Watch out everyone, there is a new kid on the block and he wants everyone to know who he is. Welcome to the ISF Transvulcania la Palma Sky Ultra.
It took close to 40 hours to get to this small island off the West Saharan coast, and the last 48 hours has been filled with more pomp and ceremony for a race I think I have ever seen in my short career with Ultra168.
I don’t think I need to add to the pre race previews on the depth of the field that has gathered on this volcano. It is deep, whichever way you wish to look at it. All the major ultra running nations are here. World champions at the various distances that make up trail ultras and trail races in general and of course a glittering list of the poster children of the modern era of running. And all of this is added to by the major sporting brands all posturing for their time in the sun.
First a couple of observations and thoughts. The sport of trail ultras will never be the same again after this race, as the stacked field will forever dictate whether the competition was the best available on the day. This race has it all and that is the big issue future race directors will have to grapple with.
So lets get down to business, how has a race in only its 4th year been able to mobilize athletes, media and crew from all around the world. It is a strategic approach set in motion to coincide with the ISF’s 20th anniversary. In addition, the tourism council for the islands has injected both finance but also a huge energy and will to bring people in. The brands are fully behind this initiative. And finally, the athletes themselves have unanimously agreed they need to be here.
I was lucky enough this morning to sit down with 5 of the “big names” on the US ultra running scene, Anton Kupricka, Joe Grant, Mike Wolfe, Dakota Jones, Geoff Roes. The conversation quickly turned to the future of the sport and whether Transvulcania was a tipping point. The general consensus was that in order to compete at the highest level, sticking to races in your own backyard would not be an option in the future. A truly versatile ultra runner will need to not only race over different distances, but also get used to timezone changes, major climatic differences and of course trail conditions and altitude.
In particular Dakota Jones was aware that the media attention this race was attracting (50 cameras, 5 film crews and a bunch of writers) would become the new norm. Anton remarked that to race the best we have to be comfortable travelling to the other side of the world and this would need to be part of your prep.
There was one interesting comment started by Mike Wolfe but echoes by the whole group, and that was the fact that somedays, they wished the racing scene more accurately reflected their training scene. A bunch of mates, a mountain to conquer and some fun along the way. Dakota mentioned that on a final training run yesterday, he took a brief detour from the arduous trails and jumped in the ocean for a swim, before continuing his run.
Talking of mountains, this leads us to the man himself. Kilian! – He has been his usual relaxed, engaging self. Always ready to greet you with a cheery Hola before enquiring about life Down Under and the continuing growth of the Australian trail scene that he watches with interest. A quick exchange of comments about the unique wear pattern on his old faithful Salomon Sense before we all headed off for a cruisy 10 km run around the banana plantations that seem to occupy the only flay parts of the island.
You mention Kilian and then you have to mention the mighty Salomon juggernaut we witnessed sweep all before it last year. Well, they are keen to take it up a notch this year and we were privy to the inner workings of their own team briefing and race prep. All I can report as cameras were banned is that they are one unified team with the continued focus on making their athletes run faster whilst having fun and sharing it with the community.
I have made mention before that they are like the F1 of trail running, with their advanced gear eventually making its way on the shelves of your local store. The gear they will be using for this rather unique race again will shape how we hydrate, light the trail and keep warm on the highest of peaks. With lightweight materials further pushing the boundaries are the ridiculous and unbelievable.
I think the most telling moment of the day, was watching the Americans look on with a touch of curiosity, envy, humour, trepidation and bemusement. As Anton commented, its just running, but not as we know it. Nikki Kimball wouldn’t mind the attention!
One final comment goes to Seb Chaigneau. Whilst he is well known amongst his fellow Europeans, he has gone out of his way to accommodate us all and make us all feel part of something special. To me, that captures beautifully the transformation of the sport from an access all areas 24/7 news cycle with the fact that we can all sit around a dinner table and in our broken French or Spanish just talk about running up mountains way past our bed time.
Tune in later today for coverage of the race and if you are keen on keeping up to date, go to our Twitter and FaceBook pages and we are collaborating with Bryon Powell of iRunFar, Ian Corless from Talk Ultra and James Hallett from Go Trail. The link can be found here Transvulcania Twitter Feed
Ultra168 is a guest of ISF and Transvulcania la Palma with all expenses paid