Yitka Winn September 20, 2013 TWEET COMMENTS 0

Venga! Venga! - Page 3

The day before the race, my colleagues Gina Lucrezi, Chris Hunter and I took a taxi from our hotel into the town of Los Llanos for the race expo. A friendly Brit named Anthony hopped in with us, and together the four of us braved the harrowing rally-car ride to town, the driver taking hairpin turns at tire-screeching speed along the steep, island cliffs.

Chris, a freelance photographer whose other job involved skydiving 
in Hawaii and BASE jumping in Utah, had come to photograph the race.
 Gina, Trail Runner’s Advertising Manager and one of those speedy, toned runners who seem to operate solely
 on fast-twitch muscle fibers, planned to run the concurrent, 26-kilometer “mediamarathon,” or “half-marathon.”

After we picked up our race bibs and timing chips at the expo, we found a shady outdoor terrace to enjoy coffee, croissants and browse the runners’ guide—a thin book with all the entrants’ names listed alphabetically, alongside their occupations. The elites, exempt from the alphabetical structure and listed upfront, nearly all had “Runner” in the Occupation column.

“I’m listed as a ‘Vacante,’” I said. “What’s that mean?”

“Writer, maybe?” Gina said, shrugging. Flipping through her book, she added, “Hey, I’m a Vacante, too.”

Maybe it means journalist?” I said. “Or something to do with magazines?”

“I think maybe it just means you left that question ‘vacant’ on your entry form," Anthony suggested tenderly.

“Ah, of course,” I said, “The alternate definition of Vacante; incapable of filling out an entry form properly.”

The starting line scene reminded me 
of every marathon I’d run, back in 
my road-running days—thousands of athletes milling around in the pre-dawn air, running warm-up strides and doing jumping jacks. There were giant inflatable arches, a booming sound system, teams posing for photos in matching, custom-made T-shirts and a clock counting down to the 6 a.m. race start.

In many ways, my experience at Transvulcania would be completely removed from that of the other Americans there, since nearly all of them were 
elite athletes. I’d be suffering on the course well into the late-afternoon heat, while they’d knock out a finish and be sipping Mai Tais on the beach by 3 p.m. Furthermore, of the 1600-plus runners signed up for the full ultra, only 15 were from the U.S. And of those, only three were female—including me.

So, not only was I a little fish in a big pond, I was a slow-moving, Spanish-illiterate, testosterone-less little fish. Accustomed to running homegrown races put on by friends back home, I had a feeling Transvulcania would be a rather lonely race for me.

When suddenly the speakers erupted with AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” for the first time since I’d landed in Spain, I was immersed in English—the crowd of jittery runners around me singing,

“I looked ’round, and there was no turning back…”

After the gun went off and we mid-packers began our slow trot, I heard a voice behind me: “Hey, USA girl!” I looked over my shoulder, my headlamp beam swinging with me. The voice belonged to an Italian, a wisp of a man who looked 
in his early 50s, whom I’d met in the Madrid airport as we awaited our flight to La Palma. He’d been wearing a finishers’ jacket from the Tor des Géants, a rigorous 330-kilometer trail race through Italy’s Alps; I’d been sporting a pair of well-worn inov-8 shoes. It hadn’t taken us long to nod knowingly at one another and begin chatting about Transvulcania in our respective languages, gesturing with our hands when words failed.


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