Transgrancanaria Classic: What It’s Like to Run 128km Across Gran Canaria


, by Howard Calvert

Photography courtesy of: Transgrancanaria Classic / The Adventure Bakery

I’m standing on Las Palmas beach in Gran Canaria, at midnight, in full running gear, alongside 857 other runners. I’ve just witnessed a spectacular traditional Canarian carnival performance on the promenade, and not far in front of me are a smattering of the world’s greatest ultrarunners, including Americans Courtney Dauwalter and Zach Miller, and Chinese runner Jiasheng Shen. This is not the most unusual thing that will happen over the next 24-plus hours.

North Face’s Transgrancanaria Classic is an ultramarathon unlike many others. What sets it apart is not the distance (128km) or the start time (midnight), but its route. The course snakes its way from the northeastern point of the island southwards, taking in many of the volcanic island’s ample highlights on its way to the finish in Maspalomas on the southern coast, crossing the entire island on its way.

Now in its 25th year, the race has joined eight others across the world as part of the all-new World Trail Majors, a collection of ‘bucket list’ ultras. I took part in this race in an attempt to break down what it’s like to run this distance in distinct 25km chunks.

Part 1 (0-25km): Cruising

A midnight start is feared by many runners – it means there’s a full day of nervous tension, packing and repacking your kit, trying to decide what to eat, at what time, and whether to nap.

But by 11 pm, it no longer matters. We’re on the start line, whether we’ve fueled adequately or not. The clock is counting down. Negative thoughts pound around my head. Standing mere meters from some of the world’s best trail runners, imposter syndrome elbows its way in. What am I doing here? I can’t do this. What was I thinking? Even though I’ve completed longer-distance races, this happens every time. In an attempt to banish negativity, I focus on picturing myself crossing the finish.

Midnight strikes, and we are released onto the beachfront, like caged birds set free. The start is flat, something that cannot be said for the rest of the course. This is dangerous. Flat means without thinking you can overcook your legs, something women’s eventual third-place finisher Emma Stuart — who recced the entire course before this year’s race — warns me before the start: “The first 20k is extremely runnable. You can easily start doing damage that doesn't manifest itself until later.”

As the crowd’s cheers fade and the only sound is the waves crashing to our right, I slow my pace and try to keep my heart rate from skyrocketing.

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After a few miles, we hit the dirt trails. Headtorch beams illuminate surrounding cacti while dogs’ barks fill the warm air, irate at being disturbed by hundreds of runners filing past at 1 am.

My legs feel responsive. My mind feels clear. The only job is to keep moving.

Part 2 (26-50km): Problem-solving

This is where things start to go wrong. My shirt and jacket are soaked in sweat and the temperature is rapidly dropping as we gain altitude. I feel shivery. I know I should stop and pull on a dry base layer, but I don’t want to lose momentum.

I take out my poles and hike upwards along the zig-zagging trail as thin rain falls. There’s a top layer of slick mud on the steep, near-vertical paths. I slip and end up crawling upwards and can’t help but marvel at the absurdity of the situation — in the middle of the night, crawling up a mountain in remote northern Gran Canaria.

If the ascent is slippery, the descent is like black ice. I slip’n’slide my way down, on my backside at times, trying not to fall and crack my collarbone.

Apart from being battered, bruised, and slathered in volcanic mud, I persuade myself that the easy exit via a broken bone has passed (for now).

Like many others, I arrive at the checkpoint at Teror caked in mud. Apart from being battered, bruised, and slathered in volcanic mud, I persuade myself that the easy exit via a broken bone has passed (for now). The pain, for now, is low-grade and manageable. The only way to the finish is onwards.

Part 3 (51-75km): Climbing

Mentally, this section is brutal. It takes you past halfway, which is positive (“I’ve done half!”) but also, conversely, negative (“I’ve got to do all that again”), with thousands of meters of elevation left to climb. This is the reason British runner Tom Evans breaks down 100-mile races into 25-mile sections on his GPS watch, so he doesn’t become overwhelmed by what’s left.

