2012 Zegama-Aizkorri Marathon Preview

Zegama Aizkorri MarathonAnother weekend, another gathering of world-class athletes at a sweet international race venue!

This Sunday, May 20th, in the Basque Country of Spain, the Zegama-Aizkorri Maratoia, a Skyrunner World Series race, will pit fast guys and gals from the globe over against each other and the marathon distance in the Basque Mountains, an area of uplifted, tilted, rough limestone. In the 42.2-kilometer loop course, which starts and ends in the town of Zegama, runners will gain and lose more than 5,400 vertical meters of elevation. The route has four main high points, but it is fair to say that runners will be either gaining or losing elevation with every step. The race is also wildly popular in Basque Country, so runners will enjoy the cheering of thousands of spectators along the course.

Check out this video from The Lemur TV channel on YouTube to get a feel for what Zegama is all about:

If you’ve been following iRunFar’s coverage of the Transvulcania Ultramarathon here or on our Twitter feed, you’ll know that the International Skyrunning Federation organized a massive elite-runner presence there. The majority of those elite runners have now transferred to the starting line of Zegama for a second, shorter competition. In addition, a passel of other elites who didn’t compete at Transvulcania have also descended upon Zegama. On Sunday morning, all those men and women, some on legs that raced 50 miles a week ago and some with fresh-and-well-tapered bodies, will take to the hills. We know that tired legs will inevitably affect a few runners’ races, so we’re dividing our previews of the women’s and men’s fields into who is fresh and who isn’t.

Cash is doled out, too, like this:

  • 1st place female and male, €1200
  • 2nd place female and male, €600
  • 3rd place female and male, €300
  • 4th place female and male, €150
  • 5th place female and male, €100

The course records for Zegama are stout: 3:54:18 for the men (set in 2005 by Rob Jebb), and 4:38:19 for the women (set in 2009 by Emanuela Brizio). With the caliber of the field assembling this weekend, we can imagine one or both of these records going down.

We’ll be covering Zegama via our Twitter feed and, more important, with coordinated coverage with Ultra168.com and others via a Zegama Live Coverage page that will go live on Saturday with coverage starting Sunday morning local time.

Women’s Race

Running on Fresh Legs

  • [ADDED] Emanuela Brizio (Italy) – The International Skyrunning Federation (ISF) informed us over lunch that the women’s course record holder is supposed to run Zegama this year.
  • Oihana Kortazar (Salomon, Spain [Basque Country]) – Oihana is Zegama’s returning champion, and her finish was just four minutes off the record. She was also the 2011 champion of the Skyrunner World Series. The Basque Mountains are her training grounds.
  • Mireia Mirò (Salomon, Spain [Catalonia]) – Mireia is a young, standout trail runner and ski mountaineer (Sound familiar?). In 2011, she won every trail race she entered, including two of the Skyrunner World Series races. She’s a sub-ultramarathon-distance specialist and comfy on highly technical terrain. Update: Not running because of knee.
  • Émilie Forsberg (Salomon, Sweden [but living in Norway]) – Émilie recently placed second at the 3 Peaks Race in the UK.
  • Zhanna Vokueva (Salomon, Russia) – Zhanna placed 21st (and 90 minutes back of Oihana Kortazar) at Zegama last year. Zhanna has also shared that a few other quick Russians will be joining her in Zegama this year.
  • Nathalie White (Inov-8, Great Britain) – Natalie is best known for her fell running in the UK as well as her time spent on the Skyrunning race circuit.
  • Sarah Ridgeway (Inov-8, Great Britain) – Another fell runner, she recently finished third behind Émilie Forsberg at this year’s 3 Peaks Race.
  • Lauren Jeska (Arc’teryx, Great Britain) – Lauren is both a super-successful fell runner and a 2:48 marathoner.

Raced Last Weekend

  • Nikki Kimball (The North Face, United States) – Nikki raced to 3rd place an hour back of Anna Frost at Transvulcania. Among dozens of US victories, Nikki holds a fierce course record at the Bridger Ridge Run in Montana, which has similar terrain as Zegama.

Not Racing

Anna Frost and Maud Gobert will NOT be racing Zegama.

