Getting your head in the right place!

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Getting your head in the right place is something that we all need to do. I am in La Palma, the home of Transvulcania Ultramarathon. It’s a place that I have been coming back to since 2012. It holds a special place for me, especially at this time of year.

The days are a little longer, the weather is perfect and the island is beautiful.

I’m writing a book called, Running Beyond which will be published late in 2016. In real terms it is a photography book with words. However, after a year on the road I realised the only way I was going to get the words written was by getting myself, or should I say my head in the right place.

The plan is to get back to some regular time on the trails and split my days 50/ 50.

I’ve been here since Friday, so only 4-days but I can already feel it working.

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The writing process is taking place and I seem to be slowly but surely making my way through the list of things I need to do. Plus Niandi and myself have had some time to relax, taking in sights at local towns and we have been on the trails; hiking, jogging and at times, running!

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On day 1 we went to Los Llanos, the finish of the Transvulcania race. Its a beautiful place of cobbled streets and pastel coloured buildings. In the late afternoon we went up and down the VK route from Tazacorte Port; always a favourite. We timed it just right as the sun was setting as we made the final descent.

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The following day, Sunday,  we visited a local market at Argual. It is a place I have visited many times before but the people and some of the sights are always interesting. We followed this with a run from El Pilar, taking in an out-and-back route through the Volcano route. It was a little cloudy and windy along the tops but it is always stunning. Back at our car we had the best Tuna Bocadillo ever; the simple things huh?

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Monday I did a 90-minute run alone. It was the end of a long day of writing and I needed an outlet and a release. Run? it was actually a hike up and a run down. Nothing special but it helps get my head in the right place. I even took a selfie!

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Last night, (this morning) – I walked the streets of Santa Cruz from 3am with Niandi and Divino San Francisco, a group of singers who move from house-to-house and sing traditional Christmas songs. My good friend Angel, is one of the singers and it was he who told me about this. For 9-days (not always at 3am I must add) in the lead up to Christmas they sing every night to represent the 9-months of pregnancy.

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It was something quite special! Quiet lonely streets with just string instruments and stunning voices to welcome in a new day. It was so special; it made me realise why I was here, to get my head in the right place.

Despite a night of no sleep, today I can feel the positive vibes from a stunning night. It’s a night that Niandi and myself won’t forget. Families opened their doors to us in the early hours, they welcomed a large group of musicians in and then proceeded to feed them and provide drinks, it made me realise what this time of year is about.

We all need to get our heads in the right place. Make sure you make it a priority to find your place, I guarantee 2016 will be better because of it.

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Transvulcania La Palma – A Guide

LA PALMA and the TRANSVULCANIA LA PALMA

Transvulcania Map

 

Mountains, volcanoes, beaches, forests, a tropical rainforest, tiny villages and breathtaking views. La Palma is the jewel in the ‘Canaries’ crown. Many consider it to be the most beautiful idyllic Canary Island, un-spoilt by tourism and ideal for rest, peace and quiet. It is a treasure for the walker, hiker or runner. Considering the islands size (50km x 25km) it has many surprisingly different areas of natural beauty. It has a perfect all year round climate, not too hot in the summer and pleasantly warm in the winter.

La Palma

La Palma lies 200km from the coast of Morocco and is approximately 3500km from the UK. Just north of the ‘Tropic of Cancer’. The island attracts many a stargazer and budding astronomer for the incredible display by the stars at night.

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Not dependent on tourism the island attracts a very different client to those you may find on Gran Canaria or Tenerife. You won’t find ‘English Pub’ or ‘English Food served here thank goodness. It is un-spoilt, traditional and a haven for those seeking a true Spanish feel. Natural beauty, dramatic vistas and 100’s of km’s of trails are available to explore via the marked ‘GR’ or ‘LP’ routes. Of course the famous GR route is the 131 that makes up the route for the Transvulcania La Palma… more on that later!

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How big is the island? Well, in a nutshell, not very big… at just 50km long and 25km wide. The population is only 86, 528 (dated 2008).

La Palma is dominated by the Caldera, the massive erosion crater often (incorrectly) thought of as a volcano, it has steep sloping sides both inside and out.

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The south-west part of the Caldera has collapsed and been eroded away leaving a ravine that runs deep right down to the sea at Tazacorte and the start point for the Transvulcania La Palma race.

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The southeast and north of the island has a coastline that drops steeply down to the sea making access to the coast very difficult. Many areas are only reachable by sea.

The central ridge (cumbre) makes up the central and southern parts that extend from the Caldera in the north to the southern point of the island and divides the island into two.

