Yukon Region and Death Valley, 32 y.o.
I wanted to experience first-person what it was like to put myself out there in the roster conditions.
The frozen valley
In February 2016 I flew into Whitehorse, a striving town at the edge of the Arctic Circle, in a frozen valley of the Yukon region.
My whole world evolved inside the cone of light beaming out of my headlamp, hours and hours of relentless movement necessary to keep my body warm.
In 2016 I decided to run two of the most extreme races out there, form one extreme to the other: from the coldest, the Yukon Arctic Ultra, to the hottest, the Badwater 135. Fresh snow lay ahead as I pulled over 50 pounds of sled behind me with al the mandatory emergency and safety gear. The group quickly thinned down and, after the first marathon, I found myself completely alone into the wild. At 4p.m. the sunset, knowing I’ll have to face over 18 hours of darkness completely alone, only the consistent rhythm of my steps cracking the frozen layer of the snow trail to keep me company. Not just within, but with the wild and the powerful nature. It was empowering in so many ways to know that my life depended entirely and literally by the decisions I made out there: but I had to push beyond that safety zone to not freeze solid and, despite the pain, I never felt so alive.
Running in the hottest place on earth
Six months after I found myself in the Badwater Basin, looking ahead 135 miles of scorching road right through Death Valley, the hottest places on earth, all the way up to Mt Whitney (the highest mountain in the contiguous 48 States). I was among other strictly selected 100 experienced ultra runners from all around the world: the Badwater 135 was the challenge I always dreamed off. A crew vehicle and a team of support is mandatory for safety reason and to tend to all the runner’s needs including, of course, water as the sweating rate is so intense that runners must drink up to 2 bottles per hour.
After almost one hour, I started to feel dehydrated and somehow there was no sign of my crew along the road. I had to run for almost another hour to find a familiar face, somehow, they lost me in the night and took them a while to find me. I crashed in the backseat of the van train to gather up: my stomach was upside down, my mind hallucinating. Despite everything, I was still committed to finish the race, no matter what. With great effort, I reached mile 100. I was making progress, and I was happy to know the finish line was peering, but it was right on that moment that my wheels completely fell off.
Strong waives of pain cut right through my back as I realized I hadn’t peed since the day before. My kidneys were crashing. I stopped for a while but then, like a lightning strike, I got up, hobbled across the road and, putting one foot in front of the other, I crawled across the finish line. Two years later, I came back to Death Valley to compete again. It was the hottest year on record in the 41 years history of the race. I trained specifically for the long climbs, and focusing more on hydration, nutrition and heat management I took some walking breaks near the end, but I never stopped.
I never went in the shade. I never sat in the car. I kept moving forward from the beginning to the very end. I decided to not challenge the leaders early, but to find my own rhythm. After the first big climb to Towne Pass 58.7 miles in, I unknowingly took the lead and kept on pushing hard thinking that the former winner Oswaldo Lopez was out front. As I got to Panamint Springs, which is 70 miles into the race, they told me I was the leader. It was an unexpected, pleasant surprise. When I crossed the finish line, my crew and I embraced each other in a mix of exhaustion and triumph I never experienced before.