Sunday, March 4, 2018


Transgrancanaria is really cool. The race crosses the island beach-to-summit-to-beach by a meandering route which dashes through unique sub-biomes and quaint Spanish towns. As far as destination races go, this one has got to be near the top -- I can’t think of a much better way to experience the island! So Abby and I scheduled a full 10-day getaway in order to take in all that Gran Canaria had to offer at a slower pace for a few days before we both took on the challenge.

Typical view on the island. In this case, looking up towards Roque Nublo from Artenara

Getting to Gran Canaria ended up being the first major obstacle. After our first flight, the next three flights would not allow us to check in until moments before and
then would not accept our boarding passes. We did, eventually after several stressful layovers (including wasting a sickening amount of money on an airport hotel) and renting a car, reach our quaint abode on the west coast of the island. Our bags joined us 36 hours later. We had wanted to run more before the race, but after days of travel which necessitated a few 10+ hour nights of sleep we opted not to push it. This may have actually saved us from the trap many Americans fall into when arriving at the massive playgrounds which host many European races.

Abby doing her best to not get overzealous in the days before the race. Our little home in El Risco is below!
The island of Gran Canaria is pretty amazing. From our rental on the west coast, we were clear from the more typical beachfront resorts you can find at any tropical locale. Instead, we found small agricultural communities nestled into valleys and mountainsides. To our surprise and the, Americans’ presence is a rarity. We spent our days mostly hopping in our little car and driving the winding roads to whatever view or lunch spot seemed fit for the day -- for the most part, we put the race out of our minds.

At an unbelievable cactus garden and cafe we stumbled upon in San Nicloas

Snacking on what seemed to be a local favorite (potatoes in red "mojo" sauce) in Teror

We have no problem being tourists walking the boardwalk in Agaete.

The race was at hand soon enough. On Thursday, we collected our bibs, submitted our drop bags, verified what aid station food was vegan (water only, it seemed) and confirmed that there was still no explicit list of required gear. The race is pretty big, there were about 4000 registered runners combined across the five categories ranging from 265km to 15km. Transgrancanaria is by far the most popular with 1200 (1100 men, 100 women) entered. Even more apparent from the get go was the sheer monopoly Salomon has on the trail running market -- especially in Europe -- but hey, they make some pretty nice stuff!

Friday morning we woke up to no power because I blew a fuse trying to charge my headlamp with a converter. We put our stuff together and ate our remaining food at home before beginning a motorized near-double circumnavigation of the island before the race even started! Abby and I ate dinner at La Hierba Luisa, a fantastic vegan restaurant we found the night before to cram in as many delicious calories as we could, money no object. We parked the car about a quarter mile from the eventual finish line in Maspolamos and got in line for a bus that would take us to Las Palmas. In the 60 seconds before we boarded the bus, it poured rain so the ride north was spent mostly trying to dry our clothes and sneak in one last nap. In Las Palmas, a host of nervous spandex clad runners swarmed the proximal cafes to force down some final calories and sip on espressos -- Abby and I being true Americans, opted for Americanos and a family sized bag of potato chips.

The 11PM start was truly all that European racing was hyped up to be: a live band, announcers lauding the top runners (Abby included, myself excluded) and “fans” (tourists which happened to be out, locals with nothing better to do and spouses tricked into crewing, I’m guessing) lining the streets. As the corral proceeded forth, I made sure to start slow; I let Abby pass me right away, she’s certainly the better pure runner of the two of us. The leaders’ pace was ruthless at high-five-minute miles, contently I putzed along until I could find some hiking ascents and out-of-control descents -- that’s why I was here anyways!

The herd departed the sandy beach after a couple miles and began to thin as it climbed an eroding and poorly paved road. Rolling dirt trails and small city streets put me in the first aid station soon enough. I topped off my fluids (soft flasks vastly over-saturated with tailwind so each water refill would offer a progressively lesser concentration) and snacked on a couple bananas as I left the aid. Abby entered the aid right as I left. The field thinned more as we made a net ascent to the quaint city of Teror on similar terrain as which led us to the first aid. I can’t remember much interesting on this stretch.

Abby and I in the bottom left corner
No starting gun, just fire works.
The herd progresses forth
At this point I found myself leap frogging with a man with fantastically strong looking hamstrings wearing Hokas -- let’s call him Ham-Hoka. The trail wound steeply uphill, narrowing to single track until it seemed we were on the edge of Tamabada. After a short section of road, the trail abruptly dropped. Sensing my opportunity I was able to cut a short corner (Euro racing, am I right?) and was ripping the descent exactly as stupidly reckless as I hoped I would. With my headlamp as bright as it could be, I barely maintained traction on the wet dirt and rocky steps. Some sections of the trail were in a tunnel formed by sagging foliage only a few feet tall. Cackling in delight I was able to gap the entire pod I was running with, besides Ham-Hoka. A ~20 minute ascent immediately followed the drop. Looking across the canyon, I could see a solid stream of headlamps pouring down the mountainside.
Typical trail (may have actually been on the course) on this section before the huge descent.
Ham-Hoka and I left the aid station at Presa de los Perez at the same time, I almost forgot to get some food for the road and had to double back for a handful of bananas and figs. We hiked steadily at the edge of the pace I thought I could hold. The climb went on for a long while, with my head down and hands on my knees. I really wished I had some poles -- my quads were going to pay for this sooner or later. The gradient eased and we jogged along rolling trails in the pine forest as the sky hinted at daylight. In Artenara I had to let Ham-Hoka go as I made use of the toilet facilities. Looking for food in the aid, an Englishman was already quite angry that there was no source of salt besides a colossal pan of paella. I choked down some more dry fruit (the taste of bananas now making me gag) along with a couple requisite cups of cola. Leaving the aid I couldn’t stomach much solid food so I filled my bottles with two-thirds cola and the rest with water. Calories are calories.

