Tuscany Crossing, Italy  – 21st April 2018

103km, 53km and 15km

By Carl Johan Sörman
Cover photo: Tuscany Crossing 2018 Argentieri Anthony Photography

It’s 5 in the morning, and I’m standing in the starting area for Tuscany Crossing trail running 100k race. A week ago, I hardly thought I would get here.

For 6 weeks, I havn’t been able to do any running at all, due to a stubborn injury in my left glute/piriformis. Then, one week before the competition, I decided to go for an easy test run. It did hurt, but it was manageable and it felt like a healing workout. I continued with more easy running for a couple of days, and for each workout it felt better.

But then – alas! My right hip/piriformis started tormenting me. I choose to rest the last two days before the competition. I do not think that anyone has ever squeezed and massaged their own buttocks as much as I have done lately.

Trail Running Bliss

Race Day: 21st April 2018 – The morning air is lukewarm, and the weather has promised to become brilliant. I start my run in shorts, and with a thin windbreaker over my t-shirt.

For once, when we are off, I don’t get carried away but run at a controlled speed. I have already decided that today I have to run a very evenly paced race. It’s the only way to produce a decent result under the current circumstances.

Besides the 100k runners, both the 50k and the 25k relay runners start at the same time. It’s more important than ever to avoid racing with the shorter distance runners. We run along the stone paved streets through the sleeping, beautiful Castiglione d’Orcia and around the castle.

It’s still dark, so all the trail runners headlamps are lit. Soon, we are outside of the town and on dirt roads in the fields.

Oh… and my body feels OK…

Running into Dawn

We crunch one kilometer after the other. The right buttock is starting to make itself noticed a bit, but it’s still runnable. We run through a little community called Bagno Vignoni, an old spa town, known for it’s hot springs, and we round a big stone pool that makes up the main square. As I leave the village, which is somewhat elevated, I see a long tail of light behind me, trail runners fighting their way forward towards dawn.

It’s rarely flat in these rolling landscapes.

Trail Running in the World Heritage List!

The views are jaw dropping, and it’s quite understandable that Val d’Orcia is on the UNESCO world heritage list. When we push up the first somewhat steeper climb towards Pienza, the sun has risen high enough for its rays to hit the hills behind us.

At one point there are photographers on one side of the road, taking shots of us, runners…. On the other side of the road, out in the fields, there are photographers who immortalize the magnificent views.

The climb goes well. I patter on light toes up the hill and gain some on the few runners I have in eyesight. I pass the woman who later will become the winner in the women’s 50k competition. We enter Pienza, this gorgeous little borgo. Pope Pius II came from this borgo, which has left some wonderful architectural marks.

Tuscany Crossing - Argentieri Anthony Photography
Tuscany Crossing – Argentieri Anthony Photography

Going with the Flow

The injury in my right buttock now feels like someone has hit me with a lead pipe. But it’s still runnable, though it takes a lot of energy. I’m thinking of saving the legs as much as possible. To run lightly in the downhills, let the few runners around me pass me by. Thinking of going with the flow, as smooth as possible.

Never push.

I look out over the expanses and gather energy from the outstanding views. In the distance, one can see the characteristic castle in Castiglione d’Orcia, where we started. In front of us, on the furthest edge of a high hill, rests Montalcino – the goal for the 50k runners, and halfway for us, 100k runners. My partner and daughter are waiting for me there with a refill of fluid and energy. I’m looking forward to the rendezvous, but I know there are many bends to the road before we are there.

Approaching Montalcino

The warmth from the sun is starting to become intense. We pass one borgo after the other. I never need to stop at the aid-stations. I have about the same 3-4 runners around me the whole time, all 50k runners. Sometimes one of them disappears behind me or in front of me, but after a while we meet up again.

My fingers and lips are all sticky from the sugar in the energy gels that I take every 40 minutes. Somewhere between 30k and 40k, the pain in my buttock disappears, never to re-emerge, but I feel stiff like a cow around my hips.

