What was ment to be the last race for my spring season finally became a leisure break to bella italia. Due to my injury i could not run the 100 km del Passatore on the 29th of May. I was really looking forward to it as the race has a huge tradition and a profile that is more similar to a Tour de France stage than a running road race. The flight and hotel was already booked since months so i decided to head down to Florence to spend some good days with friends and dolce vita. Ciao Italia!
There are lots of road races around these days. Trail or Road, Ultra or whatever distance. Some are newly set up by money making event companies and some are just magical – traditional. Those races lack a nice flashy homepage and shiny adverts all over the usual busy running websites. No one is really paying attention to spread the word as the organisers are more focused on keeping such a wonderful little race alive than actually promoting it abroad.
Italy has a rich road running tradition. Not only since Stefano Baldini won the Olympic Marathon in Athens running, especially on the roads, is popular throughout the country. Sport in general is everywhere and which country has the readers for two daily nationwide newspaper that are ONLY covering sports? Overall it seems that Italy is more known for the cycling, which is celebrated perfectly over there – no doubt. But beside that there are classic marathons and the queen of italian ultra road running, the 100 km del Passatore from Florence to Faenza! A race that had it’s peak time in the late eighties early nineties. The world cup was held here in 1991 with the record of 3.600 runners (…only 1.161 finished the race). Since then the European Cup took place here (1997) and several Campionato Italiano’s. A stunning course record of 6:31:44 h was set in 2004 by Italian Mario Ardemagni and Monica Carlin ran a 7:51:38 for the women course record in 2006. If you compare those times to the 100 km World Record which is seet by Takahiro Sunada in 6:13:33 on a pancake flat course in Tokoro, Japan in 1998 you will see that the 100 km del Passatore features one of the toughest ultra courses around.
I can call myself lucky to train with Italians here in Ireland. Besides the knowledge of the best pasta and pizza in town the horizont on races gets bigger and bigger. Italian road races often lack the englisch translation or just feature a very bad one. It is nice to get the inside knowledge from locals on what’s hot or not. Since months and maybe years Simone and i are raving about the magical Passatore. The ultimative goal for the serious italian runner. A course where you can not hide, a distance where you can not cheat. 100 kilometres through the magical Tuscany leaving Florence just beside the river Arno.
So here we go. It is nearly 3pm. It is hot and the usual tourist brigades are floating around the inner city of Florence. The last runners receive there numbers and try to relax in the shadows of the Piazza della Signoria. It is not busy and there is not the usual hectic around. Everybody knows their day will be long – long and painful. The first runners are making their way to the startline in the middle of the city. Just a couple of strides away from the sign in area. The streets are not closed for the public. A couple of police men overlook the scenario as the runner line up under the banner. The gun is going of and the race is one.
As japanese tourists are surprised by the amount of runners passing by the route is leaving Florence city centre directly towards the first climb. After 5 kilometres the race enters the first climb. At this stage no groups are together anymore. When the first two runners arrive at the Vetta Le Croci, who is 518 m above sea level (Florence is 65m) it is finally clear that this race is not a mass run. At the first mountain the gaps between the runners are huge. 22 kilometres in the race and everybody is suffering. The heat hits hard – especially on the uphills. Not much shadow there. The race enters the first peak in the midday sun.
Now it is time to relax. A long downhill part is not easy on the legs. But gives relief. The field is still wide spread across beautiful backroads. The road leads through a beautiful valley. Windy roads are passing small villages. People celebrate the race in their special italian way. Having food beside the road and cheering everybody on. As the roads are not closed traffic gets busy on the first few kilometres. Nearly every runner has a support car or a bike that follows him. There are offical aid stations but support, which is allowed, is necessary throughout that race.
Borgo San Lorenzo, a small town in the north of Florence, is the entrance into the major climb that leads the race to the 913m above sea level. At this stage the chain of runners is long. The gaps are getting bigger and bigger. People get stronger and others just pay the price of going out to hard. Pacing is the name of the game at a distance like this. Hard to maintain because of the profile. Just when the runners enter the incline at the 35 kilometer mark the upcomimng wind gives a bit of a relief. 15 kilometers of uphill running are waiting. The tight forest is cooling down the runners as they make their way on the step road. Sometimes it is hard to drive up the serpentines with a car. On the faces of the runners you see that everybody is suffering. Nobody has a second to enjoy the beautiful landscapes.
A couple of meteres before the race hits the top of the Colla die Casaglia the crowds are getting bigger. Lots of cyclists made their way up to cheer the runners on. As thy pass the little cafe of top with the checkpoint people applaud and give their respect. The runners pass the people, the aid station and the check point take the left hand corner and are back in the silence as they face a long downhill. 50 kilometer are in th bag. Now it is downhill. Even harder after all the pain in the climb.
Clouds are coming up. It is getting colder. Later light rain will cool the runners further down. Every little village along the way has an aid station set up. People support the runners with bread, coffee, ham, sweets, cakes… Most of the participants cant eat anyway after running for several hours. It is getting darker around the place. The race is moving on and the runner can hide in the dark. It is just the light of the support bikes and cars that are left on the road together with the lonely runners. On the way to Faenza the roads are getting more and more lonely and quite. Not many people are there anymore and everybody is alone with their race.
Beside the road is the 90 kilometer mark. A relief. From now on every kilometer is marked and brings the runners closer to the finish at the market square in the city centre of Faenza. While running through the busy streets of Faenza you can see the happiness in the faces of the runners. A long and beautiful way is done and finishs on the historic square in Faenza.