Italy, part 1

The first half of my trip to Italy has flown by in a whirlwind of activities! I could have happily spent my whole trip at any one of the places I’ve visited, but that just means I’ll need to come back to see more of each area at a later time. My trip started on July 19th, and I’ll be back to the US on July 31st.

Now that I’m in Premana, Italy, and actually taking a little down time, I have the opportunity to reflect on the first half of the trip. Premana is the venue for the Mountain Running World Championships, which is coming up tomorrow!

But back to the beginning of my trip – each day had somewhat of a theme, see below, with my commentary on that theme. Photos coming up, but the internet is refusing to upload them right now, so I’ll try again later!  Updated, with the photos.

Day 0 – PREPARE and WAIT

In the morning I laid out my careful packing photo (yes of course I brought too many clothes, but I needed the full USATF Nike kit plus some other things). Quick run, leave VT, hop on and off two planes, catch a bit of sleep.

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Now let’s see if all of this will actually fit in the bag… Thanks Nike and USATF for the pretty sweet team uniforms and gear!

Day 1- LEARN, how to travel and other useful skills

After a somewhat delayed flight, I arrived in Milan around 11am, ready to rent my car and drive to Canazei in the Dolomites. Although the car rental agent tried very hard to convince me to buy supplemental insurance that would more than double my rental price, I hesitantly but definitively said no (I believe it panned out well – I didn’t get any new scratches on the car and the return went smoothly, but I haven’t seen the confirmation in print yet!). Checked over the car with the agent for existing scratches, loaded up my gear and headed out. I was driving a Fiat Panda, standard transmission, basic/cheap but perfectly good car. However it did take me about 10 minutes to figure out how to roll down the windows (on the center console only, no controls on the door side itself), by which time I had opened my door and reached around it to press a button to get out of the parking garage. Figuring out the air conditioning took considerably longer… say an hour, of sweltering in the Milan heat, before I noticed the tiny vague snowflake and pushed the right button. Deciding what type of gas required the help of a fellow gas-station customer. Figuring out that the strange light on the dashboard meant that my emergency brake was lightly engaged took considerably longer than it should have (in my defense it looked the like tire pressure light on my car at home, so I inflated the tires, but it didn’t go away). Fortunately I had read about what Italian road signs mean before I left the US, and yet I still couldn’t find any posting of the Autostrada speed limit – so I cautiously went 110kph or so, and as it turned out I could have gone 130kph. All of these car-related adventures, through the fog of jet lag, had the result that I arrived in Canazei much later than expected. But finally, I made it – checked in to the race headquarters to pick up my bib, went on a quick jog to see the start area, and then found a streetside restaurant for dinner. By the time I made it up the winding road to my hotel at the top of Pordoi Pass, the Col di Lana, I was thoroughly ready to get out of the car and sleep.

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Well this looks like a nice sweet and caffeinated way to stay awake and beat the heat! Just after I took this photo, pleased with my iced coffee drink, I found the push knob to turn on the AC and was even happier.
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Bib pickup!
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Course preview, and distractingly good views just above the start.

Day 2 – ADRENALINE

I woke up to a sunny morning and beautiful view. I wished I could linger at breakfast, which was an excellent breakfast buffet, but too soon it was time to drive down to the race start. I finished packing my bag in my room, decided I should put my passport in a safe place before I leave… and realized that I couldn’t find my passport anywhere, hadn’t seen it since the airport. I tore through my room, my bags, my car, with no luck, and leave for the race anyway, deciding I’d figure out the passport issue after the race I guess. Major adrenaline rush, between the almost-certainly lost passport, the 27 switchbacks on a narrow road, and the fact that I parked with 25 minutes until my race start and still an 8 minute run to the start. I checked for the passport one more time, and found it wedged under the passenger seat – classic traveling mistake, serves me right for being a bit haphazard with my stuff in the car, but wow what a relief! Quick and happy-relieved warm up for the race, and time to start! Unfortunately I wasn’t in the seeded women’s wave, but I power-hiked just about solo with my trekking poles, cheered by many spectators along the way. It was really fun, and I’d love to come back and race the VK and the Dolomites Skyrace sometime in the future. After the race, because the scenery is so mesmerizing, and because I had a limited amount of time in the area, I hiked to the top of a nearby peak and then ran around the ridgeline, looked over the other side, and descended a ski-resort road back into the valley. By the time I ran down to my car, I’d been working out for 3 hours and I was ready to be done.  The afternoon was much more calm, with lunch at the post-race tent. Then I wandered into town and spotted Antonella Confortola Wyatt, an Italian skier-runner who I’ve ski raced with before. It was great to join Antonella and her husband Jonathan, in addition to several New Zealanders here in Italy for Mountain Running Worlds, for an afternoon coffee and then to watch Antonella receive her awards for 5th in the VK. In the evening it started raining, so I enjoyed a great dinner of pasta and lamb at my hotel, and went to bed.

