The Ehunmilak: A Cultural Crushing
Running the Basque Country's 100
With 36,000 feet of ascent, a new ultra trail race in northern Spain’s Basque Country ...
Photos courtesy of Foto Alzuri/The Ehunmilak Ultratrail
With 36,000 feet of ascent, a new ultra trail race in northern Spain’s Basque Country—the Ehunmilak (pronounced Ee-oon-mee-yak, Basque for “100 Mile”)—demands more climbing than Colorado's Hardrock 100, one of the most challenging mountain 100-milers in the world. And, according to runners who have completed both the Ehunmilak and France’s grueling Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB), the Ehunmilak is tougher.
Like UTMB, the race starts at 6 p.m., forcing runners to head into darkness. However, what makes the Ehunmilak so difficult is that its climbs and descents have virtually no quad-saving switchbacks. Instead, they are exhausting—straight up and down, sometimes off trail. In both the 2010 inaugural event and the 2011 race, more than 50 percent of the field dropped, including me during the latter. Last year’s winners and new course-record holders Javi Dominguez of the Basque city Vitoria, and Nerea Martinez of Pamplona, Spain, crossed the line in 24:49 and 28:00 respectively.
A Unique People of Mysterious Origin
Generally, Basques prefer to be identified autonomously, separate from Spain, under their own flag and in their own ancient tongue, euskara. They are thought to have Celtic roots, but their origin remains a mystery, and euskara (a language of mostly k’s, x’s and z’s), has no known ties to Indo-European languages (you will get by with Spanish).
The Basques are a hard-working, sophisticated, vital people, and they love to compete, be it cycling, handball, jai-alai (which they invented), whaleboat rowing, scything, cart-lifting, soccer in an arena with a bull (for real) or ultrarunning.