Friday, June 1, 2012

Trail del Monte Soglio race report

On my Paris-Turin flight I noticed there was a plenty of snow left on the higher peaks Alps. Never mind, my next race wouldn't go that high. The North Face Trail del Monte Soglio (TMS) is a 63 km loop in reasonable 500-2000 meters of altitude and 3500 meters of ascent and the same amount of descent.

The race website advertised that they had designed a more scenic and difficult course for this year's 4th "Impegnativ edition" of the race. I'd soon find out what that means exactly.

For now I was just so happy to be in Italy. It's not a secret that I love Italian people, climate, lifestyle and their superb local food (ie. fruits and vegetables)!

The snow-covered Alps somewhere to the south of Mont Blanc (Paris-Turin flight).
All other competitors seemed to be from the Alpine region. Upon my arrival I was asked why I chose to travel such a long way just for this race. Well, living in a flat area, I didn't have any other option if I wanted to get some proper Alpine training before Trail Verbier StBernard 110 km with 7K vertical on July 7th.

I'd been searching for a trail running race in late May about half that distance and elevation. I also wanted it to be a destination I can easily fly to with minimal travel hassle. TMS fit the bill perfectly, and they also offered two UTMB points as a bonus. I might need those points next year.

TMS had also created Project Soglio For Tibet to collect used shoes. I actually got to meet people from Tibet at the race HQ. I understand many of them live in Turin now. I think it's cool that Italians are willing to help other people, although they are having so many current issues of their own.

TMS supports Tibet.
TMS organizers were super efficient and friendly. As a long-distance visitor, I got treated almost like a rock star. Team members picked me from my hotel in Rivarolo on Saturday, drove me to the race HQ, sorted out the paperwork, and dropped me back to the hotel with my bib/chip and a cool The North Face TMS t-shirt. I chose not to attend the briefing and dinner as I wanted to get my race gear sorted out asap and go to sleep. Thank you so much guys, tutto perfetto!

Race T-shirt by The North Face.
On race day I was picked up at 4:45 AM for the 6AM start. It was overcast, humid and warm +14C. Luckily the forecasted all-day rain didn't show up.

There was a breakfast at 5:00 and then obligatory gear check up at 5:30. The organizers really checked everyone's backpack in a short time and very efficiently. I thought that was awesome and shows the high quality and integrity of the organization. For comparison in Transgrancanaria the organizers didn't bother to check anything, "because it would take us all day". They were also nowhere near as helpful and efficient as the TMS team.

There were 380 registered runners for the 63K race. There would also be a 26K race starting at 8:30, bringing the total number of participants to 726 - a new record for the event.

The 6AM start of the 63 km race with 380 runners.
The start was fast and smooth on asphalt roads, but soon we turned to a muddy single trail through thick forests. The pace slowed down to a walk. I relaxed and focused on nutrition. I wasn't sure what the aid stations would provide, and carried plenty of Clif shot bloks, gels and water in 1L bladder just in case.

The counterclockwise loop of the race course tracked by my Suunto Ambit.
I was using sticks to save my flatlander legs as much as possible. Due to heavy rains recently the course was mostly wet with some muddy sections. Even my Hoka Stinson Evo shoes couldn't keep my feet dry and clean, but it was ok as I didn't get any blisters. Obviously mud is good for your feet!

The first 10K went smoothly through wonderful forests.
This race was a test to see how my Suunto Ambit would perform in 60s GPS mode. The battery would have powered the more accurate 1s GPS recording for this 14h race, but I chose not to as my next race will last 30+ h. Unfortunately the distance measurements were off big time. Already at Alpe Bellono CP1 (16 km, 1400 m, 3:00, cutoff 3:30) my GPS distance was about 2K behind - over 10% error. A happy Garmin owner laughed at me when I showed the ridiculous readings on my watch to him. I explained that Suunto is located in Helsinki metropolitan area, where the highest hill is 30 meters! The altitude measurements seemed to be spot on though. Probably the zigzagging trails through thick steep forests had caused the 60s GPS to fail.

