June 23 – 2907/02/2014
Mon – Rifugio Ra Vales – Cortina, IT (2:31, 5400′)
On the west side of Cortina there is an imposing cluster of craggy summits, the three Tofana’s: Tofana di Rozes (I), Tofana di Mezzo (II), and Tofana di Dentro (III), from south to north. They are all over 3200m in elevation (di Mezzo being the tallest at 3244m), putting their summits a full 2000m above town. Improbably, they are also host to a lift-serviced ski resort, and di Mezzo’s summit is—true to European style—accessible via a gondola from town. On an intermediate ridge between town and the summit, however, the gondola passes through a rifugio at just over 2400m, Ra Vales. This seems like a natural destination. To get there, I first run ~30min of steep, paved road that leads to a restaurant in the ski resort. From here, a rapidly-climbing trail continues through the forest before steeply switchbacking up a massive scree slope to a snow-capped saddle in the rocky ridge at 2300m (Forc Ra Vales). At this vantage, the full splendor of Tofanas di Mezzo and di Dentro are laid out in front of me, separated from the ridge I’m on by the swooping head of the snow-filled Ra Vales (a valley, duh).
Across the vast snowfield I can see bits and pieces of trail poking out of the snow on the massive face of the Tofanas, but restraint and reason leave me content with the 2400m elevation of the Rifugio. I’m here early enough in the morning that the snow is still frozen, meaning I’d want crampons and/or an axe to feel comfortable, not to mention that I’m supposed to be racing at the end of the week, so 7000′ of vertical probably isn’t prudent. Part of me is bummed because the peak is so inspiring and because I’d like to experience some of the mandatory via ferrate to reach its summit, but a large part of me is simply grateful that I have the opportunity to be where I am, on this magnificent alpine ridge in this fairytale mountain range. Life is good. The snow has softened appreciably in the 20min I spent site-seeing at the hut, so the descent back to the forc is quick and from there I run the undulating ridge north on psuedo-trail 446 which eventually leaves the ridge via the flowy descent I enjoyed yesterday evening, making for a wonderful loop back into town. Ok, I had my bit of fun, time for some rest for the remainder of the week.
Tue – Lago Ghedina, etc – Cortina, IT (1:28, 2000′)
I sleep as late as possible this morning—which, despite jet lag, turns out to only be 8:30am or so—and then spend another couple of hours wandering around town trying to figure out the best coffee options.
I know that Italy is the birthplace of espresso, but I find I’m not especially a fan of drinking my coffee standing up, hurrying through a couple concentrated ounces as if it’s nothing more than a requisite injection of caffeine. Rather, in the past 18 months (I know, I got to coffee pretty late in life, especially considering that I spent two summers employed as a barista and somehow managed getting hooked on only the smell during that time), for me, drinking coffee has become at least as much about the sitting, the lingering, the book-reading at my window, the allowing for my body to wake up slow, the conversation and company if I’m so lucky, even the mug itself, as it has been about the caffeine. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize the positive benefits of this drug on my physiology. But the fact that I was disappointed a few days ago at a Boulder coffeeshop when my jav arrived in a takeaway cup instead of a ceramic mug not out of environmental/landfill-type concerns (though that registered, too, of course), but simply because I much prefer the way it feels to drink coffee out of a mug instead of a paper cup, signals to me that the habit has gone far beyond the clinical need for a certain chemical. I like my routine. And when I’m training hard, it seems my body and mind’s daily ability to meet the mountain’s demands becomes even more reliant on such routines.
So, against all logic (this is Italy, afterall!) coffee has been a bit tough here. At home, the Bialetti stovetop espresso-maker is my go-to. I brew a 6oz pot, and then drink two ~6oz servings—each consisting of 3oz of espresso stretched with another 3oz or so of boiling water. The addition of water is simply for sipping purposes, to extend the ritual, get in 20-30 pages of reading instead of only 10-15. Silly stuff, I know, but we get into these routines. These are probably considered “americanos”, which is what I typically order back home in American java huts. I’m sure the basis for this name is sound—a lot of weak, watery, “American” drip coffee deservedly has a reputation for being pretty bad—but I’ve fallen into this routine for the simple fact that I get to enjoy the coffee for longer, not because I necessarily enjoy the somewhat diluted flavor. I mean, come on, I have class. In fact, it’s a bit ironic, given that my first coffees ever—the one’s that won me over—were very much of the European style: a straight shot of espresso, imbibed quickly, while standing up, mid-morning, with Seb Montaz at an espresso bar on La Palma two years ago. Then we piled back into the car and ripped off to the next spot to catch the runners. In the moment, it seemed like the thing to do. And I enjoyed it. But it became something I would do only in Europe and it took me another year (and two more trips to Europe) before I brought the concept home and started looking for the best way to make it on my own.