Finally, we have reached the climb towards Montalcino, one of the bigger climbs of the race. The woman that I passed right before Pienza is panting heavily behind me. She has followed me ever since I passed her. Feels good to have acted as pacer for her. I tip toe up the hill and pass a couple of runners. Around 50k completed in about 4:15.

I have been running a bit too fast according to my original plan.

After Montalcino, the environment changes character. We run less among fields and more in sparse woods. In the trenches beside the road I can hear the rustle of lizards, fleeing from us giants.

Tuscany Crossing - Argentieri Anthony Photography
Tuscany Crossing – Argentieri Anthony Photography

Difficulties Arise

Slowly, my kilometer times are getting longer and longer. I spit out some foam from the energy gels, escaping the stomach, and continue running.

I start to day dream about cola – which I usually do during long runs. At the next aid-station my partner and daughter are waiting for me and I quickly fill up with what I need from the bag that they have brought. Afterwards, I go to the organisers’ table for a longed for glass of cola. But then the in-all-other-aspects-flawless arrangement comes to one little shortage: they only have cola without sugar! Disappointed, I leave.

I look up towards the mountain, some 20k away, with it’s 1000 vertical meters, that we are to climb.
With mixed emotions, I look forward to the climbing. But then, after a few more kilometers, it happens. What should never happen. I can feel how all of the energy is leaving my body.

I stop beside the trail and for the first time ever, during a race I empty my stomach, completely. Water, sports drinks and energy gels… it’s quite a lot and I understand that my stomach has been shut down for quite a while, and thus not absorbed any energy whatsoever.

The Struggle

I walk a couple of steps but decide that the body has done what it can do for today. I don’t want to risk the rest of the season by tormenting my already upset body further.

I tramp along to get to a pickup place where my partner can come and get me and I get a surprise final reward as the trail passes a creek, that has turned into something bigger due to all of the rain that has hit the region recently. Before I step down into the knee-high water, I am somewhat sceptical, but the water is wonderfully soothing for the tired feet.

'Charles' Carl Johan at the Tuscany Crossing
‘Charles’ Carl Johan at the Tuscany Crossing

Taking Stock

A week after my DNF my body has finally healed. I’m thinking that perhaps my hips and buttocks maybe needed those 2 months to upgrade themselves into something along the lines of an old Fiat Panda’s suspension system (the only car which truly can handle the mountain roads in my area).

Again, I am running in my hills and mountains, and I couldn’t be happier!

Today the DNF doesn’t bother me. It means nothing compared to being able to run pain-free every day out in nature.

Now, I’m preparing for my next race, which will be an exiting run from the shore of the Versilia coast up to a mountain top. Longing for it..!

Tuscany Crossing – Race information

This fabulous Ultra trail takes place in Val D’Orcia – one of Italy’s most astounding areas, famed for it’s culture, arts, fine wines and breathtaking scenery. The Tuscany Crossing offers three distances, each one covering an amazing race route. But be forewarned the gentle hills are not to be underestimated so be prepared!

Event info

When: 27 April 2019
Where: Castiglione d’Orcia – Siena (SI), Tuscany – Italy
Distance / elevation gain: 103km / 3400m D+ (relay options available)
Other distances: Montalcino (SI) 53 km and Castiglione D’Orcia (SI) 15km

Website: www.tuscanycrossing.com
email: Contact form on website

Why Run It?

  • Race course climbs Mount Amiata, the highest extinct volcano in Italy!
  • Run through the spectacular Tuscan villages of Bagno Vignoni, PienzaSan Quirico d’Orcia and Montalcino.
  • Nearest airports: Fly to Florence or Pisa
  • Retrace your steps, visit the fantastic villages and hamlets, at your own pace. This area is really stunningVal D’Orcia will satisfy all your Tuscany fantasies!
  • Enjoy some Brunello di Montalcino – there are plenty of opportunities, for wine tasting in the are

Carl Johan Sörman
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