The sun rose as I focussed on maintaining a strong hike up to the ridge forming the uppermost caldera of the island. Finding myself next to a Scottish runner living in Chamonix, it was nice to speak in English for a bit. The sun was rising and a current of clouds were rumbling over the ridge opposite ours with the sun tickling the upper surface of the inversion into a pink mist. It was an incredible sight. We kept a steady pace until I had to pull into the trees for my usual morning business (bathroom breaks are a more than frequent occurrence both during and outside of running for me -- too much fiber, I suppose). Returning to the trail I suddenly found my mojo gone. I missed a turn and checking the route on my watch had to traverse cross country across a slight ridge and lost several minutes. It felt as if I hadn’t eaten enough over the past 7 hours; in retrospect,that’s probably exactly what was happening! I did my best to not let up on the descent to Tejeda.

Smiling heading down from the Roque
In Tejeda I found some potatoes in red sauce. They were far too decadent for an aid station, I thought, but I plowed through as many as I could since they tasted salty and I hadn’t had any of that in a long while. I held myself strictly to a run, hoping to rebound from the doldrums I was in. Three runners trailed close behind: two men running together and a lone woman. I made a pact with myself to not let them pass on the pending climb to Roque Nublo. I beared down and gritted my teeth, but at certain point could no longer justify the aerobic debt I was putting myself into. Offering their encouragement, all three passed me before I could waddle up to the island’s summit. I felt terrible, but all things considered was doing just fine. Knowing my drop bag was minutes away I did my best to not slog like a miserable and sullen weakling. If I’m going to suffer, I’m going to be damn proud of it and march to my demise with a smile on my face!

In Garanon, a barrage of marathon runners cascaded around me as I took my time to gather my drop bag, eat a bowl of pasta, re-load my gels and of course stiffen up my legs as much as I possibly could. Leaving the aid I tried emptying a packet of tailwind into my bottle but instead tore it open and coated my already damp hands and clothes with powder. A volunteer took pity on me and did it for me. Sensing a serious lowpoint if I didn’t turn things around soon, I forced my stiff legs back to a run. It was a near 6,000ft net downhill to the finish “I came here to push, so let’s go for it”, I thought. Endless technical cobblestone trails flew underneath me, doing my best to keep up with -- or at least stay out of the way of -- marathon runners. I had five gels to take me to the finish, they wouldn’t last the whole way but I could figure that out later. Keeping the sugar coming I inflicted all my legs could bear and moved through the Bartolome aid station with a water top-off and a couple cups of cola.

“Okay, two more climbs. Just keep running, don’t you dare think it’s okay to hike! It has to end eventually, right?”, I thought to myself. Well, I was hiking sooner than I had hoped. The climb was short and the following descent was a blast. Running in the women’s top ten, the competitiveness was tangible. Despite being far from the top ten myself, the atmosphere was contagious. We streamed into Ayagaures, the final real aid station and moved just as quickly out.
A lot of this.
The woman I had ran the majority of the previous ascent with shot off like a rocket. An impressive and highly decisive surge that the other women and myself couldn’t match. The final climb was larger than I thought. Eyes glazed uphill and gel- and cola-sticky hands pressed to my knees I marched on. I probably could see Maspalomas from the top, but I didn’t bother to get my hopes up quite yet. The horror stories about the end of the race were worse than true. After a short trail to the bottom of a canyon, the trail wound through a water polished boulder field drainage. “I can’t run this” I thought, and fell into a walk, “This feels just as bad but slower”.

And that’s about how it went. I resigned to let whomever pass me so long as I didn’t dare walk. Still, I would occasionally falter: a muscle would cramp, my foot would tweak or I would get down on myself and walk a couple steps. A water station greeted us at the end of the road, I quickly downed a cup and kept on. “Just don’t WALK!” I screamed at my legs. Onwards, the gravel road turned into an “urban drainage” -- essentially a cobblestone Los Angeles river. One last aid station offered a reprieve from the pain, the allure of a chair in the shade was overwhelming. Two cups of coke and I was out of there before I had the chance to look for an open seat.

I could taste the finish! Running alongside a marathon runner who appeared to be in a similarly damaged state, we pulled each other along; each demanded the other keep running whenever we even hinted at walking it again. Doing my best to hold the pace, I succumbed to letting my fellow runner with 50 fewer miles in his legs take the lead to the finish. Turning the corner I let the last of my efforts spill across the red carpet beneath the archway. Utterly exhausted, I sauntered out of the finish area. Apparently needing to be off my feet more than food and water, I plopped myself down in a patch of grass. Delighted, I cast my windbreaker over my face and fell asleep.
The highest resolution of my finish photo I could glean from the internet without paying.
After several hours consisting of:

1. Being unable to get back on my feet and not knowing how to ask for help in Spanish
2. Falling asleep in the rental car
3. Weighing the effort needed to get to food, water or a bathroom and whether I needed it
4. Propping myself up against a palm tree watching finishers

Abby darted around the corner, I could tell she was looking for me but stand up I could not. I made some sort of semi-audible chirp that resembled a cheer as I rolled around trying to get to my feet. We met outside the finish area. She had fallen around mile 14 and bore the beginnings of black eye to match her legs covered in dried blood and scabs. At 21 hours, she had just barely accomplished both of our real goals for the race: don’t get your headlamp out twice. There was too much to share, neither of us knew where to begin! The only thing we could settle on for sure, was that it was one of the greatest adventures of our lives.

Will we be back? Maybe.


  1. awesome adventure and great write up!

  2. That was nice work by both you. Euro races are no joke.