The RUT VK and 50k – a Montana Adventure

At the beginning of 2014 Michelle and I were looking around the west coast for a trail race that could satisfy our desire for adventure and the desire to visit a new part of the Country.
We long thought that it was time to step up the mileage in the ultra world, and maybe tackle 100 miles, but then ran into Mike Foote posts about the RUT.
Together with Bud we agreed that this race in Montana was the logical balanced compromise to combined vacation, racing (a 50k is not too long, not too short), relaxing time, and exploration. So we signed up in February knowing that this was not going to be a goal race for the year, but a special event that would have built memories for years to come.
As usual I wanted to overdo it and signed up for the Vertical Kilometer on Friday and the 50k on Saturday, while Michelle and Bud went for the 50k only.
Fast forward a few months and after my experience in Italy with the Dolomites Skyrace, I convinced Michelle to sign up for the VK as well.

Bud, unfortunately, opted out of the whole trip thing, leaving us alone against the challenging Lone Peak on top of Big Sky

During the week we spent in Montana we had the chance to explore the course for a few days. A funny episode happened on Sunday, when – after returning to the Lodge – we met Toru Miyahara, Japanese La Sportiva runner specializing in short distances, who saw us with his manager finishing our recon of the course. They approached us and asked if we were with the Salomon Team…ahahah…what a funny situation…we laughed for days thinking about this misunderstanding. After a few days in Big Sky we drove to Yellowstone and got to know something more about buffalos and hot springs.

Below are a few photos showing the course exploration and parts of Yellowstone:

Bone Crusher Beginning

The beginning of Bone Crusher does not seem so intimidating. Just wait

 

From the top of the first part of the climb a short flat section advises you of what is coming

From the top of the first part of the climb a short flat section advises you of what is coming

A view from Lone Peak looking down at the long dinosaur spine shape of the ridge

A view from Lone Peak looking down at the long dinosaur spine shape of the ridge

Complete view of the area below with Big Sky right at the far bottom

Enjoying the chilly breeze

Enjoying the breeze as well

Never imagined we could have shared a training run with some mountain goats

Never imagined we could have shared a training run with some mountain goats

Nasty descent. No...I do not like this

Nasty descent. No…I do not like this

Damn it, how can we run here?

Damn it, how can we run here?

Mt Washburn hike in Yellowstone

Mt Washburn hike in Yellowstone

Ice Lake along Norris Canyon Road

Ice Lake along Norris Canyon Road

Buffalos

Buffalos

Norris Geyser

Norris Geyser

Gibbon Geyser Basin

Gibbon Geyser Basin

Race weekend started on Friday with the Vertical Kilometer.
The course was set up with approx. 3,600ft of elevation gain over 3.1 miles; the first 2 miles, however, covered approximately 1,600ft of climbing bringing us from the base area to the top of the Swift Current lift, while the last mile covered the remaining 2,000ft on terrain that was everything but smooth, stable and friendly from the top of the lift to the top of Lone Peak.

This was a different type of race from the treacherous slopes of Alba di Canazei when the VK brought me up 1k in just a mile and a half.

The “gentle” initial climb was mostly runnable and I chose to hike some short parts only to make sure I was not leaving my legs killed for next day 50k. From the Bone Crusher up the real effort began and very few sections could be run. The hiking along the exposed ridge was much quicker than expected and I was surprised to find myself in a decent overall position (around 20th or so). After the first rocky section of Bone Crusher the “trail” spans a couple of hundred feet towards the base of Lone Peak where the mountain is so steep that runners were scrambling on their feet and hands to keep their balance and push themselves quicker up the ridge. When I ran the short flatter portion before the final push, I looked up to check who was ahead of me and almost at the top I saw the white shirt of “His Climbness” – the usual suspect – Kilian, followed close by someone else (Rickey Gates). Then the field was pretty spread out along the stone field.

In front of me I saw three or four runners that where within reach and I started making some ground, while one of them opened up a gap on us (I later found out that this guy was Jamil Coury – race director of the Flagstaff skyrace).

Three of us climbed relentlessly together, alternating positions and selecting different paths along the talus slope. With about 2 minutes to go and at the end of the little train we created, I figured I could have sprinted and overtaken the other two runners; I produced a good effort for about a minute, pulling myself up using the electrical cables that were laying on the ground. The other two kept up with me following me close by.
With 100 meters to go I figured I already had my little moment of glory and very little would have changed had I finished 15th, 18th or 20th. What I could have lost (getting too tired for next day race) was more than what I could have gained (17th vs. 19th place), so I preferred to avoid a final hard sprint and just tagged along finishing 5 and 2 seconds behind the other two guys in 19th place overall.

Ready to sprint

Ready to sprint

Not so willing to sprint anymore

Not so willing to sprint anymore

See the following link for a complete video of the finish line with us popping out around minute x:xx (Michelle at minute x:xx):
http://www.ultrasportslive.tv/the-rut-skyrunner-world-series-ultra-final-vertical-k-finish/

Once on top, I waited to see Michelle’s finish and it did not take too long before she summited Lone Peak. In the meantime, I tried to get something to drink (impossible task since the water that Ellie Greenwood was pouring was freezing almost instantaneously) and I talked to some of the finishers noticing the Salomon Team and supporters (Emelie, Tom Owens, Kilian, Rickey, etc.) getting into the gondola to go back to the base with female winner Stephanie Jimenez.

Climbing last section of the VK

Climbing last section of the VK

Closer and closer

Closer and closer

Final jump, now it is 150ft flat

Final jump, now it is 150ft flat

Left, make a left

Left, make a left

Jump for the camera

Jump for the camera

When Michelle finished we quickly headed to the Gondola and then hiked to the Swift Current lift to bring us back to the Lodge. Quite interesting was the trip down with a much more senior runner sharing the bench with us that was shivering and suffering from hypothermia coming down because poorly dressed.
In the evening after dinner we met Nadir Maguet, wondering around the buildings probably looking for food. I learned a lot about this young runner that has been doing very well in the skyrunning circuit, especially in the VK specialty.

By the way, funny clip of the start at 10:56 in the following video (I promise it was not as cold as the woman was claiming):
http://www.ultrasportslive.tv/the-rut-skyrunner-world-series-ultra-final-vertical-k-start/
My start is at 14:25 (see me at 14:29); Michelle start is at 19:30 or so (green jacket and pink..unfortunately…gloves)


At 28:35 you can see a train of 3 guys coming up, I am the last one; Michelle finish at 1:08:45!!

In the evening, after a relaxing session in the hot pool of the Hotel we got a great dinner and went to bed early

Next morning we woke up early to tackle the 50k with really cold temperatures at the start.
Sage and Kilian were going to compete to win the Skyrunning World Championship so there was no holding back form them; same story on the female side with Emelie, Anna Frost, Ellie Greenwood and Kasie Enman. A long list of local Montana runners was there contending the top spots trying to upset other renown runners like Manuel Merillas, Tom Owens and Fulvio Dapit coming from Europe. My strategy was to start conservative for the first 2 miles up, and then increase progressively the effort till the Tram Dock Aid Station at mile 18. After that I figured it would have been an all out effort up Lone Peak (for the second time in less than 24 hours) and a nice easier ride to the end.

The cold air was quickly forgotten while we were running up the South Access dirt road and the Soul Hole. Even if the speed was conservative a few drops of sweat came out on my forehead. When at the top of the climb I caught up with Anna Frost, I wondered if I was pushing too hard. Well, too much thinking does not help, and while descending I joined a little group of solid runners that was behind Emelie F. She took advantage of the downhill and opened up a solid gap on the rest of the women, while our group of 5-6 kept running at a relaxed but solid pace downhill till the Madison Village Base Area Aid Station.
Here we ditched the headlamps that were used for the first half hour of the race and we proceeded climbing back to Moonlight Basin Trail Loop and up the Elkhorn trail. Right after the aid station I picked up the pace and lead our group as the trail was getting steeper. In about a mile or so I had a glimpse of someone ahead of me and realized it was a woman.
Once I got closer I noticed it was Emelie F. I said hi, without wasting too much oxygen, and I was glad to see she recognized me from UROC the year before. While debating if I was pushing too hard too soon, I found myself alone and decided to focus on keeping a somewhat hard pace while ascending the first really steep loose scree field of the day.
I was able to alternate a few seconds of running here and there with a solid hiking pace and that allowed me to pass a few runners along the climb and getting closer to others that obviously went out too fast on the first 8-9 miles of the course.
The first 10k peak of the day was reached and now from the top of Deadgoat Ridge (at 10,200ft) I had to face an interesting 50ft section of real skyrunning technical course that the race course description calls as “short and steep technical area on the ridge with the assistance of course marshals and a couple hand lines”. I did not use any rope or anything else. I took my time making the first step into the unstable ground and then I just dove down into the mountain. It was so refreshing and a feeling of childish pleasure was brought up – similar to what I experienced for most of the downhill part of the Dolomites Skyrace.

