Race report by Carl Johan Sörman
Italy – May 27th 2018
We’re standing on the beach in the Tuscan coastal town of Carrara.
About 200 trail runners and 2000 hikers are all waiting for the race start. I’m here to run the GT5 – Dal Mare alla Vetta – from the Sea to the Summit, and I’m trying to make my way towards the race arch…
To me it’s all a bit confusing, as my Italian is not so good (I’m Swedish) and I don’t even know in which direction we are going to run, but I am standing fairly close to the race arch now, and I see a couple of people with runners’ bibs nearby…
In front of me the vast expanse of the Mediterranean sea is a calming sight. Behind me lies the mighty backdrop of the Apuan Alps where I do my training amongst the white Carrara marble quarries.
It makes for a sharp yet exciting contrast.
My body has a month of solid, decent training, since I fully recovered from an niggling injury, and I’ve averaged about 150k and 7000 vertical meters every week since.
The week before, I crushed my PB on two of my regular training routes. Now I feel superstrong!
Quite unexpectedly I hear the rapid countdown to the start – and I’m not at the starting line!
…Two, one, GO!
There’s no time to think – and I quickly blitz through a crowd of hikers and slower runners, and soon I’m running with the lead pack.
Everybody is taking it easy in the heavy sand. We run along the sea for a couple of hundred meters, then the course turns upwards onto paved roads. Far away in the distance we can clearly make out the shape of what will be our final destination… the peak of Mount Sagro (1753 m a.s.l), and then it’ll be several hundred vertical meters down to the finish line. All in all, about 32k and 2200 positive vertical meters.
Even though it’s early in the morning, the heat from the sun is intense. And it’s probably the hottest day of the year so far. But that’s OK – I’ve tapered well, so I can run easily at just under 4 min/km.
Shoulder to shoulder, I run with a fellow competitor right at the very front. After 6k of some fast running, the climbing finally kicks in and the road merges into single track. My rival lets me go, and alone I continue up the hills. I pass a man on a mountain bike frantically pedalling, but in this terrain and with this gradient, legs are superior to wheels.
When I reach the first aid station, the track merges into asphalt again. One of the race volunteers on a bike follows me to warn oncoming traffic. I think he is saying to me (in Italian) that I am in the lead by a minute and that I can take it easy.
Is he kidding? This is a competition… I am not taking it easy!!
Instead, I need to push hard now, when it’s runnable.
When we reach a single track which winds up into a forest, I thank the man on the bike with a “grazie” and “ciao”. The trees give me welcome shade although I don’t feel very affected by the heat, even though I lack any kind of heat training so far this year.
I come across several hikers who’d started out very early this morning, so I need to call out to them to move aside, in order for them not to get knocked down as I storm past them.
All of a sudden, I realize, I’ve covered half the distance. Fast.
About 1h and 15min has passed. But my GPS is telling me that I have only climbed about a third of the total elevation, and I know for sure I have about two hours left of the race.
Alone in the lead I struggle on.
Mostly uphill, but when it gets flat or downhill I have to remind myself to push push push. Otherwise, I will fall in to a slower recovery pace which is not very welcome.
I do not want to get overtaken by the hunters behind me…
My trail running backpack is loaded with 3 gels, half a liter of sports drink and half a liter of a homemade ginger brew. I have calculated that this should be enough for the entire race without stopping at any aid stations. It feels good when I indulge in a couple of sips of the ginger brew. Sweet, bitter and sour all at the same time.
After about 23k, I emerge from the woods and in front of me lies a very large grassy field. Suddenly I lose sight of the course markings. NO! But I can see some more intrepid hikers in the distance. I run over to them, but they are not part of the event and have no idea, worse still, I can’t seem to find any trace of a path!
Frustrated, I follow my gut feeling, I choose a direction, and I find the markings of the course again. I lost 1-2 minutes of my lead, but I’m relieved that I cannot see anybody else coming out from the forest behind me.
Only 2 kilometers later and I’m approaching the finish area. My partner and daughter are waiting for me and are cheering me on. But I’ve still got quite a bit left before I can stop running.
The summit of Mount Sargo awaits us.
In front of me I can fully appreciate how steep the final climb is. We are supposed to run up to very top of the mountain and then return back down again, before we are allowed to cross the finish line.
