103 Kilometer Dolomiti Extreme Trail – Ein Bericht von Marco Zanette

103 km, 7.100 HM, 25:30 h

It’s 6:30am on Sunday the 10th of June 2018, when three moderately tired nutties break the finish line of an exceptional race. 25 and a half hours have passed since they’ve left. In between, there’s been two sunrises, a sunset, laughs, fatigue and a lot of touching moments. There’s been a lot, maybe too much. Two days have passed now, and I can’t stop thinking about all that has happened during these four amazing days.

Let’s start from the beginning…

I went to Forno di Zoldo on Thursday. For the first time, I tried to live the whole experience of the race from a couple days before to the end of it. In Forno, I have found a small, cute mountain village, all concentrated on the presence of the 1000+ runners.

From Thursday evening to Saturday morning, I have spent many moments with my dear friends Mauri, Igor and Daniel. Friends with whom I’ve shared many trainings and many adventures. Being there with them was very special.

When you share values with someone else, it is easy to become friends with them. So everyone was saying hi to each other, stopping for a brief chat, complementing each other. I’ve met many people over the course of the two days, and I’ll never forget their stories.

I want to share one of these stories. It’s the story of Mark, a runner from the Netherlands who signed up for the 50km race. We meet at first on the road between the camp site and the race start site. We exchange a couple words and encourage each other. I then find out he has his tent 10 meters away from my campervan, so the evening before the race I pass by to say hi. We start talking: I find out he works in the Himalayas and has started a non-profit called Mountain Child Care. We talk for 40 minutes, he offers to keep me company over dinner but I already have plans. He asks for some paper and after a while I realize he’s after toilet paper. Where else apart from here would you happen to talk for an hour with a stranger, and then give him some toilet paper?? I’m ecstatic, I’m happy. I feel like I live in a happy world where everyone loves and respects each other. We all know why we are there and what we are about to do.

Then there’s the race. The alarm goes off at 3am on Saturday night. The preparations, the material, fix this, sort that out, eat a bit, go to the bathroom and then, finally I start walking down towards the race starting point. There’s already a billion runners (more like 300 or so at the start line).

I can see the sunset, the moon. Good morning!

It’s 5am and the race starts. From the first few steps, I’m running with Mauri and we chat. We know each other, we often run together. I think I would like to run with him today, but I know that he likes to take these races seriously, unlike me. Either way, we start together. Slowly, the road starts going up and he starts telling me to go, leave him behind. It’s clearly a way to get rid of me, but I’m stubborn. So, meter after meter, we keep running together. In the end, we would run together to the finish line.

There’s some ups and downs after the first uphill and suddenly I hear someone calling my name: Marco!! I don’t recognize the voice, I turn around and there’s someone I’ve never seen before in my life. I don’t understand. Then he tells me he follows me in Instagram and he likes my pictures. I can’t believe it, I find it incredible!

His name is Thomas, he’s Swedish. He tells me he came here for the race and he had never been in Italy before. We chat for about five minutes, I’m surprised and pleased by this encounter. I strongly believe things like this happen only in contexts like this.

The race goes on, the first km are tough uphills followed by even tougher downhills. Weird things happen. We see some gnomes. We see some gnomes? Maybe we’re dreaming, but then we overhear other runners talking about the gnomes, so maybe we weren’t dreaming!

We get to Duran pass after about 6 hours of running. We’re at km 30. Mauri has understood by now that racing with me means taking breaks, snapping pictures, chatting, eating and drinking like there’s no tomorrow. Weirdly, he doesn’t seem bothered by it and we keep on running together. During the first few hours, we often see Francesco, another runner from Trieste. We pass each other a couple times, and finally he falls to temptation and instead of taking the race seriously, he decides to run with us.

In between Duran pass and Staulanza pass, there are several difficult moments. There’s the uphill towards bivouac Grisetti, steep and under the sun. There’s a couple technical descents. There’s some sadness when we’re told we can’t go on Mount Tivan because of the snow. We walk on the snow. It’s hot, very hot. I’m suffering. At the water station, I attempt to close the pictcher of water with the cap of my water bottle. I’m tired.
Because of the modified path, we have to go through one of the ugliest sections of the race. We have to run down Pecol and then back up until the Pioda mountain hut. This, along a ski slope!
Arrived to Pecol, the world smiles at us. A woman with blue eyes asks us some information in English. We chat, I give her some details on running timing. She tells me she’s waiting for her husband. We leave her behind, start on the long uphill to Pioda. We pass by the check point and we see some huge, dark clouds coming our way. Mauri says it won’t rain before one and a half hours. Obviously, it starts raining after five minutes!

