RUN UNTIL YOU CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE. THEN RUN EVEN FASTER

RUN UNTIL YOU CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE. THEN RUN EVEN FASTER

You wouldn’t expect Roberto Mastrotto, engineer and ultra runner, to live in the plain, in the Chiampo Valley in the province of Vicenza, to be more precise. He started racing at the age of 27, almost as a joke: at the time he never thought he would be running for hours and hours in the mountains. Over the course of a few months he lost about twenty kg, and learned to reconcile work as a Project Manager in the company with training: it is not easy, you have to fit everything, carve out the time before or after work and dedicate the weekends to long outings and double training sessions. You need to be committed and ready to make sacrifices, but it all pays off. In 2016 Mastrotto won the 60km Durona Trail for the first time (he then went on to win again in 2018 and 2019 in relay). From then on, the athlete from the La Sportiva team was on a roll, and went on to win several Ultra Trail races nationwide and also obtained important placements in the Ultra Trail World Tour races. In 2018 he ran his first 100 miles, ending the UTMB race in nineteenth place. The 2019 season was unfortunately abruptly interrupted by a bacterial infection in the legs that forced him to stay at the hospital for almost two months, unable to walk, and which required many months of convalescence. But despite some relapses, Mastrotto worked hard, recovered and went back to fly on the trails. And he closed this season on 25 September 2021, winning the Adamello Ultratrail, a race along the routes between the Alta Val Camonica and the Alta Val di Sole, that follows the trails of the Great War walkways in the Pontedilegno-Tonale area, finishing the race in 27 hours 13 minutes and 27 seconds.

 

 

 

 

How did you know you had fully recovered after the UTMB race and that you were fit for the Adamello Ultratrail?

I left Chamonix with a great desire to turn the tables. I felt physically fine and fit, apart from the intestinal blockage that had forced me to retreat at La Fouly. For about ten days after UTMB I was quite irascible, I felt really disheartened because I had prepared well for that race. I had been thinking about Adamello for a while, though, and since I had trained well for UTMB I decided to 'take advantage' of the good condition to try the race. I can’t say I wasn't afraid to face the same stomach problems I had suffered during UTMB, but then I decided that I preferred to face them once and for all to figure out how to handle them in view of the next 100-mile race. In the end, UTMB served me as the last, excellent long training for Adamello.

 

How many kilometres did you run in the weeks prior to the event? I know that you have no problems with doing demanding training sessions and spending many hours on the trails. How do you understand that you have reached your limit and that you should stop?

I had done most of the work for UTMB, with a last significant training session at the beginning of August along the Alta Via n.1 in the Aosta Valley, which also gave me the opportunity to spend many hours on the TOR trails, which were completely new to me, and were a great discovery! After UTMB the priority was to recover, with some quality sessions near Adamello. I have come to understand my limits over time. I had to rub my nose in it, understanding the importance of taking a few days off to recover and to making the workload cyclic. 

 

What are you taking home from the Adamello Ultratrail? Is there an anecdote of the race you'll always remember?

During the day I really enjoyed the incredible views offered by a truly breathtaking landscape of mountains that were unknown to me: the Adamello Ultra Trail was a surprise from start to finish. I had never been to those places and I discovered some fantastic trails to run. At night, however, I was struck by the passion of the volunteers: they played a crucial role in making this race exciting; it was obvious that they had really taken it to heart and they pampered us a lot. My wife Elisa surprised me in a very nice way too: she was not supposed to be at the race, and instead I found her at the 100th kilometre, at the refreshment point in Pontagnana. I was amazed as well as ecstatic and she gave me a great boost. Then I remember when I entered the Pornina Barracks – after endless hours of solitude chasing after nothing – I saw the first two athletes – Jimmy Pellegrini and Andrea Macchi – sitting together at a table. It was an almost surreal scene, the two of them sitting at this table, with the wood crackling on the fire in the background. I took a chair and joined them: their faces were tired but also amazed to see me appear in that small lodge. The picture must have been a bit strange seen from the outside: we almost looked like three friends chatting during a dinner. Then I grabbed something to eat, some grapes, and ran away. In my heart I was hoping not to see them again along the track, and in fact I didn’t. In general I was very at peace with myself during the race, and I tried not to force the pace too much. I approached it in a super-zen way.