 

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Here’s my bib, with the nice detail of printed-on name and country flag! That spikey point of rock on the skyline is where I’ll be finishing the VK!
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Morning views from the Hotel Col di Lana
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Flower boxes, beautiful!
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Homemade ravioli, to be followed by lamb, mmm.

Photos and other media from the VK and Skyrace: http://www.dolomiteskyrace.com/foto.asp?s=117&g=5742

Day 3 – ENDURANCE

I woke up before breakfast was served at my hotel, so even in the light drizzling rain I took a pre-breakfast jog. After breakfast, I set out along the Dolomites Skyrace route from my hotel on Pordoi Pass up towards Piz Boe. The Skyrace was happening this day, a 22 kilometer rocky mountain race that circuits a large loop up in the mountains above Canazei. I was out running around and watching passing runners for 3.5 hours, then descended back down to my rental car to start the drive to Auronzo di Cadore. Auronzo di Cadore is a few hours farther east into the Dolomites, and is where I was planning to meet my friend and Italian skier Virginia de Martin Topranin. Due to some technical difficulties with pin-drops on google maps, I drove to Auronzo and couldn’t find Virginia, so I drove myself to Toblach to meet her there instead for a short afternoon classic rollerski. From Toblach we returned to Auronzo, showered, and then left for a restaurant where her training team was eating dinner that night. The Italian pizza was spectacularly good, and while occasionally a few people ventured into English, I spent most of the evening letting the Italian conversations roll by, and challenging myself to see if I could pick out any words. Watching body language and listing to the musical Italian was perfectly ok by me, though anytime the Italians ventured into English, their English was great. By the time we returned to Virginia’s house, it was nearly midnight, and had been a tiring but also an excellent day.

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Day 4 – EXPERIENCE

Virginia and her team took me on a nice run/hike with poles from near Misurina, Italy. Up and over the mountain passes, down a few via ferrata cables, through chutes of scree, I was happily in my element in the rocky mountains. Even if my legs were starting to feel rather heavy from all the racing-hiking-traveling I’d put myself through! In the afternoon Virginia and I both took an easy afternoon off from training. We walked around the small town in Comelico di Superiore where she lives, and then went to dinner at her parents’ guesthouse.  It was amazing food, and Virginia guided me through trying many of the local specialties, like ricotta gnocchi. We were both so hungry, and I was enjoying the tastes so much, that this most amazing meal of my trip was the only one I forgot to photograph! Pictures can’t do the same justice to the full experience of taste anyway.

Day 5 – WEATHER

With the threat of rain and thunder throughout the day, the day got off to a slow start. Although Virginia and I had planned to rollerski in the morning, we switched to running and core strength instead. Of course it ended up being partially sunny in the morning. And then we struggled to get ourselves out of the car for an afternoon double-pole on rollerskis in the pouring rain. Virginia was due to leave for Blink festival in Norway the next morning, so after our workout we headed back to her house and after packing she made (I just barely helped) some delicious rissotto with cheese, meat, and greens for dinner. Thank you to Virginia for hosting me for 3 excellent days of training and experiencing Italy, and thanks to the Carabinieri team that Virginia is part of (I don’t even know the team’s name…) for sharing your lunches, training sessions, and just a few Italian words with me!

Day 6 – ONWARD

Ok, I was starting to feel a little tired on day 6. My training plan had optional short intervals, and I left it open to do some running intensity if I felt up for it. When I drove myself up to Tres Cimes park, on Virginia’s recommendation for a solo run, my legs were too heavy, there were too many tourists, and frankly the view was too distracting for intensity! Just running the loop easy, with a fair number of photo stops, meant that by the end of the run I was booking it back to the car to leave by 11 for my nearly-6 hour drive back to Milan. I sent it at 130kph for the entire length of the autostrada, only permitted myself 2 quick gas stops, and was lightly stressed at the realization that I would be cutting it tight on my rental car return. Got it back, 15 minutes before 5pm!

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Day 7 – WALK

Milan, the city, the food. Just a taste.

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Day 8 – STAY ON YOUR TOES

Just when I thought I’d figured out some travel details, I walked to the wrong metro/bus/train station in the morning. I was wondering why I didn’t recognize it from my arrival 2 days ago, when I looked at a map and discovered that I was at the wrong station. Oops! Luckily the other one was close, and I had a metro ticket in my pocket, and a nice Italian guy who spoke English helped me get through the turnstile with my luggage after I got stuck the first time. A cappuccino, a few more pastries, a bus ride, and a little more walking, and I found myself on the bus to Premana with several other US, Canadian, and Australian athletes. Phew, made it, now I have coaches and organizers who will help me take care of myself and this transportation thing!

So what have I learned from this trip, other than that Italy is amazing, and varied, and I want to visit again, and that my public transportation skills are sketchy but I do ok?

Every day is an adventure! Be ready, and embrace the challenges!

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