PH Italian Raid – September 29th 2019 – Report by Andrew Wright

One of the benefits of being in the prime of life, i.e. over 40, is that there is a whole new world of competitive opportunity out there, with some events very kindly bucketing us older racing snakes into 5 year bands, which removes any excuse that a significantly younger runner kicked one’s ass. Such is the case with the World Masters Mountain Running Championships, held each September somewhere in Europe, organised by the World Mountain Running Association, and to which Iain Taylor and I decided to venture over to this year in deepest southern Italy; Gagliano Del Capo to be precise.

Now I use the term mountain running here very loosely. What you would normally expect, especially from our continental friends, is a glorious snow capped alp to ascend, and perhaps also descend if that’s the format for a particular year. But for 2019, some bright spark decided that it would be a good idea to have the venue as far south in Italy’s heel as you can go; think of it as the equivalent of having the champs in John O’ Groats only harder to get to, and a region not known for its mountains. Was it the same person involved in picking Qatar for the 2020 World Cup?? The beautiful coastline was an upside though!

Fortunately, the course itself did have some reasonable climbing, about 1,800 ft in all, with the biggest effort being the 150 metre cliff wall natural steps that had to be traversed over the 2.5 x 4.3km laps. The rest of the course was a mix of tarmac and single track rocky trail, varying between an urban setting in the centre of Gagliano where the finish was, and the surrounding olive groves and coastal paths. Certainly different to what we’re used to here. Regardless, it was the same for everyone and made for some fast, competitive racing, despite the sweltering 27°C+ heat.

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To the racing itself then. Saturday saw the 60 plus age groups races who did 1.5 laps, alongside an open event for non-masters runners who pitched up. This gave a chance for a gentle course recce and loosen the legs after our previous day’s 4am start, three flights and a 70 mile hire car drive south. Onto Sunday then when the main events kicked off. Iain was in the 50-54 age group, and so off mid morning, whilst being in the sprightly 45-49 category I was starting a couple of hours later, thus allowing me to stay in my kip go and support him. Neither Scotland or GB give out vests for this age group event, unlike other nations, but no bad thing as we proudly wore the PH Racing vests.

Iain put in a tremendous performance, finishing 22nd out of 126, and third Brit, timing at 1:08:11. With the first three from each nation to count for a team medal, GB bagged a silver, coming second to the Italians. So officially, non-hill running Taylor is officially a world mountain running medallist, and he only came out to Italy to top up his tan and squeeze another holiday in! When asked what he thought about his first WMMRC event and his medallion he replied “I might take up this hill running lark”. Good stuff! Maybe this will be the start of a flourishing new running career given his ample spare time (retiring at 50, honestly!).

And to me then. Not having had the best start to 2019 my targeting of this race had filled me with a large degree of trepidation, especially as the weeks and months ticked by and my form seemed to be going backwards. I knew from doing this event when I turned 40 in Austria that the standard of competition is surprisingly high, so I was under no illusions of what to expect. Nevertheless, the pace from the off was ferocious as everyone bombed up the road climb from the start for a couple of hundred metres before an immediate single track cliff face, and to be honest didn’t let up throughout. In the end I’m pretty pleased to have finished in 57:26, 4th out of 128 in my 45-49 age group, and first (and only) Brit also, so no team medal prospect for me.

In other categories, the Brits didn’t do too badly at all. Adam Osbourne, a pure fell runner from England won the 40-44 category, while Cambuslang Harriers runner, and a 1980s British champion, Colin Donnelly, waltzed over the opposition as a freshly turned 60 to claim his world title. GB also won team medals in a number of other categories, which I can’t remember right now, reinforcing our generally good show at this event.

In summary then, given the location, the vast majority of the 1000 plus competitors were Italian, but in all fairness this didn’t diminish the atmosphere any, with plenty of good spirit at both the opening and closing ceremonies and throughout the weekend. Brits made up the next biggest contingent, with 40 of us, and there was certainly plenty to cheer about.

For 2020, the event is to be back at Telfes in Austria where I first ran 5 years ago. It’s an uphill only course in beautiful Tyrolean scenery which I’d recommend our vets have a look at for next year as it’s definitely worth it, and makes a good end of season target. Maybe PH in their own right could be world champions! PH youth, this is what you’ve got to look forward to!

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Raid high points…

Getting some trolley case interval training done at Schipol Airport as we dashed through crowds and terminals to make our connecting flight.

Iain discovering that he can actually climb pretty well

Opening our race number envelopes to see we’d been assigned female categories, and contemplating whether we should gender identify as women to give us better medal prospects.

Iain telling EVERY Italian that he was from Scotland, despite wearing a vest with Scotland emblazoned across it.

Raid low points…

My complete and utter collapse at the end of my race from heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Iain discovering that he can actually climb pretty well…and realising he has a reputation to maintain.

My general disorganisation and complaining which Iain had to suffer.