Posted: 16/07/2016 at 20:08
The Ehunmilak (pronounced Hue-mee-ak) is a 168 kilometre mountain race that starts and finishes in the town square of Beasain, in the Basque country of Spain. With over 11000 metres of ascent and descent it is one of the tougher hundred mile races out there, and it is a lot more technical than Ultra Trail du Mount Blanc. It does not present the altitude issues of many mountain races however, because the course starts close to sea level, and reaches an altitude of just over 1500 metres at the highest point. This means that most of the course is below the tree line. The most challenging feature of the event is the fact that many of the descents are too steep and treacherous to run down. I often found myself reminded of the Bob Graham Round, and my quads really took a beating on the descents. The course is divided into sections of about ten kilometres, and every section that I completed had a technically challenging part somewhere. This event takes no prisoners. Once it puts you down, it keeps you down. My own attempt ended when I was timed out at the 112 kilometre checkpoint.
If the 168 kilometre event is too rich for your blood, then the organisers offer an 88 kilometre event called the G2H, and a trail marathon called the Marimurumend.
All Ehunmilak entrants are given free access to the pasta party, which is held in a 15th century mill close to the start line, on the morning of the race. Here you are free to choose from a wide range of pasta, rice and bread dishes, and there is even beer and wine on tap! The organisers will let you take your plate back and refill it as many times as you want.
The support structure of the race is modelled on that of Ultra Trail du Mount Blanc, and the course marking and checkpoint support is of a comparable standard. The checkpoints have something of a Spanish twist to them, offering tapas and Spanish cheese, along with the usual range of foods. This is unequivocally a world class event, and this is very impressive given that entry can be had on request, without the need to go through a lottery. It also only cost about £80, before the pound crashed in value. The only thing holding the event back is the fact that the local infrastructure is not quite up to supporting it. Chamonix and Davos are major destinations for ski tourists, while Beasain is a quiet town out in the sticks.
The local people are every bit as enthusiastic about this event, as their counterparts in France are about Ultra Trail du Mount Blanc. They come out in the pouring rain to cheer the runners on, but instead of shouting Alez Alez, they shout Animo Animo!
The nearest airport to the town of Beasain is Bilbao, and they are separated by about 85 kilometres. There is a bus service between Bilbao and Beasain which runs twice every day. The fact that the service is infrequent does put you in a difficult position, if something goes wrong. There are however busses every hour between Bilbao and San Antonio, and trains every hour between San Antonio and Beasain. Although this is a circuitous route, it can be used to bail you out if something goes wrong with the bus from Bilbao to Beasain.
I strongly recommend that you book your hotel in Beasain well in advance of the event. Hotels in Beasain sell out long before the event, and the bus service between Beasain and the surrounding towns is sketchy at best. If you book rooms in Beasain then you will not be at the mercy of the local bus service.
Spanish is often spoken as a second language in the Basque country, so having a good grasp of English is rare compared to other part