Canazei is located in the heart of the Dolomites, on the central axis that connects the towns of Trentino and Bolzano, the capital of South Tyrol as the entire region is named, with the area of the Italian Dolomite Alps. It is no exaggeration to say that there is no reminiscent of Italy in South Tyrol as we drive away from Milan and Verona, arriving in this beautiful area with its numerous valleys, lakes, forests, bare peaks and steep slopes. You could see different culture, behavior, temperament and architecture everywhere since it’s no related to the Mediterranean Italy as we know it. Indicative as it is, everywhere beyond Trentino all signs were inscribed in both Italian and German. Once you get into the heart of the South Tyrol you know why Reinhold Messner, born in Bressanone, a few miles north of Bolzano, from a very young age really could not keep away from climbing any slope that was around him. The villages with their indescribable beauty and their original architecture of the Alps, made you wonder why we in Greece cannot keep our homes, our neighborhoods, our villages like that... Beautiful, clean, neat, with gardens and flowers like fairytale ... Driving through the villages you could not tell which one was better than the other. You could see all around lifts someone could get to elevate to higher altitudes where he could start a marvelous trekking or run session in the surrounding signed mountain single tracks. At the end of each lift a sublime chalet offered coffee, food or dessert and the chance for the whole family to have fun with much kind of games like swings, flying fox and many others that were waiting the kids to test their durability! Canazei is no exception. With several infrastructures for accommodation and catering it is wisely chosen by the organizers as the epicenter of the racing festivities of the Dolomites Skyrace.
Only Irena Maliborska would run the race, while the rest would we responsible for her support and covering of the the event. On Thursday, the day before the race, me along with Nikos Kostopoulos, the Greek Salomon Brand Ambassador, we decided to take the route of the race in relaxed pace as a training session as well as an opportunity for reconnaissance of some good spots for photos and videos. However, how relaxed your pace can be when you have to climb 1.000 meters of elevation in just about 2.3 kilometers? My pulses had elevated from my aerobic threshold since the middle of the climb, without even pressing myself. The slopes exceeded 40 degrees at several points, forcing me to push with my hands since I had the bright idea not to take trekking poles with me! I really wondered how the next day these athletes would perform these times of 30 something minutes!
Friday, the day of the race finally dawned. Going up with the lift at 2.200m and then walking from there until 2.500m, to the top of Crepa Neigra, the finish of the race, someone could tell straight away that something serious is happening. An helicopter carrying feedstocks and the drop bags of the athletes who would receive them after the end of their race! This is not the first time I travel abroad to race. The first time was in 2010 for The North Face® Ultra-Trail of Mont Blanc® CCC®, but there, the racing and organizational sizes are much more different and not
comparable. The case of the Dolomites Skyrace, since it is considered an international race, I think it offers the possibility of better and fairer comparison with our own races. I have to admit that in Greece, from the organizational point of view, the popular races have nothing to be jealous about our Italian neighbors, except perhaps from only one factor that can make the real difference: money! When an organization has the ability to spend the money needed to sublease and helicopter for the needs of the race, both for material transport and for television coverage, someone can understand that the organizational level is really high! I will not comment the race itself here, you can read the diary of the journey in this article, but I want to focus on one point. I consider myself doubly lucky because right before our eyes unfolded the most formidable overtaking in the history of the race, something that we were able to record it in video which made the tour of whole world and for which we ‘ve being thanked from Kilian Jornet himself! The Catalan is in the best shape of his life and if pressed by competition, he breaks one record after another. He was just waiting for the right time and place to "kill" his opponents!
