Paolo Barghini


50Km di Romagna 2006 Maratona di Bologna 2004 100Km del Passatore Marathon Des Sables 2005 Libyan Challenge 2007 Sahara Race 2008 Sahara Race 2009 Sahara Race 2009 Antarctica 2010 Sahara Race 2011 Mister Running Desert Team Sahara Race 2011 Mister Running Desert Team

September 2002. The start.

One day in September 2002, at the ‘Campo Scuola’ in Marina di Carrara, I met an old friend of mine. I hadn’t seen him for nearly 20 years. I knew he was a marathon runner who ran the legendary New York City Marathon as well as many other marathons: in fact, an athlete whom I could not keep up with as I could only run for barely 30 minutes, dragging my feet. The friend, Mauro Marchetti, whom I have still not decided whether to thank or remove from the list of people who are fond of me, suddenly asked ‘let’s run the Florence Marathon’ (I have later learned that he would ask the same question to anyone he’d meet, women and children included). The idea of running a marathon, the only think I knew about of was the 42 kilometer length, sounded fascinating to me, an adventure beyond my fantasy. ‘Why not?!.. and when would it be?’. ‘End of November’, he replied. Worth giving it a try, I said to myself… Sport medical check-up .. done .. association membership.. done. He was the president of ‘Atletica Carrara’.
The next Sunday, my ‘insane’ friends invited me for the ‘Lungo’ … 32 kilometers. I turned to my wife saying: ‘my dear, Sunday morning I would be running to ‘Forte’ (that’s how local would call Forte dei Marmi)’. If I am not back home at a decent time, drive along the seaside … and take me back home!!!’.
Two months of never-ending training: still today I am wondering how I did not get injured at that time, as, besides everything else, I wore shoes that were everything but appropriate for a marathon!!!!
The day of the fateful race, I started the journey with my wife … I found myself in an absolutely new world ... people running all over the place wearing coloured garbage bags…smell of Vaseline…(after the first ‘Lungo’ I got back home with both my nipples bleeding. No one of my ‘friends’ had told my anything about Vaseline or bands).
Wearing a chip… why?... would happen when you tried to start from the finish line…first time in my life that I wore a number of any kind… we lined up for the start. I was the very last of the group… once started, it took me two minutes to reach the start line… anyway I completed the whole course…almost dropping out after 36 kilometers!!! The picture of me on the ‘Lungarno Acciaiuoli’ is still for me the symbol of fatigue. I could not raise my arms and was almost blind. I ran in front of my wife and couldn’t even figure out it was her!!! I completed the course with an unbelievable 3.15. 49!!! Really not bad for a guy who not only had never run a race, but also had never been practicing anything as close as a sport. And even more incredibly, I was alive and did not get injured. But my marathon was not at the end. My wife, who ‘obviously’ came to Florence to see shops and who was not really interested in my ‘deed’, was tired: yes, she was tired! Poor her, she walked for the whole morning (…and I was having fun) and wanted to go back home. Didn’t even have the time to enjoy my result, I had to quickly collect my bag without even having a shower and walk for maybe another 2 kilometers to reach the car park… a longest walk!!!!
Anyway, I felt like a marathon runner and my athlete carrier had just begun!

2003. An expert runner.

I decided to run a marathon in spring in less than hours. Everyone thought I was insane… can’t be.. not enough training.. you have an age.. you would require at least three or four marathons… The ‘wanna-be’ trainers at the School Camp are always one too many. Anyway, I planned a schedule based on an article by Dr. Arcelli found on ‘Correre’ and searched for backup from different trainers and expert runners. I eventually decided to run the marathon in Padua… and the first half a marathon in Pistoia…. A success!! Slightly above 2.56 in Padua and slightly above 1.22 in Pistoia. The passion in me was growing bigger and bigger. In December I ran the Carrara marathon in 2.53 … and was hoping to do better and better. I already felt like an expert runner even if I wore my number less than ten times.

