… see previous post [here]…
After a few brief introductions of the elites international athletes lining up at the very front of the field, the music of Ecstasy of Gold escorted us at the beginning of this adventure.
I was worried about my body reaction starting a race at 11pm, since it was a first for me, but I have to say everything was going well at the beginning. I pushed a little in the first few kilometers going out of the town to make sure I was not getting caught behind a big pack of slower runner when entering the single track trail.
I did not struggle to find my rhythm at all. I hiked when I felt that the effort was increasing and ran when the terrain allowed. I knew the race was long and I needed to be prepared with fresh legs for the last 20k.
The first climb went by quickly and already runners were dropping back after an initial effort that was too intense. I looked at my intermediate time at the top and found myself a little ahead of schedule.
This allowed me to run more relaxed the next downhill section made of several switchbacks and a few tricky spots with roots and rocks.
Despite my attempt to slow down the pace, I actually gained more time on my plan. Still, people were flying all over, passing each other like crazy as soon as the trail was les technical but still downhill (including a Spanish dude that ended up face down on a left turn after tripping on some rocks).
I figured I should have been more conservative so for the next section leading to Ospitale I slowed down even further. Here we passed the first point where my family was waiting for. I felt very proud of holding a good position, considering my conservative approach, and running with my family witnessing me.
They do not get to see me much during the year, and when they do, I like to share with them my running passion, so it is very rewarding to show them how much progress I have done in this field in recent years.
Just about a mile and a half was left to get into the first aid station at Ospitale; the wide dirt road gave me the chance to focus and review on my eating and drinking plan, to make sure I was not falling behind on this aspect. My plan had me there 1hr and 55 minutes after the start, but I made it a little earlier, around 1:45. At that point I was in good shape with fuel and liquids, so I quickly refilled one flask, grabbed a piece of chocolate from the aid station and took off right away to attack Val Padeon towards the Tre Croci Pass.
I felt very well, maybe too well, during this section and the pace along the 4 mile climb was steady and strong. Having memories from two years prior that were not too pleasant, I was glad to replace them with a more encouraging experience. At the top of the climb I still maintained a 5 minutes lead on my plan and now the tricky downhill to the Tre Croci Pass was going to be the first test.
In 2013 I probably blew my legs in this steep stony trail and this time I was not going to trash myself the same way. Maintaining the usual 5 minutes lead on my projections I cleared the Pass and now I was heading to Federavecchia where I knew I could see Gigi again.
Just before getting to the aid station I was passed by a couple of folks anxious to show off their downhill abilities. I gladly gave them the right of way while I opened up the cap of the flask I needed to refill and refueled with the leftovers of what I had in the pockets trying to minimize the stand-by time at the station.
The feelings were good, the time was slightly faster than my original plan and – while I was supposed to be there after 3hrs and 45 minutes – the 19 minutes lead I opened at Federavecchia did not worried me too much as I knew I would have used more time later during the day to easy the effort in the most challenging spots.
The section from Albergo Cristallo to Misurina Lake proved to be challenging: the climb along the muddy trail marked 1120 and the never ending asphalt road brought me to the switchback of “I Ciampete” a little out of breath. Here the more runnable part was ahead, but instead of switching gears immediately as I was able to do the week before during the recon, this time my legs needed about 10 minutes of fast hiking to get going and be ready for a different pace. My vision was also a bit confused since the woods were retaining some humidity trapped among the trees and the light from my headlamp was getting reflected blinding me partially.
I went on rest mode till the lake, knowing that the climb to Tre Cime was going to require a good effort no matter what pace I was going to maintain. In my mind I began thinking about the possible need for more fluids along the next climb so I figured it was a good idea to pick up the water bottle from Gigi who was waiting for me in Misurina, rather than waiting for Cimabanche later on in the morning.
Right after Misurina I joined a little group of three runners, obviously overexerted from the effort they maintained that far. One of them was Italians, two were French and they all had low bibs. Together we ran the first half mile and ran through a herd of cows at the bottom of the incline.
These poor animals were so scared from our headlamps that they were running around confused making almost a concert with their bells. One of them also charged us, but more than aiming at us she was just trying to run away from us except she kept getting closer and closer.
Slowly I made it to Rifugio Auronzo and my body started to feel a bit tired. I ran into the Rifugio that served as Aid Station at km 48 still a few minutes ahead of the plan, so I decided to spend a few more minutes refueling properly and resting a bit more before taking off again. Here I noticed how having a crew, like most of the elites had, that was allowed to prepare a customized little aid station could save several minutes.
