WORDS BY LIKE THE WIND – PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROGER SALANOVA AND JORDI SARAGOSSA
At first glance, Gran Canaria is a modest little island that makes up part of an archipelago located about 100 miles off the western coast of Morocco. Seen from above, it is almost perfectly round and surrounded by the deep blue of the North Atlantic Ocean. Viewed from the window of a long-haul jet, the island appears fairly unremarkable.
But get closer and it becomes clear that many aspects of this volcanic outcrop are exceptional. And if you happen to be on the island in late February, you will witness a series of races showcasing just what a special place this is. Welcome to The North Face Transgrancanaria.
The seven races that make up The North Face Transgrancanaria are a reflection of the island on which they take place. While each individual race (from the 126km classic to a vertical kilometre) offers something for everyone, the challenges are unforgiving. The terrain is varied. And the feeling you get is that these races are imbued with the indominable spirit that people of the isolated and weather-beaten island have forever displayed.
Gran Canaria is sometimes referred to as a “continent in miniature” because of its variety of geography. Despite having an area similar to that of London, Gran Canaria features wild mountains, deep ravines and ancient craters. The island is ringed by busy beach resorts and secluded coves. The cliffs known as Mirador del Balcón, in the Andén Verde area on Gran Canaria’s western edge, drop hundreds of feet almost vertically into the sea. On the southern tip of the island is a desert – the Dunas de Maspalomas. And in the interior, you’ll find great tracts of rainforest.
It is this variety that attracts many of the competitors to the Transgrancanaria. After all, where else can you start a race at midnight and cross such wildly differing landscapes, arriving less than 30 hours later on the opposite side of the island?
For The North Face athlete Kaytlyn Gerbin, the route of the race is a big draw: “There is something really special about crossing an island,” she explains. “It feels like a natural challenge to start on one side of the island and run across to the other.”
Men’s course record-holder Pau Capell agrees, saying: “In this race – in Gran Canaria – you cross the entire island and I believe that when you finish, you feel more special than if the race was a loop.”
Kaytlyn goes on to highlight the way that the terrain alters as runners cross the island. “There are so many changes in the conditions underfoot,” she says. “There is some challenging climbing, some technical downhill sections as well as some very fast parts of the course.”
Maciel – the team behind the race continues to deliver an exceptional event as it plans the 2024 edition of one of the most significant winter trail races worldwide.
Launched in October 2003, by Arista Eventos, Transgrancanaria quickly established itself as a renowned trail running competition among athletes around the world. The North Face began its partnership with Transgrancanaria in 2010. Michiel Cauwelier,
VP marketing, The North Face EMEA, says: “We’re delighted to be back supporting the prestigious Transgrancanaria race across all distances, aligning perfectly with our commitment to the advancement and visibility of trail running. Many of our athletes have achieved incredible performances over the years, and we’re looking forward to watching this continue.”
With the support of The North Face, Fernando González, CEO of Arista Eventos, and his team will host five days of competition incorporating seven races: the classic (126km), the advanced (84km), the 46km marathon; the starter (21km), two shorter events – the promo (youth race) and the family trail, which both cover 12km – and the vertical kilometre, El Gigante.
Support from The North Face boosts more than simply the Transgrancanaria race series, as Wendy Cruz, Transgrancanaria’s marketing manager, points out. “This is not only big news for our race, but also for the island,” she says. “Having such an important brand sponsoring an international event in Gran Canaria will multiply the promotion of our land, which is one of the main goals of our team.”
With such a lot packed into a small island and races for every type of runner, it is no wonder that participants are tempted back time and time again. Pau Capell is a regular. “The first time I went,” he recalls, “was eight years ago and it was my first race outside Catalonia. Before that, I had only raced in the Catalonian championship. After I won that I wanted to take another step, which was to try to win the Spanish championship. The first race of that championship was Transgrancanaria. I won this race. And since then I have returned year after year to run the longer- distance races. Now I am hoping to come back for a fifth victory, which will be very special.”
Kaytlyn has also found herself drawn back to Gran Canaria several times. “During all three times that I have run the race, I’ve had completely different experiences at the highest points of the course,” she says. “Those changing conditions are a great challenge and that alone makes me want to keep coming back.”
There is a saying that great things come in small packages. And the Transgrancanaria races might just be the epitome of that idea. Because even though the island may lack scale, it makes up this with its wonderful variety of terrain. And that, in itself, presents the ideal challenge.