Back to Cortina. Even a double-shot here is a frustratingly small amount of liquid. And it seems it’s always served pretty damn tepid (hot enough to scald has become my curious preference, a previously-confounding idiosyncrasy of my Dad’s that finally makes sense to me). And, despite Joe‘s often passionate arguments to the contrary, I still don’t understand the milky coffee thing (don’t get me wrong, Joe has good, pure taste when it comes to coffee, he just thinks it’s better served with milk in the afternoons, makes it easier on the stomach or some bullshit like that). Which is the most confounding thing about Italian cofffee to me. Italians are perfectly willing to whip up a cappuccino—i.e. dilute their wonderful espresso with milk foam—but performing the same dilution with hot water is apparently unthinkable. Out of frustration, I tried the whole cappuccino thing yesterday. It sucked. I don’t want a lukewarm cup of milk for breakfast. I have found one place here in town with a lovely woman who seems perfectly happy to make me a “double espresso lungo”. Which I have found is a shot of espresso simply brewed with more water (i.e., not an americano which is a typically-brewed shot of espresso with hot water added post-brewing). Whatever it is, it’s great, and she seems to pull it sans any judgement of me as an uncultured American, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there’s an insecure part of me that definitely still feels that way. That is, uncultured and profoundly American for wanting my coffee stretched out a little bit.
[EDIT: By the end the of trip, I found that, of course, plenty of places are willing to make Americanos, with the endearing and lovely twist of providing a small, metal pitcher of hot water to add to the espresso at one's own taste. Much of the above rant may be completely off-base, in retrospect.]
Either way, the resulting run was fine. A jog up and down part of the first climb of the race course. There was a definite moment as I was coming back into town that I crested a small rise in a grassy meadow that seemed to be a full-stop carpet of wildflowers, not grass at all, and the sun was shining brilliantly between rain showers and the mountain walls were gleaming and I totally felt the need to pinch myself. I’m in Italy. In the Dolomites. Running through a field of wildflowers. How does this happen? I’m a lucky dude.
Wed – Bike Path, Cortina, IT (1:03, 600′)
There’s a bike path that runs right behind the Hotel Cristallino (my digs), so today I jumped on it for a leisurely cruise. When I first woke just after 5:00am this morning it was cloudy and raining; when I peeled an eye a couple hours later it was full-on pouring cats and dogs, like, I think the pounding drops is actually what re-woke me; when I rolled over again at 11am it was still drizzling but now I was just starting to feel slothly—time to get up. Over my lungos and Solzhenitsyn (Cancer Ward) at the pasticceria, however, the precip finally abated and I knew it was time to grab a run. Sure enough, within an hour of finishing up, the cloudy sky began darkening again and a steady drizzle was broken only by a handful of 10-15min sessions of drenching. It seems pretty likely at this point that we’ll be getting wet for at least some portion of the race Friday and Saturday.
Thu – Bike Path, Cortina, IT (0:41)
Just another pre-race jog; nothing much to report here. First sunny—well, non-raining—day of the week, though.
Fri/Sat – Lavaredo Ultra Trail 119K (12:42, 20,000′)
Overall, a good run. It wasn’t an A or A+ day for me performance-wise—probably more like B+—but it was enough and the landscape in the second half of the course was some of the more dramatic, stop-and-crane-your-neck stuff I’ve ever seen.
Sun – nothing.
Day off. The physical damage is actually pretty minimal. Other than the typical hip/quad/knee/achilles creakiness that comes after a long effort like that, the only reeaally sore thing is my right knee cap, the one carrying a bone bruise coming into the race. So, not surprising.