Trail Running Ireland trip to Gargano, Italy in October 2014
Race report by Don Hannon (trailrunner.ie)
Here is a little story from our trip to Italy.. The Italian Job- Ah c’mon… another hill???
I was dying in this race. I’m in Italy, running in the most beautiful place and all I want to do is get to the finish without a DNF.
I was in two minds about running this race at all. I have been going hard at it the last few months and have a 24 hour race coming up in three weeks and thought it might be a bit short on time for recovery but decided to go ahead and run anyways.
For the Italian Heist we have Fred, Stephen, Suzanne, Mandy, Paul, Thomas, Dee, Barbara and yours truly. We are up at 6am for brekky and a 2km walk to the start line for the race briefing. On the way up the road I was feeling tired already and should have known it was gonna be a tough day.
The Italians do most things with style and in this case they had surpassed themselves.
The place looks fantastico!!!
Food stalls, stages, running apparel, music, photographers and shoe sponsors everywhere. This was to be the first edition of this race and man they got it bang on. From start to finish they rolled out the red carpet for us. Anything we needed it was there in minutes. The setting of the whole race is just perfect. A small Italian Village overlooking the plain of Mattinata, expanses of centuries old olive trees all the way down to the Adriatic Sea shadowed by majestic mountains above with epic views in all directions. All of this is matched by the warmth of our race hosts and the people of Mattinata. Top class event!!
For our part, Thomas, Paul, Stephen and I were taking on the big daddy at 77km. Dee, Barbara, Suzanne and Mandy were doing the 34km and Fred the 15km. All starting at different times.
9am and it’s time to begin the journey. We take a few snaps, wish each other well and line up for the start. There had been a bit of argy bargee about Race Kit the night before at dinner. It stated that you had to have foil blanket, 1 litre of water, whistle, food, phone, head torch and a bandage. Of course I had none of this because there were checkpoints every 10km and why would I need all this stuff when I would be finished well before dark blah blah blah… I will get back to this later!
There were some of Italy’s finest Athletes running today. I would have loved to be giving it a good rattle and see if I could keep pace but that would have to wait for another day.
Tres Dos Uno Race!!!
Off we go through the small streets of Matinatta Villagi heading down towards the beach. The pace is relatively slow compared to what I am used to here in Ireland. I was thinking in my head if Ray Lanigan or most of the lads I run with were here we would be miles ahead after the first few kilometres. I’m sitting in nicely behind the leaders and just getting my head around holding back the urge to race and the stupid bag on my back. It’s really messing up my running form, I feel like throwing it away. Before long we are at the base of the first hill up an old Shepards track to Mount Saraceno. The pace is still pretty slow but the heat is really starting to build now, it doesn’t take long to reach the first of many many summits. When you come over the top to the Saraceno Tower you start to drop rapidly onto the beach. If you have a bad head for heights this will be a testing section for you, there is a very steep drop down to the sea with loose rocks and stones and you really start to get a taste of what the terrain is going to be like for the rest of the race. Very very technical, dusty, rocky, volcanic and a lot of concrete hills.
Down onto the beach for a nice easy 2km run through sand and pebbles. It’s a ball breaker but everyone takes it steady to conserve some energy. Around 8km in you come off the beach and start to climb to the first checkpoint. I passed a good few runners here, I had had plenty of water before the race so was still feeling pretty good. The next 10km is just so tough, climb, climb, climb to 200mts and then drop down again to climb and then climb some more on a concrete road followed by a boulder field back up to 600mts. The heat is really building now and mixed with the elevation there is just no air to take in. Long slow deep breathing just isn’t doing what it normally does. One gear is all there seems to be now. Climb Climb Climb now and there are farming fields with Poldolica Cows with big massive bells around their necks, these become the soundtrack of the race for me along with my own breathing. Eventually you reach a checkpoint around 1km from the summit, quick drink, refill of water, some banana and on we go through some oak trees to the summit at 850mts. There is a wonderful 13th century Benedictine abbey. I was going to take a few pics but when I reached into my bag to grab the phone it had gotten wet and decided not to work anymore. Disaster no.1 Disaster no.2 was that my iPod had also gotten fried by the water and now I had no sounds apart from the cow bells. This was going to be a long day because my Italian is not really up to much. I hate running bags!!! Some people don’t like music while running, for me I find it a must! There is a drop down off the summit which is very technical when all you want to do is run and free the legs and lungs up a bit. You drop down onto a road for a couple of hundred metres and then slowly climb back up to 1,000 mts as you reach the checkpoint at 30km.
