Americans Run Strong at Transvulcania

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Americans had a strong showing at Spain’s Transvulcania Ultramarathon in late May. Tim Freriks, 26, of Flagstaff, Arizona took first overall, while Hillary Allen, 28, of Boulder, Colorado took third female.

Freriks is new to the sport of trail ultrarunning, having just completed his first few races last year. His entry to Transvulcania was entirely last-minute (he registered just a week and a half before the race).

“I didn’t expect to win,” he says. “But that was the goal. I couldn’t tell anybody prior to the race, as I was an unknown from the U.S. and my latest result was an epic 7th place blow up at the Black Canyon 100K. But … my friends believed that I could do it, and deep within, I knew that I could too.”

Allen, on the other hand, has been on the scene since 2014, and came to Transvulcania to improve upon her fifth-place finish from the year before. But, like Freriks, she came in with measured expectations. “I didn’t target [Transvulcania] as an ‘A’ race,” she says. “And I hadn’t raced since September.”

Tim Freriks, the Coconino Cowboy

Like many young trail stars, Tim Freriks came to trail running by way of the track. After graduating from college in 2013, “I started doing big runs in the Grand Canyon as an escape from the 40-hour-work-week grind, and ended up in decent shape,” he says. “I entered the [2016] Lake Sonoma 50 miler to see where I stood amongst the trail crowd.” He finished second, behind his old high school teammate and friend Jim Walmsley.

Freriks and Walmsley had stayed in touch through college, and reconnected when they both returned to Flagstaff after graduation. After going 1-2 at Lake Sonoma, the two began training together with more frequency.

“Jim has had a huge influence on my training and racing,” says Freriks. “By the time I got around to competing on the trails, Jim had been at it for a couple years and was able to show me the ropes.”

Shortly after Lake Sonoma, Freriks started a one-year nursing program. He still found time to race, and nearly earned a Western States Golden Ticket at the Black Canyon 100K, until severe cramping forced him to walk the last several miles.

Transvulcania, he says “was Jim’s idea. The race has a huge following, and is probably the world’s premier 50 miler, so he felt it would be a great place to really make a big breakthrough.”

Freriks and Hawks worked together for the first half of the race. Photo by Van Marty.

Fresh off that “epic bonk” at the Black Canyon 100K, Freriks doubted whether it was a good idea. But training had been going well, and he had been spending a lot of time on the steep terrain in the Grand Canyon, which translates well to the kind of terrain found on the Transvulcania course.

“We had a plane ticket before we knew if I was in the race,” Freriks says.

Freriks spent the first half of the race with former Speedgoat 50K champ and current Trans Zion Traverse FKT-holder Hayden Hawks, working together and running at a “comfortable” pace. However, midway though the race, Hawks began to bonk (he ultimately finished in 77th place in 9 hours 16 minutes 24 seconds). Freriks ran the last 35 kilometers by himself.

“When I came up the final climb and hit Los Llanos, I was in awe of the crowds that were lining the streets,” he says, of the finish. “I vividly remember thinking that I’d want to remember this forever and to soak it all in.”

Freriks is starting a job as a critical care nurse in July, but has no plans to stop racing. “I’ve competed well in the past while working a schedule similar to what I’ll be doing at the hospital,” he says. “Having career goals outside of running keeps me sharp mentally, and happier overall.”

As for upcoming races, Freriks plans to take it easy this summer—with the exception of pacing Walmsley at Western States. Next year, he’s looking at the North Face 50 miler, and hopes to make a bid for a Golden Ticket to Western States 2018.

Hillary Allen, from the tennis courts to the trails

Hillary Allen grew up playing tennis, but after graduating from college and starting a neuroscience PhD program, she turned to running as a more time-efficient form of exercise.

Allen celebrates at the finish line of the 2017 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. Photo by Martina Valmassoi.

Road marathons quickly gave way to trail 50Ks, and in 2014 she won the Big Horn 50 and set a course record at the Flagstaff Sky Race. “I was on track to get my PhD, and had gotten in all my publications—essentially, all the on-paper requirements,” she says. “But my boss wanted me to stay for two more years of lab time”

Already convinced that full-time academia wasn’t for her, Allen chose to leave the program and commit to trail running full time. “I decided not to be unhappy in the lab every day,” she says. “It worked out.”

Allen has not given up on science, though: she teaches chemistry, physics and anatomy and physiology at a local community college near Denver. As a result, she doesn’t race from September through April. “I enjoy the challenge from science, and the break it requires,” she says. “If I tried to race full time I would burn myself out. ”

Transvulcania was her first race in almost six months. “I just wanted to put myself in a deep field and see how I faired,” she says.

She started off conservatively, sitting in fourth place. The climbs in the race’s second half played to her strengths, and she managed to edge into third around halfway through the race and establish a one minute gap on forth place. Even as her lead grew, “I was running as if Ragna [Debats, fourth place finisher] was going to catch me,” she says. “It’s such a deep, competitive field. I mean, if you stop to pee, you’ll get passed by like five girls.”

She slowly built her lead over the next few climbs, and by the time she crossed the finish line, she had gapped Debat by seven minutes.

“Transvulcania is the first race I ever wanted to do, when I started trail running,” she says. “It was a dream just to be on the start line last year. To be on the podium was … I mean, is it really happening? I don’t know if I am more excited about my PR, or about landing on the podium. Actually, I was most excited about the champagne I got to pop [at the finish line].”

As for the rest of the summer, Allen plans on racing the Madeira 55K in Portugal, followed by Greece’s Mt. Olympus Marathon, the High Trail Vaniose in Val d’Isére, France and the Tromso Skyrace in Norway.

In August, she is considering an FKT attempt on California’s Sierra High Route—if the snow has melted enough to make it passable. “No woman has done it in FKT style,” she says of the roughly 200-mile route over the spine of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. “I’ve never done something of this length before, so I’m aiming for a week [the current unsupported record, by Leor Pantilat, is 4 days 16 hours 21 minutes].”


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