2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Preview

This weekend, La Palma in Spain’s Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco will gather a few thousand trail runners from around the world to compete in the 2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon. The 74.3-kilometer (46 miles) course begins aside the Atlantic Ocean, climbs to the top of a chain of volcanos, reaches a high point of 2,420 meters (7,940 feet) altitude, and descends back down to the sea again. Before it’s over, though, there’s one last grunt of a climb up to the finish line located in the city of Los Llanos at about 340 meters (1,120 feet) altitude.

Along the way it offers 4,350 meters (14,280 feet) of climbing, and unique to this course are its general runability and lesser degree of technicality than some European mountain ultramarathons. That is, the kilometers pass quickly for so much elevation gain, and the course records show it. The records are 6:52:39 for the men (Luis Alberto Hernando, 2015) and 8:04:17 for the women (Ida Nilsson, 2017).

Weather is always a factor, with humidity pretty much guaranteed along with some heat. Just how much heat we will see is yet to be determined, but sometimes, when the wind blows warm off the coast of north Africa, sea-level temperatures exceed 30 degrees Celsius (85 degrees Fahrenheit).

The race takes place on Saturday, May 11th, starting at 6 a.m. Western European Summer Time (Friday, May 10th at 11 p.m. U.S. Mountain Time). You guessed it, iRunFar is covering the race live!

2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Women’s Preview

We’ve selected 11 nine top women to highlight at the top of this preview, and five three of them are from the USA, so we divide them by this distinction. [Updated May 7: Wow, three of the original six USA women are late DNSes. Specific updates are shown below.]  Let’s check out the women to watch.

Top Women to Watch

Ragna Debats

Just four weeks before Transvulcania, Ragna Debats (pre-race interview), who is from the Netherlands but lives in Spain, won the week-long Marathon des Sables, finishing hours ahead of the second-place finisher. And, just this past weekend, she raced the Yading Skyrun 32k at high altitude in China, taking second but something like 40 minutes back of winner Megan Kimmel, who we discuss below. Ragna had a super strong 2018 of racing, which was topped by her win of the Trail World Championships. She has one previous Transvulcania finish, a fourth place back in 2017.

France’s Anne-Lise Rousset Séguret (pre-race interview) has finished Transvulcania three times, taking second in both 2016 and 2017 as well as fifth back in 2014. Anne-Lise’s top results in 2018 were fourth places at both the Mont-Blanc Marathon and the CCC.

Russia’s Ekaterina Mityaeva has finished Transvulcania the past two years, taking seventh in 2017 and fifth last year. Her other top 2018 races were a third place at Transgrancanaria and a win at Ultra Pirineu. She raced in January at the 2019 Vibram Hong Kong 100k where she took fifth.

Switzerland’s Jasmin Nunige has some really strong ultramarathon finishes if you go back a few years, including a win at the 2017 EcoTrail Paris and fifth at the same year’s Comrades Marathon, but she was a bit more quiet on the top-level competitive stages last year. In January of 2019, she took sixth at the Vibram Hong Kong 100k. She seems strongest when the trails are relatively non-technical.

Emily Hawgood, who is Zimbabwean, seems to be quickly on her way up in the sport. She came onto the scene heavily last year, racking up wins at the 2018 American River 50 Mile and 2018 Ultra-Trail Cape Town, among other strong runs. So far this year, she’s taken third at the Chuckanut 50k and won the American River 50 Mile again, some 20 minutes faster than last year.

Italy’s Elisa Desco is still looking for her first finish of an ultramarathon of this length. Back in 2015, she started but didn’t finish The North Race Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. Desco is much better known for her pursuits at shorter-distance mountain running and Skyrunning. A couple weeks ago, Desco won the 2019 Mt. Awa Skyrace 23k in Japan, beating second-place Megan Kimmel. From 2010 to 2012, Elisa served a two-year ban from the IAAF after she tested positive for EPO at the 2009 World Mountain Running Championships.

Fast Women from the USA at the Front

Kelly Wolf - 2019 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile

Kelly Wolf

Kelly Wolf isn’t racing due to injury. [Updated May 7] Kelly Wolf is the top returning woman to Transvulcania, after taking third last year, which was just one in a group of top performances she had in 2018. Last year she also won the Tarawera 100k and Lavaredo Ultra Trail. Just a month ago, she took fourth at the 2019 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. With a podium finish here last year and learning how this unique course runs, she should be considered a potential winner.