Downhill after Alpe Bellono CP1 (16 km, 1400 m, 3 h).
The weather stayed warm and nice. We even got some warm sunshine around Alpe Monsuffietto CP2 (30 km, 4:49, cutoff 6:30). This is a popular path and there were lots of people hiking up or down the slopes. I saw huge pieces of meat being grilled on open fires for the hungry trekkers swarming around. I would have gladly traded my Ambit for some fresh fruits, but there was none available.

The course was really well marked with pink ribbons and paintings on the ground, but those were sometimes difficult to spot as everything above 1600 meters was covered in thick foggy cloud - possibly caused by the euro going up in smoke. Luckily there were plenty of volunteers on the mountain to show us the right direction.

A few km before reaching the top I felt a cramp threatening my left leg. Stupidly I seemed to have forgotten my container of SaltStick caps! I stopped and searched the pocket where they should have been, but found none. Trying not to panic, I took my Olmo 20L backpack and emptied everything on the mountain slope: rain jacket & pants, emergency blanket, drinking cup, buff, first aid kit, tissue paper, euros, phone, and finally a small plastic bag with four salt caps. I took one of them and felt the cramp easing off right away. Placebo effect or not, I felt my race was saved. I had drank water from the numerous mountain streams we were crossing, which may have caused the lack of electrolytes.

Reaching the top of Monte Soglio (37 km) was great but you could only see fog.
At the top of Monte Soglio there was CP3 (37 km, 1971 m, 6:24, cutoff 8:30) and an aid station with beer. I politely declined and kept going. None of the aid stations or the start/finish areas of this race had any fresh fruits or vegs available, which was a pity but not a surprise really. I stuffed my face with cola and raisins, trying my best to avoid bonking as I probably wasn't getting enough calories in. I had finished all my gels, but I still had plenty of blok shots left. I also carried 250 grams of honey, which combined with coke gave a huge microboost of energy. It also seemed to vanish quickly into thin air, and I made a mental to not to use honey in my next race.

Alpe dell'Uia was a technical section with big rocks.
I soon reached the highest point of the course (altitude 2010 m) and the most dangerous section called Alpe dell'Uia. I had been warned about this before the race, the map was marked with !-symbols meaning 'tratto technico a volte esposto'. There were several volunteers from the mountain rescue team to direct us. Still, this part of course just forced me to go very slowly. There were huge boulders everywhere. I was all by myself, and let anyone appearing behind me pass. The fog was so thick I could only see my own arms and legs. I navigated by keeping my eyes peeled on muddy shoe tracks on rocks.

One local guy who followed me for a while suddenly grew impatient in my carefulness, passed me like Kilian and then promptly took off in the wrong direction. I remained silent, reckoning he was possibly going to the bathroom. Soon he grunted in frustration after realizing his mistake and tried to short cut to get back in front of me, but fell on his butt on the slippery rocks. After that he followed me quietly again for some time. I didn't fall once during the race, which was my primary goal of the day.

I had been advised to take care in this slippery technical section and that's what I did.
Finally the huge descent of over 1 vertical K began. I reached Rifugio Peretti Griva (43 km), where I was welcomed by a Finnish couple. They said they had hiked there just to encourage their Italian cousin, who had already passed them, and me. I chatted with them for a while before continuing the crazy steep downhill. I felt sharp pain in my left knee, and decided to take it easy. I had enough time left to walk whenever I wanted. This was just a training race for me and I didn't wan't to ruin my next race only six weeks away.

I just kept on putting one foot in front of the other, until I was stopped by a wine tasting table! Some elder gentlemen had various local red wines on offer. I chatted with them for a while, but then hurried to the nearby CP4 in Pian Audi (50 km, 9:44, cutoff 11:30). Only 13K left, I was now pretty sure I could finish within 14 hours.

I finished in 11:53.
Without further ado I jogged on. I recognized signs of a developing thunderstorm. With a few km left (thanks to my crappy watch, I had no idea how many exactly) it started to rain. I put on my OMM rain jacket just in case, although it wasn't really necessary. I saw the same windmill we had passed in the morning, and knew I was almost there. The gravel road descented to the familiar asphalt road, and soon I could hear the announcer. I was the 208th to cross the finish line with 11:53:48. A new Finnish course record!