The cold, at this point, cannot be underestimated. We were warned temperatures might drop below zero with wind chill on the mountains. My hands are numb and shivers set in if I move too slowly. I wrestle on my waterproof jacket, trousers, hat, and gloves and pace upwards, trying to raise my heart rate.

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The long-awaited sunrise raises spirits. I’m running down a long incline around the 35 mile / 55km mark, as, gradually, the light diffuses the valley and the environment comes alive. We’re surrounded by dense foliage and terraced fields, more akin to Vietnam. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.

Things are taking their toll on the runners, though. A French runner in front of me yells, “Merde!” I check she’s ok. She replies in the negative but says she will keep going. Later, someone else appears to be suffering the early stages of ‘runner’s lean’, which can potentially be caused by hyponatremia aka overhydration or low sodium. He assures me he’s feeling fine, “just tired”.

As for me, the physical pain in my knees and feet is manageable, but my energy levels are depleted. I’m not taking enough carbohydrates, as my stomach is refusing all types of fuel except liquid. I force down some gels and head onwards.

Part 4 (76-100km): Mental fugue

The vastly differing landscapes help, psychologically. There’s no worry about monotony in this race – we’ve now moved into trekking over beds of soft pine needles surrounded by forest, with car-sized boulders dotted between the trees as a reminder of this island’s geologically violent past. A mist hangs ominously above us, beckoning us back into the cold and wind.

Howard Calvert at the Transgrancanaria Classic. Photography by: (L) GetPica1 (R) Howard Calvert

At 90km, we climb to the highest point of the race, the stunning Roque Nublo, a giant volcanic rock and one of the biggest natural crags in the world that many tourists trek up to photograph. When I arrive, it’s shrouded in mist. But it marks relief. Most of the climbing is now completed.

El Garañón aid station is a welcome relief at 93km. It’s a campsite, bustling with people, with hot meals on offer. I try and fail to eat some potatoes and pasta. The urge to quit is strong – I can see why this sees the highest number of runners retire from the race, even though it’s technically mainly downhill from this point…

Perhaps they know what is in store. Emma Stuart had warned me about the 28km-long descent: “You’ll think it's all downhill to the finish, but the last third will make or break a lot of people. It can be steep, you've got to watch your ankles, and if you've got blisters at that stage, it's going to be brutal on them.”

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Part 5 (101-128km): Descending

A stunning cobbled path at about 100km marks the start of the agonizing, quad-cramping, toe-stubbing descent. Running isn’t an accurate description of what I’m doing. I’d describe it as tentatively stepping over hot coals. On and on it goes, with me peppering the air with expletives as the kilometers agonizingly tick down.

Whenever I’m grimacing in pain, a hesitant look up reminds me why I’m doing this. I’m now in a desolate lunar landscape, where pink dust merges into ochre and the wind whirls clouds of it into your streaming eyes.

I don’t remember much of the final 25km, aside from a spot of incredible, sustaining paella at the Ayagaures aid station, dished out of a giant pan. And the infamous dried riverbed, marking the start of the final 10km run to the finish, with plenty of rock-based trip hazards for weary legs.

At this point, I’ve had enough of stumbling wearily toward the finish, and look within for an extra gear. I don’t know where from – possibly the paella, which will now be my ultra fuel of choice — but the final 7km are the fastest I’ve run for miles.

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What gets you through races like this is the unique camaraderie. The person in front of you is going through the same thing. The person behind you is about to go through it, too. United in suffering.

But this also means you’re united in the highs. The unheralded view when the mist clears. Wild horses grazing at the side of the trail. The kindness of the aid station volunteers. A high-five from a young spectator. These are the moments that stay with you.

The pain always fades, the suffering is temporary. What you remember is the edited highlights reel. That’s what brings runners back, time and time again.

To enter North Face Transgrancanaria 2025, visit

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