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|
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|
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/