Vajin Armstrong Transvulcania Race Report.

Vajin Armstrong took on the Transvulcania on May 10th and gives us the run down on what is one of the most hotly contested ultra running races anywhere.

A race is in many ways a microcosm of our human experience complete with itʼs highs and lows, successes and failures, victories and defeats. For me the experience of taking part in this years Transvulcania was a lesson in dealing with pressure, expectation and intense competition. This race was being talked about for weeks before hand due to the quality of the field and the depth of the competition.

There were the top runners from all the European countries along with a host of Americans, British and South American talents. This race has grown to the point now that if you are an Ultra Trail runner looking to make a name for yourself, this is the place to come and do it. The race itself starts at the southern most point on the island of La Palma and from there proceeds to climb steadily for the first 20km on black volcanic sand topping out at over 2000m. The first real crew access point is El Pillar at km 24, from where you head out along a dirt road on a ridge top which joins the southern Volcanoes with the amazing Caldera de Taburiente National Park. This is the spectacular remnants of a massive volcano and during the next section of the race you traverse the rim of this giant volcanic crater, gradually climbing to the high point of the race at Roque De Los Muchachos at 2426m. This is at 50km into the race and by this point you have climbed over 4000m and descended close to 2000m. From here you have the defining section of the race, a 2400m descent over 18km down to the Port of Tazacorte. The final section is only 5km long but is tough, it heads up a rocky ravine and climbs 340m in the heat of the day up to the finish at Los Llanos.

Vajin getting it done. Photo: Tony Perez

Vajin getting it done. Photo: Tony Perez

The race started hard and fast with the first 400m being a blur of arms and legs as people jostled for position before we reached the start of the single track. My plan was to not get sucked into the hot early pace, to run my own race and to move through the field as the race progressed. I felt this was the best way for me to place as highly as possible, if you want to win a race like this you need to stay in contact with the leaders, however there is always plenty of attrition and if you run smart you can often move up as other runners begin to falter. I felt that a Top 10 position would be a great result and that was my goal going into the race. Hitting the single track I was as far back as 30th and had to keep my wits about me to start moving up once some of the fast starters began to slow.

The first town we reached was Los Concajoes after 7km, with crowds lining the streets for several kilometers, all at 6.30am in the morning (you have got to love this Island). After all the excitement of the first hour of the race it was now time to settle into the race and start moving through the field. The climbing is all runnable in the first half but the soft volcanic sand makes things harder than usual. I find if I concentrate on lifting my feet, rather than pushing off, I would tend to stay on top of the sand and there would be less slipping backwards. As we headed up we were treated to an amazing sunrise above the clouds and with daylight came the opportunity to see where I was in relation to the other runners. Due to the volcanic nature of this part of the course the forest is very open which allows you to see a long way ahead (and behind). I could see a long line of runners ahead, spread out in 50-100m intervals, so I began to focus on picking people off one by one.

Around 20km I saw a bright green singlet ahead, which could only belong to one man, Timothy Olson. For me to be catching him at this point of the race meant one of two things, either I was having a great day or he was having a less than ideal one. We started working together and formed a small group which included Timothy, Phillip Reiter, Stefan Hugenschmidt and myself. We were all running pretty strongly and would end up working together and running in close order for the next 20-30km. We were running at a good pace and whoever was feeling best at that point in time would tend to take the lead to push the pace along. We were regularly passing runners that had perhaps gone out too aggressively and by the time we reached the Caldera I was inside the top 10 and feeling excited about what the day may hold.

We come to races with our own dreams, goals and aspirations but the day and the event often have other ideas. At the end of the day it is our experience of the race that gives it itʼs value. The objective reality may say we achieved or missed our goal, but our own personal experience may be completely different. As the race played itself out I found my lack of recent specific mountain training began to become evident and my legs became heavy and less responsive. At the high point of the course, Roque De Los Muchachos, I was still in 10th position but was definitely beginning to slow. In most races at this point most runners are starting to have some problems, and in most races I have done I would still be confident of holding my position to the finish. But this is not most races, this is Transvulcania, and here there are so many good runners that as soon as you start to slow you will quickly find two or three runners ready to take your place.

Vajin post race with 2x WS100 winner Timothy Olson

Vajin post race with 2x WS100 winner Timothy Olson

On the way down to Tazacorte two of the better descenders in the field came storming past and I had to simply let them go. Quarter of the way down I was passed by Phillip Reiter who was moving faster than me, but only just. I hung onto him for as long as I could and in the end was only a minute behind him when we reached the base of the descent. The last section was really always going to be about survival as it was now pushing 30C in the sun, I managed to close the gap slightly to Reiter and finished in 7.49.42 for 13th place. You wouldnʼt have know I was finishing 13th by the amazing reception I received, you are cheered the entire final 2km into the finish by hundreds of passionate locals. I have never given so many High 5ʼs to so many cheering children, good times.

Looking back on the race I am happy and proud that I ran as hard as I could and really left everything out on the course. I enjoyed the experience especially being able to spend time running with friends and people I admire and respect. The course is magnificent and is a true test of a trail runners ability. I would love to come back to try and get the result I feel I am capable of, but for now that is in the hands of the universe. For me the experience is the most important thing, the testing of ones limits and capacities and the learning that comes with that. This race tested me on all levels and and I am happy to walk away feeling that I passed, if only just, and that I have learnt and grown as an athlete and person.

As always Big thanks to all my sponsors and supporters and of course my wife and supercrew Prasasta, La Sportiva (the Bushido is the business and will be available in NZ later this year) Ultimate Direction (super functional packs from a forward thinking company), MACPAC (Christchurchs finest), VFuel Endurance gels, the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team (inspirational) and the wonderful Lotus-Heart in Christchurch (all things nutritional).

Kiwi Anna Frost won the womans race- check out her race report HERE

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