Trofeo Vanoni Mountain Race



The 60th Trofeo Vanoni mountain race gets underway. International relay event held in Morbegno, Italy, where 3 man teams compete over a 7km loop


Math Roberts finishes leg 1 for Wales, and gets me underway


Isn’t that a lovely word, dolore (doh-LAW-ray). Rolls so easily off the tongue, especially when enunciated correctly by the Italians. Over the weekend, I am to hear this dulcet word a lot. My whole week is dolore. I have dolore coming out of my ears.

But the pleasing sound does not betray it’s malign translation…


I overtake 5-6 runners on the way up. Photo by Jennifer

I am just starting my descent in the Trofeo Vanoni race. There are guys lined up infront of me and I reckon I can get past all of them. We run down through narrow cobbled streets and I am slipping and sliding all over the place. The cobbles are wet and I am wearing new fell running shoes. But I’m catching up quickly. There is a jump and a sharp turn, I am looking ahead to see how I can overtake, I slip sideways and a jutting stone rips the flesh from under my knee. I throw up in pain. I look at my knee and the cut runs right across my leg, the flesh is purple and I see my shin bone shining in the middle. That’s a new one. Never seen my own bone before. And there is abit chipped off. Where is my tendon? It seems to be wiped away completely.

I can’t get up, but I can’t bear the pain either, am writhing around in agony. Some spectators quickly rush to hold me down. I watch all the runners I had overtaken on the way up fly back past me. I feel bad for Gareth, my Welsh teammate waiting at the bottom for me to handover to him. I also realise there will be no Snowdonia Marathon for me this year.

The pain subsides, I am shivering. A lovely guy, Simoné, speaks English, and puts a blanket over me. He tells me the ambulance has been called and everything is going to be fine. The ambulance takes over an hour, the race is still ongoing, there are crowds, and I am on a tricky part of the course. Anna, teammate, comes and strokes my shoulders. She calls my wife and tells her what is happening. Six paramedics arrive and strap me to a stretcher. I am looking at an ambulance ceiling, another new experience.


one of those cobbles has half my knee on it. Photo by Anna

In Sondrio hospital, no one speaks any English.  I have great trouble explaining anything to them, and they can’t explain anything to me. When the paramedics leave, it is as if they have not passed on any info at all. I try to demonstrate my running and falling with sign language, while saying Trofeo Vanoni repeatedly.

I see a doctor…

Me: Will I ever run again?

Doctor: I don’t know

Me: You don’t know if I will run again? Or you don’t understand what I’m saying?

Doctor: Si

The pain is coming back very quickly, the shock is wearing off. They do some X-Rays. They take me to another Doctor. They use smartphones and Google Translate to try and explain what they are doing. I get little bits, but a lot of it is gibberish. I am starting to feel scared and alone. I want my mum. I try and be more like my wife, she is much braver than me.

They explain that they need to clean my wound, high risk of infection, they say the word ‘terra’, and for some reason I know that means ‘earth’. They say it will mean staying overnight. Teammate Gareth calls to see if I am ok. He wonders if I want to check myself out. But I feel like these guys are very professional, and it is vital to get cleaned up immediately.

This is the first time I hear the word ‘dolore’, the nurse says it slowly and with compassion. I quickly find out what it means…


The nurse holds me down while the doctor gets underway. The dolore is incredible, I still have a neck brace on for some unknown reason, so I can’t see down to my knee. But I can twist to the side and see the surgical instruments. There is a saw, cleaver, mole grips… I look away quickly.

Everytime the doctor touches my wound my whole body tenses completely. I am dripping with sweat, and my heart-rate shoots up to the 180s. They have not given me any painkillers, but a nurse is spraying some kind of freeze on the area, it is not helping at all.

The doctor stops, it seems he is irritated about the dolore. The dirt is too deep, the nurse keeps saying dolore. They wheel me out of the room. My friend Camilla calls. She is Italian. She is very friendly and reassuring. I ask her to find out if I will be able to run again, I pass the phone to the nurse, he walks off and I never see him again.

An anesthetist arrives,  he is chubby jolly guy. He speaks English! I feel like my troubles are over. He is very good at explaining his job, he will give me an epidural, so the surgeon can perform. Perform what? He is oblivious to absolutely anything other than his job. Why didn’t they do this in the first place? Am I going to run again?

He doesn’t know.

I go into the operating theater, it is very clean and modern. The epidural injection is nasty, but my legs are completely numb and paralysed. I ask the surgeon if I will be able to run again. He seems annoyed with me for speaking to him…

‘I don’t know, I don’t know’.

The surgery takes about half an hour, I can hear everything, he is putting staples in. He comes and tells me it is all over and has been a success. What does success mean? I won’t lose the leg? I won’t have to use a wheelchair?

Me: Will I run again?

Surgeon: No

Me: What?! Never?

Surgeon: (laughs) No, no, no, for 1 or 2 months only

He is suddenly the most beautiful man in the world. I lie back quietly and enjoy the feeling of immense relief.

That night I have paralysed legs, toothache, halogen lights, mild starvation and lots of dolore, but no sleep. Gareth and Wales Team Captain, Arwel, come to get me in the morning. The race organiser signs me out and I am released into the bright sunshine with my new crutches. Gareth buys me a slice of pizza, I haven’t had anything to eat for 24 hrs, it is the most delicious thing I’ve ever had in my life.


Morbegno. photo by John

16/10/2017 AM PM
thighs really sore after Fell Running Relays yest. Day off work due to heavy rain. No sleep last night, bad toothache.
Tuesday REST 10x400m (2min rest) in 66sec. 1 x 200m in 30. 5 miles total
Root canal surgery, as awful as it sounds. Legs worse than yest, v happy with track session
Wednesday REST 5
 legs still bad, but can walk down stairs slightly more like a human. Toothache
Thursday REST 5
 Toothache is exhausting
Friday 2  REST
 Fly to Bergamo, Italy. Toothache takes the colour out of life
Saturday Race recce. 5 miles total REST
 Take Ibuprofen, feeling good, beautiful day. 1 hr stroll pm. Then parade and church ceremony (long!). Did I say toothache? Toothache
Sunday 2 Trofeo Vanoni – DNF. 5 miles total
 Fall early on descent. Ambulance and minor surgery, night in hospital
Released from hospital, fly home
TOTAL: 29 miles

Getting checked out in Bangor Hospital. 4 inch laceration, partial tear of patella tendon and minor damage to tibia. 2 weeks on crutches, 1-2 months before I can run again.

Massive big thankyou for all the well wishes and support from everyone. Makes such a big difference and i’m really grateful.



13 thoughts on “Trofeo Vanoni Mountain Race

  1. Very sorry to hear your news A lot of dolore Hope you are on the mend soon Maybe you could regale your readers with some more of your great stories like Songok and the bull while you are laid up Ita


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