I go for a toilet break, and see my two fellow runners going inside a cable car. I follow them. We stay inside for 15 minutes, changing into our waterproof gear. We get out and of course it stops raining!

We finally arrive to Staulanza pass. 12 hours 30 minutes have passed, we’re at 54km with 4000mt of positive elevation gain. There we find Viviana, my dad and my uncle, who have passed by to say hi. I’m really tired. The downhills have destroyed me and I need a good break. I change into clean clothes, drink plenty of broth, eat plenty of salame, drink some more. I eat again, charge my watch. Time passes. We’ll rest for a total of one hour at the stop.

We finally try to start again, very slowly. I feel really tired, it’s almost 7pm at this point and the thought of spending another 12 hours on these paths, at night, is not easy to process. But I’m there to do this, I’ve been sweating for months just for this, so abandoning is not an option.

I know what is waiting for me at the finish line, I know how it feels to get to the end and I do not want to miss out on it for any reason.So we start again for the second part of the race. With fresh clothes and not so fresh legs, we keep going with a slow, constant pace.

From here, I live some of the moments that I remember most fondly.

The sunset is almost there. We are under Mount Pelmo, we’re circling it. There’s a very tall waterfall, pouring down on a massive block of snow. We can see Mount Civetta colored by the sunset. The path goes on between the pine trees, with a gorgeous view on the Bosconero chain. Mud on the ground, a lot of mud on the ground. We’re fighting against it.

Everyone is tired, we start talking nonsense. Francesco is not used to running like this, he’s laughing like crazy. This is all part of my plan, making him laugh so he has to spend some energy, otherwise he would be running too fast.

There’s a camp fire, a camper has lit the fire right by his tent. The atmosphere is really special. Beautiful. Moving.

Cascata dal PelmoWe leave Mount Pelmo behind. A unique, beautiful mountain.

We turn before reaching Venezia hut. There’s a couple downhills were my friends push themselves like crazy. I suffer a lot. We get to Zoppe di Cadore, I feel like I’m sleepwalking. A wonderful surprise is waiting for us at the checkpoint. Before we even sit down, they offer us some barbecued ribs. Just perfect. We eat some more polenta, salame, some chicken. I wash it down with some ever-present broth.
We’re now at km 70 (if I remember correctly). I’m so tired. At this point, we all struggle to run. Or at least, I struggle a lot. I start dragging my feet and there’s still what feels like an eternity of km to cover. We start stopping for longer and longer at every check point. We eat, drink, rest. There’s an incredible amount of amazing people. Kind, polite, helpful people who help us. They feed us, ask us how we are doing and what we need. They help us. To me they’re angels and it’s so beautiful. It something that gives me the strength to push forward, to the next check point. Thank you, thank you, thank you and thank you again.
We leave Zoppe for the Talamini hut. On our way up, darkness falls down on us. We switch on our lights and it’s always a very touching moment. We turn on our red lights. We’re surrounded by red lights.
We keep on laughing. It’s our reaction to being tired. We crack silly jokes, we laugh some more. I’ve had so much fun and we managed to push through some critical moments thanks to these laughters.
We get to the hut, there’s an open fire with a plate on top. They warm up some broth, tea and coffee. It will be a long night, and this is when my diet of broth, coffee and tea starts. I would stay on it the whole night. It’s very hard to manage your stomach during these long races. I didn’t feel like eating or drinking at all anymore, but you cannot put one foot before the other without some energy so I have to somehow ingest some calories.
We leave the hut. There’s an interesting uphill. We are going on top of Mount Rite. I don’t know how, but we start off well. Very good rhythm, we pass a lot of other runners. I like uphills, I’ve always liked them. A lot more than downhills.
Now and again we meet small groups of runners with their head torches. We stop talking to save energy to keep on going. We maybe have around 700m of positive elevation to get on top of the mountains. We get to 2,000 meters above sea level. We went up fast. Too fast. We stop at the checkpoint on top and we’re exhausted. The descent to Cibiana pass is a disaster. Eternal. First a road, then a never-ending zig zag path. I don’t know how, I don’t know in how long, I don’t know with which energy, but we finally arrive to Cibiana pass (km 80) at around 1:25am.
We stop for almost an hour here. I take my shoes off. Francesco roams between the toilets and the beds. Mauri says that maybe he wants to stop but I don’t believe him. I’m not hungry, I don’t want to drink. I feel depressed. The idea of having to go for another 25km (which means 6 hours) to get to the end, is really hard to accept. But I fight back, tell my head that we are going to go forward, so we do.
Luckily we didn’t know what would come next, otherwise we would have pulled down there and then.
We start with an uphill, not too steep. It takes us an hour. There’s people with lights, camp fires, tents. They all say hi, congratulate us on making it that far. It feels very special. Then the downhill comes. They had told us at Cibiana pass that this would be a very steep downhill.
Steep doesn’t even begin to describe it! It’s horrible, it’s a sheer wall, a drop into nothingness. It’s incredibly steep, the path has huge jumps of a meter or so. It’s also narrow, with turns that go straight into the void. It’s irresponsible to make us go down this way in the night. Thankfully there’s no mud.
It’s hard, really hard. Going down, I realize my knees are swelling. My body is sending me signals, asking me to please stop please!
We get, I don’t know if in one piece or not, to another check point under Bosconero hut. This downhill has been a massacre. My body suffered a lot. Mauri is mad with the whole world because ‚They’re crazy, sending us downhill like that during the night‘. Francesco seems almost content and calm.

