21 September 2019
One of the hardest races I’ve ever done. Felt like finishing AC 100 km.
Originally I wanted to do it purely for the experience, making it my goal to finish within the cutoff time of 14:30, then these three lovely people (Vera, Roberto and Mauro) have said that they will come to cheer me at Condogna… and possibly have a pizza and beer in Menaggio after finishing. I thought I shouldn’t make them wait for so long, so I shot for 14 hrs or less.
Picked up the race bib the previous night where the race start/finish was being set up. Couple of days before the RD sent out an email with the race info, warning people that above 1500 m there may be below 0 temperatures and that we need to bring the map and the elevation profile. Too late for me, didn’t print them out before we left Australia… I wanted to get my gear checked when I picked up my bib, but they said tomorrow morning. Next morning (I was worried all night), I went down to have the gear check done. They superficially checked my gear. As it turned out, I was the only one who’s gear was checked, and only because I insisted.
Had two versions of the course loaded on my watch (amongst other courses), but when the countdown got to 0, I couldn’t find ANY of them, so I started the watch and wished myself good luck, as the map the organisers lovingly gave me (it was stuck to the registration table and only removed before the race start) was 1:50 000, didn’t show the little turns in the villages I was really worried about. I tried to stick with others. These guys don’t talk, or at least not to strangers. I also found that Italian men don’t like to be overtaken by a woman. One guy made sure I will never pass him, holding his poles in a way that forced me to keep a safe distance.
I met Marco at the start line, then Paolo in the first two kms. He didn’t speak English but he seemed very nice (he looked like our own Buttercup). Out of the two guys who were in front of me, talking about running and races (Ultra Trail de Monte Rosa miler was one of them), one took off, leaving Gianni behind. Gianni spoke quite good English and told me he is usually the last. He also told me that women do better in ultras because men sometimes sign up as a joke. I chatted with Gianni for some time, while the others got further and further away, then felt that I can go faster and decided not to hold back. He told me he started Monte Rosa 170 km, but the race was stopped at 50 kms because of a storm. The main point of the conversation was the gear they had to carry, which even including the bivvy, was 4.5 kg – something that is pretty average in our ultras.
We went through Menaggio, Loveno, then Il Piazzo to arrive to the first check point in Plesio. The course was going through the cobbled, narrow streets of these villages, the forest, behind people’s gardens, across roads, constantly up. It was only at 3.8 km from the start, but we’ve climbed 394 m. In Plesio (first time, because we went through this checkpoint twice), they had mineral water, both sparkling and non-sparkling. I always opted for the sparkling version, as we don’t get the chance to have this in Australia. They also had some apples, bananas and lemon. I didn’t spend much time at check points, got going as soon as possible.
A bit of down hill was really nice after all this climbing. I’ve really enjoyed the light descent, the sun was rising straight into my face. I saw a herd of mules not that far away and thought how on earth I am going to get through that, when a hiking couple coming from the opposite direction yelled at me saying that I missed the turn, look up, everyone’s going up… f$%^!! Had to go back. True, only about 200 m, but still. Saw Gianni, who also missed the turn (even though this wasn’t his first time on this course). We tracked back and got onto the narrow uphill single track. From that point onwards I had my eyes stuck on the ground or looking for signs.
One really smart thing the organisers did, was throwing white confetti (they must have emptied all the hole punches in Menaggio and surrounding villages) on the ground along the course. Other signs were yellow painted arrows (or paint on rocks), white/red tape, little flags with the race logo, race logo on the normal signs and at night, the reflective red and green signs. We got pictures of what the signs will look like.
The steep hike to St Amate, then to Monte Bregagno started. There was a checkpoint at St Amate with water, tea and fruit, it was at about 9 km, but because of the climb it felt way longer. I could see the sun shining over the lake, the mountains half way in the clouds with their tips sticking out. Stunning views I only indulged briefly in.
At the St Amate check point I had my number registered and kept going. At all this high altitude checkpoints there were at least 3-4 salvamontes – guys in red uniform, I wasn’t always sure what they thought of us. There were points along the course where there were rocks to climb/get across, some a bit hairy (for my abilities). I was so glad I did the Como-Bellagio run/hike and the hike up to Grignetta a week earlier – had a taste of what is awaiting. There was a rocky corner, where there were two salvamonte guys, making sure everyone gets through. They were equipped with ropes and all that climbing gear.
