BaseCamper Mike Faibisch shared his experience at the 2023 Chase the Sun Italia event.
Thank you, Basecamp! On the summer solstice the other day, I officially become a Sun-Chaser after setting out from Cessenatico in Italy at the crack of dawn and then riding across areas ravaged by recent floods, through Florence, and finishing 285 km later before sunset by the beach in Tirrenia (not far from Pisa).
Here's my "race" report from Chase the Sun Italia 2023 (which, for insurance reasons, the organizers kept emphasizing, was not a race).
But let's start with the final leg of Chase the Sun, which ran through Pisa. I was trying to follow a small pack of Italians who, like me, were racing, not caring what the organizers had declared, to make the time cutoff. Hold onto your helmets, because the passage through Pisa of a pack of Italians and an American Israeli was straight out of a chase scene from a Frederick Forsyth thriller, complete with Hail Marys as we raced our way full throttle, ignoring admonitions of the organizers, weaving through a crowded pedestrian concourse in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The expectation of my Italian packmates was that the pedestrians would move for us (Coach Tim, how do you specifically train for this kind of scenario?). I wasn't so confident, nor can I count the number of times I had to dodge baby carriages while the setting sun was glaring straight into my sweat-smudged sunglasses, further blurring my vision that was already impaired from near exhaustion after having already ridden by that point over 250 km and up and down 3000 meters of small mountains since the wee hours of the morning. I couldn't hold the Italians' wheels, safety first. My own relatively slow acceleration and state of near exhaustion didn't help.
After losing the Italians, I ended up joining a group from Yorkshire doing Chase the Sun as a charity fundraiser for a flying ambulance corps that I had latched on to several times previously during the day. They kept making wrong turns throughout the day, while I miraculously stayed on course, and then they would catch up. They caught me (again… the speed of a pack) shortly after I lost the small Italian group and overtook just where we needed to turn on to nearly hidden gravel path a bit after we left the city. At the turnoff, we came to a sudden unexpected halt to make the turn. However, one of the guys couldn't stop in time. He skidded out trying to avoid crashing into us from behind and proceeded to fly head over handlebars through a blackberry thicket into a ravenous ditch beside the road. Three of us were needed to pull our compatriot out of his ditch. Fortunately, the thorns broke his fall, and he'll have likely have thorny scrapes for a long time (but no bruises or broken bones) to remind him of his Italian adventure. As luck would have it, the fruit wasn't yet ripe, so at least his his jersey, and more importantly his bike, remained unstained, at least from the blackberries.
I have been having some brake issues for the past several weeks and only succeeded in getting them fully sorted a couple of days before flying to Italy. I was assured by the mechanic, after a radically different and relatively inexpensive fix, that I was good to go. Frankly I was skeptical and ready to make an alternative arrangement. Glad I stayed the course! The wheels rolled perfectly when not braking, and the brakes stopped the bike when they needed to. The proof that the mechanic is worthy of my trust is that the discs worked like they're supposed to, I was able to stop when needed, rolled freely, did not crash because of a braking calamity, and I was able to help pull the big guy out of the thorny gully.
That was actually the second crash I witnessed on the day. The other was the same group but under more mundane circumstances (when joining an event solo like I did, and on you are on your limit, you join whatever group is going faster than you but slow enough that you can latch on without blowing a gasket), a simple touch of wheels by the guy in front of me to the right in the double paceline. He had the good fortune of timing his fall so that I could still swerve, stay on the bike, and avoid causing a mass pileup. The good - this group had contacts from their charity work for a flying ambulance corps (yup, for real, you can’t make this stuff up). The bad - the flying ambulances are in Yorkshire, England, way too far to rescue these guys out for a full day's spin across the waistband of Italy.
When I reached the sign-in at the final control point to register my completion and pick up my finishers T-shirt, the lady at the desk asked me in my moment of greatest elation, and weakness, if I enjoyed myself. Next. All I could think was whether her choice of words "enjoyment" was possibly a mistranslation from Italian.
Frankly, for me, these events are not "enjoyable." A better characterization might be that they are incredibly fun and you end up with a lots of adventures, memories, new friends made along the way, and a feeling of tremendous accomplishment that caps an entire season (actually several seasons) of hard work and having overcome setbacks along the way. That's what makes it worth it for those who have made athletic endeavors part of their lives.
I want to give a special shout-out to the BaseCamp coaches, especially Menachem Brodie, who guided me to get my body realigned to be capable of handling an event like Chase the Sun and connected me with the awesome BaseCamp community; to Jim Pomeroy, whose coaching wisdom and follow-up have amplified the stupendous general base program and tailored my post winter training so that I could reach my goal, which I did; and to Namrita Brooke, whose nutritional insights have helped reframe my nutritional mindset to eat better on and off the bike.
Now it's time to head home, recover, adapt, and start thinking about a suitable non-race challenge for next year.