 

 

Did your friends and training companions Alessio Zambon and above all Francesco Rigodanza help you make sure you were ready for this event?

Both of them are fundamental, especially when it comes to organizing long and seemingly meaningless activities. We do not always train together, on the contrary, but the outings that we organize together always have an epic aspect. We find ourselves at the end of the day dead tired but always with a smile on our faces, and an even stronger desire to run. For Adamello they wished me good luck in a different way, reminding me to sprain my ankle and break the poles during the first km...

 

What was the toughest moment of the race?

I have to say that from Ponte di Legno to Edolo there was a 50 km stretch that was really rough, with steep ramps and some bumpy stretches. In particular I remember the first part of the slope that leads from Passo Gallinera (2,320 m) down to Edolo, where an endless expanse of boulders that were not that stable really put me to the test: you just couldn’t be distracted, not even for a moment. On top of that, a few kilometres before, my main front torch switched off, so I had to resort to the faint light of the spare one.

 

When did you realize you were going to win the race? Did you know it from the beginning?

I began to realize that there was a chance just when I reached Jimmy and Andrea at the table. From then on, I started running in the hope of not being caught up, I was fine and I kept my pace. Although from Edolo onwards they kept me updated on the margin that was gradually increasing on the runner-up, up to Vezza d 'Oglio, I often turned to make sure that Jimmy's shadow did not appear from behind. In the last descent I let go of just about everything.

 

How do you manage to prepare a race like the Adamello Ultratrail living in the plain in Vicenza?

Fortunately, I live a little outside the centre, and I am comfortable enough to run on the Small Dolomites that lend themselves well for this purpose on a technical level and as a type of terrain. During the week, as it’s not always possible for me to go there, I train on flatland and on the hills of Monte Calvarina that are near where I live. It’s area that I have covered countless times and know inside-out. There is a slope with a drop of 200m over a stretch of 1 km that I often repeat until I fill my quads properly. 

 

In 2019 you had to deal with a bacterial infection in your legs. What happened and how did you get over it?

In February 2019, I woke up with a pain in my leg, after having trained the night before as usual. At first, I thought about a contracture, so I called my physiotherapist straight away and told him about the emergency. No sooner had I left the office to go to him that I was already limping conspicuously. A few hours later, my temperature got to 40 °C and I couldn't walk. I went to two emergency rooms where they didn't understand what was wrong with me, and I spent a week at home trying to deal with the pain by taking anti-inflammatory medication every three hours, and then I was rushed to hospital and was admitted to the infectious disease ward, where I stayed for about two months. I was stuck in bed, I couldn't even turn to my side or get out of it, and I saw all the races I had planned fade away. On the other hand, I had time to read a lot. In the end, the diagnosis was a sepsis in the pubic symphysis caused by Staphylococcus aureus. This cursed bacterium had affected the entire adductor area, starting to "gnaw" at even the tendons and pubic bone. The doctors told me I wouldn't be able to run any more, and certainly I wouldn't be able to race again. But you know us ultra-runners, we are stubborn. So, on the day of my discharge (I had just tried to use the crutches and was still on medication), as soon as I got home I immediately got on the rolls, but after five minutes I was already dead tired and drenched in sweat. That's where my tortuous path began: it lasted many months, during which I tried to move, walk and then run, and I took countless tumbles trying to do that. Obviously I tried to get there fast, and I often failed. My head couldn't wait to run again, I wanted to feel free, while the body worked against me, heavy as a boulder. I still remember the umpteenth visit to Mantua, when I left the clinic with yet another medical opinion where the issue was resolved with ‘stop running and enjoy your life on the sofa’: before getting back in the car I put on my shoes and went to let off steam for an hour around the city. At the same time, however, I want to remember all the people who were close to me and supported me during my “journey”: my family, two doctors from Treviso and Negrar who understood and followed me, my brother who is an osteopath, my physiotherapist, my friends, especially Alessio and Rigo, who forced me to pick up the racing bike, dragging me to face Gavia and Mortirolo with an old bike too heavy for any sane person, at a time when attempting to run a few steps turned into raw pain and everything looked bleak. I also thank Dario Meneghini who pushed me to start getting into racing mode again, starting from distances unknown to me and, as absurd as this may sound, running little but very fast hurt less than going for a relaxed run in my beloved trails. I ran a lot feeling a lot of pain, wondering if I would ever enjoy running again, smiling from the first step to the last. I read about and tried to do any exercise under the sun that could strengthen me, improve my mobility, and help me stretch. I also trained mentally. Before, after and during work. I went on diets and took supplements of all kinds, and I gained a few pounds. At the end of the year - and I still wonder how, given that until a few weeks before I could not run more than 10 km - I set my personal best in a marathon and won the Ultrabericus Winter race: if I think about it again, my eyes still swell up with joy. If you care about one thing, do everything to make it happen: it might not be easy, but sooner or later it will happen. I had another relapse in 2020, but finally this year I felt free to run for miles and miles again, as long as I have the stamina to do it. I wanted to tell my story because I hope that what happened to me can be a stimulus for all the people who are facing problems, whether small or big: never give up, we get to decide our destiny, dream big!