Fernanda Maciel, in fact, checked into the rifugio a few minutes after I did but she had 3-4 people ready to swap her gears, change the bottles she had gone through with new ones already full, had food items just for her laid out on a small table and a spare Tshirt and a small jacket ready for her to put on.
Basically a 5 star service ready at her convenience.
Bottom line she got in and got out leaving me behind.
I wonder if it is even fair to provide this advantage to elites only…but that is a different topic to deal with.
I had a small additional effort to make before enjoying the downhill to Cimabanche; after leaving the aid station I just needed to clear the flat mile to the Alpini Chapel and then the short incline to the Lavaredo Pass by the Tre Cime.
The flat part was not as pleasant as I was expecting and I was not able to move effortlessly as I hoped. A cold strong wind was blowing sideways and my sweat-drenched singlet was not the perfect attire for the occasion. While running I was able to pull out the long sleeve shirt I had with me and put it on as I was reaching the top of the climb. Here the first few rays of sunlight started to hit the mountains and I was pleased not only with astonishing views but also with the fact that I was getting into the downhill capable of seeing where I was placing my feet.
The long 8k trail down to Cimabanche (for approx a 3,400ft drop) is mainly non-technical and not too steep to run comfortably at a good relaxed pace. However, if one pushes the pace at this point, I believe he will realize soon after that he made a big mistake: this trail is just a link between the first climbs of the race to the second hilly part of the race.
From my point of view I had a nice descent, picked up one or two runners and got passed by two or three that were going to regret it later on.
While going around the Landro Lake, I realized the course here was different than what I anticipated. It did not bother me too much, but journey to the aid station at 66k was really longer than expected and a bit boring. Long stretches of dirt road, slightly uphill along the Rienz River on trail 102, surrounded by tall pines made the journey a bit painful and I started noticing my body was running a little low on energy. I checked the fluid consumption up to that point and at least on that department I was doing well.
I threw down a few bolts getting close to the aid station knowing that Gigi was going to be there and could restock my supply to make sure that I kept processing food on a regular basis.
As soon as I arrived to the aid station I realized I needed to eat more, but I was not able to ingest anything at that point; I took my time, I spoke with Gigi and told him I was going to rest a couple of minutes while resting hoping to be able to eat some of the items they had in display.
I found very appealing the toasted slices of bread with nutella or jam, so I had one each and then asked for a bit of hot coffee since I wanted to wake up from the “night running” mode that I was stuck to.
I must say the coffee was terrible and I’ll explain why in a bit.
I sat on the bench for a few minutes, finally regained some confidence and took off while looking at some other runners getting in and out of the station much more quickly than I did.
I was going to enter one of the few sections that I was not able to explore a week prior so I did not want to approach the climb too vigorously.
When the trail crosses Route 51 the incline up to Lerosa Fork started immediately. I caught up with a three/four runners that took off a few seconds before me from Cimabanche; we started the climb together and worked together going up. After half a mile we passed one dude that was having a very bad time and was refilling his bottles from a stream of water coming down from the rocks by the trail, while our group started to stretch out. I was hanging second to last at the tail of the train, and started to feel not as strong as I was a couple of hours before, despite my legs kept moving well and had no signs of cramps or other problems.
I started regretting having that small espresso at the aid station poured into my flask: despite cleaning it, the sour taste of coffee contaminated my OSMO powder dissolved in water and literally every time I tried to sip it, I felt it was putting warm puke in my mouth. Disgusting.
Having plenty of fluids in other containers allowed me to continue with no particular issues, just a bit ticked off, but soon I realized that my energy levels were going down, and I assumed it was because my body was still digesting what I got from the aid station.
The climb to Lerosa went overall ok, got caught by another runner and passed one, so the overall standing did not change; but I spent more than what I put in and the balance of my left over probably started to get into reserve. The next few miles down to Malga Ra Stua proved to be rough only in some spots with hard edgy rocks that were beating up one’s feet; the trail was fairly comfortable and runnable in most point.
At Malga Ra Stua I started having the first signals that something was not working too well. The legs were fine, they brought me up and down till that point and they were not burning; the initial cramps I felt on the first climb were not there anymore, a sign that I was not pushing the pace and the feeling of my feet been a little beat up was just the norm.
It was just my overall concentration level and my energy that were low.
