Thursday, June 28, 2012

Gran Raid International du Cro-Magnon 2012

Held on Saturday June 23rd, the Cro-Magnon is a wonderful trail of 114 km with a total of 5900m ascent and 6900m descent. The first half was very alpine; the trail followed mountain paths and tracks for 91 % that took the participants over numerous peaks, hills and crests at altitudes up to 2500m a.m.s.l. and winds through the Mercantour National Park. After having crossed the Alps, the Cro-Magnon progressively enters the mediterranean zone were its climate, its vegetation, its flowers and scents accompany you to the sea at Cap d’Ail. It was Olivier Ginesty, a top trailer and member of the Cap d’Ail Macadam Association who, in 2000, invented this grand raid to celebrate the twinning of Limone Piemonte and Cap d’Ail Cote d’Azur. The Cro-Magnon has since made it’s name internationally to the point that it is considered one of the most beautiful trails. A great number of trailers aspire to take part and inscription applications greatly exceed the number of bibs available.



The race was as tough as it was beautiful! At the start, at 5am I had the pleasure to meet Marco Olmo (a legend in this sport) and found myself "trapped" between the whole Salomon Team. Their presence was frightening but a part of me was looking forward to challenging myself against a bunch of pros. The RD started the countdown on the clock and we all disappeared in the early morning dark narrown streets of Limone. The air was crisp and very chilly but all we thought about was the adventure lying ahead.

the start at 5am
The Cro-Magnon starts from Limone Piemonte, a renowned ski resort, one of the oldest in the Alps, where in the early 1900’s the first ski competitions took place. The trail winds its way up to the crest that separates Italy from France. Up there, around 1880 the king of Italy had a system of six forts built to protect the Col di Tenda road and the railway tunnel, both of which were of great strategic importance. It was through the Col di Tenda that the “Salt Road” had passed since antiquity. The climb is contant and very steep leaving the runners the only option of walking. I couldn't do otherwise and after about 3-4 miles of running with the first group, I started doubting that my preparation might not have been very adequate to the task. About 10 runners buzzed by me... walking... and despite all the effort I could put into it, I just could not keep up their pace up the mountain. It was so early but I was getting very frustrated already.
After reaching the top of the mountain, the trail gets "runnable" and in about couple of miles, passing a few runners ahead of me, I was able to get to the first checkpoint in a pretty unsettled state. I was fine but not really. It's hard to explain when the elevation plays tricks on you, especially when you're not very well trained in altitude. My legs didn't bother me but my head was about to explode and my ears whistling like a steaming kettle. My fingers were as thick as sausages to the point where I needed help to even grab a bar and put it in my pack. I knew this uncomfortable feeling would have been a constant companion for a good part of the race, or at least until the trail would start its descent towards Monaco. But we were still almost a 100K away... with lots of hope I left the check point and went on tackling the next section. Before heading down though we "ran" a section of trail that was pehaps the most dangerous of the whole race. About 300metres of pure climbing! If it wasn't for the two race organizers one at the bottom pointing up and one at the top of this cliff making sure people got there, I wouldn't have believed that it could be the right track. We had to climb this rocky face to get to the top of this mountain before reaching the Casterino valley. I was speechless, part of me felt anger and while hanging on those rocks I started swearing in disbilief trying not to look down. A sheer cliff 300-400metres deep was unfolding right underneath my feet. A slip and we would have fallen to sure death. It's all about perspective and by the time I reached the top I was in an exhilarated state of mind. It took me almost 20 minutes to "run" 300metres...but I was happy I made it all in one piece! 
At that point the Cro-Magnon reaches Casterino valley, a delightful cross-country ski centre and starting point for excursions into the Valley delle Meraviglie, famous for the thousands of prehistoric rock carvings. Further down, after having passed Lake Mesches, the trail passes Vallaura mine where zinc and argentiferous lead have been mined since the Bronze Age. A group of stone houses that bring to mind a Tibetan monastery, testify to the long history of the mine. Recently renovated, it houses the Neige et Merveilles ‘Refuge’. From there the trail heads to the Refuge des Merveilles and climbs to the highest point of the Grand Raid: Pas du Diable, the Devil’s Pass, 2537 m a.m.s.l. Opposite on the other side of the valley, Mount Bego rises mysteriously, the scared mountain, home to the God of Lightning. About 4500 years ago the inhabitants of the southern Alps climbed to the foot of this mountain to express their devotion in the form of thousands of rock carvings. This is perhaps the most beautiful part of the race. The true Alpine rocky cliffs and the trecerous trails took us to beautiful valleys clustered with little turcoise lakes. It was all like a dream... simply gorgeous! In the very first climb I was around many runners and it was all about the position trying to get ahead of someone elsee. Here it was different. Somehow, finding yourself lost in the nature always leaves me with feelings hard to discribe. No one in sight. Just a trail to follow, lots of rocks and an endless climb from 1.400m to over 2.500m till the top of the Devil's pass. I was alone, as far as my eyes could see, taking on this huge challenge. It's all between you and the mountain at this point, no one to distract you from your goal. It's a simple state of mind in which the excruciating physical pain was no longer part of the equation while a clear sense of peace sweeps you off your feet.  


