Wednesday, June 24, 2015

UltraMilano-Sanremo 2015 - Race Report

It's undeniable, all Ultra Races are hard. There's no way around it. They're great challenges, and as such they bring its participants to push beyond themselves. Some races are extremely long, some are very technical, or at high elevation, others are super hot or bone chilling cold. Whatever the Challenge may be these Events inevitably leave a mark inside all the amazing athletes that cross the finish line.
The UltraMilano-Sanremo idea was born straight from the ideal and belief that anything is possible, even running 7 marathons non-stop, from the city of Milan in the North of Italy, all the way through the Italian Riviera to Sanremo, just "steps" away from the French border.
UltraMilano-Sanremo (or UMS) offers a gorgeous course, with ever changing sceneries and lots of miles to have fun with!! The weather is mostly mild, so no worries there, what really makes this Race unique is its distance. Being Europe's longest single-stage Ultra Race (175 miles / 285Km long) it certainly is a (as Dave Krupski called it...) FORMIDABLE distance to deal with, no matter how fit and prepared you are. This year, at the Second Edition, the cut-off time was set at 48-hours (instead of the 42 from the 2014 Edition).

Certosa di Pavia
UMS can roughly be divided into three sections:  (1) the Italian countryside, from the southern outskirts of Milan to the village of Ovada at the base of the mountain (the first 75 miles)

(2) up and down the mountain (Passo del Turchino) (Miles 75-97), and

Ovada and Turchino Pass in the distance
(3) the Ligurian Coast (Miles 98-175), where runners literally hug the Mediterranean Sea all the way into the finish line at the Sanremo Yacht Club, only a few miles away from Monaco and France. (Here below)  

Italian Riviera - Ligurian Coast
After a few hickups from last year Organization my partner and Co-Founder of the UMS Riccardo Marvaldi and I decided that on the Second Edition a New Association, composed by a close and trusted group of friends of ours, would take over the Event with the desire to offer a truly Epic experience to all the Runners coming from all around the world.

In order to be able to set up the Race we dreamt off only couple of years ago, Riccardo and myself became the Race Directors... and this is pretty much how the Event went down:

Thursday April 30th, 2015: Pre-Race Meeting at ALTAVIA, in Milan.
While all athletes stroll around shaking hands, getting to know each other or diving straight into warm hugs when finding a familiar face, we are getting ready to begin. The beauty of this sport lays right there to me... It's not about the "competition", or the ranking position at the finish line, rather it's about sharing what will inevitably become an unforgettable experience. Pushing through limits is never easy, quite to opposite, but when you break through it's very special. Something all these Athletes experienced before and know first hand. There's a tangible connection, a true feeling of camaraderie fills the air between words of support and honest encouragement.
It's with this Spirit and wonderful Attitude that we started the Pre-Race meeting where we explained the course, how to follow the road book and handed out Race Bags.      
When Runners of the caliber of Liz Bauer and Joao Oliveira share their positive outlook it's something simply extraordinary. What makes this race so special to me is the "size" of the Challenge in itself. You know where and when you start but you are not quite sure you are going to make it till the end. It is not a matter of time, splits or finishing position rather a simple, harsh, endurance challenge you undertake completely by yourself. It's a journey into the unknown and that's how the concept was born about 3 years ago.
Friday May 1st - 10am - Caffe' Carlotta, in Via Alzaia Naviglio Pavese was the meeting point for the Second Pre-Race meeting where we explained once again the course, Race Rules, how to follow the Markers, Safety rules and all the important information we needed to share with the Athletes and their Crews.

The Race Start was schedule at Noon. A few minutes before the whole group was ready as we invited the runners to take place behind the starting line. After a quick Entrants checks, with no further delay, we started the 10 seconds countdown... 3... 2... 1... and with all the excitement buzzing in the air our runners were off to a 175 mile long journey.
Being a completely new Organization our resources were limited but we all worked tirelessly to help support the runners on the course, although it was mandatory to have a support Crew for each runner for Safety reasons. Nevertheless our Team patrolled the Crews from the very beginning of the Race and for the following 48 hours, supporting not only the physical but also the mental aspect of each runner, trying to do our very best to make them feel safe and not alone on such long stretches of road.

The checkpoints were located at about 20/25km (12 to 14 miles) from each other and for this improvement we must thank the support of great Organizations and Associations such as L'Arte del Movimento Pavia, Ovada Trail Team and of course the Italian Red Cross.
Their collaboration was not only an honor for us but needless to say it was very fundamental!

Dave Krupski (USA) took the lead for the first 25 miles at a very fast clip. A small chasing group made by Fabio Costi (ITA) and Joao Oliveira (POR) followed slightly behind.

The Portuguese Runner was the first one to get into Montebello della Battaglia Checkpoint located at around 31 miles, in just over 4 hours.

