Friday, 30 October 2015

An Adventure in Italy

This last weekend I was lucky enough to be selected to represent Wales at the prestigious Trofeo Vanoni mountain running event in Morbegno in Italy for the second year running! The event is twinned with the International Snowdon Race as the town of Morbegno is twinned with Llanberis itself. This year it was the 58th Edition of the Trofeo Vanoni relay race for the men and the 32nd edition of the Vanoni Femminile. (Individual women’s race) This sees the men run in teams of three around a 7 km lap course. This fact that this event is a relay creates lots of excitement among the competitors and the supporters making for an enthralling afternoon of racing. In contrast the women’s international race is just an individual 5 km event which runs around part of the men’s course. Nevertheless, the fast course and the level of competition mean that the race is eagerly anticipated by competitors and spectators alike. Both of the races start and finish in the centre of the town of Morbegno which adds to the atmosphere of the races.

I flew out with the Welsh team from Manchester airport two days before the competition and we met the Snowdon Race Team at Hotel Margna in Morbegno. They were lucky enough to have flown out the day before so had time to go out exploring the Italian mountains whilst we were travelling.
The Welsh Men’s A Team consisted of Richard Roberts, Pete Ryder and Matthew Roberts and the Welsh B team consisted of John Spill, Adrian Woods and Ian Holmes. Meanwhile Katie Beecher and I were the Welsh women’s representatives.
The Snowdon Race Team were selected based on the positions in the International Snowdon Race earlier in the year. Emmie Collinge, Lindsey Brindle and Katie Walshaw were the women’s representatives and the men’s team included, Tom Adams, Rob Hope and Ben Mounsey.
 
Touch-down in Italy
The day before the race I walked around the course and found that it was just how I remembered it from the year before. A fairly long flat section along the cobbled streets before it started to kick up through the narrow buildings. The course then hit a slightly ascending road followed by some extremely steep switchbacks through a wood. The top of the course was quite technical and narrow with lots of rocks and stones before it started to descend on hard paths back into the centre of Morbegno. I enjoyed running the race last year and couldn’t wait to get out there the next day and run fast.
 
The ever reliable Walsh out walking the course
In the afternoon we went on a short train ride to Lake Como and after lunch the Snowdon Race Team enjoyed a dip in the freezing lake whilst some amazed Italians took some photos of them whilst remarking that they were “Crazy!”. Unfortunately I didn’t bring a spare change of clothes so couldn’t experience the shivering!
Lake Como was beautiful

Back in Morbegno, after an athletes parade through the town followed by attending mass in the very large town church, it was time once again to eat and then to get some sleep ready for the big day ahead.
 
The British girls before the start
Katie, Myself, Katie and Lindsey
The Women’s race started at 11am which I was glad about as it meant that there wasn’t too much hanging around waiting to race. We were all called forward athlete by athlete onto the start line just before 11 o’clock and the atmosphere on the street had such a buzz of activity making me anxious to get going. At last the gun went and we were off. Emmie Collinge hit the front straight away. She really is such a class mountain runner and after finishing 2nd at the World Championships this year in Betws-y-Coed she was no doubt going to run well here. I sat behind in the chasing group of athletes which included the Italian Alice Gaggi and the crowds were going absolutely wild for her. Mountain Running is huge in Italy and the crowds all around the course were massive with the chorus of “Dai, dai, dai” and the cheering making the atmosphere electric.
Soon we had hit the top of the climb and it was time for the descent. At this point I was running well in 7th place. However this is were it all started to go wrong for me. Suddenly I was getting a lot of pain in my right heel and realised that a stone must have somehow gotten into my shoe. I tried to run fast but the pain in my foot was pretty bad and I couldn’t do the descent any justice meaning that a few girls came past me. The descent seemed to go on forever before we were back in the town. Running into the finish, suddenly I felt someone move up onto my shoulder and I was sprinting neck and neck with a girl to the finish line. It wasn’t until I had actually crossed the line that I realised that it was Roberta Ciappini from C.S.I. Morbegno who was also an under 23 and I had raced at the Europeans and the World Championships this year. (She was only 5-10 seconds behind me in these races) It was a nervous wait for the results as I knew that we were both in contention for the Under 23 title and I really didn’t know who had crossed the line first as it was so close!
Once all the runners had finished, we were all called back in descending finishing order to receive a rose and it was then that I realised that I had been beaten by Roberta. I felt very annoyed with myself as I knew that I hadn’t run my best race because of the stone in my shoe and I just kept thinking what if I’d sprinted a bit sooner. However all the British girls that were around me were encouraging and made me feel a bit better. It’s so easy to over think what you did in a race when things don’t quite go your way but you just need to learn from it and move on so that you can do better next time.  Mistakes are all part of the journey to become successful and I've no doubt that this race will make me more determined to do well in the future.
The rest of the British girls all did extremely well. When I finished I learnt that Emmie had won and broken the course record by over 30 seconds in the process! Congratulations to her. She has had such an amazing summer season and I can only aspire to run so strongly like her!
Katie Walshaw flew past me on the descent and finished in 7th. I had finished 10th, Lindsey one second behind in 11th and Katie Beecher in 13th. This meant that all us Brits finished in the top 13 showing that we are a strong nation in mountain running.
 