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Often called ‘La Isla Bonita’ it is a green island with many trees, including tree heather, the tall Canary Pine and cultivated citrus, avocado, chestnut, almond and banana trees at lower altitudes. Characterized by steep cliffs, volcanic rock, bays, black sand and cactus. Of course one thing you will see everywhere are many, many banana plantations.

A volcanic island, the last eruption was in 1971 at the Teneguía volcano.

The GR 131

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The GR 131 was created from the logical joining of two large mountain routes in La Palma: The Volcano Route and the route of The Crests of the Taburiente Crater.

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To make a logical route, the GR131 was extended at both ends to the sea. It is possible to start at sea level from the Fuencaliente lighthouse climb upward and upward to the Caldera Taburiente Crest. Run around the crest to Roque de Los Muchachos and then drop down and then descend to Tazacorte Port. In its origins, this path connected the localities furthest away from each other, as it climbed a radial path to the current GR131 and followed it to the radial downwards path to the destination. It has also been the main path for the herding of goats from the summit to the coast.

Route Description

In providing a route description of the GR131 I am looking at it from the eyes of a runner in relation to the Transvulcania La Palma. Please keep this mind if you are reading this from the perspective of a walker or hiker.

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Starting at the Fuencaliente Lighthouse at sea level the first section includes two key volcanoes, San Antonio and Teneguía. As mentioned previously, Teneguía last erupted in 1971. The first miles are tough going and most certainly on race day with some 1500+ runners a struggle. The path is often narrow with loose black sand or rocks. Patience will be required.

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From Los Canarios you enter the dense pine forests which offer a stark contrast to the opening miles. Underfoot terrain now mixes black lava sand, pine needles and rocks. Running is much easier than the opening miles and you will find an opportunity to stretch your legs.

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Climbing up the trees eventually start to subside and you emerge in the ‘Route of the Volcanoes’. This path crosses the southern ridge of the island, where most of the volcanoes are lined up (less than 200,000 years old). Among others, the following volcanoes can be seen from the path: Birigoyo Peak, Nambroque Peak, San Juan or Hoyo Negro Volcano (eruption in 1949), Duraznero Volcano, Las Deseadas, El Charco Mountain (active in 1712), Martín Volcano (eruption in 1646), Pelada Mountain, El Fuego Mountain and the Crater of Los Arreboles. It is an incredible route, sometimes very runnable, at other times hard work due to the increasing steepness of the path and loose deep lava sand.

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The final sections of the volcano route offer good fast running to El Pilar. In the Transvulcania La Palma this place offers an important marker. An important feed station and also the finish point for the shorter race provided by the race organizers.

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Leaving El Pilar, the race route (GR 131) heads north for the crest of La Cumbre Nueva using a forest trail that goes beyond the port of El Reventón (1350 m). Initially you will find this section providing some of the easiest running you will have had so far… the gradients are easier and underfoot one has less obstacles.

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Of course it soon comes to an end, the path climbs the successive and increasingly high peaks, running along the very edge of the Taburiente Crater.

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The Taburiente Crater rim is an incredible natural wonder offering technical running terrain, constant changes in elevation and some of the most incredible views you will ever see. Depending on the weather systems you will either have clear blue skies and the ability to look out into the distance for miles or a thick blanket like layer of cloud that will be below you literally making you feel they you are Skyrunning. Incredible. One thing that La Palma is famous for is the micro climate. You will almost certainly while running the race have several different types of weather, particularly if the cloud layer appears. You can be hot with the sun beating down on you and then a little chilly as you run through the cloud. It is what makes it so interesting.

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From the Rock of Los Muchachos (2436 m) the highest point of the course, the route drops down to the sea at the Port of Tazacorte. Beware! You may be thinking to yourself as you climb up and up for hours and hours that you have a wonderful long descent to the finish. You do but it is steep, technical and punishes your legs. Easy running sections are followed by tough, technical, rocky and gnarly terrain.

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Crossing a main road at El Time you then have a couple of very steep road sections before the final drop down the stunning (and technical) zig-zag path to Tazacorte Port.

No warm up, from Tazacorte you go up for 18k

No warm up, from Tazacorte you go up for 18k

The GR131 stops here but the Transvulcania La Plama organizers have a sting in the tail… the final miles take you back up to the town of Los Llanos De Aridane where a rapturous welcome awaits. Believe me, you will have earned it!

Training Information

The Transvulcania La Palma is an incredible race on a stunning course. At 83km’s it is a real challenge. Dakota Jones won the 2012 edition of the race in an incredible 6:59:07. Believe me that time is fast… very fast! Take a step back and in real terms look at adding a minimum of 3 hours to Dakota’s time and keep an eye on the cut-off times. Of course I am speaking in general terms here.

