Venga! Venga! - Page 5
Crowds greet runners at Refugio de El Pilar, the 26-kilometer mark in the ultra and mediamarathon finish line. Photo by Chris Hunter.
Connected to it was a brawny arm, which was connected to a grinning, dark-haired man. He held the pole to me as an offering, nodding at it and saying something in Spanish.
“No, no,” I smiled, shaking my head. “I’ll be fine.”
He was not easily deterred. He continued to hike next to me, holding the pole out, until finally I took it from him with a reluctant “gracias.” Satisfied, he nodded and charged ahead with his remaining pole.
The use of a pole was an instant boon, and my pace picked up. I was nervous about falling behind and being unable to return the pole to my new friend. Keeping him within eyesight became a game, the rewards of which were distraction and companionship—two welcome gifts during the otherwise grueling climb.
Then, mercifully, the course relaxed into a gentle, rolling downhill back into the trees. I again fell into step alongside my friend and offered him his pole back.
He waved it away and, wordlessly, pointed up at the next daunting climb. Winking, he surged forward again, and in the chaos of the next water station, we lost each other. Unsure who was ahead, I had no choice but to run on with the trekking pole of a perfect stranger.
As the day wore on and the steep climbing gave way to more forgiving ridgelines, the heat grew more intense. Shade was non-existent. I frequently pulled off the trail to lather on sunscreen, dump sand out of my shoes and drain blisters with the safety pins from my race bib.
At one aid station, the volunteer refilling my hydration reservoir asked an unintelligible, one-word question in Spanish. “Lo siento,” I said—sorry—“English?” He reached behind him, pulled out a giant bag of ice cubes, motioned toward my hydration pack and repeated his question.
“Si, si!” I exclaimed, eyes widening at the sight of ice. “Si, si, si!” My enthusiasm earned the chuckles of several of the Spanish runners around me.
Around seven hours in, I mused about how strange it was that, thanks to social media, most anyone in the world could already know who’d won the race—and yet I, present on La Palma, had no idea. It wouldn’t be until many hours later that I’d learn Kilian had taken the win in a new course record of 6:54, with Forsberg narrowly beating Picas for the women’s win in 8:13.
Perhaps no athlete better embodies Skyrunning and ISF’s vision than Kilian Jornet. Boasting six Skyrunning world titles and appearing no fewer than 40 times in the official 2013 Skyrunning magazine, as well as on countless billboards throughout La Palma Island, he literally has become a poster child for the sport.