn) and let out a big sigh. My inner voice repeated "Todo esta bien." With the chaos around me the words helped me relax, breathe and deal with the flying elbows and close quarters with my fellow runners. The climb was a steady grade and I was happy to feel my legs turning over confidently when trail space allowed. Knowing that things would open up in a few kilometers I kept my mantra and marveled at the stream of white lights flowing like water up the hill behind me.
The obscured darkness did not afford me the opportunity to count ponytails. This did encourage me to run my own race, take in the terrain and fall in love with the island. The sun rose over a blanket of clouds. Only the top of Mount Teide on the neighboring island of Tenerife visible catching the rays and colors of the early sun and reflecting back beautiful alpine glow pinks, oranges and purples. It was all I could do not to stop. Instead I zig-zagged up the trail as I rubber-necked over my right shoulder much like someone would slow and weave when trying to drive past a car wreck or wild animal spotted in a national park. The climb and the beauty both took my breath away and gave me energy in the same instant. If this was all I saw for the rest of the day I felt the long travels were worth it.
Up. Up. Up we climbed above the clouds. Higher into the warming sun. Our goal the ridge line of the volcano, to bop along the northern lip and then scream down the western side, a nearly 8,000ft drop back to sea level. The miles flew by and the temps climbed in sync with our increasing altitude.
Upon reaching the top the race took an impressive change. Our ascent spread out over 25+ miles was now countered with a nearly 8,000ft drop in about 8 miles… maybe 10. Trying to explain that much altitude loss in such a short distance involves grand hand gestures and adding up local runs to help understand. "It's like descending Green Mountain twice! And maybe a bit steeper in parts" for those local to Boulder, Colorado. This descent and the heat that accompanied it were two aspects I had not prepped for and exasperated my share of grunts, groans and choice words to aid in my continued forward, downward motion. I felt as though "todo el mundo estaba pasandome." At the bottom, one is nearly to the meta (finish line) as it is only a few miles up to the finish. The climbing was a welcome change as far as my toe nails were concerned.
A final turn on to the main street through the town of Los Llanos and the volunteer told me "un kilometer mas." The road stretched out perfectly straight in front of me and reveled hundreds if not thousands of people lining the street to hi-five and cheer on the runners making their way through that toasty last kilometer. Happy to be in these final paces I enjoyed the interactions and stole as many hi-fives as I could reach for. Not too far from the archways marking the final meters a girl no more than eight years old took up stride next to me. I reached down and she grasped my hand to run a few strides together. My legs felt lighter, as if she'd wiped away the burly miles of the morning and we shared a smile before she let go and ran back to her parents.
A final bend in the road before crossing under the finish arch and receiving a finishers medal. I could only imagine the grandiose affair for those finishing top in the field as the welcome at the Transvulcania finish line is worthy of rockstar status. A handler made sure I moved through the awaiting amenities: beverages, snacks, gear check, chip return, finishers shirt, shower, massage and finally off to collect my finish line bag. A well thought out receiving area for all nearly 2000 finishers.
We wrapped up our final hours on the island by enjoying the finish line, awards ceremony and a late night ride back to the Princess Resort. A hearty breakfast and pool time the next morning capped off the trip before the long travels home began. We reassembled our crew in the La Palma airport and as the flights ticketed off we sent members on their respective routes. Coming together and easing apart, more stories, memories and community.
Flora 7 Sources in Krissy's Concoction and in Smoothies!