Running a Trail Race in Italy: The Montanaro Trail in Tuscany

Tuscany Views

I’m going to give it away from the beginning. Our first international race; our first DNF. It doesn’t feel great to admit it, but it was most definitely the right thing to do, and I would not have given up the experience for the world.

Elevation Profile

DD had to do it. He had to find a race in Italy, and not just any race: some mountain trail ultra in a small town in Tuscany where the website was/ is entirely in Italian. Thanks to the wonders of the Google translate Chrome plugin, we were able to muddle through the posted information and various directions. I tried hard not to look too closely at the Elevation Profile.

We couldn’t find any information in English, apart from the aggregator website that listed trail ultras in Europe – where DD first found the link. We did stumble upon 2 videos (here, and here) past participants had taken of the race. Looking over past participant lists indicated that all the last names were pretty much Italian. We might possibly be the first native-English speakers who would be running in this race.

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Brazen’s Dirty Dozen (or, trotting in a loop for 47 miles)…

9 July 2016. 13 large loops, 4 small loops. Official distance: 46.21 miles


How to begin talking about my first ultra, our first 50k, our first 40-miler, and definitely our first time running a race around a loop, within a set period? Now, nearly 2 weeks months later, it seems kind of blurry and far away, taken over by our John Muir Trail preparations and actual trip.

I’d always wanted to participate in this event, having heard of the all-day fun, the camaraderie, and craziness.

The Brazen Dirty Dozen is a time, not distance-delimited race. Runners have the option of choosing between 6 hours or 12 hours, and running for as long/ as far as they can within those set times. There are hardly any requirements. One can run long for as long as they wish, and rest for as little as they wish. Some folks use it to run a set distance – say – a half marathon, or a full marathon. Many of the 12-hour folks definitely gun for 50 miles.

The course consists of a 3.37-mile loop in Point Pinole park in Richmond. During the last hour of the 6 or 12, a small loop near the start/finish area of .67 miles opens up so runners have a better chance of completing more miles rather than being stuck out in the middle of the larger loop when the clock runs out.

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Marin Headlands Loop in Reverse

9:51pm - Rodeo Beach

Saturday, 18 June 2016. Marin Headlands (25-mile) Loop Counter-Clockwise

This jaunt marked the 4th time DD’s traversed this trail, and my 2nd (account of my 1st here). The challenge – start at 2pm and finish after dark (~10pm), and do the loop in the opposite, counter-clockwise direction. Our plan:

  • Segment 1: Rodeo → Lagoon Trail →  Bobcat Trail → SCA Trail → Slacker Pass → Golden Gate Bridge
  • Segement 2: Golden Gate Bridge → Slacker Pass → SCA Trail → Marincello → Tennessee Valley
  • Segment 3: Tennessee Valley → Miwok Trail → Coyote Ridge → Muir Beach → Pirate’s Cove → Tennessee Valley
  • Segment 4: Tennesee Valley → Old Springs Trail –> Wolf Ridge → Coastal Trail → Rodeo Beach

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Thirty Miles in the Marin Headlands

Looking back from the SCA Trail

Sunday, 5 June 2016. A 25-mile loop in the Marin Headlands, and a little more.

DD’s latest obsession has been exploring the intersection of hiking and ultra-running, for which lines definitely begin to blur as distances become longer. To that end, he’s been training and speculating on how he might be able to complete a 50-mile race while primarily hiking (since most humans do hike the uphills during races) and jogging/ running the downhills and flats.

In his sights (though he has not yet signed up for it), is Pacific Coast Trail Run’s Marin Headlands Hundred race, which offers distances of a marathon, and 50, 75, and 100 miles.

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Skyline to the Sea Day 3

First glimpse of ocean, on our last stretch of Skyline to the Sea

Sunday, 22 May, 2016. Jay Camp/ Big Basin HQ to Waddell Beach. 10.2 miles.

I woke again to the sounds of birds, trilling at first light, and occasional loud insect buzzing. A woodpecker also made its presence known. Mosquitoes were still out at this hour, though thankfully not as much as the evening prior.

Breakfast (Mountain House Scrambled Eggs and Bacon is not as good as Mountain House Breakfast Skillet), camp breakdown, a last scouring of the area to make sure we are LNT, and we were off. Hooray for warm water coming out of the taps in the bathrooms!

Heading out of Big Basin HQ

Big Basin, even at 10am on a Sunday morning, was already crowded with a goodly number of visitors. As we set off from HQ, we passed numerous groups who looked like they were on their own walkabouts, and some who appeared to be headed to Berry Creek Falls.

