Basque Fact of the Week: Zegama and the Golden Trail World Series

Happy Mother’s Day (at least in the United States)! Today marks the 22nd edition of the Zegama-Aizkorri Mendi Maratoia – the Mountain Marathon of Zegama-Aizkorri. Part of the Golden Trail World Series, this marathon takes runners through the mountains surrounding the town of Zegama – in particular, passing over the Aizkorri massif. Noted for the steep ascents and the throngs of spectators, it is the first race in this year’s World Series.

Photo by Toño Miranda, found on trailrunner.
  • Zegama is an ancient town in Gipuzkoa, not far from the town of Idiazabal which is famous for its cheese. The origins of Zegama have been lost to time – there is no founding document on record – but its first mention in the historical record occurred in 1384. One of the Caminos de Santiago passes through the town. Tomas Zumalakarregi Imatz, a Carlist leader in the First Carlist War who is sometimes credited with inventing Spanish tortilla, died in Zegama after being wounded in the siege of Bilbao.
  • Aizkorri, also known as Aitzgorri, is the highest mountain in Gipuzkoa and, indeed, in the Basque Autonomous Community. It reaches a height of 1551 meters, or 5008 feet – almost a mile. Aizkorri means bare stone in Euskara. In 2006, the region was declared a national park. The Aizkorri-Aratz Natural Park is the second largest in the Basque Country.
  • The Zegama-Aizkorri Mendi Maratoia – known as a skymarathon as runners climb to altitudes of more than 6000 feet – began in 2002. Part of the Golden Trail World Series, the course has an accumulated height gain of nearly 18,000 feet (according to the race’s website). Other races in the series include Pikes Peak Ascent in Colorado and the Mammoth 26K in California.
  • The Zegama-Aizkorri race is notable for the enthusiasm of the spectators. Nearly 1/3 of the 1,500 inhabitants of Zegama become involved in the race, with some 15,000 spectators cheering the runners on along the course. Many of these congregate at Santi Spiritu, the highest point of the race in which, over 1.4 miles, the runners climb 1,700 feet.
  • The current course record holders are (men) Kilian Jornet of Spain with a time of 3:36:40 and (women) Nienke Brinkman of the Netherlands with a time of 4:16:43, both set last year. No one from the United States has yet won the Zegama-Aizkorri marathon.

Primary sources: Zegama-Aizkorri Mendi Maratoia; The 2023 Golden Trail World Series Kicks Off This Week. First up? Zegama, trailrunner

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