It was really interesting – parts of the course were so similar to what we have in Australia. The Razorback, the climb up on Westons Spur, the track towards Langfords Gap, Muesli Spur, Quartz Ridge and many more.
Getting up to Monte Bregagno was no walk in the park. It was steep, rocky in places and we were above the clouds. I took a few shots, but since the view was blocked by the clouds, there was not much point. On Monte Bregagno (about 15 km at 2001 m altitude) there is a huge cross, the salvamonte guys and one of the volunteers registered my number, asked me if I had enough water. Then poured me some into the flask, gave me a chocolate and showed me the direction I should be going. They were very supportive, showing respect to the runners.
Tricky parts on rocks after this, I managed to fall once, hitting my left leg on a sharp rock and ending up with a lot of dark dust on my arms, no big damage, though. Running on the crest was really fun. I thought I’ll be shitting myself when I saw the video, but I enjoyed it. Then there was this grassy downhill, where I could go faster, but was worried about doing my ankle. I overtook Marco and his running partner here. I kept sipping my sugary drink, had some pineapple I’ve packed and Blok Shots.
At the Alpe Livea checkpoint they had apples, bananas and water. Took a piece of banana and sparkling water, had my number registered again, then kept on going. Marco and the other guy got into the checkpoint too, and took me over very soon. The course went through a beautiful pine forest, with lots of different fungi. I would’ve loved to take pictures, but kept running the rolling single trail (it was fun), then hiking the steeper bit. After a little while I saw Marco standing and bending forward. Thought he’s surely unwell. When I caught up with him I asked him if he was OK, he said he is tired but he’ll be fine, so I continued. Caught up with his running partner, who didn’t speak English either, but asked me if I saw another ragazzo and how far he was. Told him that yes, I saw Marco and he’s about 1 minute behind me. He also asked me how many kms we’ve done. We were at about 28 (??), I asked him back how many he’s got, then he showed me that he is not following the kms… found this very odd.
It was getting warm and I could feel that I should be eating something besides drinking water. At these points I’ve had the Blok Shots, banana or the pineapple. Carried them all with me from the start and was very proud of not taking any packaging with me that can fall on the ground.
There were lots of springs and fountains with clean, fresh water along the course. Washed off the dark dust off my arms, cooled down my face and neck a little. Climbed up to Alpe Nesdale, then to the second time to St Amate check point. Had some pieces of apple and mineral water. There was an English-speaking guy next to me at the aid station. We’ve left the checkpoint pretty much at the same time, then spent the next up-downhill (at this point my toes were really hurting – the SpeedCross wasn’t the best choice of shoe for this race) chatting about life in Australia, running and many other things while being overtaken by faster runners. As it turned out, they were doing the short – 31 km – course.
Before Plesio (Ligomena) he took off. I saw him again at the aid station, where the woman offered him all the good things (home made cakes included), she gave me a bottle of mineral water then said “ciao”, pretty much shooing me off. I thought that wasn’t nice and it played on my mind for a little while.
Otto called, he was with Vera, Roberto and Mauro, heading to Codogna to meet me. He was panicking, saying that I am off track – going on the road. Told him that I’ve just passed a checkpoint, can’t be off track. As I was telling him this, the course was going through the narrow streets of Ligomena and I missed a turn. An elderly trail runner lady yelled after me to warn me that I’m off track. Thanked her, but she had this “you idiot strangers, never pay attention” look on her face. I did appreciate it anyway.
As I was approaching Codogna, I could hear a familiar voice. Otto!! He ran downhill with me, taking pics, then along the trout farm and into Codogna, where Vera, Mauro, Roberto and a course marshal were waiting on a rock bridge. Hi five to Mauro, kisses to Roberto and Vera, then off I went. Otto ran with me to another point where they’ve parked their car, then said good bye and headed towards Gonte and Cardano. The road was flat asphalt until after Gonte. Caught up with Matteo and his friend, then they took me over as soon as it started to get steeper. Police have stopped the traffic for the three of us well before we got to the crossing (I guess those drivers weren’t too happy about it), but we got some respectful looks from the police officers.