I refueled with some solid food at Ra Stua giving up a spot to another runner that was quicker than me to get his nutrition and water in; I took a relaxing couple of minutes sitting on the bench and stretching my legs, knowing that after a few miles of downhill the real show was going to start.
I knew in my mind that I was going to attach an invisible target the back of those runners in front of me and one by one pick them up. I knew I had in me the determination of persevering and push myself, because I wanted to see the happiness pictured in my brother’s face, my parents’ faces and Gigi’s face once I crossed the finish line.
After a mile or so of unexpected painful technical downhill where I moved fairly well, the trail opened up becoming more of a stone road and I felt somewhat better mentally; I thought the first low point was overcome and now I could expect a bit of fun. Here I shared a few words with fellow runner Edward Melbourne from the UK. He was having some troubles on the downhill due to the technicality, but I could witness just minutes before how strong he was on the climbs, so instead of forcing the pace, I rather locked into his. I am not generally a talkative person on the trail. I prefer to listen. Listen to my breath, listen to my mind, listen to the noises of the mountains. I do not like talking during a race: you lose energy, concentration, and focus on what I am doing. However, the cool accent of this guy and his unique style were so peculiar that I did not mind chatting for a bit, knowing he was going to ditch me for sure in Val Travenanzes.
While the road started to change profile switching from downs to ups, I saw on my watch that I was about half a mile from completing 50 miles. Feeling good I mentally challenged myself to run from that moment until the 50.01 mark regardless of the terrain I had to face.
This is one of my usual tricks I generally adopt to try and break the hiking momentum that inevitably gets dialed in when going up long inclines during a race. Forcing myself into this bet to prove myself I can “run” or “jog” for a little section generally helps getting some motivation back, make some progress along the course and overall feel better about getting to the end quickly.
As often happens, the trick worked as I entered trail 401 opening up the climb for Val Travenanzes.
As I was making the right turn into 401 and crossing a little stream of water (same spot where I miss read the 407 trail a week prior and ended up completely off course) I noticed two crazy runners coming down toward us down like rockets from trail 408. It took me a few seconds to realize their speed was way off from my pace and after seeing the different Bibs they were wearing, I realized those were the leaders of the 47km race.
In no time the trail got flooded with runners from this race and I must admit that it was quite painful to constantly having to pull on the side of the trail to let go these people that were just at the 10km mark, therefore still very fresh and energetic. Maybe this would be one thing the organizers can look into for next year race and avoid this huge congestion along Val Travenanzes.
Feeling a little better than what I experienced an hour before, and knowing that I made some ground passing two runners in the first kilometer of the climb, I felt pumped and hooked into some slower Cortina Trail runners that had a pace similar to mine at that point.
Now I was in hiking mode again and I was glad that I was slowly but constantly closing on the guy that passed me at Malga Ra Stua and wearing a tight spandex red Salomon shirt. I named it “the Salomon guy” and for the next half hour or so I kept repeating myself “Catch the Salomon guy, catch the Salomon guy”.
When I finally closed the gap I followed some of the Cortina Trail runners along the trail picking up their pace to gain quickly some distance on him. After this short lived effort I began feeling tired and empty; my breathing went off the chart even when hiking slowly and the only way to bring it back to normal was to rest for a few moments by the side of the trail.
This is when my race mode was wiped out and the positive momentum I had built up to that point started to spiral down.
After a few hundred meters I was passed again by the Salomon guy. We switch position another couple of times while my breathing kept getting unsustainably unnatural. I tried to eat something again, and while the hydration was still very good, I kept chewing and chewing my bolts without being able to swallow them.
The realization that I was doomed came pretty quickly. Upset because physically I felt still pretty good, I tried a few things before calling it a day: I sat for another couple of minutes by the side of the trail, I dipped my legs into the river cold water twice, I tried again to eat other things I was carrying with me.
Stubbornly I kept hiking making some short frequent stops to keep the breathing in control, hoping to make it quickly to the top of the valley and then, maybe, turn around the day in the next downhill section.
All of a sudden I was not even able to walk straight along the trail and threw myself to the side, laying belly up on the grass surrounded by bushes. There I laid down for what seemed a long period of time, probably 15 to 20 minutes.
Several runners passed me, probably 3-400, at least, but only two of them were competing in the LUT. The others were all Cortina Trail runners.
They all asked me if I was ok, just one of them was really concerned and encouraged me to make it to the water station that was just 400 meters ahead.
I got up and hiked behind him following his footsteps. I stopped once and he waited for me. Then when I stopped a second time, he told me he was going to proceed and inform the personnel at the station.