After this short 50ft steep section a sharp right put me into the Headwaters ridge trail, another downhill gnarly section – as these photos can prove – tested many of us:

Headwaters ridge

Headwaters ridge

Not an easy path to follow

Not an easy path to follow

Attention, attention

Attention, attention

En route to Moonlight Basin Ski Resort

En route to Moonlight Basin Ski Resort

Having tried this part of the course Wednesday during the little snow storm that covered the peaks, I knew this part needed to be run fairly hard to be in a good position before the hardest section of the race, so I had no second thoughts when I passed a few runners that were moving slowly through the loose rocks of Headwaters ridge and the grassy slopes of the downhill paths.

The downhill brought us at about 8,300ft and the hardest climbs of the day now were next.
The first one was an out and back wide service road about 1 mile long and 800ft of D+. The surface was really easy and runnable, but fairly steep and hiking mode got activated for many of us. A quick glimpse back and I saw Emelie charging full steam the climb, while ahead of me I noticed Rickey Gates, Fulvio Dapit, Jeremy Wolf and others coming back down after the aid station.
I must admit I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in such a good spot and felt very privileged to witness with my own eyes these runners going by me so closely.
By the time we reached the aid station I caught up with a few more runners, while Emelie was on my heels. We shared together the short downhill section and the hill up to the base of the Bone Crusher and she even made some funny jokes to me, asking to pull her uphill. I replied firmly that maybe it was the other way around.

The climb up to Lone Peak was longer than expected this time and I felt I was not able to really run effectively as I expected. I was always very close to Emelie for the whole climb, but now from behind I had also Philipp Reiter getting closer and closer. By the time we got to the summit the two of them lead our small group with me following about 20-30 seconds behind.

You can see a little video of Emelie getting to the summit of Lone Peak with me right behind her:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nu2K5jB4-Kw

At the top they took sometime to refill their bodies of very much needed calories, while I only got water in my bottle and continued straight ahead determined to hold onto the European duo knowing that the thought of following them through the rest of the race would have pushed me in the harder moments later on.
The downhill started immediately and my legs were somewhat still recovering from the climb. Philipp and Emelie were moving really fast, especially Emelie who slowly but steadily ran away ahead of us.

Coming down from Lone Peak trying to keep up with Emelie and Philipp

Coming down from Lone Peak trying to keep up with Emelie and Philipp

Hard effort balancing downhill

Hard effort balancing downhill

I was so focused on Philipp that for the entire downhill that I did not have a chance to get energies in me. I had a bolt while going up Lone Peak, but that is not quite enough to fuel someone with proper energy. I almost did a disaster here, running and pushing myself without caring about fueling.
By mile 22 I realized I was empty and I was hoping to cover the next section till the finish quickly. A few minor hills from mile 22 and 25 caused me to lose ground from Philipp and Emelie, and another 2 or three runners picked me up and passed me.
I felt miserable and stupid for such a rookie mistake, but I also rationally justified it getting caught in the excitement of racing elbow by elbow with those legends. At this point I was getting closer to the last hill of the race and I knew I had to do something to come back to life. I tried pushing through but I needed energy if I wanted a chance to recover some positions. At mile 25 I stopped along the Moose Tracks trail and forced myself to take a 1 minute break to eat something. I lost sometime, true, and I was going to have a terrible next 30 minutes – especially mentally – along the last hard hill of the day.

About 5-6 runners caught me in this section and it was depressing to think I was losing positions after such a great first half. I made it to the Andesite Summit Aid Station at mile 27. It was particularly mentally challenging to climb the steep section up to Pacifier Cat track, pulling myself up the slopes covered with wet dirt and slippery mud using the ropes that were so kindly installed by the race organizers. I promised myself that I was going to recover till the aid station, and then push all I had from there to the finish and pass again those guys that passed me in the last 2 miles.
And so did I. The single track East ridge and Elk Park Ridge trail were pretty smooth, not technical and DOWNHILL. It allowed me to catch quickly two runners, and another one a few minutes later. In one of the switchbacks I noticed a runner with a blue shirt running well about a minute behind me.

Next switchback I looked again and realized it was Kasie Enman, at that point second woman. It did not matter if she was a female or a male; it was a runner and I did not want to give up the spot I fought so hard for all day.

While descending we picked up all the runners that previously passed me before Andesite AS; the gap with Kasie remained basically the same, and I was trying to capitalize as much as I could the downhill knowing that the between me and the finish line there was only a little “bump” that I read about in the course map. I did not check this section before the race, but it was not pretty to find out that the little bump was actually a nice hill just over half a mile long and with 400ft of climbing on it.
Kasie closed the gap here and I gave it all to come out ahead of her on top. When we began the flat portion at the top of the climb we were only a few feet apart and I had no idea how to continue at this point.

In my mind I did not want to lose the position, but it could appear such a stupid and childish move to sprint ahead of a female runner. Many people, in fact, really feel bad about themselves when they get “chicked”. I do not care about this. If someone is better than me, great. If not, I’ll try hard and stay ahead of him/her. Still, I had several thoughts about what people and spectators, may perceive when witnessing my behavior. Kasie increased the speed but for the next 4-500 yards did not really gain on me. She passed me, but only to take a lead of a few feet. 5, 6, maybe 10 feet ahead of me.

By the time we had a visual of the finish line a couple of spectators or photographers tried to signal me to stay out of the way and let her finish alone; I was not sure why they were doing that; maybe a better photo shot? A better video image?
I did not want to let her go away and I did not want to have her take my spot, so I tried to follow her, now much further behind. I closed a few seconds after Kasie, true, but the chip said I was ahead of her. That means I kept my spot, and it made me really happy for the day.

At this point I tried to relax, checked the finish line situation and headed back to the hotel to take a shower before grabbing some food and waiting for Michelle, who bravely completed probably the hardest 50k we have both ever done. This all came after competing in the vertical k just 24 hrs prior.

Crossing the finish line

Crossing the finish line

Finish line is crossed

Finish line is crossed

You can see the close finish between me and Kasie at xx:xx here:

Michelle at the finish line

Michelle at the finish line

Speedy finish

Speedy finish

Percy Sutton Harlem 5k

After running this race in 2012 and having a positive experience (with near death feelings after the finish line), I never thought to include this event in the calendar for 2013, since it was not part of the team races.

Michelle decided to run it to collect an extra point in the 9+1, just in case for next year and was almost undecided whether to run it or not till last-minute, given her persistent leg problems that never went away this summer; I decided to tag along and try to help Warren Street collect a decent overall place and maybe bring home some money for the team budget. In fact, NYRR had a small prize money for the first few teams.
It was not ideal racing conditions for me since I did not want to modify the weekly training schedule and ended up running very hard tempo repetitions the evening before the race.

Quite tired Michelle and I drove to Harlem early in the morning for packet pick up and immediately spotted Paul. We started running along the course to warm up and refresh our memories of those steep hills that we would tackle in the first mile. Paul was wise enough to review the garmin data from his previous years and told me that my perception of the course been all up for one mile and then basically all down from there on was wrong: the highest point was going to be just after the 2 mile marker. Not fully convinced of his data, I still trusted Paul and revised my plan for the race.

First, I was not fresh, so I needed to start conservative. Second, with hills coming till the second mile, the conservative approach made sense.

As we took off I probably had almost 100 runners in front of me. They were sprinting like maniacs trying to make it in first place at the bottom of the first hill. I did not quite understand the reason, since after the turn they all disappeared back.
I saw Aaron just ahead of me and knowing he was in great shape, I tried to catch up to him slowly on the first hill. I did and I locked myself behind a tall tall dude from Central Park. He was great: large shoulder, maybe 6′-5″ and a great device to break the wind in front of us. A couple of other runners lined up with me behind him and together reached the northern point of the course to make the 180 degree turn onto St Nicholas.

Here I could take a breath for a sec, since we went downhill slightly for a couple of blocks. I realized that I would have lost to all those guys next to me had we finished together in the final long stretch, so the only way to pull away was to wear them down slowly with a faster pace from that point.
I tried to get away, but Mr tall tall Dude kept following me and sprinting to catch up. Every time I glanced back he was responding to my “attacks”, so I stopped trying to open a gap and kept the pace more constant. I saw Aaron was following close, and I was happy to hang at that pace.
In this part of the race I also lost sight of Paul, a good sign that he was going to fight and be close to his sub 16 goal.

Around mile 2, I saw Sham that encouraged us and took some nice (even if I look like cr#p) shots. Now after a quarter of a mile downhill the race was all flat along the final long tricky straight stretch.
I say tricky because from far away you can see the start line. Problem is: the start line IS NOT the finish line. I knew that very well, because I did that mistake two years ago.

This time I kept myself in check and did not sprint after the last left turn, as other did. I let them go and caught up with them with just 100 meters to go: they were gassed out too early. I did not feel my sprint was anything fast, but it was effective. I passed just a few runners, and one two pulled away from me. Thankfully this time the chip system worked fine and those two runners that out-sprinted me, actually ended up behind since they started well ahead of me.

Of course Paul was just after the finish line, already grabbing some food, and he welcomed me and Aaron (just on my tail).
Paul told us he was feeling left out from the group since we all got a PR on the course that day, while he barely missed his sub 16 goal by mare seconds.

True, Aaron and I got PRs, (finally a decent one for me…still just a few decimals short of that 80% AG). However, how would I describe the magnificent race that Paul put together? 7th overall, once again beyond 90%, first master and more importantly the passion and the commitment that he put into training. That is the magic behind Paul: the dedication and the relationship he has with running. He simply inspires others to run more, better and harder.

