An epic Andorra Ultra Trail Vallnord
The 10th Andorra Ultra Trail Vallnord closed last Sunday, bringing an end to an event in which powerful emotions and stories of personal achievement topped the bill. It had its epic moments, especially on Saturday evening, when heavy rain and a hailstorm in the Madriu valley in the east of the country forced organisers to stop the Ronda dels cims and the Mític in order to ensure the safety of participants.
But the rain was unable to cast a shadow on the anniversary celebrations of the 10th Andorra Ultra Trail Vallnord, an event in which 2,631 runners out of the registered 3,140 (from 50 countries) started one of the six races. This is further proof of the global reach of an event which is now a fixture on the international mountain running circuit.
A global event with a plethora of stories
A large number of languages were heard this year in the Andorra Ultra Trail Vallnord, with runners from 50 countries participating in one of the 5 challenges, including those from regions with scarcely any tradition of trail running, such as China, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia. In addition to runners from Andorra, France and Spain, the presence of the Portuguese was noteworthy, with more than 90 runners registered, while the Japanese also had a formidable presence this year.
The fact that the Andorra Ultra Trail Vallnord is so more than a race is demonstrated by the stories of personal achievement behind the performance of each athlete. There have been many anecdotes this year which have lent colour and emotion to an event which is unique in its own right. One of the most extraordinary stories is that of Maribel, a 62 year old competitor from Andorra who has participated in every single AUTV event and this year finished Eufòria together with her 33-year-old son in a time of close to 107 hours. Her arrival was one of the most moving moments in this year’s 10th anniversary event.
But there are also funny stories, as for example in 2016, when the Japanese runner Nobukaki Kikuchi surprised spectators by appearing on the start line for the Ronda dels cims in a sumo wrestler’s outfit. The entertaining Japanese runner made it 50 kilometres to the Comapedrosa mountain hut and then called a halt, but, as always, the he had a smile on his face
This was not the only endearing incident in the event. Albert Herrero celebrated his win in the Ronda dels cims with a few dance steps, dance also being a hobby of his. And during his run, Alberto was supported at several of the supply stops by Francesc Solé, double winner of the Ronda dels cims in 2014 and 2015.This year, Francesc dropped out of the race after 45 km at the Pla de l’Estany checkpoint but continued to encourage and provide his friend with advice right up to the finishing line.
Eufòria consolidates its position
Ordino continued to welcome competitors who had run the 233 kilometres and climbed 20,000 metres until well into Sunday evening. The last to cross the line were Miguel Madrid and Juan Manuel Griñán, who after 109 hours covering the mountains of Andorra, received the warm applause of the spectators who welcomed them home at 20.00.
124 intrepid runners, 76 of whom finished, took on an ultra challenge which was dominated from start to finish by the Spaniards Imanol Aleson and Julián Morcillo, who completed it in a time of 67 hours and 15 minutes. The first mixed pair to arrive was that of the Frenchman Nahuel Passerat and the Spaniard Nerea Martínez, whilst Zhanna Andreeva and Petra Vladimorov were the first women’s pair to complete the challenge.
What was most touching, quite apart from the final results, were the exhausted faces and the satisfaction of the 36 teams of 2 or 3 people – a total of 76 runners – who crossed the finishing line in Ordino, where spectators enthusiastically applauded the magnitude of what they had achieved. And for very good reason: they had climbed 20,000 metres, topping 5 peaks of over 2,900 metres and a total of 32 peaks or passes over 2,500.
Their efforts were also shared by supporters who had to cover many kilometres and all on very little sleep. Angel, Imanol Aleson’s brother, left work on Friday evening and drove close to 500 km to support his brother during the last few hours of the race. He arrived in the last stages in time to give food and encouragement to Imanol, who couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw him. Despite his tiredness, Angel was there for him at 2.15 in the morning on the finishing line, his one condition being that on Saturday they would celebrate the victory with a slap-up dinner in Ordino.
The Ronda dels cims and Mític affected by storms
The weather can’t be controlled but must be taken into account in an event like the Andorra Ultra Trail Vallnord. A downpour and hailstorm in the Vall de Madriu where there were 289 runners in Ronda dels cims and the Mític meant that the organisers had to stop the races in order to ensure the safety of the participants.
All of the runners who were in the various mountain refuges, the Refugis de Prat, Claror and Perafita, or at the Etall Serrer checkpoint, were invited to descend to the entrance to the valley, where a bus service was waiting to return them to Ordino. More than 50 runners, however, had to spend the night in the Refugi de l’Illa. They were guided down to Escaldes early on Sunday morning, where they were met by buses. All the runners affected by this incident returned without incident to Ordino and will receive a gift from the organisers.
