Monday, 22 September 2014

Well, "these pants are ruined"

Ah, airports...
Our trip began with rain, horizontal rain in Toronto closing all but two runways which caused us to have to reroute to Ottawa to refuel. Upon returning to Toronto we had missed our trans-Atlantic connection. Thus the shenanigans began. The big hurdle was getting us on a flight from Rome to Pisa earlier than Saturday night before the race (far from ideal) and with no room for error. In the end we opted for an overnight in Toronto, the milk run to Rome and instead of flying to Pisa we rented a car and drove up the west coast of Italy from Rome to the race venue. In the process our luggage did not make the connection in Dublin so we left Rome sans baggage.
So, where's our gate?
Equipped with our essentials kit from air Italia we headed off to pick up our rental car which we find out is an offsite rental due to onsite being sold out. A taxi ride it is, and this needs to be quick as it is now 6:15 and the office closes at 7pm.

We arrive in time and process the paper work realizing my drivers licence has expired, well Shauna is driving.  Reprocess paper work and then walk through town with the rental manager and find our car fuelled and ready to go.  Yikes, have you seen the traffic in Rome?
On the road now, Shauna quickly puts on her best Mario Andretti and I work to find the route. Interestingly while flying over the pond I had read an article on the decline of the masters athlete including lower mv02, loss of muscle mass etc.  One thing not mentioned but very noticeable on this trip was failing eye sight particularly while trying to read the map when driving through Europe with a tourist map that might have had a four point font, I digress. After a few discovery round a bouts we got a system and managed to get ourselves to our race hotel. A discovery round a bout is when you drive in and continue to go around until you figure out where the hell you are and then exit at the appropriate time. Usually after three full circles you can make a decision.  If after four turns, give up and try another round about!
12 O'clock!
Arriving late at the hotel we had a short visit with a few members of the team and headed off to bed.  We met the rest of the team at breakfast, got the lay of the land and had a glorious breakfast.  Went for a run to shake out the legs. Very glad to have taken shoes and kit in my carry on. After the run we went for a walk to check out the town and pick up a few essentials with the lack of luggage.
Good news, hotel has a kitty!
After lunch I received my awesome new Canada kit - looking good! We made our way to the opening ceremonies on the race bus. The race buses were military buses and police prison buses complete with a police escort which was something to see.  This was worth the trip alone.  We had a full police escort of cars and motorcycles for the 30 minute drive through the busy streets of Massa.
Walking up to the opening ceremonies.
Fighting jet lag I was trying hard to fight off sleep at the ceremonies so details here are a little hazy. As things wrapped up we headed back via police escort to our hotels for dinner, a quick meeting and off to bed. One great thing about these short events there is not much to prepare, set out your shoes, shorty shorts and good to go. It was sweet dreams and a civilized wake up time, light breakfast and back on the bus. Did I mention how much fun it was to have a police escort?
Police escort preparing for departure.
Once we arrived at the small old town of Fondo we had two hours before start time. The team relaxed and at various times took to finding the WC. With one hour to go started the slow warm up exercises and gradually increased speed and intensity until just before the start. Charged and ready to go the team made it to the start line seeding ourselves accordingly. At the last minute, to Will's surprise, I went from the middle of the chaos to the back of the pack sensing I needed to give myself more space. Being on the line with 130 of the best mountain runners in the world I felt I would not be held up moving to the back of line. Two minutes from the gun there was a 15 man pile up where the road narrowed.  I ran through without incident. Will was not so fortunate or the little guy underneath him.
First main hill out of town.
 The course started with two short loops on a very narrow walkway through the mountain town trying not to go down with the bath water or get clothes lined by someone's laundry. Second time around we turned right and headed up out of town, followed by a steep downhill connecting back to the road we drove in on, a hard left and started climbing a long staircase to the next town where the women started their race an hour earlier.  In the next town which was also the start of the women's race we made a loop of the town climbing many narrow street styled staircases leading past many a residents door step and through one ladies kitchen or so it seemed at one point.

Leaving town,which was lined with spectators by the way, we started to climb some fairly steep single track trail combined with rustic staircase style climbs eventually leading us up to the marble quarry and the service roads which we followed to the very top of the course.  This is where I found my stride and started making time, gaining the nick name "Jack Hammer" on the steep service roads. The final pitch was something out of a Tour de France video with large crowds lining the hill with one man with a chainsaw revving the engine for effect and spectators running along side, some even giving push..

I can say I have never lost cookies before but at this finish line I had a moment and it wasn't pretty. Rebounding eventually Will and I made our way back down the mountain with a few shots of the sights and hooked up with Shauna who by her own right had an adventure of her own hitching a ride with the race director and the coach of the Uganda team up the mountain to see the finish after watching the start of the race.  The Uganda team as you might have noticed did quite well in the men's race.

At the end of the day I left everything I had on the course, had no back pain and did that after some not so smooth travel so I can say I am very, very happy with my efforts.

Afterwards we had time to connect with the team, exchange stories and enjoy the experience and take a dip in the ocean. The closing ceremony was a nice way to round out the great reception from our gracious hosts and meet runners from other teams and spend time with the parents of some of the athletes on the trip.

Closing ceremonies wine and cheese.
One last breakfast on the final day and the teams dispersed and we were left to ourselves at the race hotel continuing to wait for our luggage and to explore the area and after five days in the same clothes it was time to do some shopping as the clothes we were in were well, "ruined".

The next morning our luggage arrived and we could say goodbye to our hotel and move on down the road to explore the area further. Many a place, pastry and pizza, but our favourite was hanging by the pool in Fort de Marmi.

Well, well!
We return home after a wonderful trip and much quality time and look forward to getting ready for the Saucony series, Nationals and the Nordic season!