Let the Marcialonga begin.
The curiosity in each of us is palpable. No one knows what will happen. It's what you have been asking yourself since you received the enrolment receipt. You held it tight, almost crumpling it in your palm. A reminder that you have taken your first step in this great, but still unknown adventure.
Looking around you, you see concentration, anxiety, and will to continue. Happiness. You are ready. Just another few moments and you will let yourself slide on the snow that covers everything. You will be, you are, a small part of a story that will see the light. Here, today. 7 February 1971.

I am ready.
It is easy when you have trained, no pressure, no worries, no great ambition. Just yourself and a wild, hard mountain, like the people who live there. I pick up my bag and re-check to see if I have got everything: change of clothes, a heavy jumper, a flask with supplements and some dried fruit. Dark chocolate. I look in the mirror before going out. I look at my reflection, at my greying hair and smile. I stare at myself and I can imagine starting to move.

I should to end the session. I think about where all of this will get me. I think about my two objectives. To train for the race, pushing my body to be ready for the summer training, and to train for the Marcialonga. Trying to classify this year as well, on the last Sunday of January. A regular date that started out as fun. I begin, and the training became constant year in year out. And then came the tenth race, now I was really stuck. The title of Senator, almost an investiture. How do you give up then? How do you go back? You cannot. The bond becomes unbreakable. You and It. And the years that have passed.

Year after year we leave for the mountains and repeat everything. It has become almost reassuringly familiar. The starting shot, the storming 5000 pushing and shoving trying to get ahead, until we hear the championship of swear words, then the downhill slope of Mazzin where skis and ski poles fly and skiers fall head over heels. After that the church steeples of the Val di Fiemme one after another like mirages which accompany you to the last of the grueling slopes. You think you can't possibly do it, maybe you should give up, then you get to the end. You always do.

Even if the snow keeps falling.
A 10 hour journey and we are not even halfway there. Stuck in the car we are aware that we will not arrive in time to collect the race-bibs. Will we be able to take part anyway? ....We cross our fingers. The journey continues.
We have done so much to get to the start. It is 4 o'clock in the morning. It is dark and cold. I inhale the night air and get ready. I will take part this year as well. Finally, our racing-bibs arrive, the last piece of the puzzle.

5 minutes to the start.
I can hear the speaker in the distance. I am slightly bewildered, vaguely elated, like after drinking a glass of champagne. I remain poised, torn between the desire to leave immediately or to stay here suspended in time. To stay in this very moment filled with all these sensations, I can feel them and everyone around me can feel them as well. I am drenched in positive anxiety which empties my stomach.
1 minute to the start.
I put my skis on and mentally review the first part of the track. My lucidity is back and I want to be ready. I knock my skis unconsciously against the snow so the wax doesn't form a wedge, an act of superstition to stop me from being nervous. I get in position and wait for the inevitable starting shot. The shot is crystal clear. A sigh of relief goes up and I set off. The tension has now completely dissolved and the air has become much lighter.

I have just come out of the starting gates and I can see the first slope, behind the electric plant, which brings me quickly to the, Prati di sorte, which is relatively flat ground about 1 km long. Here is the centre of Moena, the oldest part of town. The houses glow in the first light of day, chimneys smoking, life waking up after a cold, silent night.
I slide, push and daydream while heading to Campestrin, then Campitello and finally Canazei. We change direction and head back towards where we came from. The Marmolade is now behind me as I ski back down and cross over the Avisio once again between large snow-covered fields and through dense woods of spruce and larch. This is the part of the course that I prefer because it makes me feel part of the breathtaking Dolomites.

Lie still, don't move a muscle.
To me it was a deafening sound though almost imperceptible to the human ear. But I heard it distinctly even in the commotion while the other competitors were elbowing to get past. I can still hear it. Inside. Echoing, resonating constantly. My bones breaking. I am face down in freezing water gasping with pain. Half of me in the river Avisio and I can hear it clearly. The sound is as bad as the cold.  I'm frozen to the bone. Two instruments of the orchestra, each perfectly tuned, but out of harmony with the rest of the world. Incredibly enraging. This shouldn't have happened after so many Marcialongas, being here, pushed by others onto the banks of the river. Broken.
Be still, don't move.
I calculate the damage, thinking about what to do. Turn off the sound. Nobody seems to be worrying about me, everybody is passing me quickly to get ahead in a vortex of adrenaline and speed. It's still a long way. But I can't give up. I am a Senator and I have been for 10 years, I have to get to the end. Losing my title is unthinkable. I am and will remain a Senator. Get up and fight!

Each stride is hard work, another 15 km to go, the really long slope of Predaia, le Piane di Castello, the final climb that brings you to the hospital, the finishing line. I am tired, tired, so tired. The pain is unbearable it spreads to every part of my body, not just my back but everywhere. I have to stop. I don't want to, but I have to stop. I'm not going to get there. I give up and realize that I'm finished. Then I see him, my arch rival coming into view. A wave of adrenaline runs through me.
I get back on the track. I haven't got any strength left in my arms, I haven't got any strength in my legs, my movements are not controlled or elegant or efficient. The only thing that keeps me going is my willpower.

Then, there is only the finish line. It is waiting for you dressed for the occasion. That of a big party. Full of warmth made up of voices, nods and colors. Every year I get to the narrow part of the track just before Piazza Res, I can see the wooden bridge, I let myself slide down the final slopes letting go of all of the different feelings. It is always different like a hand drawn sketch in pencil. It's jammed with crowds of people waiting for you to arrive. They have seen the yellow race bib and the cheering goes up a decibel. You exhaustedly slide down the last 20m. You hear your name over the speakers. You have done it, a 70km battle. From there on just cheers as you reach the finish line. You've done it today as well!




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