|The trail to Everest Base Camp at the only ever running of the multi-day Land of the Yeti Duathlon, 2009|
Tomorrow I head off for the Canary Islands for the super-stacked Transvulcania 83k with around 15,000ft of climbing in a double marathon. It starts off a month of travel back to Europe for the Skyrunning Federation conference and two of their races (the other is the Zegama Marathon in the Spanish Pyrenees), plus the Northants Ultra by where I grew up and a quick trip to Chamonix for some training. Bryon Powell from irunfar will be covering both Skyrunning races live and has noted yet another long list of fast runners will be there - see his article here.
Both these mountain races are extremely tough by my standards in terms of the amount of climbing so they're mainly a new and harder challenge for me and a chance to see some new places and faces. One of the things I most love about ultras is that they provide an excuse to see incredible locations around the world and I've tried to use races to see more of the planet, having raced in over 30 countries currently (I have zero chance of ever completing my wish list as I won't live long enough to fit it all in - I'd need a millennium). New cultures and friends really add spice to life, although returning home can sometimes be depressing...although that's not really the case now I'm in Oregon, which kind of feels like a permanent adventure.
Without events that take me to some of the best scenery I can imagine, I'd probably never have seen the middle of the Sahara, small alpine villages or a whole host of other fantastic places. I'm often amazed by the commitment and organizational ability of race directors to create courses in harsh environments and out of the way locations, so I'm very thankful for the great work so many of them do, often purely for love of running and not for profit.
Race travel has been a large part of my life since I started running in 2005 and I can't imagine doing without it (just ask my wife who complains that it'd be nice to have the occasional holiday that didn't include a race). But I also try to take advantage of local races too since travel can be a hassle. Given I'm not from the US, just being here and doing almost any event feels like it's exotic. So this year I've got plenty of trail races close to Bend, OR, as well as fantastic Oregon ultras like the Gorge Waterfalls 50k in March and the Waldo 100k in August. I'm even counting Western States 100 as kind of local since it's at least in the same time zone (that's close for Americans, but not for my British sense of distance).
The one big downside to all this travel, excluding the cost, is adjusting to time zones. My wake up call for Transvulcania will be around 3am local time...or 7pm for my West Coast-adjusted body. After a couple of days of flying then just two days to adjust to this, I'll be a mess. I suspect the Americans may suffer a little from sleep deprivation at the race so don't be surprised if that gives an edge to the European athletes (plus many of them train on more similar terrain, which has a tiny benefit - although we have plenty of tough terrain to play on in the US).
So I hope to have a really enjoyable time meeting some of the most talented people in the sport and seeing places I'd probably never have visited otherwise. Is there any other sport that can offer this to the same degree and allow competitors to get into the least accessible, most beautiful areas? Or if you prefer you can race along a canal which seems to be popular back in the UK, offering such sights as dead homeless people, shopping trolleys (carts), toxic water and being attacked by killer geese.