After a few minutes two volunteers came to my rescue but instead of giving up totally, I simply walked with them to the little hat they were manning. This process took another 30 minutes, for approximately 45-60 minutes to cover 1/4 of a mile.
Since 2015 for me has been a year of PRs, this will be included in my Hall of Fame: 60 min quarter mile dash. (I’ll submit to an anti-doping test to make sure it gets officially recognized)
At the aid station I totally recognized I had to drop out from the race. I laid down on the couch that was prepared for me, I took off my shoes and my socks to dry them out, I tried to eat a cookie, and had some hot Italian tea.
I tried to rest, sleep and recharge. I stayed inside for approximately two hours and asked the volunteer that was checking on me what options I had.
His answer was clear:
Option 1 – Call the helicopter and get transported to the finish line in Cortina
Option 2 – Hike another 3k up to the pass, jump into the Carabinieri Jeep and get hauled to Col Gallina Aid Station where I could get with my parents and drop out of the event.
I thought that getting helicoptered out was going to be a bit dramatic, however, I realized I could not fool myself and my conditions: doing 3kms in the Alps is not going for a brisk job in Central Park and given how my last 3 hours were spent, I decided to try and rest more before making up my mind.
Once I gained a bit of confidence, I got dressed again and took off towards the pass. A little sad I continued my march uphill, knowing the goal for the race was blown and that it was going to be even difficult to reach the location where I could drop out.
Little by little I climbed to the pass and finally saw the Carabinieri Jeep; I got close to it and…big surprise…nobody there!
Maybe they were taking a break or maybe they were assisting someone else. Bottom line at this point I could only proceed towards Col Gallina and reach my family.
This was not an easy task since the downhill was a torture for my body and pretty soon I noticed that another steep climb was ahead just before the Rifugio.
My energy was completely depleted to the point that even walking slowly required me to stop for a few seconds every minute since I was feeling dizzy and even my eyes were not able to focus on the road ahead.
The final short descent with a few technical spots was challenging me like never before. I reached the parking lot with some relief and began looking around for my parents, my brother and Serena or possibly Gigi and just drop out of the race; I think I might have been smiling at this point, cause somehow I felt I accomplished something pushing through those 4 miles from Val Travenanzes to Col Gallina.
I jogged through the parking lot, and reached the aid station set up on the other side of the road bringing to Falzarego Pass; the bad news were not finished.
No sight of any familiar face in the area. I had no idea where everyone else was, so I just got some food and liquids from the aid station. I stopped again for 10-15 minutes and tried to regain some sort of energy because the maintain atmosphere was getting more chilly.
After a few sips of the magical Italian hot tea I spotted a woman with a cell phone and I asked if I could make a phone call to my parents.
She kindly agreed, seeing desperation pictured on my face and that allowed me to get in touch with my mother. We spoke briefly and learned she was down in Cortina waiting for news about me since nobody knew what could have happened to me.
I explained I was not doing too well and she agreed to pick me up immediately; just a 45 minutes drive up to Passo Falzarego.
This gave me the time to rest and think more about the decision of dropping out.
Mentally I could rationally explain myself that there was not a safe way to continue the race (what I originally called a race, because at this point it was just a fun hike in the mountains). I had many reasons to stop, first and foremost because wondering around alpine territory in non ideal physical conditions is risky and irresponsible and stupid (the risk of getting a rescue team looking for you in the Alps is not a pleasurable option to consider).
Second, it was kind of stinky to continue the event, exert myself walking for another 5, 6, 7 or 10 hrs, and get no satisfaction with my performance.
I started off with the goal of finishing in the first 25-30 spots so finishing so far back into the field was a testament of failure.
Third, stopping at that point would have allowed for a quick physical recovery and be ready to target a new goal race relatively soon.
However, not finishing also sucks. This was my last DNF two years prior, and having a repeat was going to be mentally terrible. Almost like an obstacle you can’t overtake.
While contemplating all scenarios I realized that by the time my parents could pick me up from the aid station, I would have been freezing, or maybe I could have turned things around.
Feeling a little more alive after having a cup of hot soup, I called back my mother and asked her to drive to the next aid station so I could enjoy a little more the course without leaving with a sour taste of defeat in my mouth, while covering a longer distance. She agreed, so I figured that another 8-9k through the Averau peak and the not so steep but rocky and “bitchy” trail to Giau Pass was going to be my next mission.