A bottle of water is handed to me. I take a gulp, pour the rest over my head and continue up.
It’s really steep. So far I’ve run all the uphills in the race, but now it’s impossible. Instead I climb, like Gollum, up the mountain using all my four limbs.
It is not pretty and it’s not fast, but little by little I’m coming closer to the cross that marks the top of the mountain, far above me.
Below, I can see the finish where a radio station is broadcasting live, and out of their gigantic loudspeakers music roars up to me. Guns N’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle” and Alphaville’s “Big in Japan” push me forwards and upwards.
During my races, even though it is tempting, I always try to avoid looking behind me. I do not want to be affected in any way at all by the sight of other trail runners. I want to run my own race as fast as possible, independent my fellow competitors, and looking back just steals focus and is kind of pointless.
But during my climb up the mountain, today, I take a peek over my shoulder for the first time in a long time.
And I see another runner. So I strive on upwards, and finally, incredibly, I’m at the top. The last kilometer took 20 minutes, even though I was pushing hard. At the peak, the race course turns around and remains on the same path for a couple of hundred meters before branching off and taking a different final route, towards the finish…
As I meet the other runner, who’s making his way upwards, whilst I’m going downwards, our paths crossing – I cheer him on and throw a quick glance at my watch. Over a minute has passed since I was at the summit, and I have been running downhill for a whole minute, so the other runner should be about 3 minutes behind me. It feels pretty solid but anything can happen, so with breakneck speed I throw myself downhill as fast as I can go.
The terrain is now extremely technical downhill. It demands my full attention to determine where to put down my feet amongst all the rocks without tripping.
I try to keep my pace as high as possible on the bigger rocks, jumping, skipping or whatever it takes. Focus is also required to follow the trail as it’s very hard to see in places, as we are running directly on the mountain rocks.
If I lose the track now I might also lose the victory.
I roar high as I stub my toe on the mountain, but luckily the rock breaks and I do not fall. I’m wildly hoping for a runnable trail to show up for the last section of the race so I can secure my victory, but this doesn’t happen…
…Yet I’m finally at the finish line! And I can cross it as the first runner in Grande Trekking 5 2018.
2018 race results
1 PIROVANO PAOLA 4:32:21
2 SCHEGGI VALENTINA 4:39:00
3 BONFIGLI SILVIA 4:47:00
1 SORMAN CARL JOHAN 3:20:27
2 BALDESSARI FRANCESCO 3:23:34
3 PATELLI MATTEO 3:27:10
A word with the Race Director
We also spoke to Andrea Maccari, Race Director, and asked him about the GT5 – an event for trail runners and trail walkers:
“Well, it all started in 2014.” Andrea told us. “I personally wanted to try out the route, and decided to extend the invitation to others, by simply creating an event on Facebook. 90 people took part in the first edition, and a staggering 2000 people – hikers and trail runners, registered for this year’s event, with several participants also coming from outside Italy.”
“The GT from Sea to Summit is a unique event of its kind,” he went on to say, “With its 32 km and 2200 meters of positive vertical drop that takes you from the sea, to the summit of Monte Sagro (Alpi Apuane – Apuan Alps) at 1753 meters altitude. The event includes a competitive trail running race and a non-competitive long hike.”
“Carrara, in Tuscany, has an important historical-artistic heritage. Famous for its marble quarries, tucked between the Mediterranean sea and the Apuan Alps. On the clearest of days, the views are immense, and one can see as far as Capraia and Corsica, along with the snow-covered Maritime Alps, including Argentera and Monviso.”
“Trail runners and trail walkers get to run in one of Italy’s most interesting and least visited mountain chains, the Apuan Alps, starting from the coastal plain rise up to a height of two thousand meters in just a short stretch of just several kilometers.”
It’s a point to point route. Highest point is 1753mt. It’s also open to walkers and hikers.
When: End of May
Where: Marina di Carrara, Massa di Carrara (MS), Tuscany – Italy
Distance / elevation gain: 32km / 2200m D+
Carl Johan Sörman – born in Sweden, returned to trail running whilst living in Italy, where he now trains and lives in northern Tuscany together with his partner and daughter. “I have this urge… when I see a mountain summit… I want to get to the top. Running of course.” You can find Carl on Instagram