30 Days (Running) in Andorra

For most of July we lived in the small town of Arinsal in Andorra, a tiny “mountain-locked” country sandwiched between the Pyrenees of France and Spain and just a few hours by car or bus from Barcelona. I first learned of Arinsal when researching potential running races for 2019 – Arinsal hosts the Skyrace Comapedrosa, which starts and ends in the town center, covering 2.300m of elevation gain (4.600m of total elevation change) in a mere 21km and summiting Comapedrosa, the tallest point in Andorra, along the way. Naturally, it seemed like a great place to live and train – and without all the crowds of more popular trail running destinations like Chamonix.

I was able to log almost 70 hours of running & hiking while we were there, along with 33.000m of elevation gain and 360km, for an average elevation gain of 92m/km. This training block of low-intensity aerobic work with significant elevation change was critical (for me at least) for showing up confident and prepared for UTMB.

Below were a few of my favorite outings:

Comapedrosa Loop via Pic de les Fonts
A nice loop run that connects the Pic de les Fonts with Comapedrosa. The ridge running to Pic de les Fonts is rocky and slow with light scrambling in a few sections, with some of the most beautiful views in Andorra as you can peer down into the valleys on each side. The descent from Pic de les Fonts to Refugi Pla de l’Estany is a super fun single-track descent – steep enough to keep you focused and in the zone but not too steep that you can’t run it. From the Refugi Pla de l’Estany you ascend straight up to Comapedrosa. A lot of this trail is either unmarked or difficult to follow, as the trail continues through a massive boulder field. The final ascent to Comapedrosa is steep with a bit of scrambling. There are a few ways to descend down from Comapedrosa, varying in speed and technicality. I prefer the steepest way down initially. While it’s steep with loose footing, you get down quickly and can soon start running on a beautiful single track all the way back down to Arinsal. This loop run – about 20km with 2.400m of elevation gain – is a great standalone run or can serve as the backbone for bigger outings in the area, like the one below.

Running in Circles
This run starts out like above run but from the Refugi Pla de l’Estany, instead of ascending to Comapedrosa this run drops back into Arinsal and adds another smaller loop. The smaller loop adds the remaining part of the ridge that you initially run to Pic de les Fonts. A nice variation of this run is to start a run with this second loop and rather than dropping down, continue along the ridge all the way to Pic de les Fonts.

<3 Arinsal
This run starts out similarly to the above runs, but about half way up the first ascent it takes a flowy, single-track path for a few kilometers over to the Refugi Pla de l’Estany. The path, tucked into the treelined hillside, reminded me of past days running in Mill Valley. From Refugi Pla de l’Estany you ascend to and summit Comapedrosa before heading down to Arinsal. However, rather than continuing all the way down into town, when you reach Refugi de Comapedrosa, you take a side trail back up to the nearby ridge where you briefly cross into Spain before re-entering Andorra and beginning your descent through the ski paths back into town.

The final descent in the background on the left.

Etang de Soulcem Out & Back
This was a “recon” run for a long outing I had wanted to do. I ran the first part of that “outing” a few days prior to this run, and this day I ran the last half of the outing. You cross into France after about 7km and continue on until you reach the lake after approximately another 15km. Parts of this run are slow and technical (massive boulder fields) while other parts, such as the final descent to the lake, are fast and smooth fire roads. One of my biggest falls the year (outside of my fall at UTMB), was on a steep switch-back descent approaching the boulder field. As I was moving fast on a downhill, a rock gave way just as I had placed all of my body weight onto it, sending me “head over heels” down the side of the rocky trail. Uninjured outside of road rash and scrapes, it was a good reminder on the need for self-sufficiency and basic first-aid emergency skills when in the middle of nowhere with no cell signal and no people nearby. For longer runs with long stretches of complete isolation, I would carry a “blow out” kit for puncture wounds, along with some other basic first aid-supplies.

Comapedrosa Out & Back
This is a great Zone 3 training run where you want a couple 40-45min blocks of medium-to-high sustained intensity. The last part of this route to the top of Comapedrosa is one of my favorite segments in all of Andorra – a mix of scrambling and running on top of the ridge to Comapedrosa.

Comapedrosa to Pic de la Rouge
This was a modified version of the big “outing” for which I did a couple earlier recon runs. The initial goal was to make it from Pic de la Rouge to Pica d’Estats, the tallest point in Catalonia, but I would have needed a lot more time to make that happen. I also decided that on the windy ascent to Pic de la Rouge it would be best (i.e. safest/smartest) to tackle that with a partner, given some of the slightly technical and exposed ascents/descents. The run back is the same as the run back from the “Etang de Soulcem Out & Back” run above. The portion of the run from Comapedrosa to Pic de la Rouge is slow and off-trail for what seems like most of this section of the run.

Skyrace Comapderosa x2
This was the Skyrace Comapedrosa route for 2019. Doing the actual race didn’t make sense for my training given my focus on UTMB, but doing the course twice, nice and slow, did make sense!

Overall, living in Andorra allowed me to run many classic trails of the Pyrenees. Just a 3-hour drive or bus ride from Barcelona, it’s super accessible and easy to get to, and I would highly recommend spending time here if running, hiking and being in the mountains is, like it is for me, your cup of tea.

Note: Strava messes up the times quite a bit when pulling in the data. Ignore the “moving time” and instead look at the “elapsed time” if you want a sense of timing.

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