But why would one run? why are we running? Why am I running?

That is the question that uncle Pascal asked me about a year ago during a long cold run in Central Park. That question never found an answer and I have focused more recently on finding an answer as well as learning why others do it.

One more thing: Paul beat me by half a minute in a race (yes, I am improving slightly) but I publish this more than a month after he published his report.
Total domination from his end.

Second thing: even Michelle had a good race, much better than expected given the initial conditions and our total lack of speedwork in the last 6 months.

Montana awaits for us, and we will be present and ready

2014 Team Champs

With little time to write about running these days, I must try to be concise to highlight a few thoughts about this race.

I’ve had the chance to talk to Paul and his brother Stephen then very next day and we were delighted to have experienced the Team Champs once more.
It is a race in a sort of puritan running spirit: it is a race for runners, for people that have the passion for running, and share a great deal of their time training with teammates.
It is not intended to be a fashion show with the latest and greatest gears such as watches, hydration belts, and compression bands, it is not a place to show off bright colorful and weird costumes, or where faces are smiling and displaying pleasure (at least not until a very few moments after the finish line).

Fancy Tshirts are replaced almost completely with team singlets, compressions shorts and tight shorts are generally MIA, while the short shorts are generally ruling the scene. Also, all the fancy shoes with support inserts, pronation aids, extra cushion foam layers, or five fingers shape are not going to be part of the event, because the vast majority of the runners will show up with their racing flats, or their regular trainers.

This is a form of running that probably connects more with the original spirit of the sport that boomed a few decades ago. Regardless of speed, this is a no frills event for runners that are giving their best effort and contribute to make their team shine. Hence, there is going to be a lot of sweat involved.

The level of competition is extremely high and the best of the best in NYC comes out to this event.

This year Warren Street suffered the “loss” of a great mate, Charlie, who moved from NYC just a few weeks prior to the race. Charlie certainly contributed very well in previous editions of the race, and could have brought us in a better spot had he been here. Charlie, you are and will be missed, not just for the results, but for the company and the spirit you brought during our long runs and the workouts. Also a strong runner like Emilio was not listed with us, because he finally joined his newly founded team. Rob unfortunately could not be at his best, Pascal was still trying to figure out what bit him on the plane going to France and attempting to climb Mt Blanc, and Fabio was still trying to get some workouts while working a crazy schedule.

A couple of good notes were 1) that Paul was back from a situation that a year before was totally different, and also 2) Sam was going to run and he was in great shape.

The race was short and quick; rain welcomed us when we were warming up and during the woman race that this year was scheduled before the men’s event. The few drops that came down were enough to soak us and keep an incredibly high level of humidity for the race.

I warmed up with Sebastian and Pascal, and even Paul was doing some strides along East Drive north of Engineer’s Gate; this way warming up meant also checking out the final phases of the women race and cheering for the WS team lead by Michelle this year.
We lined up near the start and knowing how aggressive the start of the race is, I decided to stay back quite a few rows and rather deal with people in front of me than going out too fast.
This seems to be a constant in my races: I am always afraid of going out too fast. Maybe one day I should really try to run with no mental barriers and see what happens.

Paul and I hanging out before the start. The smiles are just to cover up the tension

Paul and I hanging out before the start. The smiles are just to cover up the tension

I saw Paul, Seb, Aaron, Ryan Rob and Sam taking off quickly and I kept my effort fairly moderate for the first mile. Regardless of the weather conditions, I felt that mile one was fairly easy and it got me over a couple of the west side rolling hills. clock said 5:28, and I still had a few team mates around.
Mile 2 split was 10:50 and the gap between me and other runners in front kept shrinking. While crossing the Marathon finish I sneaked behind Aaron and Ryan was just around the same zone. I followed them on West drive till south end of the park, and here I had my doubts about passing Aaron: he was running strong and fast.
With the risk of burning myself out a bit too soon I increased a little the effort right at the bottom of the park and thought I could have maintained that to the finish. For the first mile or so it worked and then I had to deal with Cathill.

It is funny how a little bump on the road that generally I would not even consider worth mentioning in longer races, here it gets a lot of attention. Cathill is Cathill; it is not a difficult hill, it is not a climb, it is just a bump. The question is: “how fast can you run this 1/4 mile?”
The faster the better usually, therefore it always becomes a difficult spot for races in Central Park. I remember having my share of fatigue making my way to the top, but once over it, the legs were still moving with a good turnaround.

I picked up a few spots in the last 2.5 miles of the race and got closer to a small group of 5 just after the flat straight of EG. I did not save energy for the final sprint like the year before, when I did get a bit faster at the end; rather I kept an increasing sustained effort for the last half mile.

I was able to close the gap with the little group I was chasing, passed one runner and worked hard to overtake another NBR ahead of me.

Sham caught me on the final left turn trailing behind him just moments before completing the task:

IMG_0405

IMG_0404

I am not sure what happens with NYRR results lately, but I started behind this guy (I clearly saw him at the start, I know the guy cause he often wears a Ninja-Naruto headband in races and he was at least two seconds ahead of me under the start line), finished just in front of him, and ended up with a slower time. I cannot make this work in my head.
Also the time shown in the official results doesn’t make sense with my watch time, and I have heard of several other runners getting a “gun” time rather than the chip time. Mistery!!

Regardless, happy with my performance and my final time (about 1 minute and 10 secs better than the previous Champs), and about 30 secs behind teamate Sebastien (still tired from Mt Blanc).

Warren Street had a pretty good run, we finished 4th overall, with great runs by Paul (26:16 at 48), Sam, Rob, Aaron (just behind me) and Ryan.
Too bad Emilio did not run for us bacuse with his time we could have got third with a very big chance to take third overall for the entire year.

Instead now we are pretty much set in 4th place and it will be very difficult to change that given the fast races we are approaching (Autism Speak 4M and 5th Ave Mile) where Central Park has an edge on us given their track background.

Warren Street after the effort

Warren Street after the effort

Dolomites Sky Race and Vertical K

Right at the beginning of the summer season, some machines we ordered at work brought me back to Italy for almost two weeks.
It was the perfect opportunity to seek some sort of redemption in those mountains that made my spirit suffer just 12 months earlier at the LUT with a lousy and disappointing DNF.

Going through the calendar I explored several options, but after running two 50 milers in three weeks, I was not looking for another long distance race, on terrains that I am not used to or trained on.
There were some local events in the north-east I could have targeted, but the appeal of entering a skyrace was too strong, so I signed up for the combo VK-Skyrace at the Dolomites Sky Race in Canazei.

VERTICAL K RACE

This event was for me very new. I tried the course a week before the race and had very good feelings, running up and down from Alba to the top of Crepa Niegra twice. Volunteers were already fixing the trail in spots that were damaged by the ice and snow of a rough winter and spring.
Well…the snow was actually not completely gone from the course, and it made me wonder how people could possibly run in so steep, slippery and unstable conditions.
The recon was pretty good and I felt my legs exploding only towards the end of the second climb after realizing that the vertical K is actually much tougher descending than going up.

Feeling so springy and agile on the trail gave me positive feelings and I felt inspired to tackle this unique challenge. It took me about 55 minutes for each rep, and I was convinced that I could shave about 10-12 minutes in a single all out attempt to cover the 1.5 mile with 3,352 feet of D+ course.
Certainly the average 40% incline is something that deserves respect, so my confidence was not over the roof. Mountains are tough. This was not a hike in Central Park, or a sissy run in Bear Mountain. Even Ithaca and the infamous Catskills were no match to the Dolomites.

Yes, you start from where I stand. You go through that fork/pass you see on top and then you climb the back side of the sharp edge. All in 1.5 miles

Yes, you start from where I stand. You go through that fork/pass you see on top and then you climb the back side of the sharp edge. All in 1.5 miles

The day of the race I arrived to the start very early and the organizers were still erecting the entire stage, sponsors’ flags, etc. I tried to relax and wait to warm up till last minute, but I felt somewhat nervous. Maybe the tension from a possible disappointing result? Maybe the anxiety to obtain a good performance in line with the training I had been doing? A lot was going on in my head, and that is not a good starting point.
Also I was a little disappointed that the race organization decided to create waves of runners based on “seniority” (previous participations to the event) and only subsequently predicted times. Not that it counts a lot since this was sort of a time trial up the mountain, but being surrounded by a field of strong people usually gets the best out of me, and can give me a reference point, a way to gauge my effort in an event I have never experienced before.
So I found myself in a corral of people that looked relatively weak, old and not fit. About 20-25 runners total that I google stalked the night before. All but 4-5 of them. I remember seeing a couple of Spaniards and a Nepalese guy, and I thought I was in good shape with them.

Entry List published the day before the race

Entry List published the day before the race

At the start line my expectations were confirmed: a fairly weak group of runners toed the line with me. However, a few of them looked much stronger than I anticipated, so I was happy I could have some good competition with me.

I made it to the start line very early in the morning, so I snapped a few photos of the area, including the little horse farm that was just behind some of the adv panels.