2004. The turning point.

In 2004 I decided to go back to Padua but, while training with a bunch of friends, a project started to take form: the 2005 Marathon des Sables. Padua was my first disillusion. My target was to get below 2 hours and 50. But I could not reach that goal. A month later, in May 2004, Massimiliano Puntelli and Massimo Vanelli, two of the three friends with whom I decided to run the MdS a year later, applied for the Passatore. 100 kilometers from Florence to Faenza.
The same day the application closed up, I decided to join them. As usually, I started from what should have been the end. First super-marathon in 100 kilometers! One of the most difficult. I did not have great expectations. I was only just hoping to reach the finish line. Maybe with a little nap on the way. Honestly, I haven’t even told anything at home. They would have thought that I was insane.. maybe I was.. Running 100 kilometers.. I did not even have an idea of how long it would have taken. Instead, it came out a great day: I ran 100 kilometers in 8 hours and 44’ and surprisingly without a single stop!!! An excellent result. I positioned 64 in the year the Passatore was an European Championship, and I was among the first in the master 40 category.
On my way back, my career reached a turning point. Everything happened by chance… while running a ‘lungo’, one of my teeth broke… while at the dentist’s I met Ferdinando Vatteroni. So called ‘Ferdi’ was a great Ironman, but mostly an athlete and a great trainer. While listening to him, I understood that being an athlete was something opposite from what I have been up to that moment…. Up to that moment I have been just a novice. A skilled novice maybe, but being an athlete would have been something different. I committed myself to him for the Marathon des Sables training and that was when I found a whole new world in front of my eyes. Vitamin supplements, chemical analysis, precise schedules in order to reach sane and safe, one’s top performances before the start of the competition. Without improvisations. In the same period I had another lucky break. By chance, I met Dr. Giammattei, sports medicine doctor of the great athletes. The work of Ferdi and Gianmattei turned myself into a real athlete. Metabolic rate tests, regular blood analysis, vitamin and amino acid integrations, always under the guide of a doctor and a trainer, both excellent and skilled. Six months to get ready for the Marathon des Sables.

2005. The moment of the truth.

In April we ran the Marathon des Sables. 4 of us were to leave Carrara: an inexperienced team, but made of worthy athletes. We were surprised reading on the Sables Home Page, that would call us a tough and united team. My result was unbelievable: absolute 28th. Not too many in Italy did better than me. Despite a few difficulties, our team ranked 6th and was the best of the Italian teams.
In October, I decided to run the 55th edition of the London Brighton: 89 kilometers. A classic that fascinated me. Meanwhile, I won the half marathon in Luni in category 45. When I was younger, I studied English in Brighton on a study tour and the view of the Royal Pavilion had fascinated me in a special way. A wonderful run. Absolute 7th. The best result ever for an Italian athlete. An excellent result! First in category 45. Got awarded by the Mayor of Brighton all suited up for the great event.

2006. The year of misfortune.

I initially decided to train for the first edition of the Libyan Challenge, a 190km non-stop race in self-sufficiency and orientation. I eventually had to cancel my entry because of a posterior tibial injury, less than three weeks before the race start. I then decided to focus onto two goals: the 100Km Passatore, aiming at the Italian master 45 championship and the UTBM, the Mont Blanc trail. I failed in both races. I reached the finish line of the Passatore in an extremely poor condition. Silly, as, the previous month, I ran the 50km Romagna with the aim of training for the Passatore, where I succeeded without forcing myself and scored an absolute 24th and 2nd in the Master category. But on the day of the 100Km race, my legs failed to respond. A real disaster. A terrible mood. I decided to start over with the Pistoia-Abetone, another classic super-marathon. I wasn’t in my top physical conditions but ranked a decent absolute 24th scoring 4h30’. And then, the Mont Blanc Tour. A stunning race: 159 kilometers in more than eight thousand meter rise, but fate was against me. I fell after just a few kilometers on one of the rare paved tracks and injured my knee. I gritted my teeth and started to weep, rather for anger than for pain. All my training wasted. I kept running for another 45 kilometers when I had to drop out… the only race I would have ever left uncompleted.

2007. The choice.

I almost decided to give up because of the previous disastrous year, when the Lybian Challenge promoters invited me to the competition I had to skip the previous year. Meanwhile, I found myself at a crossroads: I had to choose between the street races and the ‘extreme’ ones. They helped me taking a decision. The desert would have been my race field. In Libya I started my race considering it would have been my last resort. No mistakes were allowed. A good result was a must. I ranked 8th at the finish line in my first non-stop. With my feet aching because I wore a wrong type of gaiters. A satisfying result.

