“Resilience, in metalworking, is the ability to resist strain. It is the opposite of fragility. The same can be applied in the field of psychology: a resilient person is the opposite of one who is easily prone to vulnerability”. This is how Pietro Trabucchi, psychologist for the national ultramarathon team and the Italy’s Olympic cross-country skiing team, describes the most essential characteristic ultrarunners must possess. “The word resilience is derived from the Latin resalio which literally means ‘climbing back onto a boat overturned by the might of the sea’. In psychology, it defines the attitude of someone who forges ahead without ever giving in - no matter the difficulties he or she encounters”.
We need to introduce resilience with an abstract concept in order to explain what goes on in the bodies and minds of the ultrarunners participating in the upcoming UTMB. That’s because they need to have muscle fibre like steel and a mind as brilliant as a diamond if they want to resist the adventures that come with a two-day race in the mountains. But physical and mental resilience isn’t all they need: if it rains and they don’t have a waterproof jacket or the temperature drops below zero and they don’t have the proper clothes to stay warm, they’ll be forced to withdraw from the race. That’s why their backpacks have to contain everything they could possibly need. We don’t want to take over for the event’s organizers by listing the mandatory material but it is an adventure, after all so we are including the link for you. We also asked some of the SCARPA® athletes what they’re taking with them.
For example, Padua native and computer technician Francesco Fazio tells us: “I’m always worried about running out of water so I keep well-stocked! The cold and rain can be pretty hard to deal with, too. So I’ve got my gore-tex rain jacket, an extra pair of socks and waterproof pants because if my legs freeze everything else freezes up too. Literally. I can’t move. And I never forget to take my good luck charm, the ring my girlfriend Cristina gave to me. I always wear it on my pinkie”.
One of Italy’s finest mountain runners, Stefano Fantuz, brings his good luck charm to important races as well. He confides: “Sometimes I slip the bracelet my girlfriend gave to me into my backpack. It’s got a lot of important symbols on it. But I only take it on the most crucial races of the season. I don’t want to trivialize it. To tell the truth, I’ve got plenty of other superstitious rituals: I always eat the same foods and I am maniacal about checking my backpack. If there is one piece of advice I’d offer to UTMB runners, that would be to study the weather forecasts carefully because it often snows at high altitudes. I usually try to travel light but in cases like this, there is no sense in scrimping on weight. I pack jackets and gloves”.
From a champion runner to Chiara Pinarel, the former ballerina who converted to running four years ago. She has her own personal “drug”! She says: “Obviously, I pack all the mandatory material but when I take on a challenge like this I also bring along liquorice wheels and some other junk food. And I always eagerly await the Coca-Cola at the refreshment stands. I never forget to wear something that reminds me of my family. I want to ‘bring’ my family along with me on my trips”.
The one who never leaves anything to chance is Emilio Vellandi, the 50-year-old business consultant from Treviso. Before tackling the UTMB, he decided to walk the entire route for four days, staying overnight at the shelters. “The cold was killing me so that’s why I’m bringing an extra down jacket along. I really want to have enough food to get me through the race. I love the broth they serve at the refreshment stands but I feel more secure if I have everything else I might want to eat”.
Another one who’s crazy about snacks is Luca Sovilla Cranner: “I don’t take too many energy gels with me but I nibble on something at least once every hour. My favourite chocolate bars are Bounty and Twix. And whenever I’m in a long-distance race, I always find room in my back pack for sandwiches that I cut up into bite-size snacks to eat at the refreshment stands. (Obviously everything is hermetically sealed!) Oh, I almost forgot. In extreme cases, a couple of Oki analgesics. They really help when you’re sore. Everything else in there is regulation material”.
So everyone takes whatever they think they’ll need to earn them the acknowledgment of being a “finisher”. To quote Trabucchi one last time, the important thing is being able to face the difficulties and the unpleasant situations that inevitably present themselves. If something should be missing from their backpacks, the runners will just have to make due and keep on running. Trabucchi writes on his website: “A resilient individual is an optimist who tends to interpret negative circumstances as momentary and restricted. He or she interprets them as a challenge and an opportunity, never losing hope in the face of defeat and frustration”.
So, the backpack is important. But only to a certain point because if one’s mind caves in, it can’t help at all. What else can we say?
“Bon Voyage” to all the UTMB heroes!