Inspirational Trails 4: Patagonia
Written By: SportsShoes
In our fourth instalment of ‘Inspirational Trails’, we’re joined by a very special guest, the hugely talented Nike athlete, Francesco Puppi. Puppi is a key member of the Italian National Mountain Running Team and was the World Long Distance Mountain Running Champion in 2017. Here, he talks about his experience at last year’s event in Patagonia. Prepare to be inspired…
The 2019 World Mountain Running Championship in Patagonia represented something unique and beyond imagination for me, as both an athlete and as a human being.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t even sure that I was going to compete, but I made my decision after learning that Jim Walmsley would be there. I was sitting at Red Rock Cafè in Colorado Springs, USA, on a sunny afternoon just a few days after Pikes Peak Marathon, sipping a smoothie with the elite American runner Joe Gray, and my girlfriend Gloria. Joe mentioned Jim’s name, confirming his intention of competing in Patagonia. And that’s when the light turned on.
Photo credit: WMRA and Marco Gulberti
Sharing the race with Jim was one of my greatest ever rewards. We raced intensely for 40km, climbed over 2100m and pushed each other to the absolute edge of our limits. And despite losing by a handful of seconds, I couldn’t walk away any more impressed by both his heart and his courage. I felt at peace and I felt complete, after that special day when I won the silver medal at the World Mountain Running Championships in 2019.
It was a race between me and Jim, in which the context we ran through played a crucial role from an emotional and a technical point of view. Patagonia’s landscapes are unlike any other, its remote peaks and the vastness of its open spaces are truly breathtaking. The air fills your lungs as if you’ve never been able to breathe as deeply before.
I travelled to Argentina with the Italian team about 10 days before the event, allowing myself plenty of time to check out the course and recover all of my mental and physical strength. It was fundamental to rest properly, putting into this activity at least as much effort as I had in training. With one last good workout, I was ready to go: I had all the answers I needed and the solidity of my preparation was enough for all the self-confidence I required.
I knew it would be a thing between me and Jim. And that’s exactly how it went.
Before the start, I prepared myself for the most extreme effort. Knowing that Jim would set off quite fast, I didn’t have much time to think. As his stride passed Route 40 across Villa La Angostura, I was right next to him. On that very first climb, it was just me and him.
Photo credit: WMRA and Marco Gulberti
After running most of the race with only a handful of seconds to separate us, I was determined to catch him on the final climb to Cerro Bayo, a brutal 3.7km ascent, with 700m of elevation. Second by second I patiently consumed the gap between us and I overtook him just before the snow line, only 1km from the summit. After two hours of the most intense racing that I had ever experienced, we were once again together. I’d had my brief moment of glory, passing him to reach first place on the highest summit, my breath cut short by the icy wind, my arms agitating convulsively.
Maybe I don’t have enough talent to win a race. You need that merciless determination to end your opponent’s chances and cross that damn finish line in first place. I thought about it for a moment; I didn’t feel accomplished for coming that far, I hadn’t done enough.
I lost a few, precious seconds in the very first 500m of downhill. I was in evident difficulty, but after regaining some good running form I knew I could keep going at least until the finish, so I threw myself in Jim’s chase.
Reaching the very last section of the race, stepping from the trails to the road, I was determined to suffer. I knew that this moment would come: when the pain becomes almost unbearable and you must give it a dimension, a shape.
As I crossed the streets of Villa La Angostura, I finally fell victim to my effort and I collapsed to the same ground from which I had started just three hours before.
Hey Jim, you’re good. You won.
This post originally appeared on the SportsShoes.com Strava Run Club: Inspirational Trails Part 4: Patagonia.