Venga! Venga! - Page 4
Photo by Chris Hunter.
Here on the trail, he patted my back and flashed a toothy grin. In halting English, layered with his thick Italian accent, he said, “You do good work today.” I smiled and gave him a thumbs up.
My smile did not last. Within minutes, I was stuck in a slow, crowded hiking train on the singletrack; my toes had been trampled, my shoes filled with black sand and my shins scraped by swinging trekking pole tips. Even for someone who thrives on camaraderie, I felt a little nostalgic for the solitude on my home trails.
Eventually, the singletrack opened up onto a sandy, gravel road—wide and long enough to create some space between us all—before narrowing again into a pine forest. As the sun came up, I clicked off my headlamp, admiring the pale oranges and yellows billowing up behind the silhouettes of volcanoes on the neighboring islands.
When we hit the town of Los Canarios 7.4 kilometers in, hundreds of spectators lined the street, forming a deafening tunnel of cheering. “Venga, venga!” the crowd yelled, and then, “Animo, animo!” I didn’t know what any of it meant, except when they’d call out, “Chica, chica!”—the Spanish equivalent of “You go, girl!”
Meanwhile, the mediamarathon runners had been set loose on the course half an hour after us, and it wasn’t long before Gina came pushing by me on the climb—the first woman in the mediamarathon! I let out a whoop, cheering as she flew by.
Boasting a motto of “Less Cloud. More Sky,” the International Skyrunning Federation comprises 22 member countries, ranging from South Africa to Switzerland to Spain. Its annual Skyrunner World Series is split into three disciplines: Sky races (marathon distance or less) such as the United States’ venerable Pikes Peak marathon in Colorado, Ultra races (50 kilometers or more) such as Transvulcania, and Vertical races (one kilometer’s worth of vertical climb, typically three to four kilometers in actual distance) such as France’s Mont-Blanc Vertical Kilometer in Chamonix.
Contrary to the triumphant imagery so often associated with running races, the iconic Skyrunning photo is one of an athlete cliffside, hunched over his trekking poles, brows furrowed amidst a waterfall of sweat, mouth gaping open with exhaustion.
And, yet, enthusiasm for the sport continues to build. Whether it does so in spite of the requisite aching muscles and gasping lungs, or perhaps because of them, ISF is clearly onto something. Participation in the Skyrunner World Series has grown by 150 percent in the last year.
When we emerged onto the moon-crater-like expanse of the first caldera, the land fell sharply away on all sides, plummeting toward the ocean. Here, my legs began their protest. To help relieve some of the ache, I pushed down on my quads with every step. No sooner had I begun this dismal attempt to thwart fatigue than a trekking pole miraculously appeared under my nose.