Lately my reports are becoming more and more “italianized”, since I’ve found myself back in the home country often in the last couple of months.
After the bittersweet experience at the Belluno-Feltre that opened up a window of little injuries and aches, this time I visited home with completely different purposes.
It was not the typical vacation that usually Michelle and I share once a year to visit my family, but when I was told I had to come to Italy to inspect the fabrication of the DEAL gantry cranes being fabricated in Udine, I decided to check out what the running world had to offer around.
Happily surprised I saw that my planned arrival was just the day before the legendary time trial Valdobbiadene-Pianezze, a 5.6 km trail race starting from the center of my town leading up to Pianezze, a mountain location approximately 815 meters (2,675 ft) higher.
This race is considered the “University of Mountain Running” by some of the locals because of the tremendous incline that runners have to face in several spots of the course. It holds also a lot of sentimental value because a well known local runner, Ferdinando Vanzin, died of heart attack along the course, approx at mile 2.5, while participating at the race, several years ago. (Unfortunately he had a heart conditions that was never diagnosed and he was unaware of it). In the very place he collapsed to the ground there is now a commemorative plate reminding all runners of the event. Sadly.
I have never run the race in my life, but thought it was a good move to test the little gain in fitness that I have experienced in these couple of weeks. Afterall, pacing Michelle in Bear Mountain, some Mt Beacon reps and a strenous weekend in the Catskills, definitely have helped putting me in better shape than a month ago, when I was just resting and hoping to heal the left hip quickly.
Life in the US gives me two major disadvantages when running this sort of competitions:
1) I cannot practice and train the uphill running the same way the locas do in these wondeful terrain
2) Not knowing the course puzzled me a lot, since I had no idea of where and when I should exercise the major efforts and when I could rest a little bit.
The third problem, common to all runners here, is the unique set up of the race: participants take off one after the other at 15 seconds intervals, so you are not really aware of how fast your competition is going. It is a pure time trial event and to make it even more interesting, the bibs are selected via random drawing.
To mitigate the second problem I talked a lot with Giovanni, a friend of mine that wanted to race as well, and studied his Garmin file to at least get the main idea. To mitigate the first problem, I had no remedies, just hope and faith in the recent training.
I also wanted to see Cristiana, a local town here and a very special runner for Michelle and I, because every time we come back we are able to get together for a couple of hours and talk about trail races. So I wrote her inviting her to join the party, but she was not too sure about it, since this is kind of a unique event and she is more trained and also skilled in the real endurance events, not this short all out type of race.
Eventually she signed up, so it was very positive to see her there, it made me very happy (I’m sure she was happy as well at the end, not just because of the good training she put in, but because of the overall 5th female she got). Congratulations!
As soon as I landed and got home on Saturday, I decided to give my legs a little taste of next day’s effort: after a nice meal with family I took off with Dario and Serena following along with their bikes. As soon as I hit the trail I lost them, since the paved road they followed is a much longer way to get to the top.
My goal was to run at least the first mile and a half, maybe the hardest section of the course. I did so, and felt ok with my legs, but in big trouble as far as stomach pain, since all the food was still in the process of making its way down.
At least I knew what to expect on Sunday, and now I felt really really scared by the race. I tried to come up with an estimate of my final time, and I thought I could be anywhere between the high 40s and the mid 50s. Not knowing the remaining final 2 miles to the end was a huge handicap, but at that point I had no other option and after hitting the so called “Castellet”, I made a U turn and came back home.
The morning of the race I picked up my bib with plently of time, about 2 hours before my start time, that for bib 209 was set at 9:52AM.
I saw my friends Gio and Leo hanging out at the start so we chatted for a while, and I tried to fish for more info about the course. I got some advices also from Gio’s father: Max, one of the senior trail lions of Valdobbiadene who had run this race for probably all 19 editions to date, and he is in his mid 60s, then said hi to my family and Dario who took off to go and see me on the course.
I felt particularly nervous, almost with the strange feeling that I had to prove myself something, and that was not good. I kept shaking, I was very rigid and stiff during the warm up and that was a bad sign. I tried to relax and nothing was working. Then all of a suddent after hitting a pit stop at Bar Roma’s bathroom, I felt much better and more calm. I got a chance to see also my old soccer mate from the old days: Paolo Scopel, the toughest read headed guy from Quero (unless his brother took that title now…who knows)
One after the other all 208 participants before me took off and my turn was approaching quickly.