Men’s Race

Running on Fresh Legs

  • Max King (Montrail, United States) – Max is good at everything he does in running, but he’s a particularly awesome mountain runner. He was the 2011 World Mountain Running Champion. (Pre-Zegama video interview)
  • Tom Owens (Salomon, Great Britain) – Second and just 30 seconds behind winner Kilian Jornet last year at Zegama, Tom is a fell and mountain-running specialist.
  • [ADDED] Luis Hernando – The defending SkyRunning World Champion.
  • Nick Clark (Pearl Izumi, Great Britain [but living in the United States]) – 2011 was a great year for Nick, as he finished 3rd at the US’s Western States 100 and Hardrock 100.
  • Miguel Heras (Salomon, Spain) – Third and 5 minutes back of last year’s Zegama winner, Kilian Jornet, Heras is known for his mountain running abilities at various distances.
  • Michel Rabat (Salomon, France) – Michel was 6th last year at Zegama, and he won the 2011 Olympus Marathon in Greece.
  • [ADDED] Tofol Castañer (Salomon, Spain) – The ISF also informed us that the 2010 Skyrunning World Champ is racing.
  • Nicola Golinelli (Arc’teryx, Italy) – A mountain-running specialist with a shot for the top 5.
  • Dimitris Theodorakakos (Salomon, Greece)- Second last year at the Olympus Marathon behind Michel Rabat, Dimitris also ran a 2:19 marathon in 2011.
  • [ADDED] Oleg Chepelin (Scotland) – Young and wicked fast fell runner.

Raced Last Weekend

  • Dakota Jones (Montrail, United States) – Dakota just won and set a course record at Transvulcania. He’s had several years of great racing in mostly the US, but 2012 appears to be his international break-out year.
  • Kilian Jornet (Salomon, Spain [Catalonia]) – Kilian won Zegama last year (and 3 previous times, too). The running phenom, fresh off ski-mountaineering season with 6 total runs this year, placed 3rd at last weekend’s Transvulcania.
  • Francois d’Haene (Salomon, France) – Fourth and 24 minutes back from Jones last weekend at Transvulcania. UPDATE: Not running.
  • Ian Sharman (The North Face, Great Britain [but living in the United States]) – 16th at Transvulcania last weekend and a specialist of flat and fast courses.
  • Joe Grant (Arc’teryx, United States) – 12th at Transvulcania and a lover of mountain ultra-distance races.
  • Mike Wolfe (The North Face, United States) – 14th at Transvulcania last weekend, Mike won 2011 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championship and was second behind Kilian Jornet at the 2011 Western States 100.
  • [ADDED] Greg Vollet (Salomon, France) – Not a threat to win, but he did finish 7th at hte ISF’s Mt Kinabalu Climbathon last year and 5th at the Trail Du Ventoux 46 km in March. Given he just ran a 9.5 second 100 meters downhill, watch out for this former professional mountain biker on the downhill.

Not Racing

Marco De Gasperi, Rickey Gates, Geoff Roes, and Anton Krupicka are NOT racing Zegama.

Call for Comments

  • Can you help us learn a little more about the elite women’s and men’s fields? If you have info on any of these runners or others that we haven’t covered here, leave us a note in the comments section.
  • Did we get a fact wrong? Leave us a comment and let us know!
  • Are you racing at Zegama this weekend? If so, what’s on your mind in the last couple days before the race?
Meghan Hicks

is the Managing Editor of iRunFar and the author of 'Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running.' The converted road runner finished her first trail ultramarathon in 2006 and loves using running to visit the world's wildest places.

There are 29 comments

  1. David T

    Man, awesome field but got to say it is the three man race between Jornet, King and Heras. It will be a really tough race for Jornet with only 6 days running and having run a 50 mile race last weekend (not to mention fainting at the end). I pick Heras for the win and Jornet coming in 2nd or 3rd.

  2. Dan

    Assuming he stays on course this time, Max for the win. Also, in an ironic twist, Kilian comes back from the dead to fight Owens for second.

  3. Girona

    I think Kilian can pull it out. Weather in Pais Vasco it is much cooler than Canarias.

    I am 50-50 betwen Max and Jornet. Heras is a tremendous (and a true gentleman) but I think is more suited for longer distances against the other two.

    1. Bryon Powell

      It's cool and raining a hundred meters above Zegama at the moment and was raining at 500 meters an hour ago. Wouldn't be surprising if it was snowing at the pass right now. So much more enjoyable for running now than last Saturday on La Palma… at least for a mountain man. ;-)

  4. Russell

    I would love to see Kilian win! But Max's fresher legs might just put him over the top (oh my lord, that sounded like a cheesy pun riddled newspaper headline… sorry).

    Hoping for a big performance from the Wolfe-man too. Come on Mike!

  5. Ben Nephew

    I think Tom Owens is struggling with an injury?

    What about Luis Hernando, that Kilian mentioned, and another Basque runner?