A painful run into the finish
Soon it was afternoon and time to watch the men’s relay race. I went with Katie, Lindsey and Jo (Tom Adam’s wife) up the first climb so that we could cheer the lads on. First up the climb was Tom from the Snowdon race team running extremely strongly with the leading group of runners. Following closely behind was John and Rich from the two Welsh teams. We then moved to the opposite side of the road to watch the men descend down the wall on the course. Lots of people stay here to watch and the atmosphere was amazing with so many people cheering and shouting for the runners. Also I’m sure that people watch here because they want to see if anyone falls when they jump down the wall!
Emmie jumping the famous wall

Back on the ascent for the second leg, Rob Hope was in third place and was surely going to catch the tiring runner ahead. As predicted Rob came flying down the descent and came into view as the second placed athlete chasing down the leading French man. We all knew that Ben would have to run very fast on the last leg as the man chasing him down was Alex Baldaccini who is an amazing descender. So we all stood and shouted and screamed Ben on and willed him to hold on and get closer to the leading French.
Waiting at the finish was nail-biting as we didn’t know what was going on out on the course. A lady was making announcements about the positioning but it was all in Italian so we didn’t know what was going on! She kept saying Ben’s name and Baldaccini but we just had to wait for them to appear before we knew. Then suddenly the leading motor bike came into view followed by the Julian Rancon from France. As he was celebrating coming across the line, Ben came into view still in second place! Close behind him was Baldaccini but he wasn’t close enough. Ben took one look behind him and saw that he was clear and sprinted to the finish with a massive smile on his face. It was really so inspiring to watch.
The Snowdon Race team at the finish
Rob, Ben and Tom
The Welsh A team finished in 11th and the Welsh B team finished in 25th. They all did really well as over 100 teams took part in the race all together.

Later after all the excitement of the racing was over it was time for the race presentations. The top 15 in the women’s race were all given some Euros and a bottle of wine and I also received some additional Euros and even more wine for finishing the second under 23. The top 25 or 30 men’s teams were all given some Euros and wine which meant that all of us Brits went home with something!
The women after receiving their roses after the race

Then it was time for the individual fastest legs to be given some prizes from the men’s race. The third fastest was Jan Janu from the Czech Republic running 30m 33s. Suddenly we were all astounded to hear Ben’s name called! He had not only gone and brought his team home in second place but had also achieved the second fastest leg of the day in 30m 21s! The fastest leg was Alex Baldaccini in 28m 48s. Ben had run one of the fastest times ever by a GB athlete on the course and it shows that he must have been flying around!
The fact that all the men ran so well definitely made my day after being disappointed with my result! However I soon discovered that I had run two seconds faster than last year so it just shows that although I didn’t run my best I am a stronger athlete than last year, as if I had not had a stone in my shoe I would’ve hoped to have been about 30 seconds faster. That gives me a little bit of positive out of my race and I really hope that I can be selected again next year and do the descent some justice!

On the final day before leaving Italy some of us went for a steady long run up a mountain. We got up early so it was very peaceful running up and the views were breathtaking. What I like about mountain running is that you get to see so much of nature and the environment of the world that you wouldn’t be as accessible doing any other activity. All you have to do is put of a pair of shoes, find a path and get out there! 
An amazing setting for a run

The men ran all the way to the peak but Katie and I turned around early as I don’t usually run for three hours! This is where I had a fight with the path as I tripped up on a rock and fell and rolled down the path leaving my shin bleeding and scratched. Nevertheless it didn’t feel too bad so we ran back to the hotel where I gratefully received some ice to put on it as it had become quite swollen. After a yummy hot chocolate in one of the many cafĂ©’s it was time to leave Morbegno and fly home back to Manchester.

I now have a lovely bruise all over my right lower leg that has gone through a variety of colours these past few days...
...purple...yellow...green...blue...... 
At least I have something to help me remember the Italian mountains!

Heidi x