Monday 13 May 2013

Transvulcania de La Palma Race Report - May 2013

This weekend I was lucky enough to head over to the beautiful island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, to take part in one of the top races in the world ultra calendar; Transvulcania. Last year, this was very possibly the biggest Ultramarathon in terms of media coverage, with the combined forces of iRunFar, Ultra168 and Talk Ultra to allow us to follow along from home. But this year, I would actually get to be there.

After a fantastic week away in the Peak District (just as a sort of acclimatisation to hills between Cambridgeshire and La Palma) with my wife and daughter, I left to meet up with Chris Baynham-Hughes, Martin Wilcock and Richard Webster to begin the rather convoluted journey to the "Isla Bonita". A very early 4am start, a taxi to the airport, a flight from Manchester to Tenerife, a hire car to the airport on the other side of the island, another flight to La Palma, and another hire car for use on the island itself, and we were there!

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Transvulcania Preview

Last year, a little race in the Canary Islands caught the attention of the entire ultra running community. Taking place on the stunning volcanic island of La Palma ("Isla Bonita", or "beautiful island"), Transvulcania offered both an inspiring backdrop and also an incredible field of the top runners from around the world. It was an amazing race to follow, with course records smashed by Anna Frost (8:11:30) and Dakota Jones (6:59:07).

And of course, everybody wanted a piece of it for 2013! So a small group of hardy individuals (I believe "idiots" is the colloquial term) signed up, including Martin Wilcock, Chris Baynham-Hughes, Richard Brown, and me. We head out on Friday to attempt the unbelievably complex task of making it to the island, before getting about an hours' sleep prior to the race start at 6 am on Saturday. Acclimatisation shmacclimatisation!

The race itself is 83.3 Km, with a rather frightening 8,525 m of elevation change (about 4,500 m of ascent). The course profile appears relatively simple - a very long very steep hill for the first 20 Km, a "relatively" flat section with a short but bloody steep hill in the middle, a similarly steep 15 Km descent, then a final hill in the last few Kms just to add a little sting in the tail. Simples.

This year, the list of starters is a veritable who's who of ultra running, with many of the top names from around the world confirmed. Ian Corless has a list of confirmed elites that make for an amazing field. This is certainly going to be one helluva race!

So where do I fit in? Frankly I have no idea. I figure if I can survive that first hill (not my greatest strength what with training in Cambridge) then I can put my foot down (then my other foot - ho ho ho) and push as hard as I can for the finish. This might work and I could get a good time (sub 10 hours maybe?), or it could fail miserably! Either way, I'm just going to have fun out there, being in those surroundings, and being a part of such an amazing event.

I will be flying the flag for Team X-Bionic as an "honorary member", having been sent a bunch of kit to try out by Simon Robinson (the UK rep). Seeing as I kept him waiting around for hours at the end of the Viking Way (where he came to see me finish) it only seemed fair! This will be my first real test of the kit, so full review afterwards. It's exciting to be part of a team like this, amongst stalwart runners like 2012 UK Ultra Runner Award winners Mimi Anderson (who has win more races than I have taken part in) and Terry Conway (holder of the rather astonishing Lakeland 100 course record, and just getting faster!), even if it is only temporary.

I haven't quite decided on the rest of my kit yet, but will probably use my Salomon Sense Mantras as my shoe of choice. For hydration I am still undecided between the trusty Salomon 5L vest (well tested but maybe a bit warm) or my UltrAspire Impulse belt (better for warmer conditions, but untested for racing). I probably won't make up my mind until we're about to leave for the start line!

I have set up my Twitter and Facebook accounts to update as I run, so you can see how far ahead of Kilian I am. If at any point it appears that he is hours ahead if me, rest assured that I am either biding my time to take him down at the end of the race (with flower at the ready...), or decided to do another lap and am close to lapping him.

Well a guy can dream...

Monday 6 May 2013

Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab Belt Set Review

Have I ever told you how much I love Salomon gear? The gear coming out of the S-Lab is a rather stunning example of function dictating design, as the formidable stable of Salomon athletes work closely with the designers to create exactly what they need. The first example of this was the Advanced Skin race vest originally designed for Kilian Jornet in the 2011 UTMB which revolutionised the way we think about running packs, but the innovations have since come thick and fast.

The latest potential game-changer are the new soft water bottles and associated hydration systems in the 2013 line. These include updated versions of the S Lab Advanced Skin race vests, a rather ingenious looking (if slightly whacky) set of glove-style handhelds (the Sense Hydro Set), and the new lightweight Salomon Advanced Skin S Lab Hydration Belt.

This last one caught my eye as a potential way to cut down on bulk in my racing, being an incredibly lightweight waist pack relying on soft bottles rather than bulky plastic ones. If I could fit everything I need for a supported 100 miler like the upcoming South Downs Way, this could potentially be the perfect pack for me.

Last year, Salomon gear was like gold dust - travelling to Chamonix for UTMB last year was amazing as every other store seemed to stock it! But now we are spoiled for choice, with several suppliers in the UK taking delivery of the latest range (including the Ultra Marathon Running Store, Centurion Running Store, and Castleberg Outdoors). I contacted Keith Godden at the UMRS who sent me one to try out.

Unfortunately - shock horror - I wasn't overly impressed. Believe me, I wanted to love this pack. But sadly it wasn't to be. Unfortunately the very thing that made it so appealing (the lightweight nature) was also its greatest failing. I only used the pack for a short amount of time, so haven't put nearly as many hours into it as I normally would for a review, but this was enough time to identify problems which made it unsuitable for my needs.

But let's do this in a systematic way: