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Transvulcania by UTMB returns with a quality international field

As summer turns to autumn in the northern hemisphere, all eyes in the UTMB World Series turn to the 12th edition of one of the world's most revered events, Transvulcania by UTMB, the penultimate event in Europe this year for the global circuit. Fans around the world can follow live at Set on the wild and raw mountains of La Palma - a rugged land of ocean winds, pine forests, volcanoes and spectacular vistas - this iconic event is set to draw nearly 3,000 runners from over 60 different nations, as it returns for the first time since 2019 due to Covid-19 and then the eruption of the volcano at Cumbre Vieja. From the 20-22 October, four distances - a 75km Ultramarathon, a 45km Marathon, a 28k, Half-Marathon and a 1.5km Vertical Challenge - will mark a return to the trails for this iconic event, which has been widely anticipated amongst the local and international trail running community.

Xavier Pocino, CEO of UTMB Iberia, is delighted to see the event back on track, something he described as a “real dream” and a tribute to the enthusiasm of the local people on La Palma for a race that will be supported by 500 volunteers and 180 health, security, emergency and fire-fighting professionals. “First there was the pandemic, which wiped out everything and then, as if that wasn't enough, a volcano woke up and destroyed everything in its path,” said Pocino. “But if there is one thing that neither Covid-19 nor the lava has been able to defeat it is the spirit of the people of La Palma.” The Ultramarathon is a unique challenge that runs along the backbone of the island. It starts from the Faro de Fuencaliente Lighthouse on the southern tip of La Palma and then follows the Walking Stick Route and the GR130 Coastal Path, to the finish at the Plaza de España in Los Llanos de Aridane in the centre of the island. Along the way the athletes will tackle two long, steady climbs gaining 4,735 meters, with everything from sand and rock under foot, to running through forests and then alpine conditions. At the finish all athletes will pick up three Running Stones which can be used to enter the UTMB World Series Finals lottery.

Among the field are some of the top elite runners in the UTMB Index, including Sweden's Petter Engdahl, who won this year's CCC at UTMB Mont-Blanc in a record-breaking time for the current course. Also taking part is the talented American ultra-distance runner Abby Hall, who was second at CCC last year and third this time round. Engdahl, 28 who lives at Trondheim in Norway, said he has now recovered from his exertions at the CCC in Chamonix and is looking forward to tackling a race he did in 2019 when he finished third. Now he would like to go two places higher to the top of the podium and, on current form, it will be tough to stop him.

“I definitely want to improve on my performance last time,” he said. “I learned a lot from my last race - mostly what not to do. I started out a bit too hard in the first half of the race and really had to pay for it in the last climb. But it was a great experience.” The Swede says the course on La Palma is very runnable but unlike any other ultra and almost like three-races-in-one. “You start with sand and then you get on top of the climb, at Las Deseadas, and you run through what is almost like a rain forest environment. And then you get into the really high alpine climate at Roque de los Muchachos, with cooler temperatures and some wind. Then it's all the way down, and that downhill is the one thing I am not looking forward to - it is so long.”

Another top male contender will be Philipp Ausserhofer, the 29-year-old Italian runner from the Tyrol who finished second at Val d'Aran by UTMB this year. “I have been to La Palma before this season, but this is my first time doing Transvulcania by UTMB,” said Ausserhofer. “I can't wait to get to the start line and be part of this legendary race. I have heard, read and seen so much about it - and most importantly, every ultra runner's eyes sparkle when they talk about this race - so I had to take the chance and be there.”

In the female division, Abby Hall is also returning to the racetrack after CCC, but at the end of a less hectic season than Engdhal and she can't wait to get going on a race she has been looking forward to taking part in for several years. “After CCC I thought that I wanted to do one more race this season and for me, Transvulcania by UTMB has always been on my list,” she said. Hall is never more dangerous than when climbing and she will be looking to push hard on the twin climbs of the Ultramarathon, something she has been training for back home in Arizona. “For me climbing is definitely my strength and I really like to go all-in on the climbs when I'm racing, so preparation-wise, I've spent some time in the Grand Canyon not far from home where we've got some nice long, rocky hot climbs,” she said. “It's always fun to race at the end of a season that's been good,” she added. “I really feel there is nothing to lose and I want to have fun and enjoy the race atmosphere and see what I've got left.”

Among the male entrants in the Ultramarathon is the experienced 34-year-old Egyptian runner Omar El-Sawy who is based in Cairo but has been competing in Europe this season, taking part in UTMB World Series races including Istria 100 by UTMB, Val d'Aran by UTMB and Nice Côte d'Azur by UTMB as he aims to collect as many Running Stones as possible to get to the UTMB World Series Finals in 2023. In Cairo El-Sawy trains in an area with small hills, but he works on simulated climbing runs to prepare himself for bigger elevations elsewhere. “I will rely more on my summer training in Europe which was very fruitful,” he said. “I ran a lot of technical trails and climbed a lot of mountains… so I will rely more on muscle memory for the big climbs as well as training on the course.” In the Marathon distance, athletes will climb 2,816 meters in a demanding race that shares part of the course with the ultra race. Among the contenders will be a host of Spanish runners, among them Yoel de Paz who has a strong record at shorter distances, and was third at the Transvulcania Half-Marathon in 2019. The women's division includes Moana Kehres of Germany, Mireia Pons of Spain and Ikram Rharsalla of Morocco who won the inaugural ETC at UTMB Mont-Blanc this year.

The renewal of the Transvulcania by UTMB is followed by Puerto Vallarta México by UTMB, with four races staged on 28th-30th October, and Ultra-Trail Australia by UTMB, with three race distances, on 28th-29th of October.

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