After the turn onto the track, the steep, long hike up to Rifuggio Vennini started. I thought it will never end. After each corner there was another one (got to love these switch backs). The track was rocky, then some cobbled, and also cemented bits. It was OK at the beginning, but then it got harder and harder, after a while forcing me to stop every 50-100 m for a breather (not sure about the exact distance, was a bit out of it and feeling nauseous).
Heard a car coming, stepped aside. The two hunters waived to me, then stopped not far away in another corner. One was stretching, the other one getting out of the car. The first one asked me how far I’ve got to go. When he saw I was thinking, he kind of waved me off with a “ah, you don’t speak Italian” gesture. Told him I still have to do 21 out of 60 kms, which seemed to impress him and congratulated me, while the other one was deliberately scratching himself, looking me straight in the eye. I thought this is the moment I have to step on it so I said arrivederci, ciao and kept going.
I felt really alone there on the way up and wished I’d reach that damn rifuggio soon, but instead there was another corner with the track going up, and then another… I passed a building, Rifuggio Volta and wished it was the check point… This hike to Rif. Vennini was about 10 km long with 1300 m elevation. When I was near the top, another runner passed me and then Otto called saying that if I just turn right, I’ll end up in the car park, I am very close. Told him I need to follow the signs and indeed I was soon at the check point.
I was first greeted by a salvamonte, then ushered towards the checkpoint, where my number was recorded and there was lots of food (salami, ciabatta, cheese, butter, crackers, fruit, coke, water, tea, lemon, sugar, chocolate… indeed was a “grosso” – traduced “great food” in the course description 😊 I couldn’t eat anything, digged my bicchiere out of my pack and asked for coke. The lovely volunteer poured me some, then asked me where I was from. When I told him that from Australia, he seemed very impressed, then I asked for another half bicchiere. He asked me if I wanted anything to eat, told him I know I should but I can’t. He said “we know that, but please have something”, so I asked for a bottle of sparkling mineral water and a packet of crackers.
I asked if I was in time. The guy said you still have plenty of time – 1:10 hrs to leave the checkpoint. Told him if I knew that, I would’ve gone for a cold beer to the rifuggio 😊 he laughed.
The rifuggio was buzzing with life. It seemed that it was a popular hangout for youngsters. Saw a few runners coming from that direction, they either had a beer or went to the toilet (which made me realise I haven’t been all day, sweated it all out). I said thank you for volunteering, arrivederci and took off. Thought only downhill from here, let’s just enjoy it. It was getting cooler, so I put the light jacket on. The track was going along the contour lines and sloping down gently – I really enjoyed this bit. Soft grass, only had to dodge the cow shit.
There were cows, buffalos and goats grazing nearby, with cowbells around their neck. At some point I could hear someone making a strange noise on the mountain and thought he must be kidding, calling these cows from down here… then I saw at least 30 goats heading towards that person – a really interesting sight.
Tried to eat some of that crackers, it was like saw dust, had to wash it down with nearly the whole bottle of mineral water to swallow it, but I felt better after. The track got rocky then became all rocks which really hurt. I didn’t think this downhill will be so painful – my toes were totally yelling at me and I wished I was down in Menaggio… It started to get darker, but I thought I’d just do whatever I normally do – go on until I need the head torch.
Until I got to the tunnel!! Two young guys were ahead of me, nearly at the tunnel exit; they were smart (or did this before), wearing their torches. I thought I’d just keep going, didn’t want to go back or start shuffling in my pack in the dark… well, this was one of the longest, scariest 200 m (?) I did in the last 25 years. It was pitch dark, I could see the light at the end, but nothing around me. The ground was uneven, with little puddles. If there was a hole anywhere and I fell into it, no one would know that. Couldn’t wait got get out. I turned around and took a shot of the exit and another few of the mountain itself.