    I think this is a great distance for Max, but that is a very steep course. You really have to acclimate your legs to those kinds of hard downhills at race pace. If Kilian had more trail miles on legs, I'd say he probably wouldn't have any issues with doing both races. If Max can tolerate the downhills late in the race, it could be a blowout win. Dakota and Kilian should be top 5, if not top 3.

    1. Bryon Powell


      Rumors around here have been to the effect that Tom isn't in top form, although folks haven't stated why.

      I'm pretty sure that Kilian said "other Basque runners," referring specifically to the depth of mountain running talent in the area.

      I've got a list of entrants in front of me, but, obviously, Luis would be a threat to win. I'll see what I can find out over dinner tonight.



  6. Fernando N. Baeza

    This race has so many variables, it is so unpredictable! What an incredible line up. Kilians body recovers so fast, its hard not to see him win this for the fifth time. But there are so many elites in the field running side by side. King is a mountain specialist, and a fast one at that (Bryon already mentioned this). It will be an interesting and exciting race! Dakota is maybe the underdog but I wouldnt be surprised to see him at the front. Hes had an incredible start to his racing repetoire. Heras and Owens are experienced runners on this course, which is alot of vertical, they know when to slow down (did I just say that?!) and when to speed up, this is big; it is certainly an advantage over the other elites whom have not previously raced this course. With that being said, all the runners in this race are winners already, its an awesome course, and a very difficult one. My best goes to all the runners attempting to just finish the course. Buena suerte a todos!

  7. FFM

    Great article Bryon but the following came across as not belonging here (maybe I got it wrong and you just meant to be geographically precise :P

    (Salomon, Spain [technically Catalonia])

    (Salomon, Spain [technically Basque Country]

    more like:

    (Salomon, Spain, specifically Catalonia [technically still Spain]

    (Salomon, Spain, specifically Basque Country [technically still Spain]

    (Salomon, Spain, specifically Bejar – Salamanca just to be fair to Miguel :)

    UNITY NOT SEPARATION is the word on the street :P


      1. FFM

        actually Lins till recently on my street was more like SEPARATION NOT UNITY it's the bomb on the street…

        let's keep it happy runners :)

        1. Girona

          Hi Lins,

          It is not really UNITY NOT SEPARATION. It is what ever we decided without violence. Autonomic communities in Spain are different in culture (language, customs,folklore, etc…) Of course we are not willing to give up nothing from our culture). We do not mind to be all one (Spain) as long as our culture and language is not presented with barriers. That's when SEPARATION comes, in the past not all the cultures where respected as they should have. Tolerance it is what we claim. Kind of like the US in international policy, don't fuck with us and we will not fuck with you. JEJE.

          Hope this helps and it is clear, it is important for us.

    1. Bryon Powell

      In the past, readers from Spain's autonomous regions have been quite vocal about labeling their particular region's runners as "Spanish." Here, we've tried to appease both those who want to know the about both broad counties and, if relevant, the particular nationality of a runner within the broader country. We're not trying to separate folks, but rather to please everyone. I hope you understand.


      1. FFM


        Thanks for the response, I truly get your position on this and I do agree with the fact that us spaniards get all vocal about labeling ourselves with our own particular little town; I commented because I personally felt the square quotes did not belong on a running event/coverage/blog and as the editor in chief it’s your call what to include and what not (like choosing not to ask Kilian on the post transvulcania interview how he felt about receiving a pretty flower gift hahahahaha, I was so hoping for that one), after all and quoting Dakota here: [technically] “It’s just running” :)

        Thanks for the great coverage, irunfar has become a daily read for me and I love it.

        Enjoy your time in the Basque country.

        cheers with txakoli


    1. Bryon Powell

      DH, it's quite possible that she's not running. I've got no info to override her past statements that she's not running. Just hadn't seen them. I'll update the article accordingly. Thanks for the update.

  8. Ben Nephew

    From the 3 Peaks report, Tom has a hamstring injury. You could test recovery by grabbing a few quads at dinner tonight, but people might get the wrong idea….

  9. dogrunner

    Should be an exciting race (again). Having King in the field just makes it that much more interesting. Looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

  10. Rob Digga

    I think I read that D Jones is just gonna cruise in this race and have fun with it but he could come out the gates wanting to impress the crowd. and run in front and compete. But don't be surprised he comes 125th or something…. he needs to chill. It is obviously deserved.

  11. Matt

    "Kilian Jornet (Salomon, Spain [technically Catalonia]) – Kilian won Zegama last year (and 3 previous times, too). He’s also the defending Skyrunning World Champion."

    THE defending Skyrunning WC?

    Looking forward to following this beast. Thanks.

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