The trail then descends to the Col de Raus and arrives in the Authion massif, crossing the summit of Trois Communes. The downhill is super fast but pretty dangerous...lots of rocks and all traililing the mountain side, leaving a very steep drop inches from your step. Not far off, Camp d’Argent ski resort welcomes the trailers with a plentiful refreshment. The sight of that lodge was so welcomed at that point. Even though I was carrying my camel back (since it was mandatory to all runners to carry 2 litres of water before leaving any checkpoint) I found myself with nothing to drink a good hours before then. Lauren and my parents were there to support and judging from the worried look in their eyes, I must have not been looking too well. I came in 8th. After 57km the race was at its mid way point. I was sevirely dehidrated and my sight a bit blurry. A great group of people were there with all types of foods and drinks. I opted for a warm ramen's style noodles bowl. I drank plenty of water and electrlytes and headed out. I left Camp d'Argent in 11th position. The trail descends to the Col du Turini, ascends to Cime de la Calmette and on the ridges Pas de l’Escous arrives. This was without a doubt the toughest part of the race, at least for me. My stomach was cramping and my head spinning so hard I could barely walk. After flirting with it the whole morning the elevation was starting to make it's heavy presence known. I sat down a few times and threw up more than once. I felt horrible. I had to drink lots of water in between these "sessions" that soon after I was empty once again. It was 2pm and the sun was hot and beating me to the ground. Another runner caught up with me, and all I could do is just let him pass. Pretty much when I started doubting I was going to make it, then through Col de l’Orme, Mont de l’Ablé, le Grand Braus I reached the refreshment station of Col de Braus. I was in 12th position and extremely dehydrated. I couldn't process my thoughts too well and I wanted to stop.


I drank 5 bowls of soup, 2 bananas, 2 packs of peanuts, 3 cups of electrolytes and loaded up on water. After about 30 minutes I was feeling strong again. Minutes before I was considering to quit and now I was ready again to tackle the trails head down! I left the station in 18th position. Many runners had passed me while I was sitting there, now it was the time to get back in the groove!


The trail reaches Col de Ségra, climbs to Baisse du Loup and to Col de Verroux and descends to Col des Banquettes. I felt good and caught up with couple of people. I was positive again and happy to be there. We reached the 95k mark before hitting the very last checkpoint at about 20k from the finish line. Lauren and my parents had followed me the whole day and met me anywhere they could. Not an easy thing when you're running on the crest of the Alps! They helped me through the lows and cheered me through the ups! It was an exhausting experience for them as well but it sure was a relief seeing them at those stations waiting for me. They took care of me one last time that day, I stood up and my dad ran with me out of the station pointing me to the way, last tough climb up and then a nice descent down to Monaco.


The trail climbs, at times steeply (2.5miles with 1k of elevation) to Cime de Baudon with a very steep rocky trail that took us to the very top where a spectacular panoramic view of the sea and the Alps unfolded right before our eyes. The day was coming to an end. The sunset was minutes away and it was amazing once again. Right then, AnneMarie (an incredible ultrarunner part of the Italian National Team) buzzed right by me. It was amazing seeing her running down those slopes effortlessly. I tried to emulate her moves and started the quick descent down the side of the mountain. Before reaching the bottom we had passed 4 other runners and nobody could keep up. We were rolling and going like the wind! Despite the 100k in my legs this was the most fun I've had the whole day! We went up and back down another couple of hills skirting the famous Monte-Carlo Golf Club. The trail goes down passing under the imponent walls of Tete de Chien that overhang Monaco. Below, the view of the principality is breathtaking, with the marinas and the Rocca on which stands the Prince's Palace. At last the trail arrived in Cap d’Ail with its wealth of beautiful villas and splendid gardens! Suddenly it all opens onto the magnificent seafront path where the smells of the sea and the waves breaking on the rocks accompanied us to the Finish between two catamarans on Marquet beach.There ended that magnificent trail, truly one of a kind: an unforgettable transition from the rigours of the high Alps to the softness of the Mediterranean.

The last few metres before the Finish line, past 11pm

At the Finish line
I finished my race in 17:39, in 12th position and couldn't be more proud of myself. It was past 11pm when I got there and despite the late time my whole family was there to cheer me on! A perfect end to an amazing day!

Another important note is that (as you can see from the picture above) I ran the race in the name of Telethon (http://www.telethon.it). A foundation dedicated to financing the research of race genetic diseases. Giving a personal contribution to this cause made the experience a bit more worthwhile.
All infos are taken from the race website: http://www.cromagnon-extremerace.net/en/

 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Trail Alta Valle Argentina 2012

Sunday June 17th was the day of the Trail Della Alta Valle Argentina. This was a beautiful trail to run through, very fast single trails, steep dirt roads and extremely technical descents. The view outside the woods was breathtaking and the beauty of the inland was spectacular. A great experience right outside my backyard. 24k (around 14/15 miles) with over 2,500ft of elevation change.

