Kaytlyn shares her experience running the Transgrancanaria, which spans 128km & 7000m of gain across the island...
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What do you do when your whole race plan goes down the drain? When you've planned and prepped but suddenly, on race day, you’re looking at the cards dealt to you and you’ve got seemingly nothing to work with? At Transgrancanaria, I found myself in this situation just a few miles after leaving the fireworks and carnival-themed beach party at the start of the race. My head was congested, I couldn’t breathe, my headlamp was on the fritz, my pack was too heavy, and I knew essentially no one on the island. This was going to be an interesting day.
This past December, I learned that I got into Transgrancanaria through the Ultra Trail World Tour. I was so excited - this course has been on my bucket list for some time, and for good reason: it's an epic point to point route traversing the entire island, coast to coast. The route travels through pine needle-single track in beautiful forests, to punchy rock-filled descents covered in cactus, to dried rocky riverbeds. At 128km and 7500m of gain, I knew it’d be a challenging course and I excitedly spent the two months leading up to the race running as many vert-filled and technical trails as I could access in the winter.
The race starts at 11:00 PM, and the city of Las Palmas was just waking up. The vibe on the beach near the start area set the tone for how big of an event this is. House music, carnival dancers, fireworks, interviews, crowds of spectators - it's super exciting! The course starts with a quick run on the beach, then cuts inland and weaves through farmland, access roads, and dried riverbeds until getting onto some nice trail. I settled into an easy, groovy pace, headlamps lighting up the trail around me as we started climbing. That first climb was an indication of how my race might go.
I came to this race prepared for the uphills. I knew I could maintain a “comfortably uncomfortable” uphill pace that should have set me up for a competitive finishing time. But on that first climb, my congested lungs couldn’t keep up, my headlamp seemed unreasonably dim, and I was already regretting not bringing poles.
“No problem”, I tried to convince myself, “things will improve.” They usually do in a race this long. I kept moving forward, convinced that among the sea of headlamps on the hillside in front of me were at least a few other women. When I got into the first checkpoint at Arucas, I was surprised to learn that I was running in 2nd, almost 7 minutes behind Yao Miao. That’s also the point where I realized I had lost my voice. Not able to speak, I nodded and gave a thumbs up to thank volunteers, then set off.
As the climbing continued and the miles ticked off, I spent the next 10 miles frustrated and waiting for things to get better, but uncertain how the next 60 miles would go. Then, at the low point of my slump, I suddenly hit my head on an overhanging cactus. My hat and headlamp went flying into the hillside, and I started scrambling around looking for them in the dark. I began laughing at the ridiculousness of it all: my body rejecting my efforts, my frustration in my race so far, I miscalculated my gear, I had no voice, and now I'm getting attacked by a cactus. What's next? I realized that I had a choice. I either stick to my original race goals and continue to feel miserable and disappointed, or I could take a few steps back, evaluate the situation, and come up with a new plan. I decided on the latter.
I decided on a new race strategy: to keep a hiking pace uphill to the high point (roughly mile 50 at Roque Nublo), let go of anyone passing me on the climbs, and save my energy for the 25ish mile descent where I knew I’d have a better chance of making up time. I set off singing to myself with a new attitude. It’s amazing how much power your mind has even if your body feels awful.
Soon after that reset, last year’s winner Magda Laczak passed me on the climb up to Teror. I stayed in third place, weaving in and out of small towns on single track and rocky descents until the sun came up. Somewhere between Artenara and Tejeda I was ascending and saw my hotel roommate Fernanda Maciel in her bright pink skirt coming up behind me. We chatted and kept climbing, eventually passing Yao and then leapfrogging back and forth for the next few hours. The most exciting part of the race was at the high point of Roque Nublo, where Fernanda and I crested the climb together. We were greeted by a crowd of photographers and spectators, just as Magda passed us a few minutes ahead on the out and back. The crowd seemed to enjoy watching this tight women's race!
Within a few miles of Roque Nublo I finally reached the Garañòn checkpoint, where I grabbed my drop bag and restocked on food and sunscreen. The temperatures were rising, and the final third of the course wove in and out of canyons that seemed to trap the heat. I didn’t know how far ahead Magda was, suspected that Fernanda was close behind me, and figured that there were other women chasing close behind her. I focused on running my own race, pushing when I could, dialing it back when I needed, and focusing on the technical downhill running on the loose, rocky descents. As I approached Maspalomas near the finish line in second place, I reflected on how different my race could have been if I hadn’t hit reset. My lungs and body maybe weren't in the shape I needed them to be, come race day, but I adjusted my mindset and found a way to still keep moving as best as I could.
Looking back on Transgrancanaria, I’m proud of how I managed the unexpected aspects of my race and am absolutely stoked to get on the podium. I didn’t have many expectations going into this race, but I knew I wanted to use it as a testing ground to see how well I could race a more technical and mountainous course. I am happy that I got my full dose of experience, learned a lot, and had an overall amazing trip to the Canary Islands.
Photos by © Ian Corless
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kaytlyn Gerbin is a member of the La Sportiva Climbing Team.
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