Start line early in the morning, with the organizers still setting up tents and panels

Start line early in the morning, with the organizers still setting up tents and panels

Horses welcoming the runners

Horses welcoming the runners

The first quarter mile started very well for me. I did not want to go out too fast so I kept myself in check and locked into 5th place. I felt good and moving relatively quickly behind the other four we moved out of the woods into the open grass fields. Here, at Pian de la Malandries, some fans were already screaming, playing cow bells and encouraging in various languages all of us.
My plan was to run conservatively till the next section of woods where the already outrageous incline would have increased further through Pian de Casel almost to Val de Caracol where a long patch of tricky slippery ice and snow would have initiated us to the worst part of the course from Val de Caracol to So Forcela. Here in the most difficult part I wanted to give it all and see if I could be one of the first finishers of my heat.
My plan was all good and fancy, till I hit a wall when re-entering the woods before Pian de Casel. The part that was supposed to be my allied, and I found myself hiking those sections that just a week before I had run quickly and with agility, twice in a row.

Disappointed, I kept going up, trying to hang in there and waiting for a second wave of energy that never came. My original goal of sub 45 minutes quickly became unrealistic.

Overall I lost just a couple of positions in my heat, but the nice thing is that one of the strong runners that started 5 minutes behind us with the second wave caught me and at least I had the chance to learn something from him.

I tried to follow him, but this race cannot be changed with a surge: you cannot just speed up temporarily like in a road race. The difference is just a tiny gap in pace that step over step and over step creates a gap that cannot be covered. His breathing was heavy, deep, quick, yet constant and regular.
The second thing I learned was that poles can really help in this discipline. They can make a great difference, if you are used to them and know how to handle them effectively.

The bottom line is that this is a discipline that requires some “specialized work” to get some satisfaction in terms of time or results.
Unlike road races or regular trail races where anyone having a decent level of running fitness can jump into a 5k, or a 10k or a half marathon and get a somewhat good result, in a vertical k there is no improvisation.

You need to train for it, you need to race it, you need to get it right. There is no room for error. You have to experience this race to understand the pain, and the feeling of humbleness you get from it. And still, you can’t wait to get to the next one, because you sure well know that you can do something better.

The race for me changed slightly after the “Forcella” where Kilian made his move to win the race a year prior. The incline here flattens out slightly for a few meters, so my legs began turning a little bit differently. I was able to enjoy the last stretch up to the Spiz of Criepa Negra. I tried to sprint to close in under 50 minutes, and when I stopped the watch after collapsing at the finish line (usual default procedure of every single runner) I read a disappointing 50:06. Little did I know that the chip time actually recorded 49:58. A pretty good deal given how poorly I performed, and it was nice to at least break 50 minutes.

After finishing I got my personal stuff that was helicoptered up from the start area and I waited anxiously to see the pros coming through.
Words are not enough to describe what those people can do, but it is also inspiring and motivating to witness it. It makes you realize that you have not pushed yourself enough, that the road to reach those levels is still very very long.

A few shots I took at the end included also a view of the sky race that was going to be done the next sunday.

The little ice section runners go through about 3/4 of the way up

The little ice section runners go through about 3/4 of the way up

This view in front of us makes you realize what a difference there is between mountain races in Europe and the North East

This view in front of us makes you realize what a difference there is between mountain races in Europe and the North East

As far as the overall race Italian Urban Zemmer took the victory with a good margin on second, while Kilian made it barely top 10, after coming back from establishing the CR at the Hardrock 100 just 5 days before.
After hanging out for a little bit with all the people who made it to the top, I ran slowly the two miles from the finish line to the Gondola that would have transported me back to Canazei. Well…slowly until I saw Kilian and Emelie behind me running towards the Gondola, as well.

We made it together and had a chance to exchange a few words with them; I felt happy that Emelie remembered me from UROC (even if she was not probably so happy to see me again, lol…see her race report from last September).
She got also stopped before entering the Gondola, to pay for the lift, but they could not take her credit card…I tried to pass Kilian my Bib for the free ride…but it was too late.

Kilian & Emilie in the gondola

Kilian & Emilie in the gondola

Well..at least we shared the same air for a few minutes. Once we were back down I went for lunch and later a quick inspection of the snow conditions along the Altavia delle Dolomiti, where the Skyrace would take place two days later.

Urban Zemmer, the winner

Urban Zemmer, the winner

SKY RACE

To be continued…

IMG_0362.JPG

Sky Race BIB

IMG_0364.JPG

IMG_0366.JPG

Manitou’s Revenge Ultra

So apparently I got beaten by a few guys in Manitou’s…and I got beaten by Ben, Cole, Jan and a few others also writing the race report. I still have a lot of work to do to increase my speed, especially typing.

I admit I have slacked a little these days, but writing something about Manitou’s Revenge and the Catskills is something that requires some thoughts, because this race deserves a lot of respect even on paper.
During the race around mile 48, while going up towards the Fire Tower I had thoughts about how to start this report and I came up with the following:

Q: What is Manitou’s Revenge and how would I describe it?
A: Manitou’s is a 54 mile race in the Catskills that can be described with different adjectives depending on you social status:
If you were a polite refined gentlemen (not my case), you would say it is a technical and difficult ultramarathon
If you were an educated roadrunner, you would say it is a gnarly tough ultra
If you are a truck driver, you would say this is literally a son ob a b*%#h!

Yes it is. It is a son of a b*%#h, and that’s why I liked it more than any other race this year.

I have heard about the Catkills for the first time sometimes in July last year, when someone mentioned the Escarpment Trail run. While researching the Escarpment, Michelle and I ran into the Manitou’s website and the idea of doing it sounded very appealing. We made up our minds sometime in late December when all the other more known ultras in the North East were sold out.
The descriptions in Ryan Welts’s and others’ blogs and the videos posted by MPF increased our curiosity about the event and I ended up contacting the race director Charlie about the application process. By the end of January we sent all our paperwork in and after a few weeks we were signed up.

February and March were very intense everytime we were thinking about the race. We could not hit the trails during the winter or the early spring due to the snow that covered the area, so our training was going to be limited. Michelle recovering from the stress fracture and myself having to stop a few weeks in April caused our fitness level to be very low the first time that we decided to explore the course.

We decided to spend the weekend up there trying to do two long runs in two days to see as much as we could. Obviously the first time out meant navigating around with a map and a few stops here and there to make sure we were on course.
Day 1 was dedicated to the first 13-15 miles of the course, avoiding the road section and picking up the trail right away aiming to reach North/South Lake parking lot. Day 2 was supposed to be along the Kaaterskill climb and descent towards Palenville.
What happened is that the first day was so brutal that we had to cut it short and instead of following the Escarpment Trail after North Point, we took the Red Trail through Badman Cave to the lakes. It took us about 6 hours and change to do the run/hike. Granted that the ascent to Bleackhead Mtn was covered with black ice and we proceeded very slowly there, our effort was pathetic at most.
The night did not go any better. Apparently I had a fever and next morning I woke up burning like fire. After resting an extra couple of hours and getting pancakes from the Maggie’s Kroocked Cafe’, we made our way to Palenville to at least attempt the climb up the Kaaterskill forest.
I was still weak and tired, the fever was not gone, but still the day was slightly better.
We went back home and got really worried about the chances of finishing the event within the cut off time. Probably Michelle was slightly more worried than I was, but it was clear that we needed to do more homework to get a hold of this thing.

We spend another weekend up there exploring the Devils Path from Platte Clove to Mink Hollow going through Indian Head, Twin, and Sugarloaf. We did not try the ascent to Plateau, but instead we went back and next day ran again the ascent to Kaaterskill which I thought was runnable but difficult to run after 20 miles into the race.
We also used the Mt Beacon to train the uphill rhythm, in an attempt to get some more climbing in our legs without driving that far every weekend.
I signed up to Cayuga months prior and wanted to use Cayuga as a training run for this event. Even if the experience in Cayuga was great and I would not trade it for anything else, I could have probably got more benefits from another weekend in the Catskills exploring the course.
Instead Michelle and I went to Ithaca, and were left only with one last chance to see the course the following weekend.
Incredibly the recovery after Cayuga proceeded pretty fast and next weekend we joined the training run/hike that Charlie set up to explore the last 15 miles of the course with a combination of day and night running.

It was a great opportunity and we took full advantage of it.

We had a lot of fun and learned a lot from this run. I think it really gave me more confidence that I could run well in these trails and I am sure that even Michelle was secretly plotting to make it to the finish line well ahead of her original goal.
Unfortunately not everything went perfectly during that run: given I am as dumb as a donkey in certain moments, I decided it was a great idea not to get my feet wet when crossing the Warner Creek. I stood on the last dry rock for a minute or so while everyone else was resting and drinking/eating something. It was getting dark by the minute and I figured a dry path across the creek but it required jumping from where I stood to the next rock. I debated internally whether it was safe or not to do it and then I told myself: “What a sissy you are; just jump and get over”. And so did I.

Everyone heard the splash I made into the water after slipping on the rock I landed, going belly up and landing on my back on two feet of cold running water. All good, except that somehow I banged my right knee and my bruised my right leg agains some rocks. The next day I could barely walk and had to force myself to “run” to try and gain more mobility the following days.
Great attempt to sabotage myself.
At least we walked away knowing some new trails, and some new cool people we met that night for the first time (Charly, Amy, etc.)