“Safety is an obsession in mountain terrain such as this and we always have to do our utmost to protect runners. Once the starting gun has gone off, they are our responsibility and we need to be conscious of their safety all around the clock” said Gerard Martínez.
The adverse weather conditions meant that the number of finishers in both races was significantly lower than in previous years. A total of 83 runners finished the Ronda dels cims out of the 386 who crossed the starting line in Ordino. The fastest to cover the 170 kilometres and climb the13,700 metres were the Catalan Albert Herrero and the American Darcy Piceu. In the Mític, the number of finishers was also lower: A total of 57 runners completed the 112 km ultra which involved a climb of 9,700 metres. Jonatan Cuesta and Eva Bellas were the winners.
The Celestrail and the Marató dels cims were less affected by the rain. On Saturday at midnight, 436 runners started out in the moonlight in order to complete the classic 50 mile, 5,000 metre climb, which this year was won by Anne-Marie Flammersfeld. The Swiss runner gave a master class in steady running and not only won the title but also set a new course record with a time of 12 hours and 41 minutes, beating the time set in 2016 by Aida Fornieles from Andorra. In the men’s race, Dani Colón was the winner in a race which was completed by 280 intrepid runners out of 436 starters.
The starting gun went off on Saturday morning for the 5th Marató dels cims. A total of 647 participants took part in this race in the valleys of the north of Andorra which involves a height gain of 3,000 m. There was a fascinating battle in the opening kilometres between Sergio Luis Tejero and Carlos Fernandez from Andorra, but Tejero took control of the race and dominated it throughout to cross the line first, 15 minutes ahead. In the women’s race, Núria Hospital achieved victory in a race in which 600 runners experienced the incredible feeling of being a finisher.
The volunteers, also heroes of the Andorra Ultra Trail Vallnord
One of the aspects which makes this even much more than a series of races is the work of the volunteers. In the last five days, more than 450 volunteers have given their all to provide all the participants with the very best of care. They are also heroes of the Andorra Ultra Trail Vallnord. During the last five days of the race they have supported the participants with applause, encouragement or simply ensured their safety at times when the weather was not on their side. The event involved the contributions of 70 professionals, including doctors, emergency support personnel, podiatrists and physiotherapists who manned the various different supply points.
Every supply and checkpoint had one person in direct contact with the control centre coordinating the athletes from start to finish. In some cases, the checkpoints and supply points were open for up to 30 hours, with the logistics this entails. Checking the route marks, as the cows and horses may have eaten or trodden down the pennants and coordinating the helicopter to get the food, drink and material necessary to the many supply points were just some of the many tasks of the volunteers over the past few days. This, and encouraging all the participants, both in the easier and in the tougher moments.
The race, live!
Once again this year the organisers provided daily briefings highlighting the most important events of the day. The content was broadcast every day at 20.30, both on our own website and on our Facebook page. The starts of each race were recorded for posterity as were the most important race stages, race news, and the current rankings.
During the five days of the competition the event was tracked live on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, with up to the minute news on the races themselves and many of the remarkable stories. Further evidence of the vigour of the event is provided by the Facebook figures. More than 3 million hits have been recorded this week. With views of summary videos and direct feed there were more than a million reproductions, figures that show that the event is arousing an increasing amount of interest online.
The Solidaritrail reaches Bolivia
Community support is one of the most valuable elements of the Andorra Ultra Trail Vallnord and the Solidaritrail, a fun run open to runners of all levels and also designed for families and the disabled was run once again this year. 721 people participated this year in total. Members of Hi arribarem were able to enjoy the mountains of Andorra on specially-adapted wheelchairs thanks to the contribution of 13 volunteers from the firefighters’ association ASL.
This year the spirit of the Solidaritrail was not only experienced in Ordino but also on the other side of the Atlantic. With the support of the NGO Cooperand, AUTV organised a Solidaritrail in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz. Nearly 100 children from Don Bosco homes took part in a 3 km urban race whose goal was to transmit the importance of sport.
The organisers, highly satisfied
“These have been 10 years of work, organization, above all from the point of view of logistics and organization, which have been carried out with considerable vigour. The volunteer teams have maintained a very high level of motivation” pointed out Gerard Martínez.
This is the last year that the founders of the AUTV, Gerard Martínez and Valerie Fleur, will be heading up the event. Next year the event will be run by their daughters Lidia and Sandra. This is a change that Martínez views as positive: “We leave the event in excellent hands. Our daughters have been with us all the way for the last 5 years and now it’s time to make a smooth handover”, he said.