Really, where to start from…? If only someone could see the Forcella Pordoi scree and the Piz Boe peak far away knowing that has to climb from 1450m to 3150m in less than 10 kilometers ... really blown off. To be honest, I did not deal with the intermediate cutoff times or the final cutoff for valid finish beforehand. I really found it out at the instructive briefing on Saturday evening which was held in a cinema in the center of Canazei. When the race director mentioned that at 8.5 km and after 1400m of positive climb the cutoff time is 1:50 I immediately started the calculations. Calculations said that there would be ... carnage! I was not prepared for this and the previous days that included daily ascents with large elevation gain did not know whether they would help. Usually, on Saturday before every the only thing I used to doing is sitting on a couch with my legs elevated or at best a 20-minute relaxed running session. On Saturday however, along with the Salomon International team we climbed more than 700m in Forcella Pordoi just for training … not to mention the descent! That was definitely something out of my ordinary pre-race routine, for my level to say the least. The big wallop came when I learned that you could carry trekking poles just for the uphill part of the race, from the beginning or from the base of the difficult climb and leave them at the race staff at 2850m or 3150m (Piz Boe). You could do that ... if you had brought trekking with you though! So I found myself at the start of the race along with about 600 other runners of which at least 500 of them held trekking poles, just for a 22km race! The colorful and bustling crowd waited for the helicopter which made a last check on the route, getting impressive shots someone can watch in the video and the race began. The first 500 meters were pretty runable in the village but soon enough a beautiful journey began through the forest through grassy slopes with ranging gradients which in winter are transformed into ski slopes. Since the 2nd kilometer I felt my legs, heavy, maybe tired from the past days’ climbs, lost my appetite to get into the race, looking for excuses to myself to
give up in the first chance. At the 5.5th km of the route (800m D + from the start), which is also the first central station of the race, there was another cutoff time in 1:05. I told myself ‘it’s OK if you stop, you climbed the famous Forcella Pordoi on Saturday’. The fact that when I arrived there everyone took their trekking poles for the punishing climb, I was blaming myself even harder. I got there in 0:59, pushing myself to my limits. Once I saw the guys, Nikos Kostopoulos and Alexis Makropoulos (Gerania Vertical Kilometer technical director) who encouraged me, I sweared that I would kill this beast! Heads down, hands on my knees and headed to the Forcella Pordoi scree. At the end of this uphill, the cutoff time was 1:50. With slow but steady steps I was overtaking athletes reaching the top in 1:45, relieved! From there there was only one cutoff time of 4:15 in the finish. Without much care about the time limits the time for enjoyment of the race had come. The landscape all around was incredible. On could see around snowy peaks and vast plateaus. Large part of the route to the Piz Boe peak was snowy too. The climb was not over yet as another 300 remaining meters of climbing was ahead of us. Two kilometers with some climbing on fixed ladders and wires firmly on the rocks, reminding us the classic Dolomites via ferrata, just below the refuge of Piz Boe. Real skyrunning! My breathing was hard but my steps decisive. I arrived at Piz Boe (K-9,5) in 2:23 having less than two hours to spend for the 12.5km technical downhill. I did not care though. I knew that the descent has some technical sections that needed extra attention but due to snow cover the organizers had done some rope fixing. Although, either the organizers were exaggerated about the difficulty of the descent or we have become accustomed to technical trails in Greece. Sure you had to really pay attention at some stretches but where there was danger, there was a fixed wire, well maintained. My spirits lifted upright. Staring at this beauty all around, I could not help but feel lucky for what I love and have the opportunity to do: run the mountains! Emotional moments. Running on snow was not too comfortable, so some slipping and walking many parts of it was necessary. My feet had become soaked and frozen but who cared? On the alpine part of the route of the race I realized a real professional approach to signaling a race route. In the alpine parts of the route where the single track was very fuzzy or no existent at all due to snow cover, staff playing the role of indicators were located in key positions of the route. From the point one member of the staff stood I had visual contact with the next and so I knew where to go. All these guys, "armed" with extra large tin yellow flags which was the main signaling equipment, ready in case of extreme fog, to plant them to the ground if needed so that to help