While complaining, we start to attack the last difficult uphill. So hard. We can barely see the path but we keep on going. And we go fast, because I like uphills. We get to the Bosconero hut (km 90). I look for my friend Marco who I was told would be there, volunteering. I ask another volunteer, she tells me he’s sleeping. It’s really nice during races like this to see familiar faces. I’m sorry I can’t see Marco, but I have to keep going.

‚Do you have anything warm‘
‚We have broth, tea and coffee. Which one do you prefer?‘
‚Ah, I take all three please! Thank you so much‘

Typical conversation at the last 5 checkpoints.

We go down from Bosconero, we see some head torches behind us. They are going down the same horrible downhill we went through one hour before. Another epic moment. The head torches brighten up the night. I think about them going down, I think about the path. I think that this is all so incredible and that all this strain will be repaid at the finish line.

The sky starts clearing up again, the sun comes out. Another sunrise, the second in two days. I feel very emotional.

We keep going down from the hut. We’re not running anymore, we haven’t been running for a while now. The km on the downhills pass extremely slowly. Mauri keeps telling me it’s not possible, the watch must be wrong. He must be right, it looks like we’re not moving anymore. Where is the end?? In these 100km races, it seems like you never get to the end.

And then something incredible happens. I see a signpost and I can’t believe it. According to our super detailed calculations, there were 8km left to do. But in front of me, it’s written 100! 100! 100!!! They have taken 5km and we accept this with relief and immense joy. We’re happy, so happy. So happy that Mauri almost smiles when we snap a photo!

From here, we’re almost at the end.

Then, pushed by the applauses of the volunteers that fill our hearts, we arrived at 6:35am, back to the center of Forno di Zoldo!

An immense satisfaction! I’m so happy! What a race, what an adventure!

Life gives you some moments and some stories that are just beautiful, and this one is very special to me. I’m happy I’ve done something so hard. It has been a difficult, complicate, demanding path. I’m happy because we got to the end, together. I’m happy because I’m so tired and my effort has been repaid with unforgettable moments. I’m happy because I’ve shared all these with them, because I’ve met some wonderful people who have helped me even just by smiling at me.

I’ll leave you with one last, wonderful surprise that I’ve received at the end of the race.

Do you remember Thomas, the swedish runner from the beginning of the race? And the woman we chatted to in Pecol? Well, i’ve found out they’re husband and wife. And this is what they’ve written to me at the end of the race:

I’m just so happy that this is what a stranger sees in me. Knowing this is one of my biggest satisfactions. Thank you again, to everyone who has gifted me with the emotions and experience that I still live.
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