A note from Freetrail: When Liam stepped off the tarmac and onto the trail we at Freetrail got really excited. Over the next month, Liam puts his newfound trail love to the test as he travels solo across Italy, Slovenia and Gran Canaria in what he’s coined the “Rookie Szn – Euro tour”. Freetrail plans to get a month-long glimpse into European #TrailCulture through storytelling Liam’s highs, lows, and every meal in between while the Colorado grown and Portland, Oregon based athlete seeks podium spots along the way.
Primiero Dolomiti Trail WMRA World Cup Race // Fiera di Primiero, Italy
I arrived in Fiera di Primiero, Italy – the heart of the Dolomites with five joyous days to settle in before race morning. Google “Italian mountains” and you’ll see what the view looked like from my 3rd floor hotel room. It was the most peaceful week. My body was a tad fatigued from the travel and wedding I was in over the weekend, but my mind seemed so calm, cool and collected since I didn’t have any lingering errands to run or lengthy conversations to endure due to the language barrier. For almost five days my life revolved around these subjects: mountains, race course, track, spa, bikes, eating, sleeping. Nothing was stressful and I could access everything at my fingertips in the village. They really know how to set up some training hospitality over here. How many hotels in the states have a cold plunge!? It’s the cure. Or maybe the cure is the sauna or the breakfast selection. Honestly, I didn’t think that I’d be content with swapping scrambled eggs for a cold cut sandwich in the morning – but here we are.
With the ample amount of recovery and free-mind space, I was simply not tired enough to snooze at my typical bedtime. I even woke up in the middle of the night straining to fall back asleep and I’ve come to the conclusion that my brain simply wasn’t tired enough to need eight hours of shut eye. I know what you’re thinking, “The time difference is probably affecting you…” well maybe, but let me live in my self-orchestrated sleep study fantasy world for now.
Needless to say, an extremely rejuvenating and recharging first week of the Rookie Szn. This all lasted until Friday evening – race day eve – in the village square. During my double on Thursday evening, I saw the officials setting up a custom built wooden stage. For the first time, I got the chills of race day excitement. The whole dang city came out to watch… which is impressive because the whole dang city shuts down on October 1st for the off season, so this was truly the last hoorah. My entire (newfound) Italian friends & family came to watch me receive my bib and daily dose of extroversion on stage at the pre race celebration. It was the first time I was presented on stage before a race, which was cool and interesting… That’s what the Rookie Szn is all about!!
Now for the race! I finished in 8th place in a stacked field of European, Canadian and Kenyan studs. The result is one of those good ol’ classico happy but not satisfied type feelings. Which is fine because I’m gonna have a ton of those. The aggressiveness I felt during my first time racing in Europe at Worlds in June was not a fluke. Within a few minutes of the race, I felt the thunder of international athletes grunting in their native language, which is lowkey scary because your mind races to the darkest conclusions for translation. The race was three 3.4km loops encompassing the 10 kilometer+ course with a variety of terrain and jagged undulations. The uphills were super steep and a lot of the downhills were on loose cobblestone. We even weaved through tiny entryways and down stairs. Honestly, the course felt like doing 6 by mile repeats on zero rest with a surge any time someone yelled allez allez!
Here’s my key takeaway from the race – you can’t get into a comfort zone for more than just a couple minutes – especially on the uphills. It’s easy to lock in to someone in front of you, stare at their back and think you’re making progress but sometimes that person in front of you is holding you back a bit. This tried and true oval tactic doesn’t quite carry over to technical switchback turns… you really have to run your own race based on your own fitness. I learned that on the last lap and waited just a bit too long to be dangerous come the downhill.
The race was competitively concentrated in the top 10 – just 71 seconds separated 1st through 9th place. Safe to say that I know my strategic weakness points and hopefully how to shrink that time down just a bit at the next stop.
Despite not getting on the podium nor comprehending anything the emcee was shouting into the mic, the vibes of Primiero Dolomiti’s award ceremony were electric. There was just enough time scheduled between the last race finishing and the awards beginning to get in a cool down and some bolognese pasta. Sheesh, I’ve had a ton of bolognese at this point (and I’m not upset about it). Everyone came to celebrate everyone in the village. There was a mutual respect amongst athletes, race officials, volunteers and fans that wafted in the air regardless of your finishing position or status as an athlete. Each person in the tiny village of Fiera di Primiero genuinely understood the mental fortitude behind that naughty mountain course today and I was happy to breathe the same air as them.
So with that, it’s onto Rookie Szn Euro Tour stop #2 baby! The famous Šmarna Gora Record and Šmarna Gora Race known to many as “The Greatest Mountain Race Of All Time”. And we’ll be there before you know it on Friday, October 6!