athletes to find the correct route. It was a good lesson ... As I descended, I felt great and started accelerating. I started overtaking many co-athletes and my spirits lifted up again. Descending from the alpine parts, ushered in a gorgeous trail, ideal for ... full speed! In the last three kilometers we found ourselves descending another ski slope which brought us just outside the village and joined the route of the ascent. My pace was close to 4 '/ km! Excellent! My finishing just in 4:00 hours, 501st of 540 runners who finished the race, filled me with great joy and bewildering emotions that a difficult goal had been achieved! At the finish line, Nikos Kostopoulos was waiting for the usual race photos. I learned from him that Dimitris Theodorakakos and Irena Maliborska went swimmingly in the race and was thrilled! Later, in the awards, seeing Dimitris on the honoree platform, along with other giants of world mountain running scene could not help but feel proud that a guy with his own means and with sponsorships such as from Salomon and alpamayoPRO, spreads the word of Greek mountain running in the world…
Salomon International Team
The purpose of the trip was twofold. First, to cover for Advendure the effort of the Greek athletes in the race and then to experience firsthand the Salomon International Team and transmit our experiences to the Greek community. How would you feel if you were told that you sit down for breakfast next to Kilian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg? Next to Silvia Serafini, Zhanna Vokueva, Stephanie Jimenez, Dimitris Theodorakakos and Greg Vollet? Yes, you are right. So I felt too. But all of this until I met and talked to them. Simple and smiling people in all their; in dressing (Salomon offcourse!), behavior, interactions. You can talk with them openly, see how they think, what are their training habits, what they eat. I witnessed firsthand which is the breakfast of champions: Nutella! Kilian was not lying of Kilian when referring to his breakfast. Two slices of bread with Nutella before Vertical was it! Not perfect breakfast for an athlete I would say. Despite his breakfast, Kilian only two hours later, broke the record in an epic battle to the end with Urban Zemmer and Philip Gotsch. Emelie Forsberg on the other end was the last word of a healthy diet. She had brought her own foods and ate every fruit that was coming to the table. Smiling and happy, willing to converse with us as if she knew us long ago. Silvia Serafini, tight-lipped but always smiling and Zhanna Vokueva with her Mediterranean temperament, although Russian, was the soul of the company. Stephie with her great smile and friendly attitude made us felt very comfortable. There is not much to say for Dimitris Theodorakakos, most of us know him well. Modest and circumspect in his all, it was a great opportunity to ascertain how popular he is among the whole Salomon Team since they all had to say the best for Dimitris The Greek! Each person with its own personality, people who spend many hours or days per year racing around the world, felt like a tied team talking and joking and encouraging each other.
For us, the Saturday training session was a shocking experience. We had the opportunity to admire the people who constitute this team because as athletes we knew their value more or less. Sometimes luck plays bad games, but allows you to see the true face of people. Especially in situations where we find ourselves being exposed to nature. After we had completed the uphill part of Saturday’s training, we started sliding down the Forcella Pordoi scree which we had previously climbed and would climb next day in the race. A few meters below the summit, we met Kilian, Greg Vollet, Dimitris and Team Salomon physiotherapist named Arnaud, over a girl being in shock, crying incessantly. A stone had slumped from above and hit her in the leg seriously. The unfortunate woman was not able to walk, and the wound seemed so bad we all thought that there was a fracture. Greg Vollet immediately requested for help and within 10 minutes people rushed from adjacent refuges getting blankets to warm the injured woman. Kilian, Vollet and Arnaud always by her side, did not leave her even for a single moment, talking and giving courage her until the rescue helicopter came for immediate transfer to a hospital. What if their workout was in the middle? What if they were sweaty and immobilized at 2.800m, with the strengthened wind and bad weather threatening over their heads? What if the next day they had to race in one of the most important races of the year? No one could remain unmoved in this picture ... By the next 40 minutes the rescue helicopter came, and took the unlucky woman to the hospital, filling us with melancholy and wonder about what would happen in a similar case in Greek mountains ... I think that after this experience, to say more about the people who constitute the Salomon Team and the values that they represent is unnecessary ...
A big thanks to Salomon Greece and Nikos Kostopoulos in particular, the Greek Salomon brand ambassador, for the call on this trip, who in addition to being an excellent company, he was also a valued partner of Advendure since he was responsible for the photographic and film coverage of Sunday’s race! Nikos, thank you for everything!
Read the diary of the trip with daily commentaries, exclusive interviews, photos and videos.