The hike was hard, especially the climbing: every few steps my heart beat was increasing with no control and I began feeling dizzy again. I took my time resting and catching my breath every time I needed. It was still horrendous and clearly I was not recovered, but the idea of persevering well outside the initial competitive approach was somehow appealing.
Somehow I believed that there was something there for me to learn, had I continued the hike.
I arrived at Passo Giau jogging down a short descent with another couple of runners. My parents were there waiting for me with Gigi; their faces appeared worried, despite my attempt to show some sort of smile to give them some relief and reassurance I was doing fine overall; but it did not work. I really looked spent and deprived. I got some hot tea and a couple of cookies. I rested on a bench for a good 15-20 minutes with their company.
My morale improved, even though there were other participants constantly taking off from the aid station and leaving me behind; at least I could exchange some decent conversation with my parents. I tried to get some more food with me, in the event that my body could accept it later on and then took off again.
I knew at this point there were only two obstacles to get to the end: the first was the extremely steep but short incline to Forcella Giau, and the second was the technical descent along trail 431 that bothered me a lot during the last training run on the course a week prior. At a minimum I was going to enjoy a great easy runnable part from Forcella Giau to Forcella Ambrizzola, where the trailed was “paved” with a soft layer of smooth dirt and plenty of grass that was going to give my feet a little break.
The ascent to Forcella Giau proved to be challenging, and I really had to labor through it: once again even an “easy” walk up the climb was the perfect occasion to throw my heart rate off the roof. The need to stop, rest and breath became frequent and very frustrating mentally. To aggravate the psychological status, the easy runnable section between Forcella Giau and Forcella Ambrizzola was another painful hiking exercise. Once I reached Croda da Lago I literally threw myself on top of one of the dining tables outside the Rifugio.
I laid there for a while to the point that I was getting cold, due to dark clouds gathering on the peaks and covering the sun. The intestine had not improved, yet, and I waited a little bit more to use the bathroom facilities of the rifugio. With the weather quickly changing I proceeded towards the trail head and began the last 10k of the course.
The first drops of rain and the roaring overwhelming thunders approaching gave me an incentive to get moving a bit faster. The trees with their leaves and branches were shielding us from the rain, but as soon as the storm picked up its intensity I quickly got drenched. The only way to remain warm was running.
Yes, I finally re-started running.
While other participants around me were getting their waterproof gears out, I did not bother. I was drenched and wanted to run, now that I finally gained some inertia.
The positive thing is that the rocky steep and slippery downhill that bothered me and Michelle so much the week before became almost easy. I was surprised on how my legs regained their springy movements and allowed me to “dance” around the trail and off trail as well. Never did I run so well in the last 8 hours. Probably I never ran so well on a downhill full of wet slippery rocks and muddy trails, ever.
I was not averaging great speed, but mostly because of the difficulty of the terrain. My energy was still not good, I was running on fumes of fumes. I knew that it was not going to be pretty, but the idea of finishing as early as possible pushed me through the last few miles.
As the trail became more runnable and turned into a gravel road and finally the asphalt streets of the town of Cortina, I picked up a few positions but it was irrelevant at that point.
I finished with a time of 19 hours, 3 minutes and a few seconds. A personal worst in terms of performances, but also a personal best if I look at how much time I spent out in the elements.
Longest run and longest time spent on my feet of my entire life. There is something positive about this experience. Despite the feeling of partial failure for not achieving the performance I aimed at – especially in the motherland – I was left with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
In this race I struggled, true, but even a bit stupidly in certain moments, I continued the fight to complete my experience.
There is a saying stating that there is no improvement without bad moments or failures, and that is partially true.
I’ve had a good year to date, and I have to put my head down and go back to work, harder and with the usual dedication. There are other six months in 2015 and many events filling up the calendar. Shorter distances, probably, but still training for the next mountain adventure.
Singlet: Mountain Peak Fitness Red Newt Racing Team by Patagonia – M’s Air Flow Singlet
Shorts: Mountain Peak Fitness Red Newt Racing Team by Patagonia – M’s Striders Short/5″ (wonderful for trail running)
Socks: Feetures Ultra Light
Shoes: Salomon S-Lab Sense 4 – New pair
Hydration: Salomon Men S-Lab Hybrid Jacket MD Blk/Red and Amphipod Hydraform 20oz bottle
Watch/GPS: Garmin 910XT
Waterproof Jacket: Salomon S-LAB Hybrid Jacket
Waterproof Pants: Salomon S-LAB Hybrid WP Pants