2008. The perfect race.

Two deserts. The Gobi in China and the White Desert in Egypt.
My Goby challenge would have been silly, for sure influenced by another tibial injury that stopped my training in the last two months. Despite this, I decided to take the challenge: I was dying for facing a new desert. I got on well with the first three terrain stages, although I found out it not to be my element: I ranked absolute 6th. My lack of training eventually penalized me. I cracked up while running the long stage. With great disappointment, I ranked 50th. A race I had to forget, but that I would have made treasure of, for my feature. The future would have been the Sahara Race. I was confident with the Sahara, I was fond of the sand. As a matter of fact, I surpassed myself: 3rd at the finish line, after having run ahead of a great one such as Dean Karnazes for nothing less than 3 stages. I was eventually able to run a perfect race.

2009. Victory!

Again the Sahara race, after a disastrous non-stop in the Hoggar Desert of Algeria where the my disorganization and my precarious physical shape, along with unexpected, critical discomforts because of the altitude, made me reach the finish line very with great difficulties and almost heroically.
I was about to put an end to my career, when, supported by athletes, close friends and sponsors, I decided to challenge in the Sahara Race. I more or less knew whom I had to beat, I would have run to rank among the first fivers. My physical shape was not as good as the previous year, I wasn’t therefore holding out too much hope. My physical shape improved during the race, overwhelming. I won the 2009 Sahara Race, being first Italian to win a Racing The Planet challenge, furthermore the one I liked best. Waving the Italian flag, parading under the shadow of the Pyramids and surrounded by two wings of hailing crowd had been one of the most beautiful emotions I have ever had in my career of a runner. At 49 I won a prestigious international extreme race!
On November 17th I received a congratulation message from the Italian President Giorgio Napoletano, along with the President’s Banner. The crowning achievement of a career.

2010. The "White Challenge".

After the 2011 Sahara victory, the year began successfully. I had never been such in a good shape. Even carrying a backpack, I was able to keep up with an impressive rhythm. When the year began, my goal would have been training and running the Gobi march: in 2008 a number of injury related difficulties, job and, not least, a flu caught on a flight a week before the race, made me score a disappointing result. Especially the long stage, usually my specialty, turned out to be in an agony. Unfortunately, in May, just a month away from the event, I was run over by a car. Had to stop for a month and cancel the Gobi March: this race really didn’t want me. In November, I scheduled a long time waited event: Antartica – South Pole. 250 kilometers divided into stages, living on a ship. In August a fascinating project was born: linking together the South Pole race and the Polar Circle Marathon in Greenland, the race on the North Pole ice pack. I would have been the first man running the two Poles in less than a month. The White Challenge ended up in a great success, although, concerning the final result of the Polar Circle, I could have been definitely doing better. Anyway, I ranked second in both challenges. I won against ice and cold, my long-time enemy. A new victory: the white challenge!!!

2011. The Master.

After the cold year, my head still concentrated on the Gobi March. I had been practicing my full time activity as a trainer for more than a year and had little time for my own training. Despite this, I decided to take the challenge in the race that almost ‘killed’ me in 2008. I crossed the start line believing I could do a good race, despite the lack of a full and dedicated training. I knew the first stage would not have been easy due to my features, but I might have been doing better the last two and even make the difference. The other challengers were very skilled, especially a group of 8-10 athletes of an excellent level. I eventually ranked third, after having faced temperatures of 54° and an unbearable humidity. The second semester would have been a challenge for trainer Paolo. In October I led the Mister Running Desert Team to win the team Sahara Race. A great result as a trainer, having led 3 inexpert runners to a victory in a desert. After a stunning battle against the other teams, we were able to be the first Italian team to win a team challenge in the desert. A high level record that filled up the well refurbished list of my resume: the year ended up with the ultimate challenge as a trainer. Having led 5 girls, mothers and wives, none of those athletes, to complete the New York Marathon. Another success for the master.