You know when you’ve reached the steep final section of the Valtellina tube. Aside from the increasingly unbearable burning in your legs, you get the weird sensation that the 2,700 steps are coming down at you on a conveyer. Like a school kid trying to race up the downward escalator, you have to not only pick up your feet to overcome the incessant steps being thrown at you, but there’s also the added fear factor. Not the fear of being whisked to the bottom as on an elevator, but the risk of falling, tripping or stumbling near the end of what is known by many as 800 metres of hell alongside the giant tube.
The Tube Race: Industrial Chic
Unlike any regular race, the principle of running the tube is purely to test yourself. It isn’t the most beautiful race in Valtellina, the dogleg valley that juts out from the top of Lake Como, Italy, but it’s one that has captured the competitor within all of us.
The Valtellina Tube Race is dubbed the hardest kilometre in the world (although having not yet run them all it is obviously not something that we can testify, but you will just have take our word). It is an annual time trial that goes straight up the side of a mountainous valley following the access steps alongside the imposing water supply pipes of a hydroelectric plant. Undoubtedly not the most glamorous location for a mountain race unless industrial chic is your thing, it is certainly an interesting and unbelievably hard event with spectacular mountain views in every direction (apart from down).
The facts: Ouch
* 800 metres in length
* Climbing 500 metres in altitude
* 2,700 steps
* Average gradient of 60% (just take a moment to think about that)
The idea: An Outdoor Gym
“Everyone used to go to the tube for training,” explains Emanuele Manzi, one of the organisers. “You’d see athletes from mountain running, cycling and ski mountaineering all using the steps as strength and power training. We all used to compare times. Then we just thought, why not organise a proper race and make the times official?”
The Valtellina Tube Race has come from the same minds behind the Valtellina Wine Trail, the Santa Caterina Winter Trail and the Alta Valtellina Skyrunning Experience. This experienced young team of passionate runners (and the odd World Mountain Running champion) are driven to create unique events that promote this rich mountain running region. They’ve clearly cottoned onto what makes an iconic event.
The competitors: Everything Goes
With some of the world’s most famous and fastest mountain runners behind this novel event, a top class field of elites is a given. Runners from all over Europe make the trip for 800 metres of steps. With road racers, mountain runners, stair climbing specialists and less-able bodied athletes battling the clock, the race is virtually anyone’s to win. The fastest times from 2015 – now a benchmark for this year’s event – came from World Mountain Running silver medallist Bernard Demattis in 14.02 and fellow World Mountain Running silver medallist Emmie Collinge in 16.25 in the women’s event.
The sensations: Suck It Up Princess
It is hard to define what this race is like. Imagine blur of seemingly endless steps that make your legs crumble! Competitors run, walk or crawl (especially the top section). It is a huge challenge for all, irrespective of your finishing time. But there is one thing that we can testify to… time appears to standstill while on the tube, but once it’s over the memory of the pain will dissipate.