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Glenn Hughes- Living The Italian Mountain Running Dream

A small mountain village in a far off land, high altitude and higher peaks, the greatest mountain runner of all time as your host- a dream for most, but for New Zealand Mountain Running team member Glenn Hughes this was reality during August and September. Below Glenn tells us about his Italian Mountain Running Dream-

Glenn racing to 2nd at Rifugio Scarpa, Frassene, Agordino, ITALY, Pre WMRC.
photo credit: Aron Lazzaro

We often visualise the perfect training camp. Being based in some small town, in a foreign country, at altitude and surrounded by mountains. Recently this became reality when I stayed and trained with New Zealand mountain running legend Jonathan Wyatt (Jono) in Italy for four weeks. Jono and his Italian wife Antonella live in a small valley town called Ziano di Fiemme at around 1000m altitude in the stunning Dolomite area of North Italy. During 4 weeks of training I barely did any on-road running. Either side of the valley the mountains reach up to 2500m and are easily accessible by trails and mountain pass roads. On one side of the valley are terraces of gravel forestry roads that are connected by short steep technical trails. The other side of the valley is steeper and has narrow technical trails. Despite being a competitive runner for several decades, Jono still has a strong training ethic. A typical day would comprise at least 2-3 hours of training (running, cycling, or cross training). Most of our training runs contained a climb and decent of about 500m. That’s not a huge elevation gain, but you do notice it when you start at 1000m. On occasions you would be running along a gentle gravel road then Jono would yell “left turn here” and you would start a steep uphill climb. You would be sure to pace yourself as you didn’t know how long the climb would go for. It could range from several minutes to around 30 minutes. One run in particular was 2hrs long and we climbed from 950m up to 2250m (I was forewarned of this climb) and then traversed a ridge line above 2000m to finish at Passo Pampeago (2100m). Cycling fans may recognise this pass from a stage of this year’s Giro Italia. It was probably the most scenic run I have ever done. Details of this run can be seen here http://www.movescount.com/moves/move7287770

Cooling off in a fountain in Ziano di Fiemme (Photo by Barry Ellis)

Post run recovery in Italy is great. Scattered around most Italian mountain towns are water fountains. These comprise a continuously running tap of fresh drinkable water and a large bath. Theyare traditionally used for washing, but are good place to stretch and cool off the legs much to the surprise of the locals. There is also a plentiful supply of fresh bread and pasta to restore energy levels. The purpose of my recent trip was to compete in the World Mountain Running Championshipsin Ponte di Legno as part of the New Zealand team, with Jono as the team manager. The men’s course was 14.2km long and climbed 1150m finishing at Passo Tonale at 1800m. The course wasn’t a traditional uphill course with lots of flat running and steep uphills punctuated by steep downhill sections. After suffering from a stomach bug earlier in the week, my energy levels were low for the race and I suffered finishing 84th out of about 140 starters. A great performance came from the other NZ runner in the field Dougan Butler who finished a creditable 59th. The last race I did was the Drei Zennin in Sesto near the Italian-Austrian border. My stomach bug had disappeared by this race and I was near 100%. The race was 17.5km long and climbed 1350m finishing at around 2500m. What makes this run unique is the first 8-9km only climbs 200m, then there was the main climb of 1000m over 6km before a short downhill to the

Nearing the top of Passo Pampeago with Jono (Photo by Barry Ellis)

finish. The Drei Zennin has a rich history of NZ representation with previous winners being Anna Frost and Jono, both who competed in 2012. The race attracted 1000 athletes and I finished 9th. I was in 7th but took a fall with 500m to go and got passed by 2 people. Jono finished a close second to the top Italian runner and Anna won her age group. Not long after the Drei Zennin I returned to New Zealand, no longer scared of tackling huge mountain climbs.Next up for Glenn is the “National Trail Running Championships”, which are run as part of the Xterra Waihi event on the 13th October- no doubt Glenn will not look twice at the “hills” on the Waihi course after his time in Italy. Keep on eye on BCR early next week for our Xterra Waihi preview to see who Glenn will be lining up against in the 19km NZ trail Champs.


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