100km Del Passatore – what went right and what went wrong?

It’s been just over 2 months since I (to use an Americanism) “crushed” my PB time in the 100km del Passatore in Italy by a whopping 47 minutes but I have remained silent  – which for me is some achievement.

I have started more than once to catalogue the race in a report that would do my middle aged male endeavour some justice but the tone was never right. I was either too flippant or too serious and neither was right for how I felt about the race.

As my running and wine consumption have picked up again after the usual lull that follows a big event I’ve tried to get my head around the race and what went right and what went wrong. I’ve tried to create some sort of frame of reference based on my previous experiences and they have never felt quite right. Some of my more light hearted attempts at a report have been called “keep out of direct sunlight” or “the reverse ultra marathon”.

In essence the race went well despite the first 45km being a complete disaster. By complete disaster I mean I was walking the downhill sections after 11 miles (17km). I wasn’t walking by choice, I was walking because my legs felt like your legs feel at mile 25 of a regular marathon – like lumps of lead. In contrast the final 50km were almost all run (with walking breaks to manage over heating and to take on food but not for lack of energy)

How I could go from zero to hero and beat my PB is as much a mystery to me as it is to anyone else. I went from having a stream of people passing me by until the ascent became almost vertical and from there I continued to pass almost everyone else.

My splits up until the half way point were within 10 mins of my splits last year but this didn’t account for my much higher levels of fitness and adaptation to the task.

During my recent summer holidays (where I ended up running with both cracked ribs and a damaged toe – another story!) I finally settled on a way of describing why my first half effort was so poor and why I ended up with a pretty decent PB.

this next bit is for runners so if you’re going to get lost just click here.

I think I suffered a pretty massive failure of my central governor. Or maybe, depending on whether you think running very long distances in the heat is a good idea or not, a resounding success of my central governor. In essence the perceived effort in the heat slowed me down so I didn’t scramble my circuits.

The only physical difference between km 17 and km 45 of the race was the change in air temperature. At 16km you crest the first peak of the race at 518m at around 16:30hrs and the race organisers are hosing everyone down and there are ambulances at 25km to catch victims of heat stroke. As the second peak approaches  at 913m the clock is ticking towards 21:00hrs and the moon is on the rise.

As the race progressed and the (relatively) cooler temperatures of 16 – 18C became the norm I found progress to become easier – i.e. the effort to cover the distance seemed to reduce. I still had to take walking breaks to stop myself from overheating but if you’re going to train in 0-12C temperatures anything in Italy in May will seem like too hot.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a fade in performance over distances of 60km (35 – 45miles) but the rate of fade is what determines your finishing position in the race. I found that while it might take 10km to move beyond someone you were sharing the road with at 50-60km this distance was reduced to a few hundred metres in the 90-100km stage of the race (as they faded completely to being stationary or walking  and you kept running).

So, the warm weather for the first 50km reduced my performance so that I didn’t end up in the meat wagon. There is no doubt that a lot of this reduction in performance was down to how much I was willing to suffer and what was at stake here. I am realistic enough to know that I am a top 25% runner and, as I’ve said before, not a top 24% runner so my goals are always grounded in what target I set myself.

Some of the aid stations did look like war zone triage centres. During the hot weather phase of the race (or, for that matter, the latter exhaustion stages of the race) I would cruise into the aid station feeling a bit sorry for myself, having been surrounded by cheerful Italians all shouting encouragement at each other only to be assaulted by scenes of human suffering that Hieronymus Bosch  would have been proud of. If people weren’t projectile vomiting they were sitting wrapped in blankets. If they weren’t wrapped in blankets they were lying on stretchers. Suddenly my persecution complex was put into perspective and I made my way out the other side of the aid station if not in better spirits then certainly chastened.

So, would I run this race again. On the surface of it no I wouldn’t but only because you can’t adapt to the heat of Italy if you train over the winter in Ireland (believe me – I tried) and running 100km in a foreign country unsupported takes a bit out of you as well. Should others run it? As an experience I think it should be a must do bucket list for anyone interested in ultra running. The start of the race has 2,500 runners crammed into the centre of Florence with an atmosphere like a charity 5k or something like the Ballycotton “10”. The race is insanely well supported  by the villages along the route (you could realistically run it with no food/water as there is an aid stop every 5km).

Now, all that said, I came home in 12:06 so I know I have some unfinished business to roll the clock back to 11:xx but I think I’d need someone supporting me (almost everyone has a bicycle buddy or the long suffering spouse in a car crewing for them).

Before I try again I want to rack up some races where I’m not sweating like a nun in a field of cucumbers from the starting gun so maybe some winter ultras or a nice small marathon or two…….famous last words.


One response to “100km Del Passatore – what went right and what went wrong?

  1. Thanks Richard. I hadn’t heard that one about the nun.

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