Run the steppes of Magraid 100k – Italy – June 2017

By Alicia Christofi-Walshe

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I heard the knocking but I hesitated getting up from the couch to answer it. I was snuggled up warm and comfy in my pjs and fluffy socks. I didn’t want to be disturbed but at the same time I knew my safe and familiar life needed to be ruffled up. I knew that knocking would be just the thing that would do it.

Mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, a status update jolted me alive. Trail Running Ireland was looking for an ultrarunner and writer to travel to Italy to run Magraid 100k and to write about it. I knew I could do both, but I paused and thought about it. If I clicked on this post, I would let a stranger into my safe world. I was trying to convince myself that it would be too much of a disruption to my family’s routine, knowing well enough that my husband would encourage me. Without a second thought he would gladly rearrange his schedule to care for our three children. In reality, it was me and my uncertainties that caused me to pause. Could I finish the notoriously challenging Magraid 100k? Could I report about it in a way that was expected?

Before I could realize what had happened, opportunity had knocked and I had answered. It barged straight into my sitting room, plopped itself beside me and handed me an adventure.

I was going to Italy. I was going to run 100k. I was going to go as a journalist. I was handed an adventure.

My Magraid 100k adventure proved to be the sharp contrast from my familiar life that I was expecting. Ten months ago I ran my first ultra. Nine months ago I started blogging about my ultra experiences. Now here I was gearing up for a top-class international event as a runner and as a reporter.  Magraid is a 3-day race broken down into 20k, 55k and 25k. I was confident that I could complete the distances but admittedly somewhat anxious about the extreme heat and desert-steppe terrain. It was exactly that curiosity that pushed me from my comfy couch and my soft Irish hills and pulled me towards the uncompromising heat and endless kilometers of stones and pebbles.

With all that being said, I expected the unexpected and was rewarded beyond my imagination. I urge you to do the same next year. Knock yourself out of your comfort zone. Put your rain jacket and winter hat in the closet and dig out your suncream and shorts. Embrace the tough, rocky terrain, litres of local vino and double-cheeked kisses from all of your new Italian pals. Make time for the adventure and reap the benefits from challenging yourself.

Here are some tips for your trip:

Travel Logistics

For the duration of the event you’ll stay at a basecamp located an hour’s drive from Venice in the Margredi desert-steppe, close to the town of Cordenons. From Ireland you can fly from Dublin to either Venice-Treviso or Venice-Marco Polo with Aer Lingus or Ryanair. From the airports either hire a car or a driver to bring you to basecamp.

The Magredi is situated in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. This region is in the northeast of the country and borders Austria, Slovenia and the Adriatic Sea. It’s not packed with tourists, so you’re guaranteed to see lots of Italians and the real Italy. There are endless amounts of restaurants to overindulge in gorgeous wine and food. There is an abundance of culture to take in, from museums to churches to castles. I’d recommend visiting the town of Sacile. It’s surrounded by the Dolomites and the river Livenza runs through it. Tours by foot are available from the tourist office or you can choose to tour the town via the river on a canoe.

Be Adaptable

The terrain and weather you’ll be running in is the opposite of what you’ve been training on in Ireland. Instead of rain, you’ll have scorching sun. Instead of muck, you’ll have pebbles and stones. But you can do it. And you will do it. In fact, you’ll be in a state of pure ecstasy as you cross the finish line on day 3. But in order to get there you need to do a few key things.

  1. Learn to run on the claps – You’ll need to adapt your usual running style. If you try to plough through the claps you’ll sink. If you try to walk through them, you’ll sink. Sinking isn’t so bad. I sink in the Irish muck all the time. However, ploughing through and walking will both result in tattered legs. The only way to traverse the claps is to run light and flat footed. No heel striking or toe digging. You’ll need to put your whole foot down and float across those white stones!
  2. Fuel / Drink – Eat something every half hour and sip water constantly. People did suffer from heatstroke and dehydration over the duration of the event. Take electrolytes as you’ll be sweating constantly. There are regular water stations and one main food station per stage. Beware, as tempting as it will be, try not to drink too much vino with dinner. You do not want to start this race dehydrated!
  3. Make rain – There will be no Irish rain to cool you down so you’ll need to make your own. When you see water, get it and dump it over your head! At each aid station I’d suggest you refill your flasks, drink at least 1 litre of water and dump 1 litre over your head. Soak your buff and hat at all water stations and rivers. In fact, when you come to a river, dunk your head in, sit in it, jump in, flip or float!

Footwear

If you’re a Hoka person, bring them. I wore a pair of Hoka Speedgoat 1s for all three stages and I found them perfect for the stoney terrain. If Hokas aren’t your shoe, wear a trail runner with a thick sole to protect your feet from hours of running on hot pebbles.

Kit

You’ll need your ultrarunning essentials plus camping gear. All athletes get their kits checked at the start of each stage. You’re required to carry a backpack, 2 litres of water, food or gels, headlamp, survival blanket, map of the area, hat or buff and whistle. All your food and gels will be labeled with your race number. If you litter you’ll be disqualified.

You’ll be staying in communal tents, provided by the organisers for the two nights. There are cots, so you won’t be sleeping on the ground. Bring your pillow, sheets or light sleeping bag, towel and any food or snacks. All three meals are available at the dining area (for 10 euro per meal). I’d suggest bringing some extra bits if you’re a hungry person like me. You won’t be able to cook but you will be able to have a shower and use a toilet, thank God!

The event caps at 180 participants, so book your spot in February when registration opens to avoid disappointment. You’ll be surrounded by fit athletes, you’ll be inspired and you’ll be part of a unique event like none other. This year’s winners were Lorena Piastra for the women and Giorgio Calcaterra for the men. Go on and give them a run for their money next year!

Magraid is knocking and you need to answer the door. It’s not the event for everyone but I know you hardy Irish trail runners would absolutely love the challenge of it. Don’t ignore that knocking. Don’t hide behind the curtain. Click the link. Enter the race. Go. To. Magraid.

Click here for more info on Magraid

Photos:

Day 1:

Day 2

Day 3:

Tourism:

Map:

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