There are many challenges on the Zegama course besides the 42 kilometers with 2,750 meters (9,000 feet) of elevation gain, like tagging the four major summits of the Basque Country (Aratz, Aizkorri, Aketegi and Aitxuri), the characteristically tough weather including tons of rain and mud, and the technically demanding terrain.
The race starts at 9 a.m. local time on Sunday, May 22nd, which is 1 a.m. MDT in the States. We will have a few updates from the race on Twitter.
También, para nuestros seguidores en Español, estaremos cubriendo la Carrera en vivo a través de nuestro Twitter y Facebook.
Italy’s Tadei Pivk is the defending champion. He ran a strong race here last year, using his downhill abilities to put a gap on his chasers and grab one of his most important wins in his career. He’s definitely in great shape for this year, being runner up at China’s Yading Skyrun three weeks ago only two minutes behind the winner. Also, just a week after his trip to China, he was third behind Remi Bonnet and Ionut Zinca at the 17 kilometers Trentapassi Skyrace in Italy. To round up his bona fides heading into this weekend, he’s the 2015 Skyrunner World Series champion.
Well, Kilian Jornet. Zegama is one of the only two races, together with Hardrock 100, that we might see this guy racing this summer season, considering he’s aiming for Everest with his Summits of My Life project. Kilian has called Zegamaa second home, and he’s won the race seven times, including a course record win in 2014. He had a top ski mountaineering season, being world champion in the individual and vertical cups, so he will be definitely fit. While last year he showed up at the last minute after spending a month in Nepal and had quite a tough day out there, this year he comes to Zegama with a different background and ready to race.
Luis Alberto Hernando continues to amaze the trail running world, having won Transvulcania for the third-straight time two weeks ago. He had a hard time dealing with a flu before, during, and after the race, but we assume he’s fine now. As he said in our post-race interview, he couldn’t save his legs in La Palma looking forward to Zegama, but having seen his previous stellar performances here, we know he’s a podium contender.
Salomon’s young gun, Rémi Bonnet from Switzerland, is one of the dark horses for this weekend as he had a great 2015 season that puts him in the favorites list. With a background in ski mountaineering, he’s the 2015 Skyrunner World Series Vertical Kilometer Champion. As a 20-year-old he also won the 25k distance at The Rut last Septemer and recently won the 17-kilometer Trentapassi Skyrace in front of Ionut Zinca and Tadei Pivk just two weeks ago. We’ll see how he deals with the downhill speed and technicality of Zegama, but he’s on my top men’s list for sure.
The last two seasons were consistently strong for Spain’s Manuel Merillas. He raced a lot, usually finishing on the podium or at least on the top 10, including his second place here in Zegama last year. Now, his body might have been paying this effort a bit, and has been out of the scene for a while dealing with some injuries. We don’t know how prepared he is for Sunday, but we do know that if he’s fit and healthy, he’s a contender for the podium spots once again.
Aritz Egea was the top Basque runner last year, finishing fourth just a few seconds in front of Marco de Gasperi. He’s a speedster, starts super strong, usually leading the race up to the technical parts. Then, as he is not as good as the rest going downhill, loses a few minutes, but manages to stay in top positions as happened last year. He finished fifth in the 2015 Skyrunner World Series Sky category.
Always smiling Zaid Ait Malek has a really nice relationship with this race and course. He finished in the top 10 in his three runnings here. He might be a bit tired having raced a lot in the last month, including a top-10 finish in Transvulcania two weeks ago, but still a candidate for the top spots.
As far as young guns go, we have another one that might be familiar for you, Colombia’s Saul Padua toes the line for the first time in Zegama. He’s a short distance and vertical kilometer specialist, having won the Transvulcania VK just two weeks ago, and two days after, a second place at the half marathon in La Palma. He’s been on the Skyrunning scene since he’s 16, as his father is one of the pioneers of the sport with legendary names like Carpenter, Brunod, and Mejía.
Tom Owens had some great runs here in Zegama. He was third in 2012, and came back in 2015 and ran even one minute faster than his previous time but got 15th. He was recently third at the popular Three Peaks Race, a classic in the UK.
After being out in 2015 due to an injury, Jokin Lizeaga is back home in good shape. He’s one of the top Basque mountain runners, having three top 10 finishes in Zegama too (5th in 2012, 6th in 2013, and 8th in 2014).
Other Men to Watch
On the Entrants List, But Not Racing
Compared to last two or three years, we won’t see as many ladies names as we’re used to here in Zegama. But we’ll still have some good quality competition on Sunday.
Leading the field, its last year’s champion Azara García. She had an incredible race last year, leading from start to finish and missing the course record by just a few seconds. This year, she won the 55k of Reventón Trail on April in her ultra debut to qualify for the Spanish IAU Trail World Championships team.
Zegama is Oihana Kortazar’s backyard. She knows the course, she holds two wins, and she named her second child on one of the summits of the race (Aratz). We certainly can say she holds a special feeling for the marathon. And that she’s fit. And that she’s a podium contender. She also did run the Reventón Trail, being also her first ultra, and making it to the IAU Spanish team, too. She was second to Azara there.
Another main contender to battle García, is Megan Kimmel from the US. She just had a stunning run at Yading Skyrace, finishing 6th overall and just 12 minutes behind Tadei Pivk in the 30-kilometer event. In a winning-filled 2015, I’d like to highlight her amazing win at the TNF 50 Championships, and also, her win at the 25k at The Rut. She has already shown she can handle pretty technical terrains, so watch out on Sunday!
Speaking of fast Basque runners, a name that immediately jumps to our head is Maite Maiora. She also holds a special piece of her heart here in Zegama, and after withdrawing from last year’s race (two weeks later, she was third at the IAU Trail World Championships), she’s back to racing. During the winter, she dealt with some bad injuries, including a stress fracture. After a long recovery, she’ll call Zegama her official comeback and though she may not be as fit as usual for the win, she certainly is a podium contender.
Another of the Salomon youngsters who will show up this weekend in Zegama, Norwegian Yngvild Kaspersen. The 20-year-old Scandinavian has won already a few international races, like the 23k Lantau 2 Peaks last year in Hong Kong over big names like Maiora, Laura Orgué, and Stevie Kremer. She was also fourth at The Rut 25k.
Other Ladies to Watch
On the Entrants List, But Not Racing
Results from the 2020 Western States 100 lottery.
An essay about how good and bad days are natural in a lifetime of running.