Then there were two illnesses caught at the last minute in planes.
“That’s right. In 2017 and 2018 I set off healthy and after the international flight, I arrived in Italy with an ear infection the first time, and bronchitis the second. I withdrew from the race both times. So this year will be the first time I’ll be able to show my full potential in the Tor, and it’s going to be amazing. The minute Marco (De Gasperi, ed.) suggested the challenge, I accepted it eagerly”.
What are you expecting along the way?
“The Tor is truly legendary, an epic course. I love this kind of run, long and tough and among breathtaking scenery: this is what I’m best at. But you need to be humble and cautious: there are so many factors that need to fall into place. I hope this will be the year when all the pieces fit together.”
Let’s talk about preparation. How does a champion of your calibre prepare for a situation that you can’t even visualise completely?
“Well, I’m lucky in that I live at an altitude of 2,500 metres, so for me, it’s normal to run in the mountains every day. And when I’m not running, I do mountain biking, rock climbing or rafting in the summer and ski mountaineering or snowboarding in the winter. So I have a solid foundation of athletic strength. Specifically, I do some 50 or 100-kilometre races in the months beforehand, all the better if there’s plenty of height gain. In the last ten days before the race, I don’t move much, I rest up. The sole aim is to come to the starting line fresh and calm.”
What advice would you give to amateur runners who are attempting this challenge for the first time?
“This is a race that intimidates even experienced runners, because of its length and its technical difficulty. You definitely have to divide it into small sections, which are more manageable, from the mental angle too: it's the only way to avoid being overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge. You have to relax, take care of your feet, eat and drink frequently and never forget to be amazed by the incredible scenery. That helps emotionally, and gets you closer to the finish line, one step at a time.”
What about equipment?
"I don’t have any particular secrets; I respect the rules: if you take everything you need for the Tor there isn’t a problem. I always recommend testing all your equipment first, but also being ready to improvise. Take care with your shoes, they’re the most delicate aspect in events like this. I’ll be wearing Spin Infinity; they give me confidence.”
You seem really confident, but is there really nothing you fear in this challenge?
“Well, I hope I’ll make it to the starting line (he laughs, ed.). But once we start running, my biggest enemy will be lack of sleep. The course is really long, at some point you have to stop and sleep. But it’s micro-naps, which aren’t enough to rest the body properly. And this can cause problems both physically and mentally; the impact of lack of sleep is devastating. So, there it is: I’m more afraid of that than of rain or snow.”
With that in mind, what time can we expect to see you at the finish line?
“I haven’t set myself a target, partly because it’ll be the weather that decides the pace of the event. I'll set off with humility and respect for the distance, although I’m not daunted by it. I want to run as good a race as possible. And I’ll be doing it in stunning places, surrounded by magnificent nature. I hope nothing stops me from fully experiencing the Tor this year. It'll be unforgettable.”