YiOu Wang is not racing. [Updated May 7] After about a year off from competitive racing due to work travel, YiOu Wang is back at it in 2019 and has, so far, taken second at both the Black Canyon 100k and Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. In her interview with us after Sonoma, she said that her ultimate goal is a good run at the Western States 100 in June and so she plans to train through Transvulcania. She’ll also be interesting to watch because I think this course offers more technicality than she typically spends time on.

Megan Kimmel Pre-2017 The North Face 50 Mile

Megan Kimmel

When Megan Kimmel (pre-race interview) is on, she’s a true force to be reckoned with at mountain running and trail ultramarathons of 50 miles and shorter. Last year, her top runs were a win of the Broken Arrow Skyrace 52k, sixth place at Sierre-Zinal, and a course record at the Pikes Peak Marathon, the last on that list an incredible performance as she beat a course record which had stood since 1981. Just one weekend before Transvulcania, Kimmel was the far-and-away winner at the 2019 Yading Skyrun 32k.

Cassie Scallon is one of those ladies who, without any fuss, goes around quietly kicking butt. Cassie has raced Tranvulcania the last two years, taking eighth and 13th, respectively, in 2017 and 2018. Also just a month ago, she was fifth at the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile.

Circa 2015 and 2016, Kristina Pattison was all over the Skyrunning circuit, racing in different countries from month to month. Though she’s continued her racing since then, it seems to have been with moderation and she was pretty quiet in 2018 overall. Kristina also has two previous Transvulcania finishes, taking sixth in 2015 and 10th in 2017. In 2018, her top run was a win at the Old Gabe 50k, a small and tough mountain run in her home state of Montana.

Still More Women to Watch

  • Becky Bates (Canada) – 5th 2017 Hardrock 100 [Added May 8]
  • Kristin Berglund (Sweden, but lives in Austria) – 4th 2017 Transgrancanaria; 1st 2018 Grossglockner Ultra-Trail 75k
  • Elisabeth Borgersen (Sweden, but lives in Norway?) – 8th 2018 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail just two weeks ago [Added May 8]
  • Camille Bruyas (France, lives on La Réunion) – 5th 2018 Diagonale des Fous
  • Gemma Carter (U.K.) – 3rd 2018 Highland Fling [Added May 8]
  • Marie Dohin (France) – 6th 2017 Trail du Ventoux 46k
  • Antoniya Grigorova (Bulgaria) – 3rd 2018 Pirin Ultra Skyrace 66k behind 1st & 2nd places Brittany Peterson & Emily Hawgood
  • Yukari Hoshino (Japan) – 4th 2018 Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji
  • Mayi Mujika (Spain) – 3rd 2018 Hiru Haundiak 100k
  • Silvia Puigarnau (Spain) – 5th 2018 Pirin Ultra Skyrace 66k
  • Eva Sperger (Germany) – 5th 2018 Transgrancanaria; 2nd 2018 Eiger Ultra Trail
  • Dominique van Mechgelen (Belgium, but lives in the Canary Islands) – 1st 2018 Penyagolosa Trail MiM 60k
  • Maria Zorroza (Spain) – 1st 2018 Transvulcania Marathon

On the Entrants List but Not Racing

  • Brittany Peterson (USA) – Nursing some physical problems
  • Miao Yao (China) – I never saw her on any entrants list or elite list, but somehow her name has been tossed around to race the Transvulcania Ultramarathon. I’m listing her here to clear any confusion. [Updated May 8]

2019 Transvulcania Ultramarathon Men’s Preview

Eight Seven of last year’s top-10 men return to race Transvulcania once again. That’s a huge percentage, so we start the men’s preview with them. Then, we move to other top men who we expect to challenge for those top-10 positions.

Last Year’s Top-10 Returnees

Pere Aurell

Pere Aurell is out with an injury. [Updated May 7] Spain’s Pere Aurell is the defending champion and, though he’s been on the uphill side of his trail running career in the past year or two, his Transvulcania win was his biggest yet. He raced all over the Skyrunning and mountain-running circuit last year with his top other results as third at Trofeo Kima and a win at the Pirin Ultra Skyrace 66k. It will be fascinating to see if he can fend off all the chasing men a second time.

