Our plan to swim, bike and run across Europe all started with the sole idea of running through the Tuscan hills of Italy, after Jennifer stumbled across stunning photos posted online by Lost Worlds Racing. The website described a series of ultra trail runs in old world countries, including the Tuscany Crossing 50K & 100K in Tuscany, Italy. The trifecta of visiting a bucket list location, getting to experience Italy on foot and taking on the challenge of a 50K (or 31 miles), was an opportunity too perfect to let slip by. We decided this was a challenge we wanted to embrace and, before we knew it, we were in Italy running. The race was everything we’d hoped for and more; yet wasn’t without its challenges. As with most things in life, the best stories are forged from a combination of good times and difficult times. When it’s all over we laugh at our mishaps and troubles, and relish the experience. This race was no exception.
At 9:30 a.m. the gun fired, the crowd cheered and we were off. I kissed Jennifer good luck and surged ahead, trying (but failing) to contain my excitement. As the course weaved between ancient buildings on worn brick roads, we climbed toward a hilltop castle. We darted through the ancient castle, and into the surrounding woods. Even though it was just the start, my legs convinced my head that I should go to the front. I picked up the pace, but didn’t realize I was running beyond the modest training I had done since my bike accident last summer. It wasn’t a huge overreach, but it was enough that I would suffer later. (Yep, as a seasoned veteran I still make rookie mistakes.) I love that after all these years of racing (nearly 20) when the start gun goes off, I still get just as excited as I used too. Containing that excitement is something I still need to work on. Jennifer took a different approach. She was running to finish, so she took her time from the start.
We passed by classic Italian villas, were treated to amazing views, were served local cuisine at the aid stations and were cheered on by friendly locals (yelling things in Italian we couldn’t understand). I had blue skies and sunshine for 20K, but the next 10K went downhill fast; both in terrain and my condition. The downhills started hurting. Then, the uphills hurt. Then, the flats hurt. Then, moving hurt. Then, stopping hurt. Then, it started raining. I was miserable. There wasn’t any way to undo the mistake of going a little too fast earlier, and I knew the only fix was to put one foot in front of the other until the rescue of next aid station. This was the absolute low point in my day.
I tried to ease my suffering by downing as many Breeze Bars as I could and gulping down loads of Skratch Labs sports drink. They worked wonders, but after three hours of running, lack of training was my downfall. My feet were heavy and my body fought me at every turn, but somehow my brain was victorious in putting one foot in front of the other.
Eventually what had become a never-ending sufferfest ended. With the elegance of a drunken cow, I stumbled into the third aid station at 30K. There were plastic lawn chairs that felt like Lazy Boy’s and mountains of meat, bread and cheese everywhere. I devoured everything within arms reach as several other Americans scampered in. They quickly fueled and refilled, and as they headed back out, I forced my reluctant legs to lift me so I could jump on their coat tails. Immediately their camaraderie snapped me out of my funk, and I was back to enjoying all that the quintessential Italian countryside had to offer.
I laughed with them when I discovered they too had been in that horrible sufferfest for those endless kilometers before the third aid station. A new bond of friendship was created from having the same experience. We continued to suffer together for the next several hours, and time flew by. The finish line came quickly and, in the end, seven and a half hours wasn’t long enough to enjoy it all. When Jennifer came in just two hours later, I was so excited to learn that her race had been much more pleasant than mine (I guess being smart at the start has its advantages). We hugged exhaustedly and I knew, with a grin on my face, that even though it hurt so bad, we were both hooked. We’ll surely do another—maybe Ireland in 2015?
If I can leave you with some words of wisdom based entirely on experience, here are the do’s and don’ts that I re-discovered (for the umpteenth time):
- Do invest in the best gear. Time and time again throughout the day, I was so glad to be wearing my Vapor Cloud hydration pack from Nathan (www.NathanSports.com). The fit and function were perfect. I hardly noticed it on my back, there were loads of pockets that were easy to access while moving, and my favorite part of all; it had a little magnet on the drink hose so every time you went to put it back after drinking, it snapped into place perfectly without trying. (Find me on Facebook for a video of this cool feature.)
- Do pack the best nutrition. Have great tasting, all natural nutrition like Breeze Bars (www.BreezeBars.com) and Skratch Labs exercise hydration mix (www.SkratchLabs.com) to fuel you with clean, sustaining energy.
- Do eat and drink constantly. Continuously refill your tank to maintain your energy level. Just putting your head down and hammering will get you into trouble.
- Do make friends along the way. While you will need to push yourself, there will be moments when you will depend on the support and energy of those around you. Remember to put out positive energy to others, and it will be returned.
- Don’t go out too fast. It feels so easy at the start, but fight the excitement. It’s better to back off the pace right out of the gates.
- Don’t rush the aid stations. A full stop, even for just a moment, can really refresh you both physically and mentally.
- Don’t quit. It won’t all be flowers and sunshine, and puppies and sugar. You will have aches and pains that will come and go. Guaranteed, at some point, you’re going to hurt like a SOB, but just remember—the pain will only last a little while, but the regret of a DNF will last much, much longer.
- Don’t forget—this is fun!
Enjoy a few photos from the 50K above.