Unlike the day before, it was a little sunny in certain sections, but the tree cover provided a great canopy and shade so it never really got too warm. The trail thinned out in sections and began to get crowded again as we neared the Falls.

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Skyline to the Sea Day 2

Our little group, ready!

Saturday, 21 May, 2016. Waterman Gap to Big Basin HQ and Jay Camp. 9.84 miles

I woke and dozed intermittently with sunrise, the sounds of the birds, the various creakings and sighings of a camp coming to life. In the night I had also occasionally woken to the sounds of rain pitter-pattering on our tent. The drizzle would last barely a minute before stopping. This would be the pattern for the morning as we made our way to Big Basin headquarters.

We were the last ones out of the camp. We finally emerged from our tents relatively late, ~ 7am, but we were taking our time to be able to wait for Caiti. She arrived ~9:45, and had clearly hustled to get to where we were. She had arrived late last night at Castle Rock parking lot and ended up hiking in the dark. That didn’t bother her so much as a sketchy guy in the parking lot who had put wings to her heels and helped power her to Castle Rock trail camp 2 miles away.

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Skyline to the Sea Day 1

C in Castle RockFriday, 20 May, 2016. Castle Rock to Waterman Gap. 9.22 miles.

To shuttle or not to shuttle, that was the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer, the slings and arrows of a long day of driving, in order to have 2 vehicles at the beginning and ending trailheads, or to take a stand against too much fuss, and by opposing, choose to take a taxi or uber at the end.

Our last point to point in Point Reyes had been marked by some 2.5 hours of driving between two trailheads before we even began our hike, and DD did not want to repeat that again, sure to be longer on this particular trip. So on Friday, DD, Christina and I set out from San Francisco a little after 1:30pm and headed south, and met Jared at the Castle Rock parking lot around 3pm.

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Backpacking the Skyline to the Sea Trail

Big Tree is Big!

I’d always wanted to get to the Skyline to the Sea trail. Just a month earlier, Justin and DD and trekked 27 miles of it, successfully and quickly, in just a teeny bit over 8 hours. I had peeked at the various trail runs and races out there, notably the Coastal 50k/ Marathon and Pacific Coast Trail Runs races of the same distances, and dreamed of signing up for one of those longer distances someday.

So when my friend Christina pinged us to see if DD and I would be interested in a backpacking trip along the trail, I of course accepted eagerly.

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Point Reyes from Palomarin to Drake’s Estero

Obligatory View Photo

7 May 2016. 22.92 miles, with a nice stop at PRNSA’s Fireside Chat.

Another weekend, and another long hike. At the house, we’ve gotten into some sort of cadence with each other’s schedules, which means DD almost always schedules a long hike on Saturday, and I’ve been alternating my long run-weekends with joining along on those long training hikes every other Saturday.

He was fresh from the exhiliration of a successful and relatively pain-free Skyline-to-the-Sea 27-mile day-long, thru-hike with Justin the prior weekend, and was looking to extend his collection of 20-plus milers.

Our 24-mile path would have us launching from Palomarin, at the popular trailhead for the hike to Alamere Falls, then heading north on the Coast Trail until we reached Limantour Spit Road. There, if our timing was just right, we’d be able to take a detour to the Clem Miller Environmental Education Center, where the Point Reyes National Seashore Association was having their annual Fireside Chat for some of their members. From Limantour, depending on how we were feeling, we’d take Muddy Hollow to Estero Trail, and end up back at a parked car at the Drake’s Estero.

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Mt. Sizer Loop – Henry Coe State Park

Prettiness abounds

23 April 2016. 14.62 miles, including ascending the Hobbs Road Short Cut.

The trip started out a bit inauspiciously, as I had zoned out and missed the E. Dunne exit from 101 South. DD rerouted us back through Gilroy on some surface streets, and my detour ended up delaying our start by only about 10 minutes.

Henry Coe is out in Morgan Hill, and driving to it from the freeway exit requires an extra 13-mile slow slither along a narrow and windy road that snakes through a residential area and then past Anderson Lake Park, climbing, climbing, hair-pinning up to the top, where E. Dunne dead-ends right into the Henry Coe Visitor Center.

The trek we were planning had a reputation for difficulty, most especially a segment of the trail called the “Shortcut,” which apparently, is a very steeply graded slope covering 1500 feet in about 1.5 miles. DD had prepared me for it by saying it was “like the Warmup and Big Burn on Ohlone.” And so, by reading through a couple of other blog posts and trip reports, I felt mentally prepared. I carried with me mostly water weight – about 4 litres total, including one Nalgene of electrolyte drink, which I mixed up before we left.  Continue reading

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