Triora
Before moving on talking about the race, I should give a little introduction.
It was March when I received a first email from Franco Ranciaffi saying that he had heard about my races and my results in Florida. Franco is truly an exquisite person, a journalist for profession that just happened to be the founder and former president of IUTA (Italian Ultramarathon and Trail Association). His sheer passion for the running world is unparalleled, and his love for the sport simply genuine. He explained to me that he had founded a team in Sanremo with many international ultrarunners, and quite a few national champions in distances between 100k to 24hrs. Catching me by surprise, he offered me to join his team and be part of their group! It was such an unexpected news that left me speechless but I accepted without thinking twice! http://www.sanremorunners.it/
Since then Franco and myself had the opportunity to talk from time to time and couple of weeks ago, when I first got back to Italy, we had the pleasure to meet each other in person. He is a person full of resources and once again, I was surprised when he offered me the chance to be the testimonial of the Trail Della Alta Valle Argentina, along with Fausto Parigi (an internationally renown ultrarunner which holds many Italian and International titles and records). Of course...I accepted!

Now back to the race. It was a 24k up in the mountains held not far from my hometown, as I mentioned before. The race started at 9:30am under a very warm sun. The summer just got here and everyone was enjoying a beautiful day out. After a very "entertaining" run between fast trails, brooks, long climbs and very steep descents I ended up crossing the finish line in 1st place. Good runners were there from 6 different countries: Canada, USA, Greece, France, Monaco and Italy. Around 80 of us toed the line and indeed it was a blast!

Here's an article that came out couple of days after the race:
http://www.sanremonews.it/2012/06/19/leggi-notizia/argomenti/sport/articolo/atletica-i-risultati-del-trail-alta-valle-argentina-disputato-domenica-a-molini-di-triora.html



cooling off in the river after the race

the podium

Thanks to Franco for "taking" me there and thanks to the Alta Valle Argentina Organization for putting up such a beautiful event!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Loving The Woods





Connecticut is perfect this time of the year. The rich and colorful vegetation makes it a perfect retreat and quite a relaxing place to complete the last touch ups of my preparation for the CRO-MAGNON race. Florida was great but here I was actually able to train specifically (with a bit of altitude...nothing compared to the Alps but hey, gotta work with what you got...) in the woods, between steep hills and fast technical descents.

photos by Charles B.





Single trails were fun and pretty entertaining when your companion is only a pack of deer running alongside you. A perfect place between the lakes where nobody (very few if any) bothers you. No noise. No distractions. Just you and you alone, strolling along accompanied simply by the rhythm of your steps cracking the twigs and your relentless breathing dictating the pace.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Goodbye Miami...


 A few days ago I left Miami. It was a great year, good times shared with new good friends. I had the chance to focus on my training in an easy environment and a warm winter.
Very comfortable. Great memories were made and a melancholic feeling of leaving all of this behind accompanied me on my trip away from South Florida, I guess it's all part of the game.
For some reason I have many intricate ties to that city and sentiment and nostalgia were a powerful companion in the days following my departure.
Anyway, enough with the crying baby talk... a few months ago I became part of FUR (Florida Ultra Runners). I had the opportunity to spend great moments with like minded people (something I never had the chance to find before). It was an exhilarating feeling of belonging to something, sharing some trainings with these great people was fun. I'm looking forward to seeing all of them again in the future. The only regret I have is not having met these guys sooner! It is definitely a push and I found it to be very motivating.

Beautiful sunset from our apartment

Another day in paradise...

Kyle & Dave on a 35miles rainy training run
from left to right: Dave, Kyle & myself
  
Life moves on (obviously) and even with unsettled feelings I'm always thrilled by the stimulus brought by the "nomad" type of life I have had in the past few years. Modeling was part of the big picture up until now and moving from city to city for work was not always as fancy as it sounds. Tough times come around as much as the good ones and now I'm only looking forward to spending the summer back home, in Italy. My girlfriend and I are spending a couple of weeks in CT before heading overseas, where I have a few races lined up. My focus is 100% on June 23rd right now. The CRO-MAGNON race (http://www.cromagnon-extremerace.net) is in sight. The chance to train on trails here in the Connecticut woods, with steep hills and very technical descents, is playing a big role in my preparation leading to the above mentioned competition. The past couple of weeks gave me the opportunity to put in some very solid training sessions. The change of elevation and terrain are taking a big toll on my body but hopefully all the effort will pay off... I've been putting in a lot of miles this month (hopefully) leaving nothing to chances...I'm very excited to test myself in a bigger scenario with a wide international share of ultra runners. Feelings of self doubt tackle me at times but I guess this is what's pushing me forward the most.

I guess this is it for now. My main goal in this post was to say goodbye to all my friends in Florida. I am going to miss you all and I hope to see you guys in the near future!  
 

I am going to start posting my training schedule for the month soon.