The champion, a multiple winner of the Tor des Gèants, talks about himself and reveals his small rituals, forms of meditation and secrets for maintaining lucidity during extreme and demanding races like the Tor.
Hi Franco, thanks for taking the time.
Let’s start right away with a point-blank question.
When you run, do you experience it as a form of meditation? Can you clear your mind?
Yes, it is just like a journey into yourself.
In a world as chaotic as the one we live in today, with cell phones, cars, chaos, traffic to come to the office, emails to look at, the Tor becomes a week in which you detach yourself from the world; it is a journey into yourself, you have time to meditate, to reason and do your rituals.
I at each Tor have my own rituals, at each village I pass through I have my own little secret rituals, my own customs, that only I know. It is really a journey alone, indeed, in the company of yourself.
Then when you arrive in a village, in a life base, you find those ten fans, or two hundred in some cases, and you experience a moment of celebration where you fall into euphoria, however, after ten minutes it is still you, alone, with your shoes and your backpack, completely immersed in nature, in which the only noise-I don’t use headphones, I don’t listen to music-is that of nature.
There is no longer breakfast, lunch and dinner, but there are only meals that you have to remember to make, because you forget to eat almost, you don’t keep track of time and time, it’s really A journey where you detach yourself from reality.
One must always maintain lucidity, though.
When I talk about “lucidity,” I mean that it is necessary to exercise and maintain concentration.
Now I’ll give you an example, hallucinations there are a lot of them during the Tor, especially on the ridges, on the mountains, when you’re running at 3,000 meters.
And you will say, “What lucidity can a hallucinating person have?“
But I am extremely lucid in that moment, I remember every moment and even know that what I am experiencing are hallucinations, I almost learn to live with them and use them to cope better with what I am doing.
I know it’s three days and three nights that I haven’t slept, I know that my physique is no longer what it was on the first day and so I try to adapt, to make the most of it, make my progression in the race efficient even though I’m no longer at 100 percent.
My head is always there, though: focused on the goal, to try to fully enjoy this adventure and get to Courmayeur, to the finish line, as soon as possible.
Earlier you mentioned your little rituals, which only you know.
Can you share one with us?
Well I can tell you about my first victory at the Tor, in 2014.
That ritual I can tell because I don’t do it anymore, because the others, the ones I still do, should not be revealed.
That year I got it into my head that I had to be in a bubble. I had done a lot of meditation, with a Thai man, who had really helped me on that path.
One ritual that this teacher of mine had suggested was that I should not let others suck energy from me, I should be the one to take energy from the people I met.
One of the many ploys to keep my energy from being sucked was this: I had to avoid answering questions from any person I met, I had to answer others’ questions by asking another question in turn.
And this drove two of my friends I met halfway through crazy.
They kept asking me, “But how are you?” and I would answer with another question, and they would then ask me if I recognized them, and I couldn’t answer yes, so I would ask another question.
In the end, my friends went home in disbelief, thinking I was out of my mind, that I would not make it through the night at the Tor.
They called my parents and told them to make me withdraw, because letting me run in that condition was dangerous.
Actually it was all my own inner thing, my own secret ritual to deal with the race, but at that moment I could not tell him.
But after the race did you tell them, did you reveal your secret?
Afterwards, yes, but they didn’t believe it.
Even now they claim that I was not clear-headed on that stretch of the route. It was a very wild stretch, where for ten to twelve hours you see no one.
This ritual anyway was nice and curious, I don’t know if it helped, but that year there I won, I don’t know if because of this ritual of mine.
In any case, it was a way to keep the mind occupied during all those miles.
It was also a cute thing, because in those moments inside I was laughing, it had become a bit of a game for me. In the life bases that year there were seven hundred to eight hundred people, and everyone was asking me how I was doing. For me it had become a mental workout, a game that kept my mind occupied and didn’t make me think about fatigue.
Before I got to the basics of life I was already thinking about what to say to people, preparing in advance the little questions to ask in response to their of questions.