The Erbaluce Night Trail is an up-and-down race between woods and vineyards, that skirts around the outer edges of Candia Canavese lake in Turin.
The 30km course features moderate climbs (less than 700m in total), that are well distributed, with entrants participating in a medley relay:
The first athlete runs for 11 km, the second runs for 19 km.
Italian triathlete and photographer Martina Folco Zambelli, who took part in the race, trialling the Garmont 9.81 trail running shoes, gives Sole Power her full-throttle account of Erbaluce below…
We start at 7pm. At 9pm we check in at a gate and hand off the baton. We should reach the finish line before midnight.
Luckily, my racing partner Stefano, and I, are able to cover the 30km together, side by side. One running and the other cycling (or vice versa).
The baton, unfortunately, is not just a symbol or a hollow aluminium tube: it’s our dozen-kilo backpack with the cameras.
We’re carrying all kinds of equipment, torches, flashes and tripods. Why you ask? Because if we’re going on an adventure I want to capture it!
In the days before the relay, the bad weather forecast is a concern. We’re desperate for the race not to be called off. The sky may be dull grey now, but it’s held its end of the bargain and the medley relay is going to happen.
We are on the start line, perfectly equipped. Twins, with our brand-new Garmont 9.81 running shoes—the Michelin soles catch the eye (they will be our best friend in tougher times to come).
We also made sure to bring a light-survival kit worthy of a Marine.
At 7 o’clock a tiny ray of sunshine appears on the startline. Stefano is nervous—his head and rangy legs are in the game. He looks like a racing horse biting the rope, just about to start.
I set aside my bike to take a picture of this special moment.
The starting gun goes off.
Stefano sets off at pace. My plan is to catch up with him on the bike as soon as the runners pass by. There’s athletes are everywhere. It’s a long wait.
Now’s my turn. I take my backpack and hop on the 20kg bike, which has pedal assistance (and the fresh platform pedals we had fitted to save time on the handover).
The beginning of the route is uphill. From the sidelines I can see the row of athletes twisting and turning on the first switchbacks. I push lightly on the pedals and the Spectral reacts well, halving my effort and doubling my speed. I need to get to my teammate as quickly as possible. I can’t see him—is he in the leading group?
THE SOUL OF ERBALUCE
We are getting to the heart of the race, and the trail is showing its real soul.
We left the tarmac in favour of thick woods. The electric mountain bike is climbing and racking up the miles. It all seems so easy as I begin to see the runners beginning tire, both in their calves and in their breath.
The road has now become a threadlike path, and it’s getting increasingly narrower and steeper. I can’t overtake, so I try to push my way through the brushwood, but the lashes of branches and brambles force me to get back to the path. Sharp pointed stones underneath the leaves get me stuck and I almost hit the dirt. Thankfully, my Garmont’s hold on to the pedals and I am able to push on.
I have a go at the off-piste again. I get past the vineyards and about fifty runners, but when I get back into the woods, a wall of athletes in the muds stops me on my feet.
I have only one drastic option:
Get off the saddle and go ahead on foot.
Now I become fully aware of my equipment: a 20-kg electric mountain bike to push uphill, and a 12kg backpack on my shoulders. In less than five minutes I am soaking wet with sweat (more sweat than rain and the heavens have really opened!).
I don’t know how, but I need to get to the relay exchange zone.
Going back is impossible now, so I cover the backpack in order to protect the Nikons from the storms, gather all my inner strength and start to run.
I lift the bike on my left shoulder and my backpack in front of me, but it’s not an ideal solution. The frame gets caught in the branches and falling face first on the Nikons is a photographer’s worst misfortune.
Ok, let me think. I need to focus on balance and distribution, not on strength: I put the bike back on the ground and the backpack behind me. It’s a matter of stability.
I alternate between pushing the bike uphill with one arm, and then with two. I trust the calculated work of my ankles. I trust even more my shoes.
Step by step, I fall into a rhythm and regain confidence. My Garmonts get the lion’s share of the credit. They match my foot roll effortlessly, and support and push my natural movement. Well, since I lost my teammate, I need a friend like that tonight.
CAN’T STOP ME NOW
As the terrain becomes tamer, I run faster. Even though my socks are wet with water and mud, my feet are light. Other torchlights are swinging behind me, I am not the last one. It’s a small solace, as I am getting more tired.
Then I smell a weird scent, a bitterness. It’s rows of candles lighting a tunnel under the railway track. Underneath the flickering light, a sign reads: “LAST KILOMETER”.
A steep and muddy toboggan in the woods and a fast descent in a lawn lead me straight to the relay exchange zone. I see my relay runner and my fatigue wears off, I am suddenly full of energy to hand off the baton and the bundles.
I give him the bike, take off the backpack…
But I’m too late: “Marti, the gate for the second leg of the run has already closed!”
I’ve never been so gutted, I can’t accept it, I am full of adrenaline now. We decide not to give up entirely. We trade places and get back on the trail, backwards.
Here our frontal lights cross those of the late-comers. In order not to blind them, I turn off mine and let the light on Stefano’s bike illuminate my path. Without the backpack to carry and the bike to push, I can finally enjoy the run.
I am free, my pace is smooth.
In the steepest parts of the path, I notice that Stefano, walking next to me, pushes the bike as if it was lightweight. “Marti”—he says innocently—“I’m so lucky there is the walk-assist mode, otherwise I would be sweating blood.”
Luckily, our friendship is longstanding—so, I don’t kill him on the spot. But for the next few kilometers I will be talking with my 9.81’s only.
I sprint on and hop into the woods.