Russia’s Dmitry Mityaev (pre-race interview) took second at least year’s Transvulcania, his second finish at the event. In 2017, he took eighth. Like Aurell, Mityaev has been all over the Skyrunning circuit the last couple of years. In fact, the pair raced each other four times last year, with Aurell coming out ahead in three of the races. Mityaev’s lone win in this duel was at the 2018 High Trail Vanoise 70k where he won and Aurell was fifth. Mityaev also took third at last year’s TDS.

I don’t think I’ve yet seen France’s Thibaut Garrivier race, but I’m pretty excited to. He was third at last year’s Transvulcania. It appears he’s been trail running at mostly shorter-distance trail races for at least six years, improving pretty significantly in the last two. Earlier this year, he took second at the 2019 Trail du Ventoux 46k, a competitive spring race in France, finishing just two seconds off the win in a race-ending sprint.

While Italy’s Marco De Gasperi is perhaps better known for his sub-ultramarathon-distance mountain running, he’s been venturing into longer ultramarathons in the last year. He was fourth at Transvulcania last year, and he followed that up with another fourth at the 2018 CCC.

Manuel Anguita, of Spain, took sixth at last year’s Transvulcania, and he was 10th in 2017, as well. Last fall, he was fourth at the Ben Nevis Ultra SkyRace 52k, behind first- and second-places Jon Albon and André Jonsson, both of whom we’ll discuss later.

Seventh at Transvulcania last year, Italy’s Daniel Jung also ran Transvulcania in 2017, finishing fifth that year. Jung has so many super-strong trail ultramarathon results over the last couple of years that I feel like he’s due a big win sometime soon. Also in 2018 he was fourth at Transgrancanaria and third at the Glen Coe Skyline 52k where he finished behind second-place André Jonsson.

Germany’s Hannes Namberger took eighth last year. He’s done most of his racing in Austria and Germany, so it’s hard to get a feel for who he is as an athlete. He did win the 2018 Grossglockner Trail 75k ahead of second-place Jordi Gamito who is also racing Transvulcania.

The USA’s Morgan Elliott took ninth at Transvulcania last year in what looks like his first international ultramarathon. Elliott has been all over the steep, tough USA trail running scene the last few years. He just won the 2019 Georgia Death Race at the end of March. I think this will be my first time watching Elliott compete, too, and I’m excited to watch this up-and-comer as well.

The Fastest Challengers

Jonathan Albon Pre-2017 Zegama Marathon

Jonathan Albon

The 2018 racing resume of Jonathan Albon (pre-race interview) who is from the U.K. but who lives in Norway, is so strong and seemingly without blemish. He had three wins at Skyrunning races: the Ultra SkyMarathon Madeira 55k, the Hamperokken Skyrace 53k, and the Ben Nevis Ultra SkyRace 52k. And even better, he took fourth at the 2018 Trail World Championships. In doing all this he also beat a number of the men entered in this year’s Transvulcania. He should challenge for the win.

France’s Sylvain Court has been on the trail running and ultrarunning scene for almost a decade, with perhaps his best years around 2015 and 2016. He’s been a bit more hit and miss since then, but, even so, there are a lot of guys out there who’d like his recent resume. His top 2018 finishes were a win of the Mont-Blanc 90k and eighth place at Les Templiers. He’s run Transvulcania one time, in 2016, where he was 16th.

It’s hard to believe we’ve gotten this far and I’m just now mentioning Spain’s Jordi Gamito, who had a heckuva race to take third at the 2018 UTMB. Among his other 2018 races, he also took third at both the Madeira Island Ultra-Trail and Ultra Pirineu.

If you look at the results for Sweden’s André Jonsson, until last year it seems like he was a finisher of every race he started. Then last year, he either hit it hard or DNFed, the former being the more usual result. His top finishes of 2018 were a pair of second places at the Ultra SkyMarathon Madeira 55k and Ben Nevis Ultra SkyRace 52k.

I just watched Switzerland’s Diego Pazos execute a pretty perfect race to take second at the 2019 Madeira Island Ultra-Trail two weeks before Transvulcania. He’s on a roll of late as at the close of 2018 he tied for the Oman by UTMB win, too. This is Pazos’s first attempt at Transvulcania, and I am curious how his legs hold up just a couple weeks after MIUT.

Does anyone know if the USA’s Max King is actually racing Transvulcania? [Updated May 7: He’s in La Palma! I saw him, we spoke, and he’s definitely racing.] He’s had a rough start to 2019, dropping with various issues from both the Black Canyon 100k and Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. His 2018 seemed to have some ups and downs, with his top results including a win at the Way Too Cool 50k and a sixth at the Zegama Marathon. He then had mid-teens finishes at the 2018 Sierre-Zinal and the 2018 Pikes Peak Marathon.