Then the watch was complaining about low battery, so I pulled the power bank and put it on charge. Soon had to scoop the torch out, too. It took a little while to get used to following the signs in the dark, but I got the hang of it soon. That downhill didn’t get easier. Got to a place where there were a few houses, some of them looked abandoned. It seemed as the signs disappeared. I walked around looking for something… then I noticed the confetti on the ground – got really excited and followed it.
At a small clearing I saw a light, a volunteer with a head torch wrote my number down, then told me that my husband is very worried about me. I thought that checks out. His stuff was on a larger caliber BMW motor bike and the guy was wearing the gear. He was really nice. Gave me a chocolate and sugar, explained to me which way to go and gently pushed me into that direction. I thought that was really nice. In fact I’ve noticed that the closer I was getting to the finish line, people treated me with more and more respect.
I started in that direction but was disappointed because of the uphill – I thought there is no more of that. The downhill was SO painful. Like the two ladies Alistair and I were sweeping into Kings at H2H. They must have hurt this bad. There were runnable bits, which I made the most of, but mostly steep, dusty switchbacks with tree roots. Glad the organisers have drawn reflective tape between the trees at these corners, it would’ve been so easy to end up rolling down the hill. Matteo and his friend took me over at some point, wished them all the best.
The view above the lake was just stunning – both Menaggio and Bellagio in sight with the other little villages around them in bright lights. I took a few shots but not that clear.
Otto called at some point and asked how I was. Told him I’m OK, but can’t wait to be down; he was very supportive and said that I was really close, just hang in there a bit more. I could hear the noises of the finish line and wished I was even closer, or at least on a road with no rocks. My wish soon came true, as I got onto the streets of Menaggio. I could hear two pairs of poles hitting the asphalt behind me… the two guys (one of them Matteo) were passing me. Asked them what happened. He said they took a wrong turn.
Had to cross the road at some point, police stopped a car so I can pass, cheering me on, while Otto was taking a shot and running ahead of me.
There were people cheering at the finish line, which was so nice. Otto was there to catch me. Took the torch off so the official can hang the glass medal around my neck, he shook my hand and congratulated me, then the other one gave me a back pack, a trophy and a finisher’s t-shirt and asked me to step back so he can take a photo.
I shook hands and congratulated the other runner (Marco’s friend) we’ve passed each other a few times during the day, then Matteo and his brother and went for a beer to the same place I had my coffee in the morning. The owner was really happy for me and the lady who made me the coffee and was very grumpy in the morning now was smiling and congratulated me. We called Mauro, Roberto and Vera, then had a pizza. First I wasn’t hungry but it felt good.
There was a big football match on the TV at the time, the whole restaurant/pub was watching, like at the movies. I went to wash my hands and saw Paolo sitting there. I congratulated him and asked how he’d finished. He said he finished in 12 hrs and something. I couldn’t tell him my time because I couldn’t see it on the watch (needed the glasses)😃 all I knew that it was 13 hrs something.
I can say that it’s a very challenging course – 60 km with 4000 m elevation. Finished with a 13:43:47 time, which was way beyond my expectations. Plan is to Vera, Roberto, Mauro, Cristian (he doesn’t know yet) and Otto to do the 31 km course and me the 60 next year. I will be wiser and more experienced by then and do better.
Apparently 18 is a lucky number. According to Otto is because it’s diciOtto
- Clif Bloks – black cherry and strawberry
- pineapple pieces – didn’t have them all
- dextrose monohydrate in water
- 4 pieces of apple at check point
- ginger beer – brought it back (forgot about it)
- coke at chekpoint
- crackers at the last check point
- lots of sparkling water at check points
- Lululemon crop and top
- iOMerino thermal top and socks
- Salomon Speedcross 4, size 6.5 – not the best choice for this terrain as a whole. It was very good in some areas, but hurting my toes on the rocky downhills
- one bicchiere (mug). Bought a small mug for my morning coffees, which I ended up taking with me on this run. It was way heavier than it should’ve, but I saw it as my lucky thing
Feel free to study my strava activity https://www.strava.com/activities/2728744904
Max elevation: 2057 m
Min elevation: 172 m
Total climbing: 4267 m
Total descent: -4249 m
Total time: 13:43:13