 

Do you think you're better suited for trail or mountain races?

I think I am quite versatile from this point of view, clearly you need ad hoc training for both races. Last summer, I focused on including remarkable drops in altitude in view of UTMB, also and above all to have the necessary stamina to tolerate all that downhill slope, as I am always comfortable when running uphill.

 

In the past, you've managed to win some very fast races such as the “100 e lode” trail run. What's the difference between training for a race like that and training for the Adamello Ultratrail?

When you train for a race like Adamello, several long runs in the mountains must be included to work on altitude drops, but also to adapt to the terrain, which is uneven in many places. It also entails training for long hours, which means managing nutrition much more carefully. For races like the “100 e lode” trail run, I've only ever eaten gels. While for a race like the Adamello one, solid foods must also be introduced, always trying to keep your belly warm: if it abandons you... it’s game over.

 

What shoes did you run the Adamello Ultratrail in? Were you undecided between any models?

I ran the whole race with a pair of La Sportiva Mutant, they're one of my favourite shoes. Although they are not really designed for long distances, I feel very good in them and they provide me with all the cushioning I need. They are accurate and sensitive on the forefoot and they have a crazy grip. At Ponte di Legno I just took a short break to empty them of the stones and to tighten them, I didn't even change my socks. Just to be sure, I had put a pair of Akasha 2 in my bag, which I had tested all summer, in case at some point I felt like alternating the Mutants.

 

How do you feel about La Sportiva trail running clothing?

I really like them a lot. I have garments that I always use, both during competitions and training, such as the Tempo Shorts or the Complex T-shirt, perfect for all autumn training or for mountain races where I have to face stretches at night.

 

Have you ever run a marathon on the road? What do you think of road races?

Yes, at the end of the year, between November and December, I always try to put in a marathon on the road. I cannot say that I have ever prepared it as it deserves, but every time I have shaved off a few minutes: I use it as an assessment parameter to measure the improvements achieved at the end of the season... the road never lies. Until now, my time to beat is 2h:34': we will see if this year I feel the desire to get back in the game on the road and abandon my beloved trails for a month. 

  

What role does your Uncle Lorenzino play? Is it true he's the best videomaker around?

My uncle has always been a great mountain enthusiast; ever since he had to stop climbing the ferrata routes years ago, he has begun to get closer to this world following me during some races. Now we basically travel to get to the long races together. He is my reference at refreshment points, where he’s always waiting for me, always on time. He also captures the important highlights of each race with the camera, and then edits the videos really quickly.

 

How do you manage the end-of-season months?

In October I take a few weeks without specific commitments, running at the pace and distances that the body and mind suggest, without forcing or putting myself under pressure. Between November and December I don't mind stepping up my game on a terrain that is unusual for me, such as the road marathon, which I use both as an opportunity for growth and as a year-end test. I also take this opportunity to vary my training and introduce ski mountaineering trips: I hope next winter will bring heavy snowfalls like last year! 

 

What are your plans for next year?

I haven't really organized anything yet, I have only one certainty after this season: I want to go back to UTMB and finish the race how I deserve . I’m hard-headed, and I know the time will come.

 

Who will you be in your next life be and what will you do?

I don't mind being Roby Mastrotto, although it wouldn't hurt to have more time to spend in the mountains: a little less time on the computer and many more hours on ridges and trails!

 

Author: Marta Manzoni

Photos: Mauro Mariotti & Klaus Dell'Orto

 

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