Quite an impressive time given that they still had to cover around 6 more marathons that day!!!

Marco Mazzi in Masone
The race unfolded itself quite nicely and between very long stretches of road and busy town centers the runners reached Ovada before taking on the Turchino Pass, one of the hardest sections of the course.

The temperature up until that point was as perfect as it could be for running, a light breeze and a mix of sun and clouds kept the runners steady without any heat related issues. When the (first) night time came though, the temperature dropped immediately, especially heading up Masone and the top of Mt. Turchino, and to make things worse a heavy rain fall took over the mountain making the passing very treacherous.
Luca Sala on the way down Turchino Pass

Unfortunately some Athletes dropped due to extreme fatigue or injury but thankfully most runners and Crews were prepared for the adverse situation and we all moved on to the last stretch (75 miles - 120km to the finish) on the Riviera Ligure and the famous Via Aurelia.
Joao Oliveira (POR) at the Finish Line
At this point every mile felt longer as the legs got heavier but the front runners pushed the pace relentlessly to reach their final goal! Sanremo was in sight and in the end Joao Oliveira (POR) was the very first Runner to fly through the Finish Line and set a New Course Record in 30h.15m.22s.

Christian Fatton (SUI) followed shortly behind and then the Italian Luca Sala took Third Place!

For the following 20+ hours we kept welcoming Runner after Runner that made it to Sanremo. It was something I never had the chance to live before but participating and sharing those moments with each and every one of them was such an inspiring and moving experience that I will never forget, and for this I am grateful to all of our Finishers.

Liz Bauer (USA) at the Finish Line

The phenomenal Liz Bauer (USA) was the first Woman to cross the Finish Line just minutes from the cut off time! What a Finish!!!

It was such an honor to share the last few miles next to her and help her accomplish what she set out to do!

Sunday May 3rd - Sanremo Yacht Club: The Finish line was right by the beautiful Sanremo Harbor at the Sanremo Yacht Club. The Award Ceremony and Party was held by the water and a soft green grass carpet was spread all around to offer a soft ground for many sore feet.

UMS2015 Finisher Awards
The excitement and Spirits soared high as we set up the Stage for the Awards. Our DJ was spinning some up-beat tunes while people drank, ate and ultimately had the chance to relax, share and celebrate their accomplishments!

The Oval Glass Award was handed out to all the Finishers while the first 3 Males and (only) 1 Woman were awarded Special Prizes on the Podium.

 Joao Oliveira (POR) & Liz Bauer (USA) on the Podium

The festive atmosphere was deepened by emotions when the National Anthems played, it was all around a wonderful time when lips were singing along and a few tears came out too. 

All in all we (as Organization) could have not been happier with the outcome of this year's Event. All Runners and Crews shared their approval and their positive and supporting comments only super charged our momentum!

UltraMilano-Sanremo 2015 has certainly left its mark and laid solid ground for a great Future ahead. Everything is already ON for UMS2016 and many exciting news are going to be shared very soon. The New Start will most likely be held at the very beginning of April while Registrations will open in September.

If you are looking for a real challenge we look forward to see you at the Starting Line next year, and know for a fact that when you'll cross the Finish Line it's something that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Special Thanks to Daniele Cardi, Luca Ammirati, Edoardo Marvaldi, Cesare Graglia, l'Arte del Movimento Pavia, Barbara Bonfiglio and the Ovada Trail Team, Croce Rossa Italiana, Yacht Club Sanremo and all the Friends who supported us and helped us out through those 3 crazy days!!!

Arrivederci!!! Till next time, see you out there!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Triple Crown FKT - March 16th, 2015

When a guy like Nickademus Hollon make a plan for a run you know for a fact that it's going to be a long and intense day (and "only" one day, if you're lucky...). I was beyond excited when we started talking about the Triple Crown FKT attempt, although the timing with training wasn't perfect, I just couldn't pass on the opportunity to share the trails with such an hardcore athlete.

Mt. San Gorgonio (11,505ft)

The "TRIPLE CROWN" is a challenge that brings runners and hikers to climb the 3 highest peaks in Southern California: Mt. San Gorgonio (11.505ft), Mt. San Jacinto (10.834ft) and Mt. Baldy (10.064ft), consequently and all in one day. Although these mountains offer several trail options to reach the summit the FKT (Fastest Known Time) we wanted to go for consisted in running from the very bottom to the top and back of each mountain through their hardest routes.
Mt. San Jacinto (10.834ft)

Mt. Baldy (10.064ft)

The date was set only a few days prior and on Sunday, March 15th we met in Palm Springs, CA where my friend from Grand2Grand, James Garner and his lovely wife Juanita, offered us to stay at their home for the night.
Their hospitality extended far beyond and after all the packing pre-run was done we enjoyed a delicious typical Mexican dinner and shared lots of stories and laughter together.

