You should know by now: Italians are everywhere. Really everywhere. Especially at running races; I’ve seen Italians hanging out in Staten Island before the NYC Marathon in 2009 and again walking towards Millenium Park in Chicago earlier this year. It shouldn’t be a surprise to find Italians racing in deserts too — not me, mind you: I can’t suffer temps above 80, go figure a 100+ weather.

I was asked by Antonio, the founder of AndóCorri, an Italian blog on running and racing, to translate the story by Stefano Ruzza, the winner of this year 100km of Namib Desert; I liked the idea and here is the translation of his recount of the four day race in the Namib Desert.

The Namib Desert - courtesy of AndóCorri

100km of Namib Desert – by Stefano Ruzza

Stefano Ruzza

Departure on Saturday morning. Arrival at the Sossuslvei Lodge in the late afternoon of Sunday, December 5th. Easy run to wake the legs up and dinner.
Monday it’s time to get to business. In the morning another, short easy warm-up (it’s easy in a 100+ weather), and in the afternoon we’re ready to start at 6:20. I try not to listen to the many who are favoring me.
Already at the start a runner takes off: I don’t know him, nobody did back then, and I fear he might be really strong. Because the first leg is only 15km (~9mi), I take it easy not to waste energies before the next days. I’m in second position when, around km 4~5, I see the first to bonk. He looks tired and I leave him behind. The route leads us on rocky terrains, which in the dusky light turn into a red hard to describe. At the refreshment point, I can still see the guy I passed; a gentle downhill frees my legs to a brisk jog, only later I’ll realize I left everybody in the dust. It’s my first victory, and maybe those earlier forecasts are right.

Start of the Race - courtesy of AndóCorri

First leg results:
1. Stefano Ruzza 1:10:02
2. Emin Da Silva 1:12:26
3. Roberto Tarini 1:14:31

The second leg, 20km (~12.5mi), is scheduled for the following morning, and it is mostly on a flat and fast route, except for an astonishing crossing through a small canyon of around 2.5km. Till the half-way mark, I’m leading with Emin Da Silva and Roberto Tarini. I try to move away, for a while they stay close, but in the last few easy miles I force the pace once again for a second win. Now it’s important not to overreach.

Running in the Desert - courtesy of AndóCorri

Second leg results:
1. Stefano Ruzza 1:32:22
2. Roberto Tarini 1:37:02
3. Emin Da Silva 1:37:37

The third leg is the longest: the marathon, 42km (26mi), through an amazing scenery, untouched by man and not allowed to tourists. Again till the half-way mark it’s the same leading pack of the day before, but this time we are followed by a bigger and closer pack lead by Paolo Corinaldesi. The heat of the day forces us not to overdo in the first flat km; around km 20 it’s the hardest segment of rolling dunes, where we can resort to take, though more challenging, shortcuts. It’s here where I make my move, hoping I could break away. At the km 28 refreshment point I hoped to have gapped the others, but Paolo (Corinaldesi) is closing on, only few hundreds feet away. I’ve got to force the pace if I hope to win the leg and be on the safe side. And so I go, I space out for at least an hour under a sun that gets the more cruel as it walks across the sky: the temps were already well above 100 degrees at 8:30am (the start was at 5:20).
Before me an incredible, endless space, oryxes look at us in disbelief, wondering who is invading their land. The last km bring back places I’ve seen and lived through previous races: it’s the pure joy of running.

Paolo will finish 7 minutes later, Roberto 13, and Emin 30: gaps I never hoped to make in just 20 kilometers.
Kudos to everybody who, despite being hurt in the last km with temps of 115 degrees, crossed the finish line smiling after this amazing experience.

Stefano Ruzza - courtesy of AndóCorri

Third leg results:
1. Stefano Ruzza 3:37:27
2. Paolo Corinaldesi 3:43:15
3. Roberto Tarini 3:50:00

Thursday is the last leg, 25km (~15mi), and it’s a celebration. The start is at the feet of Dune 45, probably the most photographed dune in the world. The first 15k run smoothly, pancake-flat, with a leading pack of 7~8 runners: on their left the huge dunes and in their memory the images of the previous days. At the km 15, when the run gets serious with crossings through sandy terrains, I try to move away. Emin, as always, tries to stay close till he bonks and crosses the finish line completely worn-out. I contemplate the view before me: a barren land of dried-out, century-old plants and of majestic dunes, that, from their height, seem to menace all life-forms.
Finally we got to Crazy Dune, the tallest dune in the world: it’s a 1000ft ascent in less than a mile; it takes me 23 minutes to climb it along its razor-thin ridge. A majestic and immense dune: no words to describe the reverence I felt at the sight of such a humongous block of sand. From the top I run down the steep descent in a minute (!!!) and I reach, on the other side, a dried-out lake (though the first rain can fill it easily); in the lake is a tree considered national treasure.
Beyond another half-moon shaped dune, I can see the finish arch.
The guys of the Lodge, who helped us at the refreshment points and after each leg, cheer me on as I cross and win the 100km of Namib Desert.
It’s wonderful to have won, but it’s even more wonderful to have run through those unique places, which only someone like Adriano Zito could have thought to be suited for a race, that, though still within the limits of what’s possible, plays with what is not (like the 100km of Sahara, which is also organized by Zitoway).
I wait the others; everybody is beyond happiness. At the end, Paolo Corinaldesi will be second, followed by Roberto Tarini and Emin Da Silva, but we share the same emotions and satisfaction.

The Winners - courtesy of AndóCorri

Fourth and last leg results:
1. Stefano Ruzza 2:34:03
2. Paolo Corinaldesi 2:37:10
3. Roberto Tarini 2:43:06

Dôe te corett? è milanese — mi si perdoni un poco di orgoglio meneghino — per dove corri?, o meglio andó corri?.
AndóCorri è un blog dedicato al podismo ed alle corse: colleziona racconti di gare (ma non solo) di podisti italiani. Gli italiani, si sa, non riescono a stare fermi in un posto e sono per natura girovaghi, per questa ragione Antonio e colleghi di AndóCorri hanno avuto la brillante idea di creare una rubricaGlobal Runner — dedicata ad italiani che si allenano e corrono per il mondo.
L’idea m’è piaciuta subito e quindi per le prossime gare (prima o poi la tendinite se ne andrà, no?) collaborerò pubblicando su AndóCorri la parte in italiano del post.

Per ora, a causa del mio stupido tendine d’Achille, posso solo offrire il mio blog come megafono per altri corridori e così ecco in questo post la traduzione in inglese della vittoria di Stefano Ruzza nella 100km of Namib Desert; gli originali (in italiano) di quest’incredibile impresa sono su AndòCorri in due parti, i primi due giorni e gli ultimi due.