I got interviewed in Italian.
The announcer stuck the mic in my face and asked something in Italian which I didn't quite understand. I said porca miseria, an expression literally meaning 'miserable female pig'. I had heard it a long time ago in Tuscany and it just came out. I'm not sure if it was an appropriate response, but at least the audience laughed out loud! The interviewer asked me another question as I could see his lips move, but my poor glucose-deficient brain didn't register his words anymore. I signalled to him that I badly needed a rest, and he kindly turned the mic off and let me go.

After a while I saw a familiar face in an orange organizer's shirt and asked if it was possible somehow - other than walking - to get to my hotel. He kindly agreed to drive me there at once himself, and soon I was in my room. When I looked out the window, a thunderstorm was already beating the slopes of Monte Soglio. My quads were trashed and would be sore for several days, but other than that I felt fine.

Daniele Fornoni won the race in 6:55:57. That's an incredible 6:36/km average pace! Female winner was Raffaella Miravalle with 7:50:42.

For those interested, here's my Suunto Ambit data:
  • distance 56 km (official measurement 63 km, so there was a 7K difference!)
  • 2020 m highest point (o. m. 2010 m)
  • 525 m lowest point (o. m. 525 m)
  • 3383 m ascent (o. m. 3500 m)
  • 3364 m descent (o. m. 3500 m)
  • ascent time 6:07 (probably accurate)
  • flat time 0:21 (probably accurate)
  • descent time 5:25 (probably accurate)
  • max temperature 24C (probably correct)
  • average temp 18C (probably correct)
  • min temp 14C (probably correct)
  • time 11:54 (accurate, but it took me a while to unlock the buttons before I could turn it off).

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Roberto, Paolo, and the whole friendly TMS organization team, who personally took time to assist me. I appreciate how they had been working hard for nine months in the evenings and weekends to make this race such a great success. Thanks also for all the volunteers! Mille grazie ragazzi, siete fantastici!


Mike Short said...

Sounds like a great experience. That's another one added to my wish list...

Trail Plodder said...

yes i'd imagine it would be like heaven to you!

Matthew Smith said...

Great race report - and great blog overall!

Just today an opportunity opened up for me to enter this race this year. Would you be willing to help answer a few questions for me to help me determine if I can do this race (I live in Canada and am unfamiliar with Euro trail races)? The main one I have is the medical certificate. Is this an internationally recognized certificate, or just Italian? I'd need to check with my doctor about getting one.

I noticed that you're Finnish. Funnily enough, my wife is from Finland, and we'd be traveling to Italy to celebrate her mom's 70th birthday, along with her sister.


Trail Plodder said...

Thanks Matt! I'd be delighted to you help you. Actually I wondered the same thing last year. They don't have a specific medical certificate for this race. The law in Italy, France and Spain says all runners must show a certificate signed and stamped by a doctor, stating they have not found any medical reason for you not to participate in the running race. Every race seems to have their own downloadable MC with different layout and rules regarding how long it's valid etc, but some races like Trail del Monte Soglio don't have any. I've heard horror stories of runners having been denied to start a race only because the wording of the document wasn't exactly legally right!

So I nervously presented copies of the 3 certificates I already had acquired for my other 2012 races at the race HQ in Forno: Transgrancanaria, Paris Marathon and UTMB/CCC. They seemed to be happy with that and there were no problems at all.

Actually everyone was very friendly and helpful during my stay, although they don't speak much English and I don't speak much Italian.

Please say hi especially to Paolo Rostagno from the only Finnish Monte Soglio finisher ever! Have a nice trip to Italy with your Finnish wife! Hopefully the visibility in the mountains will be good this time, so you can see the views I missed!

Matthew Smith said...

Thank you so much! This was extremely helpful. I also wrote to the race organizers to introduce myself and ask about this. They suggested I get a certificate well in advance and send to them to review via email. This should help ensure that I don't have any issues when I arrive.

The visit to Italy came up very suddenly, but I'm very excited. We're only there for a little over a week, so the timing it quite perfect.

All the best to you and keep up the great work with your blog! I just started my own at Once we confirm that this trip is a go, I'll post training updates and have a race report afterwards.

Happy running.

Trail Plodder said...

Brilliant! I would have also sent my papers in advance, but RD Roberto Negri told me that's unnecessary - which proved to be true. He like everyone else in the race org are pro-quality, they work hard 9 moths every year to put up this race! Looking forward to your reports.