The terrain underfoot falls into one of these categories: black lava sand, rocky lava sand, hard rocky lava, pine forests, tough gnarly rocks and a very small section of road. The terrain eats the grip on your shoes and I therefore would recommend a trail shoe with cushioning and grip. For example; Salomon Speedcross, Salomon Slab Softground, Scott eRide Grip2, Sportiva Raptor or similar… you get the drift! You always have exceptions to rules and for example Kilian Jornet (3rd 2012) and Andy Symonds (2nd 2012) used the lightweight Salomon Sense for the 2012 race. In general terms though, the average runner will need grip and cushioning to the ease the harshness of the terrain.

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The ability to handle technical terrain while maintaining a good pace is essential. This will come extremely important on the flatter sections and the long descent from Roque de Los Muchachos. If you can’t make up time here than you are most definitely in for a long day out.

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From the start at the lighthouse and until you reach the highest point of the course at 2436m you are arguably always going up. It ultimately all comes down to economy of effort and having a strategy and or ability that will allow you to make the summit with enough left to get to the finish. What should you do?

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  • Run with a short stride looking ahead constantly
  • Practice walking fast, uphill with your hands on your knees
  • Incorporate some long day hikes on hilly terrain
  • Run/ hike on loose sand uphill for long periods of time (a quarry would be good)
  • Run on hard packed trail for your speedier/ faster workouts
  • Find some gnarly, rocky terrain and practice running on it. Build up a confidence to move over it as quickly as possible
  • Add some strength and core work to your training if this is a weak area for you

In many respects, the Transvulcania La Palma is like any other trail or mountain race but it does have a combination of elements that make this a very tough course. Respect it. Without doubt it is one of the most beautiful I have experienced.

Practical Information

La Palma is a small island. The race starts at the southern most tip and finishes almost half way up the island on the west. Therefore your hotel decision for the race may very well depend on many factors such as:

  • Are you with family?
  • Are you staying just for the race?
  • Do you plan to stay on?

If travelling with family you may very well be better basing yourself at Los Llanos de Aridane as this is a town with shops, cafes and other facilities or at Tazacorte Port.

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Tazacorte Port has a beach, restaurants and cafes. Of course this will mean as a participant you will need to arrange for transport and/or an overnight stop at the race start for the race day. Please note the race starts very early!

If travelling just for the race weekend I would seriously consider looking at the options provided by the race organization at www.transvulcania.com They will have accommodation and travel packages that will provide you with all that you need.

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If you plan to stay in La Palma after the race my recommendation would be to base yourself in or around Los Llanos and then use this as a start point from which you can then travel from.

Hire Car

A hire car is essential and they are very affordable. La Palma is serviced by all the main providers at the airport; Avis, Hertz and Europcar. Cicar is a local hire company available here. Book in advance for the best deal.

Flights

Flights to La Palma can be a little tricky. If in doubt, fly to Tenerife and then book one of the many connections that are available. Again, the race organizers are providing packages and practical information to facilitate this at www.transvulcania.com. Thomson have just started a direct flight from Manchester to La Palma.

Weather

La Palma boasts year round good weather. In May it will be hot but not excessive. Travel light and cool and always ensure that you have a warm layer and/or windproof just in case.

Los Llanos de Aridane

Los Llanos is the largest and busiest town on the west side of La Palma with a population of just over 20,000. There are many modern buildings. It has a traffic-free centre and the surrounding side streets still retain their old character. Plaza de Espana is the hub of the town and a good place to have a cup of coffee and watch the world go by.

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You can see images of Los Llanos here: https://iancorless.org/photography/los-llanos-la-palma/

Tazacorte

Tazacorte is situated on the west side of the island and claims to be the warmest place on the island. It is divided into 2 villages.

Puerto de Tazacorte is on the coast and has a long promenade, a fishing harbour, a black sand beach and an area with boulevard, bars and (fish) restaurants. Tazacorte pueblo (village) as about 1km above the coast and is the main center with the town hall, post office, shops and supermarket.

