Out in the Atlantic Ocean, Gran Canaria sits amongst the Canary Islands. Just North of Morocco, the island boasts a phenomenal landscape, crisp rum and delicious food.
When standing on the beaches surrounded by crystalline water, you cannot ignore the mountains that nestle amongst one another across the middle of the island. From the shore, they are silhouetted giants, sleeping volcanos with roads that twist and turn around their summits.
Those tempted by races that require determination, strength and stamina will find their place here. In February, the Transgrancanaria took place for its 21st edition. The famed race sees thousands of expectant athletes take to the island for seven races.
The Transgrancanaria, part of the Spartan Trail World Championships, was conceived in 2002 and has since aimed to celebrate the beauty of the island and its people. It has attracted world-class athletes to the mountains for decades, hoping to experience their niche event.
The first event is one of their newest additions; the Vertical Kilometre El Gigante. While only 5.5km long, the race sees participants attempt 1,090m (3576ft) in ascent. This year was a Polish victory on the KV El Gigante, with Katarzyna Solinska and Bart Przedwojeski taking first places, respectively.
Solinska was a favourite to win after separating from the pack within the first few minutes, stopping the clock in an astounding 50 minutes and 32 seconds.
The mayoress of Agaete, María del Carmen Rosario, was present at the start of the race, where she thanked the organisers for keeping the promise that the Transgrancanaria returns to Agaete every year and runs through the unique landscapes of the municipality. “Agaete is sport and nature, and we hope that this race will continue every year, putting in our municipality its starting line of the Vertical Kilometre El Gigante”, she declared.
Solomon runner Bart Przedwojeski shined through during the Starter race, which took place the next day. On my way to the finish line in Tejeda, nestled deep within the mountains, I was blown away by the majesty of the landscape. The clouds crept around the summits, and the heat from the shoreline was replaced with blustery winds.
The Starter and Promo races took place the following day, following 24km from Tunte to Tejeda. Przedwojeski and Spain’s Álex García fought for victory, with the former only winning by one stride.
“I’m very happy to win in my debut in Gran Canaria and in Transgrancanaria, and I hope to come back next year for a longer distance,” said Przedwojewski, who had traversed 1800m (5905ft) of ascent.
Frenchwoman Noemie Vachon led most of the 24km race, closely followed by her teammate Rea Iseli. The former went off the course in the race’s final stretch, dropping her to third place on the podium, losing ten minutes.
The 12km Promo, with 725m (2378ft) of ascent, which took place on the same day and also ended in Tejeda, was also an exciting race with victories in the men’s and women’s categories going to the Italian Cecilia Basso, who also finished sixth overall, and the Frenchman Enzo Ratti, both from the Brooks Trail Runners team.
As the week pressed on, we came to the most exciting races of the event: the Marathon, Advanced and Classic Races. I was blessed to meet world-class athlete Courtney Dewaulter, who would be competing for first place in the 128km classic event.
First would come the Marathon, which saw my pale skin turn bright red after a rapid change in weather at the finish line. What a finish line it was. Spectators donned the streets, their cheers echoing around the Parque Sur.
Kenyan athlete Robert Pkemoio won the Transgrancanaria Marathon with a time of 3 hours, 25 minutes and 30 seconds on the finish line (03:25:30). He became the first-ever African athlete to win a Transgrancanaria race throughout its 21 years of history.
There was an undisputed victory for Nuria Gil in the women’s category. Gil reached the finish line in four hours and eight minutes (04:08:00), ten minutes ahead of second place.
Despite speaking little Spanish, I was welcomed wholeheartedly by the Press teams of the Transgrancanaria. Their knowledge of the event and kindness helped me experience some moments I will never forget. From hiking through mountains at four in the morning to eating Gran Canaria’s famed ‘wrinkly potatoes’.
I was excited for the Classic race, which began at midnight following the Marathon. The Classic 128km race saw participants follow a route that traversed the island’s length, starting in Las Palmas and finishing in Maspalomas.
The island has often been described as a ‘tiny continent’ due to how rapidly the weather changes. I experienced that as my sunburnt skin was replaced with layers of jumpers and jackets as the sun fell behind the horizon and the darkness blanketed the volcanic island.
Following the route, the press raced between eating stations that peppered the island. I was astounded as I watched the rehearsed dances of athletes and their crews drinking, changing batteries and taking on fuel.
Courtney Dewaulter, who won the UTMB overall in 2019, was a favourite to win from her first step over the start line and did not disappoint. It was an honour to see her race, catching her at many stops throughout the night and early morning.
The overall winner of the Transgrancanaria Classic was Andreu Simón, with a time of 13 hours, 39 minutes and 33 seconds. Simon led the race for a large part of the course to reach the Parque Sur finish line only five minutes ahead of Portuguese champion Miguel Arsénio (13:44:37), the second-placed runner. American Tyler Green took the third step of the podium (14:06:46).
Courtney’s finish was incredible to witness; despite having been awake for over 30 hours, I was positioned at the finish line, camera in hand, where she finished at 14:40:39. She looked like she’d just been for a morning hike. Her smile was infectious when she raised a drink with her husband.
It was an uncontested victory for the Salomon Team runner, who reached the finish line one hour and forty-five minutes ahead of Canadian Jazmine Lowther (16:26:41).
The 85km Advanced race began that final morning as the Classic runners reached their halfway mark. British runner George Foster won the Transgrancanaria Advanced. Foster clocked a time of 8 hours, 29 minutes and 14 seconds at the finish line, just over a quarter of an hour ahead of Austrian Alexander Hutter (08:45:15). Tom Joly, also from the United Kingdom (08:49:19), arrived in third place four minutes after Hutter.
If you are looking for a mountain challenge that is organised with the utmost professionalism and boasts a friendly and inviting atmosphere, the Transgrancanaria has it all. Beauty and excitement are what make this event one that people all over the world flock towards.
It was an honour to go and witness athletes battle for the finish line, and my deepest gratitude goes towards the Press of Transgrancanaria. Transgrancanaria 2024 takes place from the 21st to the 25th of February.