Into the checkpoint and they told me that the forest was only 1km away and that there would be cover from the sun for another 20km. More water a banana and this time some orange. Don’t ask me why I took some orange cos it always makes me sick but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was so thirsty and I couldn’t wait to get into the forest, it was 31 degrees now.
Behind me now all the guys were going through their own journeys in this wonderful landscape. Little did I know that behind me Suzanne was now leading the race and after 27km was looking strong for a 1st place. Sometimes the running gods are not playing in your favour. A marshal sent Suzanne and the 2nd placed lady on the long course and they both went 8km the wrong way. I felt so sorry for Suzanne but she took it like a real champ and brushed it off. Plenty more races to come. To go up against Italians on their home soil and hold them off on their own course would be good enough for me. Savage performance and a future star!!
Dee, Mandy and Barbara stuck together to finish the race together and enjoy the experience as a team. Wise decision by the three ladies. 6 Hours to complete the 34km to put into perspective just how tough this course is!!
Thomas had joined forces with Paul and their fierce leader Stephen to make the journey a small bit easier and from all accounts he said he might not have made it to the end without the help of the two guys. A team effort can be so much better in this kind of race, everyone has ups and downs so you can bring each other along when the times get tough.
Fred went out the next day and ran the 15km option in style and finished comfortably. Next year the 34km I’m sure for Fred. Only at the beginning of his ultra journey.
Into the forest and it was like heaven. Long winding paths, very runnable and nice and cool. The next checkpoint was at 45km and just before I got there I went ass over tip on a lovely flat piece of trail while daydreaming about the olives falling from the trees and the cow bells. Funny really!! I laughed at myself when I got up, I had used the tuck and roll method of falling and was covered in dust and muck. There was blood coming out of my arm and leg mixed with sweat so I must have looked pretty bad coming up to the guys at the checkpoint. They were saying you need to get an ambulance and a medic. I just smiled politely, took some water and headed on down the path.
The next 14km was all down hill… Woo Hoo.. Another checkpoint 5km later and I was moving pretty well now. They had Mozzarella Cheese sitting in cold water. Unreal!!! Sooooo tasty.. Off I popped again down the hill towards the next checkpoint at 55km. I hadn’t seen any runners now for a long time when suddenly I spotted a runner up ahead. It was a small little Italian lady and she was moving a bit slower than me. I caught her up after a while but she wasn’t in the humour for chat so I kept on truckin. It was nice to be running downhill after all the climbing. The views on the next section where just amazing. I reached the next checkpoint and there was no one there so I filled up the water had another piece of orange and started the first of many climbs in the last section of this race.
I got over this first hill and started heading down towards the sea again but I lost concentration for a minute and missed a turn, completely my fault. The course was very very well marked and I paid the price for not keeping my eyes opened. Running downhill again and happy as can be all of a sudden I am in the middle of 100 pigs in some kind of farm. Oops I think I may have missed a turn. Back up again for around 2km and I see where I made the boo boo.
From here to the finish is a string of up and down vertical hills one after another then a beach run followed by a last climb of 700mts from the sea. It’s just so so tough on the body and mind. I caught up the little Italian lady again but the oranges took their vengeance on me again at around 600 metres and I had to stop to empty my stomach. A guy passed me using poles and tapped me o the back as he went by. Once I got over the nausea I felt great and was able to start running again. Two more checkpoints to the finish and it was dark now. Just as well Paul had given me a loan of the head torch or I would have been stranded on top of a hill for the night with the singing crickets and cow bells. Trying to run with the head torch and navigate was pretty hard because the last 6 km was pretty technical and I am particularly blind at night. As you come over the last hill and can see the village of Mattinata you really can breathe a sigh of relief. Around 2km of a road run to the finish which is really nice. Did I mention I hate running bags?
This really is a very very tough race and my little story here does no justice to the strain endured to get to the finish but what an experience we all had in the Gargano wilds.
Back to normality now but I have to say that apart from the great race I had and all the wonderful scenery, the best memories I will have was spending a few days in the sun with my fellow Trailheads. It gave me an immense sense of pride to be out there with the Irish flag wrapped around us under the Start Line in Mattinata. We spent three days eating, swimming running, laughing and basically behaving like big children. Fred the French Wizard of Garagno, Mandy the Sunbathing Goddess, Thomas the Poltergeist Sleeper, Stephen the Mosquito Lover, Dee and Barbara the ladies of Mattinata, Suzanne the upside-down yoga runner and Paul the prolific photographer. You guys is awesome!!
Anyone else contemplating doing this race next year. Book it now!! Amazing
Oh and bring all the gear recommended by the race. You will need it!!