Friday, 3 October 2014

Amalfi Coast Crossing 2014, ITALY : 33km

(Not) The Path of Gods...

A few months ago, while I was organizing a family trip to Italy with my wife and parents, I found out that during same period of our stay in Amalfi, a very interesting race would take place nearby (Amalfi Crossing). With the option to choose from 3 different distances  (17, 33 or 70 km), I found it a good idea to explore the area by running a short race. The organizer (Lost Worlds Racing) has caught my attention in the past with their races in some of the most beautiful parts of the world and I was glad to know that this is one of their races.

It has only been 5 weeks after Leadville Trail 100 and while I have been back to training 2 weeks, I was not so excited to compete in yet another race with thousands of meters of elevation. However, it was so tempting to run along the famous so-called “Path of Gods” with breathtaking views of the Amalfi Coast. Named after the Roman temples that had once stood here, the course of the race is one of the most picturesque hiking route, with vertical zig-zag climbs through the mountains between Amalfi and Positano.

With this in mind, I proceeded to register for the 33km race and was so excited to be in another Italian race so soon after Cortina Trail, which I ran back in July.

A few weeks before the race, I received an e-mail from the organizer informing me that the route of the race has changed. Instead of running on the “Path of Gods”, we will now run up and down around Amalfi instead! Despite my great disappointment, I took the news in a stride and focused on our family trip which started from Rome, onward to Naples-Pompeii before finally arriving at the Amalfi Coast, where we explored all the small and beautiful villages that make the area one of the most scenic places in the world!

With our very packed and busy schedule of sightseeing and travelling, I did not have any chance to train for the whole 6 days before the race. I certainly walked a whole lot, though, while we were exploring Rome and Naples, where at the end of each day, I had felt like I have just finished a marathon! With all that I have mentioned before this, it was quite clear that I was not expecting much in my performance at this race apart from getting some spectacular views while I was climbing the Amalfi’s mountains.

The race was supposed to start at 8am from a little village called Atrani, only 1km from the famous Amalfi.  We arrived at 7am in a lovely, picturesque ‘’piazza’’ (main square of village). 

A little after our arrival, other runners started coming in and at 8:15 (the true ‘’Italian way’’ of a 15’ delay - by the way, the time on the clock tower in the photo is not correct), 60 runners (most of the them Italians) started the  33km race. Those running the 70km race had already started earlier at 5:00. After us, the 17km race will start at 9:00.

The 33km race started with a steep climb for 5km, gaining a 700m elevation. We will run in a loop back to the Atrani start point (16th km) before ascending a  more demanding climb of 1100m of elevation within 9 km, before descending downhill to finish at Atrani again.

For those of you who had read about my experience at running the Hong Kong Vibram 100, you would already know by now how I HATE climbing steps in a race instead of running on mountain’s paths. Since the first climb out of Atrani, I realised that this race is going to give me a similar experience to that at Hong Kong, with thousands of steps to climb up and down. I somehow managed to ‘survive’ my first climb, finishing the first loop and returning to Atrani at the same time with an Italian runner, Archimede (the winner of the race). 

He was still looking very fresh and strong at that point and I knew then that I would not be able to keep up with him in the upcoming second climb. Instead of risking tiring myself trying to keep up with him, I decided to slow down. I filled my camelback bladder and started the second climb with less energy and determination to tackle with more high concrete / stone steps.

I slowed down quite a lot, with my breathing getting heavier and my quadriceps stiffer. At that point, I knew I was in the third position (with Archimede and another runner ahead of me) but I had no knowledge of who was behind me and what was the time difference between me and the runner. I was trying to push as much as I could to gain a podium place. At the end of the last climb, I reached the highest point of 1100m and was greeted with by a foggy forest of chestnut trees with humidity above 80% and temperature close to 30 Celcius. I started thinking only of how to finish the long downhill as fast as I can, so that I can have a dive in the blue waters of Atrani’s beach, which is just a few hundred metres from the Finish Line. The run back to Atrani seemed endless and just 5km before the end, the route went up’steps’ again, with more of those horrid steps jeering at me and testing my limits.

After 4 hours and 20 minutes of running but mostly climbing 2300m of elevation in extremely humid conditions, I crossed the Finish Line in the third position, with my wife, parents and relatives waiting for me at the square.

The gorgeous views from the top of the mountains was not enough to relieve all the pressure I had gone through from overdoing with climbing the steps and bracing through the humidity…but the cold waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea definitely offered me the best cooling effect and muscle recovery that I desperately needed!! What a fantastic way to finish a race!

The organizers were nice enough to provide food and drinks for the runners after the race, guaranteeing us a good replenish of energy (unfortunately, they have not been that nice during the race because there was no provision for the runners between the 16th  - 33rd  km, which was  the toughest part of the race!)

A few hours later, we returned for the awards ceremony, where I was offered a traditional brightly colored ceramic plate, which is a local creation of the region, with my position in the race written in black on the back of the plate.

This race has definitely added another good memory to my collection, despite my disappointment of having to conquer yet another thousands of steps instead of running the “Path of Gods”!!

The unusually high temperatures during our trip and the unique memories from all the amazing places that we have visited will be my energy to survive the next few miserable months of Winter back in England.

February seemed a little far away from now but we are planning and looking forward to our next escapade to somewhere warm, untouched and wild…and it will be…MEXICO!!!!!!!

Hasta La Vista, everyone!!!

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