The Plan: Start with Jacinto, then drive to Gorgonio leaving Baldy as last.

- Cactus to Clouds ---> 14 miles to the top and 14 miles back down, with 11.000ft of +/- Elevation

- Vivian Creek ---> 7 miles to the top and 7 miles back down, with 6.000ft of +/- Elevation

- Bear Canyon ---> 6 miles to the top and 6 miles back down, with 6.000ft of +/- Elevation

4:45am: Wake up call.
After a quick last minute gear check I slip in my ALTRA Lone Peak 2.0 and by 5:30am we got to Cactus to Clouds Trail Head. The air was still, the temperature was already warm and there was not a soul in sight as we moved the first steps upward. We set off on a comfortable but steady pace as we tackled the first section (and most technical) of this ascent. 8.5 miles to the Tram Cable House and over 8.500ft of Elevation gain...
A beautiful sunrise lit up the sky and the desert floor helped us switch the focus on the daunting task ahead, even for just a few brief moments.
We reached the Tram House in 2:46minutes (with a 2:50 target) and that immediately translated into a big confidence boost... the day was going to be a fun one. On the last 5.5 miles we encountered lots of snow and icy patches that inevitably slowed the pace down, nevertheless we summited in just 4:08minutes, leaving about 12 minutes to spare off the previous record.

Our main goal was to "save the legs" and try to be conservative so we set out on a good cruising effort without bombing the downhill, especially in the last 8 miles section with an impressive quad busting incline. The temperature was very comfortable up to the final stretch descending into Palm Springs. To make things more fun, the last 3 miles I ran out of water and with a high of 96F I knew it meant trouble, but didn't say anything to Nick cause I knew he was running low of liquids too. I started feeling sick and dizzy, and then more sick. Once we got to the car I could barely stand and felt almost unconscious to the point that I seriously doubted I was going to make the other 2 remaining peaks. 

An icy gallon of water sometimes can do miracles and indeed it did, in just a few short minutes we were driving off Highway 10 Gorgonio bound. While I was on the wheel, Nick was able to get us some rice, fruit, mixed nuts, etc. to eat and take advantage of that driving break to stomach some solid food, although my nutrition during the run was spot on with my HAMMER Gels and PERPETUEM.

Gorgonio Trail Head - I was dreading leg pain and stomach issues while reaching the Parking lot at the bottom of the mountain but I felt as magically recharged, for some reason, and we set out going up the river at an impressive cadence. I kept on telling Nick that perhaps this was my favorite trail in SoCal, cause some sections of it reminded me of the Alps and the deep wood smell is something I look forward to when running up there.

Time went by fast simply cause we were having a blast... only the last couple of miles were a touch frustrating cause of the snow situation. No doubt it was very slow going to the top so there was no time to spare. We snapped a shot and then charged right back down. Looking at Brett Maune's splits I knew this was the time to push the pace and create some gap. So we did setting into a fast clip flying down the mountain.

When we got back to the car I was very positive and hopeful for Baldy.
Our lead at that point had gone up to 45 minutes and Bear Canyon was the only thing in between us and the FKT record.

We got to Baldy Village at around 7pm. The sun had already set behind the ridge but the sky was still very bright. I envisioned that moment all day long and there we finally were. It felt good, although in some pain I was happy, truly happy. During the time off in the fall and winter I had missed that feeling of simplicity and rawness that comes with these type of adventures. The climb up Bear Canyon brought me right back to reality and as the dark was creeping up on us and the steep ascent we both started feeling the weight of the miles. We reached the summit in just over 2:25 with darkness all around and a frozen wind blowing hard against us. The best part was when I realized that I was shivering with my thermal sweater on while Nick was "chilling" in his tank top!

A quick picture and off we were, once again and for the final stretch of our journey.
6.5 miles and about 6.oooft of descending remaining. After running the other 2 mountains earlier in the day made this downhill a grinder. We both took turns and pushed each other when at our lowest. It was tough, no doubt, but I was again thankful for the incredible experience.
We tapped the trail head sign at 11:15pm and we were officially (or at least on our watch) done!

Here's our FKT timeline:

- Start: 5:31am

Grubb's Notch: 2:46:45
Top of Jacinto: 4:08:10
Palm Springs: 6:49:48
Vivian Creek TH: 8:01:05
San Gorgonio Summit: 10:45:36
Vivian Creek TH: 12:11:24
Bear Flats TH: 13:44:39
Mount Baldy Summit: 16:10:05
Bear Flats TH: 17:44:17

- Finish at 11:15:25pm after 17:44:17
(15:16 total running time ---> 55 miles and 23.oooft of +/- Elevation)

Thanks to my sponsors for the great support and for sharing the passion:

On to the next adventure, see you out there!