Race day came up quickly; Michelle and I spent a lot of time during the week to prepare all the logistical aspects of the trip, of the race, the after race, etc. It was a bit hectic to include also Bud’s plan since it changed a few times and this was making Michelle a bit nervous and not much confident on her brother-pacer.
I had a discussion with my friend Jason on Wednesday about the race and shared with him my strategy for nutrition and what problems I had in the previous races (especially Cayuga, when for the first time I had to stop for a pit stop at the porta potty losing a few minutes that could have meant an extra spot at the finish line). Jason suggested me one and only change; he told me we will introduce more of them through trainig in the future, but for now one adjustment was going to be crucial: find Bolt and have that for nutrition. Eliminate completely gels and avoid at all costs sodas. Real food was going to be good as well. He also suggested me to carry a second handheld bottle since I explained how a backpack impacts my breathing and my running.
We did not have a strategy; he told me to just go out and enjoy out there. I was trying to come up with a plan for the race and the only logic thing I had in mind was to hold off as much as I could during the first 40 miles. A little bit of freedom was allowed during the first 5-10 miles, but there was no need to push early on. This was basically my theory.
Friday afternoon, after dropping Jeff at JFK I drove to Michelle and had a late lunch. Bud was there early and after loading the car we took off to Phoenicia.

After picking up the race package from Charlie behind the pharmacy and settling into our little room at the Phoenicia Lodge and checking in for Bud at the Weyside Inn, we started preparing some essential things for next day, like drop bag, shoes, tshirts, maps, water, etc. The evening came in quickly and we decided to get some pasta from one of the local restaurants in Phoenicia, even if we were tempted to hit the Krooked Cafe’ to get some breakfast for the next morning.
While having a salad and some overcooked pasta we discussed with Bud the plan and we gave him maps, charts and estimated time of arrival at the main points where he was going to meet us. We went over the routes, his duties and what we needed from him. During the discussion we saw someone blazing by the restaurant with what it seemed like a Cayuga shirt. There was no doubt in my mind: that figure was one of the guys that chewed me just a couple of weeks before in Ithaca. I did not remember his name, but I knew how he ran there. It was Cole Crosby. I got scared to be honest, cause I was not expecting someone to run so fast just a few hours before the start.

Many doubts came to my mind: if there are so many strong runners, can I really fit in with them? Can I try and hang in there and finish near Ashley?
Ashley was kind of a reference point for me: after passing me half way through Bear Mountain 50 a year ago, she went on to win that same race, establish a CR, and leaving me about 40-50 minutes behind, if I remember correctly (maybe even more). Then she finished third overall in Manitou’s taking the entire women field by daylight.
Knowing a year ago she was much stronger than me, I was hoping that I had made some progress and got closer to her standards.

So many doubts. So much confusion, so much unsecurity. Who cared! The goal was to have fun and this type of punishing course was going to be fun.

Early morning we joined a bunch of other people in the parking lot behind the pharmacy in Phoenicia and got transported with a bus to the start. Immediately I spotted Ben Nephew in the bus and he was sitting next to a russian guy who was telling him any type of story and experience from his previous races. It was too early for me too even get my brain to work and follow the conversation: I was just hoping for a break of the story telling to catch a few more minutes of sleep.
Once at the lot everyone hit the bathroom for a pre-race pit stop. I hung in there for a while just to stay a little warm. I brought with me only a singlet expecting warmer temps during the day, and I did not want to carry anything that was unecessary weight.
Michelle spent the next 45 minutes inside the women bathroom enjoying the hot atmosphere inside those walls.
After a quick speech by Charlie we started lining up for the first wave to take off. I am so grateful and honored that Charlie put me in that wave (damn permits and authorities; the wave start was completely useless in my opinion, and it just penalized more people in the mid pack that used 30 minutes less of daylight): this was my chance to start with people that I usually don’t even attempt to get close by 🙂

I counted and figured there was 14 of us. One was missing and apparently it was the fruitarian Denis who won last year. Charlie got a phone call just as we were walking up together and I have overheard someone saying to be late, getting lost while driving, etc. I kind of figured it was Denis; yet, the hope of him not being part of the race was huge, since – I was told – he usually takes off like a rabbit and often drops after a few miles.
We ran the first few miles on paved road and we were all together keeping a comfortable pace in what was going to be the easiest part of the course.
I felt excited: at one point I was in 4th place overall. I was already feeling accomplished; maybe I should have sprinted and could have said that for a few hundred feet I was in the lead? Ahahahaha
By mile 3 we made a left turn and after crossing a brand new wooden bridge, we hooked up with the Range trail that led us to the Escarpment Trail.
See a video from MPF of us going through the bridge:

http://vimeo.com/99198369

Mindful of the experience with Michelle on the Escarpment months before, I did not want to overdo it at the beginning and I was really glad to see Ryan taking the lead and guiding us through the course without pushing the pace too hard. At the end of the day…he was the one that knew the course better than everyone else!!
After Acra Point we headed towards Blackhead Mountain and I noticed that the big dogs were coming up strong: behind me was Ben, and on his heels Brian; both hiking strongly and I felt I should have yielded and give them the room to pass.
In a couple of spots I noticed that a small gap was created between them and Cole and I. Cole was actually the fast guy that was running through Phoenicia the night before. So Ryan was steady in front of us (Cole and me) while Ben and Brian were quiet and tucked in behind ready to make their move at the right time.
Everything was going smooth until the unexpected happened.
That’s when Denis came through at caught up with us and passed us at double the speed. It was clear to everyone that he would not have lasted at that pace, but still, would could have been Ben, Brian and Ryan’s reaction?
Ben and Brian, followed by Adam took the initiative and started chasing Denis almost right away. I thought for a moment of passing Cole and join the chase, since I noticed that Cole was not as comfortable as Ryan and the others on some rocks.
Still…I was way out of my place there, and in my mind I kept thinking that with other 40+ miles to go, chasing the speedy fruitarian was just suicide; this way me and Cole kept going together and a small gap was opened. After a minute or so even Jan came by but a more steady and reasonable pace; Brian and Ben told us that he lost a little bit of time at the first aid station where he was supposed to pick up his belt with fluids, but there was no sign of the belt there.
Thinking back maybe I should have pushed a little more in this section and kept contact with the lead, since the first mistake of the day was around the corner: Cole and me reached a little open area in the woods and could not figure out where the trail was. We looked around for the blue marks on the rocks, for the Long Path blue markers on the trees, but nothing. We went around for probably a couple of minutes and after retriving our path back to where we came from we understood we just needed to make a left turn. Guesstimating from the map this seems an extra quarter of a mile not included in the course.
Here is an extract of our wanderings (my first one of the race):

Wandering around the course, because 54 is not enough

Wandering around the course, because 54 is not enough

After that point we proceeded towards the North/South Lake and Cole let me pass just before the aid station. I did not feel like pushing the pace, and was more focused on checking out the trail markers not to get lost again but I found myself alone at the aid station.
The volunteers were very organized, and refilled my bottle quickly. I got some of my special bolts in and someone at the aid station recognized me and asked me if I ran in Ithaca a few weeks earlier. They recognized the shirt. Good think that Warren Street gets recognized outside the city…not too good that I get into other people’s radars. It’s better to stay undetected!!

From this aid station the race turned into a lonely effort between me, the course and myself. I was looking forward for these moments, I was craving for time with myself, I wanted to let go the competitive aspects and only focus on my feelings, my internal dialogue, my emotions.

The next section was not so challenging, and I tried to run very very effortlessly the descent to AS 4 in Palenville where Bud was tasked with hauling in the bolts refill, the second handheld and some ice before attacking Kaaterskill.
I only saw Kristina at the actual aid station and I was told I was 6 minutes behind 5th place and the others were 12 minutes ahead. With no sight of Bud around I figured it was not a big deal to just make it to the next station where I could find my drop bag with an extra handheld (just in case Bud was still sleeping).
After leaving Platteville with no other runner in the station I ran into Bud driving like a maniac down RT 23. He pulled a U and stopped just where the road turns into the trail again. I got my refill, a little bit of ice and the second bottle. Lost a bit too much time maybe, but I was not too concern with positions and time at this point. I was focused on Kaaterskill.
With Michelle’s company, we did this climb a few times in the previous months and I had been able to run it all the way up with no issue. A runner can make up a lot of time here compared to a hiker, so I promised myself that I would have tried to jog this portion. The reality is that after a quarter of a mile up I realized that jogging here might have meant destroying the entire day because steam started coming off my head.
I settled for a more comfortable hike up, occasionally running the flat stretches inbetween climbs and then again tried to save gas in the downhill leading to Platte Clove where I made it 9 minutes behind 5th place and about 18 to the leaders. I had no idea who was in front of me, but in my mind I kept envisioning it was Ryan.

