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RACE CONCLUDED 6 SEPTNEXT ROVING RACE ECUADOR - JULY 2015
A legend of ultra-trail running

A legend of ultra-trail running

Words: Melanie Ho

Currently third overall, 60-year old

Italian Marco Olmo competes in his first

RacingThePlanet event

 

There was a moment when Ryan Sandes (South Africa) thought: I can’t let someone as old as my grandfather catch me.  That moment was the first day of RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009 when both Sandes and 60-year old Marco Olmo (Italy) had walked into the Fish River Canyon, ran through the world’s second largest canyon and climbed up aluminum ladders only to be greeted by yet another rocky hill.  Sandes, who is currently second overall in the race, was running and as he glanced over his shoulder, saw Olmo coming up close behind him. 

 

“He was flying up the hill and I was telling myself, not to be disrespectful, but he reminds me of my grandfather and I couldn’t let him take me,” said Sandes, who proceeded to indeed run just a little bit faster. 

 

Olmo is not the oldest man in the 200-strong field of competitor (that honour goes to Japan’s Kazuo Isomura who is 69).  However, Olmo may be among the most accomplished of the competitors and is currently third overall in the race.  After beginning to run at age 37, Olmo has won about 20 races of a 100 km or longer and about 50 shorter-distance races such as marathons.  Some of his bigger victories have included four victories in the Desert Cup, six wins in the Great Raid du Cro-Magnon and two wins in the Ultra trail Mont Blanc.  He has won the Marathon des Sables three times. 

 

Still, Olmo remains quiet, tranquil and humble, preferring to stay in his own tent rather than gather by the campfire each night.  A strict vegetarian, Olmo said he stopped eating meat in his thirties, around the same time he began running. 

 

“I was always tired, not feeling very well,” said Olmo from Robilante.  “I had problems with my eyes and I had some Chinese medicine and then became a vegetarian.  First it was for health reasons, but now it is more a religion.”

 

Now retired, Olmo used to work in the mountains of northern Italy.  His ability to run and to run well at aged 60, may stem from his childhood upbringing.  His father was a shepherd and he used to send Olmo into the mountains to retrieve the sheep or into town to run errands and buy groceries.  Olmo has never been a professional athlete and these days, is reliant on sponsors to keep him through races. 

 

“I do maybe seven or eight of these kinds of races a year,” said Olmo, who is participating in his first RacingThePlanet event. 

 

In the beginning, Olmo ran in the summers and alpine skied in the winters, but has since switched his focus to strictly running.  These days he trains a maximum of two hours a day.  Outside of his running, Olmo is as tranquil as he is during a race. 

 

“It’s similar to how I am in a race environment,” Olmo said.  “I go for walks, watch National Geographic.  I do know that it’s a bit crazy to compete, but I just can’t stop.”

 

Olmo’s first race of this kind was in 1996, when he ran the Marathon des Sables for the first time after the organisers called him and invited him into the race.  Olmo finished third.  This year, Olmo finished 12th in the Marathon des Sables. 

 

His success is well-documented across Italy and Olmo has developed a strong fan base, with what he approximates as about 300 websites and a Facebook page dedicated to him.  He has seen a documentary that was made about him last year, although he hasn’t seen the YouTube clip that’s been posted.  Whatever the number of pages or hits Olmo can’t be certain, in part because he has never checked, but mostly because Olmo doesn’t have an Internet connection at home. 

 

“I have never seen any of these,” Olmo said.  “But it’s nice to have the fans and I do try to get good results for them.”

 

 

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