“The greatest pleasure in life isn’t doing what people say you cannot do, it’s achieving what you thought you couldn't!” – Author unknown
Six months ago I was proudly awarded the 1st Australian to complete the grueling Amalfi Crossing Lost World 17km race in gorgeous Italy. Climbing over 1,200 metres above sea level, with ridiculously difficult and steep terrain and 80%+ humidity and mid-30s temperatures, on 21st September 2014 I truly tested my limits and mental strength like I have never, ever done before.
Here's my reflection on this achievement in the days following the event...
If you've visited the Amalfi Coast then you'll understand what I mean when I say the mountains are majestic. With the gorgeous coloured buildings nestled amongst the beautiful cliffs, no photo can ever do this place justice, in both its beauty and enormity. When I first mentioned that my husband and I were entering this race, an old colleague shared his experience of the region, saying how the nonas and nonos lugged their shopping bags up the steep stairs at the speed of knots, yet he and his wife struggled to walk as they were so steep.
Despite many other stories like these and the race being truly scary on paper my husband and I still decided to register and plan our holiday around this race.
We arrived in Rome five days prior, in time for lots of sightseeing including an early morning run around exquisite Ancient Rome. On our third day, Dan unfortunately tore his calf muscle which put him out of action for three weeks and not able to enter the race.
Despite feeling Dan's pain of not being able to compete, me being me, I didn't think too much more of the race until the day before when we sailed into Amalfi from Capri.
Looking up at the landscape Dan could read my face like a book, I was truly petrified. At the time I thought it was a bit of sea sickness, however I've sailed a lot and never been sick before, and on reflection it was definitely the emotion of thinking through what lay before me. Dan and I had always said we'd run it together, however now the reality had set in that I was going at it alone.
The scariest race briefing on earth
We checked in to the quaint Amalfi Hotel right off the square and headed down to the race briefing. What an incredible experience that was - and when I say incredible I don't mean amazing, I mean truly petrifying.
There were racers from America, Sweden, England and last but not least Australia (me!). My favourite part was when one of the officials spoke in Italian for two minutes, followed by the English interpreter saying a few words followed by "don't worry about the other stuff he said".
We had no idea what he said, so how can we be worried….
The amazing race
The beginning of the race was incredibly tough, with people dropping out before they reached 2km. To give you an idea, at the 1.22km mark it took me 20 minutes to "hun" (hike-run) 400 metres up some of the steepest stairs I've ever seen.
It was around this point I passed a local Italian racer sitting on the step having a rest. I slowed down to check if he was ok and if he needed aqua (water) and then continued on my merry way up, up, up. It must've been around the 2km mark where he caught up with me and from there Santo and I ran together to the top. I must confess my Italian is not the best (a language I'm determined to learn however) and Santo's English wasn't much better. However I can count to cinque (five) which was useful to share him how far we'd travelled up to the 5km mark.
On the way up we briefly ran into the Palazzo Avino hotel to have a quick look (rated as one of the world’s finest hotels and boasts two-star Michelin dining!), stopped to admire mushrooms a local man had picked (they were as big as a child's head) and spoke to a man hiking with his dog, Celia.
We celebrated small achievements (every 500 metres) whilst also counting down until the half way mark. I knew if I could make it to 8.5.km, then I'd finish this horrendously challenging race within the cut off timeframes.
And of course, Santo & I finally made it to the top of the “Path of the Gods” – phew!
After a quick photo shoot we were off. Locals flew past me down the mountain, dropping of the side of the cliff like flies. The super steep skinny ‘double black’ mud trails finally gave the rudder on my trail shoes a good run for my money.
The terrain, similar to on the way up, kept changing - from bush to vineyards to villages to rainforest type conditions.
I must admit, the run down was heaps of fun despite briefly getting lost and having to back track in the middle of nowhere with no one around. My confidence was beaming as I knew I was certainly was going to finish and in good shape and time. That was until the 12km mark.
That saying "what goes up, must come down" had given me such a boost that I'd expected it was all downhill from top. I couldn't have been more wrong in my life. Just when I was thinking “5km to go, I'm killing it”, I quickly learned it was about to get much, much worse before I was done and run.
The last 5kms were hundreds of steep stair climbs up and down, up and down, up and down. It was boiling hot, my fair skin was burning and my 3 litres of water supply was long gone. I remember looking at my watch at the 16.5km mark thinking I'd taken a wrong turn and would never make it in time. "I shouldn't have been such a tourist and taken so many photos" I remember thinking, followed closely by "oh well, you only live once, I’m glad that I've captured this amazing experience".
Before long I saw a little red and white flags signalling I was on the right track and within 1km I was home and hosed.
No one could've prepared me for the overwhelming emotion crossing that finishing line. My husband, Santo, the nono I'd met earlier were all there and very excited that I'd finally made it.
What did I learn?
It's my strong belief that with every experience in life we learn more about ourselves. Having time to reflect my takeaways from this amazing adventure are as follows:
1. Embrace the world of chaos in which we live – Things often don’t go to plan, however it’s how we embrace this chaos which is important. Dan was unable to race however put his translation skills to good use helping the race officials. The run was absolutely horrific due to the steep rugged and ever changing difficult terrain - nothing like I’d expected - however it is now top of my list as a major achievement. How well do you embrace chaos in your career and life? Is this something that comes naturally to you or do you need to improve this skill?
2. Courage, dear heart – “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear” – Mark Twain. Courage is being scared to death yet pushing past those feelings of fear and being brave for the unknown – risking the pain of failure to achieve success. Entering the race took a lot of courage, starting the race after the scary briefing took more courage than you’d think and speaking in very limited Italian with Santo took courage (and I must admit that I failed most of the time as he had no idea what I was saying – yet surprisingly we could still communicate). How courageous are you in pushing past fear? Do you have a mastery of fear in your career and life?
3. Liberate your inner awesome – Testing and defying your limits is one thing, but applying a level of self-awareness is essential. I knew my level of fitness and what I was up for, hence why I entered the 17km race not the 70km race. Yes, I could’ve truly “defied” my limits by running an extra 43km and I may have even made it, but I was practical about my strengths and limits. How do you liberate your inner awesome in your career and life? Do you have the ambition, persistence and resilience?
4. She believed she could, so she did - Believing in yourself, setting small goals, and digging deep when the going gets tough is easy to say but often much harder to do. You’re only competition is your potential. Be honest with yourself, what would you like to accomplish in your career and life, and do you believe that you can do it? Do you have self-belief and confidence that you can achieve your dreams?
As I sit here on Furillo beach, in gorgeous Positano, writing this blog and reflecting on my amazing achievement, I am absolutely delighted to have finished 11th place and be granted a podium finish honour.
To Dan, the best ‘sport’ in the world – providing me with unconditional support and positive regard for my achievement, yet no doubt being utterly disappointed that you couldn’t compete in the race. You’re an amazing person honey!
Grazie Mille Italy - you've been very kind to me! Until next time, araviderci.
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