Not sure where this was taken, but I believe it was by Katherine ( Adam's wife who missed him at Silver Hollow AS by 1 minute and a half like I did)

Not sure where this was taken, but I believe it was by Katherine ( Adam’s wife who missed him at Silver Hollow AS by 1 minute and a half like I did)

At Platte Clove the real race was going to begin with the Devil’s Path standing still in front of us. Even if I tried to save my legs as much as I could previously, I found myself unable to really run up towards Indian Head. Even if I explored once this section of the course, I felt that I was lost in the section leading up to Indian Head. The course was not that steep or anything, but I remember that I had about a mile on the Long Path before making a sharp right into the red marks of the Devil’s. I checked the mileage on the watch and was totally confused cause I passed the 1 mile mark, and there were no flags, tape or arrows signaling where the course was.
I stopped a couple of times, looked back searching for a clue, and actually hoped for the first time to spot other runners picking me up, but nothing. I was alone and I had to do it alone. After another few minutes I spotted a red tape hanging from a tree and that made me feel much much better.
I was now thrilled to reach those vertical sections that I enjoyed watching on MPF video from the previous race. I was hoping someone would take pictures of me climbing and hiking the toughest part of the course.
In the end it happened and MPF was there and took some video footage of my effort.
Follow the link and see me at approx 3:20 in the video below:

Maybe the trick was the 2 fingers per hand support on those rocks? I would have gladly used all 10 fingers if it was not for those bottles.

I am not a big fan of carrying bottles during a race, and would rather deplete myself and dehydrate myself rather than carrying a bottle. After the experience in UROC, when I felt comfortable carrying one bottle with me, I have picked up the habit of carrying one handheld device if the race is longer than 50k. In Cayuga I did use the regular NF bottle, and it helped me keep the body cool during the hot hours of the day.
In the Catskills I felt that one bottle would be enough, but while discussing with Jason my problems using a backpack, he encouraged me to use a second bottle. As I said here and multiple times in other posts, I think that drinking during a race is overrated. If you don’t drink…you won’t die. You will only have a decrease in performances, till you drink again. This means that at the next station you’ll get some water and you’ll move on.
On the other hand if you drink too much, you may have serious consequences…see Dr Noakes’s books. My philosophy: drink only if you are really thirsty, not just because you have water with you.
The 8-9 mile section on the Devil’s Path was the one I was more worried about. Not that I felt I needed water to stay hydrated, but I wanted water to refresh my head and my face here and there. At the end of the day I made it to Mink Hollow after Indian, Twin and Sugarloaf with almost both bottles empty.

Back to the race, the race got longer for me near Pecoy Notch, where I followed the wrong trail of stones and got off course again.

Lost again, this time just before Sugarloaf

Lost again, this time just before Sugarloaf

Another couple of minutes lost and some swearing against myself for not keeping my head up enough and missing the trail in such a stupid way..
Regardless of this little mishappening I had a lot of fun in this section, and to my surprise I cleared it much faster than expected. I knew that Denis and Ryan last year took just under 3 hours (2:50 and 2:40 respectively), but my split here was around 2:35 (given we had a shorter course since a section of road was eliminated this year) and while descending the nasty boulders of Sugarloaf I thought I made some ground on 5th place – which, in my imagination, was held by Ryan.
While approaching the last part of the downhill I saw a man climbing up the trail in the opposite direction. I recognized his face from somewhere, and I believed I saw him in some races with Ashley. I was not sure if he was her father, a supporter, a friend, but his presence gave me a little kick in the butt, cause it meant she was not too far behind.
He was climbing like an animal. He was intense and passionate and he was doing it in Jeans and sneakers. Loved the guy, the passion and attitude he had. 2 thumbs up. He asked me if I saw a woman just behind and I told him I had no idea, since I have not seen anyone for the last 5 hours and change.

He kept climbing, I kept descending, taking a little break at Mink Hollow, where I was told I was 10 minutes behind 5th place. For the entire race I was surprised to find myself in 6th place and several times I thought that I could even give up a few spots to more solid runners coming from behind and still finish top 10. A very respectable result.

While a 10 minute gap is not that much in these races (less than a mile) and even if I was a little tired, my feet were not beaten as in other rocky races. My legs were still holding it together and the feeling of making it back to 5th started to populate my mind while I was getting my bottles refilled.
I knew I needed to reset for a minute and clear my thoughts before just going out and chase other runners.
I sat down in a chair at Mink Hollow and had a glass of Ginger Ale, tried to have a cookie, but it was too dry in my mouth. Grabbed the gallon of water that Bud brought up there and poured some cold water on my head. My plan was to push a little in the next climb up to Plateau, then go harder in the next downhill towards Silver Hollow and see if I could gain anything.

The climb up Plateau started with a negative note since my left quad started to shake a little bit as a premonition for cramps. I needed to back off to make sure not to overdo it. The climb started to be annoying and I was just wishing for it to be over. I found a few hikers half way through and they informed me that the previous runner on the climb was only 7 minutes up.
With some added encouragement I tried to push a little more, and when I reached Plateau I got into a good running mode and never stopped till I reached Silver Hollow. On the descent another couple of hikers informed me that the other runner ahead was about 5 minutes ahead. Given the margin of error that people have when estimating time, I figured we were pretty much at the same pace.

When I got into Silver Hollow I did not see other runners ahead leaving the station, but was told he was only 1.5 minutes ahead. That was surprising, or at least it meant the info from the hikers were accurate. Now I knew that I had the downhill undercontrol; the legs were moving well, I just needed to be careful climbing. The little section up towards Edgewood Mtn is one of those stretches where my mind starts to zone out from the race. Again, like it happened in previous stages of the race, running alone brings me in close contact with my breathing, my heart beat, my mind. Nothing else around counts. I can’t remember if I was pushing, or just resting. I knew I had to make it to the top and then nail the downhill to close the gap to the other runner.

I feel I am writing a long report, and transporting many details about how the race went and how fast or slow I was running each section, how the other runners were doing, etc. – while the reality is that my goal is to try and define these moments of complete loneliness when my mind, my thoughts, my body and my physiological perceptions melt together. I said it in other posts: it is almost exploring something inside me. I see it, I live it, I experience it, but I do not have the words to define it here; and I am disappointed for this lack of words on my end.

I guess many other runners in these moments of the race find themselves in the middle of nature and – with such great landscapes around – stop and enjoy the view, contemplating nature and its mystery around us.
That is not my thing. Even if I like nature, I do not take part to these races to have a chance to experience nature and be in close contact with it.
I am lucky enough that I was raised in it. I lived it daily, fully, until I moved to the US and – call me spoiled – I cannot see the same beauty, and the same powerful majesty of my Dolomites and my Alps back at home when I run on trails here. However, the Devil’s Path has something rough and edgy that is intriguing.

I hope in the future I can use more words to express what happens in these moments and how I can draw satisfaction for going through this physical punishment that does not feel punishment at all. Stay tuned!

On the descent to Warner Brook I came back to conscious mode and felt that if I wanted to have a chance to do something more than 6th place and avoid getting a 7th, 8th or worst overall, then I needed to do something about it. The conscious and unconscious selves brought me back to the race and they wanted me to leave behind the feelings of accomplishment and explore that mysterious land where I attempt to translate what I can do, I wish to do, but sometimes do not want to do into action.
I figured that if I had only a couple of minutes from 5th, I had to keep him in sight and have him about 30 seconds in front of me before the creek and to do that I had to work harder the downhill.

The problem is that I may have worked too hard, too soon, because after less than a mile the two of us were together.
He politely yielded and told me to proceed. His name was Adam, I learned, and at that point I was feeling very satisfied. I asked him how he was feeling, and we proceeded together for a few minutes. I let him lead to see if he was really done for the day and he seemed still functioning well.
I proposed him to run together and cross the finish line together, but I was not sure that was a great idea. I noticed in a few rocks some footprints of shoes and they seemed pretty fresh, maybe no more than 10 minutes old. I asked him if he had any idea where Ryan was, and the other guys and he told me that Ryan was probably 40 minutes ahead.
That was a bummer. We could not make up 40 minutes on Ryan, no way.

Still…that footprint…we had another half a mile or so to reach the creek and I pushed a little the pace to get a little gap and dip into the cold water for a few instants. After soaking myself for a few seconds I noticed that Adam was a little behind and moving not so fast. I got out of the creek where I fell two weeks before, and then proceeded on the trail to see more footprints (or shoeprints).

Maybe Ryan had a bad patch and was just ahead of us? With only one big climb and one ugly descent at the end, I wanted to give everything I could in an attempt to catch that 4th spot in case someone in front of me was bleeding 🙂

I passed a volunteer that was clearing some bushes near the trail and he told me the guy in front was only 4 minutes ahead. 4 minutes? You kidding me! I gave one final push to try to run some portions of the uphill leading to the fire tower, got more bolts in me to have enough energy to push the downhill, but realized I did not have a whole lot to spend at this point. I had to hike long stretches and that is always something that feels conflictual inside, because I strive to be able to run everything, even at the end of the race.

Eventually I made it to the fire tower (this is where I had the thoughts about how to describe Manitou’s to a person, see the beginning of this post) and the aid station and I was told Ryan was 35 minutes ahead.

Damn it. it was not 4…it was 40!! with 4 miles to go and 40 minutes behind, that meant that the top 4 were all done, sitting on a chair and celebrating with some food.

Well..what can I say…the guys in front of me were too good, too prepared, too strong. I was now in 5th and happy. I left behind the demons of other runners coming from behind Adam and catching up with me. I wanted to finish the race the same way I did in Cayuga: throwing water from the bottle on my face/head. So I spent some extra time at the aid station refilling both bottles.
While descending I did not want to run fast and destroy my decently preserved feet, so I kept just an honest effort and even the final mile on the road was just a simple jog towards that finish line that brought more than just a 5th place, it brought the awakening of peace inside me during the race.

