It’s early morning in Chamonix, France, as I write this sentence. Outside, the streets are deserted. People like to say that Chamonix never stops, but when you live here, as I do now, you realize it stops twice a year, late fall and again in late spring. But especially now, when the nights are getting longer and temperatures are falling, and locals head for a long break in warmer, sunnier, more exotic locales.
All of which makes events like Trail Monte Casto that much more important. The trail race, held in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, ranges over beautiful territory – a bucolic flow of pastures, old farms, and tranquil villages. But more importantly, and an antidote of sort now, it’s suffused with a lively, cheery spirit that can’t help but make you smile.
Even on the wettest day of the year, which was the case for Trail Monte Casto, 2018. To say it was wet would be understating matters. At one point, I thought I heard thunder. But, no, it was a boulder the size of a car that had dislodged and was on the move in the river next to the trail. That it had poured the night before and during much of the run didn’t really matter. Most of us smiled as we mud-wrestled our way through either a 21 or 46km long course.
I had a chance to talk with the Race Director, the slightly crazed and hyper-energetic Mau Scilla. (Mau, for the record, is one of the founders of the Red Bull K3. Perhaps fully-crazed would be more appropriate?) Here’s what Mau had to say about this year’s races.
Oh, and as for myself, I’m still smiling thinking of the race. As we each head out into the dark mornings of November, it’s brightened all of our autumns. Thanks for that, Mau.
Run the Alps: How did you develop the idea for the race?
Mau: I love to discover new places, but at the same time I love my mountains. I used to train on these paths and I thought, “Why not let other trail runners discover this valley? I’m sure they’d appreciate it!” It turned out to be a good idea.
I started the race in 2006, and some years we’ve had as many as 800 participants, which is capacity. We stop at that number because it’s important for us to properly manage the course. There just isn’t enough room for more people.
When I started Trail Monte Casto, most mountain races had a symbol of a mountain animal, like a chamois. But I thought it could be fun to have a different animal – one unable to walk in the mountains – so I decided on a penguin!
Over the years a lot of high-profile runners have taken part in the race. They’re friends and I love to have them in my little village!
Run the Alps: Monte Casto seems to have an especially good, fun spirit. Why do you think that is?
Mau: Since the first edition I’ve tried to maintain this fun spirit. You know, if you organize a race in Chamonix, France or Cortina, Italy, the name alone ensures people come to be near Mont Blanc or the Dolomites. But it’s more difficult to persuade runners to come to Valle Cervo, as it’s not well known. So you really have to give your best – runners have to go home with a big smile if you want them back the year after. The race is inclusive – partly because the trails are not technical, so everyone can have a go. Also, we have the “happy hour” during bib collection on Saturday and everyone has dinner together. Sunday brings the pasta party and more than 500 liters of free beer… So Sunday afternoon is a party where everyone shares food and drink. In three words “A big family”.
Run the Alps: It rained just a little this year. Okay, I’m joking. It was an absolute flood! Can you tell us runners what we would have seen if we could have seen anything?
Mau: We’ve never had so much water as this year. I think it was the worst weather of the year! We had to change the route of the race for safety reasons, which is a pity because right now the colors of autumn are something that you can’t describe. You would have seen the huts on Carcheggio Mountain, Piana del Ponte Refuge and the wonderful Artignaga huts. On a sunny day you can see the mountains of Monviso, Monte Rosa and Le Grigne.
Run the Alps: Can you promise a sunny day for next year?
Mau: I can promise the same spirit, the same energy, the same smile. Of course, I hope we have a fantastic sunny day. Although, come to think of it, we did have snow in 2012!
There were five years of races over the years with excellent weather, so hopefully the good weather will be back again next year. Anyway, just in case, next year the mandatory equipment might include a wet suit, a pair of goggles – and snorkel!