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The UTMB World Series heads to Spain for a European favorite: Val d’Aran. Taking place in the beautiful and mostly remote areas of the Pyrenees mountains along the borders of France and Andorra, runners will experience a lot of vert and panoramic views.
More than 3,700 runners participated in the 2022, making it one of the biggest races of the UTMB World Series. Now in its third year, Val d’Aran should have thousands more running the Spanish trails.
The event offers five distinct distances—163K, 110K, 55K, 30K, and 15K—that traverse the wild mountain ranges of northeast Spain while also exploring old mines, pristine lakes, and historic towns during this UTMB World Series event.
Who to Watch
There are a lot of big names taking on the 100-mile course in Spain. At the top of the watch list is Alyssa Clark of the U.S. The 30-year-old from Pacific Grove, California, has been on a tear in the last year, winning the Moab 240 in October, the HURT 100 in January, and the 100-miler at the Canyons Endurance Run in April. She’ll try to extend her winning streak against a big European field. This includes Bulgaria’s Mariya Nikolova, who took second at the Istria 100 in April, and the United Kingdom’s Fiona Pascall, who took third at the Ultra-Trail Snowdonia by UTMB 50K in May and third at the Arc of Attrition 50 Miler in January.
In the men’s race, Portugal’s Miguel Arsenio brings the strongest résumé. He took second at Transgrancanaria 128K in February and has two victories in 2023 at the Estrela Grande Trail 50K and MaXi-Race du lac d’Annecy 100K. Jostling at the front should be Ecuadorian Joaguin Lopez, who took second at the 144K TDS by UTMB in 2022 and sixth at Transgrancanaria in February, and American Erik Sorenson, who took sixth at the Black Canyons 100K in February and second at the Speedgoat 50K last July.
Beautiful scenery and elevation go head-to-head for the three biggest Spanish races: Torn dera Val d’Aran (VDA – 101.2 miles), Camins d’Hèr (CDH – 68.3 miles), and Peades d’Aigua (PDA – 34.1 miles).
For the main event, the 100-miler starts with two summits, each with 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) of elevation gain. Then the race heads to Les, where CDH starts and joins the same path that VDA follows. The entire route boasts massive elevation again to the tune of over 10,000 meters for the 100-miler. CDH is no different, and despite being over 30 miles shorter, it has two-thirds of the 100-miler’s elevation gain (over 6,400 meters or 20,997 feet). The same goes for PDA, which has over half of the elevation gain (3,300 meters or 10,836 feet) of CDH and also follows the same route as the 100-mile course.
There will be welcome distractions along the way. From Les, runners will be in wild mountains and old villages dispersed in the Aranese Mountains. The race will then shift to the area’s mining history, which included running through the mining tunnels in Liat and passing by the abandoned mines of Urets with panoramic views of Lac de Montoliu and a mountain chain of the Pyrenees. The races then finish on a circuit of lakes around Colomers and also climbing and descending some of the largest peaks of the race before finishing in Vielha.
There are also two other events during race weekend: Experiencia d’Aran (a 32K that runs a loop through the mountains around Vielha) and the Baqueira Beret (a 15K mountain race for ages 16 and up).
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Where to Stay
The best place for runners to stay is in the town of Vielha, which has many hotels and other accommodations surrounded by shops and sites. Not only is Vielha the capital of the Aran Valley, it is basically the headquarters for race weekend. All races cross the same finish line in town but only the VDA 163K and the EXP 32K start there as well.
The CDH 110K starts in the town of Les about 12 miles away and the PDA 55K starts in the town of Salardú about six miles away. Runners and their crews in these races are provided buses from Vielha to their respective start lines. There are also accommodations throughout the Aran Valley, race organizers say.
What to See
This region in Spain is filled with countless cultural and natural sites and traditions. During the summer, there are seemingly endless opportunities for hiking, mountain and road biking, rafting, and other forms of exploration.
- Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici – A national park in the Pyrenees mountain region packed with a variety of routes for all taste and abilities. Some take hours. Others take days like the Carros de Foc. The park has nearly 200 lakes. The name loosely translates to, “The winding streams and St. Maurice lake.”
- Ruta era Artiga de Lin & Uelhs deth Joeu – One of the essential places to visit in the Val d’Aran is the route to Uelths Deth Joèu or “the eyes of the devil,” according to race organizers. It is a beautiful waterfall that comes from the Aneto glacier after covering four kilometers underground.
- Aut deht Pish – One of the best-known waterfalls in Val d’Aran. It is one of the most easily accessible places in Val d’Aran by foot and by car.
- Circ de Colomers – A glacial head that has peaks with an altitude of more than 2,500m (or 8,202 feet) and more than fifty lakes. This place is a treat of nature.
- Montgarri from Pla de Beret – An ideal hiking spot through Val d’Aran. This is the source of the Noguera Pallaresa River as well as the Garona River and is where the famous Baqueira Beret skiing station is located.
- Climb to Moncorbison – The Moncorbison is a 2,172-meter peak from where we can admire the entire valley with its different towns and a beautiful panoramic view of the Pyrenees. The route starts at about 1,600 meters and runs in a constant ascent along with one of the slopes and is quite simple.