At the end I laid down on the grass by the finish line, rested for a few moments and then after taking a quick shower I spent the entire afternoon, evening and night waiting for Michelle.

Go to minute 5:03 and see my water splash and me resting at the finish line.

Ryan sitting on his chair relaxing and enjoying the other runners completing the epic event

Ryan sitting on his chair relaxing and enjoying the other runners completing the epic event

She finished well ahead of what was planned, almost two hours ahead, completing a race for some ways even more difficult than the LUT (her previous hardest effort), only 6 months after returning to run and with a conservative approach to avoid injuries.
What an accomplishment and what a feeling of pride I have for this woman that never stops to surprise herself as much as myself.

Michelle approaching the finish line with Mr Bud as "reliable" pace

Michelle approaching the finish line with Mr Bud as “reliable” pace

Closer to the finish

Closer to the finish

Shelly jumping across the finish line

Shelly jumping across the finish line

and the END!

and the END!

And now let’s celebrate for more and more of these!

A sincere and deep thank you goes to all the people involved in the race, that supported it, spectate it and made it happen with hard work. Charlie, volunteers, all the sponsors that helped the event. I have never had a better experience in a race. Also the food at the end was phenomenal!

Charlie, if you can, make it even harder next year. I loved every step of it

Cayuga 50 – US National Championship

Last year experience in Cayuga was simply amazing.

Even though the race did not go as planned, the overall weekend was pretty nice and I made a mental note to come back this year, to enjoy a flourishing town, spend a weekend away from the City, and compete in a spectacular yet demanding course against the finest runners in the US.

Last year race for me stopped after the first 25 miles, with a sore ankle that I wanted to treat properly before the LUT; however, Cayuga taught me several lessons about my body and its needs while running that stayed latent and undisclosed for a couple of months until the summer of 2013.
Both Cayuga and the LUT became my lowest running points last year, yet they were the most valuable experiences that added incredible value for the rest of the season and brought me to a wonderful experience in UROC and at the NYC marathon.
Probably the people that enlightened me most were Michelle and Fabio. Michelle suggested that something did not go right in my eating/drinking plans for the races. Fabio gave me a similar version when I described him what I did in Lavaredo, and he opened up the world of Dr Noakes.

I will not be thankful enough for Fabio’s recommendation to read the book. Dr Noakes’s Lore of running is probably the best (and biggest) publication about running and it transformed the way I try to connect with my body during a run both in training and in a race.
Sometimes I might take an approach about drinking and or eating that is a bit more extreme than Dr Noakes, especially during training, but the book is worth reading every page. With that said, I have not finished it, so a lot more to learn!

Back to Cayuga, the plan was to come to the race prepared and in good to use the evnet as a tune up for Manitou’s Revenge.
The rough patch I went through in April not only cut down the miles, but it kept me away from long runs leaving me with a not so solid conditions getting into the race.

The field of professional, elites, and local speedy gonzales from the Gorges was packed, and way deeper than last year, with everyone eager to crush it because the race was hosting the USTF 50 Mile National Championship.
The course changed slightly due to and inclement winter and a cold spring that did not allow to re-open certain sections of the stairs along the gorges, but race director Ian Golden did an outstanding job organizing an alternative course maintaining the spectacular views of the waterfalls and the keeping the course challenging through the woods.

During the week leading up to the race I made contact with Matt Flaherty, a great runner that I met for the very first time exactly here in Cayuga a year ago. He was so kind to make some time for me even when we met again in UROC and this time I asked him if we could run a few miles together on Saturday. I think I creeply told him that I would have tatooed his name on my chest, if we met for the run. LOL!

Friday evening we drove to Ithaca and we arrived to the little motel where we stayed in 2013, and we crashed into bed, after a 5 hours drive and a long week of work. Saturday morning we were up and ready early and drove to Treman St. Park where the race starts and where Matt told me to meet him.
When he showed up he had a little surprise for me: other two runners where part of the group: Chris Vargo and Brad Lombardi were staying in Matt’s cabin, so we all went out for a 4 mile jog/run to explore a little the course around the Lick Brook crossing and the base of the steep climb right after that.
It was a great pleasurable experience. Seeing how this tremendous runners prepare a race is incredible. Even more remarkable was enjoying their kindness, their humor and listening to their little stories while we were jogging. I knew I would have seen them at the start and finish line of the race only, but spending half an hour with them prior to the race was very unique. Even more gratifying was the fact that along the course I ran into them and they all said hi and smiled to me, even if they were pounding the ground and focusing on that task.

After the run Michelle and I went to the running company to pick up the Bib and here we ran into Kristina Marie Folcik, last year winner and another great person. She came in with hubby Ryan Welts and she was ready to attack the course. We waiting for the packet pick up to be set up completely and in the meantime also Michelle had the chance to meet Kristina.
It was great to see her and Ryan live every once in a while, because getting all the updates about their impressive running and their adventures on the trails via social media every weekend is nice…but seeing the real deal in person is something else. Ryan did not race, he was only coming to crew Kristina and train for Manitou’s, where I am sure he will get his revenge on the Fruitarian this year.

After bib pick up Michelle and I went for lunch at Moosewood like we did last year, and then went back to the running company to meet Stephen and Tiffany who came up from NY with a bunch of friends. We spent the afternoon at the Cinemapolis for a nice screening of Trails In Motion International Film Festival and then went back to the motel to relax for an hour or so.
The evening was quiet and we had mexican food with Stephen, Tiffany, Lucia and Scott. Michelle was worried I was not having enough food and she kept shoveling french fries, corn chips and salsa my way. Funny. A bunch of other people from the Trail Whip Ass group randomly showed up at the same restaurant and started taking pictures with us at the table. People around the restaurant were looking at us trying to figure out what was going on, but we did not care. During dinner Stephen and I exchanged a few thoughts about the race, the competition, and plans for next day. I told him that realistically with all the good players in the field I would feel accomplished getting into the top 30 finishers.
I enjoy a lot spending time with Stephen. It does not happen often that we meet at a race or for a training run, but when it happens I am happy like a kid because there is something nice to learn from him.

By 10pm after a quick visit to a local coop to buy some food for the next day, Michelle and I were dead in bed. Alarm went off as planned early morning and by approx 5 am we were parking the car and getting ready for the start.
I am not sure if it was the anxiety for running a 50 miler with only and medium/long run of 18 miles on the leg since February, or if it was the atmosphere of the event, but I could not stop going to the woods and get a pit stop. 3 visits before the start were a good sign that the belly was pretty empty, at least I thought so.

At 6 am sharp the race started and conscious of 2013 experiences I went out easy and relax for the first few miles. Runners were blazing by me, lighting up on fire the trail almost. Maybe somebody should be reminded that there is not prize for being at the front at mile 1 or 2, but only at mile 50 in this case.
I jogged the first climb towards Old Mill, and occasionally hiked the steeper portions.

Crowded Start...but here I am in the middle of the pack, trying not to get excited early on

Crowded Start…but here I am in the middle of the pack, trying not to get excited early on

Here again with sunglasses, checking out people around me

Here again with sunglasses, checking out people around me

I knew I had a lot to give in the tank, but mile 2 was way too early to press on the gas pedal. I thought I was in a decent position when near me Kristina was making her way through some runners that were already gasping for air after the initial effort.
At the aid station I stayed focused and not losing time or chainging the pace: often when people cheer and encourage runners, the natural reaction is to pick up the pace. I did not want to do this. I wanted to cruise at my speed without outside interferences.
However, I heard a clear “Hey Carlo” from the crowd, and after a few secs for my brain to process the sound, I looked back and say that Ryan Welts was there and spotted me among others. So proud to receive his acknoledgment!
The course started to descend towards the “Underpass” aid station and I picked up the pace just slightly, feeling comfortable and relaxed.

Upper Treman Park - going down the stairs required particular attention Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Upper Treman Park – going down the stairs required particular attention
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

The miles went by quickly and little by little I lined myself behind Magdalena and Katie O’Regan who were in the lead for the woman champ.

Water Crossings are always fun, and refreshing

Water Crossings are always fun, and refreshing

Ready to sink into the deep part

Ready to sink into the deep part

I particularly felt very very good along the steep climb after the Lick Brook crossing. I made up most of the gap from a small group of runners in front of me and gained some confidence that the day was turning into something good.
I figured it was a good chance to see how the pros (women) do it, given that Matt, Chris, Mike Owen, etc. were on another league. We sticked together all the way through Buttermilk Falls, even missed a turn and were called (luckly) by a volunteer (or a hicker) back in track and we entered the aid station together. On the way to Buttermilk we saw the lead pack coming back towards us. It was incredible to see how fast they were pushing through the trail. I had the fantasy that the pace might have been too quick for even some of them and they would have dropped later in the race, leaving some nice spots open for us slow midpackers. At the aid station I lost a few seconds getting an extra gel and drinking some sodas to make sure the sugar was going to help me climb the set of stairs that was waiting for us.
The ascent was good, fairly fast yet not too damaging, since we powerhiked or jogged comfortably. While looking at the waterfalls with the sun starting to hit on our backs and temperatures raising I imagined myself dipping into that refreshing stream. Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhh…didn’t have time for that.