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Market day : https://iancorless.org/photography/la-palma-tazacorte-market-day/

Recce, blogs and Images

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In December 2012 I spent two weeks running, hiking, jogging, walking and crawling over the Transvulcania La Palma course. My blog posts are available on iancorless.org and my images are filed in a logical order, starting at the lighthouse at Fuencaliente, moving through the route of the volcanoes, El Pilar, Cumbre Vueva and then Tazacorte as days here:

Fuencalientehttps://iancorless.org/photography/la-palma-fuencaliente/

Route of the Volcanoeshttps://iancorless.org/photography/la-palma-the-route-of-the-volcanoes/

El Pilarhttps://iancorless.org/photography/la-palma-el-pilar/

Cumbre Nuevahttps://iancorless.org/photography/roque-de-los-muchachos-la-palma/

Tazacortehttps://iancorless.org/photography/la-palma-tazacorte-to-roque-de-los-muchachos/

Blog Posts:

 Conclusion

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La Palma has been a revelation. I have now had the opportunity to see the island and the Transvulcania la Palma from two perspectives. In May I followed the race as a journalist/ photographer and got to see one of the most competitive races of the year unfold before my eyes.

In December I returned for a holiday, to spend time on the trails in some warm winter sun.

The people, the places, the food, the hospitality and the multitude of trails make La Palma the most perfect location for the enthusiastic runner or hiker. I have focused this post on the GR131 and the Transvulcania La Palma but trails are everywhere. From my base in the Caldera de Taburiente just outside Los Llanos de Aridane I also discovered and explored so many other incredible trails such as this circular route:

December in La Palma offered great weather allowing me to escape the winter grey and gloom of the UK to run in shorts and T-shirts on some of the most incredible terrain with the most stunning views.

I should point out that I did only explore the southwest corner of the island. I have been told, repeatedly, by friends that the island has so much more to offer.

La Palma and its network of trail may very well become a regular slot in my calendar moving forward…

I would like to thank Lourdes Plasencia, Julio Carbera Rocha, Lauri Van Houten, Marino Giacometti, Transvulcania La Palma and Skyrunning for all the help and support.

Finally, many thanks to Niandi for making the trails so enjoyable.

Caldera de Taburiente – La Palma

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An easy day should surely be followed with a longer day right? Good! Niandi and myself did follow the ‘Los Llanos‘ experience with a wonderful 7 hours on the trails of the LP13 in the National Park of the Caldera de Taburiente. What a day!

I had read about the PRLP13 being a super hard hike (Here) and how we could take a Taxi to Los Brecitos…. nonsense! If you are going to do it, then do it! That’s all part of the fun.

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We started the trail at 0900 in the valley and had decided on an anti-clockwise direction going through the Barranco de las Angustias ravine which is all about boulder and rock hopping, crossing the river multiple times and some scrambling. It’s mostly slow going and if you are not technically proficient you do need to take care. (NOTE: If you plan to do this you must check that no heavy rain has happened in the previous 24/48 hours or more importantly that any is due for your own excursion. The water level rises very quickly).

Niandi is not the best at this really technical stuff but she embraced it, smiled and bounced from rock to rock when she could. Hats off to her… she very rarely says ‘I can’t’. She takes a breath and gets on with it; respect!

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As we have grown to accept with La Palma the terrain changes constantly. Running through the ravine we would then climb and drop back down. Sometime we could run, others we would scramble. I loved it. It would make a great race route but only for the proficient… moving over this terrain at any speed requires real skill.

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Finally arriving at the end of the ravine a dam was in front of us. The water here changed colour to incredible oranges from iron discolouration. We moved to the left and moved onwards and upwards finally joining incredible single track. We had gone from rocky ravines to pine forests.

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The Roque de Idafe like some huge rock finger pointing to the sky in front of us. We now started to climb up and up. Although this was running terrain the gradient means sometimes you jog, sometimes you hike, No worries. All part of the fun.

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Niandi loved this section of the LP13. It was beautiful and inspirational. The sune had now moved up high into the sky and warmed our backs. We finally arrived at our turning point at the end of the valley. Here is a Tourist information centre and campsite. From here you can go on several different routes. Some are out and backs, others circular routes.

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We had a picnic lunch and then followed the signs to Los Brecitos. We now had the opportunity to pretty much run and power hike this whole section. Narrow single track made soft and bouncy by fallen pine needles… a carpet like feel under our feet. Niandi smiled and bounced her way down the trail. Such a contrast to the way out down the ravine. It is what makes running here in La Palma so special.

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From Los Brecitos we had a small section of road and then we dropped back down the trail to our start point in the valley.

You don’t measure these runs via distance. It means nothing. To be honest we are not even running much of the time. It’s about time on feet and experiences and today was one of those days on the trail that you don’t forget.

You can see a selection of images HERE

In the evening we went and had Cerveza, Pizza and then sat outside at Cafe Eden being entertained by a local band playing Dire Straits, The Rolling Stones and so on… we both could get used to this!