Mindful of the last few miles of the Belluno-Feltre, I set my mind in “easy” mode, so that I could have something extra to spare at any moment.
As expected the first mile was brutal. I kept the effort at high level, but I was not too close to the maximum. I was surprised that finally my mind prevailled on my typical “all out” race spirit. Maybe that is a positive note that might be helpful for Manitou’s Revenge?
I caught several runners in this first section, and just after San Floriano I also passed a known face: Alessandro Tonella.
The uphill kept going, steady and relentless, but so was my stride. I do not have the same lightness on the feet, freshness and strength on the legs that I had last summer when running on trails, but I am getting there quickly and I hope I can master uphill running at a whole different level by this summer.
When I reached “I Castellet” I felt relieved and confused: I cleared the difficult part of the course with no issues, the legs and gluts were in great shape, but from this point on I was entering the world of uncertainties not knowing the trail at all. Mile 1 was in the books at 14:40.
Now, surprisingly,the trail did not ascend steeply, but actually it kept us pretty leveled for about a mile. I hit a stretch at sub 7min/mile and felt pretty well with my legs responding well to the change in pace. This, on the other hand, kept worring me even more: milage was increasing, but elevation was not.
What would happen next? Will we hit a big insormountable wall?
The thought was constant and then, out of nowhere I jumped out of the trail near the road and understood I was very close to Vanin, a familiar location I could place in the map. I knew my parents were waiting for me there, and without realizing I cleared mile 2 in 10:46. I popped out of the trail again and into the road to find the best fans ever: my parents. Finally I was glad I was running decently and making them proud of me, after some not so great experiences in the LUT and in Feltre.
Now it was time to approach the open fields, no trees anymore, only grass and rocky trails exposed to the burning sun. Gio warned me that these were challinging sections, so I mixed here and there some power hicking pushing heavily on my knees and tip toe running, trying to save some energy for the final stretch.
Then the next thing I rememeber is getting out of the grass and entering the final paved home stretch. A guy shouted that we had 250 meters to go, but I did not have any idea of the actual distance and did not know where the finish line was, so my sprint was never ignited. I basically crossed the finish line with the same speed I had been climbing the last 800 meters.
I crossed the finish line and I stopped my watch at 42:45. That was quite an accomplishment especially for the way I was feeling. I had a lot of energy to spare, and even if I was glad it was over, I felt very very satisfied with the performance. In perspective this was a training session, and it gave me very good feelingsfor Manitou. If I continue to improve the uphill and downhill strength, I might have a good chance to move quickly among all those rocks and roots in the Catskills.
Overall I was told I finished around the 40th position, that for approx 400 participants is not too bad. Still, looking at the results once they got published, I felt a little disappointed because with just a little extra effort that I could have produced, I could have made the top 20-15, because a 39 min and chance was doable.
Reality is that I hit 42 min and now I know the course, so if I will be lucky enough to come back home in May 2015, I’ll definetely give this bad boy of a race another shot but this time I can’t settle for anything more than 39 minutes. I promise.
The top three were of another solar system by the way…and forget about the fact that the winner is the runner up at the world mountain running team championship; what is truly remarkable is the the third place of an evergreen and inspiring Francesco Duca that at age 43 (if I remember correctly) hit 35 minutes. And he is not even a mountain runner. He came to the race just for fun and to train.
His grit, talent, speed and incredible results remind me of Paul Thompson…another guy from a different planet!
After the race I noticed that Francesco was alone and since I only talked to him via facebook before, I figured I should introduce myself and offer my humble services or presence whenever he comes to NY. We talked a little bit; his kindness, and good heart were evident by the way he spoke: very composed and quiet, relaxed but serious. Not only his speed, but also his personality is an example for all of us runners.
Another nice episode was listening to Max for a few minutes about the joy he felt for seeing Giovanni run the race. Gio’s main sport is swimming, and he trained very little to compete here. Still his performance was pretty good, and made his father a whole lot happier that day. I guess he felt that the baton was given to the next generation. There might be still one year to complete that exchange and see the next leg take off on his own on the same very rocky trails that he has so often run in his 40+ years of running dedication.