Getting to Buttermilk aid station: lettin some pro/elites do the pace so I could learn the tricks

Getting to Buttermilk aid station: lettin some pro/elites do the pace so I could learn the tricks. Photo courtesy of Ron Heerkens

This was not easy...a break was not allowed even downhill

This was not easy…a break was not allowed even downhill. Photo courtesy of Ron Heerkens

Studying the situation in front

Studying the situation in front of me. Photo courtesy of Ron Heerkens

Buttermilk 1st lap B

Yes, I am there. Look closely, just behind her vizor

Of course all shoutings and encouragement were for Magdalena at the aid station

Of course all shoutings and encouragement were for Magdalena at the aid station

Chasing Katie and Magda Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Chasing Katie and Magda
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

While following Magdalena and Katie I got a little annoyed by another runner who kept speeding up, passing me, passing Katie and Magdalena, and then dropping back a few hundred feet. I was not sure what this guy was up to, but thankfully he got out of sight after a few miles and we did not have to deal with his presence any more.
This little incident made me think about my interaction the lead woman: we did not talk during the entire journey, we only looked at each other, especially the other two were probably studying each other, while I was just following close. Was I distracting them? Was I interferening? I hope not.

I'm there...in the back, coming up hot

I’m there…in the back, coming up hot

Still keeping the first two women around to learn

Still keeping the first two women around to learn. Photo courtesy of Joe Viger

Yes, now I am getting up those stairs, can't wait my face seems to say

Yes, now I am getting up those stairs, can’t wait my face seems to say. Photo courtesy of Joe Viger

On the way to Underpass The three of us picked up the pace a little bit and in a few miles we closed the gap on two runners ahead. They were running and chatting quite a bit; they also tried to make conversation with Magda, and I think they might have known each other.

On the way back to the water crossing again. Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

On the way back to the water crossing again.
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Following close Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Following close
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Still fresh after 15-16 miles. Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Still fresh after 15-16 miles.
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

I was not in the mood to exchange many words at this point. Along the steep downhill before the aid station I found myself alone, with the other two dudes only a few seconds ahead while Katie and Magdalena holded back a little.
At this point I was not sure what to do. It was too early to push myself, yet people around me where fading after the initial efforts.
At the bottom of the descent the other two runners approached the creek crossing very carefully. I headed straight for the water and had the time to take a quick refreshing dip. At the aid station only one of them took off quickly with me. Looking back at the photos I think his name was Dave James. We stayed together for a couple of miles, and I started to feel the lack of preparation for the long distance. Certain patches were runnable uphills but I did not have the strength to push they way I wanted. I settled for a more quiet effort, and only along the Lucifer Steps I opened up a little gap on him.

From here on I felt ok until the turnaround point, even with a little mishappening that costed me a couple of minutes and some extra mileage: while running downhill towards the finish I missed a left turn while trying to avoid hikers on the trail and found myself a little lost. I had to run back uphill and pick up the trail again to make it to the half point. Coming down towards Old Shelter I also ran into the lead group and surprisingly saw that Matt and Chris were not in the lead anymore. However, they looked strong and fast. I only found out later that they went off course as well, and gave up the lead in favor of Michael Owen.

Still fairly fresh going toward the turnaround point at mile 25

Still fairly fresh going toward the turnaround point at mile 25

The race proceeded quietly for me for another 6-7 miles and while I tried to run conservatively I noticed that my intestine was feeling a litle weak. This seems to be a theme lately during races and also during my training. Could it be that I need to take more seriously core strengthening? Or was it the colder/iced water that I got from the aid station that was making my belly feel uneasy? About a mile before the Underpass aid station I ran into Michelle who cheered me up with her usual enthusiasm. I told her quickly about my belly issue and she told me to go for a pit stop. When I reached Underpass I did not lose any time and went straight for the porta potty. I lost about 3-4 minutes between the pitstop and the usual water/soda/gel break, and I thought I lost a spot or two.
I felt much better now, and I could now run without those sudden sharp cramps that I was experiencing in the last half hour I could focus on finishing the race. The legs were getting a little stiff but that is normal after more than 30 miles.
I reached again Buttermilk aid station, this time alone, and with my great surprise I saw Silas Carey getting ready to take off.

Silas is a great reference point for me. I do not know much about him, except the fact that at my first ever trail race in Bear Mountain in 2012 (a half marathon) he crushed everyone else, won the race and came back the following year to repeat himself.
This year I saw him in Bear M again where he tackled the 50k and finished in the podium (I forget if he was 2nd or 3rd overall).
This represented a significant experience: I was now side by side to the runner that claimed the first podium that I witnessed. Was he having a bad day or have I improved a little bit and got closer to these running studs?
Immediately my first thought was to retarget my race goals: I wanted to run harder and finish in front of him. This lasted for about 20 feet, because as soon as I approached the stairs cramps completely stopped me for another 2 minutes.
I could not stretch the hamstrings that the calves were cramping and pulsing, when stretching the quads the hamstrings were screaming in the back. It was a total breakdown. With 13 miles to go and probably one of the worst daily performances in front of the cameras of the photographers along the stairs, I had to calm down and focus on moving slowly and effortlessly to bring home the full 50 miles.

Upper Buttermilk Falls, cramps taking a toll on me Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Upper Buttermilk Falls, cramps taking a toll on me
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

I had to do some hiking and after 20 minutes of struggling I was finally able to lock into a comfortable pace running the flats and the downhill to Underpass. Silas was gone, I could not see him even in the long straight stretches near Sandbank Rd. Then all of a sudden just before the aid station I see two figures moving ahead of me: Silas and another runner were marching together. Not all hope was lost.

Second time around Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Second time around
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Getting close to Underpass Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Getting close to Underpass
Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

Photo courtesy: Steven Gallow Photography

We hit the aid station together, and I took off first trying to gain a little gap so I could take it a little easy for a mile or so.
Silas was not in the mood to lose a spot in a national championship, and he followed me closely, passed me after not even a quarter of a mile, and encouraged me tapping my butt and telling me “Let’s go, Buddy”.
I really wished I had the freshness to follow him and even make some conversation at this point. The good thing is that at least I gained a spot and now I had only 7 miles to finish.
I kept moving at all the time, but the Devils Steps put the hurt on me again: I planned on taking a few seconds to stretch before starting the climb, but as soon as I stopped, my legs went ballistic again. Cramps got all the muscles of my legs, hamstrings, calves, shins, quads. It was painful and funny at the same time.

After a few moments of panic I started climbing slowly the stairs, got offered some help from the volunteers and kindly declined. Slowly I made my way to the last aid station, got some cold water from the hose directly on my whole body head to toe and then took off. While turning around the switchbacks exiting the AS I took a glimpse back and saw Magdalena charging into the area. I was probably a minute and a half in front of her and at this point it was a matter of pride: I did not want to lose a spot.

This could open up a bigger discussion about being passed by women in a race, and how generally men feel about this, but I’ll discuss more in the future. The bottom line is that I do not fear being passed by a woman, two, three, or many. If they are better than me, then be it.
This time it was about not being passed by anyone in the last couple of miles of the race. After battling for 48 miles, why would you give up in the last 2?
There was not man, no woman and no animal that could take that spot from me. I stayed focused on running, making sure I was not getting lost again, and that I was paying attention to all the hikers on the course to avoid sudden stops and possibly cramps that could have made me lose more time.

Finally the trail opened up into the green grassy final quarter of a mile and the end was clearly visible; I was invaded by a feeling of joy and accomplishment. I saw Michelle screaming for me just a few meters before the finish line. I felt proud for both of us. We came to Ithaca together and we were going to make it home together after a fantastic weekend.

Last 50 meter (stupid) thought: pour the remaining water on my head as I cross the finish line: I win the competition for most idiotic finish of the race

Last 50 meter (stupid) thought: pour the remaining water on my head as I cross the finish line: I win the competition for most idiotic finish of the race

Completing an ultra is always a joy, but feeling decently competitive even with the lack of specific preparation is even a better reason to celebrate. Finding moments of internal quietness, where my conscious self and my inner self are working together and talking to each other, exploring each other and understanding what each one is made of is probably the main reason that fuels me to push my body and my mind in these events.
Finishing 15th overall in the US Championship would be considered by many a great accomplishment, and I am proud of myself for getting there; but what I walk away from Ithaca with is the ecstasy of engaging in the process of communication with myself and within myself.

Stay tuned for future photos updates on the this post when they will come available from race photographers

Valdobbiadene-Pianezze Time Trial

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!

Cristiana approaching the finish line

Cristiana approaching the finish line

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.

so I can run the hills...

so I can run the hills…

Tha'\t's a bit better. painful face is what we want :-)

Tha’\t’s a bit better. painful face is what we want 🙂

I guess I was really not pushing if I am smiling

I guess I was really not pushing if I am smiling

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.

Slowly making it to the finish

Slowly making it to the finish

At least getting closer to this guy

At least getting closer to this guy

Last few meters

Last few meters

For the records, I did pass the guy

For the records, I did pass the guy

running after the finish line...forgot to do it before, ahahah

running after the finish line…forgot to do it before, ahahah

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.

Giovanni and Max completing the challenge

Giovanni and Max completing the challenge