By Alice Hunter Morrison
Moroccan-based journalist, winner of Best Africa Blog, writer for RunUltra, author of “Dodging Elephants: 8000 Miles Across Africa by Bike” and Special Correspondent for IRUN4ULTRA.
In a sport where the accolade, legend, is not easily bestowed, there is one man who everyone can agree deserves it – Marco Olmo. Marco Olmo is an Italian ultra runner came to fame on the ultra running scene when he won the most prestigious race of them all, the Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) in 2006 and then again in 2007. What was extraordinary was not only that he won the race, but that he did so for the first time when he was 58 and the second time when he was 59.
Marco Olmo was born in Robilante, a little municipality in the Piedmont Alps, in Vermenagna Valley, not far from Cuneo on October the 8th 1948. He was born into a rural family and went on to work as a lorry driver and then a worker in the quarries of Robilante for Buzzi Unicem group which he did for 25 years.
He started to run at the age of 26, but he only started to win much later in his life and in his late sixties he is still running competitively and still winning. He came first in the UltraTrail of Bolivia this year.
He has often been quoted as saying that he runs as a form of vengeance against his life. “” In my everyday life I’m a loser….I run for revenge, I run for vengeance, ” he says.
“I come from the world of losers, peasants who have renounced the earth as I have done twenty years ago. At home there was sunlight, and water was out in the well.
Sport? I did not know what that was. But I was running to run, went up and down the mountain. I thought it was a good life: the food was always there, people are helped and did not need anything. Not as now when you have everything,”^
When he won his first UTMB, he was already known for his desert running exploits. In 2000 he came to prominence by winning the Desert Marathon in Libya and the Desert Cup in Jordan as well as coming 7th in the Marathon des Sables.
Photo: Dino Bonelli
In 2006, he went on to win the most important ultra on the planet, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc UTMB. UTMB is a single-stage race and passes through three different countries as it follows the route of the Tour du Mont Blanc across France, Italy and Switzerland. The race has varied slightly in different years, but is around 170km with 10,000m of ascent. In 2006, Marco ran an impeccable race and took a commanding lead, winning in 21 hrs and 06 minutes.
In 2007, he did it again, storming ahead after Champex Lac at 112 km, and coming in at 21h 31mn 58s, 52 minutes ahead of the German, Jens Lukas.
His title was to go to the then young rising star of ultra running, Kilian Jornet in 2008 but his two wins had earned him a place in the history books, and he remains the oldest ever winner of the race.
It an extraordinary fact that Kilian Jornet, now acknowledged as one of the best ultra runners that has ever lived, was less than HALF of Marco Olmo’s age when he took his title at UTMB in 2008.
Age does not stop him
Statistical analysis has shown that after the age of 40 there is a decrease in race performance amongst athletes. Much of the decrease in race performance with age can be explained by decreases in oxygen intake, upper and lower body strength, flexibility, and muscular (explosive) power. Clearly, Marco Olmo has found a way to compensate for that decrease and to go on winning races.
Marco is 1.81 cm high, he weighs 66 kg and his heart rate is 34-35 beats per minute at rest. He has been a vegetarian since his mid thirties and for him it is a type of philosophy as well as an eating regime.
“An animal for me is not a meal, but a living being. And with vegetarianism we will solve much of the tragedy of hunger in the world,” he says, “I do have particular favourite foods, but based on local products: potatoes, chestnuts, bread, pasta, polenta, a little cheese seasoning, extra virgin olive oil. The food of our ancestors.”^
He does not follow a complicated training regime, but runs 1 ½ hours per day, with a long run of 5 hours if he is working towards a race.
Apart from UTMB, he is also famous for his participation in the Marathon des Sables. He has run the race, the toughest footrace on earth, six marathons in six days across the Sahara desert over twenty times. In 2016 he ran the race as an Ambassador for Hope So Bright coming second in the team competition with Team I Run 4 Hope and 30th in the overall rankings with a time of 29h 32 for the 258 kms covered in the race.
As his fellow team mate, Harvey Lewis said about him after the race, “Marco Olmo is very special. He has run this race 21 times. I want to be like him in 28 years! He is 68 years young and can out run anyone from my home town!
Photo: Dino Bonelli