France’s Benat Marmissolle is certainly a guy to watch. Last year, he took second at the Pirin Ultra Skyrace 66k, sandwiched between Pere Aurell and Dmitry Mityaev. His result a month before at the Ben Nevis Ultra SkyRace 52k was eighth place, quite distant to first- and second-places Jonathan Albon and André Jonsson, but again right behind Aurell. Clearly, his potential is pretty far up there, but his pedigree is a bit less developed than other gentlemen in this section of the preview.

Three years ago, Peru’s Remigio Huaman took seventh at Transvulcania. His top races since them have been fifth and then sixth at the 2017 and 2018 Marathon des Sables. He has a lot of other good results at mountainous ultras, and his M.O. is to go out hard and see if it sticks. We shall see!

It looks as if Sweden’s Petter Engdahl got into Skyrunning and similar-style races starting in 2016, and has been improving each year since. In 2018, among his results he won the Livigno Skymarathon 36k and was sixth at Trofeo Kima. It appears that this will be his longest trail race by a good 30 kilometers, a new challenge.

I feel like Ruy Ueda (pre-race interview), of Japan, has some sort of silent-assassin quality, that he’s creeping up on the trail running world, quietly collecting better and better performances such that, any second, he’s going to have a major breakout. He’s a multi-time Hasetsune Cup winner, he’s been second at CCC back in 2016, he was eighth at the 2018 Zegama Marathon, he took second in a competitive field at the 2018 Transvulcania Half Marathon, and a couple weeks ago he won the 2019 Mt. Awa Skyrace, beating third-place Jonathan Albon to the line by a handful of seconds.

My brain classifies the USA’s Cody Lind a lot like Ruy Ueda, as a guy who is on the rise in the sport. In March, Lind was seventh at the 2019 Way Too Cool 50k. In 2018, his results included fourth place at the Red Hot Moab 55k and a pair of fifth places in Skyrunning events, the Hamperokken Skyrace 53k and the Glen Coe Skyline 52k

More Men to Watch

  • Hassan Ait Chaou (Spain) – Has lots of great Skyrunning results from 2012 through 2017, but was off the radar last year. Was he injured or taking time off?
  • Victor Bernad (Spain) – 11th 2019 Transgrancanaria
  • Kim Collison (U.K.) – 9th 2018 Pirin Ultra Skyrace 66k
  • Alejandro Fraguela (Spain) – 7th & 9th at the 2018 & 2019 Marathon des Sables [Updated May 7]
  • Weston Hill (New Zealand) – 12th 2018 CCC
  • Johannes Klein (Germany) – 5th 2019 Matterhorn Ultraks 49k [Updated May 7]
  • Jokin Lizeaga (Spain) – 9th 2016 Zegama Marathon
  • Julen Martínez de Estibariz (Spain) – 2nd 2018 Hiru Haundiak 100k
  • Sota Ogawa (Japan) – 1st 2019 Green Race Ultra 119k
  • Florian Reichert (Germany) – 13th 2016 Transvulcania
  • Hans Kristian Smedsrød  (Norway) – 10th Hamperokken Skyrace 53k [Added May 8]
  • Kevin Vermeulen (France) – 3rd 2018 OCC

Call for Comments

  • Who will you call for the women’s and men’s podiums? And who do you see winning each of the races?
  • Of the returning men from last year’s top 10, who is ready to race again?
  • How do you think the group of speedy USA women will shake out?
  • Who isn’t in this preview that you think should be? Leave a comment to let us know who you think will challenge for top-10 women’s and men’s finishes.
  • Is there anyone in this preview who isn’t racing? Let us know and we’ll update it!
Meghan Hicks

is iRunFar.com's Managing Editor 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 4 comments

  1. Giuseppe

    I believe Elisa Desco shouldn’t be allowed to race. I am sorry for her husband, Marco De Gasperi but we should give a strong example by not letting people disqualified for doping racing anymore.

    1. Stefan

      I believe Irunfar should stop mentioning her ban every time they print her name. You may not like the rules that allow her to return and that’s fine. However, if that’s the case then petition the agencies responsible to change the rules. I admire her for having the bravery to continue racing among judging eyes.
      Let her be. She served her time.

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