We experienced the epic Zegama-Aizkorri trail race alongside Kilian Jornet

Is there a better trail race atmosphere than Zegama-Aizkorri? "Nope" reports Ben Mounsey

trail runners on the Zegama race

by Ben Mounsey |
Updated on

Our trail running expert Ben Mounsey headed to the Basque Country with SportsShoes and the NNormal team to find out more about this iconic trail race and to meet the world's most famous trail runner and NNormal co-founder, Kilian Jornet. Let's get into his report...

I've heard a lot about Zegama – it's been on my bucket list for the last few years. Many people have told me that the race is incredible, the crowds are huge, and the atmosphere is like nothing else they've ever experienced. As Kilian says, "Zegama is Zegama", so as you can imagine, I was very excited to find out more!

Zegama trail race landscape shot

It's not my first time in the Basque Country - I've actually raced in the area twice before in the World Sky Running Championships, 2022 and 2023, in Gorbeia Suzien. It was here that I developed a love for Basque culture; This region has a truly unique identity and individuality that sets it firmly apart from the rest of Spain.

Zegama-Aizkorri is a renowned international trail race and part of this year's Salomon Golden Trail Series, with some of the biggest names in the sport taking part, including 10 x winner Kilian Jornet. First held in 2002, this annual event is a marathon across mountains featuring over 2,736 m of ascent.
In addition to the classic race, there is also a Vertical Kilometre (VK) race, climbing over 1000m in 5km.

climbing in the zegama trail race

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a place in either race because both were heavily oversubscribed (there are only 500 places in the Classic marathon race, with over 13,000 applicants), but I did take the opportunity to run the VK route and the most famous climb in the Zegama-Aizkorri marathon race - the Sancti Spiritu trail.

Your Path, No Trace.

This trip also gave me a chance to test the current NNormal trail shoe range and learn some more about the brand, their individual story and unique ethos.

2-years ago, Kilian Jornet partnered with family-owned footwear company Camper to launch NNormal. NNormal's products reflect the partnership's shared philosophy: authenticity and utility that inspire people to enjoy and respect nature-a mission which is expressed through timeless gear that's functional, performance-oriented and built to last. All the Outdoor equipment was designed in Mallorca and tested in Norway as hinted in the name of the brand (Nor-way + Mal-lorca).

Climbing grassy hills on the Zegama trail race

I talked to the legend himself, Kilian Jornet, about the journey to creating this range. He had this to say:

“Sharing the same values was a strong motivation to start this project. We agreed that we need a new way of thinking and acting in relation to our environment and Outdoor activities. We want to be very honest on how we produce the equipment and on the role the company wants to play for the society and the environment. This means transparency and working to avoid overconsumption by building products that are durable. To have a minor impact on the environment, we need to work with various materials and explore different designs. It’s a long and difficult path but that’s what motivates me and the team."

Kboix: The shoe, reinvented

Nnormal Kboix trail running shoe

NNormal's commitment to reshaping and rethinking the footwear industry is best exemplified with their latest invention - Kboix. Due to launch sometime next year, this innovative shoe has three interchangeable midsoles and is designed to last and evolve with you - you choose the midsole, you choose the adventure. Each one is best suited to a different terrain, a different intensity and to different body types. There are 150 athletes worldwide who are about to test this unique product before it hits the market and I'm lucky enough to be one of them. So, I'll be sharing more information with LFTO when I've had the chance to test this revolutionary new shoe - more on this soon! But, until then, there are two fantastic NNormal trail shoes in the current range available to buy now - the Kjerag and the Tomir 2.0.

NNormal Kjerag: Light 'n' fast for mountain whippets

Lightweight Nnormal trail running shoe

Kjerag is NNormal's highest-performance trail shoe and features lightweight reactivity, high-speed comfort, extreme grip and stability. Suitable for any distance, from VK to ultra, it's Kilian's race shoe of choice and one I've really enjoyed testing over the last 12-months. I particularly love the precise fit and feeling of this lightweight racer. It has ample cushioning but retains a close-to-ground feel, so you feel extremely agile and fully connected with the terrain. Complete with a Matryx upper and Vibram sole, it's strong, durable and provides incredible traction on hard trail surfaces, even in wet conditions.

NNormal Tomir 2.0: Cushioning to the max

Nnormal trail running shoes in Zegama

In comparison, the Tomir 2.0 is NNormal's most versatile and comfortable model. With a higher stack than the Kjerag, this max-cushioned shoe is more suited to long-ultra trail distances and features a deeper 5mm lug for more aggressive grip on more extreme off-road surfaces. Personally, I prefer this model as a daily training shoe and an option for the longer races. Every distance and all types of terrain are covered between the two styles.

Now back to Zegama. I was told the night before that crowds of up to 30,000 people were expected on the mountain. And although I didn't do a head count, the noise at the summit of Aizkorri (1,551m above sea level and the highest point in the region), was comparable to that of Elland Road on match day (Yes, I'm a Leeds fan for my sins).

At the finish line of the Zegama trail race
©NNormal | @_guaresti_

I've raced all over Europe and never seen or experienced crowds like this. Zegama is the Tour De France of the trails, a race which makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end as you hear the deafening cheers of the madding crowd. And, on this particular day we witnessed Kilian in golden form, sprinting towards the summit en route to a record-breaking 11th victory in his favourite race.

Click here to watch Kilian climbing to the highest point in the race on the world famous Sancti Spiritu trail.

Rocky mountain trails on the Zegama race

It was a great day for the world's greatest trail runner and for NNormal, with his teammate Elhousine Elazzaoui of Morocco claiming second place to join him on the podium. But, the biggest cheers of the day were reserved for the Basque runners, local heroes on home turf.

So, back to the original question - is there a better trail race atmosphere than Zegama-Aizkorri? We don't think so.

Zegama is Zegama and there's simply nothing like it in the world.

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