ITALY Dolomites – a life I used to have

My love affair with the Dolomites dates back several decades – to the late 1970s. BC (Before Children). We drove through – just for a day – but that was enough to baptise my imagination for ever. How could anyone forget those towering hulks of rocks once they’ve been experienced up close? There was something special about them – a quality that would never let me go.

My next interaction with them was in 1997. I had just come 5th in a World Cup race in Austria and was invited by a headhunter to participate at Sexton (ITA). Could my manager (daughter) come too, I asked? Yes. Could she be given an elite start and race juniors? Yes. This meant that all our transport, accommodation and food costs were covered, plus an appearance fee. We were on.

Not exactly resting before the race

Our accommodation, Kreuzbergpass Hotel, was absolutely brilliant, situated with shapely mountains all around, walking and running right from the door, and, almost as exciting, it boasted a famous chef whose meals were utterly memorable. By the time we’d arrived, we’d both just raced the IAAF World Championships, and this Sexton event was in my two-week “let my hair down” period after the Worlds. If you’re going to be a glutton, THIS is the place to do it.

So, here we were in the Dolomites; the pressure races for the year were behind us. Were we going to rest and save our energy at this time of the racing year? No. Every day we went out into the mountains as soon as we could after our sumptuous breakfast, and didn’t reappear until the last setting for dinner. The Italians became worried. They were paying good money to get a performance out of us, and we appeared to have a cavalier attitude to their race. Their concern was not unjustified.
“Australia. You-a no-a rest-a.”

“No worries. Australia very fit-a,” I rather cheekily replied, with a nonchalance that I didn’t quite feel, but it was simply too beautiful to do the right thing and laze by the pool, reclining supinely.

We were expected to rest instead of exploring THIS??
On race day, the foolhardiness of my attitudes sank in as SKY-TV approached me for an interview, and as I watched the normal set of fit mountain runners warming up, and, in this case worse – as they hadn’t just killed themselves racing the Worlds like we had – the Italian XC Ski team had also turned up, and if you know anything about sports’ science, you’ll know that XC skiers are amongst the fittest individuals on earth. Mountain running, more than anything else, is a test of fitness and determination. XC skiers medal in both categories. Help.

Happily, the story ends well. Australia produced what they wanted. Kirsten finished first junior, and in the overall money as well. I won the seniors. Italians love winners.

Tired, but very happy.

Winners are grinners.

We were given amazing treatment post race, including more free food and accommodation, this time up high in the Zsigmondyhuette (above).

Bruce enjoying running in the snow.

Sexton thus has a very special place in my heart, and in 2000, when I was at Klagenfurt University (AUT) for a semester, we returned there as a family to go running in the snow along the lower paths.

AV1 Day 2. 2013
And somewhere in all that, I heard of the Alta Via 1 and 2: walking trails going N to S through the Dolomites. I did some research, looked at David Noble’s superb pictures of AV2 for inspiration, ordered a book on the trail, and made my plans. This one would be solo. I’d test out how “Bruceable” the paths were (with his Parkinson’s, he can no longer do the kind of routes Kirsten and I had done), and design a route that would suit him for some time later. Dolomites, here I come.

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