Ben Brockman Playing Wilder in Italy
Find Your Feet Running Tour
I wake up gently in our Swiss-Italian hotel to the sounds of the mountains, a cuckoo bird outside the window, cowbells in the valley below. It's day 2 of the Find Your Feet Wild Italy running tour, 5 days since I left Australia and the first time I really felt on holiday. So far removed from day to day life and time to relax and enjoy the mountains. Over the 8 days of the tour, our guides Hanny and Graham will take us through some amazing locations from the beautiful Riva Del Garda and into the dramatic, rocky mountains of the Dolomites. For me, Day 2 was a highlight and encapsulates all that is great about a Find Your Feet Tour.
We’re staying in the small town of Mugena, roughly 600m above sea level, in the hills above the busy city of Lugano. When I say this is a small town, I mean tiny. We are staying at the only hotel, there are only a small number of other businesses in the area and a handful of houses. We had a big day of running planned today and fuelled accordingly at the hotel the night before. Quattro Fromaggi pizza, oozing with local cheese, Affogato for dessert, all chased with complimentary Lemonchello from our eccentric host.
A couple of us woke early and headed out for a walk around the town, espresso in hand of course. As we headed down into the town and into the sleepy streets, the view of the mountains we were to run that day opened up in front of us. “Pfft, there is no way we can run up that” we said.
We only half-listened to Hanny and Graham’s description of the days running plans, too distracted by the Italian buffet breakfast spread. Cheese, bread, croissants, cheese, cold meats, espresso, cake and cheese, this is how to prep for a big day in the mountains! Once brekkie settled, we excitedly met outside the hotel, pulled on our trail running vest packs and hit the trail.
We started with a hike along the steep roads out of town. Here we got out first look down to Lugano in the valley well below, only a taster of the views to come. After about a kilometre, we made it into the forest and felt the softer ground under our feet. We ran from here through stunning chestnut trees, occasionally catching a glimpse of the view. We climbed for about 5km to our first peak of the day, Monte Ferraro. Out of the trees for the last few hundred meters, we were greeted by amazing 360-degree views from the top. Graham excitedly pointed out the ridgeline to the north of us, tracing with his finger the outline of our next mountain. We thought the first climb of the day was big but it had nothing on what was to come. “Pfft, there is no way we can run up that” we said again.
Before we went up again, we had to go down. Initially running down grassy hills, then we hit some amazing forest trails. Covered with deep leaf litter from the forest trees, the trail was soft, bouncy and crazy fun! I felt like I was flying down, until Graham, the biggest kid in the group came cartwheeling past, absolutely in his element. After some flat running, we regrouped at a trail junction with two options, down to the hotel or up to the summit. Hanny pointed upward, and took off up the track. “Surely she’s joking, we can’t run that”.
The climb was mostly single track, initially through the forest before heading out onto the exposed grassy hills. We felt like we were a lifetime away from civilisation but electric fences were a reminder of the tough farmers and their cattle that live off the challenging landscape. Up we climbed, the wide slope gradually narrowing to the ridgeline. The trail flattened here for a while and we paused to soak in the views from either side, the ground, falling away to the valleys below. Looking up at the narrow, steep climb up to the summit, it was about here that my “discomfort’ with heights kicked in. I genuinely thought that I couldn’t get up and was ready to turn back. “You’ll be fine, it’s not that bad” Graham laughed.
Chatting all the way and distracting us from the drop to either side, we made it to the top. The hard effort of 9km climbing and the stress of managing fears was instantly rewarded. Words and pictures can hardly do justice to this place. Views into the valley below, Lugano and Mugena, the surrounding hills and across to the epic mountains of Switzerland, The Matterhorn poking up in the middle. “I can’t believe we made it!”
After a really challenging climb, this was one of the most enjoyable descents I’ve ever run. Rocky at the top, the trail gradually flattened out to be fast and fun. We visit an incredibly well-stocked refugio, ran through a herd of goats, chatted, laughed and soaked-in the moment. Some of the group took an accidental “detour” on the descent, heading to the Swiss-Italian border, while my accidental off-course exploration took with through the smelliest goat farm imaginable, the track thick with nettles. Eventually, we all made it back to the track and safely on our journey again. At the bottom of the descent and about a kilometre from our hotel, we finished at a small swimming hole. The icy water the perfect place to ease our tired legs after a long, hot day in the mountains.
This was one of my favourite runs ever. Fun, beautiful, fantastic company and some major fears and challenges overcome. And after over 4 hours of running, my legs felt as good as they have ever felt. A sign of improving fitness, but also a sign of the amazing power of removing yourself from the stress of everyday life, surrounding yourself with inspiring and encouraging people and allowing yourself the freedom to be wilder and play wilder.
The perfect post-run re-fuel? A platter of local cheese and espresso, of course.
I could write for days about how fantastic this tour was. The beauty and challenges of Riva de Garda, the stunning mountains in the Dolomites and the adorable Marmots of Passo Pardoi. The best way to experience it all? Get yourself on a Find Your Feet Running Tour.